Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Upside Down

A few days ago, I woke up and shuffled my way to the kitchen and took a mug out of the cabinet, and then after placing it upside down on the counter, proceeded to pour coffee over the top of it, and then watched the coffee run down the sides of the cup and onto the counter.

Unfortunately, my reflexes and logic prior to those 2–3 cups of coffee also leave much to be desired, because even when I realized what I had done, it took a good 5 seconds before I actually did anything about it (like stop pouring the coffee).

My brain: The cup is upside down dummy.
My arm: Shut up, and go back to sleep.

On Sunday we attended church in a cornfield. The congregation met at a sight that will one day, ideally house a decent sized structure. But at the moment, its nothing more than a tin roof, supported by twelve iron beams. There is no floor, other than a rough concrete slab. A makeshift platform consisted of a nice piece of fabric spread out around a rudimentary, wooden podium. The church has no walls, and as I was preaching a light rain began to fall. A strong wind was blowing and my glasses kept getting covered in tiny droplets of water.

There was something about the whole experience that made me feel like I had just been to church for the very first time. The idea, the very biblical idea I might add, that “the Church” is not in fact a building, but a people, seemed writ large in the glaring simplicity of the scene.

I am often amazed at how little attachment Zambians have to things. Things break, and people seem to shrug it off as though they expected that very thing to happen all along. Here when things get stolen, one says simply, “It went missing.” As though whatever it was might have just ceased to exist as easily as it could have been taken by a neighbor or passerby. What is noticeably absent in these instances though, is rage. In the two years we have been here, I have never seen a Zambian get all bent out of shape over the loss or damage of something they owned. And that to me is astounding, considering that most people here own so little!

As I looked at the piles of cinderblocks that would one day be the walls, and that lay stacked all around the perimeter of the church, I couldn’t help but feel that something beautiful, intangible and invaluable, would be lost when the building is eventually completed. And then, I realized what an easy thing that is to want for someone else. And what a nearly impossible thing it is to want for yourself.

What I want for myself is almost never simplicity. What I want for myself is usually more. I want more cell phone, even though I never use half of the features on the one I have, I want more computer, not because I need it but because it exists. Somewhere out there I know that someone is running around with a computer that makes mine look like a waffle iron, and it drives me crazy.

I’ve often thought that missions is a two way street. That we have as much to learn from the churches we serve as they have to learn from us. And perhaps this is one of those areas where we should take notes.

Because when I look at the way that Zambian’s view stuff, and at the way I tend to, I am more and more convinced that I’ve had my cup upside down for quite some time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So true, Jerry. That's a lesson that I (and my already-materialistic kids) need to learn over and over. Contentment cannot be found in possessions.

I'm enjoying catching up on your blog. As usual, it makes me laugh and think at the same time.

Hello and hugs to Paula. You're both in my prayers.