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Sunday, August 06, 2017

One Tribe?

Elections in Kenya: two days away.  We wove through cheering crowds and blaring buses yesterday as the campaigns reached their finale.  After the murder of the man in charge of IT for the IEBC (the independent electoral commission), fear and doubt have gripped more hearts.  The day after the news broke, we spent the evening at a neighbor's from church, praying for the country, for the leaders, for the people.  The trainees have mostly departed from our hospital, claiming fears for their safety since Naivasha has been volatile in the past, or a need to be in the town where they registered to vote before being assigned here. The county health department insists that we should provide full services in spite of a nursing strike and a dwindling workforce, and we spent too many hours in the last week trying to be voices of planning while knowing that people were just going to leave anyway.  Our teams at mission hospitals have tried to absorb more of the patient load, though many can't afford even those reasonable rates.  Every evening helicopters buzz overhead as the highest politicians whizz back to their Nairobi estates after campaigning.  Every day small trucks, buses, vans covered with posters and blaring loudspeakers from the roof cruise the roads, extolling the virtues of their party.  Every space that can be covered is plastered with posters.  Every billboard carries another face, another slogan.

It feels like the long inhale, when we all look around and wait to see what will happen.

And most people we talk to here assume that what always happens will happen:  people will vote along tribal lines for their candidate, and alliances between the largest groups will hold, and are so close to equal, that the outcome depends on which alliance achieves a hair's breadth greater voter turnout.

Ideas, policies, economy, constitution, devolution, corruption, strikes, reforming health care . . . all of these important things have very little impact on the election.  In this place, you vote for the person who will protect you from being sidelined and marginalized, who will ensure the flow of privilege to the people most like you.  

Which, if one thinks about it, seems to pretty well characterize the last American election as well, and perhaps is a deep human truth.  We live in a limited-resources fear that we have to band together to help our kind, and our suspicion and fear grows in proportion to the differences we perceive.

So this morning's passage in church "happened" to be John 17, Jesus' prayer for his inner circle of followers and those that would ripple out from the resurrection.  Jesus knew that the coming hours would mean a seismic shift in reality that would affect every tribe and tongue.  And in that moment, the theme of his prayer:  that they may be ONE.  This week as well, I'm finishing a commentary on Romans, and the latter section of that book grapples with the impending divide between the nucleus of Jewish Jesus-followers that expands to embrace a variety of gentile cultures.  How can the community hold together when cultures collide?  We missionaries stare into cultural chasms all the time.  A few are between us and our hosts, sometimes over subtleties (how do I weigh teaching personal responsibility as a clinician to trainees without invoking public shame), sometimes over lines-in-the-sand matters of justice (female circumcision as a cultural rite versus a way to disempower and control the sexuality of girls).  BUT MOST ARE BETWEEN US AND OUR FELLOW MISSIONARIES--matters of emphasis, personality, preference.  This group judges that group for not living simply enough, that group judges another for valuing lives-saved medical metrics over friendships-formed social metrics.

So, for the struggling church, for uneasy Kenya, for racially-unjust America, these are core questions that we ignore to our peril.  Are we one tribe?

Here are a few pre-election thoughts that I know I need to reflect upon, and ask God to teach me.

1.  Diversity is beautiful.  Kenya's 48 million people belong to at least 43 distinct groups, each with nuances of livelihood, building styles, marriage traditions, names, jewelry, dress, color, dance, music, arts, etc.  This diversity in unity reflects the Trinity, a God who is both one and yet so uncontainable that the world's billions each reflect in their own unique way.  In the church, or on a team, or in the body, we need unique gifts and roles to bless each other.

2.  Unity is essential.  Jesus prayed for it.  Communities and countries and our world depend upon it.  We must collaborate to care for each other.  To grow and distribute food, to build houses, to educate our children, to protect our families from thieves and our countries from dictators.  Kenya's resources of people, ingenuity, land, sky, wildlife, minerals, and on and on require collective cooperation to manage in ways that bless all.  The church also needs to lean into each other with our gifts, to be strong enough to make the blessings flow out to the world.

3.  It's not a choice of my tribe or yours, an either/or limit . . . it's a truth of both/and.  This is the paradox of our existence.  Terminal uniqueness means I can't relate to anyone, I always have to differentiate myself.  Yet assimilation also brings loss.  In our best moments as humans we celebrate the brilliant gifts and colorful surprises we find in others, and we embrace those others as part of our larger community.

Please pray for Kenya over the next week.  Pray the polls on Tuesday will be managed with transparency and safety.  That the votes will be counted truly.  That the people will have confidence in the process.  That the inevitable losers will accept the result, that the inevitable winners will look beyond themselves and work for the good of all.  That this country, and our country, and the church, and humans in general will take the words of God seriously about valuing difference and working in unison.  That we may be one.

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