Monday, February 16, 2009


The other day I had to take my wife’s laptop to the repair shop because, as a wise friend once said, “In Africa, we have dust.”

Dust here is not just that sort of greyish film that settles as an unsightly coating on your old books and new exercise equipment. Here dust is second only to the British in its propensity to settle where its not wanted.

At any rate, Paula’s laptop fan had become caked in dust to the point that the “housing” melted (“housing” being a technical term for a little three bedroom ranch where the fan goes after it gets off work) because the fan was not able to spin at its normal capacity. The repair guy fixed the fan within a few hours (much to my amazement and skepticism). When I returned to pick it up, I turned the computer on to make sure everything was working properly. Immediately I noticed that those four little lights on the front of her Dell that tell you if 1) the power is on, 2) if the Wi-Fi is on, 3) if the power supply is plugged in, and 4) if the processor is running, were not lighting at all.

When I complained about this I was given an innocent shrug that seemed to say, “Listen pal, you should be happy that it even turns on.” Which of course I was, and considered leaving and just dropping the little blue light issue altogether. But just then a lady emerged from the back who seemed to be in charge (because for one, she had enormous shoulder pads in her blouse, and two, because she looked quite unhappy, as though nothing would make her happier than to fire someone right then). I stopped her and asked her what they proposed to do about the fact that my wife’s laptop was in no better (and in some ways worse) shape than it was when I brought it in.

She looked at the computer and looked at me, and said (and I’m not kidding), “I have a laptop too. Those lights aren’t supposed to come on.”

It took every bit of kindness I could conjure to keep from saying, “Oh, my yes. You are so right. These are the non–functioning, purposeless lights that Dell installed right on the front of their laptops to alert the user to ABSOLUTELY NOTHING except that they could have placed SOMETHING QUITE USEFUL there had they wanted to.”

But perhaps she saw the sarcasm trying to escape because as soon as she said it she made a bee-line for the office and immediately summoned the clerk to join her.

Later, through the kindness of the repairman whom the store did eventually send to my house to fix the issue, I learned that the woman had informed the clerk that I was a “difficult customer.” Which is true, if by difficult she meant “wanting something for his money.”

The thing is, I was having a really good day that day, which I don’t always have in Africa. Sometimes Africa gets the better of you and by noon you’re ready pack everything up and move to Tulsa and open a bagel shop. But that day I was doing well, and was managing my frustrations fairly easily (or so I thought). But when I learned that the manager had labeled me a “difficult customer” I was quite upset, because I AM NOT difficult and it really drives me insane to be accused of things that I’m not! Even though a bit of reflection reminds me that not than long ago I blogged about a similar incident in a Staples store.

This week in the class I’ll be teaching on the Gospel of John, we will be studying Jesus’ trial before Annas, Caiphas and finally before Pilate. And today as I was reading those passages, it struck me what restraint Jesus embodied in the face of such arrogance, audacity and abuse. And what’s more, is that at every point Jesus’ concern seems to never have been for his own justification, or to be proven right, but instead to provide an opportunity for those who would destroy him to believe in Him and come into the Light.

And I can’t help but wonder if we as Christians don’t sometimes spend far too much time trying to “be right,” and prove the superiority of our position, and far too little time trying to “be light” that might lead someone out of their darkness and into the embrace of Christ.

As I think about this last week of class and the students I have the privilege to teach, I wonder if Africa will get it right. I wonder if the Church in Africa will be the one that finally, after 2000 years of (at times) sordid history, presents to the world a Christ that is forever reaching out to those that are hurting, disenfranchised and yes, even predisposed toward unbelief.

Or, will they, like we so often have, get caught in endless debates and defenses about, quite honestly, rather meaningless little blue lights.


Rebeccat said...

I just found your blog and I just want you to know that you're hilarious! I'm adding you to my prayer list and my bookmark list. I hope God blesses you mightily. You are a real blessing.

Jerry and Paula Ireland said...

thanks so much for the encouragement and especially for the prayers! God bless.