An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
Being here in Uganda inevitably gets me thinking about charity.
I've often entered into debates about the efficacy of government charity verses private non-profit organizations. I have, and do continue, to argue that an NGO is a far more efficacious and righteous arbiter of the use of charitable funds than the federal government, but in the end I usually find that people remain skeptical, believing that there are just some (many?) charitable needs that are so "big" that only the US Government can manage the job. Sure in some cases perhaps...for instance World Vision does not have at its disposal a Nimitz class Aircraft Carrier with a fleet of helicopters with exceptionally well trained pilots capable of delivering relief to remote villages that were overwhelmed by a tsunami, but I really think that these large scale and logistically complex needs are rare and that the vast majority of charitable needs can be readily, eaven more easily, handled through private endeavors. Except for one problem, and herein lies the crux of the matter and where I must concede the point that with regard to one task the government is far superior: the obtaining of money.
You see, World Vision cannot of its own will take money from your paycheck. Amnesty International cannot coerce your employer by force of law to pay massive amounts of dollars for the priviledge of hiring you. Indeed, the St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund cannot threaten you with jail time if you do not sponsor a child for every $100 you spend at Walmart OR Macy's. Heifer International cannot make you buy a flock of chickens for a village everytime you buy a bottle of Scotch at their sole monopoly of liquor stores in your state. Argos cannot, virtually on a whim, decide who makes enough money to contribute more and who can escape such forced donations.
So, yes, with threat of imprisonment - an authority that ultimately ends at the barrel of a rifle, the government is a very effective charity of the unwilling. I've met people who've felt blessed to give to any of the organizations who lack the legal ability to employ imprisonment or violence above, but I've yet to meet anyone who was overjoyed about their virtuous and noble fiscal deeds of April 16th.
In talking with people who are in some way traveling with me from the US to Africa, I frequently hear the same story that suggests how ignorant many of us are with regard to life in Africa, or more specifically here in Uganda. Many of us are asked questions that betray the impression that we will be living in straw huts with dirt floors. Now, not that this doesn't exist for it surely does and many live is such humble dwellings. But many Americans, it seems, really have have no idea how comfortably one can live here.
Now, that being said, frequent power outages, unfit for drinking tap water, awful roads, no traffic regulation, very poor medical facilities quickly remind one that they are not in America. None-the-less, people who've been to Africa know just how wrong the sterotypes can be of most Americans who create mental images of this beautiful place.
However, I really must point out that everyone sterotypes. The rich sterotype the poor and the poor readily return the favor. Similarly, Ugandans have a great litany of sterotypes for us Americans. Some of them I readily fit into, such as is realized whenever I step onto a scale. But many others I have enjoyed shattering to the point of the absolute disbelief of my conversant.
One of my favorites activities is to surprise Ugandans with the news that I live on a small farm and raise chickens, ducks, goats and nearly all of my own veggies. I have watched eyes widen with disbelief and many have come to me directly and doubfully seeking resolution to the impossible news they have heard about me. Yes, I don't spend my weekends traveling upon the resources of my vast accumulations of wealth, but rather may be found putting up fencing to eventually help feed my family. It's just not on their radar to expect one of these visiting Muzungas to be a farmer. (Even a part-part time one like me.)
So it gives me pause to consider that perhaps we have too much let Hollywood, Rock/RAP "Idols" or other overy visible sources be our ambassadors. Would we not do better to show how down-to-earth we can be? I've never made it a point to hide my personal ideal of the heroic American and so I'll happily admit that the likes of Wendell Berry would, in my opinion, be the best ambassador/representative we could ever hope to have. The yeoman farmer who clings to values such as hard work, personal responsibility, lofty ideals, and individual liberty - these are the things/people who have made us what we are....ahem...were(? I hope not, but do worry) Anyway, I have a sneaky suscpicion that farmers (agrarians) all over the world have a great deal in common, all living amidst and from the dirt of which we are said to be composed.
One of my colleagues was oddly asked by a Ugandan recently if he thought he could ever kill a chicken. I just smiled and waited for the question to be put to me, while Zac Brown's song "Sick 'em on chicken" played in my head. Despite the urban Kampalan life, it is implied that comparatively few have completely lost touch with the dirt...the rich red dirt of the "Pearl of Africa."
Susan and I left for the ferry at 9am Monday morning the 25th. Then a cab to SeaTac for my 1pm flight (Long lines were abundantly found - traffic, bag check-in, security check, loading - presumably because of the holiday. Flight was completely full). We arrived in Amsterdam at about 8 am Tuesday the 26th (local time), which would be Monday night at about 11pm Seattle time. A 2.5 hour layover and another long security line there. Shortly before the halfway mark of our flight, an announcement is made asking for a doctor. I dozed off for a few minutes and when I woke up I noticed that the plane path on the flight tracker indicated a giant U-Turn over heal of Italy's boot. We landed at Rome and disembarked our ill passenger (no idea what was wrong - probably ebola or worse yet: swine flu.) Refueled and then finally took off for the over 5 more hours of flying down the Entebbe.
Arrived at what looks to be their very nicely remodeled airport which included skyramps now! Ironically, only ONE per aircraft and so it took twice as long to deboard the plane as it would have had they used their old truck stairs, but I suppose it is more secure. As with many recent upgrades and remodels in Uganda, they were supposed to be done for CHOGM which took place in 2007 - I've no idea if there was a big uproar about everything being late, but at least they have a nifty looking little airport now. Anyway we arrived and were given a health check card to fill out - asking for flu symptoms. Masked nurses buzzed arund us with their traditional nurses outfits and hats (think 1960's America - or that old show "Emergency") The line was terribly long and it ocurred to me what a ridiculous waste of time this all was: did they really believe that anyone seriously interested in getting into Uganda would admit to having a bit of a sore throat under these circumstances? I suppose someone on the verge of collapse or bleeding from one than one orifice might have failed to escape detection. Then...at last...my healthiness duly noted, off to wait in a much shorter line for my VISA and then my luggage and it was by now closing in on midnight. It was about 1am (Wednesday the 27th) local time before I got to my room, which would be 3pm on Tuesday in Seattle, which makes for a grand total of 30 hours traveling. Whew.
It's been about 15 months since I was here last...and it is both good and bad to be here for all the obvious reasons.
Susan has been keeping the Farm Blog updated far more than I have said anything about our work or life on Paradosis. In fact, I've obviously not done much updating here at all - too much time tinkering with stupid Facebook...but not only that: I've been busy reading and studying my materials for the DVP, I'm preparing for another Uganda trip, I'm wrestling with back problems again, working on that darned book I'll seemingly never finish, and in general have just been busy...and if not that, then just plain lazy. Mostly the latter I guess.
The most notable events here at our little mini farm has largely surrounded the first of two expected kiddings. Butter gave us a little doe and a buck and you can read about that HERE. All went well. Just two days ago however Butter began to develop signs of hypocalcemia (which is how, we are fairly sure, we lost her mother last year) and so chaos reigned for a day or two while we played goat vet. But all is well now - turned out an accidental change of feed from Cenex might have caused all the fuss. Goats are sort of like Orthodoxy...they don't like change. Butter's older daughter is expected to kid in the next few weeks. All of this also means that we are back into milk and cheese!
In this post Susan has put up numerous pics of one of our recent summer-like days and you can see the planting she and the kids have been doing. (It also has the kids being born). Susan has been doing most of the gardening - as usual. She's expanded with a couple of new beds in the main garden and two more new beds in a region east of the house which used to be wasted grass. We've largely abandoned tomatoes as being a waste of time in this region and are focusing for maximum production. Once again, we NEED a good crop. Finances are tight and are only going to get tighter as it appears the transmission on the truck is on the fritz.
Kelsey is apparently going to raise a few ducks and they will coordinate with Susan's gardening buy reporting for slug removal duty...plus we'll sell their eggs. The chickens, speaking of eggs, have been working overtime and are giving us an average of 32 eggs a day now!
We are all happy to see the weather shifting beautifully into Spring/Summer. Once again we've had a wacky winter full of rain and this time much snow, and having so much to do outside, the mud grows terribly wearisome. But that's in the past. Apple trees are blooming...we even have a bloom on our baby Italian Plum (future source of brandy or at least wine I hope). The cedars have already rained down their smoke-like pollen EVERYWHERE and while torturous to some...it is a welcomed happening to me. All other trees are showing their plumage and I'm seeing green salmon berries forming, which could mean our berry season will be more reasonable this year. I'm intent on trying to make blackberry wine, darn it! This is the year!
Birds are amassed. Including swallows...which we've not seen much of in years past. They are welcomed guests...readily invited to devour as many skeeters as they can. Same with our faithful bats which the girls have seen, but I haven't yet. Grass is growing like crazy and we've been having Charissa harvest it with our St. Brigid Farm lawn combine for the chickens, who feed on it voraciously.
Anyway, much to do...I'm compiling a lengthy "to do" list for this summer. I have many unfinished projects and so I will post them here and note their completion as I manage it. Perhaps this will help keep me accountable.
So...off to Uganda on Monday for a couple weeks and then home for a couple of days and then off to New York to St. Vlads for the Liturgical Practicum and then finally home to stay. I hope to blog more while on these excursions. Prayers sought for traveling mercies.
FDR (soon to have his “D” removed) posted on facebook the video below of an episode from a BBC mini-series entitled “Extreme Pilgrim.” In the series an Anglican priest is exploring in person some of the more “extreme” examples of spiritual disciplines and this episode has him becoming a desert cave-dwelling hermit in the Orthodox (Coptic to be very specific) tradition for 3 weeks. In the course of the experience (before and after his 21 days alone), he has some fascinating conversations with an experienced hermit named Fr. Lazarus which leads me to describe the program as being like “Mountain of Silence” meeting Reality TV.
It is, alas, made for television and so they can only dig so deep with Fr. Lazarus – but it is certainly no less worth watching because of that. It left me with a great deal to think about.
One thought that struck me, particularly as Fr. Peter (the Anglican) was leaving the desert – and Fr. Lazarus (who says: “I have to stay here until the end”), involved the consideration of just how very many people over the centuries had given their lives to be completely spent in just such a barren wilderness. And I sometimes it’s hard to imagine, amidst my busy and worry-filled secular world, that people STILL do this today - it’s somewhat difficult for me to wrap my mind around, despite my knowledge and experience with the Orthodox Church. To some degree this little Reality show…well…it made it a bit more real for me.
I sometimes wonder how much worse would our world be if there were not such men and women amongst, even if separate from, us? Many a cynic or pragmatist would suggest that their time would be better spent serving the poor, but this betrays a lack of understanding of the service they ARE providing for us all. It’s a service and example to which we’d do well to pay attention. Even in many religious contexts this life makes no sense, and I would suggest such contexts are profoundly anemic.
It has Services, News, Interviews, Lectures, photo albums and who knows what else! I recommend using babelfish to help navigate...even though the translation is poor and sometimes requires abit of Orthodox know-how to work through even poorer translations of Church terminology (e.g. "Christ's temple resucuer" refers to Christ the Savior Cathedral), I found it at least rendered the site functional for me.
Simple go to Babelfish and put the URL in the "translate a webpage" section. Select "Russian to English" and then click "Translate."
I've found that in most cases, clicking links from then on will continue the translation service from Babelfish and even opening new tabs from links on the page in Firefox also does so as well.