42 Days and Counting – Tribes

“Education is inoculation,” we are frequently reminded by Dr. Betty Gilmore, our team leader and the director of the Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management program at Southern Methodist University. With that in mind, our team has been seeking and absorbing material about Africa and, specifically, Rwanda. As I’ve gone about my daily reading, I’ve been a little discouraged. Just 42 days and the unread stories of this small, beautiful country seem to stretch out to infinity. One of the surface features of the Rwandan story is that of tribes.

This region of Africa has been inhabited by three primary tribes: the Hutu, Tutsis, and the Twa. The Twa is a very small part of the Rwandan population — about 1%. A Pygmy people, the Twa are hunter-gatherers and skilled in the craft of pottery. The Hutus have always been the largest of the tribes with over 80% of the population. Even though a minority, the Tutsis gained power and ruled over the region for over a hundred years with relative peace. When the Belgians discovered the riches of Rwanda and began their colonization and control of the country, they immediately begin to show favor to the Tutsis, providing better education and financial incentives. The discrimination fostered by the Belgians served to increase the ethnic divide of the country. Finally, when the Tutsis began to tire of outside influence and begin to push back, the Belgians incited the Hutus against the Tutsis. Violence between the tribes was present long before the holocaust of 1994 and tens of thousands of Tutsis were slaughtered over several decades.

In 1994, a long-engineered killing spree was initiated against the Tutsis. Over the period of 100 days, close to a million people — men, women, and children — were slaughtered in the name of ethnic cleansing. The world community was slow to respond. To those on the ground in Rwanda, I’m certain that it felt like the world was simply choosing to look the other way.

This little bit of history doesn’t tell the full story. Nor does it inform us of all that has happened in the last 20 years. But it does give us a frame of reference for our mission come September.

While tribes have been an integral part of the fabric of this country and most of East Africa, we are going to share about the potential for reconciliation that springs from the hope of a larger view. What we hope to share is a simple truth.  Some concepts have far more potential than those associated with caste and ethnicity. We are going to reinforce what these wonderful people long to believe — by valuing every human being and through acts of forgiveness, true peace can come. And, we can’t help but touch on the even more gigantic truth. We are all God’s children. And that means more than tribe, the deepness of the pigment in our skins, the shape of our nose, the accent in our speech, or our earthly family tree.

We are His. And because of that, we must act differently from the world. We’re still part of a tribe. But the tribe is not set apart as Tutsi or Hutu or Twa — or African or Asian or European or American.  Our tribe is one.

46 Days and Counting – Partners

Even though we have been talking and planning this trip for months, we are down to only 46 days before we step on that plane. In just the last couple of days, as we begin to talk about our mission publicly, we’ve begun to see a beautiful outpouring from others who want to be our partners in this work. Graduate students at Southern Methodist University are coming forward with offers of help and donations of clothing and supplies. Individuals who have been hearing about our trip have asked how they might be involved.

Photo Credit: anudman at freeimages.com

Many things in life can be done alone by personal effort, individual skill, and solo performance.

But even when we convince ourselves that we are totally self-sufficient, there is a much more potent force unleashed when we allow others to lend a hand.

Our team traveling to Rwanda and Kenya is a strong group with a lot of talent and ability. But we have no delusion of self-sufficiency. We know that every moment we invest in teaching conflict management and reconciliation in Africa, every instant we interact with refugees in Rwanda or the children being cared for by the Made In the Streets ministry in Nairobi, will be greatly enhanced and made sweeter by the prayers, the encouragement, and support of those of you who want to have a part.

Thank you for your thoughts and the ways that you are imagining how you can help. The desires to dare and to share combine to form an incredibly potent and positive impact on people — men, women, and children — we might never have had the opportunity to touch.

So again, thanks for your willingness to dare and to share. We are blessed to  have you as our partners.

Social Pain and Social Media

Spoiler Alert. This posting about social pain and social media is not lighthearted. In fact, I’m writing because I’m a little discouraged. I even came close yesterday to withdrawing from social media entirely. Who knows? This expression of my feelings may be the last thing you choose to read from me.

Recently we hosted almost 50 of our graduate students in conflict residency on our campus. The week, Residency Session, is a highlight of our work. It brings individuals we’ve come to know in our online courses to Abilene where we have an opportunity to sit with them, eat with them, talk with them. We offer them pointers and instruction. And they teach us much. During the welcome, our Academic Director, Garry Bailey, spoke to the group about the way that we as peacemakers should approach everything we do.  He talked about addressing “social pain.” A little later, I made the phrase a noun. “You’ll be experiencing some intense time with your colleagues in the next week. Don’t be a social pain,” I said. “Be a peacemaker.”

As important issues crop up world-wide and our thoughts are drawn to the building tensions from attacks against Israel and retaliations made in defense, the plight of refugee children at the borders of the United States, the seeming inability of US leaders to address anything of importance, continuing crimes against women and children across the globe . . . I find that a majority of those who choose to embrace the social pain vocation are alive and well on social media.

I favor open discourse. But I’m weary of the thoughtless postings of pass-it-on information. And I’m even more exhausted from trying to save some of my social media friends embarrassment by researching things they’ve posted and quietly providing them with more accurate information. I don’t think they mean to be part of the larger problem. They are simply following a normal human reaction.

We tend to support what we already believe and discount the rest.

It’s true across every spectrum — whether it’s a question of politics, social status, race, and even sports. (Thanks, Lebron James, for helping to reveal how much energy we will invest in the most trivial issues while people’s lives hang in the balance elsewhere.) And it’s true no matter where people find themselves — liberal or conservative, moderate or progressive.

Our constant statement seems to be “I’m right and, even if you agree with me, I’m more right than you are. And even though I have no idea if this particular information is true, it would be good for my arguments if it is.”

As I’ve grown older, I learn more and more that I know less and less. I’m willing to grant that I probably know less on many topics than a majority of people out there. Yet, as I’ve matured, I find myself genuinely interested in knowing the diverse viewpoints of others.

I once worked as a volunteer in a nonprofit organization with a very talented person. He was deeply infected with the need to always be right and the drive to assert himself over others. Over the years, he told me and hundreds of others that we “just don’t understand.” In other words, it was important to him for us to know how ignorant and insignificant we were. He was a social pain and, on top of that, a social bully.

Those who choose to fuel the flames of discord by passing on questionable information aren’t much different. And those who make open attacks are much worse. Particularly those who attempt to thinly veil their attacks in humor. I’m sorry. But jokes about the homeless, the poor, children at our borders, the addicted, enemies of every ilk, are simply not funny.

My guess is that this post will anger a lot of people. I regret that and it is not my intent. However, your anger is your choice.

I’m just asking that you consider rising above your rights to consider your responsibilities and privileges. I’m asking you to leave the social pain status to others. Raise your voice for what’s important, certainly. But raise it in a conversation. When all else fails, ask a question instead of launching an attack.

What do you have to lose?

 

A Better View

No matter where I am, it seems I am always trying to get in position for a better view. Whether I’m at a movie, a sporting event, or even church, I often find myself in the exact spot . . . I cannot see.

Sometimes, a good location for observation just isn’t available. I am only 5’5″, after all. There are, evidently, some things that God didn’t want me to see.

Then there are those times that I have the perfect spot and someone bigger, taller, broader — or just naturally gifted at being in the wrong place — blocks my vantage point.

We learn to deal with that frustration. We know that this world is a place we share and that every one will not have the same opportunity to experience the same things. A natural part of life, this truth adds to the richness of our existence through diversity and can also build resentment when we desire what others have.

On a recent vacation, Nancy and I were driving the Road to Hana on the windward side of the island of Maui. We were first-timers to Hawaii, so we were relying heavily on a guidebook that pointed out literally hundreds of things that we likely would have missed on our own. That is the story of this picture.

In the guidebook, the writer talked glowingly of a spot in the long and winding road where we would see this scene. He couldn’t rate the beauty high enough. Yet, after a wonderful description, he pointed out that there was no legal place to park at that particular spot. And he warned that others would disregard that safety factor and try anyway. True to his word, that was what happened.

As we came around the corner, we saw half a dozen people out on the road, clamoring for a safe place to take pictures and enjoy the view. Had it not been for the cars coming by, they probably would have been successful. We pulled past the bend of the road and the scattering tourists slowly and Nancy announced that the book told of another spot where the same scene could be taken in if we were patient.

Moments later, we found a small turn-out and parked the car. We crossed the highway and found that spot. And as we watched the road for cars, we ventured to a place to take the perfect picture on a small overlook safely tucked behind the guardrail.

I don’t know if those people who stopped up the road were able to get their pictures. Sometimes people get by with breaking the rules and probably scoff at those of us who don’t. Yet, in the face of seeming inequity, we most often find a moment to grasp the opportunity we need.

Listening. Patience. Persistence. The perfect perspective on a beautiful possibility is often well within our grasp.

Bad Fashion Choices

Have you ever wondered what changes Michael Jackson made after he sang his #1 hit song, Man in the Mirror?

The song, written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett, shares the experience of looking around, seeing needs, and then making the commitment to bring change. The song speaks of hungry children, the homeless, and the heartbroken. It is a call to action.

Take a look at yourself and make the change
You gotta get it right, while you got the time
Cause when you close your heart
Then you close your mind.

I’m not trying to start a debate over Michael Jackson’s life or lifestyle. A little research reveals that he did, in fact, make some significant charitable contributions. Yet, our glimpse into his latter years showed an increasingly troubled man who surrounded himself with those who wanted to take from him. I wonder how differently things would have been had he chosen to spend time with those who truly needed his help.

The man in the mirror image is a fitting one. Occasionally I’ll look through family albums or videos and steal a glance of my past. Invariably I’ll ask myself, “Why in the world would I choose to dress that way?” or “Why didn’t anyone bother to tell me how bad that hairstyle was?”

I have to remind myself that I was there at the time. I was fully capable of seeing who I was, how I dressed, and how I parted my hair. (Yes, I once had sufficient hair to part. Now, it is merely departed.) But the point is that I failed to see.

Why is it so hard to see ourselves?

And when we do, why is is so difficult to make a change?

As you look around today and see things that need to be done and people who need you, take a look in the mirror. But don’t look away until you genuinely see yourself. For, when you see yourself, you are uniquely equipped to truly see others.