Christian Truisms

A Litany

I am deeply connected with all of humanity,
and with every person in particular.

So long as anyone remains unloved,
I am lonely.
So long as anyone remains hungry,
I am not satisfied.
So long as anyone remains in need,
I am poor.
So long as anyone remains imprisoned,
I am not free.
So long as anyone remains in danger,
I am not safe.
So long as anyone suffers from illness,
I am not well.

Continue reading “Christian Truisms”

Verse of the Month — January 2017

Light

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

John 1:9, nrsv

Hebrew: a word study

The word Hebrew is likely derived from the name Eber,  great-great-great-great-grandfather of the patriarch Abraham. However, its usage in scripture seems to carry a more specific meaning. Below are all the instances of its use in the Old Testament.

Genesis 14:13   Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram.

Beginning with this text, we see that Abram is identified as “the Hebrew.”  Then we are told the location of his then-current camp, as a guest of a man who lived in the land.  It has been suggested that the usage of the word indicates “wanderer,” “vagabond,” “nomad” or maybe just “homeless” or “foreigner.”

Genesis 39:14  she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice.

The reference here is to Joseph, a captive slave in Egypt.  He is being accused of rape, or at least attempted rape.  It’s easy to imagine a connotation of distrust of a foreigner of suspicious origins and even more suspicious morals.

Genesis 39:17  and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me.

The same rape accusation along with a description of bad character and motives.

Genesis 40:15  For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.”

Now Joseph is in prison, and this reference has a new element: self-identification.  “The land of the Hebrews” is, at least, a foreign place.  But Joseph’s reference is unlike that of the Egyptians; here he claims innocence.

Genesis 41:12  A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, c he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream.

The chief butler describes Joseph as a young Hebrew.  In this case his character is not brought into question.

Genesis 43:32  They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is m an abomination to the Egyptians.

Joseph’s brothers visiting Egypt.  Notice that table fellowship with these foreigners of questionable character is “an abomination” to the Egyptians.

Exodus 1:15  Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah,

Exodus 1:16   “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.”

In Exodus 1 the Egyptians see the Hebrews as a threat, because they are increasing in number.

Exodus 1:19  The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”

How often are people of a different ethnicity ascribed with unusual attributes? In this case the midwives are lying (and the Bible says it is because they feared God) in order to preserve the lives of these infants. But the Egyptians fall for the lie.

Exodus 2:6  When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”

Even the babies looked different, or maybe there was an identifiable difference in how baby Moses was dressed or wrapped.

Exodus 2:7  Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?”

Again it would be beneath the dignity of an Egyptian princess, however compassionate, to actually see to the daily needs of a Hebrew child.

Exodus 2:11  One day, z when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their a burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people.

Moses, now a grown man, sees his people being mistreated by the Egyptians.

Exodus 2:13  When c he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?”

Then sees two slaves, who look and sound like him, fighting.  Already oppressed, they are now mistreating each other as well, and he is distressed.

Wait forty more years….

Next we see Moses in his interactions with Pharaoh.   For the first time, God is identified as the God of the Hebrews.  If this means he is the God of the homeless, outcast, wanderers, with no place of their own, it would be surprising that such a people have a God at all, since gods were usually associated with nations; but as it is, it seems more than appropriate that their worship would have to take place in “the wilderness,” somewhere that is not claimed as territory by any nation.

Exodus 3:18 And x they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel y shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has z met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’

Exodus 5:3  Then they said, “The w God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”

Exodus 7:16 And you shall say to him, ‘The b Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, c that they may serve me in the wilderness.” But so far, you have not obeyed.

Exodus 9:1  Then the Lord said to Moses, p “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says qthe Lord, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may serve me.’

Exodus 9:13  Then the Lord said to Moses, z “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.

Exodus 10:3  So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to u humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me.

The next two references are a bit different.  They are God’s instructions about how to treat their fellow outcasts.  If we are right, the designation Hebrew still means someone who has no special standing or status. This is God’s instruction about how to treat people with no privileged status to rely on.

Exodus 21:2 When you buy a Hebrew slave, 1 he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing.

Deuteronomy 15:12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold 1 to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you.

The idea here is that servitude is never to become a permanent status (though the statute makes an exception in the case of a voluntary agreement).  If this way of reading it is right, these instructions are in keeping with other things God tells his people about how to treat foreigners:

When an alien resides with you in the land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33)

After entering the promised land, we find the people of Israel are confronted by their near neighbors, the Philistines, who had not much use for these newcomers to a land they considered their own:

1 Samuel 4:6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp,

1 Samuel 4:9 Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews c as they have been to you; be men and fight.”

But under king Saul, they began to take on this as a self-identifier:

1 Samuel 13:3 Jonathan defeated m the garrison of the Philistines that was n at Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul o blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.”

1 Samuel 13:7 and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

1 Samuel 13:19 and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

But to the Philistines, the name remained anything but a compliment:

1 Samuel 14:11 So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, Hebrews are coming r out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.”

1 Samuel 14:21 Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and who had gone up with them into the camp, w even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan.

1 Samuel 29:3 the commanders of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here?” And Achish said to the commanders of the Philistines, “Is this not David, the servant of Saul, king of Israel, who has been with me j now for days and years, and since he deserted to me k I have found no fault in him to this day.”

That’s about it.  Many years later, Jeremiah remembers the instruction of God recorded in Exodus and Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 34:9 that everyone should set free his Hebrew slaves, male and female, sso that no one should enslave a Jew, his brother.

Jeremiah 34:14 ‘At the end of seven years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; r you must set him free from your service.’ But v your fathers did not listen to me or incline their ears to me.

And finally, after Israel loses its homeland and driven into exile, another prophet identifies himself as a wanderer, whose God is not tied to one land or people:

Jonah 1:9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear othe Lord, the God of heaven, pwho made the sea and the dry land.”

Verse of the Month — December 2016

Peace

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2:14, kjv

Verse of the Month – November 2016

Salvation

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

Isaiah 12:2

October 2016 Verses of the Month

Compassion

The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all he has made.
Psalm 145:8-9, NRSV

I learned some things…

I have lived most of my life in one country, the United States, on one continent, North America. Only a few times have I traveled outside of this limited domain. I can list in my fingers the countries I have visited: the USA, Canada, England (and Scotland and Cornwall), the Dominican Republic, and now…. Uganda. 

If you count airport stops, add Ethiopia and Ireland to the list. Not an impressive itinerary for a life of six and a half decades. Add all of these together and you probably don’t come to a total of as much as ninety days. 

But I live in the age of instantaneous communication, so via electronic connections I have been acquainted with a far wider range of people. So my experience, limited and parochial as it is, touches every continent.

 Additionally, one of my uncles served as a missionary in India and Bangladesh. One of my dearest friends was from Pakistan. We hosted a German student for a year in our home. 
(And don’t forget those Nigerian lawyers and Chinese widows who promised me millions of dollars– bit I digress)

Still, the decision to spend three weeks visiting an African country was a big deal for me. Now I ask myself, why did I wait so long?

A view of the Nile river, a few miles from the Source

 It’s been a month now since I came back from that visit. Let me tell you some things  learned. 
I learned about hospitality

The friends who welcomed me went out of their way to make sure I was well taken care of.  Fourteen children sang me a welcome song when I visited their school. Pastors gave me perhaps more honor than I deserved, when I visited their churches. Never did I feel unwelcome, though I found I had a lot to learn. 

I learned about being a minority.

In some places frequented by tourists, especially in the city of Kampala, it’s possible to find groups of muzungu – that’s white people – but most of the time I was the sticking-out-like-a-sore-thumb non-African wherever I went.  Especially as I was an isolated muzungu among African friends.  People stared.  Especially children. But not rudely, nor unkindly; still I might have been viewed suspiciously, sometimes, or so I guessed. It’s hard to tell if you’re being peered at a a curiosity or eyed cautiously as an intruder. I think an unfamiliar presence can cause discomfort.  

I learned about poverty.  

In terms of standard of living, there are rich and poor everywhere, but it’s pretty clear that the poor are much more numerous. I saw many people working hard to get enough for the day. It doesn’t take much money to get the necessities of life, in that place, but not much money is the rule. Wealth might mean you have running water in the house, or an actual bed to sleep on instead of the floor. Here is how one person explained it to me: 

“If a family has two chickens, they are not poor. If an emergency comes up, or a bill must be paid, they can sell one of the chickens. Then if they have no food in the house, they still have the other chicken. If the two chickens must be used in this way, after that they will be poor.”

So by our standards there is lots of poverty.  But another thing I noticed: there are also many smiles. 

I learned about happiness. 

Having enough for the day really seems to work. I saw more smiles per square mile than I have seen anywhere. Working hard, for sure, but practicing happiness in the midst of it. 

I learned about faith. 

Religious messages are prevalent everywhere you look. They adorn taxis and buses, they are on the signage of businesses, they can be heard from street preachers here and there. I met a lot of people who take their faith seriously. Christianity is young in this part of Africa, and thriving. Islam is also to be seen (Muslims make up about 12% of the population), and some of the religious messages one sees reflect that. But here’s another thing some of my readers may find hard to fathom:  I saw no sense of hostility between Christians and Muslims in Uganda. I made sure to discuss this impression with my Christian friends there, who to a person expressed dismay and bewilderment at the way fighting over religion happens in other places, including some neighboring countries. The tradition in Uganda is quite different from that, something you are unlikely to hear on the news. 

My Christian host in Kampala took me to lunch nearly every day of my time there to his favorite restaurant, where the owners and servers are all Muslims. 

I learned about diversity.  

Not only religious diversity but ethnic and cultural diversity is a feature of the Uganda landscape. There are fifty-two (officially recognized) local languages, each one representing a distinct culture and each one having a king. To talk to someone from a different kingdom, people use English. I wasn’t in country long enough to get a full sense of the scope of this diversity, having visited only two of the fifty-two regions, but even in that limited field I could catch an undercurrent of, at least, a friendly rivalry. 

I learned about technology 

Uganda is adopting modern technology at a rapid pace. Cell phones are ubiquitous- often one person carries two of them. The cash economy is being supplemented by the use of “mobile money” – a system that allows transfers of funds from phone to cash at many locations. 

I saw solar panels atop street lights. What a concept!  Solar electricity is a fast growing phenomenon, thanks primarily to heavy investment from China. This is a great thing, at least until the rainy season. 

I learned about friendship 

And that, more than any other thing, will encourage me to go back there again – and maybe to more places.  It’s a big world out there. 

These are just a few of the things I learned. Here are a few more facts. 

The population of Uganda is young: nearly half the people in the country are under the age of fifteen. Education is a huge challenge. There are many schools but they are for the most part run privately. I spent a good deal of time at one, visited a couple more, and have been told of others that are in search of support. Some parents cannot afford to pay the necessary fees,  so student sponsorships are one way of helping. At the school I visited, Hannah Infant School, the children are there from 7 am until afternoon. It’s important that they get at least one good meal. I learned that to provide that meal for the 20 or so persons who were present during my visit cost me a whopping nine dollars a day. Not per person; that was the whole school. 

I’ll be accepting donations to be passed along for the current term, which started today. If you’ve read this far, you might want to click the link on support to take part. 

Come back often for more.  I’ll let you know when I start making plans for another adventure.  

Let’s Get Started 

Ok here’s my idea. I want to start a movement. 

Everything big has to start small, so here’s the first step. 

I hereby declare Friday, September 30, 2016 to be the first annual Kill No One On Purpose Today celebration. 

I pick that day because it happens to be my birthday. I’m asking all my friends to participate as your present to me. 

My personal pledge: to the best of my ability, I will make every effort not to cause another human being’s death on that day. 

To join this movement is easy. Make the same promise. 

If you work in law enforcement, make the promise. 

If you carry a weapon, make the promise. 

If you drive a vehicle, do so with care keeping in mind the promise. 

If you work in healthcare, take extra care of your patients that day. 

Governors can refrain from authorizing executions on that day. 

Get family members to sign up. Avoid domestic violence on that day. 

Put the word on the street. Peer pressure can be a positive tool. 

Governments can implement a unilateral ceasefire, for a day. 

Don’t have that abortion, that day. 

Hey, mr. Terrorist: go get some ice cream or something. (And by the way, what are you doing on my friends list?)

All I’m asking is for people to sign up, and make a personal pledge. Maybe someone won’t. Don’t be that person. 

And just maybe, if we really get a movement, there will be less violence in the world, for a day. 

And if we can do it for a day….

Verse of the Month — September 2016

Say It

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I  will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

Psalm 9:1

Learning Africa 

Now on my 21st day in Uganda, I’m preparing to return home at the end of this week. One of my friends here texted me last night to ask, how do I feel about leaving?  Honestly I’m not paying so much attention to how I will feel, but my guess is it will be a mixture. I’ll be looking forward to home and family and thinking of myriad tasks I’ll have to catch up on quickly; but the friends I have made here will be much on my mind. Thank God for modern technology, which shrinks the world and lets us stay close to those who are far. I’m very sure I will be thinking about how and when to make another trip over. 

Things I have seen, in roughly chronological order:

  • Lake Victoria, the second largest lake in the world, after Lake Superior. Saw it on the first day, and took a day at the beach earlier this week. Here’s a creature i saw strolling sedately down the beach:
  • Traffic in Kampala, a sprawling city of many hills, where exactly seven intersections have traffic lights (I counted sixteen lights, however, at one of those intersections where eight ways meet).  Discussion of this in detail could take up many pages. 
  • Travel in said traffic, by private car, taxi (not like ours), boda boda (described by some as “motorcycle taxi”), bus, and walking. 
  • The road to Jinja, which winds up and down steep hills, through towns and past villages, a forest, and fields of tea, sugar cane, pumpkin, maize (corn), potatoes, bananas and more 
  • Produce in abundance including all the above plus cassava, jackfruit, tomatoes, yams, beans, pineapple, watermelon, and more than I can list 
  • A bridge across the river Nile. Here I almost got in trouble for having my camera out, as it was quickly explained to me that photos of it are not allowed. 
  • The town of Jinja. Here there are no traffic lights and the street lamps are solar powered. 
  • Multitudes of schools, churches, shops, roadside markets. Description of these will call for their own space. 
  • An inexpensive hotel where only the hot water worked (sometimes) in the shower. Bathing became an exercise in creativity. 
  • Next day: the Source of the Nile. A story or two in itself. 
  • Third day, and nearly every day until I returned to Kampala: travel by taxi to a village school. More stories here. Hosted there by a marvelous family whose hospitality was extraordinary. More to tell here too. 
  • There they served me local food in abundance. I provided the funds for such ingredients as had to be bought at the local market and learned that for less than the price of one restaurant meal, I could feed 14 young schoolchildren, all the staff and their family members. 
  • On Sunday, up the hill from that school (which is already quite a climb from the main road) is a church where I was invited to preach on two consecutive Sundays. Working with an interpreter, I was well received. 
  • Took one day out to travel 34 km by boda boda for a visit to Itando Falls, where I drank from the water of the Nile (local lore claims it will bring long life…why not?) and then crossed the river (no kidding) In a leaky rowboat. Pictures and video to follow. 
  • After returning to Kampala, I have visited the national museum, the home of my other host to meet his family, the beach at lake Victoria, and St. Andrews church, a congregation of the Church of Uganda (episcopal) where I attended the 7 am service and was invited to bring a greeting. This is the English language service and it was choir day, so I heard three choirs and participated in congregational singing, which included songs in four languages: English, Luganda, Swahili, and Spanish. Later on Sunday I ate in a private home of one of the church leaders and attended an afternoon fellowship meeting at another home. 
  • Earlier in the week I also visited another school in a different village 
  • Took a drive to the top of a hill and visited the Baha’i Temple in Kampala, one of seven in the world. Again I have pictures, though none from inside the building as they are not allowed. 
  • Today I will see Namugogo martyrs, a shrine for the first Christians in Uganda. 

My driver and hosts are here. More later.