Thursday, August 04, 2011


Using the phrase "Politically Correct" evokes numerous responses and differing perspectives. Some cultures over use the phrase, others laugh at the very mention of it. This week a prominent public figure sent a letter to the White House apologizing for a comment he made last Friday on a Denver radio station. He used the phrase, "like touching a tar baby" in reference to being linked to a specific side of the debt debate.

While this term has been used to refer to something which is "hard to remove oneself from", it has long been recognized as a derogatory term for black Americans. It is something that Amor is all too familiar with. The commonly used term "tar squares" is used when building an Amor house which can best be describes as a small black square of roofing paper with a nail running through it. It is used to hold the long sheets of tar paper on the side of an Amor house that provides the backing needed to support the wet stucco when it is applied.

Long ago it was a common thing to hear someone ask for or ask someone to make more "tar babies." But as time passed we became well aware that this was offensive in many cultures so we specifically eliminated and requested others to eliminate the use of this phrase. Thus, "tar squares" has become the commonly and appropriate acceptable way to describe this product.

A great description of how to make a "tar square" is in our latest "House Building Manual":

I find it quite interesting that something as insignificant as a small black square could have such offending power if described or used inappropriately. Recently when I was helping build an home at the San Carlos Apache Reservation I was reminded that the Apache are generally a very gentle culture compared to your mainstream American . They aren't generally comfortable looking you in the eyes and their handshakes tend to be very gentle and relaxed. This is quite contrary to how I was raised to interact with people- "a strong, firm handshake and look them in the eyes, son!" Even something as simple as a hand shake or eye contact can offend someone from another culture.

Its perhaps one of the greatest challenges of short term missions. How do we serve those we have been called to or sent to help and understand their culture in a very short time, with the hope of reducing or simply not offending them- when we are doing our best to love and serve them? Its why many missionaries around the world cringe at the thought of short term [visitors] coming to serve with the very people they have served and patiently learned to understand their culture and their ways.

I would highly recommend anyone interested in this challenge to read one of my favorite books on this subject, "When Helping Hurts" by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. I would also recommend you visit their website at and definitely check out the "Video and Audio Interviews with the Authors" under the "About The Book" tab.

A good reminder, if there ever was one, is to follow the words of Paul from Romans 12:18, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."

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