Sunday, July 27, 2008

TV or not TV

We don’t watch much TV in Zambia and truthfully I don’t really miss it. But sometimes you find yourself at one of those unfortunate junctions in life where TV is about all you can muster. You’ve read yourself cross-eyed and it’s a Sunday afternoon, and those Old Testament passages about resting on the Sabbath suddenly seem particularly inspired.

Today was one of those days for me.

I hadn’t really watched much TV in a while and I didn’t really know what I might find, though recent mini-surfings had been hopelessly disappointing.

As I scanned the channels, I came across a couple of guys beatin’ each other senseless (the Testosterone Channel I think), and wasn’t sure what was scarier, their seeming determination to kill one another, or the crowds equal determination to encourage them to do so. There was Joel Osteen, preaching about letting your praise flow and let the blessing flow with it or something like that and I thought it sounded very much like the one other sermon I had heard Joel Osteen preach, but then again, what do I know.

There was of course the news talking about they young guy and the old guy and the soon and coming election. I think they were taking a poll to see who would win if the election were held today and everyone had to vote blindfolded with one hand tied behind their back while eating a Twinkie.

There was some show about deer hunting and how you can kill a butt load (can I say that?) of deer with some kind of acorn powder, which for deer is second only to eating Twinkies while voting for president. None of these interested me in the least (do we REALLY need one more poll!??), but for some reason I had to go through all the channels about 17 times just to make sure.

In the process, I stumbled across a show on the Animal planet that almost had me. It was about bandit mongooses (which has nothing to do with thieves on bicycles), but was about a herd – yes a herd, of bandit mongooses (surely, its not Mongeese) that ate dung beetles and scorpions, and it was just adorable until one little baby mongoose got separated and was in danger of being eaten by a lion. And then one Mongoose named Odo (or something) ran over to save the little stranded baby Mongoose from the lion, and IT GOT EATEN TRYING TO SAVE THE POOR LITTLE BABY MONGOOSE!

I was so angry wondering why they had to go and name the little critters if they KNEW one of em was gonna get chomped on? I could have enjoyed the show just fine if they had said, “And then one of the random Mongooses in the herd of many mongooses who all look pretty much the same ran off and got eaten trying to save one of the many unnamed baby mongoose. Up until then I was pretty much committed because the show was so African I thought I was on a game drive and almost started taking pictures of the TV. Plus, it was weird that I felt more at home watching rodents running around Tanzania than I was watching Fox News. Which is mostly about rodents running around Capitol Hill.

But TV bliss was, in the end, finally achieved and I found it on an old faithful standby that has come through before – The Food Network. The show was “The Next Food Network Star” and its (you probably know this because I ‘m pretty sure it was a rerun) a reality TV show where the winner gets their own show on The Food Network.

So what was it, I’m sure you’re wondering, that I liked?

For one, I could watch the whole show and not have to repent once because nobody ever got naked, cussed any body out, or shot anybody during the whole show and that says a lot these days. Second, it was about food. And the simple fact that food is apolitical and that Paula Deen was on the show as a judge and she just makes me want to go out and eat something fried and be glad I did, all made me love it. It had everything you could possibly want in a TV show. It had drama, suspense, humor and chipotle peppers which by the way, I learned are just smoked jalapeƱos. Therefore, it was also educational.

But more than that, it was nice. That sounds terribly second grade-ish as in “Be nice and stop putting your brother’s toothbrush in the toilet.” But it was nice and I loved it. It was so nice that when one girl got voted off, they did it without ever telling her that she should consider becoming a greeter at Wal-Mart. And the girl that got kicked off hugged the others and agreed that they deserved to go to the next round. It was very Hallmark.

And the truth is, I like nice. I like nice people and I like nice TV. So from now on, when a Sabbath is in order, its me and the Food Network.

And by the way, I’m thinking of not voting for the old guy or the young guy. I’m thinking of casting my vote, for Odo, the bandit mongoose.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Donkey Pancakes

Families are sort of like belly buttons. You tend not to appreciate them until you can’t see yours anymore.

While we were in the states before leaving for Zambia I tended to take for granted that there are people in this world who actually know just about everything there is to know about me, and yet who still love me anyway, people that are fully aware that I tend to forget things and that I can be self-absorbed and impatient and that I’m not usually the chattiest fellow around.

Families have a way of accepting us, quirks and all, simply because they love us and because we’re a part of them. Despite our many and varied weirdnesses they realize that they are incomplete without us just as we are without them and its very easy to forget that acceptance like that is hard to come by.

With our baby on the way, I’ve thought a lot about family lately. The last two weeks for us have been a great time to re-connect with our families and we are trying our best to push any thoughts out of our heads regarding having to say good-bye once again this fall. We’ll cry that river when we come to it.

I heard a great story the other night over dinner at the Cracker Barrel. A friend, who raises miniature donkeys (and I admit – I had never heard of miniature donkeys) was telling us about a mother donkey who had rejected her baby (and forgive me for not being up on the technical mother/baby donkey terms).

As the story goes, our friends had washed the baby donkey with some iodine because it had a rash. Afterwards the mother rejected the baby and would have nothing to do with it. They tried everything to get the scent off the baby donkey, including covering him with molasses. Nothing worked and after their failed attempts the donkey was not only orphaned, but in danger of being put on someone’s pancakes.

Until one day the mother donkey and the baby donkey got caught in the rain together. After being stuck in a downpour, apparently the human/iodine/breakfast table smell was gone, and the mother took the baby back, as if nothing had ever come between them.

All because of a little rain.

I thought about all the storms our family has been through together and realized that we weren’t much different from those donkeys (now that’s a sentence I never imagined I would write!). We’ve had our share of rain, but in the end we seem to be better off for it, simply because we were in it together.

And that’s the way it is with missions.

Missions is really just a matter of us realizing that we and the churches across the pond are the same church, the same big, weird wonderful family, and realizing that if the church over there is caught in the proverbial rain, whether it be the rain of poverty or of disease or simply a need for training and education, then we ought to go and help them out. It simply won’t do for us to pretend as though we don’t recognize them or that they’re not us, because they are – and we’re them.

As Paul says regarding the collection for the famine struck church in Jerusalem, “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality” (2 Cor. 8:13-15).

And we just might find that when we stand together in the rain, that we too come out smelling a little better than we had before.

Not to mention it’ll save us from having to pick donkey hair off our pancakes.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Fourth of July

We arrived back in Springfield on Wednesday night after a very long flight. I say we arrived, but should note that our arrival is only partial. Physically, we are in Springfield. Emotionally, mentally, and gastronomically, I think we are still in Africa and the journey from that world to this one won’t be completed I suspect for a few weeks. Although, trips to Taco Bell are being planned to speed the process.

On Thursday Paula had an appointment with her doctor and that meant plenty of time sitting in a waiting room for me; time to think about what a diverse world we live in and what it is that so sets this American world apart from the African one we just left.

There are the obvious things. Here we drive on the right, and there it’s on the left. Here we have paved roads, there, they mostly don’t. In America things are quite tidy. I can’t help but notice how clean and organized everything here is, as though Martha Stewart were made sheriff in our absence. In America, we have Wal-Mart. In Zambia they have outdoor markets. In America, we have stuff, lots of it and Zambians have virtually nothing by comparison.

But it’s more than those things really that make us so different.

For one, in Africa, chaos seems to lie just beneath the surface of everyday life, waiting like a lion in the tall grass of the savannah, hidden from sight, and anyone with any sense at all in Africa is aware that they are as likely as the next person to be devoured on any given day. Even in peaceful nations like Zambia, micro-disasters seem to flourish and shortages of everything from food and water to opportunities and optimism rob the days of their tranquility.

In Zambia the world seems to groan a little more than it does here and arriving in America fresh from being there almost a year brings to light how very blessed this country is. Yes, gas here is hovering around $4 a gallon, but in Zambia it’s around $12. And as we made our way from the plane in Dallas via the monorail that taxis you over the tarmac and across the freeway to the main terminal (very George Jetsonish) I noticed in me a self-confidence, or perhaps a national-confidence I hadn’t felt since I had been away.

Here, there is a tendency to feel like there’s not much we Americans can’t create, fix or resolve. I mean after all we’ve built a giant arch in St. Louis that seems to do nothing more than say, “Hey. Look what we can do.” I mean if you can build a giant arch just to build a giant arch, then the world is surely at your beck and call.

In itself this isn’t such a bad thing. After all, I do believe America is the greatest nation on the planet in part because of the God-given ingenuity of its citizens. The problem is we all too often forget the God-given nature of our abilities and too easily come to attribute our success to ourselves.

Already since I’ve been home, I have noticed a profound tendency here to trust more in my debit card than in prayer and when I do pray here, my prayers sort of take on an ATM nature, as I try to figure out what sequence of buttons I need to punch to get what I want from God. And time here seems always to be nipping away at my heels like a dachshund with something to prove.

And that, I am starting to realize, is what I love about Africa. The church there is a church that depends on God for virtually everything and they gather on Sunday morning to worship because they NEED to worship. Not because it appeases their conscience.

And the truth is, I think we in America truly want what Africa has. We want with everything that we are to have a genuine encounter with the Living God. We want to be in the presence of God and to experience God first hand. Our problem is that we just don’t know how to get it. We don’t realize that as long as we seek first the Kingdom of Macy’s that we will never know the blessings of desperation, of so agonizing for God to intervene in our lives that we’re willing to let go of all that we have to find Him.

Granted there are some real obstacles to the presence of God in America. There is that movement among us that wants not a sovereign God, but a pocket-sized god that we can take out and put away at will. Not a God whom we must serve, but rather a god who will serve us and grant us all that we want if we would only have enough faith and send in $50 a month.

America is indeed a blessed nation. But spiritually, I think we have been hijacked. In some ways, our churches mirror our culture, and tend towards brevity, selfishness and apathy.

And this fourth of July, I find myself wondering what our churches might look like, if that same indomitable spirit that declared independence from the most powerful nation on earth over 200 years ago, would rise up and declare our independence from the present tyranny of consumerism and complacency?

Then, we might discover independence as we have never known it before.