Thursday, March 31, 2011

Taking Sides

"Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
 -Elie Wiesel

This seems incredibly important in the midst of my transition into a more postmodern, post-Christendom ideology. Postmodernity can often be accused of moral relativism, failing to ever take a stand on difficult issues, which is a fair criticism. I feel like we are trying to be a listening voice that offers grace far before we ever offer judgment. But this does not mean that we need to be wishy-washy about injustice and oppression taking place in the world. 
Christians must be vigilant about standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. We must give always give voice to the voiceless and support the marginalized. I love this quote from Elie Wiesel, reminding me to stand strong against the oppression and victimization that can easily take place in our world. I hope you'll stand with me.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Being a Therapeutic Presence in a Multi-Cultural World

I am currently in a class called "Developing an Intercultural Competency." Last week we had 4 guest speakers in class who are all doing multi-cultural work here in Seattle. They were fascinating to listen to, but I was most intrigued by what was said the waning minutes of class. Our professor asked them to each make a few closing comments on how one might go about becoming a therapeutic presence in a multi-cultural world. These are their responses, which I thought were brilliant.
  1. Immerse yourself in uncomfortable learning communities
  2. Don't do anything out of guilt
  3. Become a part of a community - let the neighborhood teach you
  4. Ask "How can I be sustainable in this community?"
  5. Be okay with who you are
  6. Be bold in what you can offer that community
  7. Be comfortable with chaos
  8. Create liminal space for conversation and learning to happen
  9. Be proactive in learning about other cultures

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Decision Making Questions

The other day, in my Life Together class, we were using a case study from a church to discuss pastoral ethics. This was a really helpful exercise and conversation, one that I hope we have more of in the future. My friend Jev had some very insightful thoughts at the end of the discussion that I thought I would share with you. These are three questions he tries to ask himself when he is making a decision, especially one of an ethical nature that involves other people. I always appreciate Jev's wisdom, and I hope you do too.

Decision Making Questions
  1. How can I treat this person (or these people) as real people?
  2. How can this work out to be a transformational experience for everyone involved?
  3. How can this issue be an opportunity to learn to love God and love our neighbors?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

More of My Journal from our Journey, Part 2

The following is the conclusion of my journal entries during our trip to Tanzania. Most of this is from our time on safari in the Serengeti.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Friday was great.Yesterday sucked. Our travel on Friday was pretty minimal. We took the dala dala to Dodoma where we caught a bus to Morogoro. It was hard saying goodbye to Chamwino, and especially to Pastor Daniel and Nasson. They have been with us every day in Chamwino and are great new friends. We will miss them dearly.

Our time in Morogoro was short, but amazing. We have an acquaintance in Seattle named Yonah, and we stayed the night at his mother's house. She is a college professor and is quite wealthy. Her house was immaculate. We had a great meal, a nice bed, a clean bathroom, and we all got to sit outside and enjoy a fantastic lightning storm. Couldn't have been a better night.

Yesterday was not good though. We had a 10 hour bus ride on a terrible bus. There was no leg room and it was incredibly hot. The bus company had said there would be AC, but it just blew out warm air the whole trip. And worst of all, once we got to Arusha, we realized that gasoline had spilled all over our bags that were under the bus. Now our bags smell awful and most of our clothes are stained and smelly. Looks like I will be wearing the same shorts for the next 6 days.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Well, our 3-night, 4-day safari is over, and was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. Absolutely incredible. On Sunday we took off for the Serengeti. While we were driving all day, it wasn't tiring or boring because we were seeing animals for most of the trip. After driving past the Ngorogoro Crater, you enter the flat lands of the Serengeti and start seeing more animals than you ever thought existed. We would come to areas where there were thousands and thousands of zebras and wildebeests, stretching as far as you could see. Truly awesome. We also saw a lot of giraffes. At one point we got off the main road onto some side trails. We didn't know where we were going, but what we would see was incredible. We drove over to a tree, and under the tree, basking in the shade, were 2 cheetahs, no more than 10 feet from us. After leaving the cheetahs we saw a bunch of jeeps sitting by another tree. Underneath was a lion that had recently killed and eaten a zebra. She still had blood all over her mouth and was stuffed to the gills with zebra meat. That night we camped out in tents in the middle of the Serengeti. AWESOME!

Monday was the day for lions and elephants. We got up early to be out driving as the sun broke the horizon. Soon after, we came across an area of rocks where 9 lions where hanging out. That was so awesome. Two were male and 7 were female. Some were walking around, some were sitting up tall, and some were laying in the sun. Then a really special thing happened. We drove a little ways down the road and came across the head hauncho, the king of the jungle. Perched about 15 feet up on a rock, sat a massive male lion, overlooking his kingdom. He was enormous, with the big, round mane surrounding his face. He looked so majestic and regal upon his throne. This might have been the coolest thing I saw on safari!

After lunch we started heading back toward the Ngorogoro Crater. We had been seeing elephants here and there, but when we got to the rest area at the border between the Serengeti and Ngorogoro, we got to see elephants up close and personal. There were about 10 elephants hanging out at the rest area, no more than 100 feet away from the people. It was so fun to watch them up close, and to get some great video of them. Since it was really hot, the girls decided to go sit in the shade by the bathrooms. All of a sudden the elephants decided to move, though, so they took off running toward the bathroom. Mandy and Nicole had their backs turned, but heard a rustling and turned just in time to watch the elephants run by just 10 feet from where they were sitting. They were scared in the moment, but now have an experience they will never forget.

That night we camped on the cliff overlooking the Ngorogoro Crater. It was a stunning view. After dinner our guide pulled us aside to show us something breathtaking. Right outside the cooking area was a large water tank for the camp to use. To our surprise, a giant elephant was drinking from the tank. He was no more than 20 feet from us and I think us and our guide were the only people in camp who knew he was there.

Tuesday we woke up to a beautiful sunrise, and again, after breakfast, our elephant friend visited the water tank. It was cool to see him so close again, this time in the light. He didn't leave right away after he was done drinking, though, but chose to wander around camp a bit. A dog at camp didn't like that, though, and began barking to chase him off. The two animals started a little battle where the dog would try to scare the elephant, and then the elephant would chase him down a bit. One of the times the elephant charged, Nicole was sort of in his path and she got spooked. But she was pretty proud of having that story to tell in the future.

The rest of the day was spent in the Crater. Most of the animals were ones we had seen a lot of already, but it was really fun to see a rhino, which we hadn't seen yet. That afternoon we made our way into a small town where we stayed in a crappy hotel for the night.

Wednesday was our fourth and final day of safari, but was pretty relaxed. We spent about 4 hours driving around Lake Manyara. It was fun to see the animals, but most were repeats. It was fun to see a ton of baboons, though, and to see a lot of hippos actually out of the water. We made our way back to Arusha that afternoon, had a great meal at a nice restaurant, talked with Brian and Nicole in our hotel room for hours, and then hit the sack.

Today we had a ten hour bus ride from Arusha to Dar es Salaam. The bus was the nicest we've ridden so far, but it was so hot out that we were still miserable. I'm now writing this journal entry from a great hotel in Dar. It is nice to have a great shower and a clean room. We are going to spend tomorrow laying on a beach on the Indian Ocean. Should be a nice, relaxing way to spend the end of our trip. This may be my last entry of the trip, since we just have a few relaxing days left, followed by 20 hours of plane rides. We have a 5 1/2 hour layover in Amsterdam, so we will probably leave the airport to quickly see the city. See you soon!

Friday, March 25, 2011

More of My Journal from our Journey, Part 1

The first week of our trip to Tanzania we had pretty consistent internet access, so I was able to post my journal entries almost daily. The second week, however, we were away from electricity, internet, and most modern conveniences, so I was unable to update you all on the details of our trip. Now that I'm back in the States and sort of adjusted back to normal life, I am finally getting around to posting all of these entries. Here are my journal entries from our second week in Africa, where we were primarily traveling and going on safari. I hope you enjoy reading about our incredible adventure.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Yesterday started off normal and uneventful, but ended with a bang. We didn't have much scheduled yesterday, but we ended up dead tired by bedtime anyway. We had breakfast at Mama Pendo's hour, which was really good. Mama Pendo is the moth of the Pendo that we know well from Seattle, who is married to Kedmon. We first met Mama Pendo in Seattle a year ago, so it was good to see her again and meet her husband.Our next scheduled activity wasn't until late afternoon, so we came home and hung out for quite a while. It was really great to have some in-depth conversation with our great friends. We miss them so much and can't wait to have them back in Seattle in a few months.

After a few hours at home we headed back to the church for a concert by all the choirs from the church. Music is a huge part of the culture here, so this one church has 5 different choirs. Some of them just sing, while some play drums and other instruments. Some of them play and sing more modern music, while some only perform the traditional music of the Gogo people. The music was so amazing, something I will never forget.  It was truly a worshipful experience to hear their music. I captured a lot of it on video, in hopes of never forgetting.

In the middle of the last group performing, something crazy took place. There is another girl named Nicole living with Brian and Nicole for a little while until she gets her VISA to re-enter Zimbabwe, where she has been living. She woke up feeling awful yesterday, so had been at home sleeping. She wanted to see the music so she came a little late to the concert, but got up to leave because she wasn't feeling well. When she got outside she started getting dizzy and then passed out. Within seconds the concert had stopped and the crowd had rushed out to see if she was okay. Eventually we took her to the hospital where she got an IV and was tested for Malaria. Fortunately she tested negative and was able to come home and not stay in the hospital overnight. By the time we all got home, we were exhausted and went right to bed. While the evening didn't quite end the way we planned, all-in-all it was a great day with great food, great music, and great friends.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Yesterday was probably that best day we've had here in Chamwino. We started out with breakfast at Pastor Numbella's house. He was the man who translated my sermon, and has been very kind to us on our trip, so it was great to see his home and meet some of his kids and his wife. They have 10 kids; 8 boys and 2 girls. I am continually amazed at the generosity of the people here, as many of them have very little money but provide a feast for their guests. I am truly humbled.

After breakfast we went to the primary school for a short time to see how the schools operate. The classroom we visited, Mwalimu (teacher) Nora's class, had about 75 students in one room, all sitting on a concrete floor, with one teacher. A little different from America. The students sang for us and asked us questions about ourselves and America.

We then went back to Brian and Nicole's house for lunch. On the way, Brian and Nasson stopped by the hospital to pay the bill for Nicole's time there, her IVs, and the medicine they gave her. Altogether that came out to 7,500 shillings, which is less than $7 in USD. Unreal how inexpensive it was, or how expensive our medical care is in the States.

At 4pm we were scheduled to hear one more music group at the church, a traditional Gogo group with full Gogo attire and traditional instruments like a Gogo guitar, a zeze (violin-ish), and a marimba. Before the concert, Mandy had a short music lesson with Nasson. He is very talented at music, but has no formal training and cannot read music. If he could, he would be able to teach his choir many more songs than he can now. The concert was AMAZING! Their song and dance was spectacular. Afterwards, Mandy and I sang a few songs for them, which they really appreciated. Then, we spontaneously began dancing with the musicians as they continued to play and sing and dance more informally. It was so fun to try to keep up with the dancers. They kept changing their styles so we would get to try dancing to each style they use. So fun.

Last night we had a really special dinner at Pastor Daniel's house, with all the elders from the church. They presented us with some gifts, shared some beautiful words of thankfulness for us visiting, and invited us to share words with them. It was a very special time, a night I will never forget. I will definitely miss the people here when we leave today. I will especially miss Nasson. He has been so kind to us and has a fun, infectious personality. He has taken time away from his other responsibilities to be with us all week, and its hasn't gone unnoticed. Thank you for everything, my friend. We are leaving for Arusha later today, the start of our safari. We will stay in Morogoro tonight, Arusha tomorrow night, and start our safari on Sunday.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Another Quote from Walter

I know I have been writing a lot about nonviolent resistance over the past few weeks, but I refuse to apologize. This is such a necessary conversation for the church and our world, and I thank God for people like Walter Wink (among others) who are calling attention to the abusive, oppressive, violent cycle in which we often operate. The latest chapter I have read in Wink's book, The Powers That Be, ends with this bold declaration, which I agree with wholeheartedly:
I have come to see that what the church needs most desperately is precisely such a clear-cut, unambiguous position. Governments will still wrestle with the option of war, and ethicists can perhaps assist them with their decisions. But the church's own witness should be understandable by the smallest child: we oppose violence in all its forms...We can affirm nonviolence without reservation because nonviolence is the way God's domination-free order is coming.

Monday, March 21, 2011

How Not To Read the Bible

I've taken about a 3 year hiatus from the Bible...and I think that's fine. I needed some time away from religion (not Jesus) for a little while, so I could come back with fresh eyes and a healthier perspective. It seems that the time of exile is coming to an end, however, so Mandy and I have taken up the practice of daily Bible reading once again during this season of Lent. We have not been religiously dutiful in our goal of reading each day, but I think that is alright. The last thing I would want is for the reading of scripture to once again become a tedious chore that I could check off my daily to-do list (like it once was). I could say more about my goals as I come back to the biblical text (and I probably will in a future post), but I'm not going to do that now. For now, I will simply leave you with some words from the incredible author Donald Miller. He blogged these thoughts today. Enjoy.

How Not To Read The Bible
I almost made a mistake the other day of opening the Bible with an agenda. I’d had an idea about a certain “Biblical principal” and I wanted to check a text to see if I was right. Then I realized that’s a slippery slope. There’s not a lot you can’t use the Bible to support. And besides that, if the Bible is designed to be a constitution, it’s horribly organized. I had to put myself in check.
This isn’t an easy thing to do. If you go to the Bible without a preconceived grid through which you interpret it’s meaning, you may in fact find out that your pre-conceived grid isn’t as concrete as you thought, and you may then have to admit that you’re wrong. I wonder if our grids aren’t so solid for this reason, rather than as supposed guardrails to keep us from straying from the truth.
I’ve a friend who reads the Bible not to look for right ideas but to look for something to do. Literally, he opens the Bible, and reads till he sees something that he can take action on, whether it’s loving as friend or confronting a bad guy or bringing some food to somebody who is hungry. He said he got tired of always parsing ideas and wanted some action. He’s one of the most exciting people I know.

If I were the devil, and I’m hoping I’m not, I’d just try to get people to use the Bible to argue about ideas rather than do anything.

HT: Donald Miller

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Not Becoming What We Hate

"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster."
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Walter Wink uses this quote in The Powers That Be to emphasize the importance of doing our own spiritual work before engaging in non-violent action. He argues that we must learn to battle evil without evil making us over into its likeness. It does no good for us to try to oppose violence and injustice if we are not acting out in ways of peace and justice. Our medium must match our message. No wonder Jesus constantly cautions us to not return evil for evil, because in our tit-for-tat world of redemptive violence and revenge, it is incredibly difficult to stand up against the evils of our world without succumbing to their temptations.

Another idea that must be explored in this conversation is that in the midst of battle, it is easy to lose track of who is the enemy. We, in the church, can so easily get sidetracked in our battle with evil, picking fights with our own team members. Instead of working together toward a more healthy, peaceful world, we get distracted by denominational differences in theology and practice, and we fail to actually be good news to the world. I need to learn how to recognize my enemies, the systemic ways that evil pervades the world. The Apostle Paul is clear that we have enemies, the powers and principalities of this world, but I pray I will learn to know the difference between my brothers and sisters, my allies in the fight, and that which opposes the good news of God going forth in the world.

"You always become the thing you fight the most."
-Carl Jung

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Infamous Quotes from our Africa Trip

One thing I try to do when we travel is to keep track of the funny, random quotes that come out of people's mouths. Every trip involves plenty of one-liners that are fun to look back on years later. Our trip to Africa was no different. The following is a brief list of some of the crazy things that were said during our time in Tanzania, most of which had us doubled-over in laughter. I realize that some of these may not be funny to anyone who was not there, but it's my blog, so I'll share whatever I want to share!
  1. "Hello Snickers. Welcome to my mouth." - our friend Nasson said this just prior to eating his first Snickers ever
  2. "I've basically been wearing pajamas for 8 months." - Nicole said this about assuming she would be out of fashion when returning to America
  3. "You just threw a watermelon at me." - Mandy, when I threw a tiny little watermelon the size of a walnut at her
  4. "I have private parts." - Brian (I can't remember the context here, but funny nonetheless)
  5. "Shut up! If Mohammad were alive, he would tell you to 'shut the hell up, I'm trying to sleep.'" - I said this on the 3rd straight morning that the Islamic prayer service was blaring over loudspeakers all over town at 4am in the morning (not my finest moment of cultural and religious tolerance!)
  6. "I told you he had blue balls." - Nicole, about the Velvet Monkey (aka the Blue-Ball Monkey for apparent reasons)
  7. "Boo! Where's the giraffe porn?" - I said this when the girl giraffe rejected the guy giraffe's advances for the 2nd time

Friday, March 18, 2011

God's Non-Violent Revolutionary

I recently came across some helpful thoughts from Marcus Borg on the non-violent, revolutionary nature of Jesus' ministry. Borg has been an important voice in my life over the last couple years, and while I don't always agree with everything he writes, his thoughts always invite me into further exploration of my own life and the life of Christ. His book The Heart of Christianity was quite good. This was his latest blog post:

Was Jesus a social revolutionary? In the ordinary sense in which we use the phrase “social revolutionary,” yes. Like the Jewish prophets before him, he was passionate about economic justice and peace, and advocated active non-violent resistance to the domination system of his time. He was a voice of peasant social protest against the economic inequity and violence of the imperial domination system, mediated in the Jewish homeland by client rulers of the Roman Empire – in Galilee, Herod Antipas, and in Judea and Jerusalem, the temple authorities. He spoke of God’s kingdom on earth, as the Lord’s Prayer puts it: Your kingdom come on earth, as it already is in heaven. Heaven is not the problem – earth is.

But he was not a secular social revolutionary. He was God’s revolutionary. And God’s passion – what God is passionate about, according to Jesus – is for an earth in which swords are beaten into plowshares, in which nations do not make war against nations anymore, in which every family shall live under their own vine and fig tree (not just subsistence, but more than subsistence), and no one shall make the afraid (Micah 4.1-4, with close parallel in Isaiah 2.1-4). This was the passion of Jesus, and for Christians, Jesus is the revelation of God’s passion.

Violent revolution? No. Non-violent revolution? Yes.

Of course, Jesus and the Bible are also personal as well as political. Of course. But we have not often seen the political meaning of Jesus and the Bible. It is there – and once one sees it, it is so obvious. Not to see it is the product of habituated patterns of thought, or of willful blindness.

Jesus was (and is) not about endorsing the rule of domination systems that privilege the wealthy and powerful. Jesus was (and is) about God’s passion for a very different kind of world.

HT:  Marcus Borg

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rob Bell Interview

I just finished watching Rob Bell's recent interview about his new book, Love Wins. I didn't get a chance to watch this live since I was in class, but it was great to watch. It is a little long, so you may wish to skip through some of it, but I thought I would post the video for you to enjoy. I can't wait to read this new book, which should be arriving at my door sometime in the next few days.

lovewins on Broadcast Live Free

Living in a Multi-Cultural World

Today in my class (Developing Intercultural Competency) we had four guests join us to talk about their lives and ministries. Three of the guests were people of color, the fourth was a young, white woman, and all four are working in intercultural jobs. It was fascinating to hear their stories and words of wisdom about how to navigate the racial, ethnic, and cultural differences we each butt up against every day. As the class session ended, our profession invited them to each share a few words of advice for how we might live into these differences well. Their words were very helpful, so I thought I would share them with you. Hear all of these thoughts within a multi-cultural context. Here are their responses:
  1. Immerse yourself in uncomfortable learning communities
  2. Don't do anything out of guilt
  3. Become a part of a community (let your neighborhood teach you)
  4. Ask "How can I be sustainable in this community?"
  5. Be okay with who you are
  6. Be bold in what you can offer that community
  7. Be comfortable with chaos
  8. Create liminal space for conversation and learning to happen
  9. Be proactive in learning about other cultures

Friday, March 11, 2011

Jesus' Third Way

I am currently reading Walter Wink's book The Powers That Be, and loving it. Wink is brilliant, creative, and prophetic in the way he calls the Christian community to lives that mirror the non-violent resistance of Jesus. We can so easily react to oppression and evil in our own lives and the world with either passivity or violence, but Jesus calls for neither. He instead asks for us to be innovative in our response, ushering a new, alternative reality into the world (what we might call the Kingdom of God). This quote from Wink basically summarizes the book so far:

"Jesus, in short, abhors both passivity and violence. He articulates, out of the history of his own people's struggles, a way by which evil can be opposed without being mirrored, the oppressor resisted without being emulated, and the enemy neutralized without being destroyed."

The whole chapter that this quote comes from is astounding. Wink exegetes brilliantly the words from Jesus (in the Sermon on the Mount) where he asks people to turn the other cheek, give their cloak as well as their coat, and go the second mile (Matt. 5:38-41). Absolutely amazing information. I couldn't recommend this book more.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How To Get Young People In Church

This blog post contains an amazing list of theoretical, practical, common-sense ideas about how a church might attract a younger generation. Well done.

Here is a step-by-step plan for how to get more young people into the church:
1. Be genuine. Do not under any circumstances try to be trendy or hip, if you are not already intrinsically trendy or hip. If you are a 90-year-old woman who enjoys crocheting and listens to Beethoven, by God be proud of it.
2. Stop pretending you have a rock band.
3. Stop arguing about whether gay people are okay, fully human, or whatever else. Seriously. Stop it.
4. Stop arguing about whether women are okay, fully human, or are capable of being in a position of leadership.
5. Stop looking for the "objective truth" in Scripture.
6. Start looking for the beautiful truth in Scripture.
7. Actually read the Scriptures. If you are Episcopalian, go buy a Bible and read it. Start in Genesis, it's pretty cool. You can skip some of the other boring parts in the Bible. Remember though that almost every book of the Bible has some really funky stuff in it. Remember to keep #5 and #6 in mind though. If you are evangelical, you may need to stop reading the Bible for about 10 years. Don't worry: during those 10 years you can work on putting these other steps into practice.
8. Start worrying about extreme poverty, violence against women, racism, consumerism, and the rate at which children are dying worldwide of preventable, treatable diseases. Put all the energy you formerly spent worrying about the legit-ness of gay people into figuring out ways to do some good in these areas.
9. Do not shy away from lighting candles, silence, incense, laughter, really good food, and extraordinary music. By "extraordinary music" I mean genuine music. Soulful music. Well-written, well-composed music. Original music. Four-part harmony music. Funky retro organ music. Hymns. Taize chants. Bluegrass. Steel guitar. Humming. Gospel. We are the church; we have an uber-rich history of amazing music. Remember this.
10. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
11. Learn how to sit with people who are dying.
12. Feast as much as possible. Cardboard communion wafers are a feast in symbol only. Humans can not live on symbols alone. Remember this.
13. Notice visitors, smile genuinely at them, include them in conversations, but do not overwhelm them.
14. Be vulnerable.
15. Stop worrying about getting young people into the church. Stop worrying about marketing strategies. Take a deep breath. If there is a God, that God isn't going to die even if there are no more Christians at all.
16. Figure out who is suffering in your community. Go be with them.
17. Remind yourself that you don't have to take God to anyone. God is already with everyone. So, rather than taking the approach that you need to take the truth out to people who need it, adopt the approach that you need to go find the truth that others have and you are missing. Go be evangelized.
18. Put some time and care and energy into creating a beautiful space for worship and being-together. But shy away from building campaigns, parking lot expansions, and what-have-you.
19. Make some part of the church building accessible for people to pray in 24/7. Put some blankets there too, in case someone has nowhere else to go for the night.
20. Listen to God (to Wisdom, to Love) more than you speak your opinions.
This is a fool-proof plan. If you do it, I guarantee that you will attract young people to your church. And lots of other kinds of people too. The end.