Monday, April 06, 2015

Images and Restraint

I remember that it was a rainy morning in Dublin.  I was standing in the busy breakfast area of a buzzing youth hostel, balancing my cup of tea and plate of toast while scanning the area for two seats together where Byron and I might sit.

Glancing up, the 24-hour news cable happened to be giving coverage on the recent terrorist attack at Westgate mall in Nairobi.  I had been in Kenya on the day of the attack.  I was visiting my daughter at boarding school about an hour's drive from the mall.  On the day before, I had jumped into my friend George's taxi and we had calmly discussed where we should stop to pick up the things Heather needed me to bring.  We had considered Westgate, but decided another mall was closer to the route we wanted to take.

What happened at Westgate was too close for comfort.  As the events unfolded, waves of shock and grief washed over all of us.  Too many friends of friends were directly affected.  Heather knew people who hid from the gunmen, and others who lost relatives.  Someone in our home group had a dear friend who risked her life to help save children of a slain mother.  

All of that was 100% real.

What I didn't expect one month later was to look up at a big flat screen TV in the cafeteria of a youth hostel in Ireland and see images of masked men (walking through places where I have walked) randomly killing people and moving casually on.  

It was the elephant statue at Nakumatt that got me.  How many times had I walked right by it on my way in for some groceries?  Someone was obviously crouching behind it because a gunman paused and took a lazy aim, killing, I'm sure, the one who hid there.  

I just remember thinking, "I would have hid behind the elephant, too."  

Suddenly, the tea and toast lost all appeal.  I felt physically sick.  

It wasn't that the news was new.  It was more that it was out of context and felt out of the blue.  With no forewarning, I was confronted with graphic images of violence in a land that, to me, was not far away.  Like everyone around me, I just wanted breakfast.  But it wasn't their home on the screen above us all.

Tonight, I've been experiencing the same thing.  Scrolling through my social media newsfeed, I'm enjoying photos of a friend's new grand baby, some silly cat thing, heartfelt Easter happiness, random comments about all manner of light and cheery things.  

Then--BAM!-- a graphic photo of murdered Kenyan students.

I think of the Kenyan high school and university students I have known.  I think of the years I spent (forever ago) meeting with different ones, building relationship, praying, laughing, finding fullness of life together.  I think of the bright minds, the eager hearts, the depth of respect I still hold for them.  I think of my Kenyan friends who, like me, have university age kids today.  And I feel sick.  I'm hoping no parent or family member of those slain students has to stumble onto FB photos of their loved one lying in death.  

I appreciate that social media has, in many instances, brought my attention to things I needed to know.  What I don't appreciate is graphic, careless, jarring images.  I realize people are linking to pieces about this attack because they care.  I'm just wondering if there is a way to be better editors as we put ourselves in this self-appointed newsman roll.  I recall early footage from 9/11 showed live images of people falling from the towers as they leapt out of windows to escape engulfing fire, but fall to their deaths.  Very quickly, broadcasters realized these images were too horrific and they stopped showing them.  

I'm not trying to hide from the truth. I read the news and live with my eyes open. I am, however, interested in protecting my heart from being assaulted more than necessary by the reality of the world I call home. I'm having to block photos that folks who do not live in Africa don't seem to mind having as part of their status update. I believe folks are trying to show they care about this horrific attack in Kenya,  but I find it very jarring to come without warning upon photos of the slain.  

It makes me want to be more careful in my own posts and re-posts.

What seems distant to one of us, may be very raw to another.  

May we all proceed with caution.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Almost Ordinary

I flew out of Tanzania on a warm March night.  Clearing immigration 26 hours later at LAX, my parents whisked me home for a cup of tea and the world's fastest shower before I went directly to my friend's salon for a much needed hair cut.  (Thanks, Laura!)

Next morning, we were on our way to Seattle where I had the great pleasure of helping with the wedding of My Niece Elise and her Good Man Drew.

As I enjoyed extended family, smooth roads, sweater weather, the Seattle vibe and umbrellas, Byron carried on as per the usual in Tanzania.

And it's the usual that has given me pause this morning.

The usual.

In the first 48 hours, Byron reported the following...

*He came upon a car that had skidded on loose gravel and rolled off our road.  He attached a tow strap and pulled it back up onto its wheels.  The people were shaken but not badly hurt.  They were, of course, incredibly thankful for the uprighting.  I'm not sure how long they would have been there if someone hadn't come along with a little gear and know-how.

*The dogs got into a ferocious barking fit and, upon investigation, Byron realized there was a rabid dog provoking them through the fence.  They were all greatly intent on killing each other through the chainlink, and one of the most determined Jack Russells was just about to make it under.  There is, of course, no one to call in a situation like this, so Byron went out and dispatched the poor rabid creature.  He used what he had on hand, which was a fine old Maasai spear.

*Driving to work the next day, he passed a terrible bus accident on the road into town.  The killer buses careen at high speeds and we can only shake our heads.  This one did not manage to deliver its passengers safely to their destination.  Very sad :(

What struck me was not the individual pieces of news, none of which are things we haven't seen before.  Instead, it was the almost ordinariness of their occurrences.  It wasn't that Byron was blasé about them, because he sincerely was not.  It was more that they were part and parcel; par for the course.  They fall into the category of unavoidable realities that you can't be shocked and stopped by or you'd be perpetually shocked and stopped.

But from this vantage point of comfort, this place where the bar for normal is set so very much higher, I read his texts and do wonder at the difference location makes in the "normals" of life.  It's flabbergasting, really.

There is a calming kind of normal here that I confess I can't help but enjoy.  Yet much as I appreciate the absence of rabid dogs trying to get through the fence, there are some simple, rich realities I'm pressed to find in this developed world.

Food, for instance... Is it real?

Don't get me wrong-- I love the ease of tearing open packages of frozen berries, cut mango and other smoothie joys, but there's something viscerally assuring about the messiness of food that is closer to its original state.  In Africa, I cut into ripe mangos, slicing the meaty flesh and dropping pieces into the blender as the sweet sticky juice runs to my elbows.  Each chunk is slippery slick, and tastes sublime.

Unless, of course, I happen to get a bad one.  Yes, there are times I find the wiggling presence of tiny worms and have to discard parts of the beautiful fruit, but local produce is warm and vital in my hands.  Nothing looks perfect, but the blemishes remind me that life is bruising and rich, tasty and tarnished all at once.  I can taste its fullness.  The ripened and over ripened fruit, the freshly butchered meat (blood, sinew, feathers and all) is anything but pale and packaged.

The juicy, messy, richness of real (wherever we are) is sweet and savory, wormy and wonderful.

I could call it almost ordinary, but there doesn't seem to be anything ordinary about it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


I like that Jesus told stories.  It's comforting to me that he chose to bring Truth and Beauty in simple language--plain but hidden, accessible but in need of some mulling over.  While the religious leaders adhered to tightly defined rules that governed behavior, Jesus storyed (apparently not a word my spell check likes) generous grace, new life, and harsh judgement, leaving his listeners to puzzle it out.  

There is something remarkably inviting about this approach.  We are welcomed into the story circle where we get to talk it through together.  We don't have access to the Spark Notes, and the teller very rarely explains his tale.

But rather than mull and talk it through together, we tend to want to explain, define and codify things.

(I wonder if that is really our role.)

Today I read three stories in the twenty-first chapter of Matthew and I'm puzzling around with a comment Jesus made.

In his response to the religious leaders Jesus said, quite starkly, "...The tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you."

Are entering...  As far as I can tell, the Greek phrase is present tense.  These "unsavory" folks are entering the Kingdom ahead of the seemingly savory ones.

"How are they doing it?" I wondered to myself. 

Is it that they see and grasp the grace?  Do they grasp (understand) it and grasp (take hold of) it?  Without any sense of their own righteousness, do they simply get grace more quickly than the others?  Unfettered by a sense of entitlement, are they faster to comprehend how it works?

I don't know the answer, but I'm inspired.

I'm inspired by a picture of people who understand grace as a gift they choose to receive.

I want that for my days.

Yes, I receive the gift of grace today.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

To lift my eyes...

I'm not gonna lie, Africa can wear me right out.  See Exhibit A above, "The Road to Our House."

I'm not very good at remembering this, but it does dawn on me occasionally that I do actually get to choose where my eyes focus.

Here are five good things from the last few days...

1.  I watched two Muslim women share their sandwiches with a Catholic Sister on the 6 hour bus trip to Nairobi.

2.  I saw the setting moon hanging heavily over hills that would soon be lit by morning.  The moonlight cast shadows on my 5am bedroom floor.

3.  The crazy washed out bridge at the bottom of the long hill that connects us to the road to town HAS BEEN REPAIRED, AND a grader has been dealing with the other horrible bits on our way home.

4.  I bought a great big box of fresh produce, (bright, juicy mangos, tangy passion fruit and much more,) for a very reasonable price, and shared motherhood tales with the slender young mama whose veggie stand I frequent.

5.  Yesterday I enjoyed a long and pleasant lunch with someone who has prayed for us for going on thirty years.  We had never, ever met before.  Imagine!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

With Happy Thanks for Dorothy

George and Dorothy, many years ago

A dear old friend of ours, Dorothy Waterhouse Smoker, passed away in January and I'd like to honor her memory here.  Dorothy was 97 when she passed and I hadn't seen her in many, many years.  Still, my memories of her are close and vital.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Coming Home to the Farm

We were away from Africa for two months.  It was enough time to do all we did.  Enough time to celebrate Thanksgiving, multiple family milestone's including my mom's 80th birthday, attend fundraisers, speak here and there, connect with donors, revel in family and marvelous friends, work toward a second son's wedding, engage in Advent, give poetry readings, meet with our Board of Directors, enjoy (and also struggle with) Christmas in America, and finally, wonderfully, to help throw an outstanding wedding celebration.

Careening out of those packed weeks...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Morning

When Baby Jesus was presented at the temple, Simeon, said this of him,

"He is a light to reveal God to the nations."  

A light to reveal God...

Now, that's a good gift :)

Merry Christmas, friends!