Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Real Man's Retreat

    One of my (Eric's) responsibilities while in Yap has been to speak at the Yap Evangelical Church men's retreat. Quite simply, this was the most unique men's retreat I've ever been to. A picture tells a thousand words, or so they say. It's certainly true here. Thus, I've added several pictures of our retreat facility, what the Yapese refer to as a "Man's House." Let me describe it as you glance through the pictures. All over the islands of Yap are men's houses; at least one per village. They are what it sounds like: Gathering places for men . . . only! They are constructed on a base of limestone rocks that form a large rectangle, perhaps 10 feet by 30 feet (or more), with the foundation being about three feet off the ground. Atop the foundation is built the house itself, with milled local wood siding topped with a high-pitched roof made of bamboo and coconut leaves. The roofs are made so well they really do not leak, as we found out during Friday's rain. Around the long side of the walls are several small openings to crawl through to gain entry. The rocks that make up the inside floor are covered with slats of split bamboo, and the room is divided the long way by a long straight piece of tree trunk. That tree trunk forms the communal pillow as each man lines up side-by-side with feet facing out toward the wall, on either side of the tree trunk. It's really rugged and, well, very manly. So manly, in fact, that there are no chairs, just your rear-end and some really hard bamboo slats atop a thick bed of rocks. Okay, though it may have been quite manly, it also quite hurt! Sure, the islanders sat down quite comfortably, legs all wrapped up "Indian style." As for this man, I could barely stand it; the walls were wet from the rain, so I couldn't even find any back support! Three full days later, my other end is still sore. Apparently, one guy noticed my desperate wiggling and miserable attempts to shift my weight around, so, genuinely confused, he asked me what in the world was the matter. I don't think he really believed me when I explained that basically, I never sit on the floor. Okay, true confession: I didn't sleep in the men's house with the others. To my surprise, Pastor Asael (eh-sigh-il) told me there wasn't enough room, so I "had" to leave and sleep on a real pillow in the bungalow down the road. I didn't argue.
    Back to the man's house. On one side of the room sat a few Chuukese guys, men from the neighboring island state of Chuuk. To my right sat about twice as many Yapese guys, concentrating on their beetle-nut chewing as much as on me. In the middle sat the great American ghost who could not, for the life of him, sit still. Nevertheless, amidst all my shifting, I managed to lead these men through a study of the biblical view of marriage. What I said, however, was not nearly as fascinating as the sharing that they began with. Pastor Asael asked the men to share what marriage is like in their culture. Eventually, the otherwise shy Micronesians began to describe things like the intricate details of arranged marriages, the exchange of the traditional stone money, the tradition of the boy moving into a small hut on the property at about age 14 to become a man, and the house where women go and stay a few days each month to be cared for by the midwives. As I opened to Genesis and revealed how men and women were created equal before God, and how Ephesians 5 so clearly instructs men to love their wives, they began to identify the ways their own culture serves to devalue women. Without any prompting, they began to question the normal practice of women having to wait until the man has eaten to his heart's content before she gets anything that might be leftover. They wondered if the man walking way out in front of the woman, a "must" in their culture, actually serves to demean them. Quite frankly, we sat there (uncomfortably perhaps), pondering the incredible image of loving our wives the way Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5.25).
    Now, as people share during Karyn's conference on parenting and marriage, it is all the clearer what a tough challenge this represents to this culture where there is a very strong hierarchy established even along an ancient caste system. It's a culture where power counts for everything. It's also a culture where to upset the "apple cart" would have profound ramifications, so all convictions must be translated into action very carefully. At the end of the day (as my deriairre cried for mercy), we landed on Joshua 24.15: "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." We may not see whole cultures change in our lifetime, but all changes starts with me and my house.
    N.B. In case you wondered, Karyn and I are extremely cautious and highly sensitive to make sure we do not "tell" other cultures what's wrong with them. To be honest, we don't pretend to really know what's "wrong" with other cultures. The one thing we are certain about is that all cultures are extremely complex, mixed of "good" and "bad." In fact, partly to avoid "culture-ism" and to set the stage, I began our discussions by laying out a very critical overview of the devaluing of marriage in American culture.

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