Thursday, April 28, 2011

I hate to say it, but the Gerbil Boy got it right

Just got back from the Genocide Museum in Kigali, Rwanda. History and human nature is a bitch!

One of the greatest challenges I have is learning the deeper lessons from rancid atrocities. I've been to The two genocide memorials/museums in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg, South Africa; WWII graves and memorials throughout Europe; seen enough Holocaust histories and survivor accounts to justify never seeing another; and learned enough about the Atlantic slave trade and the treatment of First Nations people to ever glorify America (we own our own shame). The deepest lesson is not found in learning how not to repeat the actions of these "monsters", but in learning how not to hate them.

Hate is natural for humans, it can grow in any soil and brings fruit without water. I feel justified in hating Nazis, Pol Pot, the Janjaweed, etc. but in doing so I become like them. Each of these groups, and countless others, were motivated by a justified hate. On the surface there is a clear difference between my hatred and theirs, but can the same be said below the surface? To think you or your people are incapable of creating and participating in a holocaust is to ignore the lessons of the past. We are all capable of anything and to ignore this is to lower the defenses against it. Even as I see the consequences of hate, hate rises up in me for those who act in it. To see the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is to believe in the Devil. It was his work, but he used our hands. This holds true for so many other moments in history, big and small.

I've been reading some arguments for and against the existence of God, they fall on the foundation of countless conversations and arguments from the past. Unspoken so far is the evidence of forgiveness. It is slowly building in my mind as the strongest evidence for the existence of the Divine. Hate and forgiveness are uniquely human (I think), and while one comes naturally to us the other is super-humanly unnatural. There is nothing natural about forgiveness, it is difficult under the best of circumstances; under the worst it is humanly impossible. At the same time, forgiveness is essential to health and life while hate destroys and rots.

The physical and psychological impact of these two behaviors, from a purely evolutionary and cultural conditioning perspective, would seem to make forgiveness the natural response and hate the unnatural (much like the arguments for love and a natural predisposition to religion). This obviously isn't the case. Richard "Gerbil Boy" Gere, soon after 9/11 boldly stated we needed to forgive the people responsible for the murder of so many Americans - the national response was NOT positive. I don't imagen many pastors risked this same statement in the supposed safety of their own churches, churches ideally built on a foundation of forgiveness. Even for those who claim its virtues, forgiveness is unnatural and threatening.

I'm left believing few things point to the probability of a superhuman standard, system, or influence with the same authority as the unnaturalness, essentialness, and power of forgiveness. If there wasn't something more than us, and we are the product of evolution, I can't imagine forgiveness would exist or that hate would be so natural and destructive, both to ourselves and others. Yet, they do and are.

One of the reasons I'm a Christian, and not just a Deist, is because of the way Jesus engaged our suffering and his last words on the cross were those of forgiveness. This is not behavior a human would have considered in the creation of their own religion, or god. It goes against our nature, yet reveals or deepest need and desire. Until we can forgive Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, other genocide-ists, and the asshole who just cut you off, we will dangerously resemble them and they will continue to inflict their influence on us. Jesus is the only one who taught, modeled, and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, provided another way.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

So it seems... and, If you wanted my vote you should have kept Firefly on the air

Only half the internet seems to be working this morning, it makes me wonder if the Gov't decided to drop an anti-info bomb and block the social networking sights it thought were "unhelpful" in the recent "unrest". If this is the case, and it isn't just the normal "nothing works in Africa" boner, I'm having a hard time figuring out what's meant to be gained. As best I can figure it, stuff like this only makes people more irritated at the people in charge.

Up to this point most of the locals I talk to laugh or shake their heads at the protesters. I mean, they are protesting the rising cost of fuel and food. Guess what, the cost of food is going up because the crop production is down due to no one investing in irrigation, and the fuel costs are up because they are up everywhere in the world. Regardless of decisions made by politicians, short of restructuring the nations infrastructure and production values years ago, the current issues aren't part of some conspiracy to eff up the common mans life. Of course, the people on the outside maneuvering for power - political figures disconnected from the ruling party and those who lost in the recent elections - don't care about the reality of the situation and only see opportunity when others see hardship. This means the vilification of a ruling party that, regardless of their other actions, aren't directly responsible for the current problems. The end result... a bunch of young folks full of vinegar, but lacking common sense, get riled up to pawn themselves of in a power-play between politicians where the only real losers are the people who let themselves be used and the innocent who get caught in the crossfire.

I'm not one to defend any government anywhere, least of all this particular ones response to the situation - I WANT MY FACEBOOK, but the cause of this social unrest seems to be flat out stupid. It's like throwing rocks at the president because FOX canceled Firefly... granted keeping Mal and the gang on TV for a few more seasons would have got me to vote for almost anyone, but the negative response to a guy surrounded by dudes with guns seems a bit stupid to me.

I'm just a visitor here, so I'm likely missing more than a few pieces of the puzzle, but it seems the irony of the situation is, due to tribal culture, the one where the chief makes all the decisions, is a big father figure, and releases all the "smaller" people from the responsibility of thinking for themselves, the leaders that wanted all the power, respect, admiration, and to be the "Big Men", are having problems now simply because they are in control. Hooray for politics of power, congratulations for getting what you wished for!

The reason I don't trust politicians doesn't start with their politics, it starts with them wanting power. Regardless of what they want to do with it, anyone dumb enough to want to dance with a bull makes me wonder about their sanity and motives. I heard someone asked "Who's your favorite president?" the other day and it made me wonder about it myself. I realized it was Washington, not so much for any of his policies, but because he was the only guy to ever hold the position who didn't want it and was eager to leave it.

I rarely trust any leader who always wanted to be a leader, this especially goes for pastors and people in ministry. If the power, position, and respect had anything to do with a persons desire for a place of authority, chances are, they are ill equipped to make the right choices once they have it, again, especially in ministry. If you want my vote or respect, tell me why you don't want it or will be just fine if you don't get it, that or bring back Firefly... you know, whichever works for you.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I swear, God isn't a Dick or anything, it's just that...

I read this blog sometimes titled "Jamie the Very Worst Missionary", I won't take that much credit, but I'm on the same page.

One of the charming realities of the Bible, and grace, is that we can trick ourselves into thinking certain core commands are optional, situational, suggestions, or directed at a select group of A-Team Christians. Matthew has a few cherry passages I highly suggest you avoid if you want your life to stay intact (Matt 25:31-46 and 28:16-20). If you are foolish enough to read them you will learn that going to all nations, preaching the gospel, making disciples, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoners, etc. are commands for all Christians rather than extra credit assignments for the overachievers. The question isn't what am I going to do with my life, but rather, what are these things going to look like in my life? Ironically, voting principles, worship styles, and "feelings" are unmentioned.

I don't write this as someone who "gets it", far from it. I invest large chunks of my life and finances in missions and gospelly type stuff, not because I'm good at being a Christian, but because I suck at it and I know it. I love God and I love the gospel, but leave me in the States for an extended period of time and my life will resemble the spiritual stagnancy of many of those around me - I hate that. I wish I was a good enough Christian to live in comfort, without challenge, and feverishly press into God, giving myself fully to the hidden desperation of those around me, but I'm not.

I'm not a missionary because of my commitment to the Great Commission, that would be a bit too healthy and spiritually mature. I'm in the missions field because I want to, I need to, depend on Jesus, and I won't do that somewhere else. Give me a sixer, a flatscreen, the NFL package, and a lounge chair and you will have a Herculean challenge getting me to church, let alone out helping the hungry and naked. The thing is I really want to be a "good Christian", at least in the biblical sense, this is why I put myself in situation where it is much easier for me to walk in those directions.

I hear people talking about can and can't, feelings, comforts, callings, fears, etc. (I stumble into them myself from time to time) as if they had the ability to impact God's desires for us and his commands for out lives. If you committed to being a Christian, you submitted all that other stuff to God. I don't know what God's commands look like in your life, and I have no idea what they would look like in mine if I weren't in survival mode, but I know concerns for comfort and the placation of fears don't apply. It's not that God is a dick or anything, its just that he cares more about the way things turn out than he is for the comfort we find in passivity.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The tragic reality of Justin Bieber and other things

Just Got back from a monster week in northern Uganda (Invisible Children area), and it is with great surety that I say, heat exhaustion ba-lows, anyone trying to yank a soccer fields worth of stumps should get a light saber, if you want to get laughed at work next to an old woman with a baby strapped to her back (she is tougher and stronger than you, and she thinks your failures as a man are funny), kids everywhere want to be rappers, and in a bus full of teenagers from America every conversation will eventually get around to Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift, that's just science.

Aside from the tragic reality that is Justin Bieber's popularity, the most difficult thing the trip reminded me of is the unified desperation of two completely different cultures. After a day of working with a bunch of villagers in "National Geographic" bush and playing with a bunch of filthy half to fully naked kids, we drove the two hours back to Gulu on the main "road" (classic African joke). We passed old IDP camps, abject poverty, and an old lady walking down the road stark naked and showing signs of not being all the way there mentally. In short we were in a community scarred by a tragic conflict full of broken hurting people.

When we got back to our hotel I turned on the T.V. and flipped it to the one cable channel, one that rotates through a bunch of western programs and sports events. And what do I find representing American culture to northern Uganda? Bridalplasty! It was so ridiculous I thought it was a joke. A reality show where brides-to-be compete in a weekly elimination competition where the weekly winner receives the plastic surgery of her choice so she can prepare for her "perfect wedding". I was waiting for it to be a spoof... it wasn't!

At first the contrast of the stupidity, excess, and emotional depravity of one community being thrown in the face of another culture so devastated by poverty the thought of being "too fat" is a fantasy often wished for, twisted my head a bit. But the extremes between the two quickly drew my attention to the similarities. Both cultures are devastated, both cultures are in desperate need, and both cultures own a deep sadness. You can be mad at one and feel guilty towards another, but they are both full of hurting broken people. The difference is, one has access to so much wealth and "stuff" the desperation is easily camouflaged and medicated, while the other has so little the desperation is clearly visible for everyone to ignore.

I wont say a person living in the middle-class wealth and comfort of North America, or Europe, has it as bad as someone from a war torn country who was abducted at the age of 13 and was forced to see and do things I hope to never talk about in any context - that would be moronic. I will say the desperation and depravity of humanity is not limited to socioeconomic circumstances; it is universal and is revealed in different ways in different places.

It is difficult for me to live in America, not because I dislike it, but because I find it so natural and comfortable. It is a medicated existence where an entire life can be lived without any true value being reached, where no real challenges need to be overcome, and where comfort can be micromanaged with thread-count and brands of drinking water (not that these are always true, just that they can be). Who wants to go to Heaven when we have Jersey Shores here on earth? We are sad and desperate, but what is worse is we don't even know it. Do you want to know why it is so hard to get a rich man into heaven, harder than getting a camel through the eye of a needle? He doesn't see the point. Trust me, you tell people in northern Uganda about heaven and a God who loves them and wants to walk with them, and their faces light up, they see the point.

Who needs God more? It's a stupid question, our need is universal and perfectly balanced in its extremeness. Who is aware of their need? Now that is a different story, one that doesn't need to be separated by borders.