Saturday, April 27, 2013

Needful Interruptions

Running shoes at doorside,
Doglike whining,

Weekend washout,
Nestled; cornercouched,
Soulsighs and whispers,

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rumors of the Messiah

           “When the Messiah comes, he will look like one of us,” said Martha as she plunged the shirt back down into the wash basin. She thought about the coming Messiah all the time, hoping he would come soon, hoping he would free the Jews from the tyranny of Rome.

            “Yes,” said Mordechi, “he will look like one of us, but he will be different.” He waved his finger in the air as though correcting Martha. “He will come in power, with an army. He will come like Judah Maccabees. We will know he is the true Messiah because the rebellion will be so great and so fierce that Caesar himself will beg for mercy.” Mordechi raised his fist in triumph.

            “Every time you talk about Caesar begging for mercy I know you have lost your mind,” shouted their brother, Lazarus, from the back room of the house. He entered the room where Martha and Mordechi were talking. “There will be no begging for mercy. There will be no rebellion. There will be no army. When are you ever going to learn? Every day there is new Messiah. And every day we get up our hopes. And every day we are disappointed. Are you really waiting for someone to come save us?” Lazarus said with both arms raised and hands spread wide in his rehearsed exasperation.

            “Yes, there are false Messiahs, sure, that is to be expected,” said Mordechi, “but when the true Messiah comes, he will not limp into Jerusalem like a beggar as some have said. No, he will ride in a chariot of iron and he will lead an army like a swarm of locusts.”

            Martha rolled her eyes and shook her head, her now expected response to Mordechi when he started talking about the military takeover by the Messiah. “Do you really think the Messiah will bring peace through war? Do you really believe he will bring comfort through fear?”

            “Yes,” said Mordechi, “He will bring peace to the Jews by waging war on Rome. He will bring comfort for the Jews by bringing fear to Rome. The Messiah, we all know, will be a Jew for all Jews and for Jews only. Do you deny the prophet Daniel?”

             Lazarus poured some wine and sighed. “The war you long to see fought in the streets of Jerusalem and even Rome will never happen. The war the prophets speak of is not a war out in the streets, but rather it is a war in your own heart. We must not wait for a Messiah that never comes, but we must be the Messiah we always hoped for. We are our only hope.” He took a drink of wine too quickly - it betrayed his own words.

            “Save ourselves?” Martha questioned as her tone focused, “not even the Greeks with all of their strange gods believe we can do such a thing. Are you a god that you could save yourself?”

            The room got quiet except for the sound of the water as Martha plunged another garment into the wash basin. Lazarus took another drink.

            “He could be one of us, you know,” said Martha. “He could be so common that we wouldn’t even know it until it was already happening?”

            “Until what was already happening?” asked Mordechi.

            “I don’t know,” said Martha, “whatever it is true Messiahs do, I suppose.”

            “They don’t do anything but get our hopes up and crush them,” said Lazarus, “that’s what they do. That is why we are weak. That is why we are occupied. That is why no one takes us seriously.” He poured a second glass of wine.

            “Looks like your messiah pours from a jar,” said Martha looking down into the wash basin.

            “Better to eat bread and drink wine than to wait for nothing,” said Lazarus, “I need something I can taste, something I can touch. Bread, I can break. Wine, I can drink. Messiahs that never come? What can I do with them?”

            Martha plunged the next garment into the basin with emphasis, splashing water onto the floor, “Well maybe a Messiah will come that you can touch and taste. I just hope that when He comes you be sober enough to notice. And you, Mordechi, I hope that you are not so bent on war that when the true Messiah of peace comes you do not miss him, devoured by your own lust for Roman blood. You never know, maybe he is just as much the Messiah of Rome as he is Jerusalem.”

            “Messiah of Rome?” Mordechi was perplexed. “Have you gone mad? Rome is the oppressor. From whom would a Messiah save Rome? Will Persia rise again?”

            “Some people need to be saved from themselves,” said Martha, “even Rome. No, especially Rome. What invisible, yet fatal wounds of the soul are waylayed on an oppressor.”

            “What are you talking about?” Now Lazarus was perplexed. “Oppressors are the wounders not wounded.”

            “Are they really?” Martha responded. “Are their soulwounds any different than our shame wounds? We all need a Messiah, not just the Jews. We will not be saved by fighting. What then, we become victors and then oppressors? We will not be saved by numbing ourselves in wine and philosophy. We must see God in flesh in order to know how to live in flesh.”

            Mordechi and Lazarus just stood and stared at Martha.

            Lazarus broke a uneasy silence. “When are you going to be done washing my clothes?”  

            "Here you go," said Martha, "washed in the water and white as snow. All you have to do is put it on.




Monday, April 15, 2013

In Ghana...

·         I drank water from a bag

·         I got my hair cut for 2 Cedis (1 dollar) in a Ghanaian  fishing village

·         I ate “Red Red” and liked it

·         I walked through 6 villages on Lake Bosomtwe

·         I met a village boy named Elvis

·         I was called, “Abruni,” about 500 times (it means “white person”

·         I met the Queen Mother of the region

·         I drank 5 liters of water before going to the bathroom – because in Ghana, you’re going to sweat A LOT!!!

·         I bought fabric in a Ghanaian market

·         I was accosted by street vendors in Accra and bought NOTHING (you have no idea how hard that was)

·         I rinsed bugs out of the shower every morning before showering

·         I made my peace with frequent power outages

·         I wept when the children sang

·         I danced around a bamboo bonfire

·         I lay under a rainless lightning storm

·         I got into a massive powder paint fight with 47 Ghanaian children

·         I met the governor of the Ashanti region

·         I rode in a van on the worst road in the known universe

·         I made some amazing friends

·         I flew Starbow airlines

·         I ate Ghanaian chocolate (yummy)

·         I bought a shirt from a Ghanaian named Bismark

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sweeter: A Pardoy of Gavin Degraw

You don’t know how hungry you are
Isn’t that your third Snicker Bar?
... And soon enough you’ll have Dippin’ Dots

Once you eat that meat from a can
Doesn’t make you more of a man
You’re just eating something you like
Woo hoo

I just wanna bake
Someone else’s chocolate cake
The eggs and the ham are greener
And someone else’s swiss cakes,
Someone else’s swiss cakes

Gordon Ramsey told you you’re dumb
Spent too much time chewing gum
But Willy Wonka thinks you’re the bomb

Now you’re eating some angel
Next you’ll be eating some Devil
I wanna bake you something
If you promise that you won’t tell
Woo hoo

I just wanna bake
Someone else’s chocolate cake
The eggs and the ham are greener
And someone else’s swiss cakes,
Someone else’s swiss cakes

I’ma recommend
You take that pound cake to the other end
I really like it but I’d never end
Not with this mouth of mine

I just wanna bake
Someone else’s chocolate cake
The eggs and the ham are greener
And someone else’s swiss cakes,
Someone else’s swiss cakes

I just wanna bake
Someone else’s chocolate cake
The eggs and the ham are greener
And someone else’s swiss cakes,
Someone else’s swiss cakes

Monday, April 08, 2013

50 Shades of Abruni

I learned a new word in Ghana: Abruni (ah-BROO-nee). I learned over time that it could have many meanings. Here are a list of some of the potential meanings of the word, "Abruni."

DESCRIPTIVE: In short, it is the term  for "White person." I took it at face value at first. It was neutral and benignly descriptive. It was no different than describing someone as tall or quiet.

GRACIOUS: "Abrunis can't make mistakes." It is a Ghanaian saying about white people who visit Ghana. It is an interesting statement and takes a while to fully understand. At first I thought it was an exaggerated form of praise, like white people were in some way super amazing and were incapable of mistakes - an over the top compliment that smacked of flattery.

Then it hit me. It was not that Abrunis were incapable of mistakes, but rather that they were bound to make many mistakes, be unintentionally offensive, and stumble through endless faux paus. It was a gracious understanding that the series of mistakes the white people were about to make were unintended.

GROUND LEVELING: I then learned it was even more complex than the graciousness of the Ghanaian people. It was not exactly letting white people off the hook. In a conversation with a local Ghanaian, Kofi, I learned that it is more like an understanding. I told Kofi that I felt like it was as though the meaning of the term, Abruni, meant that the white person was identified as a welcomed outsider who must come to understand that they do not know anything, must know they are going to make mistakes and that the Ghanaians will be gracious forgive the mistakes. Kofi gave me a huge smile and two thumbs up as if to say, "Nailed it!"

EXPECTANT: When a group of us Abrunis took a guided walk through several villages around lake Bosomtwe, we were called, "Abrunis" a lot. There was a new meaning as we were constantly asked for money and water bottles. It started to feel like Abruni meant, "Give me something."

CONTEMPT: One time while walking through the villages, a child said, "Give us money." I said, "No, I am sorry, we have no money for you." Then he said, "Abruni." It sounded like he said, "Jackass," there was so much contempt in his voice. It was as though I had owed him money and refused to pay up.

That one made me pause. It was at that moment I felt like I was a Poverty Tourist, mining pictures of villagers for free. I felt like I might be perpetuating a form of exploitation that has been such a part of the history of this country. As much as I felt that the direct contempt for me personally was unwarranted, I also felt like what I represented deserved no small amount of contempt.

AFFECTION:  Ending on a positive note, the most common meaning of the term was that of affection. Most of the time I felt like being called an Abruni meant, "The lovable American." It was supported with high fives that end in finger snaps or hugs or big smiles and laughter. The dominant feeling I had between me and Ghanaians in general was affection and mutual appreciation.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Joining The Star & Cheese Pizza Fellowship

They all sat in the upper room of the Paradise Hotel, sweating it out like a Finnish sauna, laughing and talking and learning more about each other. It was another long day of work and they let down here, no matter how hot it was. Bottles of warm Star populated the tables with cheese pizzas, one by one, making their way too slow to their hungry stomachs.

The room was packed with talent. Best selling authors, video producers, videographers, sound people, TV designers and builders, mental health professionals, executive directors, generous donors along with a few teenagers and a few children. It was the kind of collective talent that could intimidate a newcomer into the group. I was the newcomer, but there wasn't an ego to be found. All were welcomed. All were equal. Everyone I met greeted me with the kind of warmth that said, "I have always liked you and now we meet." It was humbling.

And the night lingered with friendships forming fast, marinating in stories and quickly becoming delicious. My introverted nature was subverted by generous inclusion and from that moment, I didn't want to miss a thing. In the goodness of being together, in the afterglow of a shared mission, in the shelter of each other, we communed with beer and pizza like bread and wine.


Monday, April 01, 2013

Obliviousness and Chocolate

In my trip to Ghana back in March, my eyes were opened to a few things. I learned about forced labor and human trafficking from meeting children who were in forced labor, some of them for years, before being rescued. I looked them in they eye, hugged them, spoke with them, and cried as they sang, “I will not go back to the lake; I will not go back to the traffic.”

It is one thing to read about human trafficking, but it is another thing to meet humans who have been trafficked. To be baptized into a different culture, a place where on the one hand trafficking is illegal, but on the other hand it is widely practiced, shook me (also rattles me to know that this descriptions fits both Ghana and the US). I could not see what I saw and remain oblivious.

And there is that word, oblivious. One of my University of Minnesota professors, Paul Rosenblatt, first introduced me to a new twist on obliviousness. I had always considered that individuals were oblivious to this or that, which certainly remains true. But Dr. Rosenblatt saw more complexity and nuance to obliviousness. He saw it as a shared experience. Individuals interact with one another in relationships and social systems in ways that maintain each other’s obliviousness. It is as though people within a social system collude to keep that which is unknown, forever unknown – even if it is perfectly well known.

OK, so when I reflected on what I witnessed in Ghana, I asked myself this question, “What are the forces at work in my regular life that keep me from knowing about the oppression, abuse, and evil in this world?” It is one thing to be oblivious, but it is another thing to try to understand what processes are at work to maintain the obliviousness.

What captures my attention?

How are things issued a level of importance?

Who must I satisfy and with how much effort?

The more I dig into the questions the more unsettling my comfortable culture becomes, the more duped I feel by the “normal” I have come to depend on, and the more the mundane seems sinister and quietly dangerous.

It hit me swiftly between the eyes when Gail and I were at Kroger on Saturday buying Easter candy.

“How can we know the chocolate we buy was not harvested with child slaves?” Gail asked. Ouch. The cocoa industry, most of which originated in Ghana and Ivory Coast, is rife with forced labor of children. I didn’t know how to tell which chocolate was slave chocolate. Maybe all of it was.

In that moment I felt more distance between me and M&M’s than I have ever felt in my life – and Snickers and Kit Kat and Whoppers and Milk Duds and and and, cripes, I eat way too much chocolate. But more so, I have never even given a single thought to where my chocolate comes from. Who sweats for my chocolate binges? What corruption and oppression is required in order to satisfy my chocolate fix?

The whole Easter candy thing really began to bother me. It was much easier when I was oblivious to the whole thing.

We went to the Fair Trade chocolate section, you know the section, where there are extremely limited selections of chocolate that tastes like crap. Yes, the I’m-better-than-you section where the shelves drip with more over-priced self-righteousness than bad church on Sunday. In other words, I was in chocolate Hell, but where else could I go? I saw faces in my head of children that were so easy to love. There are more children in forced labor in the cocoa harvest just like the children I met. Just as beautiful. Just as smart. Just as lovable.

We bought the fair trade chocolate for Easter, bitter and expensive, and left Kroger. I did not feel self-righteous. I was annoyed nine ways to Sunday. I had left the comfort of my obliviousness which meant I had to act.

Leaving obliviousness always requires something. This visit to Kroger meant no cheap and tasty chocolate. What will it mean over the long haul? It wouldn’t hurt me to just unload chocolate from my food intake – I mean outside of the pain of never having another Kit Kat. I could finally confront my chocolate entitlement. I want to start leaning toward becoming more responsible with my consumption.

Now, where is all that cotton I wear coming from?