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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Occasional Thoughts (1): spiritual arbirtrariness

A few weeks back we entitled a post "arbitrariness and stress", about the experience of crossing borders and being stopped by police where the rules are unwritten and unclear, the response variable, the potential for disaster ever-present.  Once again this week Scott had to spend three hours in unmoving traffic crawling through Kampala in order to take Melen and her three youngest children to a medical conference where Dr. Jonah's memory was being honored.  Due to situations beyond his control, he reached Kampala at dusk, and due to our friendship with Melen, he had to persevere into the heart of the tangle of the city.  And due to our truck's ever-tricky electrical system, the lights were once again on the blink, brights only and then only if held manually in the flash position on the steering column.  So with three small tired children, in the dark, on Kampala's uneven potholed narrow unlit over-used streets, he had to endure hours of  creeping forward while holding on the brights, while every other driver yelled and cursed his bright lights, and any random policeman could have extended the three-hour torture to an all-night police-station escapade.  It was rather frazzling.

I picked up a slim book that is proving to be a treasure:  Foundations of African Traditional Religion and Worldview by Yusufu Turaki.  And I realized this morning, that those hours of traffic torture are a window into the every-day every-hour experience of many Africans.  Because besides benevolent and evil spirits, they also perceive a that all of creation is "infused with . . impersonal power" which can be used "for both good and evil.  The existence of wicked human beings and wicked spirit beings, who also have access to mysterious powers, makes life full of uncertainties--rife with unpredictable wickedness and and evil and dangerous to human beings.  Thus traditional Africans who  believe in the impersonal powers feel they are at the mercy of benevolent or wicked users of these powers."

So I suppose it is a good thing for us to enter into the experience of unpredictable malevolence.  We are so used to a world that contains some order, some limits, some laws, some assurances and protections, that it is not until we are in the dark of night in a city of dangers that we can glimpse the world view of our neighbors.

And it makes the good news that much better, that the Creator is not only benevolent (willing good towards us) but also imminent, involved, and interested enough to take part in this world "densely populated" with spiritual beings and forces.

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