Saturday, October 30, 2010

For your enjoyment/depression

These are just a few of the articles/headlines found in the local newspaper last Thursday:

Several concerning politics

Suspected goat thief arrested

Fishmongers protest harassment - officials extorting fish sellers

LC1 chairman caned over drunkenness - Youths gave the chairman 10 strokes after repetitively pissing his pants while drunk

Man held for killing daughter - Father beat the 13 year old daughter to death because of rumors that she was having an affair

K'jong warriors kill one, injure 3 - 10 year old boy shot dead as part of a revenge attack at tribal dance

15,000 Bugiri pupils get treatment for Jiggers

Jinja parents blamed for rise in child abuse - Some parents do not report the assaults, hoping for compensation from defilers

Female genital mutilation is the worst form of torture

Fireworks good, but can be dangerous - Can set off intruder alarms, distress elderly and animals

Witchcraft, land disputes escalate murder in Lango - Seven people accused of witchcraft were killed between July and September

5 different sexual partner every woman needs before settling down

So we are all clear on this: fireworks are potentially dangerous because they set off alarms and scare old people and animals, the whole exploding thing is apparently not that big a deal. If you are in politics and often find yourself drunkenly pissing your pants, you should probably avoid the youth. Jiggers are real. In a country ravaged by HIV/aids and where unwed mothers are ostracized, it is important for young women to have several different types of sexual partners and specific experiences before settling down and becoming respectable.

The best part about reading the newspaper out here is seeing how fundamentally different cultures are and how the most bizarre and abnormal events can find themselves on the 16th page of the Thursday paper, as if they were afterthoughts to the important info concerning local politics. At least witches aren't stealing penises in Uganda yet. No, seriously

Before you judge someone from a different culture, or assume you know how to fix problems in other countries, bear in mind, most people's common sense/logic is built on information and experiences that differ from what you would consider normal. It isn't arrogant to think that you are right; it's arrogant to think everyone else is an idiot for not recognizing it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Surrender or die!?!?!?

'Never give up never surrender!'These words echo the sentiment of Churchill's famous speech which galvanized a besieged nation. They have become part of popular culture and the mindset of strong determined people. This mindset is often valued and admired, after all, we don't play to lose.

I've always hated losing, playing for "Fun" to me means playing to win. I base this on the fact that you don't usually see sad mopey people on the winning team. Good sportsmanship means pretending like wining doesn't matter, while being a good sportsman means knowing that it does... I think.

Here is the challenge I face: a major aspect of Christianity is built on the principle of surrender. There is the belief that God knows better and that we are meant to stoically drag ourselves up on the altar and sacrifice our needs, wants, and desires so we gain some greater future reward. This has built a christian mindset that fosters the statement "it's just my cross to bear." Well fine, whatever. This is probably built on strong theological foundations, but my guess is it misses the point.

I've made a lot of decisions, in many areas of my life, based on the principle of short term sacrifice for long term gain. I'm starting to believe/understand a different perspective on it when it comes to God. I believe that it is better phrased, 'Short term sacrifice for permanent and immediate gain'. I think the long term gain that people talk about, you know the whole New Creation and treasures in heaven thing, is real, it's just short sighted of all things. Not shortsighted in the sense of it being the nearest and most immediate thing, but in the sens of only being able to see one thing.

I'm learning that surrender is the act of letting go of the things that we think we control, the things that we cling to, the things we think we need, even the things that make us stronger. We surrendering these things, not because they are bad, but because they fall short.

It would be stupid of me to try to build my own computer from scratch. I've seen them, I know what they are supposed to do, I even understand some of the most basic principles that govern them, but asking me to build a microchip is like asking an untrained monkey to lecture on quantum physics. Yet for some reason, I can trick myself into thinking I'm qualified to walk myself into that New Creation or assemble my life pieces in such a way that I will be truly satisfied, full of life, and happy. I can't and don't.

My surrender to God isn't some desperate sacrifice of action and accountability on the altar of predestination, but is ideally, and hopefully, the continuing reaction to a developing relationship with the guy who put the parts together in the first place, and knows how everything runs. As life and relationship develop he keeps asking me for more parts of my life so that he can strap them to the Lego structure that he has been working on. Even if they are basically good and comfortable parts, if I cling to them they won't be used the the way they can, the way that is best. They will be 'less than', and they will be sad remnants of the pile of Lego pieces that were started with. What was once a strength becomes a stagnant pool or a disjointed limb. What it ceases to be is alive, life-giving, and growing.

The concept of surrender within Christianity isn't a mark of weakness, but a sign of faith in someone else's strength. If I want a computer that works, I go to a Mac store; if I want to know about quantum physics, I don't talk to a monkey; If I wan to become more like Jesus, I better learn how to surrender.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Love and Hate Africa

Things I love about Africa (Uganda in specific):

1. Most of the people are nice and the con artists are usually easy to spot.
2. The local transport is cheep, as is most of the food (non-western).
3. Local ingenuity and complete disregard for anything resembling OSHA standards.
4. The belief that a 125cc motorcycle made in the Mid-East is a perfectly legitimate way to transport: another 125cc Motorcycle (on the back of the seat), 15ft poles dragged behind in traffic, 8ft reams of aluminum siding (crosswise), a family of five, or almost anything that can be purchased.
5. The unstated, yet often practiced, belief that enough dirt can fix almost anything.
6. People are much less self-conscious concerning weight (much harder to inadvertently make inappropriate comments).
7. That people tend to be much more concerned with relationships than schedules.
8. The misguided belief that I care about titles. This allows me to sarcastically claim the title Reverend Bishop Pastor, His High Holiness, Missionary to Humanity, Apostle to the Apostles, the Left Hand of God, Brother Blue (I’m thinking of having cards made).
9. People are often committed and passionate in worship.
10. Kids still know how to play outside.
11. People love music.
12. European football leagues are watched and cared about.

Things I hate about Africa (Uganda in general):

1. There are a lot of con artists, scammers, and takers, which gets you in the habit of distrusting people… often those who actually need help.
2. The variety of food. When you have soil and climate that will literally grow or enable the raising of almost anything, you can do way better than maze, cassava, and pork, flavored with salt and tomatoes, both for flavor and health (basil, oregano, garlic, peppers, almost any other spice, green leafy vegetables, guava, beef cattle, cheeses and other dairy products from the cows and goats you already have, salsa, baked goods that aren’t of the consistency of cardboard and gravel, etc.)
3. The way women are treated and how cultural stigmas enable so many more people to be abused, neglected, and ignored. Also the fact that this happens on a much broader scale in a culture that “values” community more than most western cultures.
4. The dependence on the west for most technologies and principles of developing infrastructure coupled with a general lack of desire to apply the principles that make them actually work, or be efficient.
5. The general dependence on the west for a lot of things. Helping and being helped is good; welfare and dependence are bad. They just are.
6. Pride: people don’t care about weight, but everything else matters.
7. The top down and bottom up culture of corruption that makes progression way more difficult/costly/useless than it needs to be.
8. The cultural belief that leaders and those in authority are meant to be served and respectfully obeyed in all things. Everyone knows their place and anyone above anyone else make sure it is known.
9. Freedom is talked about as an ideal, but control is the often-practiced reality.
10. “Racism” doesn’t exist, but tribalism does and it is much worse (at least when compared to the U.S. today).
11. Hope is often invested in westerners with money rather than God who has actual power.
12. Church sound systems. Seriously, if you burnt every single one in Africa it would be a massive net gain for worship and preaching.
13. Most of the popular local music SUCKS! In general it is a bad version of poorly produced bad American pop or hip hop.
14. If something is scheduled for 2 p.m. no one shows up until 4 p.m. and it doesn’t start till 5 p.m.
15. You can’t watch American football.
16. I don’t get to drink.

Things in the gray area:

1. The belief that sugar should make up at least 25% of any beverage.
2. Cold sodas are rare. Finding one makes it that much better.
3. Portions for local food are often big.
4. Church is often a social as well as spiritual event. This can make church last way too long.
5. Traffic laws are rarely known or considered anything other than suggestions.
6. The cost of cars and gas makes it so that the traffic is only bad half the time.
7. DVD’s are cheep, but often lousy.
8. Nigerian movies make Bollywood movies almost watchable.
9. Having no hot water keeps the electric bill down, but then again so do the power failures.
10. Crappy internet stimulates my reading, or causes me to waist 3 hours trying to send one email.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Road corpses and other things

Road safety in Africa isn't the same as it is in the U.S. The roads are worse, the cars are worse, the drivers are worse, there are no crosswalks, there are only rarely sidewalks, the shoulder and the oncoming lane are often treated as the "other" lane, and pedestrians often treat all three spaces as walkways and living spaces. In other words, people get "knocked" quite a bit out here. I saw a newly dead body on the side of the road yesterday, the third time I've seen this in Africa and the second time this trip. Death is no less tragic out here, it's just a lot more common and is treated in a much more matter of fact sort of way.

Nothing impacts me quite like death and I'm fairly sure this goes for all of us. Seeing a body on the side of the road opens all of the doors in my mind and takes all of the words out of my mouth... I start wondering what I'm supposed to think and how I'm supposed to feel; I wonder about who they were and where they are now; I wonder about their family and friends and eventually the driver of what ever vehicle hit them. It's strange because I rarely feel too sad for the person in the gutter, not because I'm heartless, but because it's over for them. Whatever life was for them, what ever they did or tried to do, whatever joys and hurts formed them, it's over.

Few things make me question the afterlife like death. Heaven, hell, asleep, or nothing, it is beyond me to know (I'm talking practical/experiential not theological/belief). Wherever they are now it isn't here, here is done for them. For the rest of us though, here is still going on. For the family and friends, their lives will never bee the same. The true pain of death is felt by those that are still alive. For the driver, cleared or prosecuted, known or unknown, there is a dead body that will be in their memories and on their spirit until he or she dies. Even for the guy driving by in the taxi, that corpse is going to be alive in his thoughts and his minds eye like few breathing people ever will. That guy in the taxi will think about his own life and the inevitability of his death, not with fear or anxiety, but with a brief moment of clarity and knowledge. The knowledge that says, "some day that will be you, it may be the side of some road in Africa surrounded by strangers, or in some posh hospital caught in a loosing race with old age, but that will be you." It's this clarity that reminds you to wonder... about everything.

Religion is for the living, it tries to give us a structure to organize our thoughts, questions, hopes, and fears. On the other hand, the dead get Jesus. Either he is who he said he is and did what he said he did, which means he is everything; or he isn't and didn't which means he is nothing. Everything or nothing, when we die, we only get Jesus. I wish more of us lived in the constant reality of what the dead know. Religion is to help us cope, while Jesus is to help us live. Religion, politics, race, ethics, and culture only exists in the space that comes before death, while Jesus exists in the space that comes before as well as the one that comes after. Everything literally depends on Jesus. I wish I was better at living as if this were true.