Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Long Defeat

[Paul Farmer to Tracy Kidder] "'...I have fought for my whole life a long defeat. How about that? How about if I said, That's all it adds up to is defeat?'

'A long defeat.'

'I have fought the long defeat and brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I'm not going to stop because we keep losing. Now I actually think sometimes we may win. I don't dislike victory. You and I have discussed this so many times.'


'No, no, I'm not complaining,' he says. 'You know, people from our background- like you, like most PIH-ers, like me- we're used to being on a victory team, and actually what we're really trying to do in PIH is to make common cause with the losers. Those are two very different things. We want to be on the winning team, but at the risk of turning our backs on the losers, no, it's not worth it. So you fight the long defeat.'... 'I don't care if we lose, I'm gonna try to do the right thing.'

'But you're going to try to win.'

'Of course! We're not, you know, masochistic. And then all the victories are gravy, you know? The other option is to be jaded because you've been fighting a defeat for eighteen years, and trying to stop it, at least save the elbow joint for Kenol, you know.' He's referring to a current patient, a boy back in Cange whose hand got caught in a sugarcane press- 'a low medieval device,' Farmer called it- and ended up with gangrene. In the end, his arm had to be amputated above the elbow joint.

Farmer on Matthew Twenty-Five

"... the emaciated beggars, the barefoot children lugging water. Through the jouncing windshield, I (Tracy Kidder) saw a thin man in a straw hat on a starving Haitian pony. He was kicking the pony's protruding ribs, hurrying, I imagined, to get to work on some rocky, infertile piece of local farmland so his children could have at least one meal today. I was looking around in my mind for a consoling way to view the roadside sights and also, frankly, for something likely to impress Farmer. A fragment from my religious education bubbled up. I said, 'If you've done it unto the least of them, you've done it unto me.'

'Matthew twenty-five,' said Farmer. 'Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.' He went on paraphrasing, 'When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you took me in. When I was naked, you gave me clothes. When I was sick, when I was in prison, you visited me. Then it says, Inasmuch as you did it not, you're screwed.' He smiled, swerving around another giant rut in the road."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Even The Rich Sometimes Live Well

"When he (Paul Farmer) and Jim (Jim Kim, Farmer's PiH doctor partner working in Peru) had first resolved to take on Carabayllo's epidemic (multi-drug resistance tuberculosis problem), he had gone to Tom White and said, 'Just buy the drugs for ten patients. We promise there won't be more.' Even then Farmer had known this was what he called 'a fib.' He had come back many times since to ask White for more money. White shared in the general nervousness. He wanted to leave this life without a nickel, he often said. As the number of patients grew, he began to wonder if Paul and Jim would upset his calculations. 'For a while there, I thought they'd spend all my money before I died.' But he never turned them down."

Mountains Beyond Mountains, p. 150 (also see Farmer's words at White's funeral: White Eulogy)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Becoming a Missionary,... a Sin?

As I reflect on the name of my degree program, "Faith, Vocation and Culture," the theme that has been dominant these last eight months for me has been that of every vocation having an inherent dignity, as an outworking of God's call upon His people to work out their callings in the world wherever they might be. In this excerpt from Mountains Beyond Mountains, Paul Farmer is having an exchange with Boston-based construction mogul Tom White, a man who was Partners in Health's first investor (see here Farmer eulogizing White: The exchange between Farmer and White reminded me a lot of what I've been looking at more closely this year:

“One time when they were together in Boston, White said, ‘You know, Paul, sometimes I’d like to chuck it all and work as a missionary with you in Haiti.’ Farmer thought for a while, then said, ‘In your particular case, that would be a sin.’” Mountains Beyond Mountains, p. 95

Still a Place to Look for God

"The combination of Harvard and Haiti had begun to form a new kind of belief in Farmer. He would tell me (Tracy Kidder) years later: 'The fact that any sort of religious faith was disdained at Harvard and so important to the poor- not just in Haiti but elsewhere, too- made me even more convinced that faith must be something good.'

And if the landless peasants of Cange needed to believe that someone omniscient was keeping score, by now Farmer felt the need to believe something like that himself. In the peasant phrase, an unnecessary death was 'a stupid death,' and he was seeing a lot of those. 'Surely someone is witnessing this horror show?' he'd say to himself. 'I know it sounds shallow, the opiate thing, needing to believe, palliating pain, but it didn't feel shallow. It was more profound than other sentiments I'd known, and I was taken with the idea that in an ostensibly godless world that worshiped money and power or, more seductively, a sense of personal efficacy and advancement, like at Duke and Harvard, there was still a place to look for God, and that was in the suffering of the poor....'"

Saturday, August 27, 2011

It Hurts, I'm Hungry

In September 2005, my son Calvin was a four-month-old infant at the time. Both Calvin and I caught meningitis, later we would come to learn that in both cases we had caught the viral form, the type of meningitis that tends to be less severe and less potentially life-threatening than that of the bacterial form. However, before the particular determination could be made as to what kind of meningitis it was, a spinal tap needed to be performed and a spinal fluid sample needed to incubate before determining if there was bacteria in the spinal fluid. Meanwhile, antibiotics were fed into the system as a precaution against the potentially-deadly bacterial form of meningitis growing within. Needless to say, the spinal tap was extremely painful and it just about "killed" us to give permission to have it done to our four-month-old baby but we felt that we really had no choice in the matter.

As painful as the spinal tap was for me (and I assume Calvin), we were both well-fed.

In a bed by the door of the hospital lies a moaning thirteen-year-old girl, just arrived by donkey ambulance. Two young Haitian doctors- one is just an intern- stand beside her bed, eyes half-lowered, lips pursed, as Farmer makes the Haitian hand slap, saying, “Doktè-m yo, doktè-m yo, sa k’ap pase-n”- “Doctors, doctors, what’s going on with you?” His voice sounds plaintive, not angry, as he lectures: You do not administer an antibiotic to a person with meningitis until you have done a spinal tap and know the variety of meningitis and thus which drug will work.

Then he does the job himself, the young doctors looking on, holding the girl down.

“I’m very good at spinal taps,” he’s told me. He seems to be, and besides, he’s left-handed, and to my eyes left-handers at work have always looked adroit. The veins stand out on Farmer’s thin neck as he eases the needle in. Wild cries erupt from the child: “Li fe-m mal, mwen grangou!” Farmer looks up, and for a moment he’s narrating Haiti again. “She’s crying, ‘It hurts, I’m hungry.’ Can you believe it? Only in Haiti would a child cry out that she’s hungry during a spinal tap.”

"I Would Like to Give You a Chicken or a Pig"

"A sad-faced young man takes his seat beside Farmer and stares down at his own feet, shod in ragged running shoes, splitting at the heels. His name is Ti Ofa. He has AIDS.... from his long experience Farmer knows the virus is about to begin its endgame with Ti Ofa, its overwhelming stage. Ti Ofa says, 'I feel ashamed.'

'Anybody can catch this. I told you that already,' Farmer says. He opens a drawer in his desk and takes out a large plastic bottle. It contains indinavir, one of the new protease inhibitors used for treating AIDS.

No one else, not at this time, is treating impoverished Haitians with the new antiretroviral drugs. Indeed, almost no one in any poor country is treating people who have the disease. Even some of Farmer's friends in the Haitian medical establishment have told him he's crazy to take on AIDS this way in Cange, and certainly many experts in international health would agree. Leaving aside all other objections, the new AIDS drugs could cost Zanmi Lasante (the Haitian sister organization of "Partners in Health") about five thousand dollars a year per patient. Nonetheless, Farmer had started some patients on triple therapy.... He and his colleagues back in Massachusetts are working on grant proposals to obtain a larger, more reliable supply. They'll find the money he's told me.

He holds up the precious bottle for Ti Ofa to see. He shakes it, and the pills rattle around inside. He tells Ti Ofa that he'll start treating him with this drug and two others now. They won't eradicate HIV from his body, Farmer explains, but they will take away the symptoms, and, if he's lucky, let him live for many years as if he'd never caught the virus. He only has to promise that he'll never miss a dose.

Ti Ofa says he won't, but he's still looking at his shoes. Farmer leans closer to him. 'I don't want you to be discouraged.'

Ti Ofa looks up. 'Just talking to you makes me feel better. Now I know I'll sleep tonight.' He wants to talk, and I suppose he knows he's welcome to do so. 'My situation is so bad. I keep hurting my head because I live in such a crowded house. We only have one bed, and I let my children sleep on it, so I have to sleep under the bed, and I forget, and I hit my head when I sit up. I don't forget what you did for me, Doktè Paul. When I was sick and no one would touch me, you used to sit on my bed with your hand on my head. They had to tie up the dogs in the village, you walked around so late to see sick people.' Ti Ofa declares, 'I would like to give you a chicken or a pig.'

Ordinarily Farmer's skin is pale, with a suggestion of freckles underneath. Now it reddens instantly, from the base of his neck to his forehead. 'You've already given me a lot. Stop it!'

Ti Ofa smiles. 'I'm going to sleep well tonight.'

'Okay, neg pa'- 'my man'- says Farmer."

Picking Up Again Kidder's Book

I read Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains a few years ago. The book documents the work of Dr. Paul Farmer, was a Pulitzer Prize winner, and I've been told is read at the university level at many institutions of higher learning. I thought I would take it up again for two reasons: 1) since early 2010, Grace Chapel shifted its ministry focus in Haiti to a region called Mirebalais; Farmer's work for almost thirty years now in Haiti has been centered in and around the town of Mirebalais, in the Central Plateau Region. It's been very fascinating to re-read Kidder's book, but now with a bit more familiarity with the geography, terrain, region, etc. of Mirebalais and 2) because I just finished Farmer's book Haiti: After the Earthquake.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Medicine Cannot Stop to Argue

"Some people have asked: 'Couldn't you have used that money to help even more people in Haiti?' Medicine cannot stop to argue when there is a patient suffering on the ground. The great joy of a life in medicine is that ability and that mandate: to do whatever it takes for the patient in front of you. No matter how deep the tragedy, or how expansive, we continue our work- one patient at a time (Rosenberg responds to critics of PiH's decision, immediately following the earthquake, to airlift a few Haitian people with acute life-threatening injuries to a PiH partnership hospital in Philadelphia)."

Naomi Rosenberg in Haiti: After the Earthquake, p. 329

Buildings Kill People

Yesterday, I spent some time catching up with my friends in D.C., to see if they were OK. The general report was that no one really knew what was going on at first, perhaps even feared a kind of terrorist attack but that overall everyone was OK, a few pictures shook off the walls, but everyone was OK. No one died as a result of a 5.8 earthquake in the nation’s capital; everyone was OK. Let me say that again, no one died. Seriously? A 5.8 earthquake. Everyone is OK? Are you kidding me?... Hallelujah.

In Farmer’s book, Evan Lyon writes a common saying of seismologists, "Earthquakes don't kill people. Buildings kill people." Lyon continues:

Earthquake illness is a disease of social construction, its severity determined more by the capability of buildings to withstand seismic activity than by the intensity of the tremor. The capability to respond as emergency and health care workers depends, as we’ve seen tragically in Haiti, almost entirely on how physical and human infrastructure fare on shaking ground.

On February 27, 2010, a magnitude 8.8 earthquake, one of the most powerful recorded in human history, occurred off the coast of Chile. It is dangerous to compare tragedies such as the earthquakes that occurred in Chile and Haiti, but a number of differences are striking. The earthquake in Chile was five hundred times more forceful than the disaster in Haiti, yet best estimates suggest that nearly 300,000 people died in Haiti while fewer than 600 died in Chile. Fewer buildings fell and fewer people died.

It is our responsibility as human beings and as those who care about the present and future of Haiti, not to forget that manmade conditions allowed this unnatural disaster to take such a devastating toll. These conditions took more than two hundred years to create; they could be reversed in much less time. But unless our historic memory is long enough and our analysis of the tragedy deep enough, efforts to respond-however generous-will be insufficient. If suffering from earthquakes is a disease of social determination, most meaningfully inflected by poverty, then to prevent the next January 12 we must change the social context in which people live.

Evan Lyon in Haiti: After the Earthquake, p. 314

I was struck with two thoughts in particular regarding infrastructure: 1) Americans live in an incredibly blessed place to have the kind of infrastructure and delivery systems of care we have- as the political season heats up as we soon enter an election year, do not forget that we live in an incredibly blessed society and 2) to truly care for the peoples of the world, Christians must engage questions of infrastructure, government and policy-making; such matters matter terribly to the Missio Dei.

I suppose this is a third thought, but it struck me that in the past we as evangelicals have been so quick to develop our own subcultures and only listen to music, read books and watch movies produced by Christians (and often poorly produced and written at that); yet, that I have never heard a Christian decrying the godlessness of a building or a bridge made by a nonChristian. Why is that so? Because the question at hand is never so much whether a Christian or a nonChristian has formed and shaped the substance and integrity of that bridge or building, rather whether it was in fact done well. I think Christians ought to pay attention to such worldview-related questions as perhaps the greatest question before the Church today is, “do we seek to live well in ALL of life?”

New Blog Title

When my wife Tanya and I get into a heated argument, I must admit I default to being a classic blame-shifter; Lord have mercy on Mike Hsu. While this isn't an argument, I will blame-shift here. My friend and co-pastor Ben Loos was to blame for my original blog title "Hsu Bloggy Blog." Recently my friend John Russnogle asked where my original blog title came from, and I responded "it's Ben Loos' fault!"  

In all seriousness, I told John that the reason I kept the title these last 3+ years is because I am a guy who tends to take himself too seriously, and that I always need some "goofiness" in my life, so that is why the blog title was preserved for so long. Well, John got me thinking that perhaps I should change the blog title to reflect a bit more the nature of the blog itself, so I did it. If you don't like the new title, it's John's fault!

"Eudaimonia" is a word from classical Greek that is generally attributed to Aristotle and means "human flourishing." When Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that He came that we might have "life to the full," that is eudaimonia. When Jeremiah tells the exiles to seek the peace and prosperity of the city (and pray for it), that is eudaimonia (Jer. 29:7). When the kings of the earth bring their glory to the heavenly city illumined by the glory of the Son, that is eudaimonia (Rev. 21:24). When the peoples of this earth know justice, goodness, forgiveness, reconciliation and the blessings of God that reach as far as curse is found, we will all know eudaimonia.

Humanitarian and Political Motivation

Political and military motivation should be separate from humanitarian assistance. By definition, humanitariansm requires impartiality, which is not possible if aid is delivered as a tool to sway opinions, to win support, or to advance one ideology over another. As an organization that partners first and foremost with the poor, PIH look to those we serve for legitimacy and also to determine what is in their best interest. Paul Farmer wrote in 2003:

NGOs must, therefore, take great care in attending to their mission of service to the afflicted; because this is the only way they can truly represent the needs of the victims, and avoid common mistakes and historical irresponsibility. It is when we ignore legitimacy in our pursuit of “effective” developmental models, or when we ignore problems that don’t fit our own conceptions of what is wrong or how to fix it, that NGOs find themselves complicit in the violence they mean to stop or, at the very least, allay. Pragmatic solidarity is what allows us to be discerning in which partnerships benefit our patients, and which ones may harm them.

In truth, no one group or individual has a monopoly on humanitarian actions or goals. The sheer devastation of the earthquake, the flattening of infrastructure, logistics capacity, and medical care, and the loss of key leaders in governmental and nongovernmental sectors required a huge, multifaceted effort. In the face of such catastrophe, we could not afford to ignore military assets. If military cannot by definition be humanitarian actors, they can surely accomplish humanitarian tasks. In Haiti in those first weeks and months, we needed and I welcomed all who came with a humanitarian task in mind, a determination to help achieve the common objective of saving lives and reducing suffering, and a willingness to get their boots dirty.
Louise C. Ivers in Haiti: After the Earthquake, p. 306

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A White Man with a Haitian Soul

"... my deep respect for Dr. Paul Farmer, Polo, our ti doc, who, beyond his role in public health policies and before that terrible January 12, has been a steady part of the twenty-year effort to listen, to hear and, in so many ways, to empower. It is said he has a Haitian soul. I know he does."

Michele Montas-Dominique in Haiti: After the Earthquake, p. 262

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Farmer's Eulogy of First PiH Investor Tom White

Paul Farmer gave the eulogy at Tom White’s funeral. Tom was one of the original founders of Partners in Health (PiH) and also its first investor. Farmer and PiH biographer, Tracy Kidder, writes that Tom probably gave away somewhere in the range of 50 million dollars to PiH throughout his lifetime: I thought Farmer’s reflections on his friend were absolutely compelling. Farmer writes:

How do you measure compassion and goodness? As fond as Tom was of precision, his stock in trade as a builder, he was deeply mistrustful of confident answers to this question. Long before he knew success in business, Tom was asking hard questions about how to live in a world in which it was simply not possible to be free of anxiety. For someone who loved numbers and worked closely with engineers to build sturdy bridges and tunnels and buildings, he was always the first to admit there was no unfailing algebra of decency, no geometry of the heart or calculus of compassion. If I may paraphrase Tom’s son Peter, Tom’s determination to realize eudaimonia- human flourishing- had inspired all those gathered, as I noted in my eulogy:

Tom knew his math but also taught many of us (to borrow form Ephesians) that we sometimes see best with the eyes of the heart. He did not, in his charitable work, take short cuts or avoid the hard process of discernment. Tom knew that everyone in this world can and does suffer, but he also knew that some suffer more than others and that many suffer injustice.

Tom’s generosity did not require proximity. His imagination, and the eyes of his heart, allowed him to understand suffering unlike any he had seen, even in the theatre of war. That’s why his generosity was legendary not just in his hometown but around the world. I hope I might be forgiven for mentioning his work in international health, since that’s what we did together for almost thirty years. It was something of a lost cause until Tom lent us his time and backing. Since Tom’s death, Partners in Health, which Tom founded and funded, has received messages of sympathy and support from Peru, Rwanda, Lesotho, Russia, and especially, from Haiti. Allow me to indulge in what Tom would term running the numbers: by our count, the organization he founded has built or refurbished some sixty hospitals and clinics, scores of schools and community centers, and employs, in over a dozen countries, more than thirteen thousand people. As Jim Kim noted in speaking to the Boston Globe, Tom’s early investments in taking on the care of people living in poverty and with chronic disease led directly to major changes in the way global health is delivered, saving millions of lives already and promising to save millions more.

Paul Farmer's Vision for Haiti by 2015

"Well before 2015, the public hospital in Mirebalais will have been completed and launched. This will come to pass in either scenario, I dare say. But in the brighter scenario, it came to fill a better role not simply as a teaching and referral hospital but also as a source of care for the large number of families coming to central Haiti to work in schools and healthcare institutions as well as in agricultural regions opened up by better roads, improved irrigation, and ready access to credit. Nonstate providers (from NGOs to religious groups) continue to furnish many of these services but are now doing so in a more coordinated manner, one that builds local capacity by training workers and by moving resources to where they are needed most. The medical center in Mirebalais, drawing on educators from North America and Cuba and the Haitian diaspora, has been training not only doctors and nurses but also a broad range of allied health professionals able to strengthen health systems throughout the country."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Doing Good is Never Simple

"Doing good is never simple.... 'consider how Christian aid groups that set up 'redemption' programs to buy the freedom of slaves in Sudan drove up the market incentives for slavers to take more captives.' This dramatic example echoes in modern Haiti: the political economy of servitude underpins not only the Haiti restavek tragedy (restavek is a French reference to children sold as 'working servants' for the wealthy, where they are often abused), linked as it is to both poverty and lack of public education for all,... Growing inequality, both within countries and between them, is the linchpin of modern servitude and weakens the ability of those with the best of intentions to avoid perverse consequences. Efforts to prosecute those who rely on children for domestic labor are less likely than structural interventions- making sure that children go to school where they might receive sound instruction and at least one decent meal- to lessen the restavek problem, a symptom not of Haitian cultural uniqueness, but of poverty and inequality."

Changing the World

Do you know the feeling of being only one person? Wanting to do something meaningful in the world but being only one person? You know, I don’t want to have a God-complex or be paternalistic or have a “Savior-attitude” that somehow the world needs me, but I also want to participate in life in a way that might actually contribute to human flourishing and the building up of the common good, i.e. cooperate in meaningful ways in the Coming Kingdom if you want to corner this preacher and ask him what he’s really talking about.

So I’m one man, but I want to use my energies and life in a way that might have some sort of meaningful “impact” in the world. Well, I began to feel a funny kind of angst earlier this year when I met a young man at Grace Chapel. Emmanuel Habimana is a Tutsi from Rwanda- he was in Lincoln for a short while working on a documentary for National Geographic in cooperation with the University of Nebraska. In the horrific genocide of 1994, both of Emmanuel’s parents and a number of his siblings were murdered. You can read a bit more about Emmanuel here: 

I have to admit that I’ve always been drawn to the story of the Rwanda genocide having thought a lot about the horrors of those three months in the spring of 1994. Long before I met Emmanuel, the Rwandan people always held a special place in my heart, though I had never met a Rwandan until now. I enjoyed getting to know Emmanuel a little bit, despite only having met him not too long before he returned to Rwanda and also began to feel a kind of draw to consider perhaps visiting Emmanuel in Kigali at some point in the future. But admittedly, I felt a little conflicted, you see because I’ve given much of the last 7-8 years of my life to serving the Haitian people, taking trips there and seeking to increase involvement with Haiti for my family and our church. It almost felt like I was “betraying” my commitment to Haiti in thinking about another country like Rwanda. I know that sounds a bit silly, but there are only so many days in a week, so much ability and energy in one person, and anyone who knows anything at all about Haiti knows that all the ability, energy and focus of one person for a country like Haiti is only a drop of water in a vast and endless ocean of need.

Well, do you know when God puts together one of those “moments” when you have a bit of convergence and clarity comes as to why two thoughts (loving Haiti and finding interest in Rwanda in my case), while they may seem incompatible, in fact are not? that perhaps the perceived problem was never the problem, but rather a lack of imagination?

… so I’m reading Paul Farmer’s book Haiti: After the Earthquake, and I get to p. 183 of the book and I hit something of a goldmine that brings convergence, clarity and even relief to my existential angst. Let me quote from Farmer and then I will reflect a little further after the long quote:

In 1995, Rwanda, still reeling from the genocide, was by many measures the poorest country on the face of the earth. It would be hard to imagine a tougher situation-even comparing it to Haiti after the quake. Although Rwanda lost neither a third of its housing stock nor all its federal buildings, it had surely lost more than a quarter of its civil service. Many of the other surviving civil servants were themselves deeply involved in or tarnished by the genocide. After the cessation of hostilities in Rwanda, scores of humanitarian groups and NGOs (small and large) jockeyed for position; most did not care to coordinate their efforts with other NGOs, much less with the interim government trying to restore order and basic services. To the west, in refugee camps in Zaire, hidden among the real refugees, were many of the architects of the genocide. International arms dealers were still shipping them weapons, and cross-border raids and clashes were continuing apace. Rwanda’s rich farmlands lay fallow and hunger was rampant. Many international observers were willing, in 1995, to write off Rwanda as a lost cause.

By 2010, the country would have been almost unrecognizable to the pessimists. Kigali, the capital city, was bustling and clean; new buildings were going up in droves. The country’s GDP had more than trebled in the preceding decade. Education and health care had become, over those years, far more available to the average citizen, and an anticorruption campaign had yielded fruit: a good deal of investment poured in from abroad, from the large diaspora, and from within Rwanda itself. In 2010, hundreds of NGOs were still in the country, but coordination with local and national authorities was the rule in every sense of the word. The country’s national development plan predicted that, by 2020, Rwanda would no longer require foreign assistance.

After working in Haiti and Rwanda for several years, I’d become accustomed to tracing a triangle between Haiti, Harvard, and Rwanda. In September, for long hours en route to Africa and back to Haiti, stuck in planes, I thought mostly about reconstruction. One vision of reconstruction that I’ve repeated passim at the risk of sounding like a broken record was rebuilding public infrastructure to strengthen sovereignty and basic social economic rights. Although building back better seemed already a tired cliché, Rwanda had built sounder structures, reshaped its engagement with foreign aid, and expanded human capacity by investing in health, education and gender equity. Could those billions pledged for Haiti’s reconstruction be translated into a plan like this one? Could some of the larger projects generate jobs that would transfer skills and draw some of the diaspora back to Haiti?

Questions like these led us back to our plans for the Mirebalais teaching hospital, our most ambitious effort to date. We sought commission approval not for funding- we had raised most of the money- but for legitimacy and coordination with other reconstruction efforts that fit into a national plan. The last stop on the triangle was thus central Haiti, where we were about the lay the hospital’s cornerstone.

Mirebalais was, in a way, the birthplace of Partners in Health (the group of which Farmer was co-founder). Many of the founders (Ophelia, Father Fritz and Mamito) and other supporters (including Didi and her family) had first met there in 1983. That year, almost three decades ago, we began to understand the poor quality of medical care available in rural Haiti. Although I hadn’t yet started medical school, it didn’t require an M.D. to understand that a five-minute exchange with a harried Haitian doctor with no lab or other diagnostics was not the recipe for delivering care. And it didn’t require a degree in pharmacology to imagine that the various portions poured into corncob-stoppered bottled were not likely to have more than a placebo effect-or worse.

My experiences in Mirebalais that first brutal and instructive year inspired a life-long desire to see, in Haiti, a hospital worthy of its people.

And so the convergence came together on many fronts. For one, I saw that the attempts of building it back better since the 1994 mass killings described by Natalia Ledford as “the most efficient genocide the world has ever seen” (see the Ledford comment in my blogpost link to Emmanuel above), had actually been accomplished in Rwanda, even if only proximately so. For two, this sort of contrast between Rwanda and Haiti today reminded me of a similiar situation about two hours to the north of Lincoln, NE where I live. Since 2008, I have traveled to Walthill, NE every June. Walthill is on the Omaha reservation and home to many Omaha natives. Despite having a proud history, life on the rez is depressing; there are few jobs, so unemployment among the Omaha Indians is extremely high, suicide rates are high, alcoholism off the charts, kids grow up on the streets with a general sense of hopelessness, violence and poverty are among some of the highest rates in the entire state of Nebraska. Yet if you travel a mere ten minutes to the North of Walthill, you meet another tribe with an entirely different situation: you meet the Winnebago Indians. The first year I was in Walthill in 2008, I wanted to buy some gifts to bring back to my family, to share with them some cultural artifacts of Indian culture, so I was told to go to Winnebago. Why Winnebago, since I was trying to learn about the Omaha? The answer was fairly simple, well, because the Winnebago have a nice retail gift shop- there's really nothing in Walthill. So I went with some friends and drove the entire ten minutes to Winnebago and immediately, though I was still on the rez, I noticed a nice town, not run down at all. When you travel to Winnebago, NE the first thing you see is how nice the town is and how the the economy seems to be chugging along. The native kids love to play basketball and in Winnebago the public basketball courts have a rubberized synthetic deep rich blue material to run on (easier on the knees than concrete)- even growing up in middle America, I had never seen such beautiful public basketball courts- to be blunt, it was amazing to see them on an Indian reservation. Walthill is a completely different story- the burned-out houses, the lack of a vibrant economy, the general “run-down” nature of the town, the poverty of the place can be really hard to see. One Native man said to our church group a couple of years ago, that every year when we come it’s as if God’s angels have come too; but that all the while the vultures circle in the air and once we leave, the death-loving birds descend on the entire place.

Why is Winnebago thriving economically, while Walthill is not? Well, it started with Lance Morgan, a Winnebago tribal member who was educated as an attorney at Harvard and who returned to Winnebago in 1994 to start Ho-Chunk, Inc. an economic development corporation owned by the Winnebago tribe of Nebraska. Since 1994, Ho-Chunk, Inc. has grown from one employee to over 1400, with operations in 10 states and 4 foreign countries ( Ho-Chunk developed jobs both on and off the reservation in areas such as government contracting, corporate services, construction, retail sales and wholesale distribution. And revenues grew from $400,000 in 1995 to $193 million in 2010! ONE PERSON! Morgan's investment into his people is in large part why the Winnebago tribe, not much better off economically than the Omaha peoples not too long ago, is flourishing economically as of today.

Lance Morgan is ONE PERSON! Paul Farmer is ONE PERSON! I set off on this Doctor of Ministry journey to understand more fully what it means for a Christian to participate in meaningful ways "to change the world" (see While James Hunter in his book encourages us to reject utopianism, rather in humility to hold realistic expectations regarding what can truly be accomplished in a fallen world; his final prescription is that Christians are called to a "faithful presence" in the world, not so much to “take over” (as traditional evangelicals have sought to do through the political process), but to serve with intentionality and hopefulness that the world might actually change as a result of our work. Still, Hunter urges patience and a long-term vision for what actually effects true cultural and economic change. In his book, he speaks of the vital importance of transforming institutions, a theme often de-emphasized by evangelicals who focus more on individuals than institutions. Though coming from a different background and tradition, I hear a similar voice in Paul Farmer when he says that the best way to strengthen a country is to seek to strengthen its public sector, rather than have individual NGOs only doing their thing in their little corners of the universe.

Farmer's first piece in seeking to truly strengthen Haiti's public sector is through building a teaching hospital in Mirebalais, which by the way is a stone's throw away from the location of our rural community clinic that we are raising funds to build (

Yes, I am just one person. What can I do truly to change the world? I do agree with the Mother Teresa quote that God calls us to be faithful, not successful. Yet might it be the case that He also delights to use us? perhaps most often in the small ways to gradually enhance the lives of those around us, but maybe also sometimes in big ways that truly change the world? Lance Morgan did something that seemed all but impossible seventeen years ago. Rwanda has achieved a strengthening of its public sector, barely thought possible in 1994, an accomplishment believed by most casual observers to de facto be impossible in Haiti as of today, twenty months following one of the most "acute-on-crisis moments" (Farmer's use of medical terminology to describe the devastation of the January 12th earthquake) the world has ever known. Yet, why would I as a child of God, as one who has a Heavenly Father who hears my prayers, hope for anything less for friends in places like Haiti as well as Walthill? Another evangelical brother might say, but isn't "heaven" and "eternal life" what the people really need? My answer is that all too often my evangelical brothers and sisters have embraced a truncated understanding of the Gospel which is really a message of Good News not merely to get us to heaven, but to address all manner of oppression, injustice and sin, that Christ did come to "make his blessings flow as far as the curse is found" [familiar Christmas tune anyone? See Newbigin critique on this evangelical way of thinking that says “heaven is all that truly matters” (]. 

So the quest continues my friends, the quest to change the world. Most who read this blog (and for this long!) have come from places of privilege and opportunity. Most who read here have a significant level of education- how has that education been given as a gift, as with all good gifts, that we might see ourselves implicated in this world that God made and so loves? Yes, you are only one person, but remember it only took ONE who entered our world, under impoverished circumstances in a smelly stable some 2000 years ago, to change the permanent fortunes of His Beloved people in all times and all places. How might you participate with this One in your historical moment, to change the world?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Magnitude of Destruction

"...some said 220,000 dead; others more and others less. By late March (2010), we knew that a third of Haiti's population had been affected directly, and this meant that most Haitians would be affected as the displaced sought safer places to live. An estimated 25,000 nonresidential buildings had collapsed and, even worse, some 225,000 or more homes. Some reports claimed that close to 40 percent of all federal employees were injured or killed and 28 out of 29 government ministries leveled. Again, the numbers were all over the map. Another assessment noted that about half of all public-sector health facilities in Port-au-Prince collapsed or were deemed unsafe; some 14 percent of Ministry of Health employees died, and two-thirds lost their homes. And injured was not the same as killed..."
Paul Farmer in Haiti: After the Earthquake, p. 119

How "Natural" was the Disaster of Jan. 12th, 2010?

"...just how 'natural' a disaster was the one that struck Haiti on January 12? What made Haiti peculiarly vulnerable to the quake, as it was vulnerable to the storms of 2004 and 2008? How much of this vulnerability was social, rather than natural, and caused by bad policies, foreign and homegrown? What is the role of massive development agencies, and their contractors, in rebuilding whole cities and towns? What are the proper roles for thousands of non-governmental agencies that give Haiti its equivocal nickname, 'the Republic of NGOs?'

These are old questions, both in Haiti and without, that often generate self-serving (and sometimes contradictory) responses and acrimonious debate. Even when the topic is seemingly innocuous- providing health care to the Haitian poor should be pretty uncontroversial- there is a great deal of discord and heat."

Paul Farmer in Haiti: After the Earthquake, pp. 117-18

The Shortcomings of Goodwill Alone

"Having spent the morning preparing remarks for the Senate, I bought a few magazines and papers to read en route to Dulles. Each of them featured Haiti on the cover. One of the dailies ran a story about a young Canadian man who, wanting to help out in Haiti, flew to the Dominican Republic and drove west to Port-au-Prince without much in the way of cash- or anything other than his goodwill. Before long, he ran out of money, and the Canadian embassy had to help send him home. It was meant as a lesson about the importance of planning and the shortcomings of goodwill alone. But it could stand as a parable for foreign aid, except that not all aid has been as honorable in intent."

Paul Farmer in Haiti: After the Earthquake, p. 96

Frustration Following Earthquake

"The frustration of many volunteers and disaster relief experts (who arrived following the January 12th earthquake) was rooted in their inability to find a system capable of effectively using their resources and good will. 'We were unprepared for what we saw in Haiti-the vast amount of human devastation, the complete lack of medical infrastructure, the lack of support from the Haitian medical community, the lack of organization on the ground,' wrote three New York surgeons after a mission to the quake zone. They first showed up at the General Hospital [in Port-au-Prince (where my colleagues had directed them)] but felt that their efforts to help were futile: 'This facility could not nearly accommodate our equipment nor our expertise to treat the volume of injuries we saw.' A number of visiting medical teams felt similar frustrations well before they packed and left. They had encountered, for the first time, the profound weakness of the underdeveloped public hospitals that should have been the frontline in the fight to save lives after the quake. From day one, friction grew between teams with much-needed skills and those, mostly Haitian, who had for years tried to keep such facilities from collapsing.

Most of the friction did not stem from cultural barriers. Some of the complaints came from Haitian-American professionals who spoke Creole and French just fine. (Many were happy to question, in those languages, the competence of their fellow Haitian professionals. It was a combustible mix, and a conversation to which non-Haitians contributed at their own peril.) These were, rather, structural problems. The urban public health delivery system, long weakened, was now all but destroyed. Beyond saving lives, the medical practitioners faced a choice between giving up on the public system and seeking to rebuild it. It was for this reason we sought to direct expertise, skills, and goodwill towards the public-sector institutions still standing.

These frustrations were not new. In previous decades, we had encountered the same deficits and dysfunction while trying to provide health care to Haiti's poor. We learned early on about the friction between the diaspora and the Haitians we worked with-those who had never left. But such friction was not a given, nor did it prevent young Haitian-Americans from providing some of the best, most patient care in the days after the earthquake. Natasha Archer, a young Haitian-American resident physician from Harvard, was one of the many volunteers based at the General Hospital. One night, after a long day of service, she wrote about lifesaving work of a makeshift surgical team from Haiti, Boston, New York and New Jersey. When a young girl presented with a rigid abdomen late one evening, and an x-ray suggested a perforated small intestine, she was immediately taken to the OR. The cause was likely typhoid. Natasha warned, correctly, that a lack of proper sanitation would lead to more such cases- and other waterborne illness.

I had reviewed the scant literature on typhoid in Haiti a decade before (it revealed the same high prevalence) and came to the same conclusion. I'd issued the same warnings. A few years before the earthquake, Haiti was declared the most water-insecure country in the hemisphere. After the temblor, sanitary conditions only magnified the threat of waterborne pathogens, including cholera- the most dreaded consequence of disaster and displacement. This was, again, what doctors termed an acute-on-chronic problem: one that should have been dealt with long ago, and one crying out for attention in the weeks after the quake. The good news was that, with proper surgical care, this girl's life could be saved, and it was. Young doctors like Natasha were often the glue that held together people from what seemed like different worlds, people with the best of intentions."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Haiti: After the Earthquake, by Paul Farmer

At the beginning of his new book, Paul Farmer writes regarding the purpose of his book. His organization Partners in Health has now been in Haiti for twenty-five years. Also, PiH has been very supportive of our plans to build a medical clinic in the Central Plateau Region, the area Paul Farmer and PiH have focused their work over the years. We have been grateful for PiH’s counsel and input, as they have begun plans to build a larger hospital not too far from where our community clinic is planned to be situated:

This quarter-century has been, for us, one of satisfying growth in spite of disappointments and the dashing of many of the hopes awakened by the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986. If this book has a central metaphor, it’s one taken from clinical medicine: the earthquake can be understood as an “acute-on-chronic” event. It was devastating because a history of adverse social conditions and extreme ecological fragility primed Port-au-Prince for massive loss of life and destruction when the ground began shaking on January 12. For this reason, the account is not linear but rather follows clinical logic: it explores the acute-on-chronic disaster that occurred on January 12 and its origins in Haiti’s troubled history.

A sound account of the quake must go deep into Haiti’s history to illuminate what caused the chronic disabilities, engendered over five centuries by transnational social and economic forces with deep roots in the colonial enterprise. Haiti was born of resistance to this enterprise, and therein lies both the strength and disability of the new polity-the reactive and reticulated pattern of growth registered in the nineteenth century and in the past one, when Haiti became anchored more formally in the “American hemisphere” through a nineteen-year military occupation by its oldest neighbor. When the U.S. Marines withdrew in 1934, they left a superficial calm and a social class that relied heavily on the army as the arbiter of political transitions.

Historians often claim that their discipline reveals the significance of current social processes, and they are right: the decades preceding the quake set the stage not only for what occurred during the acute event but also for the challenge of reconstruction. Following a brief review of Haitian history-which is necessarily, a review of the history of the New World-we return to the challenge of reconstruction after the temblor of 2010. In the years before it, we saw that Haiti had become a veritable “Republic of NGOs,” home to a proliferation of goodwill that did little or nothing to strengthen the public sector. Thus did clinics sprout up without much aid to the health system; thus did schools arise by the hundreds even as the Ministry of Education faltered; thus did water projects appear even as water security (like food security) was enfeebled.

This was the situation pre-quake, as described in this book. Efforts to rebuild after the quake needed to draw on the sudden attention of the world and the generous promises and pledges to craft a new way of doing business that did not further weaken the Haitian government. It’s hard to imagine public health without a public sector, and the same could be said for public education and public works. And so this book recounts efforts to stand up a “recovery commission” to address the dysfunctional system of humanitarian aid that, good attentions aside, has become another obstacle to Haiti’s recovery and sovereignty.

It’s the argument of this book that rebuilding capacity-public or private-in Haiti requires sound analysis of what, exactly, has gone so wrong in the previous four decades…. We’ve also sought to focus on the shortcomings of the quake response, rather than the victories.

In academic circles, few rewards are given for this sort of candor, … But knowing that a quarter of a million voices were silenced on a single night and that more recent problems (such as cholera) are part of the same tragedy encourages us to offer these personal and place-specific narratives.

… they constitute our collective effort to recount and account: to recount what happened before it slips from our memories and to account for what placed Haiti, a country we all love, at such extreme risk well before January 12, 2010.

This book, with all its limitations, is offered as a humble tribute to those who perished that day, to those who live on with their injuries, visible and invisible, and to those who continue to stand with the Haitian people. Among them are the tens of thousands who responded to the suffering caused or worsened by the earthquake, including those who supported, quietly from afar, the imperfect efforts described in these pages.

After reading in Kapic’s book (see previous blogpost), that over the last five decades 2.3 trillion dollars in foreign aid have been spent worldwide, with little to show for it, … I am all the more humbled to consider just how “in over our heads” we are to be so audacious as to believe that we might do something meaningful in a place like Haiti; yet, genuine humility is a necessary prerequisite for meaningful ministry nonetheless, so I guess being overwhelmed is better than not being so... o come quickly Lord Jesus! One final insight- if you hope to attempt to do meaningful work in places like Haiti, as so many at Grace Chapel do, then the following is a must read for you: When Helping Hurts. The book is required reading for all our teams that travel with us to Haiti.  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

God So Loved, He Gave, by Kelly M. Kapic

Last year my good friend and seminary classmate Kelly Kapic came out with his book God So Loved, He Gave: Entering the Movement of Divine Generosity. Needless to say, it's quite good. I'm very proud of my good friend for the various ways God has used him through his writings, ministry as well as his teaching post at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. 

As I've been working through his book, there was this one section I came across that I thought was challenging and helpful, especially as I prepare to take my seventh trip to Haiti this November. Last year, after being involved with Haiti since 2004 and having taken multiple trips as a church, we raised the level of our involvement in Haiti by committing to help build a medical clinic in Mirebalais, Haiti and becoming more directly involved with the ministry of Great Commission Alliance (GCA). Grace Chapel member Gene Summerlin administers all of GCA's medical trips and his son Trey Summerlin is preparing to move to Mirebalais full-time. So Kapic's words are especially sobering and challenging when he writes:

… sometimes we hear philanthropists and celebrities speak about the thousands of people who die every day from easily preventable diseases. With good intentions, they will often call for more foreign aid and private donations. But the truth is that such expenditures are all but meaningless if they are not drenched in humility.  

As development economist William Easterly has observed, the West has spent over 2.3 trillion dollars on foreign aid over the last five decades. But with that mountain of money it has accomplished precious little. Why? Easterly does not use biblical language or categories to explain his diagnosis. But in the final analysis, this respected secular economist ultimately concludes that the problem has been rooted in pride. The West, according to Easterly, has made its “Big Plans” to help the poor and given away lots of money. But it has failed to listen to the voices of the poor in the process. A lack of feedback mechanisms from the beneficiaries of aid to those giving the aid has made many programs dangerously ineffective. Donor countries, institutions, and individuals are tempted to dole out money, but they are reluctant to sacrifice their privileged positions of power and authority.

This is a struggle for all of us, but the poor need to be heard and valued as image bearers, not projects. But we can only hear their voices when we humble ourselves and genuinely listen and engage their lives. Thus, biblical generosity always involves not just giving, but also walking with the poor and “associating with the lowly” (Rom. 12:16). This applies, of course, not merely to donor countries and institutions but to each of us as individuals..., pp. 159-60.

This is quite humbling to consider the danger of our pride not just as a spiritual problem, but also having material and economic consequences as well! This is one of the great lessons I've been learning as of late as God has being doing a work of renewal in my life through my Doctor of Ministry program, that it's ALL so integrally connected. As one of my D.Min. mentors Steven Garber likes to say, we live in a moral universe; sometimes the Great Economy (Wendell Berry's term for "The Kingdom of God") calls to account the lesser economies of the worlds we've created for ourselves (consider Babel in Genesis 11 as a prime example). In the end, humanity cannot continue to give itself to "The Great Sin" (C.S. Lewis' term for Pride) and flourish indefinitely as well [certainly the cry of the Job and Jeremiah rings in our hearts, why does the way of the wicked prosper? (Job 21:7; Jer. 12:1); nonetheless, the cry is for justice that will indeed come once the patience and forbearance of of the Lord runs its course (Rev. 22:20)]. The way of human pride simply cannot bring about human flourishing ultimately since, to use Schaeffer's language, this is the world made by the God who is there.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Shallows, Final Part

Nicholas Carr writes an afterword barely two years after putting out his book in 2010. Carr writes:

Dozens of people wrote to share their own stories of how the Web has scattered their attention, parched their memory, or turned them into compulsive nibblers of info-snacks. I was particularly struck by the large number of notes that came from young people- high-schoolers, college kids, twentysomethings. They fear that constant connectivity may be constricting rather than expanding their horizons. Some of their stories are poignant. One college senior sent me a long e-mail describing how he has struggled “with a moderate to major form of Internet addiction” since the third grade. “I am unable to focus on anything in a deep or detailed manner,” he wrote. “The only thing my mind can do, indeed the only thing it wants to do, is plug back into that distracted frenzied blitz of online information.” He is drawn back into the Web even though he knows that “the happiest and most fulfilled times of my life have all involved a prolonged separation from the Internet.”…

Of course, in conjuring up a big anti-Net backlash, I may be indulging in a fantasy of my own. After all, the internet tide continues to well. In the months since I completed The Shallows, Facebook membership has doubled from 300 million to 600 million; the number of text messages processed every month by the typical American teen has jumped from 2,300 to 3,300; sales of e-readers, tablets, and smartphones have skyrocketed; app stores have proliferated; elementary schools have rushed to put iPads in their students’ hands; and the time we spend in front of screens has continued its seemingly inexorable rise. We may be wary of what our devices are doing to us, but we’re using them more than ever. And yet, history tells us, it’s only against such powerful cultural currents that countercultural movements take shape.

… it’s a small boat. But there’s still plenty of room inside. Feel free to grab an oar.

The Shallows, p. 226,228

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Shallows, part 3

"When we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can control by the pace of our reading. Through our single-minded concentration on the text, we can transfer all or most of the information, thimbleful by thimbleful, into long-term memory and forge the rich associations essential to the creation of schemas. With the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from one faucet to the next. We're able to transfer only a small portion of the information to long-term memory, and what we do transfer is a jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream from one source.

The information flowing into our working memory at any given moment is called our 'cognitive load.' When the load exceeds our mind's ability to store and process information- when the water overflows the thimble- we're unable to retain the information or to draw connections with the information already stored in our long-term memory. We can't translate the new information into schemas. Our ability to learn suffers, and our understanding remains shallow. Because our ability to maintain our attention also depends on our working memory- 'we have to remember what it is we are to concentrate on,' ... Experiments indicate that as we reach the limits of our working memory, it becomes harder to distinguish relevant information from irrelevant information, signal from noise. We become mindless consumers of data."

The Shallows, pp. 124-25

The Shallows, part 2

"In a 2005 interview, Michael Merzenich ruminated on the Internet's power to cause not just modest alternations but fundamental changes in our mental makeup. Noting that 'our brain is modified on a substantial scale, physically and functionally, each time we learn a new skill or develop a new ability,' he described the Net as the latest in a series of 'modern cultural specializations' that 'contemporary humans can spend millions of 'practice' events at [and that] the average human a thousand years ago had absolutely no exposure to.' He concluded that 'our brains are massively remodeled by this exposure.'...

Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and the director of its Memory and Aging Center, has been studying the physiological and neurological effects of the use of digital media, and what he's discovered backs up Merzenich's belief that the Net causes extensive brain changes. 'The current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains,' he says. The daily use of computers, smartphones, search engines, and other such tools 'stimulates brain cell alternation and neurotransmitter release, gradually strengthening new neural pathways in our brains while weakening old ones.'

In 2008, Small and two of his colleagues carried out the first experiment that actually showed people's brains changing in response to internet use. The researchers recruited twenty-four volunteers- a dozen experienced Web surfers and a dozen novices- and scanned their brains as they performed searches on Google.... The scans revealed that the brain activity of the experienced Googlers was much broader than that of the novices. In particular, 'the computer-savvy subjects used a specific network in the left front part of their brian, known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, [while] the Internet-naive subjects showed minimal, if any, activity in this area.' As a control for the test, the researchers also had the subjects read straight text in a simulation of book reading; in this case, scans revealed no significant difference in brain activity between the two groups. Clearly, the experienced Net users' distinctive neural pathways had developed through their Internet use."

The Shallows, pp. 119-21

The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr

I've been working through a book called The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. In the book, Nicholas Carr makes the case for why the medium of the internet actually molds some of the "plasticity" of the brain so as to make us less able to participate in "deep reading." For Christians, this has huge implications on us as we are to be "people of the Book." If we are unable to "Eat this Book" as Eugene Peterson says, we will be unable to grow more fully into the people God means for us to be. In chapter 7 called "The Juggler's Brain," Carr writes:

... What can science tell us about the actual effects that Internet use is having on the way our minds work? No doubt, this question will be the subject of a great deal of research in the years ahead. Already, though, there is much we know or can surmise. The news is even more disturbing than I had suspected. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators, and Web designers point to the same conclusion: when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. It's possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just as it's possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that's not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards.

One thing is very clear: if, knowing what we know today about the brain's plasticity, you were to set out to invent a medium that would rewire our mental circuits as quickly and thoroughly as possible, you would probably end up designing something that looks and works a lot like the Internet. It's not just that we tend to use the Net regularly, even obsessively. It's that the Net delivers precisely the kind of sensory and cognitive sitmuli- repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive- that have been shown to result in strong and rapid alternations in brain circuits and functions. With the exception of alphabets and number systems, the Net may well be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use. At the very least, it's the most powerful that has come along since the book.  The Shallows, pp. 115, 116

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Swimming in a Vast Ocean, by Eugene Peterson

Every expectation that we bring to this book (the Bible) is inadequate or mistaken. This is a text that reveals the sovereign God in being and action. It does not flatter us, it does not seek to please us. We enter this text to meet God as he reveals himself, not to look for truth or history or morals that we can use for ourselves.... we do not read the Bible in order to find out how to get God into our lives, get him to participate in our lives. That's getting it backward.

As we cultivate a participatory mind-set in relation to our Bibles, we need a complete renovation of our imaginations. We are accustomed to thinking of the biblical world as smaller than the secular world. Tell-tale phrases gives us away. We talk of "making the Bible relevant to the world," as if the world is the fundamental reality and the Bible something that is going to help it or fix it. We talk of "fitting the Bible into our lives" or "making room in our day for the Bible," as if the Bible is something that we can add on to or squeeze into our already full lives.

As we personally participate in the Scripture-revealed world of the emphatically personal God, we not only have to be willing to accept the strangeness of this world- that it doesn't fit our preconceptions or tastes- but also the staggering largeness of it. We find ourselves in a truly expanding universe that exceeds anything we learned in our geography or astronomy books.

Our imaginations have to be revamped to take in this large, immense world of God's revelation in contrast to the small, cramped world of human "figuring out." We learn to live, imagine, believe, love, converse in this immense and richly organic and detailed world to which we are given access by our Old and New Testaments. "Biblical" does not mean cobbling texts together to prove or substantiate some dogma or practice that we have landed on. Rather, it signals an opening up into what "no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, [but] what God... has revealed to us through the spirit" (1 Cor 2:9-10).

What we must never be encouraged to do, although all of us are guilty of it over and over, is to force Scripture to fit our experience. Our experience is too small; it's like trying to put the ocean into a thimble. What we want is to fit into the world revealed by Scripture, to swim in this vast ocean.

What we are after is first noticing and then participating in the way the large world of the Bible absorbs the much smaller world of our science and economics and politics that provides the so-called worldview in which we are used to working out our daily concerns.

Eat This Book, pp. 67-8