Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How Easy Is It To Help In Africa?

Reports from Africa. I don't think most American's realize how far their money can go in helping out the poor Africans, who I just recently visited (see "Solis Foundation" blog, and "Well, Shit, I Suddenly Have Less To Say"). Below is a list of some goods and their cost in Africa in American dollars. Now, I realize that when you give money to a not-for-profit, aren't buying them a pair of slacks, but this is just to give an idea of "How Easy Is It To Help in Africa?".

As you read this list, compare in your mind the cost of these goods in Africa to their cost in America, and how easy it is for us to buy these goods for ourselves here in America. And keep in mind, as you read this list and think of how easy it is for you to obtain these goods, that the African's are so unable to afford these goods that they are litrally starving to death. These prices are based on the prices in a relatively small town called Kakamega; the prices are cheaper in Lodwar (where Solis Foundation plans to start help starting small businesses), as it is far less developed.

H.S. Education - $428.57 (30,000 schillings)
University Education (Private) - $2,857 (200,000 schillings)
University Education (Public) - $2,142 (150,000 schillings)
A bar of soap - $00.74 (52 schillings)
Rice - $2.57 (180 sch.)
Maize (1 meal's worth) - $1.43 (100 sch.)
Shoes (1 pair) - $12.14 (850 sch.)
Socks (1 pair) - $ 1.71 (120 sch.)
Grass thatched mud hut (house for
those stuck in oppressive poverty) - $214.28 (15,000 sch.)
Brick house with corregated metal
roof (one step out of hopeless poverty)- $ 714.29 (50,000 sch.)
T-shirt - $ 4.29 (300 sch)
Collared or polo shirt - $ 7.14 (500 sch.)
A Pair of Slacks - $ 11.42 (800 sch.)
Woman’s dress (Sunday best J) - $7.14 (500 sch.)
Travel Fare: Kakamega – Eldoret - $ 2.86 (200 sch.)
Fare: Kakamega – Nakuru - $ 7.14)(500 sch.)
Fare: Kakamega – Nairobi - $ 11.42 (800 sch.)
Matches - $ 00.28 (20 sch.)
Kerosene (one litre) - $ 00.77 (55 sch.)
Hurricane lamp (uses kerosene) - $ 6.57 (460 sch.)

So there you have it folks. Our rich money goes a long ways for the dying and desparate who have little to no reason for hope.


Monday, September 25, 2006

A Story of "AAAAHHH!"

So for like the last year or so I was part of this really tight group of friends/"study buddies" at church (yes, church). Like about a couple months ago, our good friend, hailing from good 'ol South Central LA, got hit by a car on the 101 - while on his SKATEBOARD. Dude flew like a long ways and got knocked unconcsious for a few minutes and then was at church like two days later. With a bottle of advil, but there no less. We love Jose. God bless Jose.

So last night (Sunday night) my one-time (quite recently) roomie - Dave - was nonchalantly waiting at the stoplight at the boredom at the corner of Sunset and Edgemont. You know, in his own little world, thinking his own little thoughts. Approximately 5:55 pm (5 minutes before the sacred and solumn proceedings When suddenly there's a man laying upon the windshield of the car that is carrying Dave's suddenly very precious and vulnerable body - yelling loudly. "AAAAHHH!" Dave's natual, and not so bored, response - "AAAAHHH!" Crazy homeless people in Hollywood! ONLY in LA! This crazy man - 'twas Jose. Skinny little Latino gentleman who could beat us all up but would prefer to abstain. Upon the front of a car - again. When Dave finally recovered from Jose's "getting hit by a car" again, he put his window down, and said, "Jose, get in the car. I'll give you a ride the rest of the way to church." (a block, yeah, long ways). Punched Jose in the shoulder. Shook Jose's hand. Smiled, and, "You know this means I have to get you back, right?" Jose, "Bring it on." :)

Approximately 8:55 pm. Sunday night - after church (yes, church). Dave is driving down Hollywood Blvd. between Edgemont and Western, on his way to Ralphs. Dave sees Jose and a pretty little lady walking down the street, as is natural, since Jose lives in the area (and is a handsome devil). Jose and pretty little lady do not see Dave in the car upon which Jose had 3 hrs. previous thrown himself, disloging Dave's self from him self. Jose is a gentleman, keep in mind, and one of the things pretty little lady likes about Jose is that when he walks with her along the street, he walks closer to the street - to protect her. So anyway, Dave sees Jose, Jose sees not Dave. Dave is about to pass Jose on his way to Ralphs. But at the last moment, he swerves his big powerful and monstrous Honda Accord violently at Jose - with his brights on, his horn honking, and all parties involved yelling, "AAAHHH!" This was Jose's chance to use his protective powers - and get hit by a car - AGAIN! But not to worry. 'Twas only Dave. Did not actally hit Jose this time...

Approximately7:55 pm, Monday night (after work, yes work). Jason is on current roommate Jeremy's computer checking his email. Jeremy walks into the living room. Jason hears front door to apartmnt open. Says quietly, "What's up?" Jeremy goes into kitchen. Jason wonders why Jeremy is not walking into his bedroom to find roommate Jason on his computer. Jason walks out into the living room. No one? Hhmmm. Walks into kitchen. Refridgerator door is open, and Jeremy is bent down in fridge getting food out - at least aparently, as neither Jeremy or Jason can see neither Jeremy nor Jason. Jeremy only sees fridge full of wonderous food choices. Jason only sees boring and empty out-side of ugly-colored fridge door.

Jason walks up to door. Looks down over top edge. Thinks to himself. "HEY, it's former roomie Dave!" Says very boredly and nonchalantly to former roommate Dave, "Hi". Dave screams in deathly terror, "AAAAHHH!" Jason, himself scared out of his nonchalance, yells, "AAAAHHH!" Jason laughs hard and long till his belly hurts, throwing himslef upon the couch in the fetal position, laughing for a while until the laughter juices are gone and he is healed of the various laughter needing toxins that build up in one's body over boring and painful life.

Approximatly 8:35 pm - Dave tells funny story about Dave, Jose (having earlier thrown himself upon Dave's windshield) and pretty little lady all yelling "AAAAHHH!" Jason laughs loudly again. Jason is happy. Jason points out to Dave that Jose "got hit by a car again." Dave laughs. Jason laughs. Jason is moved to share story with cyberspace friends. Jason hopes they laughed too.



Monday, September 11, 2006

Sharp Pointed Feathers Falling from the Sun

"Symbols are sharp-pointed feathers shed by eagles in flight, charismatic as Uzbeks who befriend every ripple of the mighty wave. Bot to awaken a race of star buds in half-sukn crystals: dim your eye's labyrinthine cavity." - Daniel Libeskind, p. 29, Fishing From the Pavement.

So I was recently having an email conversation with a friend from church. Mentioned to him in the midst of my saying that narcissim is different from pride that, in a sense, the Romans and Moderns were idolators, and the Greeks were not. Of course, he begged to differ, which lead to the following (some of the content refers to the substance of previous emails to which the audience is not privy, but I hope you will get the point). Also, in a recent post, entitled "Well Shit, I Suddenly Have Less To Talk About", I made reference to my ballooning arrows becoming sharpened stones with a target. You should have seen the rambling and relatively directionless email that preceeded this one, making this one necessary ("Hey, I'm learning!):

"I want to clarify and/or narrow the point of what I meant in saying what I said about the Greeks. Was reading some N.T. Wright on the plane today, and he helped me to really focus in on the direction of my arrow here...

So, I was simply saying that "idols" of the Greeks are not fixed images, but, like the actions and works of Jesus, symbolic pointers to actual events mysteriously initiated by forces beyond those who crafted the "idols" or symbols, therefore pointing also not primarily to the actual events but to the gods or goddesses themselves. Take, for example, the statue of Athena at the Parthenon. Similar the the Isreali Temple's being built in commemoration for the Isreal's God did for Isreal and through which He plans to bless all the nations, the Parthenon and Athena's statue were built in commemoration of Athena's sweeping down and helping the Athenians be freed of the Persians in battle/war, in commeoration of an actual event through which the goddess actually moved in history. Each aspect of the statue is symbolic of an action or characteristic of Athena, to whom the Athenians owed their victory.

Compare that, for example, to a the typical Roman practice of building a Triumphal Arch to bring the 'good news' of victory in battle. First of all, it's, figuratively, an arch. The columns of the Parthenon, first and foremost, are listening to the evenets that arise upon the horizon, are recieving openly. The arch, figuratively, is, in imitation of the heavens, reaching across the whole, just as Rome conqured the whole of the known world (a precursor to the modern quest toward systematization). Secondly, like Trajan's Column for another example, the scenes depicted upon the artifact are not of any god or goddess and in commoration of any god or goddess, but are scenes of battle and the people (Romans and their enemies) fighting in it. I haven't studied these Triumphal Arches in detail, so I can't say for sure, but my guess is that the Roman god of war would still appear on the artifact, but not in the scene. Probably actually as a separate and detatched angelic little figure perched atop the whole artifact as if looking down upon the scene and watching passively; either that or as like a detached face fixed upon the side of the artifact, but again not as a central part of the scene, but off in the margins somewhere.

It is also here relevant that the scenes depicted in both the Parthenon and the Roman artifacts are sculpted in relief (well, the Greek scenes are done mostly in relief, but not entirely, as there is a play between the images being in relief in relation to stone of the templanum - the surface of the Pediment upon which the scene is depicted - and the images being free standing, casting a shadow upon the templanum, the shadows of which themselves are then also put into the play), but that the Roman reliefs are much deeper - meaning that the images stand out much more confidently as if they have more of an existence on their own apart from the other Realm from which they emerged. It is this difference in relation to the other Realm that becomes a key difference between a Greek's symbolism and a Roman's significance.

Many, but not all, of the Roman gods and goddesses may have been borrowed from the Greeks, but that did not come until a later stage of Roman history. The Greek worshipper of Apollo set himself into a very different relationship to the actual physical sun than did the Roman. It's that translation issue. Many of the Roman gods became renamed Greek ones, but they were subsumed into a previously existing Roman culture that told stories in a very different way. Characteristic is the story of Romulus and Remus, the story of the founding of Rome, complete with two supposedly real and actual dudes, a date, a she-wolf who succled them from toddlerhood and raised them, and the story of how they laid out the actual physical boundaries of the city of Rome. It is this story and various temples or shrines to Romulus and Remus that are the central characteristic, retold through each Roman city. When you go to Washinton D.C., upon which story-telling model is America built? The Greeks have the Illiad and the Odyssey, but those are stories about the formation of Greek culture through the story being told in a pre-existing substance and background scenery, while the Roman story is obviously not in that sense one of things coming into form (despite the immense foundations of Troy), but assumes to have knowledge as far back and/or down as the foundations (the Roman story of Romulus and Remus is the story of the founding of Rome), which are typically invisible until the wall/city has fallen.

So, in the sense that you are saying, yes, the Greeks are obviously idolators. I think this is similar to the sense in which the Isreali poets declared as idolotrous the temples and practices of Baal. I think what I'm suggesting is that in our culture the issue of the image, of the "idol", has become much more complex than it was in Isreali culture where all the Jews were already heavily immersed first and foremost into their Jewish culture and the Word, and in which other cutlural forces were obviously exterior and supposedly secondary. To point out an idol, a prophet pretty much just had to point out such exteriority, and question why on earth the elect of God's covenant would go on committing themselves to something other. I mean, it's prety much just dumb ('eyes which do not see, ears which do not hear, mouths which do not speak'). In this sense, then, the Greeks were obviously idolaters, in that they were following after an image other than that of God and the symbols of Him that He has given in the context of the Covenant. In another sense, however, at the point in history in question (around 433 AD, when the Parthenon was built), that's, despite the passage from Romans 1 about there being no excuse, in a sense a mute point (a point relevant to our pluralistic context), as God had not revealed his covenant to the Greeks; and yet important relational differences to the "image" remain between the Greeks and Romans, differences that are very helpful to us in our current pluralistic time of utter confusion about our cultural identity and the language that we are actually speaking when we open our mouth.

It is this difference between a world of symbolism and a world of significance that I meant in referring to the world of difference between Plato and Descartes. Without the pre-existing Roman context coming to dominate our Western culture, Descartes dualism would have been a white baby in Kenya :) Instead, however, it was more like a natural progression (but still it was a dualism that was impossible without his 'ergo cogito sum'). It is also this detatchment of the visibly manifested image from the other realm (not present when the image is a symbol), characterized by the depth of the Roman relief sculpture, that gave grounds for Descartes' claim for "certain knowledge" of...anything at all.

I think maybe part of the importance of this discussion, in general for an audience wider than ourselves, is that it is impossible to understand God's covenant with us without our re-membering what on earth is a symbol (leaving the word "idolatry" out of the discussion entirely for a moment, mine or yours), and how to read one. Circumcision, for example, for many cultures before the Isreali covenant, was a means for opening the channels of fertility. That in itself speaks to the meaning of God's covenant in an enlightening way."

Any comments are welcome. Some of the issues about which this friend and I have been going back and forth (you can read about it in the emails below in some previous posts about modernism and postmodernism if you would like) are as follows. Certainty: I say that it is the persuit of a modern hope that requires the modern framework, starting primarily with Descartes and doubt. My friend says that our existence is the only thing about which we can be certain. I respond, not in an attacking manner, my friend is well aware (I think), with another quote from Libeskind, "To be certain of your own existence is the ultiamte arrogance". One issue on which we agree on the problem, but not the solution, is that of endless separating dualisms so common to our thinking. You can see the reference to this issue in the above email. He says "you have to live in the tension", be willing to "deal with the mystery of the union." I say that you have to go to the root, that an entire modern construct has to be broken down in order to, as N.T. Wright mentions in The Challenge of Jesus, reconstitute a world view in which things are in their primal state on a natural oneness again (which, also as Wright mentions in the same paragraph, is something that no one seems to have seriously attempted).

Another issue is the role of language. I say, based on my observations of his use of language, that its the formation of a world. I say that only based on my observations, that he (like most of us) seems to be operating in the mode more like the Romans, in which the role of our words is that of closed signification attempting to bridge an unnecesssary gap over to other closed signifiedes (is "signifiedes" a word :); and he has yet to respond really (other than by saying that idolatry is not about a closed and/or open system, but about our heart for God). Almost for the sake of another arguement (about the role of language), I have been trying to point out that our current (fundamentalist) notion of "absolute truth" is, ironically, a modern construct, a technology, that now has "eyes that do not see", and "ears that do not hear" (Psalm 115). In other words that it's an idol. Of course his response is that I am compromising a basic truth of my faith (Christianity) for my own crafted idol of postmodernism.

What do you think; and how might you think it is actually relevant to the above post about symbolism and significance? Also, how might you think that these issues are actually relevant to your life (particularly maybe your Christian life)? Is the reading of symbols a necessary skill in participating in God's covenant?

Solis Foundation

As promised in the first couple paragraphs of my previous post, here is my journal entry while in Kenya, dated Tues., Aug. 30th, 2006. This one is specifically about the organiztion with which I went to Africa, whose mission is to help those stuck in a postion of abject poverty get out of their pit of quicksand:

"Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written, 'God's Spirit is on me,
he's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners, and
recovery of sight to the blind.
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, 'This is God's year to act!'"
- Luke 4: 17, 18.

Samuel, pastor at a church in Moorsbridge and principle of a school there, was explaining to us tonight at dinner how exciting to the community is the prospect of contributions from Solis Foundation to help get some businesses off the ground. The potential, willingness, ability and desire are all there in the people of Moorsbridge. The only thing lacking is the start-up capital; and that's what we provide, as well as on-the-ground training to help insure the success of the businesses, and in turn, an improved life for the people, freedom for the battered, the good news for the poor. It's a mirror of the great Day of Jubilee; one's debts are forgiven and his land is returned to him. Samuel says that being trapped in poverty over time is what kills their fires of hope.

On Saturday upcoming, unfortunately after we'll be gone to Lodwar (in Trukana), Roland, Training Director for VEF in Kenya (pre-existing partner to Solis Foundation), will be slaughtering three cows in a commemoration event for the ancestors. He has told three hundred people, and expects one to two thousand; this gives a taste of the hunger of these people for something American's take for granted as being on the value menue at various nearby burger joints. Rolan gives a glimpse of the great feast that awaits the thirsty, for they will drink from the fountain. "You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat." (Mathew 5: 6 (Message paraphrase version).

In two days around Kakamega we've visited about twelve businesses. It's the norm that within six months to a year each of the five team members of the business has gone from shoelessness, death-colored and ragged shirts and pants, and a lack of basic needs such as soap, matches and kerosine (much more necessary in a place where electricity is like the Aston Martin in the richest guy's driveway), to a new and shiny pair of shoes or sandals (something we not only take for granted, but something much more needed in a place of scorpions and malaria), a very colorful and lively patterned dress or shirt, a fulfillment of basic needs such as soap, matches and kerosine, and a newfound sense of pride and accomplishment contributing to a whole new state of emotional and spiritual health that shines through the big huge smile and gleam in their eye as they look directly at you and say, "Mizuri Sana. Buena Asafiwe. Asente.", which in Swahili means, "I'm doing very good. Praise the Lord. Thank you very much."

Two women in particular whom we met today, one whose business was a hotel along the road and the other's being a tomato-selling business in a small "rural" town ("rural" means something different in Kenya than in America!), before being given this opportunity, were literally beggars in their respective areas. Now they are making a profit the equivelent of 50 to 100 U.S. dollars per month in an environment where the average income is one to two dollars a day, which is in itself a misleading statistic, as most (the "average person") actually make fifty cents or less in a day. One year ago strangers were resentfully throwing change at the beggar on the corner. Suddenly the same faces are coming as friends to borrow money from her! Alfred, whose six-month old business is a kiosque that sells a variety of goods, is even investing his fifty to one hundred dollars per month (it varies) into a plot of cabbage plants which, in about two months time, will yield a larger return. The fires of hope are able to spread quickly in dry desert.

And speaking of return, I think of this: "I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: 'Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They're his people; he's their God. He'll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good - tears gone, crying gone, pain gone - all...gone.' The Enthroned continued, 'Look! I'm making everything new. Write it all down - each word dependable and accurate.'" (Revelations 21: 3-5: The Message, paraphrase).

Solis is a new life given by an organization to a battered people started by a man named Genesis (one of the team members with whom I went on my trip), who simply listened to the winds of the Spirit upon his heart. If anyone would like to be a part of God's movement through Solis Foundation, or if you just want to do what you can to help those to need it badly, you can visit the website at There you will see instructions on how to give, if you would like, as well as more detailed information on the organization and what it does. Thank you.

Well Shit, Suddenly I Have Less to Talk About

So I've returned from a rather long trip to Kenya, Africa (I left the U.S. on the evening of August 23rd, and returned on the afternoon of Sat., Sept. 9th). My eyes have been opened wider, and my heart has expanded to include those whose hearts have all the reason in the world only to contract. In due time, I plan to blog about many things as I am able to reflect back on my trip, but first I would simply like to share with my cyber-audience, whoever you may be, a couple of my journal entries during my trip.

Soon I will be blogging about black kids with blonde hair and bloated bellies due to empty plates meant for food, too tired to swat the flies from their faces. I will blog about my host in a mud hut who tells old stories about how to kill elephants and cape buffalo (and other new friends I met along the way). I will blog about interesting experiences living for a week in a mud hut with a dirt floor. And I will also eventually blog about the drunk Sudanese guy in a refugee camp apparently agnry at the white man and holding a big wooden club. I will blog agian this night a bit about the Solis Foundation (the organization with which I took the trip) and the business opportunites that it plans to offer to those who would otherwise literally be scrounging in the trash heaps (not cans) of the poor for food. I will also blog about how the lowly and needy of Africa, I'm pretty sure, blessed me more than I them; we each have that for which the other longs (God works funnily sometimes). This post, however, as the title indicates, is about how, opposite of what one might think after returning from a "full and exciting" trip across the globe, I have had many of my words ripped right out of my mouth. I am being forced to find a tiny little target wtih my previously monstrous and bulbous arrows. This in the future may mean fewer words, with sharper tips. So, as promised, my journal entry, dated Sunday August 28, 2006, went as follows:

"I complain about my government and its beaurocratic machine. It won't be the same after this trip. Along the road from Nairobi to Nakuru was an old, unused, unkept and delapidated railroad, the maintenance for which the IMF gave to the Kenyan government a sum of money. Merely one rich Kenyan's pockets grew bigger. Meanwhile donkeys, human backbones, bicycles, carts and an occassional old and poorly functioning truck bears the difficult burden of transporting goods along a big pothole that passes for a road to some town quite some distance away. The only decent road in Kenya, it seems, is in the vicinity of the President's farm.

I complain about an American's fight for survival rather than life and freedom. Meanwhile the Kenyans' fight for survival gives them a dignity as foreign to Americans as Swahili; ironically most Kenyans know life better than Americans know survival. The idea of a rural Kenyan woman's entering a wet T-shirt contest makes me laugh just as an Angelino, hip-hop listening club-going youth might do so at the image of a Kansas farmer pushing a burdened donkey.

When I think of the gap between Kenya and the U.S.A as compared to the gap between Joe Schmoe Architect Architect in the U.S.A. and Louis Kahn (a gap that I previously fooled myself into thinking abysmal), I am amazed at just how far from the center of the univers I, as an American Architect supposedly hopeful to being in Kahn's footsteps, truly am. 'For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory...'"

I feel I have been silenced, given the opportunity to actually try and make listening the priority for once rather than hearing the speaking of my own voice. To what target will this voice lead? Were my previous life aspirations pretentions in a path opened by another voice, and (ironically) supported by my desire to hear my own? Architecture was first suggested to me by my 6th grade math teacher who noticed I was never really paying attention, as I was always drawing, but that I still did pretty well in her class. My actual "decision" to be an Architect was never made, but I eventually did fall in love with it, partially because I simply knew I was capable of being good at it. I feel my words, and the word that constitutes my life, are getting sharper, and getting closer to learning how to follow the tight line between bow and target. Recent voice in my head, "You mean just complaining about Bush's hypocracy, or the burdensome weight of beauracracy, or the eventual ill affects of enlightenment teachings (now obvious to all anyway after two World Wars), won't really help anything!?". Examples of ballooning arrows with no target, where the reality in Kenya awakens one to the need for both sharper arrows and a target. Lesson learned (or still learning); but will my arrow actually hit a target? "Torah" comes from "yarah", meaning "to throw", much like an arrow at a target...the Word pierces sometimes to the center of my heart.

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