Saturday, April 28, 2012

Uniformity or Unity

It has been difficult to put together a blog for our training as missionaries. It has been an intense three weeks of classes, activities, worship, and community with other missionaries. We have been short on sleep and down time, but rich in conversation, communal prayer, and languages. A part of training that has stood out to me is the bilingual nature of our training. We have many Latin Americans from all parts of Central and South America that have joined us in training so we have translating back and forth from English to Spanish and from Spanish to English. This community has brought a richness, but also difficulty to training. I mean, why can't we all just speak the same language? Or at least split up into groups so translation is not slowing down this important time of dialogue. In framing these questions I have seen an interesting response from the narrative of the Bible. In the very beginning, in the book of Genesis, there is a story about the Tower of Babel. The people of the Tower all speak the same language and counted on their similarities and common goals to build them up and protect them. If you read the story you will see that their motivation was to be bound together and not separated so that they could help each other and protect each other. Isn't this a good thing? Why would God want to break up a group of people that were working so well together? Why would he want to scatter the people over all the earth and give them different languages as to confuse them and their relationships with one another? This seems to reflect a cruel God who enjoys playing games with humanity. There are times when I have struggled with this passage because of these very questions regarding God's character. This week I have finally understood this passage by looking at a completing story that comes up later in the Bible. Pentecost, a time when language fails to be a barrier to the connecting work of the Holy Spirit. There is an important quote that we heard during training as we were learning to accept the culture we are about to be sent into. "Uniformity is a lack of diversity, Unity is the bringing together of diversity." In the story of Pentecost there are the descendants of the Tower of Babel. Time has passed and these descendants speak different languages, they are from different cultures, and they have different histories. Some come from countries of oppression and some come from countries that were built on the backs of slaves. They have fought wars, often with each other.  All that God predicted has come to pass. However, in this moment of Pentecost, when the early church was first born and touched by the Holy Spirit there is a connection that is being spoken into the world in a new way. This is the connection of the Holy Spirit. This is the force that should bring us together, protect us, and help guide us into a future together.

This narrative of separation and unity in the Bible has been made real in my life this week as I have been exposed to a diverse group of people all with the same call. This was never made more clear than last night when we all gathered for dinner. At the end we prayed for the leadership team that put together missionary training for all of us. Prayers were spoken in Kiswahili, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Portuguese, Korean, and English. These are the languages of where these missionaries are coming from and the languages of where they are going. A beautiful group that is not united by language or their own power, but united in a common call and common spirit of God that lives in all of us. I can only pray to experience a church can continued to be united by the Holy Spirit. A church that can experience unity, not because we lack people of dissenting opinions or various languages and cultures, but because the Holy Spirit has brought us together in our love of God.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hunger Games: Hunger Games: An Economic Reflecting Pool

I am not much for jumping on band-wagons, but I am always interested in seeing what other people are doing. Combine the fascination with pop-culture (or any culture) with a date with my wife and you have a great reason to see the Hunger Games movie that just came out. I am not a fan of the books, because I have never read them. I did not go into the movie with any agenda other than to see what everyone was raving about and to be possibly entertained for a few hours.

Less than half-way through the movie I was shocked, but unfortunately not appalled because I have seen this kind of thing too many times in real life. “TOO MANY TIMES!?!” You may be wondering where I would have seen this type of futuristic world or gladiatorial games featuring children, and honestly that was not the part that looked so familiar to me, for the devil is in the details. I noticed the contrast between the poor outlying districts and The Capitol. I noticed these older teenage tributes being unfamiliar with the trappings of luxury and wealth they first encountered on their way to The Capitol. I noticed how the capital gained its economic support from the same people it oppressed. I noticed the difference between the futuristic weaponry of the guards and the bow and arrow that Katniss was hunting with in the beginning of the movie. I noticed the gaps in education and training between the tributes from districts 1 and 2 and districts 11 and 12. I noticed the ability people had to pop mutant dogs out of the ground, but how this same ability was not used to provide food for the hungry members of their society. I noticed these things because I have seen them before. The Hunger Games paints a vivid picture of our current world’s economy and social practices.

When we come back to the US after being in Tanzania for a long period of time we almost always experience reverse culture shock, that point at which just being in Wal-Mart is overwhelming. It passes, but it is this traveling between two very different cultures that exist in the same world that I feel is so well portrayed in Hunger Games. From the time Katniss and Peta step on the train until the time that they step at The Capitol you can see a vivid portrayal of two different worlds in regards to technology, resources, and the very live-styles of people (survival versus thriving). You can see this same contrast with a 24 hour plane ride between the US and East Africa (and I would guess other places as well). The startling comparisons don’t end there.

In order to see the economic support of a large, entertainment based empire by cheap labor and resources look no further than the Congo and conflict minerals, or Tanzania and its gold mines. To find people unfamiliar with the technology and luxury that many of us take for granted look no further than the village women that are amazed by the idea of a laundry machine or an ultra sound to check a baby’s health status before she is even born.  To see the difference in preparedness for the game of life portrayed in the different levels of tributes look no further than the difference in education systems world-wide and the difference in access to technology between the majority world (third world) and post-industrialized nations such as the US.

There are more comparisons to be had and I could go into greater detail, because the movie really does a great job of portraying some of these things. I did not go into the movie intending to see any of this, but it was impossible not to notice the differences in the capital and the districts when it is a difference I am living right now. Think about this when you go to watch the movie for the first time or the second time. Think about it because with today’s increasingly globalized economy and society the countries with technology and educational resources are in danger of becoming The Capital if we are not more careful in our use of resources and more intentional in building bridges instead of barriers.