Irascible Joy

•October 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Ask a group of international business executives for their deep-down hunch on which of the two emerging giants — India or China — will survive intact for the long term.  Your results will likely split the field 50/50.

How they answer this question usually comes down to their perception of human nature and where it best thrives. One approach is highly directive and controlling, the other chaotic and unfettered.

Traveling again across central Africa, these two approaches are evident here as well. The big country, wealthy with minerals and spirit, but poor in their application, is chaotic and irascible.

The small, land-locked neighbor on its border is orderly and proscribed. It is marked by good roads, clean neighborhoods and a tamped-down spirit designed to repress the evil, which is thought to be present in expression.

Money pours into the latter and out of the former, but my money — for the long term — is on the one that is chaotic and irascible.

For the harsh irony is this: the suppression of evil is not accomplished by the quashing of expressions, even if words were used to inflame the violence of the recent past. These are a people traumatized by conflict on a scale we naively thought wouldn’t happen again after 1945.  Neither pain nor evil can be denied. The fact that  you can’t see the volcano that figures so prominently in this region’s story (it is usually shrouded in clouds) doesn’t diminish its past reality or future malevolence. It will erupt again. So will suppressed evil and pain.

My wife’s childhood was marked by tragedy and turbulence, a mix that left her relatively unscathed, though her siblings didn’t fare so well. She attributes the difference to her youth; too young to recognize the dysfunction, she was not shamed by it. She was able to address it directly, to look at it, to talk about it, to laugh and cry about it. Thus, her past no longer has power over her.

Though every droop of my Teutonic blood screams against what I’m about to write, I will bet on the chaotic country over the orderly one. The one with irascible joy over the one with suppressed reality. The latter looks better, but the former has more energy to heal. It’s a country of people who speak with their hands, whose worship is a tumult of joy in an ocean of challenge, whose irascible people press on with remarkable strength, courage and joy.

Do they have trauma healing in heaven? If they don’t…

•March 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Coming back from San Antonio, I’ve classic country tunes running through my head. One is Willie Nelson’s (check this) famous song, sung with a slur: “Do They Have Mogen David in heaven? If they don’t who the h*** wants to go?”

I’m returning from a full day discussion between funders and implementers focused on the Great Lakes region of Africa, specifically targeting the areas affected by the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). This brutal batch of psychopaths and thugs have disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people throughout this region, and are famous because of their practice of abducting innocent children and turning them into violent soldier-victims. And I found myself wondering about the promise of heaven and what it would be like from their high-trauma perspective.

Specifically, I’m wondering how much of who we are makes it with us to heaven. When Christ told his fellow cross-hanger “Today, you will be with me in paradise” he said you. He didn’t say “a facscimile of you” or a “you different from who you are today,” he simply said you. Implied in that is that we come to heaven with who we are, otherwise it’s not you or me it is something else.

So if a child, abducted by these thugs, dies and is welcomed to heaven, are they coming with all their hurt and pain and memories? Because if they don’t, it’s not exactly who they were. If they do, then it seems like heaven would be quite a shock, and that it would take some time – perhaps eternity – to come to trust and love and accept wholeness and joy as being really, truly real. In short, it makes me wonder if joy can ever be found without an opposite to compare it against? Can love be experienced fully without having also experienced hate? And even if those things are abolished in another time and place and setting, won’t the rememberance of them cause us to better appreciate this new reality?

I suppose that some of you are fully capable of experiencing love without ever touching on its opposite. It probably says way too much about me that the comparison matters. But when I end up in heaven, I’m just curious how much of me will show up there.

[Perhaps not a coincidence that this was written while flying through a thunderstorm with lightning flashes all around!]

A Christmas response to a New Years tragedy in Egypt

•January 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

== The following was provided by the Bible Society of Egypt and is reprinted here by permission==

On New Year’s Eve, just after midnight, a bomb exploded outside a Church in Alexandria just as worshipers were beginning to leave the Church. 21 were instantly and brutally killed (four others died later) and more than 70 were wounded.

Since the terrible explosion last October in a Catholic Church in Baghdad, El-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq have threatened to attack Churches in Egypt as well. Despite increased security by Egyptian police at the more than 3000 Churches in Egypt, with thousands of worshippers entering and exiting services, it is humanly impossible to prevent ill-intentioned incidents like that in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve.

Unfortunately, the rapid dissemination of awful pictures of dismembered bodies has been the “straw which broke the camel’s back” for many disgruntled Christians across the nation.  The sense that they are discriminated against as a minority, the many incidents of attacks on Christians in the past few years, and the general economic crisis, all have built up frustration which, when sparked by this tragedy, exploded like a volcano.  Many took to the streets in anger and violence directed at anyone or anything which happened to be around!

Church leaders have been working hard to calm and restrain this mob reaction which is against the spirit of forgiveness and peace taught by our Lord. Also, the majority of Muslims have expressed deep sorrow about what happened in Alexandria.

Let me try to clarify, from my perspective, the situation of Christians in Egypt:

The Christian minority (12%) in Egypt is unique in that it represents a remnant of the original Egyptians (descendents of the pharaohs) rather than a group who have come to Egypt for refuge.  In spite of the discrimination against Christians in Egypt, and in spite of the many limitations they experience and the perception of some that they are “second class” citizens, many Christian businessmen have thrived with the new free market economy since President Sadat ended the socialist regime in Egypt in the early seventies, and it is estimated that they now control nearly 30% of Egypt’s wealth.

Many churches in Egypt are flourishing with plans to expand their facilities to accommodate the growing numbers of weekly worshippers.  In spite of the great difficulty in getting permission to build new Churches, dozens of new Church buildings are opened every year.  Christian ministries of all sorts are also booming, with expanded programs and modern facilities to help accomplish their activities.

So what’s the true picture of Christians in Egypt: “a persecuted minority” or a “thriving community”?  Both of these statements are true.  Like Christians everywhere in the world, those who name the name of Jesus are often ridiculed or scorned.  Although Jesus is respected by all Muslims as a prophet and they affirm His Virgin birth, the tensions are escalating within the country between the advocates of a totally Islamic State (which would be very much more restrictive than at present) and moderate Muslims and Christians who are working peacefully within the present legal system for a more balanced democracy which respects human rights for all.

So how do we want brothers and sisters in the West to pray for us?

1. DISTINCTIVE CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOR

All Church leaders are distressed by the violence and anger expressed by mobs of so-called Christians around the country at this time.  Please pray that those who consider themselves Christians will express their deep frustrations in a Christ-honoring way, rather than in unbridled rage and violence.

2. CHRISTMAS EVE SERVICES

On Thursday night January 6th Christians across Egypt will be in Church celebrating Eastern Christmas.  Some have called for people to stay at home for fear of being attacked, but the general mood is one of defiance and confidence and it is expected that Church attendance this Christmas Eve will be greater than ever before.  Many prominent Muslims have promised to attend services with Christians, to show solidarity with them and to send a message to terrorists that if they attack Churches they will be harming Muslims as well as Christians. Christmas Eve is also the time when Muslim government officials (Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, City officials) attend services with Christians to share with them in  their feast.  So hundreds of Muslim government officials will also be at Church Thursday night.  Please pray for protection on every Christmas service across the country.

3. BIBLE SOCIETY SCRIPTURE SELECTION

Our Bible Society colleagues in Alexandria visited as many of the wounded as possible and were warmly welcomed as they distributed appropriate portions of Scripture.  One young girl was very excited to receive an illustrated Bible and her mother, in delight, commented “this is just the book you have been waiting for!”   During their visits they also came across some wounded Muslim soldiers who were guarding the Church and gave them appropriate gifts for which they were very thankful.

We have also produced a selection of Bible verses which we hope will be distributed in all Churches on Christmas Eve.  The cover which I am attaching is a montage of various newspaper headings related to this incident.  The title is “Pray for Them” and, of course, everyone assumes we are asking people to pray for the wounded and the families in mourning.  Instead the focus is a call to prayer for those who committed this atrocious crime!
The Bible Society of Egypt
PS: Please also pray that God’s will be accomplished in the crucial referendum in Sudan on January 9, which is expected to make South Sudan an independent nation. This could bring civil war back to Sudan and also affect the stability of the whole region.

Discomfited

•November 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It seems hard to deny this statement: evil abounds.

I become discomfited, however, to note that the exponential growth in evil has outpaced the growth of the church in the last 200 years.

Which leads to these: Try harder? Give up? Or consider why?

John and Mary

•October 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment

John and Mary have built a school of management and communications technology, which is located in the former USAID/Kenya offices and accredited by the Kenyan Ministry of Education. Acquiring that accreditation was not easy, but John refused to give up.  When the Ministry wanted to shut him down, he went to the Minister and appealed to him as a constituent who put him in office, noting that they had common interests in making this work.  The Minister listened to this open-hearted appeal, and today the classes are filled with many young men and women.  John says he is not teaching them how to get jobs, but how to make jobs.  He wants to build leaders.

His wife Mary helps to run the school.  From her wheelchair, she makes phone calls, manages schedules, and encourages her team.  When she last walked out of that office six months ago, a windstorm brought a tree down on her car, crushing the car and her 7th cervical vertebra.  Her legs neither feel nor move, and her fingers are of little use.  She has her arms, her husband and her children.  And she has a vision.  There is no time for pity or wondering why, she is too busy investing her dreams in the lives of others.

Story attributed to: Wade Channell, USAID

Clapping for Clapham

•October 27, 2010 • 3 Comments

Anyone familiar with evangelical circles won’t be surprised at the repeated invocation of William Wilberforce in  settings like the Lausanne Congress just concluded. He of the great Clapham Sect, the group of establishment leaders who revolted against the established order of slavery in 18th and 19th century England and eventually brought it to a peaceful end.

But our good friend William transcends boundaries. For goodness sake, here he is showing up in the first few pages of Half the Sky by Nick Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn. “Slavery,” they write on page xxii of the Introduction, “was once widely viewed…as a regrettable but ineluctable feature of human life. It was just one more horror that had existed for thousands of years. But then in the 1780s a few indignant Britons, led by William Wilberforce, decided that slavery was so offensive that they had to abolish it. And they did.”

With no offense intended, I’d like to suggest that the word “indignant” doesn’t quite capture the motivation of men and women of power, prestige and position who put all of that on the line to take on the economic engine of the time.

Wilberforce himself could not have been more clear about the source of his “indignation.” “God himself has put upon me,” he wrote in his journal, “two great objects. The suppression of the slave trade, and the reformation of manners (understood to mean moral values).

Much like what the writers of Half the Sky encourage, these men and women were pioneering social entrepreneurs, starting dozens of initiatives. Some worked. Some failed. Some failed miserably and at great cost of life, reputation and finances. That is part of the definition of a successful entrepreneur – it always includes failure.

One of those that worked, but is oft-overlooked, was the British and Foreign Bible Society, on whose board Wilberforce and others served. Central to their effort, and the source of the undergirding drive of what Kristof and WuDunn call the “indignant Britons,” was the core text of Christianity – the Bible.

The Clapham Sect (their name derived from their central meeting house) were students of this book and realized – like we are doing again and again and again – that Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.

Perhaps this is what phrase “righteous indignation” means…

“The Ca-a-a-rt” (with apologies to Toy Story)

•October 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Do you remember the name of those little blob-like, innocent characters from Toy Story? The ones who live in the arcade bin and worship “The Claw…?”

I feel like one of them when on a long, international, coach-seat flight. I sit in the aluminum box (or in this case, a tube), and wait for something to happen. One moment of drama, followed by conclusion, followed by another moment. The boarding. The taxiing. The taking-off. The 10,000 foot level that means its safe to use approved electronic devices. And then, the moment slouches into place.

First, you smell it. Food. Then, you hear the things being thumped into place in the galley. You sit forward in your seat.

Then – finally it emerges. The Ca-a-a-rt…

It trundles out from behind the curtain. The shiny, smiley face of the person at the controls as it wheels into place. The promise of nirvana tucked inside its recessed doors, waiting for the hand of deliverance.

“Pick me me me,” I want to cry. “Take me away from here. Transport me to life on the other side, to the garden where the succulent greens of this salad grow…”

I eat, and the empty dishes sit on the tray table, interfering with whatever it is that must be next. I crouch back down into the muddle of the aluminum box and wait. Wait for the drama and the tension. Wait for the next appearance of … The Ca-a-a-rt.

 
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