Archive for August, 2010

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…

August 29th, 2010 1 comment

…or I could title this post “Don’t be a prick.”

I have been doing some reminiscing lately.  Last weekend was my 10 year high school reunion and I also visited with some old friends from college at a wedding.  In both cases it was great to think back to the way things used to be.

I thoroughly enjoyed my high school years.  Beth and I started dating, I had lots of good friends, an appropriate amount of freedom, and was involved in things I really enjoyed (racing mountain bikes, playing soccer and roller hockey, etc.). 

It is easy to look back and recount all the good times.  At the same time, I have to remember that high school was not an easy world to live in if you were on the fringe.  I have several friends who look to their reunion with disdain.  One person even said to me, “why would I want to go back 10 years later – I didn’t like those people a decade ago, why would like to be around them now?”

It really hit home for me when one gentleman from my high school class said to me, “I am surprised more people don’t still think of you as a prick.”  That statement didn’t offend me because I knew he was right.  While my life was pretty great, I am sure I made high school hell for others (especially as a Sophomore and Junior).

A lot can change in a decade.  There are few things that I look back at from high school and can say I still significantly proud of (sure they were “The glory days”, but how much of it really matters?).  On the other hand, I still have several regrets – especially when I think of the way I treated people.  I know that in an attempt to make high school “the best of times” for me, I made it “the worst of times” for others.

Some people say if they had it all to do again they would do it all the same.  Well… that isn’t me… I would change things.  If I could tell High School Ben Kickert any piece of advice it would simply be “Don’t be a prick!”

Categories: Thoughts Tags: , , ,

10 Things to do before Swaziland

August 23rd, 2010 5 comments

With our move to Swaziland probably only 10 months away, Beth and I have been talking through how we should spend our remaining time stateside.  Here is a list of 10 things I want to accomplish before we leave.  If you can help me out with any of them, please give me a shout.

  1. Learn to weld – Let’s start with an easy one.  I wouldn’t consider myself a handy man, but I am willing to try and figure stuff out.  This is one skill I don’t have and would love to pick up just in case the need ever presents itself.
  2. Improve my siSwati – I learned more siSwati in the 10 days we were in the country than I did in the months before trying to teach myself.  That being said, I have yet to cross beyond the typical greetings and pleasantries.  I would love to be able to have a basic conversation before arriving in the country nest summer.
  3. Take a course on AIDS – Swaziland is a beautiful country, but it holds several dubious titles.  It has the highest AIDS rate at nearly 40%!  It also has the highest death rate and fastest declining life expectancy.  Every issue in Swaziland is impacted by the AIDS epidemic (from employment to poverty to orphan care).  I want to take the time to familiarize myself with the disease, its treatment, and its impact on society.
  4. Brush up on my Southern African history – Swaziland has a rich history.  It was largely able to avoid the strife caused by colonialism that negatively affected so much of Southern Africa.  However, much of the current climate in the area is still impacted by this chapter of history.  I want to know more about the Boers and English and tribal conflicts that shaped the area.
  5. Learn to drive a split shift – Another seemingly random skill set I would like to acquire.  I have no desire to drive a large truck, but I want to be able to do it if the need ever arises. 
  6. Become competent in PHP development – Several months ago, a good friend of mine and I began (re)teaching ourselves HTML and CSS.  I know just enough to get myself into trouble.  I would like to build on this skill set by adding PHP development so I can design websites and databases for the organizations I will work with and also as a possible secondary income stream.
  7. Sell / Give away / Downsize our stuff – We have been in this process for several years now, but still have so far to go.  I still have books to get rid of, a house to sell and plenty of household items to deal with. Most of our stuff is not going with us nor will it be saved.
  8. Visit with friends and family – This past weekend I had my 10 year reunion and also visited with college friends at a wedding.  It reminded me how many people I want to see before we leave.  If you are in the area, please take the time to give me a ring and I will treat you to a meal or coffee.
  9. Travel – This is obviously related to the prior.  I foresee many mini-road trips in the near future to visit people, but also I want to explore our own country a bit more before we leave.  I have been fortunate enough travel through most of the country, but Beth has not.  I want to be intentional about visiting places, especially in the American West.
  10.   Have a game plan for the next 10 years – This move to Swaziland has been over two years in the planning.  Beth and I have slowly, but deliberately made decisions about our future and have been willing to change them as needed.  Now that things are beginning to solidify, we need to be thinking about where we want to be in the next decade or longer.  This means working through things like expanding our family, saving for college, setting long term goals, etc.  I don’t expect to have it all figured out, but I want us to be intentional about the direction we are moving. (That is actually the key idea behind the title of my blog.)

Kierkegaard on the Gospel and Power

August 12th, 2010 No comments

After posting a few quick thoughts on power and the nature of the Christian gospel, I found this quote from Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish Theologian.  [Emphasis mine]

When preaching the gospel became a livelihood, even a lush livelihood, then the gospel became good news for the rich and for the mighty. For how else was the preacher to acquire and secure rank and dignity unless Christianity secured the best for all? Christianity thus ceased to be glad tidings for those who suffer, a message of hope that transfigures suffering into joy, but a guarantee for the enjoyment of life intensified and secured by the hope of eternity.

The gospel no longer benefits the poor essentially. In fact Christianity has now even become a downright injustice to those who suffer (although we are not always conscious of this and certainly unwilling to admit it.) Today the gospel is preached to the rich, the powerful, who have discovered it to be advantageous. We are right back again to the very state original Christianity wanted to oppose! The rich and powerful not only get to keep everything, but their success becomes the mark of their piety, the sign of their relationship to God. And this prompts the old atrocity again – namely, the idea that the unfortunate, the poor are to blame for their condition; that it is because they are poor, whereas the rich have not only pleasure but piety as well. This is supposed to be Christianity. Compare it with the New Testament, and you will see that it is as far from that as possible.

Even though this was written over 150 years ago, it rings all the more true today.  The message of the gospel is hope for the weak, not comfort for the privileged; it is restoration of the broken, not security for the empowered.

The church who panders to the powerful and caters to the upper class is nothing but a whore: trading the sanctity of the Good News of the Kingdom of God for a false sense of affirmation and well-being.

Categories: Faith, Thoughts Tags: , , ,

A quick thought on Power

August 11th, 2010 2 comments

Throughout Scripture there are some dominate themes regarding power:

  • God holds power but entrusts it to humanity.
  • Dominate (oppressive) power structures are always subverted.
  • The coming of the Kingdom of God results in the weak gaining power and prestige.
  • Power comes in weakness and sacrifice, not through dominance.

The examples of this are endless:

  • Jacob was the weaker, younger brother but fathered the 12 tribes of Israel.
  • King David was the runt of the bunch but became the most powerful King.
  • Gideon was chosen as a warrior leader because he was the least of those available; furthermore his army was culled to exclude the strongest.
  • Jesus was not a conquering King, but lived a submissive, sacrificial life.
  • The disciples were not leaders or scholars, they were regular guys entrusted with the future of the church.

The list goes on…

Despite this clear trajectory of power (re)distribution in the Kingdom, we still live in a day and time where the rich and the educated and the privileged lead the way.

What pains me the most is when scripture is used to justify and embolden the (oppressive) power structures – especially when it happens in the church.

When will we learn?  It is time for educated, rich, white, western males to step down and learn from those on the fringe.  I am convinced the gospel and Christianity can only truly makes sense when it includes and is led by those society has overlooked and disenfranchised.

My friend Terry posted a quick blog entry the other day on similar issues.  You can read it here.

Thinking about the kids

August 3rd, 2010 2 comments

We have been back from Swaziland Africa for about a week.  It feels like we are living between worlds as we look to transition from a comfortable life in the States to the unexpected.  After two weeks on the ground researching options, Beth and I are absolutely confident we will be making the move in the next year (but we are still working out the specifics).

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It is great to be back in Bowling Green and even better to be able to hold my daughter again.  That being said, every time I snuggle with her I am hit with a wave of emotion.  We are so lucky to have such a beautiful, well-behaved daughter; but at the same time, she is very lucky to have us.  I don’t say that because I think we are exceptional parents, but because in our time our Swaziland we met so many kids who aren’t as fortunate.

In Swaziland, a country of about a million people, there are an estimated 100,000 orphans and over 15,000 child-headed homes.  My mind cannot even comprehend that.  Most of them lost their parents due to HIV/AIDS, a disease that currently infects up to 40% of the population.  40% – again, my mind can’t even comprehend that and we even saw it with our own eyes.

An entire generation has been laid to waste by a horrible disease; the current life expectancy lies around 30 years of age and the was just recognized as having the highest death rate in the world.  For the most part grandparents (gogos) have stepped up to provide the care, but now many of those are dying of old age.  Thinking about what the next decade will look like for the country is like looking into a blackhole (UN estimates the Swazis could be wiped out as a people group by 2050 if things don’t change).

The point of this blog is not to just give grim statistics, but to share a bit about what I am feeling (and if you know me, I am not a very emotional person and rarely share things like this).

Knowing the situation has made me realize my love for Mikayla all the more.  Last night, before she went to bed, Beth and I gave her a group hug and she beamed up at us.  It was so cute but it made me ache for those who will never experience the safe embrace of two parents.  Every time she lays her head on my shoulder I have to fight back tears over those who cannot rest peacefully.  Today she got her shots and I was overwhelmed with emotion at thinking how fortunate she was to not only have access to medical care, but also to have someone to comfort her when she hurt.

When Mikayla was first born, I felt many of these same things but as time has gone on, those feelings have faded – until now.  What is worst is that I have no idea what to do.  I don’t know what the answer is.  In moving to Swaziland we can help some, but in the face of the current situation there, I still realize it is just a drop in the bucket.

Even though it hurts, I can’t say I desire the feelings of sadness to go away.  I want to live life conscious of the way things are and hopefully in doing so find the strength and ability to be a part of the healing process.

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[Homes in Bulembu, some of which have been renovated for Orphan Care]