Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Into Africa

I have returned from Kenya and Uganda, where for one week I ministered to a group of pastors in Kenya and a group of Bishops in Uganda. I was traveling with Equipping Pastors International (EPI). Being a cultural historian and theologian of culture, I must say that the experience was personally stimulating and instructive.

There are many aspects of East Africa culture that are worthy of report, issues that I will try to take up in an article or two on my website, However, here I will mention just one observations from my trip regarding the cultural situation in this troubled region of the world.

Uganda won its liberty from Great Britain in 1962, followed closely by Kenya in 1963. Liberty is a priceless treasure, but unless individuals and nations know how to handle liberty, it can quickly turn into a prison, manifesting great religious, tribal, and political abuse. Such is the case with these two nations, it seems to me. Being an American, with a decidedly American outlook, I was careful not to present myself to Africans as if I had the answers to their problems. So I spent a great deal of time listening to them and observing.

Time and again, and this is especially the case regarding Uganda, I heard how African culture runs on money. Graft, greed, and malfeasance are the name of the game. You pay to play. These sins are the inevitable result of covetousness, an issue taken up by the 10th Commandment, but also a commandment that sums up the first nine commandments. Lying, stealing, worshiping other gods -- it all boils down to one thing: coveting something that does not belong to you.

Forget what you have heard, that AIDS is "the" national pandemic in Africa. AIDS is a problem to be sure. However, beneath the surface lurks an even deadlier disease. The real pandemic in this beautiful continent, and its many nations, is covetousness: the lust for what people do not have, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to get it. The spiritual problem is the underlying cause of the physical problems that are rife in the nations I was privileged to visit.

The amazing thing about it is that both Kenya and Uganda are rich. The natural resources are there and are plentiful. The work force is there and is plentiful. The God of heaven and earth is there and is plentiful. What do others have worth taking by means of bribe or theft that they cannot earn by their own hard work and with God's abundant blessing? I have never seen a place so capable of natural production yet so marred by bareness and brokenness.

I visited Kibera, Kenya where the third worst slum in the world is to be found. Kibari is 3.3 kilometers in size and is home to 70,000 people! There is no electricity. No decent water. Not even squat latrines. The people place their refuse in plastic bags and hurl them into a field. The ground and the air is rife with plaques of all sorts. I had my picture taken in front of Kibera (see pic above). Moments later, a young boy named Roberto approached me, and shook my hand. He is 10 years old. His pastor standing nearby, said to me, "He has our national pandemic." I asked, "What is that?" He replied, "HIV." I felt it an honor to meet young Roberto, and my prayers are with him.

But I go back to my original thought. How can it be that 70,000 people (and incidentally, about 80 percent of Kenyans live in these terrible conditions), live in slums like this suffering everything from Malaria to AIDS, while it is patently obvious that the resources are available to help, and to help with so many other problems facing the people of East Africa? The U.N is attempting to help. Oxfam is trying. Many organizations are busy. But the problem is that the vast majority of monies that enter these countries meant for the the poor and the destitute go right into the pockets of leaders bent, not on helping their people, but on elicit gain.

So Kenya and Uganda are free. But are they? Hope that East African pastors, political leaders, and more, will understand and teach a simple principle taught many years ago in the Bible: that should we gain our liberty, we ought not to use it as an opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13). Rather, God makes us free in order that we might serve others, to bear their own burdens (Galatians 6:2).

Join me in prayer for these two nations.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Taste of Heaven?

On Fox news, Shepherd Smith first drew out attention to a new phenomenon, if you choose to call it that, in which people are now eating hamburger, laden with cheese, and whatever, and putting it all between a sliced, Crispy Cream doughnut. Some years ago, it was Aristotle who mentioned the need for "balance" in all things. But the issue is really not one "balance" but of glorifying God in all that we do, in this case, our bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit.

It may appear as a small thing, but to apply the claims of Christ to our ever-dissolving culture, we must not overlook a single thing. Is putting a hamburger between a doughnut (see the video above and you'll gain a better sense of how hedonistically wacko this idea is) too small a thing for a Christian response? We live in a culture of pleasure, and one that is forever discovering news ways to seek it, even in the most cavalier and indeed stupid ways. The hamburger/doughnut combo is the equivalent of skateboarding down a rail-banister. It may be new, thrilling, and in some sense exotic, but in the end dangerous and mindless, insofar as it produces nothing more than a sense of an Art-Nouveau form of sensual pleasure. Even the Epicureans had more sense than this. If Christians are to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, as part of our grand cultural mandate, let's not feel it beneath us to have something constructive to say about something even as far-fetched and ill-advised as a greasy hamburger on an even greasier doughnut.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Unclear Policy Losing Afgan War

It ought to be clear that the Obama Administration is trying to have it both ways. It wants to appear strong in the face of world aggression while placate the far-left. The problem is that war is not a patient game. The realities of what is happening on the ground will not wait until the administration lawyers figure out how to straddle the picket-fence without turning themselves into castrato singers.

Meanwhile, people are dying. This is what happens when armies flinch. We see this pattern time and time again in Scripture. Armies that hesitate lose.

There is a further spiritual truth to glean from all of this -- a teaching point, if you will. One day a man asked Jesus if he could be one of his followers. But the man first wanted to go home to say goodbye to his family. Jesus, sensing the man's conflicted desire to be a true follower, responded, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." There are several good reasons why Jesus replied as he did. But one especially worth noting is that the man who hesitates in enacting the cost of discipleship, will likely hesitate when confronted on the field of spiritual warfare. The Obama administration's foreign policy began conflicted over what is best, and now we are seeing the logical outcome of the this confusion on the field of battle.

The words from a similar parable ought to be considered by every US President. Jesus said, "Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? "Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace" (Luke 14:31-32).

See also

By the way, for those who don't know what a castrato singer sounds like, try this.