Toyota, Women’s Figure Skating and Cultural Lessons

When the Toyota recalls made headline news my husband asked me one question: “You don’t think someone will commit suicide over this, do you?”

Absurd or plausible? How many of you understand where this question comes from or can’t believe Peter would ask such a thing?

When Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, criticized Toyota President Akio Toyoda’s apology for not showing enough remorse did you nod in agreement or get defensive? If you nodded in agreement, what would have demonstrated an appropriate show of remorse? If you got defensive what did you see or hear that might not have been as obvious or direct?

Last night’s women’s figure skating finals was beautiful and stressful to watch: Mao Asada v. Kim Yu-Na = Japan v. South Korea = two women carrying the weight of their respective countries. The entire country.

Overly dramatic sports commentators telling a story? Or did you feel the weight too? Did you feel relief for Kim Yu-Na and simultaneously feel the weight of a second place finish or did you wonder when America would once again be on the podium?

I don’t remember anyone ever telling me that getting a ‘B’ or not getting into a top university or quitting every instrument I ever picked up brought shame and disgrace to my country, but I certainly understood that my family (and by family I mean those alive and dead) would forever be a part of each success and failure.

My father asked me to play the piano at the inaugural Sunday service of the church plant he was pastoring. I told him I really wasn’t sure because I’m not that strong of an accompanist. Practice may make perfect, but I really didn’t think I could practice close enough to perfect. My parents insisted in direct and indirect ways about how important this was and what it would mean for me to play the piano. I gave in. Big mistake. I was horrible. I was so embarrassed, but more for my parents than anyone else. We carried each other’s disappointment and embarrassment. We never talked about it. (Dad, if you’re reading this we still don’t have to talk about it.)

Multiply that by, um, infinity, and that might be what Kim Yu-Na and Koreans and Mao Asada and Japanese everywhere were experiencing – the weight of a nation carried by two women and their nations. (And I can’t even get into the historic animosity between these two nations…)

You could almost see that weight come off of Kim Yu-Na as she finished her long program and hit that final pose. We all saw it – it was obvious and indirect at the same time. Kim Yu-Na couldn’t explain in post-performance interviews why she uncharacteristically started crying, but the sports commentators filled in the blanks. They may not have felt a nation’s pressure on them, but they saw it and understood it enough to translate the indirect and subtle.

That’s what Rep. Kaptur missed during the congressional hearings. Perhaps she and the other politicians were expecting tears but what they missed was the indirect weight of a nation losing face and issuing apologies and testimony in both English and Japanese. Maybe they need a lesson in cross-cultural awareness, and watch some tape of last night’s figure skating performances. Maybe our politicians need cultural interpreters as well as language interpreters?

So what did you catch or miss or learn or find yourself explaining as an automotive giant was held accountable and an ice queen held court?

Do You Exercise…Your Right to Vote?

February 2nd is the season premiere of my favorite show on network television.

It is also Election Day –  the reason why there has been so much hot air on the radio, tv spots with staged handshakes and conversations in cafes and automated “messages” from the candidates who really want to get to know my voicemail!

Unfortunately I did not become a US citizen in time to vote for the primaries so I will register to vote on Thursday and get ready for the next round. I’m excited and very new to the process as a voter. During my former life as a newspaper reporter I spent hours covering campaigns, and election day/night/early next morning was always a long, caffeinated, adrenaline-pumping or mind-numbing time. But I was definitely an observer, watching the process unfold and fascinated by the many choices people made or simply ignored.

The 15th Amendment gave African American men the right to vote. The 19th Amendment gave women of all races the right to vote.

But I know plenty of Americans out there who don’t exercise their right to vote. Are you jaded? Are you not casting a vote in defiance or protest? Are you lazy or indifferent? Why don’t you vote?

And then there are those of you who will be out there tomorrow staring at the ballot. What wins your vote or what makes you want to vote for the other candidate? What issues are closest to you? Do you vote straight party or do you go seat by seat?

And what tips would you give a newbie?

I am genuinely curious. For me, becoming an American, in part, has been an intentional decision to become more involved in the conversations and process. I may not make policy, but I want to be informed and inform policy-makers. Am I being naive and idealistic?

UrbanFaith.com & Health-care Reform

I don’t know about your circle of influence and acquaintances but there’s been a lot of chatter about health-care around these parts. LOTS OF CHATTER.

Have you read the proposed reform and related reports on health insurance and Medicare?  I have not, but I’m hoping to skim through it because honestly I can’t comment on specifics unless I know and understand them at a very basic level.

What I do know is that on a personal level I’ve experienced the broken health-care system. A few years ago our family lived through a major medical crisis, which should’ve worked with our major medical insurance coverage that we were paying for out-of-pocket with a high deductible. Four trips in an ambulance, a LifeFlight jet ride with life support, and almost a week at a major university’s hospital – we lived and breathed health-care. We were fortunate. We had some coverage. We had some knowledge of the system. We had friends in hospitals across the country asking to see scans, films, reports, giving advice. And in the end it was our InterVarsity community that rallied together to help us tackle the $10,000+ in bills we nearly drowned under.

Please don’t tell me the system isn’t broken. Please don’t tell me that the “church” should step up unless you yourself are willing to ante up. Church is a building. “The Church” – well that’s something else entirely.

Please don’t tell me you are “pro-life” if you aren’t willing to consider how the current system could be changed to improve life for so many.

Please don’t tell me you are “pro-choice” if you aren’t willing to consider how the current system doesn’t give the same choices to everyone.

I need to stop.

UrbanFaith.com has teamed up with Sojourners to present a great roundup of opinion on the health-care debate, from a wide range of religious and political perspectives…take a look-see. Scroll down and you might see a face you recognize.

2% – And I’m Not Talking About Milk

I do not drink milk unless it is steamed and frothed, but I am a news junkie so the last 24 hours have been better than a double-latte. But I was feeling a bit invisible yesterday as I watched major news outlets talk about voter turnout – Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Women, Men, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, College Grads, High School Grads, etc. Um, what about Asian Americans?

Well, according to the New York Times exit polls, Asians made up 2% of the electorate Tuesday. 2%? Really? According to the Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote), there were 7.2 million Asian American eligible voters. I believe Asian Americans make up about 5% of the overall population, and of those eligible to vote only about 50% actually register, and then fewer actually do.

Take a look at the NYT graph. You can click to change the size of the bars to reflect percentage or change the year to compare results between election years.

This election has got me thinking about a lot of things…race, gender, faith, economics, national security and citizenship. I’m still amazed at what happened on Tuesday. I was near tears and a bit dumbstruck by it all. One of the best quotes I read was in the Chicago Tribune yesterday from an anonymous black man on the “L” headed home after the Grant Park celebration: “Rosa Parks sat. Martin Luther King marched. Barack Obama ran. My grandchildren will fly.”

My children were quite interested in the elections, starting from the primaries. My daughter and I talked about women’s suffrage. The kids and I talked about citizenship. The five us talked about the economy, about taxes, about race and gender and class, about sound-bites and what they meant or didn’t mean.

And I’ve spent some time with friends and acquaintances talking about voting and citizenship and identity. What does it mean to be American? What does it mean when someone asks, “Where are you from?” or “Where did you learn to speak English?” And I’ve wondered for a long time about what it would take for me to want to be “American”. 

I know it’s a little early to be making New Year’s resolutions, especially considering I tend not to make New Year’s resolutions. But I’ve had a copy of the N-400 form in my folder for a few months now. Maybe 2009 should be the year I finally do this.

What in the World?!?! – Obama, Wii & the Transition of Power

It’s the day after. The sun is shining on a lawn full of gold leaves waiting to be raked, piled and jumped in to. I can hear the hum of a neighbor’s lawnmower and the squawking of my dishwasher that is steps away from the scrap heap I’m afraid. On the surface it is all rather ordinary and peaceful.

Which is the very thing that amazes me this morning. It is an ordinary and peaceful day. In other parts of the world, transitions of power do not happen with such peace and celebration. The eyes of the world were on Chicago last night as President-elect Barack Obama and his family took the stage, and what the world saw was a sea of humanity. The screams and tears were of celebration and joy not horror and fear. The crowds were not fleeing or running for their lives. People stood their with feet firmly planted and eyes fixed on the stage or the jumbotrons. It was amazing.

It made me think about a recent purchase Peter and I made. We bought a Wii. (Shh. The kids don’t know, and we’re not even sure it was a wise thing to do.) So what does the Wii have to do with the elections? As we were paying for the stupid video game system, the sales associate was trying to sell us the buyer protection plan. He said it was like buying insurance that would cover repairs or replacement in case our kids accidentally dropped the Wii, spilled water on the Wii or did something stupid and broke the Wii. He started reading part of it to us, the part he thought was so funny, the part that said the plan would not cover damage caused by acts of God, civil war or looting. All three of us chuckled at what sounded so absurd. Seriously, if I were in the middle of a civil war I would not be all that concerned with a video game.

But that is what struck me last night and this morning. There are places in this world where civil war and looting are the norm. There are places in the city of Chicago and urban communities across the country where violence is the norm. Who is to say that those people do not long for a different normalcy, for peace, for a chance to laugh and be entertained? But isn’t it incredible that last night Americans voted in this country’s first biracial African-American man into the White House only 43 years after the Voting Rights Act became law turning the world around without turning the world around?

I realize that there are many who are disappointed, maybe even horrified at the outcome of the elections. This morning on the radio I heard a woman from Arizona who was obviously upset as she said firmly, “Barack Obama is not my president. He will never be my president.” I also realize that just because there is peace today that the threat of violence isn’t real. Just after the upset Arizona woman spoke, the news reports went to an arrest made in Chicago – a man headed to Grant Park with a trunk full of automatic weapons and ammunition. I doubt he was going to hunt for moose in Chicago.

But partisan politics aside, I am amazed. Aren’t you?

The Gender Politics of Motherhood

I haven’t written anything in a few days because Sarah Palin put me in a funk on many levels – as a Christian, as a wife, as a mother, as a woman I do not understand the conservative love-fest over Palin.

Today I’m scratching my head over the working mom debate Palin’s candidacy has sparked. The conversation crosses the liberal-conservative spectrum because folks on the extremes and every where in the middle are asking what was never asked of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama and countless other men with young children who have run for public office: “Can you be a parent and be the (fill-in-the-blank-with-said-public-office)? Does your family or ambition come first? Do you think you can be the best parent you can be and still be the best (fill-in-the-blank-with-said-public-office)?”

I am a “working mom” (that is, working a paid job outside of the home). I always thought I would be, and then I gave myself permission to always ask if the decisions Peter and I were both making about our careers were best for our family (which included ourselves as well).

I was a newspaper reporter in Milwaukee when I was pregnant with Bethany 13 years ago. I remember doing phone interviews and filing a few stories from home lying on my side because of sciatica during the final weeks of my pregnancy, running out to the cop shop at 5 a.m. so that I could file police briefs and get back home before Peter left for the office so that I could stay home with Bethany when she was sick, or rushing back to get Bethany from daycare only to find that she was the last one to be picked up. 

Newspaper deadlines were then replaced with campus ministry, and we found college students who would babysit Bethany, Corban and then Elias while I met with other students for discipleship or planning meetings (thank God for Patrick, Christine, Tina and Joy as well as Jess, Hannah and the other amazing sisters at Delta Zeta!). Other times I would simply wait for Peter to come home, and I would schedule all my meetings according to College Time – 9 pm-2 am. We’ve had other campus staff come stay in our home so that I could travel to meetings, and friends and family who have provided our patchwork of childcare until all three reached school-age.

It has never been easy, so I take offense at comments questioning Palin or any other working mother’s commitment to her family. Working in ministry has made me a better parent and wife, and being a parent and wife has made me a better campus minister. I know many stay-at-home moms who love being home every morning and every afternoon for their kids; some long for a little more adult interaction, a little more in the bank each month, etc. I know many working moms who love their jobs and are a blessing to their employers and colleagues; some long for the hugs and kisses after the school bus arrives, the financial ability to stay at home, etc. The grass is always greener on the other side, but it isn’t fair to pick up the fence and start stabbing it into the neighbor’s yard.

So why is it OK to ask if Palin can be a mom, wife and VP but no one asked the same questions of Biden? Is it really because his children are older? Do we not ask the same type of questions of Obama because he’s running for the top office?

I find it rather vexing that conservatives like Dr. James Dobson think Palin is an “outstanding choice” for VP. How so? The fact that Palin is a working mother cannot have been overlooked by the Republicans. I’m sure it wasn’t the only factor. She is governor of Alaska. But there is no doubt that gender and the ability to both field dress a moose and breastfeed her infant son crossed someone’s mind as a helpful narrative. In many ways, her ability balance roles is what women across the political spectrum want. But for conservatives the feminist movement is “hurtful to women” because it encourages them to give up their natural roles as mothers, homemakers and nurturers, according to a top staff member with Focus on the Family. So why the love-fest? Does it really just come down to abortion? Please tell me it doesn’t. Explain to me how conservatives who for so long have promoted family values in seemingly narrow terms see this mother of five, soon-to-be-grandmother the best choice as the VP when in many church contexts she could not lead or hold authority over adult men? Does it really make sense to say she can lead the country but not lead in a church?