Thursday, December 07, 2006

Everything is Broken

Things break down.

In fact, a lot of things have broken down lately in my world. Two days ago, I broke down on the side of the road in our Nissan Patrol. Two months ago, my laptop crashed and appears to be irredeemable -- I’m typing this on Leah’s computer. Even yesterday, when I sat down to write this particular blog entry, the electricity went out (for the third time that day!) …

That’s life, and these are the sorts of things that can happen anywhere. But it certainly can be frustrating when things break down in a place like Cameroon, because the very thing that developing countries lack is a solid infrastructure, government controls, and service industry that can ease the pain of breakage.

Getting things repaired is difficult, laborious, and even a little expensive. Replacing them is even more complicated.

For example, I will simply have to wait for someone to bring me a new laptop from home (probably Ginger when she returns from Christmas break), because I can’t buy what I need here. There are laptops for sale in Cameroon, of course, but they have a French keyboard – the a’s and m’s and q’s are in odd places …

The last two days, we’ve also had ongoing repairs being done at the house – new locks on some doors, new mosquito net hung over our bed, bulbs replaced and bugs exterminated.

Not to mention some of the personnel crises I am managing in the Mission. Yes, even a pastor or two might just be … broken.

But that’s the shape of this bent world. Things get warped and broken. And it usually raises my anxiety level.

However, I have recently been reading the Sermon on the Mount. I’m currently stuck toward the end of chapter six, where Jesus says, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ (Or even, ‘What shall I use to blog?’) For the pagans run after all those things, and your heavenly father knows you need them.”

Jesus doesn’t say that these broken things aren’t important; indeed, God knows that they are necessary and vital. We’re just not supposed to act like pagans and “run after” them. I interpret “running after all those things” to mean that we must not elevate the importance of, or ascribe too much authority or prestige to, the stuff of life.

Because eventually it all breaks down. Even our bodies and minds.

Jesus goes on to say, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

To put that statement in more modern terms, I think Jesus is urging us to “live in the moment.” Be present fully right now. Use all the resources at your disposal – emotional, intellectual, spiritual – for today’s pressing issues. Don’t let the best of who you are today be consumed in needless anxiety for tomorrow.

I am learning to do this here in Cameroon. While sitting on the side of the road, waiting for a ramshackle tow-truck to get my car, I decided not to get agitated about what I could/should/ought to be doing instead. I accepted the situation as a God-given moment to be exactly who God wanted me to be for that time and space.

It’s hard to do, believe me. I really wanted to yell at someone. But I don’t know enough French exclamations. I decided to sit and pray, and smile at passersby.

Evelyn Underhill put it best: “We mostly spend these lives conjugating three verbs: to want, to have, and to do. Craving, clutching and fussing … we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs has any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by, and included in, the fundamental verb, to be: and that being, not wanting, having, and doing, is the essence of a spiritual life.”

So Advent 2006 begins with the very thing I should have learned a long time ago … how to "be."