culture

An Unforgettable Journey

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It was our privilege at World to the Wise Cultural Tours to partner recently with Journey Arts Collective in Brentwood, Tennessee to create a very special experience for a group of ten creatives from the greater Nashville area.

Led by Australian Brett Mabury, whose home town of Perth is where I started school as a five-year-old, the Journey group consisted of writers, poets, photographers, songwriters and musicians. At each stop along the two-week journey, Brett had prepared meditations and exercises for reflection that enhanced the already impacting experience of some of Europe's richest sights.

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We began the adventure in Paris. Yes, we did take in many of the obligatory landmarks, but we also left space in the schedule for the travelers to explore on their own -- or sit and reflect or create. Our time also included a day trip to the Norman village of Giverny, where renowned impressionist painter Claude Monet made his home and painted his famous gardens for 43 years. We also enjoyed an evening with other creatives from the Paris area who are part of their own arts collective called La Fonderie.

Next stop was Lausanne, Switzerland, where I lived on two separate occasions for a total of six years. The weather that greeted us was unusually, incredibly mild and sunny, and we couldn't resist spending time by Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to the Lausannois). Over a traditional Swiss fondue in a restaurant overlooking the

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lake and the Alps beyond, my good friend Luc Zbinden shared with the group a little about Swiss culture and the challenges facing today's Switzerland. The next evening was spent with yet another group of creatives, this time hosted by Psalmodia, a music school with multiple locations in Switzerland and France and where I taught voice at one time.

We then made our way by train to the Italian region of Tuscany, a land that has become dear to my wife and me over the years. We base ourselves at a retreat center a half hour's drive west of Florence, hosted by the Ammirabile family and the caretaker, Luca. Staying here in the heart of the Tuscan countryside, with home cooked meals and warm conversation, affords an experience that is simply not possible staying in a hotel in a city where we know no one. We make day trips to places like Pisa, the Tuscan hill towns of Volterra and San Gimignano, and of course the heart of the Italian Renaissance, Florence. Whether taking in the artistic genius of the Renaissance artists or simply admiring the Florentine sunset over the Arno River from the overlook at Piazzale Michelangelo, one comes away with few words and lots of sighs.

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Stereotypical Stereotypes

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I was at a symposium last night on Russian-American relations moving from the Obama years into the Trump era. While most of Dr. Mark Katz's remarks and the questions asked of him centered on Trump and Putin's relationship and speculation about what that might look like moving forward, one question was asked that got me thinking about stereotypes. The question was something to the effect of, "How fair is it for Americans and other Westerners to believe that Putin's strong man persona is representative of the Russian people and culture?" The question put its finger on a common and universal tendency: to assume that everyone in a given group or culture is the same. We would of course deny that we think in such base and ignorant terms, but most of us are guilty of this at one time or another.

In the case of Vladimir Putin, we might think that most all Russians only understand the language of power and force, as Putin's MO is widely believed to be. And it is true that there are many Russians who are glad to have a leader who stands up to the West and is committed to restoring Mother Russia to her former glory.

But there are probably just as many Russians who would like a "kinder and gentler" leader who doesn't enjoy provoking the West and suppressing dissent. The few Russians I know personally are kind, caring people who have mixed feelings about their president -- like most of the world feels about its leaders. Some will point out that Putin is a vast improvement over his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.

We could think of other examples of stereotypes. Are all Germans super organized and efficient, with a hard exterior? Nope.

Are all Japanese workaholics? Nope. Not quite!

Are all Australians laid back? I don't think so, but I'm still looking for an uptight Aussie.

Aha. So here we see that there is often a kernel of truth to certain stereotypes. There is usually a reason why they were formed in the first place. The truth is that stereotypes can at times be useful, up to a point. If I were putting together an international team, I wouldn't be wrong to go to Switzerland or Germany to look for an administrative type, for example. International marketing firms will tell you that stereotypes based on studies and market research prove invaluable in their marketing strategies.

But stereotypes can just as often get us into trouble. Chances are, as soon as we allow the stereotype to take shape in our minds, one or more exceptions will present themselves.

In the current dialogue in the US about race, this is particularly dicey. It's a little too easy to assume all members of a certain race feel or behave the same way (racial profiling comes to mind). Polls and surveys and market research may help, but true understanding won't come until we sit down and listen to each other.

I'm going to have just such an opportunity on Jan 27, when I have been invited to moderate a round table discussion on the current state of race relations in the US, including in the American church. If you're in the Nashville area, we'd love for you to join us. Details here.

How to Turn a Vacation into a Pilgrimage

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What comes to mind when you hear the word "pilgrimage"? Trekking your way over rugged terrain to reach a shrine? Traveling thousands of miles to meet up with thousands of other pilgrims at a particular time of year? Perhaps. But what if any time you stepped out of your zone of familiarity could become a spiritual experience? Here are some real life examples:

Happening onto a painting at the Musée d'Orsay that touches something buried deep inside you and leaves you filled and wanting more at the same time.

Wandering the streets of a medieval Italian town and stumbling across a secluded garden that feels like it was reserved for you.

Coming across a serene, blue glacier in the most utter silence you've ever heard, with not another soul in sight.

Sitting surrounded by the world's most beautiful stained glass and wishing you could know the king who commissioned it as an act of worship.

Sitting at a table with new friends and wondering how you could possibly have been there for three hours.

Climbing an extinct volcano in New Zealand and appreciating the challenge of the climb as much as the vistas from the summit.

A conversation with a stranger whose kindness cuts through the outer crust of your heart. You come to find out that part of his name means "peace".

Marveling at the mysteries of a lost civilization that left behind the glorious ruins where you now stand.

Being invited to share the meager rations of a refugee family who has lost everything, destroying and rebuilding your notions of hospitality and humility.

All of these, which I have experienced first hand, make the term "sightseeing" sound so mundane, so small. When you step outside to experience something or some place new -- even if it is one of the most touristy spots on the planet -- there are surely divinely orchestrated moments waiting for you.

Especially if you're open to them.

They can be little serendipities, or they can be moments of transcendence that alter your understanding of God.

We're planning a framework for late spring where such moments are sure to find you. All you have to do is show up.

Want to know more? Click here.

Cultivating Curiosity

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We are all born curious. Show me a baby who isn't drawn to shiny objects or who doesn't believe everything is intended to be put in the mouth. Then the baby becomes a toddler and all of a sudden the entire house has to be childproofed. Everything at eye level is fair game to be explored and often dismantled.

As a young child, I was a voracious reader. We were living in Australia, where, at least at the time, there was no kindergarten like we have in the US, and children started right into Grade 1 at the age of five. I was already reading when I started school in Perth, and I remember my teachers scrambling to keep me stocked with books. Seems I couldn't get enough.

As I've written and spoken about before, we moved back to the US halfway through my fourth grade year, and on the return trip my senses were assaulted by the sights and sounds of exotic lands and foreign tongues. Once again, I couldn't get enough.

Then something happened.

The thing is, I don't know what. Somewhere along the line -- perhaps it was puberty -- I lost my love of reading and the curiosity behind that love. Up to that point I remember loving to read about all kinds of things -- I was simply interested in the world and everything in it.

By my high school years my interests had narrowed to two main areas: music and foreign languages. I excelled in all my subjects, but some of them didn't require that much effort. I was indeed hungry to make progress in my two chosen areas, but I don't remember deriving much satisfaction from anything else.

I'm sorry to say my college years were not much different. Music and foreign languages still dominated my brain space (foreign language eventually gained the upper hand) -- along with an overactive social life.

I was well into my years living in Europe that I began to really notice things. To pay attention to a broader array of areas, such as world events and how they affect each other. Or how math and science cannot be entirely separated from, say, music or philosophy, or even theology. In fact, this growing sense that all things are somehow connected has become a driving force in (re)shaping my world view. And my fascination with how other cultures live and think plays right into this.

In this season of my life, I consider it not only an important aspect of my life, but a calling, to somehow create sparks that trigger curiosity in others -- especially curiosity about people from cultures or experiences unlike ours.

Regardless of your political persuasion or the outcome of the 2016 US elections, we all must admit that, now, more than ever, we are in great need of regaining and fostering cultural curiosity. Just as I allowed my mind to become dulled by who knows what -- teenage preoccupations, then too many college friends (yes, I think that's possible), we can as adults allow ourselves to be lulled to sleep by the familiar. Falling asleep in our own echo chamber.

Is it possible to make someone curious? Perhaps, perhaps not. But just as a parent provides toys, activities and games that appeal to the innate curiosity of a child, we can most certainly make things available to whet the imagination of those who are asleep...while continually feeding the imagination of those who are curious.

Season 2 of the World to the Wise podcast aims to do just that. Stay tuned! If you're already a subscriber, we would appreciate your taking a minute to write a brief review.

What adventures has your curiosity led you to?

Explaining Christmas

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Explaining Christmas

I’ve found myself wondering of late what someone from a relatively unchristianized country might think of the American celebration of Christmas. The dialogue might sound something like this:

“Well, see, it’s like this. The two most important people at Christmas time are Santa Claus and baby Jesus. Which one is more important depends on who you ask. Christmas is the time we remember the birth of Jesus in a feeding trough around 2,000 years ago. (No one knows exactly when he was born, so we took an old pagan holiday on December 25 and turned it into Christmas.) That’s why you see so many scenes of a baby surrounded by animals and a few people. But none of them are wearing red suits with big black buttons — that’s Santa Claus, who they call Father Christmas in the UK and other Commonwealth countries. The story goes that he lives at the North Pole and makes a visit every year to hand out presents, coming down the chimney if your house has one. Parents of young children love to put their sometimes terrified children in the lap of an old guy dressed up to look like Santa. Most people don’t know where Santa Claus comes from, but rumor has it he is a devolved version of a man named Nicholas who lived in what is now Turkey many years ago and was apparently an incredible guy. Parents agonize over whether to raise their children believing Santa really exists and dreading the day they find out he doesn’t — or just telling them from the start that he’s no more real than Frosty the Snowman.”

“Who’s that?”

“Oh, you don’t know Frosty either? He’s one of a thousand characters that make up the myriad of stories that are pulled out at Christmas time. Like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. (Somewhere along the line Santa Claus acquired a whole herd of reindeer. And he has lots and lots of elves who help him in his workshop. I’m not sure how much they think about baby Jesus.)

You see, Christmas is about way more than Jesus OR Santa; it’s a time to feel all warm and cozy and watch schmaltzy movies and treat each other nicer than usual. We call that the Spirit of Christmas. We give each other presents — so many that Christmas shopping counts for 20% of American retailers’ annual profits. And giving to non-profits for one last tax deduction is part of that spirit, I suppose.

And we sing songs which we call carols. No idea why we call them that, but no other songs we sing throughout the year are called carols. They’re about the birth of Jesus, Santa Claus, other characters as mentioned above…and winter — especially songs that make you feel warm and cozy in spite of the winter cold. (Here in the States we don’t really think about the millions of people who celebrate Christmas on or below the equator — that just doesn’t make sense to us and would mess everything up.)

And of COURSE there’s food. Lots of it, especially sweets. Not sure how baby Jesus feels about the amount of weight gained in this country at this time of year. But who doesn’t love a slice of pumpkin pie or peppermint bark or bourbon bonbons or fudge or…I could go on. And somewhere, some time, someone decided that if two people were found standing together under some mistletoe, a parasite that grows on trees, they have to kiss each other. But you never hear mention of mistletoe at another time of year, so I’m not sure it counts if you’re looking to kiss someone.

On Christmas Eve, some people go to church, where most of the songs are indeed about the birth of Jesus. Then you go home to listen to the rest. It’s a time for families to get together, specifically around an evergreen tree decorated with all kinds of ornaments and keepsakes.”

“What does the tree have to do with the birth of Jesus?”

“Uh, no idea. In fact, the tree thing probably dates back to the pagans as well, but oh, we love our Christmas trees.

In fact, most of us love pretty much all of it.

Does this help?”

Love Thy Other

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In his book Cultural Intelligence (a phrase I happen to use quite a bit), David Livermore says the "first step toward becoming culturally intelligent is to become more aware of our own cultural identity." The last few weeks have shown me -- and us -- that we in the US don't know ourselves as well as we thought we did. It seems there were surprises at every turn during the (interminable) election season. My Friday morning breakfast buddy, David, and I would look at each other months ago and assure each other there was no way Trump would be elected. Yet here we are.

The events and conversations surrounding this election, as well as other historic events such as Black Lives Matter, have had a way of revealing -- not creating -- some real gaps in understanding the Other, whoever that may be. Like a personal trial uncovers traits in us we may not have even been aware of, the same thing seems to be happening on a national scale.

One not-so-attractive trait I've discovered in myself is a tendency to paint people with too broad a brush. The truth is not all Trump voters are the same or voted for him for the same reasons, and the very same can be said of Clinton supporters. And all of these people are so much more than Trump or Clinton supporters. One of the toxic byproducts of this election cycle is the tendency to divide the country into those two camps -- as if we had no other way to define ourselves.

One thing Livermore says in his chapter entitled "The Average American" hit close to home:

"I've been gently challenged by friends in other parts of the world about my tendency to treat my fellow Americans with the same kind of paternalistic arrogance that I accuse them of using with others. One Asian friend said, 'But, Dave [bringing it even closer to home], might it be that the very things you accuse your fellow citizens of doing in relationship to people from other cultures is the way you're relating to them? Maybe the Other for you is a less-traveled, less-thoughtful American neighbor!'" (Bold print mine.)

Ouch.

So I took David Brooks' advice and read, with my wife, J.D. Vance's book Hillbilly Elegy, which I will review in a forthcoming post. Suffice it to say for now that it is a poignant and in some ways tragic depiction of a demographic that I am still trying to understand. (Do not understand me to imply that all Trump supporters are hillbillies; if you do, you're missing the point here.) I have to confess that I often feel I relate better to people from any number of foreign countries than I do to this subculture in which Vance grew up in Eastern Kentucky and Western Ohio and unapologetically calls "hillbilly".

Livermore reminds us that self-awareness is the starting place. Once we become more aware of what drives our own assumptions and values, we can begin to contrast these with those of the Other. And if you're anything like me -- and I know I am -- you have more than one Other to seek to understand.

I suppose Socrates had it right when he said, "Above all, know thyself."

Probably the best way to "Love thy Other."

Season 1 Wrap-up

World to the Wise Podcast

This week we wrap up what for me has been a great ride, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it too. It’s been roughly 6 months and exactly 25 episodes since we launched in April, and we’ve been to a lot of parts of the world in that short time. The great thing about podcasts is you can go back and listen to ANY episode you may have missed along the way — or RElisten to something that’s been triggered by something you’ve heard or experienced lately.

In the inaugural episode I laid out the vision and purpose of this podcast: “to stretch the borders of your thinking, broaden your perspective, and equip you to engage your world.” I hope we’ve done that — from interviews with fascinating people like Dr. Ming Wang, a renowned eye surgeon and philanthropist who grew up under the oppression of the Cultural Revolution in Mao Tse Dong’s China. — to Chris Guillebeau, who recently completed a personal quest to visit every country on the planet.

I particularly enjoyed my conversation with Mike and Patricia Majett, who were very honest in describing what it’s like to live as a biracial couple in today’s American South.

We got to know a medical couple, Drs. Eric and Rachel McLaughlin, in the impoverished nation of Burundi, and were inspired by the way they have poured out their lives on behalf of the poorest of the poor, not only by treating the sick but also by training indigenous doctors to carry the torch.

We visited New Zealand, vicariously, through the eyes of Neil and Jill White, who are still waiting for you to pay them a visit in one of the most beautiful and interesting places Becky and I have ever been.

We visited Turkey, which had just been shaken up by an attempted coup and nerves were still on edge. We also heard from two moms who are raising their children to be bilingual — one is a native English speaker teaching her children Spanish, and the other Italian facing the uphill challenge of teaching her children her mother tongue in an ocean of English speakers.

And I hope you enjoyed my interview with Lee Camp, where we discussed his book, Who Is My Enemy?, as well as Servant Group international Executive Director Dave Dillard. I found these especially thought-provoking, and great preparation for my summer discovery trip to Europe. You’ll remember that my wife Becky and I spent several weeks observing and learning about the refugee crisis there that reached a boiling point in the last year to two years. I recorded podcasts from each of the countries we visited: Switzerland, Greece, Germany, and France. As much as we’ve traveled in Europe, this was probably more of an eye-opener than any other trip we’ve made, as many of the refugees took on names and faces, and true stories of suffering, bravery, desperation and heartache…and survival. As I said at the end of the trip, Becky and I didn’t come back with solutions to this complex dilemma…but we did come back impacted by the plight of these fellow human beings, many of which became our friends in a very short time.

It IS a complex situation. While I am generally in favor of any Western country taking in refugees who have lost everything to the atrocities of war (something that frankly remains the stuff of books and movies for most of us), I also recognize that there are inherent risks. I have questions about the methods of determining where to place refugees, and to what degree we should expect them to integrate into mainstream culture. I’m also aware that these decisions are largely made by people whose lives will likely never be directly impacted by the situation.

In the meantime, I believe in the adage “Think globally and act locally,” so we are becoming more familiar with the efforts in our own city to assimilate the thousands of refugees right here at home.

In August we turned a corner and began a series on subcultures within the United States. The truth is that the notion of a typical American is pretty much a myth, and we have much to learn — whether Americans or not — about the many subcultures that make up the American patchwork. Although we barely scratched the surface — so far — we met some interesting people. From the Navajo Nation and Santa Fe in the West, to the gentle Southern culture of the South Carolina Low Country, from the Amish community to the Nashville songwriters’ culture to the Indian American community, we tasted a lot of different flavors — all of them American.

You can of course find any and all of these episodes under the podcast tab on this website.

So now we’re taking a brief break, when we’ll be ramping up for more discoveries, stimulating conversations, aha moments, and places to explore on this planet.

In the meantime, I do hope you’ll still be following my blog. Becky and I are leading a group of American artists on a fall break trip to Europe, where we’ll not only see some of the finest art ever made, but meet localcreatives for some cultural exchange and sharing of perspectives , and I’ll be doing some posting from there.

Speaking of which, if you haven’t already done so, you’re invited to like the World to the Wise page on Facebook, and you can find me on Twitter and Instagram at iDavidDurham.

Be well, travel safely, stay curious and we’ll see you soon for Season 2!

Gullah Culture and the South Carolina Low Country

World to the Wise Podcast

My wife and I had the pleasure of spending Labor Day weekend in the Charleston, SC area. Besides some great time with family and enjoying Folly Beach, we also did a tour of Charleston led by a guide named Alphonso Brown. Mr. Brown is Gullah. Know what that means? He is part of the Gullah culture, also known as Geechee, who are descendants of West African slaves who speak a sort of Creole English, or Pidgin — and have done so for generations. There is a lot of unknown about the origins of the Gullah people, but most scholars agree they can trace many of their roots to the country of Sierra Leone. The Gullah were concentrated for many years along the islands of the coastal Carolinas, Georgia, and extending into northern Florida. Since most of the islands have now been connected to the mainland by bridges and causeways, the Gullah have blended a little more into broader African American culture. The cities of Charleston and Beaufort, SC probably have the highest concentrations of Gullah speakers today. After an interesting tour of Charleston through the eyes of a descendant of slaves, I sat down for a few minutes with Alphonso Brown. You can find his book, A Gullah Guide to Charleston, below.

At the same time we were in South Carolina, I was reading a book called The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. In it Whitehead chronicles the odyssey of a fictional but real character (if you know what I mean) named Cora, and her harrowing journey from a pre-Civil War Georgia plantation toward an elusive freedom.

If you tend to romanticize life on a southern plantation, or simply realize you need to know more about what African slaves were put through, I recommend this book.

ALSO while I was in South Carolina (talk about convergence!), I heard on NPR of the passing of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, a onetime frequent contributor on NPR on things culinary and cultural. It turns out Vertamae was Gullah herself (she called herself Geechee, which up to that time was considered a pejorative term), and helped raise awareness of the Carolina Low Country.

So what if you’re a white South Carolinian grappling with the past, present, and future of the home state you love? I also sat down with long-time friend Liz Gilland, who, after a number of years living outside the sate, moved back to her native Conway, SC. She has since held public office on the regional level and is very invested in the welfare of the Low Country.  I asked Liz to do some musing on her beloved Low Country.

No matter where you’re from, there are things to celebrate about your culture and your history, and things you’re…well, not very proud of. That’s the human experience. But we can ensure a brighter future only by learning from the past.

An Amish Odyssey

World to the Wise Podcast

I hope you have already listened to last week's episode, where I interviewed journalist and author Jeff Smith about his experience reconnecting with childhood friends Bill and Tricia Moser. At Tricia’s invitation to visit them on their new farm in rural Michigan, Jeff had a rather large surprise waiting for him. The Mosers had left the affluent middle class, suburban, Evangelical lifestyle…and become Amish. Becoming Amish is the title of Jeff’s book, where he recounts his journey of discovery into a world he knew very little about. It turns out I didn't know that much, either.

This week we get to hear from Bill Moser himself, who has been friends with Jeff ever since they were four years old and living a few houses down from each other in the Detroit area. I hope you enjoy listening to this thoughtful, soft-spoken man reflect on the last 17 or so years. And just a heads up: because he is so soft-spoken, you may need to turn your volume up a little higher than you’re used to!

Hot Climate and Cold Climate Cultures

World to the Wise Podcast

Have you ever been with someone from a different culture and wondered at -- or even been shocked by -- something they said or did? Have you yourself committed a cultural fauxpas because you didn't know any better? It happens to just about all of us at one time or another. Our guest this week, Sarah Lanier, talks about her book, Foreign to Familiar, in which she explains that many of our behaviors are consistent with the culture we live in, and specifically whether we live in a hot climate or cold climate culture. The thing is, it's not always as simple as how far north or south you live. And as we know, different cultures can coexist within one country, with the American North and South being an obvious example.

I think you'll find this interview illuminating -- you might even have some "Aha" moments as you are reminded of certain experiences. Understanding these concepts can go a long way toward more effective communication, leading to more fruitful relationships and sometimes even more successful business partnerships.

If you find the interview helpful, please share it by simply posting the URL of this page!

Here is a link to Ms. Lanier's book:

"There's a whole world out there..."

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewing a dear Indian-American couple named Pravin and Fiona. They have been living in the US for a number of years, have two sons born here, and are themselves on the path toward US citizenship. (You can find that interview here.) One simple thing that struck me is something Fiona said in response to my question of what took her some getting used to about life in these United States. She said something to the effect of "Sometimes Americans don't seem to know that there's a whole world out there."

Ouch.

I suppose on one hand our navel-gazing is understandable -- there is so much going on in this country, not to mention in our daily existence, that many might say they just don't have time to learn about the world out there. And I get it. Plus, our country is so vast, with so many beautiful places to see, one could spend a lifetime just traveling within the United States.

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world out there

Here's what I suggest: if you like a one-dimensional life, one single perspective on things, a single way of doing things, of viewing the world, and already completely understand why people are the way they are...

...well, then, you're probably not reading this blog! Because this is the place where we have turned up our curiosity, where we believe the world has more to teach us than we can contain, and where we KNOW we are richer for every single thing we learn and experience from the OTHER -- whoever and wherever he or she may be.

Did you catch my interview with Navajo Nation member Dale Tsosie (pron. 'sosie') last week? He had some powerful things to say about his identity as a Native American, and how reading the Bible is what gave him permission to fully embrace his Navajo identity.

In this week's podcast I have the pleasure of introducing you to a wonderful lady named Sarah Lanier, whose book, Foreign to Familiar, is a fascinating and readable look into how different people behave based on the climate of the culture they live in -- hot or cold. You won't want to miss this!

American Subcultures: the Navajo Nation

World to the Wise Podcast

Last week we began a special series on subcultures in the United States. There is so much to discover -- for Americans and non-Americans alike -- among the different people groups that make up the American patchwork, whether these are defined by geography, ethnicity, or perhaps interests and experiences.

This week we hear from Dale Tsosie, a husband, father, and grandfather from the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American reservation in the United States, covering an area of over 27,000 square miles. I was sobered by some of the things Dale shared from his heart, and I hope you learn as much from him as I did.

Join us next week for a look at another interesting American subculture, and if you have suggestions for this series, don't hesitate to email us at podcast@daviddurham.org.

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There Ain't No Good Guys

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BlackHat_WhiteHat

I've been reminded so often of the 70's Dave Mason song called "We Just Disagree". In an already polarized culture, most of us are tempted to think in terms of good guys and bad guys. Another terrorist attack -- that's clearly a bad guy. Which, of course, makes us the good guys. My favorite candidate is the good guy, which of course makes the other candidate the bad guy. Just yesterday I was talking with some friends who were grappling with the whole situation in Turkey, where certain elements in the military attempted to overthrow the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. How are we distant onlookers supposed to process events like this? Again, we often default to the question of who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?

If only life were that simple. Understand, I am of course in no way condoning or excusing terrorist attacks just because "we're all human." But life is sticky. And more importantly, we are all capable of the very best and the very worst of human nature. Take the Syrian war, for example. Now put yourself in the place of the US administration and Departments of State and Defense and try to imagine choosing sides. Do you support the rebels fighting against the tyrant, only to discover that they too are beheading children?

But back to our polarized culture. It turns out we're not the only ones. Brexit has not caused but revealed a deeply divided Britain, as the coup attempt in Turkey revealed the same. The us against them mentality only serves to perpetuate this polarization, and, as usual, the voices in the middle are often the faintest.

For me, it comes down to the fact that I am responsible for me, and the way I view those unlike me. And if I do a little appropriate self-examination, I quickly realize all the evil in the world is not out there somewhere.

I often think of G.K. Chesterton's response to the London Times survey question of "What is wrong with the world":

 "Dear London Times,

    I am."

In many cases, it's not so much I'm right and you're wrong, but

 "There ain't no good guy

    There ain't no bad guy

    There's only you and me and

    We just disagree."  

(lyrics by Dave Mason)

Let's Talk Turkey

World to the Wise Podcast

While much of the public attention in the US -- and other parts of the world, was focused this week on the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, we chose to shine a light on a completely different part of the world -- a land that from where I sit is too unknown by most of us, including yours truly.

One week ago today, there was a failed attempt to overthrow the government of President Erdogan, who was democratically elected in 2014 after serving 11 years a Prime Minister of Turkey. The aftermath has not been pretty. These events only illustrate more acutely the fact that Turkey is, in many ways, a divided country.

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Hagia Sofia

But there's much more to Turkey than politics and religion, just like any country, and this week we'll explore some of the other fascinating aspects of this ancient land. Technical difficulties and a sensitive political climate in Turkey prevented us from airing the two interviews we did for this show, so I'm flying solo and attempting to adequately portray a country that has just moved up a few notches on my bucket list.

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One of those interviewees, Duke Dillard, has a travel business in the heart of Turkey, Cappadocia, and you can find his website here.

For some fascinating and little known facts about Turkey, click here.

And I highly recommend this book, mentioned in this week's podcast:

Living on the Edge of the Inside

edge
edge

I heard a friend of mine yesterday reference one of my favorite columnists/commentators, David Brooks, on an article I had missed. Brooks calls it "At the Edge of Inside," borrowing from Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk and writer. And then I came across this quote from Seth Godin, whom I quoted just last week. Rohr and then Brooks talk about three groups in any organization: the insiders, the outsiders, and the ones on the 'edge of inside'. Those at the core of the inside are those who are the loyal diehards -- and perhaps know nothing other than that organization. The outsiders have it easy in the sense they can lob bombs from the outside without much concern for the wellbeing of the insiders. Those on the edge of the inside know, love and understand both the insiders and outsiders. Their loyalty and commitment are sometimes questioned by the insiders, but the "edgers" are in a unique position to evaluate and critique the organization.

...or the culture. If you have been exposed to other cultures (or subcultures), you have hopefully learned something not only about the new culture, but also about your own (sub)culture. This gives you an objectivity that is badly needed if positive change is going to happen within the organization or culture. You are sometimes misunderstood or disregarded because you are not on the core inside. But this does not mean you have nothing to say or that what you have to say is not valid or important. Many times it's about how you say it.

Maybe you are an insider who is feeling the need to broaden your horizons a little. Let me encourage you: step outside. You'll only be the richer.

Do I find myself in this group? You betcha. How about you?

The Wise Traveler

World to the Wise Podcast

In this episode, brought to you from Athens, Greece, I ask the question: Is there a right and a wrong way to travel? I would say yes. There's not just one right way and one wrong way, however. Find out some of the characteristics of what I call the wise traveler. With the magnificent, world-shaping city of Athens as a backdrop, we explore what it means to travel wisely. If what Solomon said is true, wisdom is something to be sought after above all else. Wisdom is the ability to apply intelligence at the right time, in the right place, and in the right way. So what makes someone a wise traveler and not just an intelligent one? 

Take a listen, send your feedback, and share! Share your comments either here or on the Reviews section of your favorite podcast store, or email me at podcast@daviddurham.org. I'd love to hear your own insights and experiences!

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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The Fiddler Is Still on the Roof

Tevye
Tevye

While browsing through hundreds of photos on a computer at home, looking for a good photo of my mother for Mothers' Day, I came across this photo of myself as Tevye in Lifesong Theatre Group's production of Fiddler on the Roof. The next morning, I turned on NPR in the car and got in on the end of a Studio 360 story on the history of the Broadway musical, two years after its 50th anniversary. Fiddler is one of the highest grossing, longest running in Broadway history. The photo alone was enough to take me back to an emotion-packed experience for me. In some ways I found myself relating to Tevye's ongoing dialog with God, particularly, at that time in my life, his complaints to God about his circumstances. The fact that he felt free to openly address his concerns to God revealed a very present faith on the one hand, with room for doubts and questions on the other.

The story of Fiddler, which originated as a series of short stories published in 1894 called Tevye the Dairy Man by Sholom Aleichem,  continues to resonate on so many levels. In an age where cultural change is only accelerating, it challenges our ability to deal with change while reexamining the traditions we hold dear. It also reminds us, as Tevye and his family and friends are driven out of the village of Anatevka by the Bolsheviks and face a new life in America, that in the 21st century we are all nations of immigrants. The story takes us inside the mind and heart of someone who is being forced from their centuries-long homeland, giving the word "refugee" a face and a life.

In the United States, we have talked so much about the American dream and the Land of Opportunity that we risk assuming everyone wants to come here -- unless we ourselves have experienced what it's like to huddle with the few we know, longing for home, against a mass of strangers in a strange land.

These are the people my wife and I are soon going to be meeting in Greece. For them, the fiddler still represents the precarious balance between keeping traditions and dealing with change. I look forward with mixed emotions to the experience. I'm pretty certain that I'm not quite prepared for the barrage of emotions awaiting us, but I'm quite certain one of them will be a feeling of helplessness against the plight of the Syrians, Afghans and others who have been forced out of their homes.

I'll be documenting our experiences on this blog, as well as occasional vlogs and possibly Blab sessions. Stay tuned for an adventure that you're invited to live with us vicariously. Better yet, sign up below as a member of the "culturally curious"  tribe so you don't miss a thing.

Sometimes It's Easier to Just Put on Adele

adele-thanksgiving
adele-thanksgiving

Maybe you've seen the SNL sketch. The Thanksgiving table brings together not only family members with differing opinions, but also significant others of those family members. Let's face it: sometimes it's harder to be with family members we don't see very often than the friends we live life with on a regular basis. Sometimes it's just easier to put on Adele.

https://youtu.be/e2zyjbH9zzA

Whatever the case, what's in order is a little more listening, a little more level-headedness, and yes, the ability to laugh at ourselves.

That's why I've created the World to the Wise podcast. Sometimes someone else's story is what we need to hear in order to look at life through another set of lenses.

Some people are born curious. Others have to cultivate curiosity -- and it can be done. I can tell you that in many ways I am more curious than I was when I was younger. And the more I discover about the world around me, the richer I am.

I'm richer after hearing the story of Dr. Ming Wang, who came from the oppression of the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960's to become one of the world's top laser physicists and eye surgeons. Or Chris Guillebeau, who set out on a quest to visit every country on the planet. Or a biracial couple living in the American South, a Christian university professor who believes we need to think differently about Muslims, or a German couple working with Syrian refugees to get them integrated as quickly as possible in their new home. These are ordinary people with extraordinary stories of crossing cultural bridges.

The first two stories mentioned are now released and waiting for you to hear. The others are in the pipeline. Just click here to listen to the individual episodes, or click on the World to the Wise graphic on the right to subscribe. When you do, it would be great if you would take a minute and write a quick review. This will go a long way to getting us noticed in the searches.

Here's to cultural curiosity -- we've only just started!

Dr. Ming Wang Interview

World to the Wise Podcast

Imagine growing up in communist China in the oppressive days of the Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao. Living conditions are poor, life is hard and largely devoid of color. Art and literature are banned, except for a handful of state-sanctioned books and plays that are little more than communist propaganda. Thousands upon thousands of people are deported to the most remote parts of the country and sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor and abject poverty, often for nothing more than being suspected of speaking against the Communist party. In these depressing years of the 1960's, there is a young boy who wants nothing more than to be a doctor like both of his parents -- even though they make little if any more than the subsistence level salary of a peasant. The obstacles that come between the boy and his dream are many; yet today he is a world- renowned expert in laser physics and lasik surgery.

I hope you enjoy the story of Dr. Ming Wang, and I recommend reading his book, From Darkness to Sight: A Journey from Hardship to Healing for some important perspective on China's not-too-distant past.

Inaugural Episode

World to the Wise Podcast

Welcome to the World to the Wise podcast! In this 9-minute initial episode I lay out the purpose of this podcast: to stretch the borders of your thinking, broaden your perspective, and equip you to engage your world. I'm reminded of one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes. It actually has to do with travel in particular, but you'll understand the connection with the purpose of the podcast:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

It is possible to "travel" to other parts of the planet without ever getting on a plane (the phrase "armchair traveler" come to mind.) The more time you take to explore and understand other cultures, other perspectives, and other ways of life and of viewing the world, not only will YOU be the richer, but the world will be that much better off as well.

I hope you enjoy this first episode. We're in for a fun ride! Not only is your feedback appreciated, we depend on it to help shape the show as we move forward. Send your comments and suggestions to podcast@daviddurham.org.

And if you like what you hear, please subscribe on your favorite podcast store site, and do me the favor of writing a quick review -- even one sentence -- which will help get the attention of the podcast distributors and increase our visibility in the increasingly crowded podcast world.

Enjoy!