Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tension – In but not of the world

Maybe it is because I am still unsettled t
hat I spend so much time thinking about connections – ways that what I am doing right now are like things I did and saw in Cameroon/CAR; my faith and what is happening around the USA and the world; or what work I might be doing and ways that might connect to what I have done in the past.

I am very disturbed by the social climate in the USA that is reflected in the current political campaign.  During all of my voting live, politicians have smeared each other with dirt to make themselves look better.  Some voters have held strongly opposing views that they have used to make decisions about candidates and to try to convince others to vote (think, believe…) as they do.  But it is getting worse. 

Neither “side” in a political “discussion” listens to the other.  Rarely can there be a civil debate of issues.  Personalities are immediately drawn in; mudslinging begins – based on looks and personality mostly.  I understand the many factors that contribute to this situation.  The internet has made it much easier for people to find others who think like them, but in interacting only (or mostly) with those who hold similar views, views are being pushed away from the center and further toward extremes.  From there it is even harder than before to connect with someone who is different – whether that difference is skin color, religion, or just a belief about ways to solve one of the many problems that confront us.

People, especially those of the working class are not doing well economically.  They resent that jobs have gone and are going overseas or to those who are willing to work for much less pay (not even a living wage, really).  I have heard it said that this is the first generation in which the children can’t expect to do better than their parents – and maybe not even as well.

Many students have completed college degrees with huge debt and few job prospects.  They are ready to start careers and, hopefully, work to solve some aspect of a problem, but can’t get work.  Or work below their skill level.

Global climate change is getting worse, but there are those who still refuse to “believe” it is “real.”  Is a fact any less true if some people don’t believe it??  I found out this week that Pennsylvania, my state, would be ranked as the 17th worst polluting country if it were a country: Coal mining, fracking, methane from dairy cows…  What I am I doing to change this?  Even in a personal way?  We can’t just eliminate all use of coal without alternative work for those in the industry.  I watched what happened to Pittsburgh in the 1980s when steel left.  It was disastrous for many and still has many lasting effects.  We are not part of the Rust Belt for no reason. 

Violence is the world is increasing.  Look at the number of shootings in the US, Syria, Nigeria, the Extreme North in Cameroon, Central African Republic, and gangs in Central America.  It is not wonder that the number of people fleeing their homes is increasing. According to the International Organization of Migration, “There are 65 million people displaced worldwide. An unprecedented number of people are being forced to migrate to escape war, poverty, the impact of climate change and persecution.”

During the Summer Olympics, we should be better able to focus on what brings us together – and that has happened to some extent, but look at the problems.  Reporting in the US that focuses on women’s looks and men’s achievements.  Continuing evidence of racial discrimination.  Little reporting on the problems in Rio that surround the Olympics: people in favelas (slums) who are moved, detained, etc.  Then there is Ryan Lochte and three of his U.S. Olympic teammates who said they were mugged but whose stories don’t match the videos found in investigating the incident.  Why would they lie?  Did it happen?  Why has this become such big news when the innumerable other muggings in Rio are not mentioned? 

Then, I think about the situation in CAR.  Yes, they have a new president.  Yes, there is more security and many are able to work safely again in their fields.  But there are still pockets of violence, especially in Bangui, the capital.  And, age-old conflicts, such as those between herders (with their “free-range” animals) and farmers, tend toward violence, bloodshed, and death now that many more have weapons and tensions among groups are running high.  Vengeance is also an integral part of most ethnic group cultures.  Who will risk going against the norms to seek peace and love his/her neighbor? 

Most of these items I have mentioned make us afraid.  Legitimately so in many cases.  Fear is the emotion that helps us protect ourselves and our loved ones.  It is real and it is sometimes necessary, but what a toll it takes on our bodies and our connections with others. 

OK.  I actually started this entry with the intent to be positive!  So far, it sure hasn’t been.  I know you could add to this litany of tensions as you consider your neighborhood and corner of the world.  Tensions abound!

When I consider this world and my place (and role) in it, I often think of Jesus’s prayer recorded in John 17:15-16: “I am not asking that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

What does that mean?  I believe that we are called to see, hear, and pay attention to the world around us – especially the ways that its horrors affect us and our neighbors.  We must, though, react differently.  We must not hate as others do.  We must not let our fears – legitimate as they are – close us off from others.  We are called to follow Jesus and his examples while he was on earth.  We are called to love others as we love ourselves.  We live in this world – in our neighborhood, state, and country – we don’t chose to become hermits and withdraw from it.  On the other hand, we pray (as Jesus did) to be kept from the evil one.  We seek to represent part of Christ’s kingdom here on this earth were we currently are.

Courage is not the absence of fear but comes from actions taken in spite of that fear. 

I have a few suggestions of that I think being in, but not of, this world means for me here, today, in this place where I am.
  • Refuse to listen to inflammatory news and commentary – on the television, radio, and from even from those around us.  We can turn off the set, walk out of the room (politely), or hit mute for a time. 
  • Seek at least one person a day to talk to who is not someone you would normally interact with.  It could be a short conversation with a clerk in a store, a phone call to someone (perhaps someone you have heard is ill or has had an accident (why not show some concern for his/her wellbeing?) or an email (maybe to congratulate someone or wish them well as they start a new venture). 
  • Focus on connections rather than things that divide us.  You don’t agree with someone’s political views?  OK, but maybe you like the same music or activity.  We must talk about candidates to be informed voters and to help the country move forward, but we don’t have to get angry (or verbally abusive) when someone doesn’t accept our point of view.  Why can’t the last part of every interaction be positive so that we don’t dread the next time we see that person – and they don’t dread meeting us again?
  • When you see someone you don’t know (on the street or in a store), mentally name three (or more) things that you like about them and another three (or more) things you have in common.  I believe very strongly that we cannot love our neighbor if we see them as the “other” or “strange.”  Yes, they are different, but they are also similar.  If everyone focused on the similarities, there would be less fear and more working together.
  • Greet everyone you meet on the street.  This is a habit I developed in Garoua Boulai where I also tried to greet each person in his/her own language.  We don’t often have to consider language here, but say hello; acknowledge him/her.  Make a connection even if it is only for two seconds.  We all like to be noticed and appreciated.  Brighten someone else’s day. 
  • Pray about the world around you.  Don’t just ask for change and a better place, but make that prayer time include silence when you listen for what you are called to do to show God’s love.  

If we all stretch our heart muscles to love our neighbors, things will get better.  Fear will abate.  We will naturally become less destructive and more connected.  Then, with these increased connections
we can find solutions to the overwhelming problems that face us, individually and collectively.

Thursday, August 4, 2016


So, I am back in Pennsylvania, staying with a friend in East Carnegie (a part of Pittsburgh).  Am I settled into my life here?  Far from it!

After finishing two months of traveling to tell the EELRCA and CAR story, I have now started networking to find what I will be doing next. (More on that another time.)  A huge thank you to all who supported me in my home assignment travels and who offered all kinds of hospitality!

What I have noticed is that the US is vast and diverse!  (Not really news there, right?) But somehow it is also the same.  I have been thinking a lot about Wilton, ND as I have taken my morning walks in East Carnegie.  Both are small towns – but with big differences.  I can walk all around both places in an hour – going up and down the streets. Both are near the railroad.  Both are pretty little areas where people will greet a stranger walking down the street early in the morning.

OK, East Carnegie is really a part of Pittsburgh, but it is tucked into a little space between highways, some industrial complexes, and other neighborhoods, so it feels like a small town.  I looked up the population online for both places and found 726 for Wilton and 546 for East Carnegie.  Streets are much narrower here and there is much less yard around houses.  Many streets are now dead ends – cut off when the highway or other road was built – or when the road got to the stream.   Isn’t it interesting how our brains (or at least mine!) are always looking for connections?  To compare what is happening/being seen here with something from the past?  Fascinating.  I do compare this town to Garoua Boulai, too, but much less because it is so different.

Speaking of fascinations: clouds and rain storms still intrigue me.  Here is the rain approaching – taken from the porch of the house where I am staying.  Just after that, I had to go inside when the rain started in earnest and came at such an angle that the porch roof was no protection!

Here are some other things I have noticed as I get re-settled in the US.  Lots of places have planes that fly overhead.  This picture is from a walk near O’Hare Airport in Chicago, but they fly overhead   in East Carnegie, too (just not quite so low).There are lots of signs telling us what to do in the US, too.  That assumes a literate culture and money to develop this infrastructure. 
Road are generally wider in the US with lots of lanes and traffic.  On the other hand, Pittsburgh has many hills with VERY narrow streets.  I have been on a few where I didn’t think it was wide enough for my car.  It was paved or I might have thought I was in CAR!  Here, too, there are some very steep roads where you get to an edge and feel like you will drive off a cliff, but after a few more feet you see that you are just starting on one of the almost vertical streets.  Some streets here are also steps. (That is, the street name continues, but only pedestrians can continue on the stairs up/down a hill.)  The GPS has told me a couple of times to turn right there were was no street – once there were some of these steps. 

So to go back to the original question?  Am I settled?  No.  Walking helps me reintegrate in my US world.  Networking is helping me think about what I will be doing next.  I am still traveling around – staying with a friend here, about to go to Linn Run State Park (near Ligonier, PA) to stay at a cottage with a friend for an early weekend, and then headed to Mechanicsburg (near Harrisburg) to visit Mom for awhile. 

I look forward to a street address and meaningful work.  I’ll keep you posted!