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.

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