Thursday, January 03, 2008

Unrest in Kenya

If you've been watching the news over the past few days you've likely seen some coverage of the tensions in Kenya following the December 27th election in which the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, was re-elected by a small margin. Amidst accusations of corruption and election irregularities, pockets of the country have erupted into a kind of violence which is hauntingly reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Having been to Kenya twice in the last few years and with friends currently living there - several in Nairobi where much of the violence is centered - I've been paying careful attention to news reports.

As we watch the scenes from the safety and tranquility of our comfortable living rooms, it's hard for us to imagine how neighbors can turn on one another so brutally. Many of us may be tempted to conclude that such scenes could never happen here... that we simply are incapable of such brutality... that Canadians are far too reasonable and "nice" to be caught up in such atrocities.

Last week in our adult Sunday School class we talked for a few minutes about the situation in Pakistan following the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. Again, there was a surreal sense that those people are just not like us. And one of the more senior members of the class - a woman who years ago visited her son while he was living in Bangladesh - pointed out very matter of factly that "they have nothing". There were some quiet murmurings of concurrence but I really don't think we can understand what it's like to live - day in and day out - with the uncertainties of poverty. And then, when you add to the mix, tribal or other linguistic or ethnic differences - well - let's just say that it's a powerful mix that can be very easily ignited...

It's become fashionable these days for us to talk about our "tribe". It somehow has the effect of "connecting us" to those from places like Pakistan and Kenya. It's like saying - "yeah, we know about tribes. We're part of a tribe too...". And we are. But maybe our view lacks depth.

A little over a year ago I happened to be in Vancouver, British Columbia when there was a boil water order in effect. It was pretty inconvenient for people who are used to being able to turn on the tap to get perfectly potable water. Bottled water was hard to come by because the demand went up dramatically, literally over night. There were reports of scuffles breaking out at the local Costco over bottled water. It was pretty bizarre - people in Canada actually fighting over water! A colleague who lived in Africa for a time noted the irony and said something like "we wonder why Africans resort to violence and we're inconvenienced a little bit and we're up in arms!".

I live in a small fishing community and over the last 10 years or so, we've had some "migrant workers" from another province arrive to work at one of the fish plants. At first the newcomers were welcomed. When summer came, however, and the newcomers had all the low-end jobs tied up and it was hard for local students to find work, the atmosphere changed pretty quickly. Yeah - we have our tribes all right, but we really don't know how strongly we're attached to them until push comes to shove - until there isn't enough to go around. Scarcity does strange things to people.

So let's not think too critically of our global neighbors in Pakistan or Kenya - some people may be behaving badly - even brutally - but let's not think our "tribe" is any more virtuous than any other, at least not until we have faced the same kinds of scarcities and insecurities.


Gavin and Ferne Mccombie said...

thanks Lois.
Our problem is that we don't even recognize that the things we get angry at in our culture are trivial - road rage, inconvenience of power outages, our favorite sports teams loosing etc.- compared to what's going on in other parts of the world And so our comments about how 'those other people' are compared to our 'more civilized way' are no better than the words of the Pharisee who prays 'thank God I am not like that sinner'.
I'm working on a workshop that I am doing with some youth. wanted to use a nooma and was going to use 'Today', but after reading and reflecting on this blog, what you are talking about ties in with Rob Bell’s 'Store' - the difference between our anger over the trivial- and God's righteous anger and activity - because of injustice - that always brings about healing and restoration.
Here’s a quote from Rob Bell:
"…what does Jesus do with his anger? The Scripture says that he looks around at the religious leaders and then he says to the man with the injured hand, 'Stretch out your hand.'
And the man stretches out his hand and Jesus heals him. Jesus' anger leads to an act of healing and restoration.
His anger, it increases the peace of the world. It leads to this good deed that makes things better." [pp.017 'Store]
I don't know how we make a difference in what's going on in Kenya, but maybe we can begin by not being so quick to judge 'those people' and more willing to let go of the trivial things of our life so that we can spend our energies on the real things of life.
"We need to embrace the simple truth that we were made to give ourselves to a cause bigger than ourselves...
a cause that increases the peace i the world...a cause, a purpose, a task that makes the world a better place." [pp 023]
hope to connect with you throughout 2008! let me know what works for you re. speaking to our youth here at FHBC [probably Feb. as they are going into exams in the next couple of weeks].

four_kennys said...

Hi Lois!

We always enjoy reading your thoughts and reflections.

I think that most of Kenya has felt shocked over how such terrible acts of violence and hatred could be committed by their neighbours. And yet, we have friends that slip into the very rhetoric of mistrust and vengence that they abhor. There is something about laying blame and pointing a finger that feels empowering: Anger can be drug. I think that you are right in that given the circumstance we are all just as likely to react out of fear and anger. It is easy to become caught up swell of it.

This is part of what makes the way of Christ so incredible! That He could take the power of anger and turn it into healing. And that in Him we have the capacity to use the passions stirring within us for good rather than for destruction.

For me, the real challenge comes when I am confronted by my lack of anger. It is so easy to "check out" when confronted by injustice and suffering. Look away, Change the channel, or just cross to the other side of the street.

I guess this is part of what makes following Jesus an uncomfortable way.