Day 4.2 – Alone

Following the training on Tuesday afternoon, we loaded our duffel bags of donations for the refugee camp on a large bus, grabbed a few things for overnight, and began our first trek into the Rwandan countryside. Our destination for the night was the Seeds of Peace Conference Center on Lake Muhari in the eastern province. We were together, but about to discover the world of alone.

Our spirits were high as we wound our way up and down the hills with countless banana trees and valleys where farmers were working their fields with hand tools. Unlike my drives through West Texas where you might travel miles and miles without seeing anyone along the road and where country homes are built far away from the road and the prying eyes of passersby, there were mud houses and people distributed pretty evenly along the roadway.

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

My mind captured snapshots of the rapidly passing scenes as we alternated through countryside and villages. I frequently saw people who were alone . . . working alone in a mountainside field . . . peddling alone on a bicycle . . . playing alone in the dirt in front of a mud hut with a tin roof . . . sitting alone on a rock with seemingly nowhere to go and nothing to do.

As I considered this posture of aloneness, I wondered if that’s all it was. Aloneness, but not loneliness. And somehow, I felt like these Rwandans were, at the moment I saw them, alone but not lonely. They seemed content.

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

Capturing these solitary portraits of humankind brought a new perspective as I remembered times through my life when I had been alone, but not felt lonely. Perhaps these lovely people, like me, thought of these times as mere intervals before they were reunited with others — a more telling view of their role in the world and the timing that places them with people and without people.

Or, perhaps it was more something about their connection with God as creator and his creation. A tie to a larger purpose for all things that seemed to transcend the momentary silence of individual existence. A joyfulness simply to be a part of a larger story.

Barreling along the countryside with six companions who had become like family, I looked forward to meeting the Congolese refugees the next day and I wondered if, even in the midst of a crowded camp, we would see individuals who were experiencing some things alone.

And, I began to connect with these people as individual souls. No longer a nameless, faceless gathering of people. Each and every one of them, alone, an essential and important person in our world.

49 Days and Counting – Beats

In just 49 days, my fellow adventurers and I will be headed to Rwanda and then on to Kenya. We’ll be training local leaders in conflict resolution, servant leadership, communication, community relations, trauma, compassion fatigue, and self-care. It’s all about beats.

Photo Credit: bury-osiol on FreeImages.com

When you look at the people on our team, you could label us as experts. Really though, we are just 7 learners in a brand new classroom.

The  learning curve ahead for us is already apparent. As we’ve gathered to frame our sessions and prepare our lessons, I think we’ve all been impressed by what we don’t know about the people who will attend our trainings. Not only will they march to a different beat, but they will be teaching us entirely new rhythms.

If we want to be effective in our efforts to teach, we will need to move to those rhythms and come to understand how opportunities for and challenges to peace rise and fall in a different culture. To be good teachers, we will need to be the most attentive learners in the room. We are doing our homework. Getting ready as best we can. Yet our success will be measured by our ability to move.

That’s the beauty of this entire enterprise. To bring about positive transformation in newly-found friends, we must first be transformed and open to dance to a different beat.

Fooling the Camera

I just completed spending five full days with just over 50 people who, I’m certain, will be my lifelong friends. And, in the course of that 5 days, pictures were taken. Some formally and some — not so much. As I’ve seen these images emerge on various social media platforms, I’ve found myself wishing that there had been a little better angle on some of those that I’m in. If I had only known that the shutter was about to open, I would have invested a little more effort in fooling the camera.

Head and shoulders back. Stomach in. Genuine smile. Turn that best side toward the camera. Find a position where you look taller. All things that have been suggested to me through the years. And many more that come from my own personal review and reflection of pictures.

In my earlier years — we’re talking the decades up until last year — I really dreaded being in pictures at all. I dutifully relented when asked to pose because I recognized the need to memorialize a particular event or special occasion. But I never liked the way they turned out.

Even though I can still look at my personal photos with a critical eye, I’ve discovered a peace in viewing them. No, I don’t look any better. Yes, I could have straightened up or tucked in my shirt or found a way to escape the camera completely. But I’m okay with what I see. Embarrassed a little at times, but okay.

I think that comes from knowing that these tiny microsecond views of me are part of a larger image that others see all the time anyway. And, unless I become a hermit and live away from people, all of my angles will be on display at some time or another. So, while I wince when I see the thinning hair or the goofy expression, I’ve found a way to keep fooling the camera.

My concerns for my image fade when I spend more time trying to see others in their best light.

With friends and family like those in my pictures, that pose becomes both them and me.

Off-Road Rage

This is from my original email series, Distinct Impressions. I didn’t keep records back then, but this was labeled Volume 1, Number 2. So, it’s an oldey-goldey. Even though I’m doing much better on self-control, there’s still a lot for me to learn from this. Hope you enjoy!

Image Credit: Alessandro Paiva via freeimages.com

Nancy, my wife, often finds important information in our local newspaper.  Recipes, community program schedules, and coupons all find their way into her hands and our lives.  All good things . . . all for the good of our family.

But occasionally she finds the dreaded prose of a “warning article.”  You know what I’m talking about.  Those insidious, self-help features that tell you why you’re messed up and what you should do about it.

As we’re driving to church one Sunday morning, I knew she had been recently enlightened by just such an article.  “You better watch it,” she said.  “You need to control your road rage.”

I checked my mirror.  Nope, no wreckage behind me.  “What road rage?”

“You shouldn’t be talking to other drivers — that’s a symptom of road rage.”

“But they can’t hear me,” I protested, “and I was just explaining to that lady the significance of a green light.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she insisted.  “You’re losing control.  There’s no need to talk to anybody about their driving.  You just drive, watch out for the other guy, and stay calm.”

“I am calm!!!”

I just knew she was wrong.  There was not an ounce of rage in me.  So, in a few days, when I misjudged the speed of an oncoming car and the young woman behind the wheel saluted me in a genuinely unwholesome fashion, I decided to have some fun.  “Hang on, honey!  We’re going after her!”

“What in the world are you doing?!!” Nancy asked. “I’m just going to put a scare into that sweet little thing.  I want her to think twice about HER road rage.”

I plunged the accelerator to the floor and within seconds I was right on the bumper of the little red car.  Several turns later, the car pulled into the parking lot of a duplex.  I wedged my pickup across the driveway and sat, staring menacingly.  The woman didn’t move.  I sat for several more seconds, then slowly drove away.

What a great feeling!  I put that rude driver in her place.  She was probably still shaking and wishing she’d never seen me.  Probably something like what my wife was thinking about that time.

“Well, that had to be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen you do.”

She just didn’t understand.  I had dealt justice within a mere city block.  I had asserted my right to be treated with dignity on the highway of life.

There’s something about driving, with its rules and regulations, that makes us feel good about keeping others in their place.  When someone cuts us off or just engages in a little sign language, we have a right to feel indignant.  That’s why we call it righteous indignation.

But that same attitude can invade every part of our lives.  Listen closely to people around you.  “They can’t treat me that way!”  “I’ll show them!”  “I know my rights!”

And just like road rage, there’s nothing righteous about it.

Nancy was right. I should not have reacted the way I did while behind the wheel. But, this off-road rage doesn’t get near enough attention.  The jostling for position and stature in our every day lives can be just as damaging as the punishment we deal out from behind the wheel.  We cut people off.  We accelerate — not so much to get where we are going — but to make sure others don’t get where they want to be.

“MY life matters.  Yours does not.”  That’s the message.

How foreign is that from the example of Christ?

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant . . .”  Philippians 2:5-7 (NIV).

Perhaps the prescription for road rage works off-road as well.  Look out for others.  Keep quiet.  If someone wants into your lane, let him in.  Nothing can be so important that it keeps you from your final destination.

As for me, I’m discovering my indignation is rarely righteous.  When Jesus fills my life, I have no room for self-righteous rage.

Fred’s a Close, Personal Friend

It was our second meeting with the leaders of a Dallas organization and, since the first went so well, we decided to recreate the ambience by returning to the same location.

Photo Credit: Featurepics.com

Fred’s Texas Cafe. The Original Fred’s. Fort Worth, Texas.

Garry and I decided to stick with our choice from the first lunch from over a month ago — the Fredburger. As he was ordering, Garry quipped, “You can’t go wrong with a Fredburger since it is, after all, named after Fred.”

The rest of us laughed, even as the rest of the group settled on The Diablo which is, in essence, a Fredburger lavishly dressed with ingredients guaranteed to light up your mouth — and perhaps the rest of your day.

The server didn’t laugh, but commented drily, “Yeah, well you know, Fred is a dog.”

We actually found that funny and laughed again. To which she noted, “You’d be surprised how many people come in here and try to tell us that Fred is a close, personal friend.”

And, not to be daunted in our merriment, we all laughed again.

Name-dropping. It’s a big temptation. But you have to wonder about the reasoning of people who do it in a setting where there’s a fair likelihood that their charade will be exposed. I mean, if you tell people you know Fred and you’re at his restaurant, wouldn’t it follow that word would get to Fred and he would come out to greet you — a total stranger? How embarrassing. Unless, Fred is a dog. Even at that, there would have to be some embarrassment. Of course, Fred’s serves adult beverages. So, maybe not all that much embarrassment.

We all want to be known. We all want to be recognized. We all want to be somebody. Even at the risk of stretching our credentials just a little too far.

As I finished my Fredburger and fries, I couldn’t help but think, “I’d like to meet Fred someday.”