Sunday, November 21, 2010

Final confermation: I am a complete pansy

Got to spend most of yesterday driving on dirt "roads" outside Gulu. We even got to breakdown in the middle of nowhere and contemplate a night in the bush, fortunately enough water drained out of the car for it to start and, mostly, run again. Cool adventure right? Well...

On our way back we saw a lady pushing a bike with about 80lbs of sweet-potatoes on the seat and a baby strapped to her back. This wasn't all that unusual a sight, but the pastor who was driving saw something in her eyes and thought something was off. She wasn't asking for help, but she wasn't saying no to it either. After figuring out how to get her, her bike, and her bag into what was left of the truck we started driving. An hour and about 25 miles later we dropped her off in her town... the one she was pushing her bike to at 3:30 in the afternoon. Think about that for a second.

After talking to her we found out that her husband had left her for a younger wife (not uncommon out here), the kid that was strapped to her back was still nursing and struggling with malaria (a.k.a. some kind of fever sickness), and the place where she could do some farming (for food and cash) was 30+ miles from where her, her kids, and her mom lived.

What she needed as much as a ride was a sling to keep her balls from dragging in the dirt. Thanks to her, I am shamefully aware that I have never done anything tough in the entirety of my life.

Later that night, after getting back to my comfy guest house, I started to question the necessity of the trip we had taken. I mean it took almost the whole day, almost broke the car, exhausted everyone involved, and cost about $70 in gas (yup it's that expensive out here). The thing is, I also remembered the lady, who is tougher than I will ever be, and how we were able to save her and her baby 25 miles of nastiness and at least one night in the bush. Thinking of her made me think that this whole trip up to Gulu will is more than worth it, even if the only thing that comes out of it is some dust in my lungs and knowing that for a few moments we were able to give a tired woman a rest from the normalcy of her life.

I'm not sharing this to say "Hey look at me, I helped someone." The truth is I'm kinda embarrassed that I didn't do more and that we almost drove past her, just like we drove past everyone else. I refuse to think too long about that one; I'd be a mess if I ever did.

On another note: I preached a couple of times this morning about worship and how the story of the prostitute anointing Jesus in Luke 7 is so amazing. I found out later that the church is full of ex-prostitutes who followed the solders over from Congo. I get the feeling that that story is a lot bigger than me. I might get around to thinking about that one.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The End of Patience (Why can't I ever talk to the Muslims and Socialist who know how to think?)

So I've been talking with this Muslim guy on Facebook for the last couple weeks. I didn't mean to, it just sort of happened. Today, hopefully, marked my last post in the conversation. I never tried to convert him to Christianity or badmouth Islam, I was just trying to clarify some points, both historical and theological. Watching 'Jersey Shores' would have been more productive. The funny thing is, this conversation coincided with another FB conversation about socialism that more or less had the same result (I think). Today marked the end of my patience.

I'm all for interfaith dialogs, finding common ground, debating sociopolitical systems, and avoiding the "you are going to hell/your very own moron kingdom" statements that tend to erode dialogue to the "My Dad is stronger than your Dad", "My force-field protects me from your death-ray", and "You can't triple stamp a double stamp" level of juvenile pissing contests (though those can be fun). That said, they never seem to happen, at least to me. I don't need people to agree with me, I just want them to acknowledge reality.

If you want to be a Muslim, fine, just don't tell me my faith in Christ is wrong because Mohammad says so. I give you the common decency of talking about your religion within its own historic and social context in a desperate attempt to not make the conversation Jesus vs. Mohammad, Arabs vs. The West. Likewise, it's fine with me if you dislike capitalism, it certainly has it's problems, just don't tell me socialism works, has ever worked, or that Stalin was violent but Lenin was a nice guy. Unfortunately the simplicity of this approach seems to be a bit too complex for the people I end up talking to. Acknowledging that Islam has its flaws/inconsistencies/contradictions or that socialism has a worse history than fascism doesn't make you a bad person or mean you have lost the argument, it just means you are willing to deal with reality and that you aren't afraid to think.

Before you get too offended, many Christians struggle with the same insecurity. The insecurity and fear that prompts a kid to hide underneath his covers and close his eyes. Granted if there really is a monster in the room then its possible that the kid purchased magical covers from his local WOW distributor, and staying under them is actually his best play. That specific scenario not being the case, getting out of bed, turning the lights on, and seeing what you actually have to deal with is the only smart and secure thing to do. People who are actually looking for the truth tend to make this play. People who are afraid that they are wrong and don't want to deal with the consequences say things like, "capitalism is bad and socialism makes me feel good so it must be right", "Mohammad says that Christians are wrong so they are", and "My pastor says this so it must be true". These are all valid arguments, as long as you don't have your own brain.

The political arguments don't matter that much in the big picture, but the religious stuff might. When you stand before the judgment seat of God, something Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all expecting, you are going to be standing alone. What your rabbi, pastor, or imam said no longer matters. It is strange that so many don't bother to figure out why they believe what they believe on this side of things. At the least it would make for less discouraging conversations and I'd be less likely to call you a moron behind your back. Not that that would stop you from calling me one.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fiction and the Future

One of the annoying things about spending time over her is constantly meeting people who believe salvation can be found in America either in getting there or in getting something from there. I love America, it is far from perfect, but it is freaking awesome. I believe that America is the greatest country in the world, not because I'm a redneck gun toting conservative that falls asleep listening to the national anthem (that only happened once), but because I've been a bunch of other places and I've payed attention to history. America is faaarrrr from perfect and often falls well short of its own ideals, sometimes with tragic consequences. But within the history of nations, superpowers, and rebellious colonies, America is exceptional. There is imbalance between the classes, but there is also fluidity of movement between them. There are racial tensions, but never before has a nation successfully incorporated so many different cultures and people-groups into one body, and in the process been willing to acknowledge its failures.

If I think America is the greatest, why does the belief that going to America will fix everything bother me so much? Because it isn't true and it takes people's hopes and attention away from things that matter.

I am yet to meet an African that doesn't want to go to America. I'm sure they exist, I Just haven't met them. Getting a visa/green card is the equivalent of winning the lottery. The poor in America have more resources, opportunities, and freedom than most of the middle class and semi-affluent in most African countries. The challenge is, most of them will never get there, not as immigrants and not as visitors. But that doesn't stop people from hoping and dreaming; dreaming about a place where everything is good and where their lives will be easy and full of prosperity. But that place doesn't exist, at least not the same as in their dreams.

I was thinking about this stuff and I realized I do the same thing. I don't have a country or a place to look to and hope about and dream of, thinking "If only". But I do have the dream of 'the next' the hope of the 'maybe then'. The truth is, someday I may find 'My America' here on earth, but if I do, it won't look like anything that I could imagine. It will have its own challenges, stresses, and complications. There may be the peace that comes from knowing it is home and there is no reason to keep on searching and looking forward to the next, but it won't be perfect, it won't be the undefined paradise that is in my head.

It's because of this that I find myself in the constant struggle to find the balance between taking advantage of the opportunities and experiences that are available today and not getting lost in the daydreams of the grass on the other side, and maintaining the hope and the desire for those things that are yet to be, the place (figurative or literal) that I'm yet to get to. I don't want to be the guy that places all his hopes and energy in winning the lottery, getting his U.S. Visa, getting the perfect job, etc. I want to be the guy who keeps on moving in the "right" direction and takes care of whats in front of him. The problem is, this is a lot harder than dreaming about a fictional future.