Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tears and Laughter; a look in the mirror

It had rained the night before, and the earth still seemed hungry. Red earth gave way under my feet as I navigated the winding downhill path towards home. Vivacious green tendrils reached out as to caress my ankles, as a strange sound wound upwards towards the sky. A crying baby. I realized it had been crying for sometime before, but I hadn't noticed. And then a new sound, similar, but lower in tone, and with a jovial laugh at the end of each spiral. An older brother, maybe, mocking the cryer. Past the enormous tree, broken now by one of the first storms and resembling a dinosaur with its long trunk extending over the trail, picking my steps carefully along the ditches made by the few, brave boda boda men and their motorcycles. And now, from the right, another cry, eerily similar to the child but with a distinctive goatish vibrato.

And here's the thing. I don't know whether that kid was crying just because it was tired and finicky, or if it was sick and dying. We dramatize things here: if you slip, you die, when I greeted my sick roomie the other day I said I was glad she wasn't dead. It's funny. Except for that it's not, since that same day, when I asked my mom why she was so dressed up and she said one of her friends had died. She was going to her second funeral since I've been here.

And in the meanwhile, I can cry about sunburns and hurt feelings after short responses, when really all of this could be averted with a good laugh at the situation. It's a matter of choice; like when a kid falls, and you can see them deciding whether to laugh or to cry. But still, sometimes you've got to cry, when you look yourself in the mirror.

For me, I don't get it. Poverty and wealth, sickness and health, life and death. I mean, I get it, but I just don't get it. We read this guy, Garber, in The Fabric of Faithfulness, and he shares from a student's paper who describes my peers and I as the Beavis Generation: "Disregard for other living things (e.g., hitting frogs with a baseball bat) will be in. Taking responsibility for one's actions will be out…there is a whole new generation out there that completely understands all of this society's foibles. And can only snicker" (40-41).

But he also talks about meeting with other graduate students who want to help the world, but just end up weeping and crying out that nothing can be done, the world is just too broken. Garber says later that "the great religious heresy used to be making man the measure of all things; but we have come close to making man the measure of nothing" (54). Dr. Decker talks about the two stories our culture tells us, either that we're the only person that matters, or that nobody matters. The humanistic, world-conquering, do-no-evil man, or the people-killing evil-loving man. And you look your face in the mirror and see both of these everyday. But really it's this third, made-for-good but fallen and broken man that needs and has been given saving that's the truth.

Donald Miller starts the second chapter in Blue Like Jazz talking about how he would go to protests about the Congo, until one day a friend asked, "Do you think you could do something like that [rape, kill]?" And how he realized then either he was messed up, just like them and Hitler, even, or somehow he had to say he was better than them. He talks about how broken he felt everyone really is after that. Miller talks about how broken he and every single person are, and then he moves further:

I am not browbeating myself here; I am only saying that true change, true life-giving, God-honoring change would have to start with the individual. I was the very problem I had been protesting. I wanted to make a sign that read "I AM THE PROBLEM!"

He talks about how he would call for change in Africa to help the refugees with no home, while there was a great homeless ministry at his own church at which he never helped. That one hit home for me, because I've always kind of hated and feared the hypocrisy in myself that I haven't DONE a whole lot with my life yet, and even though I'm "just" a student, the excuse is a poor one. I'm all about the idea of reconciliation and mending broken relationships in community development as part of conflict resolution. And yet, at the same time, it's taken me going to Africa for it to really sink in how much I need to do this in my own life with a certain daddy that I love.

That made the ending of the chapter ever so much more relevant, as Miller shared from his own broken life, "I wanted to be over this, done with this. I didn't want to live in a broken world or a broken me….I put on the new Wilco album…" This reminded me of that same certain daddy of mine, and a certain Wilco song he likes to sing about trees and seeds. But Miller goes on:

I know now, from experience, that the path to joy winds through this dark valley. I think every well-adjusted human being has dealt squarely with his or her own depravity…Nothing is going to change in the Congo until you and I figure out what is wrong with the person in the mirror.

Funny how many mirrors there are in Africa, despite how there's hardly any mirrors.

No comments:

Post a Comment