Friday, June 27, 2014

'The Big Truck That Went By' by Jonathan Katz--Review

In case you have not heard... Haiti was the poorest country in the hemisphere, the 2010 earthquake was a terrible natural disaster, and the response of the world made the situation significantly worse.  All evidence points to peacekeepers from United Nations as the source for the cholera epidemic that began in the fall of 2010.  People from around the world who tried to help, through ignorance and mistrust of the Haitians, did more harm than good.

I begin this review as I prepare to go to Haiti in one week.  My next trip will be my third this year.  My experience with Haiti began when the dean of the School of Theology at L'Université Chrétienne du Nord d’Haïti invited me to teach philosophy of religion in 2012.  Now, each year, I go to teach this course to future Christian pastors.  On one trip, my son and I visited an orphanage in Port-au-Prince.  He noted that the children had no place to store their meager possessions, so the church where I serve as pastor sent a group in February 2014 to build cubbies.  Now, in one week, another group from Kilmarnock Baptist Church will go to the orphanage to have Bible school with the children.  This has been my experience with Haiti, and I appreciate the opportunities I have had to go to this beautiful land.

Jonathan Katz was in Haiti as a reporter for the Associated Press when the earthquake struck. He stayed for the following year and made careful notes about his experience. These notes and his journalling follow the events in the year after the earthquake. The Big Truck That Went By tells both his story and the story of Haiti. By seeing it through his eyes, it is possible to begin to see the tip of the iceberg that is this complicated half an island.

In the course of this review, it would be redundant to tell Katz's story. The book is excellent. It is readable and would be enjoyable, if it were not so infuriating. It is too easy to look at Haiti as an outsider and project one's cultural ideology into a place where it does not belong.  Katz tells about the true number of people who died in the earthquake (i.e. there is no way to truly know).  He writes about the known facts about cholera, the "biggest health scare in the nine months after the earthquake" (p. 162), and most impressively, he writes dispassionately without making judgments or filling in details that do not exist.  He writes about promised US$ billions and their failure to materialize or their donors spending them in the donors' country, not Haiti.

Katz's story is a personal one, and he invites readers to share bits and pieces of a private chapter in his own journey.  In the aftermath of the earthquake, he meets a young lady who is doing research in Haiti, falls in love with her, and in the Epilogue, he seems to ride off into the sunset with his love.  It is a warm, happy ending for a book about a place that does not seem to have a happy ending.  In the end, I wish him and Claire all the best for the future.

In Christianity, we believe in redemption.  As complicated and difficult as Haiti's story is, I have to believe that there is the possibility of redemption for this poor country.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Post-Christendom life

What is ‘post-Christendom’?  It is the world today.  It is connecting with people beyond the institutional church.  For example, our experience in a virtual world connects with our experience in a tangible world.  If I post on Facebook and then see some people from my post (or who commented on my post) in real life, the connection is real, tangible; it is existential.  Christendom is the society of Christians.  Since there is an increasingly large and growing body of people who claim “none” for their religious affiliation, the day will arrive when Christians are no longer a majority religion.

This is not bad. In Acts, followers of The Way were not a majority or even a sizable minority.  Thus, the meaning of the Christian faith has an increasingly higher value in our spiritual lives.  What we do matters.  Theology matters.  In a post-Christendom world, connecting our faith and works with social activism and missional living is incredibly important. 

Many churches try to hold on to Christendom, and it makes sense.  They enjoyed the power it gave them. However, the harder people try to cling to power and control, the further they will get from the gospel.  Although there is a judgmental tone to my assessment, it seems remarkably close to the biblical Pharisees.  Using power and Christendom in sharing the Christian faith is not helpful because the people who have no religious affiliation find it unattractive and uninspiring.

Instead of placing church at the center of society, let us place Christ at the center.  Keep every member of the religious community involved in ministry.  Ruthlessly seek out people’s gifts and allow them the space to use their gifts.  Do not push anyone to the margins, regardless of their intellectual capacity, age, physical ability, gender, economic prosperity or poverty, or sexual orientation.  Jesus excludes no one.

As Christians in the twenty-first century, we have a choice: (a) we can seek greater Christendom and pine for the good ole days, or (be) we can be the people God calls us to be.  Yes, it is post-Christendom, but was Christendom really that good?

As for me, I choose the ontological faith: I want to be the person God calls me to be, no matter where it takes me.