I’ve recently been writing about my experiences in Africa and India during my seven month stint abroad in 2013-14. My writing over the last few weeks has focused on my experience of realizing that I was white. It’s not that I didn’t know my own skin color, in the technical sense, but it didn’t matter to me, and because it didn’t matter, my whiteness was irrelevant and hence unrealized.
While volunteering in Tanzania, I quickly learned to become aware of the color of my skin, or more to the point, I learned that I couldn’t escape the color of my skin. My skin color was economic, my whiteness meant something: I either had money or else I had access to money. My whiteness defined the nature of my experiences with other people and shaped my whole being. Read more
One of the most influential books for me in the last few years is Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. It’s extremely well-written, entertaining even. Praise for the book includes a critic saying that with his Sapiens book Harari is “…making the world strange and new…” This big picture view of human history often includes fairly simple ideas with big implications, things we don’t necessarily always think about but that give us a sense of perspective.
For example, human beings made a huge and fast jump in the food chain as a result of a cognitive revolution some 70,000 years back. Prior to the cognitive revolution, we were anxious animals, as so many animals are, keeping ourselves alert for predators. Then came the cognitive revolution, which was sort of a huge advancement in our brains and minds, and the result was that we were catapulted to the top of the food chain. We ourselves became the world’s top predator, which sort of seems cool, at first, but history has shown that we weren’t really ready for it. We haven’t handled our power very well. For one thing, we haven’t treated each other very well. More importantly, our mental leap has had devastating results for the rest of the species of the world. We became the top dog but carried with us all of the mental baggage of a middle-of-the-pack species, all of the anxiety we had when we had to fear bigger and meaner predators.
The United States is a Christian nation, and we are the greatest nation on earth…at least if measured in terms of how much gross revenue made from the sales of weapons. In all seriousness, though, most of these sales of weapons go to “developing nations,” which means that 1) the weapons do great harm, landing in the hands of tyrants and war lords in unstable countries and 2) these weapons can more easily find their way into the hands of terrorists. Karma, though, what goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. We create the terrorists that we so greatly fear and that cause us to enter ill-advised, unwinnable wars that divide us, cause us to go into great debt, and further destabilize the world.
How I rate it: 4 of 5 stars
Plot Summary: A young Nigerian woman travels to America, discovers race and blackness, and navigates a wide range of deep experiences that are intense and demanding.
What I most appreciated: The author digs into the various experiences of Africa and of America and of the lived experience of what it means to be “black.” It truly feels like a privilege to read a narrative so well-crafted and yet also so deeply informative, something that the author conveys through the characters and the story.
An important novel? Very. The discussions of race are open and raw, difficult for the characters and for the reader, but very timely in this so-called “post-racial, America.” In addition to the deep discussions of race, the author manages to speak to 21st century people navigating their lives in global and multicultural societies. Takes you into both the intellectual and emotional element.
A classic novel, an important novel, and a novel historically set just before the implementation of Apartheid, Cry, The Beloved Country illuminates a nation on the fragile edge of possibility, a nation whose white power structure would soon choose to plunge the nation deeper into darkness and chaos, and yet in this novel, Alan Paton does what great novelists do: he illuminates the people living the reality presenting both a panoramic of perspectives along side a nuanced and detailed examination of the subtle textures of diverse peoples, cultures, and points of view in collision, all struggling among and against each other, grappling with their fears and seeking a way forward in a time where wisdom and compassion were so desperately needed.
What if Bob Dylan had never sold a record? Imagine that.
Imagine that none of us have ever listened to one of America’s greatest singer-songwriters. What if one our most icononic musicians had cut two albums – just two – but we’ve never heard the songs, we’ve never heard ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ or ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ or ‘Watchtower’ or ‘Tangled Up in Blue’? Try to picture an America where no one in 60s counter-culture had ever heard ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’, because maybe Dylan had to hang it up early because his albums just didn’t sell, so he had to be realistic and work a construction job to provide for his family. And maybe way back in the day you actually worked with Dylan – think of that – but instead of being an icon, he was just “Bob” to you, one of the guys, and that was a long time ago. He used to play music, you recall, he mentioned that, but you actually never heard Bob play, come to think about it. Then one day you discover that those two albums he cut all those decades back are super sensations overseas and that they’ve have helped to inspire a resistance to totalitarian rule in a land far away….See the rest of my review at Cinema Faith.
That’s me in the photo, about two years ago. It was the last time I completed an extended meditation retreat. A few months before the retreat, I was sitting in my office, in the village of Sinoni, a few miles from the city of Arusha in Tanzania. I was volunteering as the Finance Manager for a non-profit, and I had discovered that for a little over $300, I could fly to India and back. I couldn’t pass that up. Read more
Let me clarify that this blog post is not about church-bashing. It’s not really even so much about church, actually, now that I think about it. (So, if you are one of my non-believing friends or family, you can safely continue reading.) My original intention was to write about my experience at a Columbus church last Sunday and contrast it with my own interpretation of Jesus and how it inspires me. This would involve a bit of criticism, yes. But it would be in a spirit of generosity. And it wouldn’t be about church-bashing. I respect that different people go to different churches, and I respect that choice. If a particular church is working for you, then, yo. Go for it.
But this post has to be more than that. My story of attending this church is about something much deeper and more personal. Really, it’s a story about the broken heart that I brought back from Africa.
Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. – Paul in his Letter to the Romans
Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. – Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians
My theology of homosexuality is described thusly. That being gay was considered by biblical authors like Paul to be “unnatural” and as such was wrong. But there were other things considered to be unnatural as well, like having long hair, or having women as equals and as leaders. Likewise, slavery was also considered natural by many ancient worldviews.
Initially when I purchased my cheap ticket via Orbitz, I was worried about having to spend almost 48 hours in transit, the bulk of the wait being a 16 hour layover in Qatar. As luck would have it, my long layover qualified me for a stay at a hotel, with transportation and meals provided. Lucky me. This is the view from my room. Doha, Qatar is filthy rich, off of fossil fuels, of course, and they are currently modernizing and diversifying their economy, resulting in an economic boom and grand building projects such as the one just outside my hotel room. Surrounded by desert, the parabolic warning about “building castles in the sand” comes to mind. But Doha is merely a metaphor for the situation of all humanity right now. We have overextended ourselves to the point where our earth cannot support us. Still, we keep building, using the wealth of a resource that is running low.
I am an American who has spent six months in Africa. The contrast between the wealth of the two nations is striking, to say the least. Theologically, many American Christians view American prosperity as a blessing of God bestowed upon the United States because her citizens have worked so hard and have honored God. Is this the case? Or has American wealth come at the cost of oppressing and exploiting others: stealing Native lands, enslaving Africans, killing off Natives who resisted displacement, paying immigrant laborers virtually nothing, importing goods from abusive and oppressive sweatshops, and being environmentally destructive and irresponsible?
The answer to the question is important. Jesus, for example, viewed his world as being dominated by the oppressive Roman Empire. Those who had wealth gained it at the expense of others. (The Romans, however, saw things differently. Their gods were on their side and the Emperor was a manifestation of God, the Son of God.) In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is recorded as stating, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Why so hard on the rich?
Very pleasantly surprised at the diversity and spottings in Arusha National Park. Less than an hour’s drive. We had a great day.
An amazing day on the African Savannah.
I thought I would post another one of those incredible quotes from Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. In this quote, Orleanna Price is reflecting on the loss of one of her children, her marriage to the angry and unstable Nathan, and on her darkest day in the Congo. In doing so, she reflects on fate in general.
“Maybe the tragedy began on the day of my wedding, then. Or even earlier, when I first laid eyes on Nathan at the tent revival. A chance meeting of strangers, and the end of the world unfolds. Who can say where it starts. I’ve spent too many years backing over that muddy road: If only I hadn’t let the children out of my sight that morning. If I hadn’t let Nathan take us to Kilanga in the first place. If the Baptists hadn’t taken upon themselves the religious conversion of the Congolese. What if the Americans, and the Belgians before them, hadn’t tasted blood and money in Africa? If the world of white men had never touched the Congo at all?
“Oh it’s a fine and useless trail to try to fix destiny
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