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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.)

We can’t take it all: Books

May 4th, 2010 No comments

We are two and half months away from our summer trip to Swaziland and just a little over a year away from when we actually plan on moving.  That has Beth and I looking at things in new ways.  We are asking questions like “What are we going to do with our dishes?” and “Who is going to keep Shiloh?” We have spent close to two years trying to accumulate less and downsize where we can.  In my mind I have already begun making a list of what things we will want to take with us and what needs to be given away, sold, loaned out or put in storage.

I knew early on the hardest thing for me to part with would be my collection of books.  Not because they are so valuable (although I do have several thousand dollars wrapped up in them), but because in many ways they define me.  To help the transition, I moved most of my academic collection out of my house and to the church.  That way other people could use them and if I left them there I wouldn’t feel like they were lost.

Now, as we are beginning to investigate actually job opportunities, and we realize there is a decent chance I will be able to teach at either a school or the University, I have begun thinking about what resources I would need.  That, along with our overall planning for the future, has prompted me to start a list of books I already own that I want to take with me.  Since my training is mostly in Biblical Studies (especially the Hebrew Scriptures) a majority of the books are from this field .  I have also included books from fields like Christian History and Theology to have as a reference, but I must admit I do not feel qualified to teach anything but basic topics in these areas.  Finally, there are a few books that have been so influencial for me that they had to be included.  You will note I have not included any fiction or pleasure reading — I figure I can pick that up while I am there.

Stack of books from my first semester at Asbury. Only one of these made the list.

Here is my list of “Keepers” (shoot me a comment if you think of any good ones I am leaving out):

  • The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, NRSV -This was my seminary bible and still my favorite for reading through (I figure I can leave my leather-bound Thompson Chain here in the states.
  • BHS and NA27 – You have to start with the original texts.
  • Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar, Pratico and VanPelt – This is not the Hebrew grammar I learned on, but I have found it is the best for catching me back up when I find I have let my language skills slack.
  • A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Arnold and Choi - A concise reference that is phenomenal for making a budding scholar look like they know more than they really do.
  • Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, Mounce – The Greek counterpart to Pratico and VanPelt.  My Greek is much rougher than my Hebrew, but this is a good grammar to get back up to speed.
  • Life in Biblical Israel, King and Stanger – An excellent reference and even better bathroom reading.  This book is the gooey center of the cinnamon roll – it really helps the text come alive through detailed contextual insights.
  • A Biblical History of Israel, Provan, Long and Longman – More of a reference than anything else.  Well documented and easy to use as a gateway for deeper studies.
  • Harper Collins Concise Atlas of the Bible – Another great reference.  Not especially thorough, but very helpful.
  • Epic of Eden, Richter – If I ever have the opportunity to teach an introduction to Old Testament, I would want to teach it like Dr. Richter.
  • An Introduction to the Old Testament, Brueggemann – While I don’t agree with him on all fronts, my theology and understanding of the Old Testament is most shaped by Walter Brueggemann and this is a great primer/survey.
  • Introducing the New Testament, Achtemeier, Green and Thompson – Not my favorite New Testament Survey, but the only one I own.
  • Christian Origins and the Question of God Trilogy, NT Wright – These have long been my go to reference for all things related to New Testament concepts.
    • The New Testament and the People of God – This is the best book I have found for laying out the setting of the New Testament and its implications
    • Jesus and The Victory of God - My Christology is largely shaped by Wright’s thoughts in this book.
    • The Resurrection of the Son of God – I don’t have this one yet, and in practice, I use it the least so if space is tight, I may only take the first two.
  • Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible – By no means my favorite source for Biblical information, but handy to have around when you need to look up things you have forgotten (like which ecumenical council discussed the Arian controversy?)
  • History of the World Christian Movement, Irvin and Sunquist – In my undergrad and seminary career I have read quite a few Church History books and this one is by far the best.  I am anxiously awaiting Volume II.
  • The Story of Christian Theology, Olson - I am very weak in my knowledge of the history of theology and this is the only book I have to reference.
  • Challenge of Jesus, N.T. Wright – While Wright does discuss Christology in this book and it does have academic merit, for me, it is a defining book in how I understand the nature of Christianity.
  • Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann – I know I sound like a broken record when I mention this book, but one of the most important concepts in my life that I live by is Brueggemann’s idea of the prophetic imagination and criticizing/energizing culture and community.
  • The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder – I may never have the opporutnity to teach from Yoder’s book, but I will certainly be able to live by it.
  • Walden, Henry David Thoreau - One of my sources of rejuvenation.
  • Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community, Martin Luther King Jr – We named our daughter after King; surely I must take his most seminal work.

So I was able to whittle my collection of several hundred down to 22. Even then there are so many that I am leaving out that I would love to include.  In reality, this list is probably too large when you consider how much we can actually take with us; but…. at least it is a start.

10 Books

July 21st, 2009 No comments

Beth and I have taken a short break from our 10 top 10 lists in order to spend some time with family.  Today we are on list #6, which looks at the most influential books for us.  Many of the concepts raised in these books will be revisited with our final blog post, which will examine the 10 ideas that define us as people.  I have listed them in a way that illustrates how each builds on the others.

  1. Is there a text in this class?, Stanley Fish – This book examines the nature of truth as it relates to the authority of texts.  As you will see, many of the books that follow rely on an interpretation of scripture to direct a community to action.  Fish provides a framework for understanding how interpretive communities shape truth.
    text
  2. Nature of Doctrine, George Lindbeck – Whereas Fish looks as the authority of texts, Lindbeck looks at the nature of religion to determine how they practically function.  It is his conclusion that religion is like language and culture in that it explains the world around us, but it also helps us experience it.
    nature
  3. Life in Biblical Israel, Philip King and Lawrence Stager – Once we have discussed the role of community, religions and texts, it is essentially we understand the communities of Scripture if we are going to allow it to shape our lives.  This book is approachable and practical as it outlines the world from which the Old Testament was born.  Concepts such as kinsman redeemer and house of the father unlock amazing depth in the Hebrew Scriptures.
    life
  4. New Testament and the People of God, N.T. Wright – No other theologian / historian has shaped my understanding of Scripture more than N.T. Wright.  He does an excellent job of allowing the historical setting to inform a reader’s understanding of Scripture.  He is a prolific writer, but this book in particular has been instrumental in shaping my understanding of the world of the New Testament.
    nt
  5. Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann – Once the world of scripture is established, we must understand how that affects the modern people of God.  Brueggemann (my favorite OT scholar) outlines the role of the prophet in projecting a world in line with God’s will.  Sometimes it requires critisizing an existing establishment, and at other times it requires energizing a new possibility.  I always try to keep both of these sides in tension in my own life.
    imagination
  6. Challenge of Jesus, N.T. Wright – Whereas Brueggemann outlines the implications of the OT prophet, in this book Wright outlines the implications of the person of Jesus.  By showing Jesus in his historical context he allows the reader to grasp the importance of the Messiah beyond simply “personal salvation.”
    challenge
  7. Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas – After understanding the role community plays in shaping an understanding of truth, and then exploring the implications of the communities of scripture, Hauerwas explores what it means for Christians today to live as a community wherein we are in the world but not a part of it — living in a colony of hope.
    aliens
  8. The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder - I have already confessed that deep down I am a Mennonite.  I have the utmost respect for people who are consistent in their views of the world, and practical in their faith.  This book captures Yoder’s approach to understanding Christianity by outlining a way of life that the modern people of God can follow that is consistent with the person of Jesus.
    politics
  9. Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis – Moving away abstract and into the practical aspect of being a Christian, I most often turn to the tested words of Thomas à Kempis.  This is one of the most read texts of all time.  Since we are talking about books today, I will include this quote from him: “At the Day of Judgment, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done.”
    imitation
  10. Walden, Henry David Thoreau – I end with the timeless work of Henry David Thoreau.  While his existentialist thought may seem out of line in light of the previous 9 pieces, for me it is the culmination of the list because in the pages of this book I have always found the honesty and connectedness to the world that is necessary to live daily.  It was Thoreau who said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” and it is he who provides the most poignant commentary on my life as I flip through the pages of his works.
    walden

The Kingdom of Swaziland (part 2)

July 12th, 2009 No comments

Yesterday I posted about the decision Beth and I have made about moving to Africa.  Today I want to take the time to give a brief overview of the country of Swaziland, where we are strongly considering moving.  Tomorrow, I will write a bit about why Beth and I made this decision and what it may look like.

Swaziland is the second smallest mainland country in Africa (trailing only Gambia).  It is landlocked and roughly the size of New Jersey.  It lies to the north-east of South Africa and is surrounded on three sides by that country.  Southern Mozambique is along the eastern border of Swaziland.  The population of the country is 1.1M, which is about the same as Rhode Island (by comparison Kentucky has a population of 4.3M).  That gives a population density of roughly the same as Tennessee, but the differences is that Swaziland is more spread out with its capitol and largest city of Mbabane having only 81,000 people.  Only 4 cities have more than 10,000 people and only 10 are over 4,000.

url

Map of Swaziland

The country has a rich history and remains as the only remaining monarchy in Africa.  Currently King Mswati III is the ruler of the country.  He currently has 14 wives and 23 children.  Swaziland is navigating a fine line between democracy and monarchy with a (relatively) newly adopted constitution.  In the early 1800′s the Dlamini royal house established themselves in the area.  By the turn of the next century, the area known as Swaziland was under British colonial rule even though the royal family was still in existence.  In 1968 the country was granted independence and a constitutional monarchy was established.  This however was short lived as in 1973 the constitution was dissolved by King Sobhuza leading to a absolute monarchy.  Eventually the monarchy was passed on to the current king Mswati III in 1986.  Under his rule (and thorough the pressure of underground political parties) a movement to more democracy was initiated.  National elections begain in 1993 and in 2006 a new constitution was established that declared the king the head of state and a prime minister and parliment along with a judicial system under him.  While power is now shared, the king still has an abundance of control (for instance, all the land is considered to be the King’s).

King Mswati III

King Mswati III

Swaziland has two languages, siSwati and English.  SiSwati is the traditional langauge spoken in most of the rural areas and English is the language of business and government.  SiSwati is a derivitive of Zulu; you can hear it spoken here.

By far the greatest issue facing the Swazi people is the AIDS epidemic.  Currently nearly 40% of adults are infected that number is on the rise.  According to the UN, it is one of the few areas of the world where the quality of life is decreasing.  The AIDS rate is the highest in the world, the life expectancy is the third worst, and of 177 countries, it listed as being 141st in terms of human development.  77.8% of the population lives on less than two dollars a day and 47.7% lives on less than a dollar.

Despite these staggering problems and a transitioning government, Swaziland is relatively stable.  There are not major uprisings, civil conflicts, or major border disputes.  There are not rebel groups attempting to overthrow the government like there are in other African countries.

The crime rate in Swaziland is relatively high, especially in terms of violent crime.  However, it should be noted that its overall crime rate is 20% lower than that of the United States.  This compilation report highlights crime statistics as well as human rights issues, which I will address next.

While Swaziland is a stable country, it does have major human rights issues as this detailed report from the State Department explains.  Here is part of the the abstract (emphasis mine):

Swaziland is a modified traditional monarchy with executive, legislative, and limited judicial powers ultimately vested in the king (Mswati III). The king rules according to unwritten law and custom, in conjunction with a partially elected parliament and an accompanying structure of published laws and implementing agencies. The population was approximately 1.1 million. The most recent parliamentary elections, held in 2003, were not considered free and fair. Political parties continued to be banned. Political power remained largely with the king and his circle of traditional advisors, including the queen mother. The civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces; however, there were some instances in which security forces committed abuses.

The government’s human rights record was poor, and government agents continued to commit serious abuses. The country faced a serious socio?economic situation characterized by sluggish economic performance, poverty, drought, an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 42.6 percent, and growing unemployment. The following human rights problems were reported:

  • inability of citizens to change their government
  • arbitrary killings by security forces
  • police use of torture, beatings, and excessive force
  • police impunity
  • arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention
  • infringement on citizens’ privacy rights
  • limits on freedom of speech and of the press
  • restrictions on freedom of assembly and association
  • prohibitions on political activity and harassment of political activists
  • restrictions on freedom of movement
  • discrimination and violence against women
  • poor enforcement of women’s rights
  • child abuse
  • trafficking in persons
  • societal discrimination against mixed race and white citizens
  • antiunion discrimination
  • child labor

I want to end on a bright note.  The country of Swaziland is absolutely beautiful with high plains, majestic mountains and pristine valleys.  I have included some pictures below.

urlp218875-Swaziland-Beautiful_mountains_of_Northwestern_Swazilandurl-15059293

Finally, here are a few websites I have found useful in addition to those linked above:

See Also:

Kingdom of Swaziland Part I – Decision to Move

Kingdom of Swaziland Part III – What we will do and why