October 2007

Check out our “Lover” video…


So I was sitting here, trying to think of what to write for our Issue of the Week. The problem, of course, isn’t that it’s hard to find an issue, it’s that how do you pick one issue out of hundreds of places around the world where people are suffering?

Today, thanks to Calvin Smothers, we’re looking at Nepal. Calvin’s been part of our community for awhile, and he was in Nepal last year during mass protests due to illegitimate elections. And he’s going back, hopefully in March or April, to work and serve there for the next three years.

Nepal’s history is complicated, so I’ll try to be brief. In 1990, Nepal become a constitutional monarchy — basically a form of government that keeps the monarchy around, but also allows for democratic elections. Unfortunately, the governments elected were weak, marked by in-fighting and corruption. So, in 1996, the communist party broke away from the government and began to use force to achieve their ends: they called themselves Maoist and terrorized rural areas. For ten years fighting between Maoists and the government wore on, again mainly in rural areas. As a result, over 50% of rural Nepal (and up to 80%, depending on estimates) fell into Maoist control.

In 2006, spurred on doubtlessly by Calvin’s liberating presence, the Nepali populace staged mass protests. The government of Nepal was notoriously corrupt, and had recently staged illegitimate elections. These protests led to an interim government being established, and brought the Maoists to the table to participate in the talks.

This past September, however, the Maoists suddenly quit the government, demanding an immediate end to the monarchy. This is problematic because elections were scheduled for this November (2007), and the newly-elected government would then decide what to do with the monarchy. The Maoists are circumventing the process (but what can you expect from a rebel group of terrorists?).

As of today, the elections are indefinitely postponed, the Maoists have left the negotiating table, and, to cap it all off, an ethnic group in the south of the country – the Madhesis – is protesting for greater representation in the peace process. Human rights abuses by both the government and Maoists mean that Nepal now has the largest number of disappearances in the world. In 2005, the U.N. set up a Human Rights office in Nepal to monitor abuses. It’s the second largest in the world. Additionally, about 85% of Nepal’s population (around 28 million) live on less than $2 a day. Less than a mocha at Starbucks.

So, what can you do? Three things. First, become more informed — and tell other people about it. Go to AlertNet and check out info on Nepal. Second, support Calvin! He’s going to Nepal as soon as he has enough support, and he will be bringing real change into lives there — showing people love and hope where they had none, acting as an agent of change. To support Calvin go here, and be sure to write For Calvin Smothers where appropriate. Third, pray for Nepal: for the people, for peace. Whatever you believe, pray to God or send out positive energy to a place that desperately needs help.

So, I’m going to try to start doing an “Issue of the Week.” I’ll try to highlight important issues around the globe, bring up discussion, that sort of thing.

For this first one, I’ll start with Uganda, since we’ve been focusing on that as a community. For those who don’t know, northern Uganda has been divided by civil war for the past 20 years; almost 1 million people have been displaced due to the fighting. The rebels (the LRA) have resorted to kidnapping children and pressing them into fighting for them. Hundreds have been killed, and children in northern Uganda now commute — every night — from their villages into bigger cities, where they can sleep safely.

Fortunately, a cease-fire has been granted in the area, allowing SOME IDP’s (that’s insider-lingo for Internally Displaced Persons – basically refugees who stay within their own country) to return to their homes. But, as in most civil wars, this one isn’t ending easily. Right now, the leaders of the LRA are hiding in the jungle in neighboring Congo (which, I assume, would have lots of good jungle hideouts) and won’t turn themselves in until the International Criminal Court (ICC) drops charges against them.

The ICC won’t drop the charges, which makes this an international conflict. It’s my opinion that the ICC should drop the charges and allow for non-Western forms of reconciliation and justice — similar to the forgiveness that black South Africans showed to leaders there when apartheid ended. But that’s not the case.

Basically, there are two things that you, sitting at your computer reading this, can do. First, either go to InvisibleChildren.com or WorldVision.org and get involved: watch videos and get informed at Invisible Children, or send a letter to your representative at World Vision. This stuff does far more than you think. Second, sitting here reading this, take some time to say a prayer for peace in the region. Whether you believe in a Creator God who listens to you or not, it certainly won’t hurt anything, and the simple act of prayer makes issues more important to our own hearts.

So, Brooke and I went to the grocery store yesterday. We usually shop together, you know, to make sure we get what we want. By now we have a bit of a system: we always start with produce and end with bread, I’m usually the one to get the meat and coffee, she picks out the vegetables. It’s a nice system, and we could crank it out really quickly, but we go together to actually be together, so it takes us a little longer.

Yesterday we had an unscheduled stop: laundry detergent.

Obviously laundry detergent is important, because we want to wear clean, fresh-smelling clothes, not dingy, stinky clothes. So we walk down the laundry detergent aisle, which has roughly 900 laundry detergents to choose from. Liquid. Powder. Bleach alternative. Color guard. Tide. Dreft. Gain. The aisle smells chemical-fresh, and it’s bright and inviting, each bottle saying, “Buy me, Buy me!” Brooke likes to buy environmentally-friendly products, so we looked for the plain white bottle of “Planet” detergent. After walking back and forth a couple of times we found it: one bottle of environmental detergent in the middle of 900 other options.

Price? Ten dollars.

I’ve been thinking lately about consumerism: how I am a consumer, whether I like it or not. And how, as a consumer, my decisions don’t really matter that much. You see, advertisements and commercials scream to me that I should have a television that shows every blade of grass on a field, or every facial hair on a detective (and though I don’t have an HDTV, the ones I’ve seen are super cool). Or I should have a faster car with a smoother transmission. Or a hundred other things. But really, thinking about a nicer TV or faster car…isn’t it kind of a waste of time? What if I took that time and thought about AIDS in Africa or poverty downtown, just minutes away from my house?

And that led me to think about how I can affect change. Today. In America. But, there’s all these causes out there and I don’t have time to get involved in 20 different causes. I just don’t. I’m busy already, even when I don’t think about HDTV’s.

Standing there with Brooke in the aisle of the grocery I realized this: my decisions do matter. My consumer decisions of whether to buy an HDTV matter, my decision of whether to buy environmentally friendly laundry detergent or not matters. On one hand, my dollars are my voice, in corporate America today, if I buy something I lend my support to that cause. And I want to support the environment. I’m just not as passionate as supporting great-quality television picture. It’s cool, but it really doesn’t stir my heart.

Standing in the aisle, I swallowed hard, and grabbed the $10 detergent. Sure, I could’ve bought the $3 bottle and it wouldn’t be that bad — I could’ve even sent the remaining $7 to Africa, or a homeless guy downtown (though, most likely, the extra money would’ve gone to Starbucks or a DVD rental). But for a moment, I was acting out what I believed, bringing my body in line with my soul. I was, though it was subtle, taking another step on my journey to becoming a whole, complete person, who acts and speaks from his heart.

It was worth the $10. My clothes smell great.

Beginning this coming Sunday, October 28, The Gathering will be meeting for worship at 9:30am instead of 11am. 

 We will continue to meet at 9:30am through the month of November. 

 See you then!