Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Future...

Well, I really should get around to talking about what's going to be happening to me in the next coming weeks and months, as I'm sure you're all bursting with anticipation....

A few weeks ago you know I posted about the lack of possibilities of me going to med school in the UK, well I seem to have spoken too soon. 3 weeks ago, I received an offer from Southampoton to study in their 4 year medical course. that was my first choice. So, God willing, I'll be heading over to England in late September. Crazy.

Before that though, I'm going back home for the summer. I'll be arriving back in Dublin on May 16th. So first order of business, I need a job. If any one knows of any jobs that you think i'd like/could do PLEASE! let me know. I'll need money if I want to stay in England.

So yeah, I guess that 's it. I've got a week left till I officially graduate, and I'm running around mad trying to get everything finished and done before I can officially get my degree. I need that so that I can turn it in to Southampton as a condition of my offer. Anyway, prayer would be greatly welcomed over the next few weeks.

That's it

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Anthro Musings

So every semseter Wheaton has "Department Chapels." This is when each academic department (in my case the Sociology/Anthropology Dept.) gets together to worship and share together during chapel time. Each spring in the Soc/Anthro chapel we hear from two graduating seniors, one sociology major and one anthropology major. For some odd reason or another I was chosen to speak this year as the anthro major. I got a really positive reception and a lot of people told me they appreciated what I said, so I thought I might use my speech as a blog post, since I haven' posted in a good while. (Let's see what non-soc/anthro people think of it...).

So when I was originally asked to speak in chapel, I was a bit surprised. When I think of all the graduating seniors, I have to ask, why did they ask me? I’m not really someone who I would like to listen to. But as I thought about it more, I realized, “Oh yeah! I’m the token Male."

So why are there so few Male Anthropology majors? Maybe what puts us off is when all the freshman women Anthropology majors who, when asked what they study, reply, “I study men.” I’d rather think it has more to do with Dr. Howell’s explanation of the situation, that most men just mature later than women, so that I’m one of the select few “early bloomers,” but I guess we all have to admit that it probably is mainly to do with the fact that our Anthro faculty is staffed by two stunningly attractive men. No, honestly I think the reason can be found in the bio-evolutionary instinct of self-preservation. The truth is simple, “Anthropology messes you up”, and that’s not something most of us, especially men, feel comfortable with. So let me tell you why I would have chosen such a path, and maybe why that might not be such a bad thing at all.

I remember sitting at my kitchen table, at home in Ireland, with this confusing list of freshman semester courses and a shiny brand new 02-03 catalogue, trying to figure out how to be a pre-med without having to be a science major. I randomly saw a course called Biculturalism. “Bicultural” happened to be my Ebay screen name. I’d always felt that term (which I actually thought I had coined) described me pretty well. I was culturally very Irish, and also very American. Not knowing how college courses worked, I assumed I needed to take Intro if I wanted to take a “big upper division course” like Biculturalism. That then led me to my first day of college sitting in Armerding waiting for our Intro to Anthroplogy prof to come. When Dr. Howell first started class, I have to say I was sort of taken aback. This man was bizarre. I’d never met anyone like him before. The way he talked, and acted, the things he said. I have to admit, I almost reconsidered taking the class, but I’m glad that soon enough, I fell under the spell of his discourse and within a few weeks I made my first forum wall post at Wheaton, campaigning to end the death penalty in Illinois. Dr. Howell unashamedly encouraged us to go to his church, Bridgeway, where I have attended since my third week of College. Dr. Howell always encouraged us to be involved in experiences and relationships that made us uncomfortable. This led me to volunteer with Emmaus Ministries freshman year. This experience drastically changed the course of my life. I learned about and encountered first hand the things we were learning about in class: systemic sin, racism, poverty and the complexities of sexuality and gender. I guess I was just starting to get messed up.

In biculturalism Dr. Arnold taught me how to put into words a lot of what I had felt in my life growing up. He also taught me how to approach the new uncomfortable experiences I was becoming involved in. One of the most helpful and enduring principles that I learned from him was “postponing judgment.” When I came across an idea or practice that I viscerally reacted to as wrong, I should learn instead to rest in the ambiguity for a while as I try to develop a richer, deeper and more nuanced understanding of the situation, before I come down with a judgment or decision. I’ve found this principle invaluable for many occasions in my life like trying to understand those I roomed with, or the constant everyday misunderstandings in Cambodia on HNGR and definitely even today’s Soul Force visit. Anthropology teaches us how to approach and begin thinking about ideas, that Dr. Howell’s “males who haven’t matured yet” still want to see in terms of black and white, with all the complexity and nuance and greyness that they deserve. This is important especially for the Christian life, where we can too often be so quick to judge without much consideration and even less compassion. Oh how we are so messed up.

One of the hard parts about being an Anthro major is that when someone asks you “what do you actually study?” you have to give them an awkward look for a few seconds as you try and formulate how to reply that “I really don’t have the foggiest idea” but in a way that sounds like you’re really intelligent and still belong at Wheaton. Sometimes it may be hard to find something to point to that we actually learned during our four years in the department. Anthropology at Wheaton though, is not as much about learning a certain body of material, as it is more about being shaped as a person. One of the major ways I’ve been shaped by Anthropology is in my need too keep questioning and rethinking, to never accept the way that we do things as normative, to always be looking for other perspectives and trying to learn from them the best that I can. It’s to see how culturally formed we all are and then to question how that relates to our lived out lives and our faith.

Vincent Donovan a catholic priest who ministered among the Masai wrote (about ministry) “Never accept or be content with unanalyzed assumptions, assumptions about the work, about the people, about the church or Christianity. Never be afraid to ask questions about the work we have inherited or the work we are doing. There is no question that should not be asked or that is outlawed. The day we are completely satisfied with what we have been doing; the day we have found the perfect, unchangeable system of work, the perfect answer, never in need of being corrected again, on that day we will know that we are wrong, that we have made the greatest mistake of all.”

I know sometimes, as majors, we can make the mistake of talking about Anthropology as if it were a source of salvation, or “the enlightened path.” Strangely, this is something I don’t see the Math department struggling with. But even though Anthropology in itself is (I know) shockingly useless for redemption, it can help us to recognize the true way. It can help us to recognize that we don’t have to flatly believe what our societies tell us about reality. It helps us to get out of sync with what we’d previously thought was true. Sometimes I wish Introduction to Anthropology had come with a similar disclaimer to the one Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael (in the book of the same name) gives his student, “This is just to preface our work. I wanted you to hear it because I wanted you to have at least a vague idea of what you’re getting into here. Once you learn to discern the voice of Mother Culture humming in the background, telling her story over and over again, to the people of your culture, you’ll never stop being conscious of it. Wherever you go for the rest of your life, you’ll be tempted to say to the people around you, “How can you listen to this stuff and not recognize it for what it is?” And if you do this, people will look at you oddly and wonder what the devil you’re talking about. In other words, if you take this educational journey with me, you’re going to find yourself alienated from the people around you- friends, family, past associates, and so on.”

The truth is simple, Anthropology messes you up, but probably in the best possible way. It encourages you, even if just for a moment, to question the long standing rhythm of this world, to be able to hear a different melody. Maybe in this moment then we can listen for the sound of God’s Kingdom, and as we hear its soft but unshakable tune, we can join in, messed up as we are, and contribute to its disturbing, invigorating, beauty.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I miss you Kampucheea

I’ve been working really hard on my Research from Cambodia today (Saturday), and for a break I thought I’d write up an entry or two from the narrative portion of my field journal…read it if you’d like. This is Cambodia through my eyes. (this is unedited except for spelling and punctuation).

Thursday 19-05-05 (Written 23-05-05).
I want to quickly talk about my first impressions the evening I arrived in Phnom Penh. Sue met me at the airport with the document that I needed to get an NGO visa. She was a great sight for sore eyes. I was really happy to know that someone was there to pick me up as I hadn’t received final conformation of this. When I got my bag we went outside and had a quick drink where she gave me my phone and gave me a really quick security orientation, which basically was, “don’t carry more than 40 dollars, cause people get held up by gunmen quite regularly and they WILL shoot if you don’t give them all your money.”

Then she took me in her “tuk, tuk” and loaned me Kristin’s helmet. When I arrived in my neighbourhood it was all a bit surreal, it was dark but there were a few lights on which gave the place a sort of mystical/magic/romantic feel. I was definitely in a slum, a very foreign place, but I had a real peace and it didn’t feel intimidating. I laughed as one of the first things I saw was a naked little girl run up the path, I thought “how typical” for a third world slum, it was like something from a World Vision ad.

I came into the “house” the downstairs was only enclosed by some metal wiring and not even completely. They ushered me directly upstairs to my room. After a few minutes, Sue left with a look that seemed to say she was really sorry for me. I went back upstairs to “unpack” but really more to catch my breath. The whole household (nearly) came up into my room and told me their names which I couldn’t pronounce and forgot almost immediately. Serey was there and translated a bit. I found out later that night that Terum (actually Teraa –edit 14-07-05) was going to stay in the room with me. I thought that was great (even though they got craig’s directions pretty wrong, ah well). I went to bed early that night-around 8:30, partly cause I was tired, partly cause I was a bit overwhelmed and didn’t know what else to do. It was loud and noisy but eventually I got to sleep - did I mention it was hot? Yeah it was an oven, and I was swimming in my own sweat.