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.

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