Warm Arms

All right, to properly introduce you to what I like to call The Glory of Arm Warmers, I went over to the market and bought some. Here they are:

Take note of the crazy stripes. Now, how about a close up?

Attractive, aren't they? The woman who sold them to me indicated that they are, indeed for the protection of my delicate white skin against the harsh Cambodian sun. The fashion benefits are just extra I guess.



When I was a kid, it didn't take long in our household to discover that whiners didn't get what they wanted. In fact, it was a surefire way to get exactly what you didn't want-- sent to your room or some other undesirable outcome (like a heaping pile of spinach). So I grew up, and I became a person who doesn't like to whine, who is afraid of complaining too loud, and who sometimes doesn't protest enough. Maybe that's too harsh. In any case, it can sometimes take a lot for me to speak up about something, especially if it involves a confrontation of any kind. Perhaps this is why I fit in with Cambodians.

This week I've been thinking about when it might be appropriate to whine. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is International Human Rights Day. Although the US doesn't "celebrate" it with a holiday (unlike Cambodia), people around the world will pause and hopefully think about what it means to support "human rights," what those rights might be, and how they've been forgotten, neglected, or even trampled over in years past. Hopefully, people will also think about preventing these problems in years to come.

In contemplating how to address these problems, the word "advocacy" comes to mind. I've spent time with people who aspire to be "advocates," and I think some of that ethos has rubbed off on me. I want to stand in the gap, to be a voice for those who have been silenced. It has only been recently that I've wondered how often that voice might sound a little whiny.

After all, if you really want to dig in and speak for people who can't speak for themselves, it will probably sound a lot like this:

"It's not fair!"

"It's not right!"

"Stop it!"

Which, at the end of the day, sounds pretty much like a childish squabble over who gets the toy.

These words have come up in relation to a very minor injustice, something that doesn't even look like advocacy; at least, it is not the typical "global issue advocacy." In this small situation, I know the right place for me is to be standing in the gap, pressed on one side by what is right and on the other by what is easy. I feel a lot like I'm whining, calling out something that is unfair, and that in the end will have little impact on any global crisis. I'm finding myself a bit more sympathetic with people like Nathan and Jeremiah, Mordecai and Daniel, men who had to speak up when faced with a person or a problem that was untenable. I've had to sacrifice a bit of my pride, to swallow the aversion I have to being a "whiner" in the hope that by speaking up, the right outcome will emerge. Is this whining? Is this advocacy?

Perhaps what is different about advocacy (apart from being a term with fewer negative connotations) is that it is done in service to others. Whining seems to be something we do for ourselves, when we don't get our way, when things are more difficult than we'd like them to be. Advocacy is for those who aren't getting what they want, for whom difficulty is a lifestyle. Done carelessly or selfishly, advocacy can resemble whining quite a bit. Done right, I think advocacy sounds less like whining and more like a call into something better, something purposeful, something that will free others from oppression and bondage.

In the end, this is what God did for us. He says to us: "All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations- a people who continually provoke me to my very face" (Isaiah 65:2-3). As advocates, we hold out our hands to obstinate people, rebuking self-serving attitudes, exhorting selfish actions, and inviting change. We regard the oppressed with our Father as the example: "Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear" (v. 24). We act fairly, we act rightly, and we stop oppression. But instead of screaming, crying, and flailing, we do it mercifully, prayerfully, and humbly. After all, if we are truly advocates, we are not seeking our personal agenda, we are seeking God's agenda: justice and peace.


Arm Warmers

I've been out of the US for awhile, but I just have to ask:

Are arm warmers the fashion in the US too?

I meant to take a photo of this phenomenon, but haven't had a chance (attribute it to my inability to drive my motorbike while photographing). I'm essentially talking about knit cloth that girls wear on their arms. Sometimes striped, sometimes in crazy patterns. And while some would suggest that this is simply a variation on the elbow-length gloves that serve to protect one's skin from dust and sun, I think it's a horse of a different color. For one: I've seen these unsightly things on women who are not only driving, but walking around the store or market. For another: well, the gloves are not usually such a bold fashion statement, being as they are white or nude in color.

The whole thing reminds me of a childhood fascination with legwarmers (ostensibly due to a ballerina phase) which popped back up amongst undergrads at USC in the last few years. I'm wondering if Asia is on the cutting edge of fashion here (and given the stripes-on-plaids outfits I spot daily, I'm doubtful), or if this is simply another deluded Cambodian fashion trend akin to sparkly, sequined baseball caps (in pink!) jauntily perched atop the heads of young men about town.

If it is a fashion trend, I suppose I'll have to get a pair before I'm back for Christmas. Unless I'm a trend behind and it is, in fact, stripes and plaids that are this season's Ugg boots.



Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. I'm not sure who started it, but I think it's an important day, as I'm sure you'll hear from Bono, The Gap, and Starbucks. For years, AIDS had a stigma, and in the US it still does, despite the fact that now the populations greatest at risk are, like those around the world, the poorest. Considerable amounts of money have been spent to combat the disease, to educate, to medicate. Even so, the AIDS problem rages on.

I'm fairly sure most people don't like to think of AIDS. After all, it's a disease passed on in ways we don't like to talk about and connected with issues we like to pretend don't exist. Many times it is easier to condemn those who have the illness rather than face the fact that their situations predispose them to exposure to HIV/AIDS; a child born to poor, unfaithful parents in the slums who sees drug abuse as an everyday fact is not likely to learn that there are other choices and healthier behaviors. We forget that AIDS is, as we teach thousands of Cambodians every day, as much a community problem as an individual one.

One of the most powerful ways that I have seen community response is here in Cambodia through the work of the church. It is hard to describe what it means to those infected with HIV when they are the subject of intentional care. When church members overcome fear and stigma to reach out and help them with something as basic as cooking a meal when they are sick. It changes lives, and leads many of those infected with HIV to the church and to Jesus.

I recently had the opportunity to pray with a group of men and women who were infected with AIDS and the community members who had taken it upon themselves to care for these individuals. When we asked them how we could pray for them, I anticipated that they would ask for money, better access to medications, or something practical. Instead, they all asked unanimously if we would pray that their village would grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Somehow, in the midst of caring for other's needs, and in meeting together to learn about community response to HIV, they developed a passion for reaching their neighbors.

While I find this kind of community action incredible and poignant, it certainly does not need to be an isolated example. The reason it is World AIDS Day is because we can all do something to reach those with AIDS, or those at risk. Be a mentor, serve at a soup kitchen, volunteer at a drug counseling center. Be around those people who live with the threat of HIV and AIDS, and watch your compassion grow. Serve those people in the name of Jesus, sharing the gospel through your actions. Pray for their salvation, and be ready for your heart and love for them to grow. What is important is not the size of the benefit concert you hold (though, if that's what you want to do, go for it), what is crucial is that you do something.

If you're still at a loss, you can start by filling out this petition, improving access to life-extending antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for the poor. After that... talk to others, look around. There are opportunities for those who are willing to help.

This little guy's mother has HIV. He's too young to be tested.