The Danger of Cynicism
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 4:24 AM [+]
The homesick counter reads about 6 days, but this is the time until I am scheduled to touch down onto US soil once again...my time in Africa is shorter by nearly a day...I leave here late Friday evening which would be Friday morning for those of you on the west coast of the USA.
As my time here winds down, I find I am already entering into one of those reflective sort of moods. I've not really done much of anything while here besides work and church, again...tighter controls on the finances of this trip (funding by Hutch now as opposed to UW) has forced me to be stringent with spending and since money is always personally tight(hopefully a democrat will fix this for me...jab jab) I generally restricted myself from much sight-seeing. I don't mind too much though...I find that interacting with Ugandans to be far more interesting than say seeing an elephant or chimp. One can see and learn all you want about critters like that on TV, but to interact with people is something that not even the internet can duplicate yet. Naturally if you have the time and money, do both. I perhaps had the former, but certainly not the latter.
As I have noted in several other posts the invisible wall between the "impossibly" wealthy (that's us) and the "desperately" poor (them) is difficult to negotiate and then when it is breached...or when you think it is...you also must wrestle with cultural and language barriers which only serve to complex the whole affair. It can be hard. I've seen what reminds me of...and I shudder to say it...Master/Servant relationships develop here between Muzungus and Ugandans. At times one can almost imagine the colonial era hasn't really ended...I'm not sure I am describing it well...as you walk around it's almost like everyone you meet is a potential "employee" of yours for exceptionally little money by your standards. They know it and you know it. They seek it, and you, unless necessary, avoid it. It is an odd experience and I am not sure I can fully explain it. It is perhaps the "natural" relationship that develops based not on power (as in traditional Master/servant relationships) but based on money.
And of course you are often sought out for money with outright begging. You will hear terrible stories. It grows wearisome quickly, and for those who stay here long term I am sure it is even more difficult. You'd like to help...but naturally you aren't wealthy enough to help them all. Plus it can very painful to build what you thought was a genuine relationship, only to find the friend had monetary goals in mind...so were they your friend? I don't know. For my par it's a little to easy to judge them from our comfortable positions in life, I rather expect they might judge us for our laziness, were they to see it in its full blown American glory?
Need. I've no real idea what the word means...most of us don't. Experiencing real need is so hard I am sure...and I've no wish to downplay the ill effect it can have when it drives people to see in others the obvious truth: we could help fulfill their need. It is a sin, I know...but not all unlike mine, is it? Do not my sins complex or even poison my relationships, even if not so overtly? Or maybe it is overt sometimes.
Seeing the ravages of poverty here and experiencing - even in the Church - that difficult barrier between the "have lots" and the "have lots less" I can see where the easiest course of action, the road much traveled, is to let calluses form all around your heart. To grow cynical for all the corruption here and all the begging and using that can go on. Cynicism is easy, for there is so much in the world to by cynical toward. It's a cop-out, an easy way to avoid the issue by essentially declaring the issue isn't worth addressing or engaging. But we are talking about people here. We as Christians have never been called to take the easy road or the popular road...particularly with regard to people.
We must strive to see beyond the sin and see instead the suffering person. To try and understand and to try to engage that person, despite what context may exist. Not easy sometimes...but I think when we do, we can find that therein is real treasure...real love and real potential for community. It takes two of course, but we are responsible for ourselves, no?
Now...looking homeward: what application do these considerations have at home?