Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Reflections on "Power" - March, 2008

As Kristen and I adjust to our new surroundings here in South Africa, I have enjoyed the privilege of participating in a weekly post-graduate level discussion group held at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Religion and Theology. The gathering is a wonderful mixture, for out of ten participants (six men and four women), six countries are represented: Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and of course, myself – the lone United States citizen. The group examines Theology and Development under the theme “People, Power, and Faith”, and as a newcomer to the African continent, I find the topic – and the collection of diverse perspectives – to be invaluable toward gaining increased awareness and understanding of my new environment.

One of the group’s ongoing topics is the issue of “power”, and specifically, how people of faith can better understand the impact of power in the world. Together we question and consider: What is power? What does it mean to have power? Who and/or what has power in our world? How have powerful people and/or organizations used power to influence others in our world? Every Wednesday morning when the group meets and ponders these challenging questions, I come away with many new ideas to contemplate, and I am left deeply humbled in being reminded of the great deal I have to learn.

When thinking of power, my new friends from the discussion group make a point of reminding me of the United States’ enormous level of power. They explain to me that, regardless of our nation’s fluctuating popularity and recent economic downwards trends, it is still a “superpower” capable of influencing the lives of billions of people in every corner of the globe. And while everyday Americans might forget the level of global influence we hold (because we are so busy with the hustle, bustle, and daily concerns of our own lives), I believe that when one has an opportunity to travel and see firsthand how decisions made in Washington, D.C. have a direct impact upon life in Africa and beyond, it becomes abundantly clear just how much power the United States holds.

And so, as I sit here as an American citizen living and serving in Africa, as I think about all I have seen and heard these past weeks, as I reflect upon the many undeserved privileges I have received throughout my young life, and as I consider the intense struggles of my new friends’ families and loved ones in Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and other nations of Africa, I wonder if we Americans (…including myself) have used our vast collective power wisely. I wonder if we have used our vast resources and privileges exclusively for our own sake, or if we have used them for the greater good of others around the world. And most of all, as I think about how things can be made better, I wonder if the best way to help Africa is not by trying to “fix” Africa, but rather, to start by taking a good hard look at ourselves.

I honestly do not know how to answer these challenging questions, and I wonder if I ever will (…I will keep this posting on file, because I will most likely be asking these same questions for years to come), but nonetheless, I believe it is good to keep asking them. I have been thinking about these questions often during these first weeks here, and I hope that you will ask some of them yourself, perhaps talk about them with people close to you, and if you like, share your thoughts with me, just as I have shared mine with you.

As always, I thank you for the ongoing love and support over the past weeks and months (…and for many of you…the past years!). Kristen and I have found this transition from Guyana to South Africa to be challenging, yet totally exciting and fulfilling. We have met numerous wonderful people, experienced new sights and sounds (…too many to list), and we feel incredibly blessed to be in such an amazing area. As always, we look forward to being in touch, and if possible, we look forward to visitors!

God’s blessings to you all…

With peace and love,