Old lessons seem to come back round again and again.
In the 1970's there was a photo from the World Press which became really famous. A young photo-journalist travelling in Africa, following the progress of yet another African drought had captured what seemed to be a standard World Vision advertisement. In the centre of the frame a young black boy stared out from big brown eyes; glazed and hopeless. He crouched in the sand, sun shining fiercely on skin pulled tight over bony ribs. His knobbly knees poked out above matchstick legs.
It was a sad picture, undeniably, but what was truly haunting was a shadow one could easily miss. In the top right corner of the photo sat a vulture. Sitting, staring hungrily, eyeing up this little boy. A bird of prey - he could smell death approaching, and he was waiting for his meal.
Both the photo and the photo-journalist burst onto the international scene; fame, fortune and photography contracts rained from the wealthy western sky. Critics appreciated his ability to capture the 'raw' and 'grim' realities of life far, far, away.
Time and time again, however, in interviews and at cocktail parties, people would ask "So, what did you do?"
" There was nothing I could do" he would say. "I could have chased the vulture away, but I knew that as soon as I left, he would come back."
And only months later, the photographer was found dead in his apartment. Suicide, some would speculate - caused by his overwhelming guilt and helplessness in the face of what he had seen.
Last week a group of us were travelling home on a Sunday night when we came across an accident. Minutes before, a bus travelling in the opposite direction had come off the road and rolled. We were on the scene before the emergency services. Passengers were still being helped out of the escape hatch on the roof. In my mind, I raced through the possibilities of whether we would be more help than hindrance by stopping - there were already about 15 cars pulled off to the side of the road to assist. But in the end I pulled over and slid into park.
My younger brother pulled out his iphone excitedly - " I could take a picture and send it to the Herald", and he leaned over to snap away, before I brusquely put a stop to it claiming it was "insensitive" and "disrespectful". Something inside me rebelled at the idea of getting any sort of benefit or enjoyment from an event that would have been scary if not terrifying for those involved, and which may have (we did not yet know) caused injury or even death!
20 minutes later, we left the scene in the hands of emergency crews. We had talked to some passengers, hugged them, given away a couple of blankets, and palmed off the few muesli bars left over from our lunch. As we rolled away, I leaned over and told my bro "go for it and take some shots now."
It's got me thinking.
People may criticise the photographer for walking away, but isnt' that what we do every single time we see a need and we ignore it? I may have told my brother to stop with the camera, but really - it wasn't wrong to take a photo, as we found out later - there were no Serious Injuries, and, in all honesty, stopping to help may have been more about putting my mind at ease that we didnt' just drive past rather than actually having made a tangible legitimate difference.
When I see these things I want to make it right. I don't want to just take a photo, I feel like I need to do more, and at the same time I feel like I can never give enough. There will always be one more child. The vulture will always be lurking. I'll have to fly home. What is the point? What is my role?
Sometimes our job IS to take a photo and tell a story, sometimes it is to listen and understand, sometimes it is to give money, to give time, to simply pray. At other times, our involvement might involve a combination of these, or a longer term commitment. It might involve a one-off action or a continuous, intentional investment.
The thing I need to remember is to keep my focus from centreing 1) on the needs and 2) on my ability to meet them. 1) is overwhelmingly big and 2) is overwhelmingly inadequate.
Every now and again I fall into the trap of thinking that maybe I am some kind of second Messiah, who can make everyone happy, make the world right again, fix people's problems. I mean, I don't really think this, but I act like I do. I rush around trying to fit everything in, trying to give time here and emotion there. Spending energy without taking a breath, and I end up disillusioned and disappointed to see that the biggest change is a few grey hairs and extra bags under my eyes.
I need be ME. ME. ME, wonderful amazing, glorious, made-like-this-for-a-reason, creation-of-the-Most-High-God ME! I need to be OK with God giving me a role that seems small, insignificant, useless in the long-run, unglamourous, unnoticed, unappreciated. I need to be OK with God not giving me a job in meeting some particular person's need. I need to be OK with God being God, with God being the answer and ultimate solution to people's needs. OK with God holding the master plan and doing things over time in HIS time, not my time, and doing it HIS way, not my way. It's so easy to forget, but it sure takes a lot of weight off my shoulders when I remember.
Because it's when I am ME in my weakness, and frailty, not-obsessed-with-fixing-the-world -and-making-people-happy,my genuine Jesus-loving, life-loving self, that I'm actually free to be used to the most amazing potential. When I am weak, THEN He is strong. God doesn't show us people and needs so that we can sort them out ourselves. He shows them to us so that we can see Him; right there in the middle of it.
I feel ashamed of myself when I read this. For being SO thick! and slow to learn! Grrrrrrr. Grrrrr Grrrrace. Yeah. Grace.
Monday, August 26, 2013
Friday, August 23, 2013
Thursday, April 4, 2013
A wee poem I wrote during a summer road-trip I took with my sisters. Tracing our roots, returning to the land. Finding our marae.
We came down the valley
like the mist
that clung softly to the native bush
taku maunga –
and bringing the cobwebs to life.
We came down the valley
like the creeks
that murmur to each other
as they zigzag back and forth,
taking their time because
the only rhythym in this place is
day and night
Ko Waiariki raua ko Waiatua oku awa
No clocks, no dates, no deadlines.
We came down the valley
only we bumped and juddered
over gravel roads
like intruders in a yellow SUV
Past the bay all churned and brown
from the storms & swells
Ko Waimahana te moana.
Ko Waimahana te marae.
Ko Puhi o te Waka te whare.
Ko Hone Hohepa toku koroua.
Ko Peta-Maria ahau.
Monday, February 18, 2013
Does it make her less British that she doesn’t support the monarchy?
less English that she doesn’t drink tea?
less Singaporean that she doesn’t like to shop?
less Chinese that she doesn’t like Math and grew up in Timaru?
Does it make him less Thai that he’s not Buddhist?
less Australian that he doesn’t know the national anthem?
less German that he is imprecise and incessantly late?
less Samoan that he is half Palagi?
Does it make them less Korean because they are also Japanese?
less Turkish becasue they don’t speak it?
less Ethiopian becasue they consider themselves Kiwis?
Less Maori because it’s only one fifty-sixth?
IS my cultural identity just
a matter of how
How strongly they connect
values, ideals and
ways of being?
Knowing where I came from
learning from it Makes me More
Knowing what I value
why I do
who else shares this Makes me More
Knowing who others are
where they come from
learning from it Makes me More
newness/diversity/unity Makes me More
It helps me know
Makes me More
My bus driver is a pirate
His gold earrings, no doubt the loot
gathered raiding a Spanish galleon
A bushy mass of black hair engulfs his chin,
flows down his chest.
His head a shining dome
the sacred Muslim rock
He holds the wheel with muscled forearms
spread by the width of
just as he would
a ships wheel
in a howling gale
From port to starboard
he barrels down Kent Terrace
I see him
aboard a heaving ship
feet planted firmly
ploughing through enormous waves
When he checks passengers
in the mirror
I notice the eye creases
carved out by
gazing toward the horizon
across vast oceans
and seven seas
But all these things may have passed my notice
were it not for the gleam in his dark flashing eyes
when I presented a gold doubloon.
and I’m sure I heard him whisper:
“Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Avast me hearties and shiver me timbers!
To Kilbirnie we shall go,
or I’m not Long John Silver”