Monday, April 23, 2012

Rx Ubuntu

“So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason...”  Movie quote by Hugo Cabret in the 2011 movie Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  
Romans 12: 3-5 (NIV)

There are ideas that you learn about and ones that you experience.  If experience is first, we then try and attach a word or concept to that experience.  Looking back at our experiences in Kenya, we felt a deep connectedness to the Tenwek community that is hard to name.   When in South Africa visiting the townships, we were introduced to the African concept of “Ubuntu” that has deep roots in that culture.   
Shortly after returning, I read the Diana Butler Bass book, Religion after Christianity and again there it was, “Ubuntu” as articulated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  Could I put our recent experiences into this big idea of “Ubuntu”?  I needed a new voice, a cross-cultural voice, one that knew and lived in both cultures.   Enter Rev. Dr. Michael Battle!     
What I learned is that “Ubuntu”  is an important Christian idea that generally has been missed in our Western culture and Christian theology.   How did we miss it?   Even when apartheid was being removed by the church that supported it,  what did we understand was the theology to replace it?   I missed it!   Well, probably what really happened is that even though I heard the concepts in the message of Desmond Tutu on January 19, 1986 in Duke Chapel, I had not experienced and named it!
So for slow learners, we need new examples.  What maybe is happening is that we are now understanding the concept in other ways... in movies like Hugo, with its message of interdependency and the critical importance of purpose (telos) in our lives.  Now, I hear the message of “Ubuntu” in the wonderful songs and rhythms of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the ballads of Paul Simon.  Now we have a name for these experiences!   Thanks be to God as he continues to work in our hearts and minds.   
N’Kosi Sikelel’ lafrica (God Bless Africa),
Bass, Diana Butler   Christianity after Religion:  The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, HarperOne, 2012
Battle, Michael Ubuntu: I in You and You in Me Seabury Books, New York, 2009

Saturday, April 14, 2012

God, Trials and Fears

Conquering Fear on Table Mountain - Capetown, SA

But Daniel appealed to a steward who had been assigned by the head of the palace staff to be in charge of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: "Try us out for ten days on a simple diet of vegetables and water. Then compare us with the young men who eat from the royal menu. Make your decision on the basis of what you see." 
Daniel 1:11-13 (The Message)
Certainly people have been putting God on trial for a long time and Daniel’s account is one of my favorites partially because it is also the first reported clinical trial.   What seems critical to me is that it wasn’t just a clinical trial, it was a clinical trial that pointed not just to the results but pointed to God and Daniel’s faith.
 The “us” in the Daniel story are two social economic classes.   Will the “rich” win or are there other dimensions that are more important?   In a technical and complicated world our trials point more to confusion and chaos rather than the God of life that sustains us.
A contemporary version of the Daniel story is the relevance of the church and reality of 
faith in our lives...what we believe, how we behave and where we belong?*   The problem with the question is that it is more about “we” than about God.   The better questions are “What is God calling us to do as individuals and his Church?”.  What is grieving God that needs to be healed? 
For me, it is our deep-seated “fears” that somehow have escaped the faith that we have professed.   It has been “anesthetized” by our drugs  and diverted with a futile faith in technology, but it remains!   We are healed of these “fears” when we tell our faith stories and hear/learn from the ancient stories.   The good news is the church is still the location where we hear and tell God stories.**  These are stories of God’s healing work in the world.  This is the prescription for our “fears” and manna for our lives.
Some recent references:
*Diana Butler Bass - 
Huffington Post - 4/8/12  - A Resurrected Christianity?
                     Book:  Christianity after Religion:  The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening(2012)
**See Fuller Seminary Service with Father Greg Boyle, S.J. -
See Post: February 1, 2012 - Techniques and Transformation

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Recognizing Healing

Surgical Procedure Board - Tenwek, Kenya

It was a day like many others at Tenwek Hospital(2/2012) when during rounds it was announced that two term pregnant patients arrived with seizures.  Both patients were diagnosed with eclampsia, both delivered.  The first patient’s baby was an early neonatal death, the other patient’s (JR) baby was small but survived.   The first mother improved quickly, but JR had evidence of renal failure, liver changes and the most obvious was her altered level of consciousness and subsequent hallucinations.   These symptoms required treatment with anti-psychotic medication.   Two weeks after presentation, JR suddenly became engaged with her baby, smiled and interacted appropriately with her family and providers.  Her renal failure and liver failure resolved. She remained in the hospital to continue to care for her baby.  

The reasons for resolution of this life threatening complication of pregnancy are only partially explained by her care.  What is most amazing is the long list of possible etiologies and mechanisms of injuries.  The patient and her family believe that she was healed.   Physicians and nurses use longer explanations about mechanisms and the sources of the dramatic change.   

These cases are a source of encouragement for those who work in very difficult settings with limited resources.   I believe that this case is a wonderful lesson in ”Let the living, teach the living” and another example of the “mystery of healing”!
See previous blogs:
The Awe of Healing - January 15, 2012 
A Right Mind - September 5, 2011
The Mystery of Healing - April 17, 2011
Thackeray EM.  Tielborg MC. Posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome in a patient with severe preeclampsia. Anesthesia & Analgesia.  105(1):184-6, 2007 Jul.
Belogolovkin V.  Levine SR.  Fields MC.  Stone JL. Postpartum eclampsia complicated by reversible cerebral herniation. Obstetrics & Gynecology.  107(2 Pt 2):442-5, 2006 Feb.