"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
I just spent all morning talking about politics with my conservative grandparents, who were trying to make my brother into a Republican. This is even more pollyanna, but I think that in the end, the basic desires of both groups are the same, but they're all hidden under anger and stereotypes.
I think that's where the hope is. I remember when I was in high school in the mid-1980s, Sting wrote a song on his first solo album (The Dream of the Blue Turtles) called "Russians" ... I've been thinking a lot about it today. It goes like this:
In Europe and America, there's a growing feeling of hysteria
Conditioned to respond to all the threats
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets
Mr. Krushchev said we will bury you
I don't subscribe to this point of view
It would be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too
How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy
There is no monopoly in common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too
There is no historical precedent
To put the words in the mouth of the President
There's no such thing as a winnable war
It's a lie that we don't believe anymore
Mr. Reagan says we will protect you
I don't subscribe to this point of view
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is that the Russians love their children too
Now, Republicans and Democrats don't have nuclear weapons aimed at each other ... but there is a similar intractability of ideology. We need to remember that we have the same biology, that at our best we really want the same things, no matter how different our views are on how to get from here to there.
So today, Sting might remind Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians and whomever else to remember that all the other people love their children, too. And it would help if all of us remembered that Iraqis love their children ... and even members of Al Qaeda love their children. That doesn't mean the places where we disagree aren't important ... but it does mean that our common humanity must never be overlooked.
In our prayer book, we say that we believe the church is about reconciliation. Specifically, "to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." That means every act we undertake should aim for reconciliation with each other and with God.
That means remembering and building on what holds us together.
That means remembering that not only do we all love our children, too ... but that as God's children, God loves us all, too.
That's not any great revelation ... but it's also not what I expected to come away from the speech with. I hoped to get to know Kerry and like Kerry better (I did). I hoped to feel better about his chances to beat President Bush in November (I do). But still, more than anything, I came away feeling the deep divide in our nation ... and the absolute necessity of making real progress at bridging it.
The speech itself was everything a partisan Democrat could have hoped for. It pushed all the right buttons and cast Kerry in just the right light, IMO. But that's the thing. It was a speech designed to cast one candidate in a great light and another candidate in a horrible light.
Now, you can say "what do you expect?" ... and of course, we shouldn't have expected anything else. Campaigns and elections are not about bridging gaps but about dividing the winners from the losers and making sure that you're not on the crappy end of inauguration day.
But where it really sunk in that we need something different is when Kerry said this:
I want to address these next words directly to President George W. Bush: In the weeks ahead, let's be optimists, not just opponents. Let's build unity in the American family, not angry division. Let's honor this nation's diversity; let's respect one another; and let's never misuse for political purposes the most precious document in American history, the Constitution of the United States.
My friends, the high road may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And that's why Republicans and Democrats must make this election a contest of big ideas, not small-minded attacks. This is our time to reject the kind of politics calculated to divide race from race, group from group, region from region. Maybe some just see us divided into red states and blue states, but I see us as one America red, white, and blue.
Those words sound great, but they are hollow ... because in the context of a speech like this they serve to do the exact opposite of what they describe. If either side really wanted this to be an open exchange of ideas, where both sides would admit the virtue in each other and be able to see the vice in themselves, this speech and the whole campaign would be very, very different.
Ironically, though ... Kerry was exactly right. We do need to build unity and reach across the divide toward each other. A high road such as this would be harder but it WOULD lead to a much better place. At most every level of our lives together as Americans (and certainly as we relate to each other around the world), we lack the ability truly to engage in conversation with one another. And by conversation, I mean getting to the root of what that word really means ... a root shared by the word "conversion." We lack the ability to engage with each other in ways where we allow for the fact that the other person or party might change our mind. The whole idea of changing our minds has been cast as vice -- making us a "waffler" or "flip-flopper." Gandhi said "I would rather be inconsistent than wrong." If he were running for office today, his political advisers would have him flip-flop that sentence in a hurry.
But we're a long way from this. I suspect that the way we approach politics in this country is a lot like the way we approach team sports. We have our favorites to which we give our allegiance and pretty much stick to them no matter what. To change, to admit vice in our party or virtue in another's, becomes the same as admitting defeat ... which everyone is loathe to do.
And so we have election after election where the two sides get more and more entrenched and the rhetoric gets stronger and more vicious and it all becomes less and less about public service and more and more about winning ... or perhaps more and more about not losing.
And when that happens, nobody wins. Because even when you win, all you are doing is just postponing another loss ... because the armies lined up against you are that much more intent on kicking your butt the next time. It's a cycle of violence every bit as real as what happens in war. And Gandhi was right about those cycles, too. Whether in politics or battle -- an eye for an eye just makes the whole world blind.
I hope Kerry wins. That's my partisan statement. I hope so in large part because I believe that, if anything, he's not as far gone down this path toward self-destruction as our current administration. I hope Kerry wins because I hope he has a better chance of really wanting to make things different. But more than anything, I hope that somehow through this election we can see that things have to change in the way we do elections. That we need to start really engaging and listening to each other.
And maybe that starts not at conventions and with speeches but with us really listening to and carefully reading not just those who agree with us and make us feel better, but the best of the opposition. Maybe that starts with us seeking out those in our friends and families whose views differ from ours and not avoiding those topics as a gesture of keeping the peace but really engaging with them in love and respect in the spirit of conversation that leads to conversion. Not being afraid to admit -- even joyfully -- when we were wrong so that we all can learn and grow in wisdom together.
It sounds almost pollyanna. But the alternative is pretty dark and scary ... and were' already living it. It is a hard, high road ... but if we can travel it, I am convinced it will lead us to a better place.
| Mike at 7/30/2004 04:02:00 PM
Tuesday, July 27, 2004 I am continually grateful to serve in a diocese and on a diocesan staff where George Wayne Smith is the bishop. This editorial he wrote for this morning's St. Louis Post Dispatch about Amendment 2, ("Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended so that to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman?"), which is coming up for a vote a week from today in Missouri, is one of many examples why.
This was part of a pro/con editorial spread. If you're interested in reading the "pro" side (by Vicky Hartzler of the Coalition to Protect Marriage in Missouri), click here
Here is what Bishop Smith wrote:
AMENDMENT 2: Commitment, not an amendment, will make marriage stronger By GEORGE WAYNE SMITH
I believe in the sanctity of marriage and its ability to let two people discover God's love in their shared life. I believe that marriage is both hard work and an unearned gift, that it comes to two people for better or for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. I believe that marriage is, by definition, a lifelong commitment between husband and wife.
I have said, countless times, the words from my church's marriage rite, telling all hearers that this holy union between husband and wife "is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God's will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord." I believe these words.
I am married and the father of children, and I am mindful of the covenant relationship I have with my beloved as part of God's claim on my life and my joy.
I also know that the dominant culture surrounding us does precious little to support married persons in their vocation. I cannot believe, however, that amending Missouri's constitution will fix what ails us when it comes to the legacy of marriage.
The impetus to vote "yes" on Amendment 2 next week may well come from a desire to "do something" for the sake of marriage. But it might be more effective to do things that are, in truth, both more ordinary and more demanding: Spend more time with spouse and family; build networks of support for married people in faith communities and extended families and neighborhoods; dig deeper into the traditions of faith - the disciplines and the feasting alike; practice living openhandedly with one another and in all things, for God's sake.
All things considered, it is easier just to vote "yes" on a referendum. I am arguing, instead, for the hard work marriage demands of us all.
I also would be remiss if I did not mention two dire circumstances surrounding this proposal:
First, the body politic receives no good fortune in the opportunity to cast a vote on Amendment 2. Human sexuality has become a wedge issue in American society, used deftly at times by those on both sides of the issue. Forcing a "yes" or "no" vote divides us even further.
I write as someone whose church has faced divisions in the aftermath of a vote on human sexuality one year ago. I am not eager to vote one more time on this matter, but I am even less eager to give in to the power of a wedge issue.
There is also the witness given by gay and lesbian persons in our communities and by gay and lesbian believers in my own church. The prospect of Amendment 2 leaves them with foreboding. It gives them a message of unwelcome in their own neighborhoods. It makes some feel marginally less safe; others, considerably less safe.
They hear that Amendment 2 is supposed somehow to protect marriage; they know, however, that it is really about them. A few have received hateful messages in the mail or on the phone on in person over these past weeks; they have never heard such things around here before. I ask you to consider whether this is what we want in a place we rightly love.
I am in favor of marriage. Supporting marriage, however, takes more than a tick on the ballot. Let us not allow wedge politics to define what is essentially a matter of the heart and a costly commitment. Polarizing the electorate in this matter is hardly helpful - and the politics of polarization turn dangerous whenever the language of hate becomes permissible.
I fervently ask you to support married persons in their vocation. I ask you, with equal fervor, to eschew hatred and vote against Amendment 2.
Monday, July 26, 2004 As the Democratic Convention begins today in Boston, the Boston Globe yesterday printed this editorial by Bono about the great opportunity for America to show its greatness by being out front in dealing with the AIDS pandemic.
It's worth taking a few minutes to read ... so I've even saved you the time of clicking on a link!
Make AIDS a crucial topic at both conventions
By Bono | July 25, 2004
THERE IS a time to navel-gaze, and convention season '04 is one of those times. Post-9/11, it's America's first chance to think collectively about what lies ahead. The big problems. The big solutions.
Sounds exciting to me. The conventions haven't even started, but the television networks are saying there won't be any news. That's not how the rest of the world sees it. Two men are going to speak, and for the next four years one of them will be the most powerful person on the planet. To the rest of the world, what they say is the biggest news around.
That's why I'm going to both conventions. Not just to listen, but to talk. Because when I last looked I couldn't find the biggest global challenge, AIDS and the extreme poverty in which it thrives, on the schedules.
Every constituency wants its box checked, its issue mentioned by the candidates, but this isn't just any "issue," and the people most affected are not a constituency. They don't vote in America; they don't pay taxes in America. They live far away on the plains of the Serengeti or the shantytowns of Senegal, but like it or not, our future in the West is eerily bound up with theirs.
I know this doesn't look good -- I'm a rich Irish rock star, not even a rich American rock star. It makes people wince, including myself. But there's a real opportunity for America to lead an adventure, and the adventure is this: We are the first generation that really can do something about the kind of "stupid" poverty that sees children dying of hunger in a world of plenty or mothers dying for lack of a 20-cent drug that we take for granted. We have the science, we have the resources, what we don't seem to have is the will.
At the conventions, would better billing for this subject make any difference to the star issues already at the top? Jobs? No. Security? Yes. The perception of America? Definitely. Never before has this great country been so scrutinized, and never has the "idea" of America been under such attack. Brand USA could use some polishing, and I say that as a huge fan.
This is an opportunity to show what America stands for. Antiretroviral drugs are great advertisements for American ingenuity and technology. I've said to President Bush and Senator Kerry, both of whom care about this issue passionately, to go ahead and paint these pills red, white, and blue. Because these pharmaceuticals will not just transform the communities and countries that we see on the nightly news, they will transform the way they see us.
I've seen the look in the eyes of people dying three to a bed in Malawi, knowing that for an accident of latitude or longitude they would be saved. Oddly, their looks are never accusatory or defiant -- it's children they leave behind who may become the problem. Eighteen million AIDS orphans by the end of the decade in Africa alone. What will they think of us and from where will order be introduced into their chaotic lives?
Whispering extremists attract recruits when hope has broken down. Surely, in nervous, dangerous times, it is smarter for America to make friends now of potential enemies than defend itself against them later.
Look, this is more than a hill to climb, and there are a few chasms to cross.
Unfair trade is a big one. No-one in the West is ready to jump that yet, but they should. Foreign assistance is another. The United States is 22d in the list of richest countries when it comes to how much it gives to the poorest as a percentage of our wealth, including private philanthropy. The explanation for this might be the next chasm we have to leap -- a healthy skepticism about whether this money will get into the right hands.
Bush's Millennium Challenge, which rewards countries that fight corruption, and the Global Health Fund, which Kerry has pushed for and which audits every penny, overcome this concern and are smart ways of getting bang for your buck.
When Americans know what a difference this money will make, they will be the most generous in the world. We're already seeing the beginnings -- a historic $2 billion increase to fight AIDS and extreme poverty thanks to bipartisan support in Congress this year.
Americans are joining a campaign to be part of something that is bigger than themselves. At the conventions there's history in the making for both parties. That's what people from around the world will be tuning in to hear on their transistors. That's why I'm going to be there. I want to be a nagging presence in sunglasses, a visual reminder of people who have a life-or-death stake in what is and isn't discussed on the convention floor.
Bono is the lead singer of U2 and cofounder of DATA.org (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa).
David preached this morning at Holy Communion on the Gospel reading from Luke 11:
"He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ 2He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’ 5And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” 7And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
In the Gospel, Jesus talks of the friend who will not get up (but eventually does) as the image of God -- and then goes on to talk about how we should ask God for what we need because God will provide.
It's always struck me as a weird image of God -- God as someone who would just as soon tell us to go away, except that we are so annoying that God eventually responds.
As David was preaching, he twisted it and cast us in the position of the householder ... which I feel is much more accurate.
The "Mine!" at the top is, as some of you might have guessed, a quote from "Finding Nemo." A group of characters in that film are seagulls who only say one word over and over again as they are looking for food:
Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.
It's funny in the movie, and my children have picked up on it. "Mine" is an early favorite word of most children. The time that many of them become verbal is also the time that many of them become differentiated enough to be possessive and jealous!
There's poetry to the fact that "mine" is a four-letter word. It's perhaps one of the most dangerous words to a Christian -- because if we really look at what we do in baptism, it is a word that should never, ever be used by us or apply to us.
That's because as a Christian, nothing is mine. I own nothing. I possess nothing. Everything in my life, including my life itself, is a gift from God. Beverly Van Horne reminded me today what Terry Parsons (stewardship officer at the National Church Center) defines stewardship as -- using the gifts God has given us to do the work God has given us to do.
That's what we are supposed to be all about. Everything that we "have" has been given to us by God for one purpose -- to do the work God has given us to do. It's all on loan. And when we say "mine" ... we are missing the point altogether. It's all God's.
This sounds nice and it looks good on a stewardship brochure ... but the implications of it are liberating and terrifying. Not only does it mean that all of "my possessions" ... including this nifty computer I'm writing on ... are not really mine but only here for me to use to do the work God has given me. It also means that my very life is not my own. Even further, my children are not really "mine" -- I am to love them and care for them and raise them because God has in mind for me to do that as ministry. That means I have to be willing to let go ... of everything.
What it comes down to is trust. That's what the "give us this day our daily bread" is about. It's about letting go of everything and trusting that God will provide each moment what we need. It's about practicing non-possession of everything ... even our own lives, even the lives of those who mean the most to us.
Two examples of this ... from people who I'm sure would consider themselves very imperfect practitioners of this art ... stand out as inspiration for me.
The first is James. As I lived with James in Ghana, I became aware of two things. First, that he and CENCOSAD were perpetually in financial crisis. Second, that people were continually coming to him in real need asking for his help. If there was ever someone who could have circled the wagons and said no to them, it was James ... after all, he's living without insurance or a pension plan and has sunk his whole financial and physical life into keeping this NGO afloat so that it can benefit others. But he doesn't. Whenver someone comes, he gives all he has ... because he knows whatever it is is not his, but God's ... and who is he to block God's generosity.
I used to think I was a generous and giving person until I lived with James ... and then I realized how completely tight-fisted I really am!
The second is Leine and Tom McNeely. When their daughter and my student Julia died, I could not understand how they could be so calm and unshaken even as they were in the midst of deep grief. In my conversations with Leine, she continually talked (without using these exact words, but this was the sense) about how Julia was never really theirs but God's, and just as God saw fit to bless their lives with her, God saw fit to move her on.
There were ways I fought with Leine on this point. I couldn't understand what I on the surface took as such a passive attitude of acceptance -- at the same time I knew they were deeply grieving. I see now that they were right ... and even beyond that. The purest form of love is non-possessive love. Loving without holding on too tightly (is that what Jesus meant in the garden on Easter when he told Mary not to hold tightly to him?). When we love non-possessively, we love in ways that can be purely altruistic and purely without concern for ourselves.
When we commit to the baptismal covenant we claim Christ as our savior and say that we put our whole trust in his grace and love. That means complete non-possession. Complete trust that God will provide, that God will care for those whom we care for with all our heart. That, in the words of Luke's Gospel, if we "know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
I have plenty of excuses not to give. Plenty of excuses to say "mine!" I worked hard for it. I have to take care of it for my families sake. Whatever "it" is, I can build up wonderful rational frameworks that justify saying "mine" and even convince myself it is the purest, most loving thing.
Only the truth is, it's not. "Mine" is a dangerous word. "Mine" is a four-letter word. It has the power to divide us from each other and to separate us from the God who is yearning for us.
We believe we have a God who provides for us. What we need to recognize is that we also have a God who uses us as partners in that process. And if we don't live up to our part of the partnership ... if we say "mine" with tightly clenched fists instead of "God's" with open hands ... then we prevent the work of love God is about from being done.
Friday, July 23, 2004 When I first went to Ghana, I got an email from former ECM student Noah Evans (who is now the Rev. Noah Evans!). Here's what he said:
"I usually try to adopt a zen attitude to travel in third world countries, just ride with it - whatever IT is...And whenever something really strange happens (I use this in the Church also), say to yourself: YA' CAN'T MAKE THIS SHIT UP."
That was definitely the most helpful advice I got for my trip ... and one of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten period. It became my two-step mantra/strategy for the journey. And in trying to live it out, I realized that it's just a great way to live your life wherever you are.
So with that in mind, knowing that I didn't learn everything I need to know in Ghana or kindergarten or any other one place ... here are some things I have found are true from my journey (some of which I knew before and some I didn't ... you can try to figure out which is which).
1. When children want to talk with you or hold your hand or even shout "obroni" at you, the very least you can do is respond with a smile, a wave and a kind word.
2. That pretty much goes for adults, too.
3. A great way to kick off your day is going up to someone in your life and saying "How can I be of service to you today?"
4. Don't eat anything with mayonaise in it when you're in a region where the power goes off a lot.
5. There's no day so bad that FanChoco can't make it better. And if you're in America and can't get one, well, just enjoy that you can drink the tap water and take a hot shower!
6. If you help just one person, it gives your whole day some meaning.
7. "At least you've got your health" isn't a throwaway line. Having your health is HUGE.
8. In the developing world, anyone from the U.S. is a computer expert.
9. A good phrase to remember when you start to feel sorry for yourself for whatever reason is "People are dying ... quit your whining!"
10. That whole zen-like thing really works ... and it does wonders for not just your attitude but your blood pressure.
11. The cosmos is a really big place and there's a lot of weirdness in it. You gotta find humor in the truth that's stranger than fiction. So when things get weird, it really does pay to just shake your head, laugh and say
Wednesday, July 21, 2004 I guess you can say my sabbatical is officially over. I'm back at work today!
Actually, my sabbatical doesn't officially end until July 31 ... but the annual vacation we are taking with Robin's family is not next week as I had thought but the week after (the first week of August), so I am working today through next Wednesday as a tradeoff for that time.
So ... I'm back! And it's GOOD to be back!
I'm over the jetlag adjustments to America ... and frankly, the culture shock in re-entry hasn't been as much shock as it has been an increased awareness of things. I have fallen pretty easily into my old patterns of living, but at least for now (and I hope it continues), I'm aware as I'm doing them of how different they are than how people in Ghana (and in most of the world) live.
I'm much more aware of the life of absolute luxury I live. The 1992 Nissan Maxima that I used to think was just about to fall apart now purrs like a kitten in comparison to the trucks and trotros I rode around Ghana in. I still haven't gone into a Schnucks yet, and I don't know how that will be ... but I'm less shocked seeing the choice when I open my own refrigerator -- but thankfully still remembering what a blessing that choice is.
Overall, I guess I thought I was a glass half-full person, but I'm realizing now how much of a glass half-empty person I was -- and at least right now, I'm not feeling that way. I know it will take work to remember that.
What hits you over the head like an anvil in a Warner Bros. cartoon is how you are just inundated with violence and sexuality in this culture. That is just one of the biggest daily differences between life in Ghana and here. Advertising and media is everywhere here, and the content is all high in sex and violence.
RIght now, one of the bigger problems we have as a church is that we don't have a coherent sexual ethic. It's a big problem because we end up making major decisions without a common, comprehensive and rational foundation. I'm beginning to realize now what a huge task it will be to come up with that ethic in this culture where you pretty much cannot help be bombarded with sexual images wherever you go. It's difficult not to fall into the traps of succumbing to them or reactively wanting to completely isolate yourself and everyone else from them.
Same with violence. It's not just that every time you turn on the news or pick up a paper it's a story about a shooting, stabbing or kidnapping. It's the violence in our language ... how we use the word "kill" ALL THE TIME. How violence is just a part of our thinking and acting here ... and how dehumanizing that is.
I wasn't so conscious that that wasn't the case in Ghana (though I did notice the lack of crime stories on the TV news), but coming back here, it really is like being hit between the eyes (talk about a violent image!).
Looking back, it's ironic that some people were worried about our safety traveling to Ghana. I remember telling them that it was far more dangerous for me to go to North St. Louis than to go to Ghana. Boy, how right I was. In Ghana, my biggest worry was being stranded briefly in a trotro or car that broke down or being involved in some freak accident or getting sick and having to enter Ghana's sketchy health care system (but, of course, if things were really bad, I had my travel insurance). Here is St. Louis, we've got teenagers opening fire on people at garage sales. Yikes!
Gotta go. Can't wait to see all of you who are in town! Leave your comments and email me and let me know what's up!
Monday, July 19, 2004 Here are the photos from the past two weeks. Most of them are from the 8 days that Robin was with me and we traveled with Emmanuel around Southern Ghana. Enjoy!
| Mike at 7/19/2004 07:10:00 AM
Sanitation is a big problem in Accra. At this cistern at Mallam Market, they're serious about keeping the place clean. | Mike at 7/19/2004 07:05:00 AM
Robin with the Atlantic Ocean and fishing boats in the background at the Okesan Beach Resort, a little restaurant on the beach in downtown Accra. | Mike at 7/19/2004 07:03:00 AM
At Christ the King, they have a wonderful tradition of having people who are worshipping with them for the first time stand up and introduce themselves -- well, that's nothing new, a lot of churches do that. But then the whole congregation forms a line and, while singing a welcome song, comes and greets the newcomers. Here's Robin in the newcomers line last Sunday. | Mike at 7/19/2004 07:02:00 AM
Emmanuel and I behind the altar at St. Luke's after concelebrating the Eucharist (Emmanuel is the one on the right) | Mike at 7/19/2004 07:00:00 AM
Robin and Emmanuel (second from right) standing with the crew from All Souls Episcopal Church and Child Development Center. The clock is a beautiful gift they gave us. | Mike at 7/19/2004 06:59:00 AM
What's your name? In Ghana, you have the name your parents give you but also a name based on the day of the week you were born (and people are amazed when you don't know the day you were born). I'm Kofi, Robin is Yaa, and our boys are Kojo and Kwadwo. Around Mallam, I was known as Mr. Kofi (which sounds a lot like Mr. Coffee ... so you see Heidi, even in Ghana they call me Sanka!) | Mike at 7/19/2004 06:58:00 AM
A view of Cape Coast Castle. The entrance on ground level on the far left leads to the male slave dungeon. The governor lived in the rooms on the top. | Mike at 7/19/2004 06:55:00 AM
This is the view through the "Door of No Return" at Cape Coast Castle. It used to be that the other side of this held ships ready to take the captives to the Americas. Now it reveals a bustling local fishing industry. Still, walking through it is almost too much to bear. | Mike at 7/19/2004 06:54:00 AM
This is set in the wall of Cape Coast Castle next to the entrance to the male slave dungeon. | Mike at 7/19/2004 06:52:00 AM
Robin on one of the canopy walks at Kakum. The canopies are strung between 20-40 meters above the forest floor and give you spectacular views. You just have to ignore the shakiness when you cross and try to forget that you're walking on a plank of wood held up by rope 120 feet up! | Mike at 7/19/2004 06:51:00 AM
One of the residents in the lagoon at the Hans Cottage Bo-tel (it's like a hotel, but because it's on a lagoon, they call it a bo-tel ... no, I still don't completely get it). You eat your meals and relax in covered shelters on stilts in the lagoon ... and during the day the crocs swim around -- especially when the people who work there throw bread into the water to bring them out from their hiding. | Mike at 7/19/2004 06:47:00 AM
Here we are on top of the dam at Akosombo. The dam creates Lake Volta ... the largest man-made lake in the world ... and also provides more than 90% of Ghana's power and surplus power it sells to surrounding countries. It was one of the big development projects of Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkruma -- although he was run out of office and out of Ghana a couple months after he and Jackie Kennedy opened the dam. History has since shown Nkruma was right. | Mike at 7/19/2004 06:45:00 AM
Ever wonder what happened to all those Firestone tires that were recalled last year? Well, they shipped at least some of them to Africa. We had a blowout on the way to Akosombo and stopped at this shop to replace our spare with a new tire. As Robin was sitting by the truck, she looked at the tires that were on it and made the connection. Makes sense. Nobody here is going to sue you if their tire blows out, the roads are so bad you would think it's just that, and cars breaking down is just considered a part of life. BTW, a new tire was about $25. | Mike at 7/19/2004 06:42:00 AM
Driving in rural Ghana often resembles Radar driving through Korea in M*A*S*H*. There's gotta be a road somewhere among these potholes! And even though you can joke about it, it's a major problem. Most people don't have cars, but it makes bringing supplies and tro-tro travel very difficult and serves to cut regions off further from Accra, Kumasi and the rest of Ghana. | Mike at 7/19/2004 06:37:00 AM
This is the gazebo at the Waterfalls Lodge at Wli. It's a beautiful little (only 4 rooms) lodge with a breathtaking view. | Mike at 7/19/2004 06:34:00 AM
How big is the waterfall at Wli? Well, that's Emmanuel standing at the right ... and you can't even see the top of the falls! | Mike at 7/19/2004 06:24:00 AM
That's Emmanuel trying out the drum we bought at a roadside stand in the Eastern Region with Robin looking on. The kids LOVE the drum. | Mike at 7/19/2004 06:22:00 AM
Sunday, July 18, 2004 We're back in St. Louis. Got in yesterday afternoon -- Schroedter and Ian were there to meet us at the airport, and then we went home to join Hayden and Kathy and Samantha.
It is good to be home ... and mostly good to see the boys after six weeks. Hayden is taller and MUCH more talkative than he was when I left. Schroedter is Schroedter, still one of a kind!
Being back has been an adjustment in some ways and not in others. It's amazing how quickly and thoughtlessly I shift back into patterns of Western living. At Heathrow, I went into the bathroom and, without thinking twice, brushed my teeth using water from a faucet for the first time in six weeks ... and only about 20 minutes later thought about what I had just done.
It wasn't until I got to O'Hare that I was really hit by how white everyone was and how the economic mean was so much higher. Also, watching CNN Headline News at the airport in Chicago, I got hit by all the shooting and crime stories ... which you get almost none of in West Africa.
There's a lot that I will just need to sit with and let myself rest with how uncomfortable it makes me ... like all the STUFF in my house ... like how many people (even in my own country) don't have the health care I take for granted ... like how I open my refrigerator and have such choices over what to eat ... like how we throw away things that people living in Mallam would treasure.
But I have to live in this country and I do love this country. The question is really the one of my whole sabbatical ... how do we connect the realities of global living to the average person and faith community in a way that is accessible and that can foster real change? How can you tell the stories without sounding like a wild-eyed radical lunatic? Especially when the stories challenge the way we live at such fundamental levels.
So the experience of living in Ghana is over for now ... but really this is all just beginning. Not so much because of what I have seen. I've seen lots of things on television before and even heard lots of people talk before. No, it's because of the relationships I have forged. I could choose to take people like Emmanuel and Auntie Ya (who taught me Twi every day from her chair in front of her shop in Mallam) and the people of All Souls and treat them like experiences I have had. And no matter how much they mean to me, that is a temptation ... to treat them as part of the "Ghana experience" that would go alongside other vacations I have had. I have that choice, and I could make it.
But that would really miss the point of the whole thing ... and so I really hope I don't make that choice. Because the relationships forged during my time in Ghana are wonderful and they are with people I really care about and who have changed me. And as much as I don't know what it means to live in this world with the knowledge of and relationships with the people I have met. And as much as it's really challenging to think about the change that might call me to in my life. As much as those things are true, I know that I'm not supposed to be the same after this trip ... and I really don't want to be the same. I guess that's why what's most uncomfortable about being back isn't the ways I am uncomfortable being back here but the many ways I am completely comfortable slipping back into all my old patterns. The task is to figure out which patterns are good and which need further examination and change.
In the meantime, there's plenty to do. Two kids to spend lots of time with, a house to take care of and a great community of students to get back to. And also photos to post of the last 2 weeks of the trip ... which I promise I will do soon. And lots of thinking to do. And lots of praying to do.
I remember the glazed look in Sarah Stanage's eyes when she got off the plane from the Sudan ... and it wasn't just from the jet lag. I've thought about that a lot the past two days. I wonder what it's like for Sarah now?
We're sitting in the international terminal at Heathrow, about 2 hours away from getting on our plane to Chicago. Our apologies to anyone who thought we might still be wandering around in the Volta Region. Internet in Mallam was incredibly slow, so all we had time to do was send quick emails to the boys.
Our trip out East was incredible. You can see one picture below of the two of us at the waterfalls at Wli ... one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. The lodge we stayed at was a beautiful little complex that had only four rooms and a huge gazebo with the most amazing views of the mountains. Thursday morning, we took a 45 -minute walk to the waterfalls through the rainforest. We could have stayed there all day, but we had to get back to Accra. Robin says the next time she comes she's staying at Wli for a month!
I'll post more later ... and more photos from the last two weeks. I'm incredibly excited to see the boys again, and it will be good to be home ... but it was also difficult to say goodbye. It was an incredible six weeks, and I think it will take quite a while to sort through it all.
Tuesday, July 13, 2004 Back in Accra today after a couple days down the coast.
Yesterday, we left in the morning and, with Emmanuel at the wheel and doing a fabulous job as tour guide, stopped at Buduburam so Robin could see All Souls. They were incredibly glad to see us ... the children mobbed us both (they were on recess when we got there). I had to hide inside the church to film them through a window so they wouldn't mob the camera!
We toured the classrooms and Robin got to talk to some of the students and see what they were learning. We were both very impressed by the quality of education. These are kids from 1-7 years old and they are learning a lot ... math, spelling, Liberian history, Bible, reading ... all sorts of things. They are in school from 8-4, and then many stay after for a study hour until five.
Robin had a great conversation with Emelia, who is the principal of the school. Again, we were very impressed. They have so little there, but they do so much with it.
Before we left, they gathered us in the sacristy and presented us with a clock they had made for us with an Episcopal shield and the name of All Souls' parish and our names on it as a token for us to remember them by. It was very moving.
From there, we went to Cape Coast castle, where we got a fantastic guided tour of the former British trading fort that was most famously used in the slave trade. It's very hard to put into words what it was like being there... not just hearing the descriptions of what went on there but actually standing in the places where it happened.
There is one place called "the door of no return" ... which, like you might expect, is the place where the surviving captives were loaded onto the slave ships, never to return. Today, when you go out it, you see a bustling fishing village ... which is a nice change, to say the least.
One thing that was interesting is how much the people who give you tours there are cognizant of the Africans' own complicity in the slave trade. I expected a lot more about the evil Europeans (which would have been completely warranted), but there was really a lot more about the people who sold their own people to them. I think that's very important for them to remember that history and they are very intent on not repeating it ... even with the tribal differences that still exist today.
From there, we went to meet with the Bishop of the Diocese of Cape Coast ... a really remarkable man who was Emmanuel's dean in seminary (the two of them are still quite close). We had a wonderful conversation ... much the same tenor as the conversations I had with Bishop Akrofi. We talked about lots of things, including the situation in the Communion since Gene Robinson's consecration. Like Bishop Akrofi, he is honest about the negative effects that the consecration has had, but is committed to staying together and shakes his head somewhat in disbelief at those who want to split apart. There is a great deal we have to learn from each other. I hope we can be better listeners.
We spent the night at the Hans Cottage Bo-tel, which is a hotel on a man-made lagoon full of Nile crocodiles. All the crocs were asleep for most of our stay ... but we got to see a few this morning.
This morning, we went to Kakum National Park ... a large rainforest preserve. The highlight of the park is a canopy walk -- basically a chain of rope bridges suspended 30-40 meters above the forest floor. You literally walk from treetop to treetop. A guide took us there ... parts of the walk were under renovation, so instead of doing the loop, we walked halfway and then back. But the views were incredible ... even caught a glimpse of a Colombus monkey in a distant tree.
On the way back, we stopped briefly at Elmina Castle (built by the Portuguese, also used in the slave trade) and then back to Accra. We spend the night here and then are off with Emmanuel again to the Eastern and Volta Regions to see Okosombo Dam and Lake Volta, the waterfalls at Wli and a monkey sanctuary!
Only three more days in Ghana. Time is growing very short.
Robin's flight got in Thursday night -- only about a half-hour late. She was in pretty good spirits considering the long flight and she's handled jet lag and the culture adjustment really well.
We've been taking it pretty easy. Went downtown yesterday and walked around a bit. Had lunch at a nice cafe overlooking the ocean and then went down to the "cultural center" .. a nice term for a maze of booths with local artists using really high-pressure sales tactics to try to get you to buy their stuff. Then we came back home and just hung out and talked.
It's been raining this morning, but it looks like it's going to be nicer this afternoon, so we're thinking of heading down to the beach. Tomorrow it's church and various activities and then our day trips start on Monday. Monday and Tuesday to Cape Coast and Elmina and the castles there. Wednesday and Thursday to the Volta Region, Okosombo Dam, the waterfalls at Wli and maybe even the Monkey Sanctuary. Back Thursday night and then we fly back on Friday night.
Thursday, July 08, 2004 It sure pays to visit a place twice.
I went back to All Souls Episcopal Church in Buduburam yesterday afternoon. I'd been invited by the wardens there to meet with them and the vestry and then to preach and celebrate at their Wednesday evening service.
If you remember, I'd been there once before -- a couple Saturdays back. We'd wandered over to All Souls and happened upon an ECW fundraiser, and lots of happy people who gave us a tour, chatted us up and fed us some amazing cornbread.
Yesterday, I went back and I heard about and saw a very different Buduburam and a very different All Souls. What I saw was one of the most remarkable congregations and stories I have ever seen in a church.
All Souls is an Episcopal Church in exile. There is no other way to put it.
They are officially a congregation of the Liberian Episcopal Church -- which, because of Liberia's history of being resettled by repatriated African slaves from the U.S., is actually a part of the Episcopal Church, USA, and not another part of the Anglican Communion. They use the 1979 American Episcopal prayer book (I got to do Rite II last night!), sing out of old 1940 Episcopal Hymnals and have the Episcopal and Liberian flags in their sanctuary. Even though they are in Ghana, they are very clear that they are Liberian and very clear that they are part of the ECUSA.
Only what they really are is a congregation without a country, without a diocese, without much of anything.
Several years ago, the Liberian church gave All Souls (which has been around for 12 years) financial help to put up their building, but since then has offered no assistance and has basically no contact with them. It's hard to blame the Liberian church ... their whole country is perpetually coming apart at the seams -- they're kinda distracted.
But the diocese that All Souls falls into geographically -- the Diocese of Cape Coast in the Anglican Province of West Africa -- doesn't own or claim them either. They have a cordial relationship, but Cape Coast offers no support and they really don't have much of a connection.
They are, in essence, a congregation without a diocese, without support and in exile from their home.
And yet, they are a part not just of the Anglican Communion but a part of our very own Episcopal Church, U.S.A.
But they told me yesterday that I was the first Episcopal priest ever to visit there ... and, in fact, other than Richard Parkins (the director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, who was the one who told me I needed to visit Buduburam) and some people he has sent, they can't recall anyone from the Episcopal Church ever being there.
And this is just the beginning of the story.
As the wardens walked me from the tro-tro station to the church, we began talking about the camp and about the situation back home in Liberia. And the picture I got when I was there several weeks ago began to change dramatically.
First of all, those power liens that you saw in the pictures I took? They don't carry power. There hasn't been power in Buduburam for quite a while. I couldn't make out if it was six months or a year and a half or longer. Anyone who has power has it because they have a gasoline generator (and gas prices in Ghana have done just what they've done everywhere else ... spiked way up). The U.N. is slowly trying to rewire and restore power but the people have been told not to hold their breath.
Second, the stories I heard about people starting to go back to Liberia were put in a different light. Yes, the military situation there is starting to calm down for awhile, but there are still huge problems. There are lots of small arms floating around everywhere, and there is a large amount of sporadic violence. You don't really know from looking at people which side they are on, and a practice that one of them referred to as "witch hunting" is not uncommon. Witch hunting is basically when someone takes advantage of the chaos of the civil unrest to settle an old grudge -- which they do by breaking into someone's house and ransacking it ... or even dragging the person out in the middle of the night and killing them.
Even so, there are still people who go back because either they just want to be back home or they are in such a bad state at the camp they figure they take their chances.
The population of the camp is officially 45,000 ... but that is only the people who are registered with the U.N. They estimated the actual population as closer to 60,000.
We got to the church and went inside and sat in plastic chairs in a circle with the vestry. We prayed and then they began to talk wiht me. They were very up front and honest ... they neededhelp and they were praying I could offer it to them.
Now, I've sat in plenty of situations where I felt like I was getting played or fed a story or milked for funds or something else. This was nothing like that. This was a group of people sitting with me and, very plainly and unemotionally, telling me how it was and very specifically telling me what they needed and what they hoped I wold be able to help them get.
I'm trying to think of a way to describe how it felt ... it was almost like they were really, really hoping I would believe what they were saying because it was true but because they also knew it sounded pretty unbelieveable.
Throughout the whole conversation it became very clear that these are people who are struggling to be faithful against all odds. They are not bitter about it. They are not depressed about it. But they are also realistic about it. They need help and they are asking for it.
And, even though it shouldn't matter in terms of whether we help them if they wer epartof the Anglican Church of Ghana or even a mosque ... the whole time I was there, I couldn't stop reminding myself:
This is a part of MY EPISCOPAL CHURCH! And NOBODY in the ECUSA knows they are here!
Here is some of what they shared with me.
First off, medical care is a huge problem at the camp.
The UN provides some, but it is very expensive and generally insufficient (there was clearly no love lost between the people there and the UNHCR,BTW. If I lived there, I know I would feel the same way, but I cut the UNHCR a LOT of slack on this one. Given the scope of the refugee problem and the scant resources they have, they've got to triage a lot and you get a lot of places that end up losers when that happens.). Malaria, typhoid, TB, eye infections, bad stomach problems. You name it, they've got it.
They talked about a Baptist group that had come over a month or two back with about 50 people on a medical mission. They brought medical supplies and medical professionals and support people and were able to help out a lot. Could the Episcopal Church do something like that, they asked?
One of the big problems with medical care is that it is expensive and if you don't have money, you don't get the care. Unemployment at the camp is incredibly high (it was certainly no problem for the entire church vestry to meet me at 4 in the afternoon) and there just is no money. So people go without medical care ... they told me a story of a parishioner who needed an operation to repair cracked vertebrae because he had been in an accident and he waited from Monday to Saturday until they raised the money just being given painkillers (which they had to pay for up front) before he could get the surgery.
Medical supplies, bandages, medication -- you name it, there's a shortage of it.
As far as the church goes, they need everything -- prayer books, hymnals, any kind of church school supplies, vestments (they had to borrow some for my visit), chalice, paten, basic church supplies... they have basically nothing.
Their entire church budget is $5000 a year. That covers maintenance, paying for a priest to come two Sundays a month for Eucharist, gas, electricity and everything else. One of their largest expenses is outreach ... mostly situations like the parishioner who needed back surgery but couldn't get it because they couldn't afford it. Even in their poverty, when someone is in need, they empty their coffers.
Their projected revenue this year is $800.
They have two Gen Xers in seminary in Cape Coast. One just finished his first year, the other his second. Tuition is $2500 a year and books are another $500-600. Neither one knows where tuition money is going to come from next year. I met both of them, they are wonderful, Spirit-filled people who want to come back to work at All Souls after they are ordained.
They would like to provide skills training for people, so that when they are either repatriated or resettled, they would have some sort of marketable skills. But there are no funds.
A year ago, they opened the All Souls Child Development Center. It's for children 1-7 years old and though the population fluctuates, it's got about 150 students. Tuition is about 25,000 cedis (less than $3) for a three-month term ...and there are still plenty of kids who can't afford that. The UN gives them some books,but mostly they scrounge. The teachers come from the church, mostly, and get paid a stipend of about $10 a month ... that's less than 50 cents a day.
All kids who come to school get fed lunch. Many show up not having had breakfast.
In many ways, these are typical tales of poverty. But in many situations where these situations exist, there are some social safety nets. Here there are few if any.
I found myself wanting to say over and over again ... I'm sorry, I really didn't know. I'm sorry, we just didn't know. How else can we justify that a congregation in our own church is living isolated and in this situation and we are doing nothing about it. Refugees are pretty much the most vulnerable people the world has to offer, and we follow a Christ who says that when we minister to the most vulnerable we minister to him. We just didn't know. But now we do.
And then worship started. And this amazing community gathered and danced and sang and had this wild, schizophrenic liturgy that alternated between high church Anglo Catholic and borderline charismatic pentecostal praise and worship. It was a little dizzying but once you got the hang of it, it was amazing and wonderful (David, you have to go there sometime ... you would love it!). They welcomed us (I went with a bunch of the crossroads students and some others), loved us and treated us like family.
And after the service they escorted us through the dark, power-and-light-free streets and gullies of Buduburam and put us on the right trotro back to Accra.
I know this is long ... and thanks for staying with it for this long. But I just couldn't leave any of this out. I'm going to go there again on Monday with Robin and Emmanuel on our way to Cape Coast because I just want her to see this place, to see the school, to meet some of the people.
This is one of OUR churches. And they have been abandoned by everyone and nobody knows about it.
We are going to do something about it. I promised them all I could, and that was that I personally would support them but that I would also carry their story back to America and let it tell itself. How can we not do everything we can for these people who embody not just the vulnerable people Christ calls us to but the life of continuing to give out of our poverty that Christ calls us to live.
I asked them to set up a bank account so that we could do fund transfers ... there is no other safe way to get them funds. At the very least, I can send part of my tithe there. A little really will go a long way. Maybe ECM can develop a sister relationship with this congregation. Maybe Jen and Emily can come over and work with the school and do basic medical care. Maybe St. Michael School or Forsyth School can adopt All Souls school and not just send them funds and supplies but start to build relationships between their children and ours.
They need our help. And I don't see how we in any conscience at all can say no. I know I can't.
I have felt there are many reasons I have been given the gift of this trip, but until last night, I never felt so strongly that THIS, as much and maybe more than anything, was why I was led here. It was so powerfully clear to me that this community was in dire need and that they were looking to me as someone God had sent to help them. It was so honest and so clear.
When I got back to my room at the villa and started thinking about, all I could do was weep. But it wasn't because what I had seen was so sad or tragic ... but because it was so beautiful. The people of All Souls are the people of Israel in Babylon ... finding ways to sing the old songs in a strange land and singing some new songs as well. Praising God for every moment of life even as life kicks them in the teeth.
If you can help, leave a comment or send me an email (MKinman@juno.com). If you want to help but don't know how, do the same. Whatever you do, don't keep this story to yourself. How often in your life can you say you have the opportunity to radically change a whole community of people's lives for the better?
The opportunity is in our hands. It's why I'm here. I'm convinced of it.
Wednesday, July 07, 2004 The days here are growing short. This afternoon and evening, I'm back in Buduburam, meeting with the wardens and vestry at All Souls and then preaching and celebrating at their midweek Eucharist (they are expecting a 25-30 minute sermon!). Then tomorrow night, Robin gets here (32 1/2 hours, not that I'm counting)!!! Mackinnon left yesterday, she's probably over U.S. airspace by now.
Because my schedule has been less hectic for the past week or so, I've had a chance to sit with some of what has happened here and try to begin to see how some of the pieces fit together. Over the past couple days, Emmanuel and I have had a couple long conversations that have been wonderful and have helped me see a bit more into the differences between our church cultures and also the vast things we have in common.
It's also helped me see what is happening in our communion from a different perspective. A lot of the conflict is just simply because of difference in theology and how we interpret scripture. There is no way around that. But, particularly here in Africa, I am beginning to think that a failure on both sides to grasp the culture of the other has made things much worse.
When we consented to the election of Bishop Robinson, and when our Presiding Bishop went to the special meeting of the primates, we justified our right to make this decision using the polity of the church. The polity of this church is a Western polity whereby each of the individual churches of the Anglican Communion are autonomous but in relationship through Canterbury (this is a gross oversimplification, but it's accurate enough). We maintained the right to make this decision for our church, the Episcopal Church in America, and maintained that it did not bind or even necessarily effect other churches in the communion. After all, we said, when we began to ordain women, that didn't mandate that other parts of the communion had to.
It all gets back to what I said a couple posts ago about the difference in our cultures and our churches. Our culture is much more centered on the individual and individual rights. African culture -- insofar as statements can be made about something so broad -- is more centered on the community.
So while we are making the argument that this is just about us and that the rest of the world just needs to calm down ... that when they think about it, this really doesn't need to change them at all ... the African church is seeing it quite differently.
Emmanuel was telling me about the clergy synod he went to after our General Convention, when Bishop Akrofi (who was just back from Minneapolis himslf) relayed what had happened. And Emmanuel told me that he stood up at the synod and asked "What are they doing? Why didn't they talk with us?"
For him and for the church here, our argument from polity that this action is within the acceptable autonomy of a diocese and the acceptable autonomy of a province of the Communion flies in the face of the entire notion of communion. (BTW, the Bishop Smith and Ralph McMichael tried to explain this notion of communion to us in the Diocese of Missouri prior to Convention -- not referencing Africa but instead trying to delve deep into what communion was really about. I understood it on an intellectual level now, but I am beginning to see and feel it on so many deeper levels now).
There is no such thing as an action that just affects one part of the body. As Emmanuel said to me "You are my brother. I am your brother. How can what you do not affect me?"
Looking back, I stand by my belief that the best, most loving, most honoring of communion thing we could have done was to delay the consecration for a year for a period of communal prayer and study and, most important, listening to each other. Not moving back from a decision I would still vote for, but leaving space for us to be with it together for awhile. Our hand was forced at General Convention by a mandated up or down vote. We should have taken more time after that to mitigate the damage.
But we didn't ... and OK. So where do we go from here. Well, I believe that in every crisis, even every disaster or tragedy (and I certainly wouldn't term this a disaster or tragedy ... but that's me!), God places seeds of opportunity that, if we can find and tend them, can grow into something that is even greater for the good than the crisis, disaster or tragedy is for the bad.
Maybe those seeds are in conversations like Emmanuel and I are having ... and in many, many more like them. Maybe it is in me going to Buduburam today as someone who cast a vote that wounded and confused a lot of people here and sitting with them and listening to them and learning from them and hoping that they can listen and learn from me as well. Maybe it is in Emmanuel being on our ECM weekly email list and learning about how GOd is moving in our community. Maybe it is in Robin and I worshipping at St. Luke's and at Christ the King and letting the grace of those communities wash over us and through us.
These are not heroic actions or conversations. They are the average, everyday actions of people committed to living in communion with each other, committed to the notion that our actions and our lives do effect each other.
But especially for us as the powerful American church right now, these actions require our taking a posture of humility and contrition. Not apologizing for our belief that God is calling Gene Robinson to be a bishop. Not apologizing for our belief that all of us, regardless of any category including sexual orientation, are created in God's image and are capable of sacramental relationships with one another that reveal God's love. But apologizing for our failure to see the depth of what our communion really is ... and therefore the depth of consequence of our actions.
As long as we keep chanting the mantra of "it was our right," we will not acheive this. Paul talks about all things being lawful but not necesarily being helpful. Yes, in our polity, what we did as absolutely within our rights ... but that doesn't matter. There were ways about the way we went about doing it that weren't helpful to the rest of the body. And it is that, for our own sake and for the sake of the whole body, for which we must confess, repent and ask for forgiveness.
And what an opportunity that is! Giving parts of the body of Christ such as exist here in Ghana the chance to be gracious to us. The chance to be the first one to let go of our stubborn pride and truly act like the body of Christ we purport to be. WHat an opportunity we have. What a lesson that can be for the world, especially in these days.
I have a feeling I'm going to be sorting out stuff from this trip for a long time ... long after I've come back to America, long after, God-willing, I've returned to Ghana again and again come back. THat's why I'm careful to talk in terms of "beginning to learn" and "beginning to understand."
Because if there are two things I am beginning to learn and understand, it is these:
The world is a lot bigger, scarier and diverse than I ever imagined.
The body of Christ is a lot bigger, richer and more amazing than I ever fathomed.
Monday, July 05, 2004 When I first arrived in Ghana, James greeted me with a glass of water, saying that water is life and that this was the traditional Ghanian way to greet a traveler ... to give them life.
Water being life is not a new idea to me. Besides the obvious baptismal connection, I grew up in the desert southwest. I was taught to take short showers. You had to ask for water at restaurants. Our front and back yards over the years migrated from grass to desert landscaping.
But even there, water was still available. You were careful with it, but you were never left wanting it.
Since I have been here, I have thought more about water than I ever have in my life. Am I getting enough? Is it safe? Where can I get it? Does this place have it?
I've been very fortunate. I live in a house with running cold water (there is basically no such thing as running hot water ... only very wealthy places and nice hotels have hot water heaters ... and those are usually individual small ones that are part of the shower). I have money to buy satchets of pure water to drink so I won't get sick. I can do laundry in buckets of water that I get not from several miles away but from a faucet at the house.
In my small travels, I have seen plenty of places and people not so fortunate. I have seen women and children lining up at the only well for miles around and carrying the water back to their homes in huge, heavy buckets on their heads ... and who knows what state those wells are in? I have seen people bathing out of buckets by the side of the road because there was no running water or even a bucket shower nearby. I have seen arguments in the paper about who owns the water ... should water really be privatized or is pure water something that should be a right?
The World Health Organization says that one in six of us on this planet doesn't have clean water to drink. Forget those who have to hike miles roundtrip to the well to get water, that's one billion people on planet earth who simply don't have access to something that is necessary to survive.
The result is that many don't survive. Most drink water that isn't clean and get parasites, various diseases or worse. Some just die.
It is amazing that on a planet whose surface is 75% water that not only do we have one billion people without access to clean, drinkable water but that projections show that the shrinking global water table and lack of adequate desalinization facilities mean that the next great global crisis is not going to be the oil shortage ... though that will have huge economic impact ... it will be increasing shortages of water. Governments will be overthrown and wars will be fought ... and you can bet that billions of dollars will be made ... in the battle for water.
If there is a basic human right, it is the right to the basic things we need to survive ... and water is chief among them. In John's Gospel Jesus said that he was living water, that those who drank of him would never thirst. He also said that one of the ways we serve him in this world is by giving a cup of water to the thirsty. Hanging on the cross, Jesus further identified himself with these poorest of the poor as he uttered some of his last words "I thirst."
One of the great spiritual awakenings I've begun to have here ... and it's only just beginning because I have such a long way to go ... is really seeing the face of Christ in many different people. Not just the people here, but you all reading this back home. Recognizing that we can be prisoners of wealth as well as prisoners of poverty and that we all need being set free. Recognizing that it really is true that as we do to each other, we do to Christ.
Well, Christ is still thirsty. He's on the street when he should be in school, selling bags of pure water to people in trotros. She's carrying a baby on her back and a tub full of water on her head from the well to her home two miles away. He is drinking water polluted by God knows what either because he doesn't know any better or he really has no choice.
And it really is within our power to give him a drink. It is within our power to support organizations that do capacity building and teach people to dig wells and then maintain the machinery. It is within our power to urge our lawmakers and executives in corporations in which we hold stock to put more resources into research and development and distribution of technology that will enable more people to have clean water. It is within our power to urge our government to work more fully to help people in nations that have plenty of water but where it isn't getting to the people because of profiteering.
One of the things I'm looking forward to when I get home is being able to have a drink of water out of the kitchen sink ... or to have drinks with ice in them ... not to mention a hot shower. I have that choice ... to stay here or to go home, because I have discovered that the most valuable posession on earth is a U.S. passport. I have my water. I will never be without. I hope as I get back into my life and get busy I don't forget those who don't. I really hope I don't.
| Mike at 7/05/2004 05:05:00 AM
Friday, July 02, 2004 One of the biggest differences between life here and life back home has to do with something I can't describe any other way but to call the "way of being." It's the difference between living in isolation and living in community -- and making the transition can be pretty jarring ... and I've found it pretty self-revealing and instructive.
It's not news that life in white, middle-class and up America is a pretty solitary and personal affair. We all have our own cars, houses and offices or places of business and we pretty much stay in them. Whether it's because of air conditioning or television or whatever other reasons the sociologists have come up with, we disconnect ourselves from much of our surrounding environment ... and from most people, too.
I know my neighbors on either side of me on Midland Blvd. somewhat well. But you start going down the block and I know less and less. Maybe a name. Maybe a trivial fact about the family. Not much more. We don't have a lot to do with each other. We don't spend a lot of time together. I'm in my house, my car, my office and they are in theirs. And, by and large, we prefer it that way because that's what we're used to. There is security there. There is control ... or at least the illusion of control ... over our environment -- and we (certainly I) tend to like control a lot.
Here it's completely different. For awhile, I thought it was just the area I was living in or the population density. There are a lot more people in a smaller area here in Mallam, that's for sure. But it's more than that, because I found so much of the same thing when I went out to the townships and villages in rural Ghana.
People here, society here, is naturally interactive instead of being naturally retractive. And it's pretty intense and ... particularly for someone who can be a little introverted ... pretty overwhelming.
People here are involved in each other's lives to a much greater degree ... to an extreme degree, by American standards. On an everyday basis, that means that people are ALWAYS interacting with each other ... whether they really know each other or not. You experience it when you walk down the street. Now, I'm white, so I attract attention and a lot of cries of "Obroni" wherever I go, but you see it with everyone. The norm is not passing each other on the street in silence but saying something as you are passing. In the time it takes me to walk from the villa to the cafe, I hear a couple dozen "how are you?" "where are you going?" "good evening" and various other things spoken to me in a language I can't understand.
At first ... and I have to say this is still my gut reaction ... is to experience this as intrusive. The tone of voice is often pretty intense (at least not gentle). Walking down the street and having 5 people bark at you "Hey, where are you going?" ... it feels like an interrogation. But I've realized through watching and talking with people is that two things are really going on. First, there is just this cultural norm of interacting with people. When someone walks by, you say something. Second, people genuinely want to see if they can help you get to where you are going (we obronis get this question asked to us a lot because the assumption is that we are lost and don't know where we are going... and then there are the taxi drivers who want to help us get where we are going -- for a large fee -- but that's another story).
You see it in how people get around. People cram themselves into buses and trotros and it's like there is NO concept of personal space. As vehicles drive around, they are always honking their horns at people, but just as the "how are yous?" might sound intrusive and aggressive to my Western ears but really aren't, neither are the horns. They are just the people talking to each other. Every time you pass someone, you honk. You let them know you are there and let them know they are in relationship with you.
It's one of the reasons that, even though traffic here is so insane, I have only seen one accident and I have seen no road rage. One day we were coming back on a bus to Mallam and without warning all of the lanes going in our direction closed off at an intersection and we were being filtered into one lane of what had just been oncoming traffic ... at the same time that cross traffic was also making its way across the intersection. The result was a huge mess that would have been gridlock and road rage central in the U.S. But what happened was that everyone entered the intersection at once, from all directions and then proceded to maneuver around each other ... somehow managing not to hit anyone ... and everyone got where they were going. Nobody was hesitant. The driving was definitely aggressive. But there was a realization that the only acceptable outcome was for everyone to get where they were going ... and in that happening, all would be taken care of ... including them.
And it goes beyond that. These people take care of each other. When someone is in need, someone who has helps them out. And they don't really keep score. It's just assumed that it's the thing to do. It's the norm.
I've been reading a book about Desmond Tutu's theology of ubuntu --which is a theology of radical interdependence. Bascially, that we are created in God's image as human beings in our great diversity and we need that diversity to be fully human. In other words, in order to be the image of God we are supposed to be, we need EVERYONE. He talks about finding a place where the theology of Africa, which goes to the extreme in its emphasis on the communal ... often to the denigrating of the individual ... and the theology of the West, which goes to the extreme in its emphasis on the individual to the exclusion of the community ... meet. A place where we recognize that each one of us is uniquely created and beloved by God ... but that we only become that image of God we are created to be with the help of each other.
I think about our church communities. We take wonderful baptismal and marriage and other vows and promise to uphold each other in them ... and then we shut those same communities off from our lives because it wouldn't be proper or would be too intrusive to give or ask for such personal details of our lives.
I already know the people, young and old, whom I meet every day walking from the villa to the main road, better than I know most people in my own neighborhood in St. Louis. SOmetimes that's still difficult for me. Sometimes, I wish I could walk down the street and not have 24 people ask me where I"m going or not have Ya try to teach me some more Twi or any of the other conversations I have daily. SOmetimes, I just want to crawl into my shell and have people leave me alone. But I also know that when I feel that way, I'm the one who is impoverished for it, because I'm rejecting the gifts of these people's humanity that they are offering to me ... and I'm not giving them the gift of myself.
As I think about what the church is called to be in American society, I think we need to try to find that place of which Desmond Tutu speaks. We must never forget how precious each individual is ... but when we keep that to ourselves and pretend that it's all about the individual, we lose so much of who we could be and who we are created to be.
I wonder what it's going to be like going back to St. Louis. Getting off the trotro and into my car by myself. Passing people on the street in silence. I'll bet it will be easy to get back into my comfort zone with that. I wonder if I'll miss this.
| Mike at 7/02/2004 03:39:00 PM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."