There Are No Murders In Africa

The above image is not from my recent trip to East Africa, but is a screen-cap from the film The Constant Gardener. I’ve watched this movie, and I just kept rewinding this sequence in the first part of the movie (Chapter Index 3, on the DVD entitled “yes or no”) that just shows 45 seconds of life in Kibera. I was so amazed of how accurate life in Kenya was portrayed in this film. But what it left me with was this longing to return. I do miss it there, a lot. I miss the purity there. And by pure, I don’t mean innocent, naive, or even simple. But pure. Emotions are allowed to exist, people are allowed to speak, it’s something hard to explain, and it’s something so subtle, that I can only really describe it as a feeling. It is something you can just breath as you walk down the street.

Lately, I am starting to draw many parallels between the obvious that I experienced in Kenya and the life we live here in the States. People are generally the same, with a good number of exceptions. I think one of the big differences I’m facing is the fact that we here can afford to worry about things that many in Kenya do not worry about, or to a lesser extent. Self-help doesn’t really exist in the communities I worked with in Kenya, at least to the extent that it matters here. Who has time to help themselves?? Finding a school, going to work, feeding a family, and rejoicing and enjoying life in between; some things are ok to just let go of. The self-help phenomenon is huge in the U.S. and really, who doesn’t own a copy of “Your Best Life Now” or “Road Less Travelled” or “South Beach Diet” or

I certainly have a good share of these titles (not the South Beach Diet, tho, I like Egyptian baladi bread too much). One thing I felt there, is that it was more OK to just be able to live life, imperfect. Human.

I wonder if we try to transcend ourselves somtimes; I know I do. But there was an amazing freedom to be able to live in a society where I was able to let go of a lot of these superficialities, and of course, the eventualities.

And even in regards to religion in America, how much emphasis is placed on healing. Healing of emotional wounds, and scars, and memories. Spending so much time on the ideas and passages of healing, and not much on those about sacrifice. I have had my own share of wounds in this life, as every human on the planet. Not a man nor woman exists who hasn’t been hurt, deeply, in some way. And I do believe everyone deserves a time of reflection and understanding, and reconciliation. But there comes a time where one must move ahead. I can’t tell you how many churches out there are preaching the idea that people can be healed from every hurt and every wound. Why would that be the goal of the church, that I can go to church so I can heal myself, or can be healed by a higher power?

Whatever happened to the notion that a church can be a place where I can go, to come together to heal each other and to heal this world.

And I don’t mean by going door to door with a pamphlet with a recipe for salvation! There are tears that need to be wiped, and the kleenex does NOT need to be watermarked with a religious emblem. There are stomachs that need to be filled, and these sandwiches that are doing the filling do not need to have your favorite verses folded up inside. Add extra lettuce instead. An act of love can speak far greater truths than any sermon, than any study; than any tract.

I can afford to lose myself at times, because my life is being taken care of. I get lost pretty often.

I get very passionate when it comes to these topics, because I take them very seriously and I’ve had my own journey through these thoughts and the different modes of approaching life, and trying to experience it in its fullness, and at 28, I realize I know less than I did when I first started, but one thing I have the suspicious feeling of, is the fact that life is much simpler than we make it out to be at times.

Often times our answers are deep down, in our very gut. I often know exactly what I need to be doing, and somehow have become an expert at distracting myself from doing it. But I don’t blame myself, I don’t even blame MTV, I don’t even blame MySpace. I don’t blame anything! That’s just the way it is. But part of the beauty of life is being able to navigate through it, and make all the mistakes I’m supposed to make, and gradually figure it out, and pass our knowledge to future generations, who will only take what they can, but have to re-learn all the lessons themselves.

And maybe…. maybe that’s an ineffecient approach to building a society, but it works. Imagine those who were born into families where they’re given the keys to Grand Central Station… what can they appreciate if everything was given to them. We’d never value our own lives, or each other, if all the answers were given to us.

Inefficient, yes, but perfect nonetheless.

I don’t  where I was going with all that – just some thoughts on my mind tonight.
This one quote stood out, rings with truth and its a statement about the global condition. One that many of us are just not aware of. This was made in regards to the exploitation of Africans in pharmaceutical trials:

“No, there are no murders in Africa.
Only regrettable deaths.

And from those deaths
we derive the benefits of civilization,

benefits we can afford so easily…

because those lives
were bought so cheaply.”

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Art and the Mind

Sometimes a simple work of art just reawakens a part of you that’s been sleeping, but you know it’s a part of you that’s right and true. This is my shortest blog entry to date.

I hope everyone’s having a good week. By the way, the story about my forehead scar is changing from “I was in a knife fight” to “I got a frontal lobotomy”. I hope Chief lets me live.

Cheers!

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Reunions, Head Injuries, and other Stories from Plainview

So I decided to be responsible for a change, and trade a Friday night out, for a night in, at home, setting up my office / studio / bedroom. I’m getting tired of sleeping on a couch and working on a kitchen table. The night proved to be kinda eventful when I ended up being driven to the ER, when a 30-pound metal object got into a conflict with my forehead, while assembling a damn Ikea desk.

That’s right, an Ikea desk.

Now this wasn’t a situation where I was negligent and I’m suffering the consequences of my actions, hardly the case. I had some help with me tonight, and someone (who is to remain nameless) left one of the leg / support brackets to this 100-pound Swedish desk leaned up against something while i was underneath the thing screwing it together, when I hear “uh oh” as I look up to see what the problem was, I saw my fate rush at me, at whatever speed thirty-pound metal objects fall at, my head was the bullseye.

Blood, four letter words, virgin ears, deflowered…

This was the exact conversation as I sat in the stretcher waiting to hear back from the plastic surgeon who they woke up to come in and do the stitching.

“Yea, got one for ya, uh huh, one lateral gash across the forehead and one chevron shaped laceration. David, are you going to the bathroom while we’re having this conversation? uh huh… uh huh…. ok i’ll tell him, thanks… click... The doctor said it will cost you $3300.”

Lord’s name taken in vain, more blood…

If I only had a 30-pound metal object with me.

So i went for the cheaper and more covered option. I plan to tell people I got this scar in a knife fight, as long as no one reads this blog, they’ll buy the story and start “did-you-hear-about” conversations about me. Because no one reads blogs. Just because its on the web, it doesn’t mean jack. I heard about this guy who dissed his entire graduating class in a blog, and can you believe the coincidence that people actually read it? Amazing!

High School Revisited

So about 10 years ago, I almost didn’t graduate high school, thanks to a ploy by Mr. Klonsky to have me repeat a year because he thought I plagiarized an Economics paper. But somehow, I made it out of there. I remember that day, knowing that the majority of folks I shared the stage with, I would probably never see again.

Last Saturday at a slightly pretentious but really nice lounge called Dip, in the city, we had our 10 year high school reunion. A few comments:

1) Having the reunion at a lounge in the city was a great idea. It made it feel less like a reunion, and more of just, hanging out in the city at a bar, where you happen to recognize every single person there. It made the environment a lot more familiar and inviting.

2) I talked with many people who said (and I agreed with them) that they’d only stay for a half hour, MAYBE an hour, then bounce. But you know, that didn’t happen. In fact, my judgement was way off. The place was full from the start till the very end of the reunion and beyond. I really forgot how much I missed everyone. I got home at almost 6 in the morning, I dropped off my buddy Phil, one of my oldest friends on the planet who I’d fallen out of touch with and now finally back in touch. And the sun was just coming up, and I had a feeling that I’ve had before, on the day i graduated. Hoping I’d see some of these guys again.

This isn’t a time for the typical reunion looking-back monologue. But this is more looking forward. Some connections were remade last Saturday night and I hope they can continue.

One thing was interesting, was that word got around thanks to my PR guy (you know who you are) who told pretty much everyone about my trip to Kenya. While I was trying to tell people I sold air conditioners to eskimos, he totally blew up my spot. And it was interesting to hear some of the reactions I got from people. Mainly the perception that I had gone out of my way to do something “good” to help someone.

I remember talking about this with Phil over pizza later that night. Looking back, the truth is, I didn’t go there with this huge intention to do something good for someone. But the fact of the matter is, a lot of good was done to me. by the people of Kenya. As much as I gave the guys from Kibera something, they gave me that much more, and I am a different person because of them.

They helped me, and to that, I’m forever grateful.

The anastesia on my forhead is wearing off, and I think I need to knock the hell OUT. So I wanna leave you guys with a photo. Here’s a picture courtesy of an old friend (thanks, Jenna!), from the reunion. Everyone’s beaming in this pic. There’s Yari, Me, Phil, Stern, and Jay in front.

So with that—to you all, good night!

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“What Would Jesus Do?”: An answer to the politically religious

Every time I see a man in the pulpit telling his congregation how to vote, I would feel the bile rise up my esophagus. I would rationalize this feeling as a mere testimony to my lack of conviction or devotion in my faith, but the more I’ve lived, and the more I’ve read and studied, the less and less I can stand by a President who plays religion into his campaign, or a religion that aligns itself to a certain political party.

I find myself always at odds with family and some friends, because I’m perfectly fine with the removal of the 10 Commandments from an Alabama courthouse, and I refuse to align myself politically based on how well a politicians social platform aligns itself with a certain religious moral base.

Much energy in this country is wasted in fighting minuscule moral battles, when there is a world falling apart around us. Those who claim righteousness should focus their energy where the need is great.

And I always thought I stood alone, being a Christian but not of the theocratic sorts, until I picked up the Times.  Here’s a piece that resonated with me:

Christ Among the Partisans

By GARRY WILLS (NYT) 1210 words
Published: April 9, 2006

Chicago – THERE is no such thing as a ‘’Christian politics.’’ If it is a politics, it cannot be Christian. Jesus told Pilate: ‘’My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here’’ (John 18:36). Jesus brought no political message or program.

This is a truth that needs emphasis at a time when some Democrats, fearing that the Republicans have advanced over them by the use of religion, want to respond with a claim that Jesus is really on their side. He is not. He avoided those who would trap him into taking sides for or against the Roman occupation of Judea. He paid his taxes to the occupying power but said only, ‘’Let Caesar have what belongs to him, and God have what belongs to him’’ (Matthew 22:21). He was the original proponent of a separation of church and state.

Those who want the state to engage in public worship, or even to have prayer in schools, are defying his injunction: ‘’When you pray, be not like the pretenders, who prefer to pray in the synagogues and in the public square, in the sight of others. In truth I tell you, that is all the profit they will have. But you, when you pray, go into your inner chamber and, locking the door, pray there in hiding to your Father, and your Father who sees you in hiding will reward you’’ (Matthew 6:5-6). He shocked people by his repeated violation of the external holiness code of his time, emphasizing that his religion was an internal matter of the heart.

But doesn’t Jesus say to care for the poor? Repeatedly and insistently, but what he says goes far beyond politics and is of a different order. He declares that only one test will determine who will come into his reign: whether one has treated the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the imprisoned as one would Jesus himself. ‘’Whenever you did these things to the lowliest of my brothers, you were doing it to me’’ (Matthew 25:40). No government can propose that as its program. Theocracy itself never went so far, nor could it.

The state cannot indulge in self-sacrifice. If it is to treat the poor well, it must do so on grounds of justice, appealing to arguments that will convince people who are not followers of Jesus or of any other religion. The norms of justice will fall short of the demands of love that Jesus imposes. A Christian may adopt just political measures from his or her own motive of love, but that is not the argument that will define justice for state purposes.

To claim that the state’s burden of justice, which falls short of the supreme test Jesus imposes, is actually what he wills—that would be to substitute some lesser and false religion for what Jesus brought from the Father. Of course, Christians who do not meet the lower standard of state justice to the poor will, a fortiori, fail to pass the higher test.

The Romans did not believe Jesus when he said he had no political ambitions. That is why the soldiers mocked him as a failed king, giving him a robe and scepter and bowing in fake obedience (John 19:1-3). Those who today say that they are creating or following a ‘’Christian politics’’ continue the work of those soldiers, disregarding the words of Jesus that his reign is not of this order.

Some people want to display and honor the Ten Commandments as a political commitment enjoined by the religion of Jesus. That very act is a violation of the First and Second Commandments. By erecting a false religion—imposing a reign of Jesus in this order—they are worshiping a false god. They commit idolatry. They also take the Lord’s name in vain.

Some may think that removing Jesus from politics would mean removing morality from politics. They think we would all be better off if we took up the slogan ‘’What would Jesus do?’’

That is not a question his disciples ask in the Gospels. They never knew what Jesus was going to do next. He could round on Peter and call him ‘’Satan.’’ He could refuse to receive his mother when she asked to see him. He might tell his followers that they are unworthy of him if they do not hate their mother and their father. He might kill pigs by the hundreds. He might whip people out of church precincts.

The Jesus of the Gospels is not a great ethical teacher like Socrates, our leading humanitarian. He is an apocalyptic figure who steps outside the boundaries of normal morality to signal that the Father’s judgment is breaking into history. His miracles were not acts of charity but eschatological signs—accepting the unclean, promising heavenly rewards, making last things first.

He is more a higher Nietzsche, beyond good and evil, than a higher Socrates. No politician is going to tell the lustful that they must pluck out their right eye. We cannot do what Jesus would do because we are not divine.

It was blasphemous to say, as the deputy under secretary of defense, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, repeatedly did, that God made George Bush president in 2000, when a majority of Americans did not vote for him. It would not remove the blasphemy for Democrats to imply that God wants Bush not to be president. Jesus should not be recruited as a campaign aide. To trivialize the mystery of Jesus is not to serve the Gospels.

The Gospels are scary, dark and demanding. It is not surprising that people want to tame them, dilute them, make them into generic encouragements to be loving and peaceful and fair. If that is all they are, then we may as well make Socrates our redeemer.

It is true that the tamed Gospels can be put to humanitarian purposes, and religious institutions have long done this, in defiance of what Jesus said in the Gospels.

Jesus was the victim of every institutional authority in his life and death. He said: ‘’Do not be called Rabbi, since you have only one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, the one in heaven. And do not be called leaders, since you have only one leader, the Messiah’’ (Matthew 23:8-10).

If Democrats want to fight Republicans for the support of an institutional Jesus, they will have to give up the person who said those words. They will have to turn away from what Flannery O’Connor described as ‘’the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus’’ and ‘’a wild ragged figure’’ who flits ‘’from tree to tree in the back’’ of the mind.

He was never that thing that all politicians wish to be esteemed—respectable. At various times in the Gospels, Jesus is called a devil, the devil’s agent, irreligious, unclean, a mocker of Jewish law, a drunkard, a glutton, a promoter of immorality.

The institutional Jesus of the Republicans has no similarity to the Gospel figure. Neither will any institutional Jesus of the Democrats.

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