Thursday, May 14, 2020

Am I Cancelled?

I have been in limbo now since November 2019. Liz, the boys, and I all came to the US in November for the holidays and then I stayed for itineration, that time when I travel around talking to churches, groups, and individuals about the ministry and work in Tanzania. My last two weeks of itineration is when shelter at home orders starting coming out for many states in the southeastern United States. I spent the last two weeks doing virtual events, having lots of phone conversations, and not going anywhere. This is also the time when Liz and the boys, who had gone back to Tanzania for school in January came back to the US. Not too long after this Tanzania shut down schools, large gatherings, sporting events and international travel.

So I have not been home in six months.

During this time of not being able to get back to Tanzania, of not being able to provide the in-person leadership I am accustomed to, of not being able to have more than virtual relationships with staff, students, pastors, and other ministry leaders I almost start to feel like sporting events, schools, and travel are not the only things that are cancelled.

Am I cancelled?

Do I still have a purpose? Am I still important to the community in my life…friends, colleagues, churches, and students? Are my relationships still important and my role in them?

I have struggled most of all during this time with that void…not of a lack of leaders in my life, but of feeling like I am leaving a void in the lives of others who I have a connection with.

However, as a missionary whose main focus over the last ten years has been the empowerment and equipping of others, the planting of seeds for an eventual, eternal harvest, this is also a time of watching the fruit of the work. So while I am struggling with the idea that I have not been in Tanzania for almost six months and struggling, as many are, to feel connected during this time, I am also happy to see the ways in which the seeds are sprouting and the work is continuing. Praise be to God!!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Being Color Blind is a Privilege

I was recently talking to someone about what criteria we use when looking for schools for our kids and mentioned that diversity is one of the top factors. For us it has to do with the fact that we have a black son. The response, gracious and well meaning, was that they understood and they are excited about the diversity of their kids school because it has helped their kids be color-blind.

It was well meaning, and it was at the same time a sign, not of being woke, but of being privileged. Because being color blind is part of white privilege. I will never forget a conversation that I had the blessing of observing between some friends and acquaintances in South Africa about land reparations, returning land to the original inhabitants from which it was taken as one of the necessary steps of distributing resources in an equitable way in that country. One of the participants asked a black South African when it would be enough. The response was not I was expecting. He said that it would be enough when white is no longer the default, when he didn’t have to compare his values or value to that of white people.

There are many people this week, as video footage and information about the shooting and death of Amaud Arbery becomes widely known, who are grieving the unnecessary loss of a member of the black community. While I grieve I also feel like there is the responsibility, as a white person to do something else. There are parents who are using this as another reminder to talk to their black children about the sad, disappointing reality of needing to be even more cautious as black youth and adults. I will be part of that group as I talk to my oldest son. But there also needs to be a push by many of us to see what we can do to change this reality for those members of our communities who are regularly affected by the inability to be color blind because it affects their survival. This is not about grieving, though I grieve, and it is not about the conversation I will have to have with my oldest child. It is about the fact that being color-blind is a part of the privilege that we have to learn to first leverage and secondly challenge in our communities.

Our black friends, community members, and fellow human beings are not allowed to be color-blind. They are not allowed to walk around, go to work, go to school, be in white space, or go jogging through a neighborhood while being color blind. They cannot forget for a second who they are because white is the default setting of too much of our world. So please, for the love of God, love of others, and hopefully for the love of our black brothers and sisters, stop being color blind.

Stop being willfully ignorant of the restrictions, the challenges, and the day to day reality of people of color. Stop being willfully ignorant of the many personal and systematic ways in which they are regularly targeted and pushed to take another step back. Stop acting like we should be able to just get along or that it is all in the past. Stop being offended by being told you have privilege and start understanding it and using it for good.

Stop acting like it is not your fight, simply because it is uncomfortable or it may upset your friends, or you are not sure how to engage or because you are white.

Being color blind is a privilege that so many people do not have and it is a privilege which we need to be ready to give up as we start examining the intentional racism around us, the systematic racism in our country, and the silence we ourselves perpetuate.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Struggle and Easter: Understanding Worship In Tanzania

I just finished three months of speaking at churches in the US and a common question is, "what have I learned form the church in Tanzania."

The reality is that there are so many good answers to that question but one thing I talked about over and over again is the worship in Tanzania. The worship in Tanzania is lively, charismatic, deep, and kinetic where bodies lead and bodies follow giving a physical expression of what the spirit is feeling. But what is most amazing about worship in Tanzania is that this lively, charismatic, kinetic worship does not come from a pace of overabundance and joy in the temporal world around us. This worship comes in the midst of challenges and suffering. In the middle of deprivation and mind-numbing struggle. Worship is not a celebration because a celebration is appropriate, but the worship is so powerful specifically because it is not.

There is a patience and anticipation in this worship which I am missing right now. However it is worship which I will be drawing on this Easter. When it seems like death may be closer than ever and its sting is strong. When celebrations of hundreds of thousands gathered together has become a few gathered at home. When presents, and family diners, and community wide Easter egg hunts have become small, maybe ragged, unstocked affairs. When Easter clothes are replaced by pjs.  When the celebration of life is being tempered by the looming economic reality that is the perfect time to remember that the celebration of the resurrection is not just when we have reasons to celebrate, but specifically and even more powerfully when we don't.

So let's take Paul's words to heart from 1 Corinthians 15...

"Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
...But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord. Jesus Christ. 

Therefore, be dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."  

Let us dance, let us sing, let us celebrate, let us lift up praise, and let us continue to labor because the celebration of Easter is that we don't struggle in vain because our God is risen and Jesus reigns.