working out with the UPDF

Yesterday, instead of heading over to Jordan House at 8, I woke up at the butt-crack of dawn to head down to a Ugandan Military base to join the soldiers for a day of formations and physical training. Already this morning I am sunburnt and sore. So sore in fact I can hardly walk. But more then that my mind is swimming trying to figure out how to process this crazy experience that I never in a million years thought I would have. There are many reasons I would've bet against it, but I'll only mention two.

Reason One: I hate working out. Any of you who know me well enough can easily see through the once a month facade I put on about loving to exercise. Despite being aware of it's health benefits I would take coffee and a book over the gym any day. Knowing this, I cannot understand what confused state I was in when I decided to go try and work out with the military. I did less then a third of what they did, and I'm still not convinced that my legs can carry me down the stairs to get lunch.

Reason Two: I don't like soldiers. There is something in my brain that tells me to be afraid of them, to not look them in the eyes, and certainly not to trust them. You can imagine my urge to flee as I walked onto a Ugandan military base wearing a skirt. Even before I became a pacifist two years ago this is the way I felt. I'm beginning to get the feeling God is not in support of this attitude.

Somehow I'm starting to see that in typical Divine fashion this realization has been long coming. Slowly and almost imperceptibly the foundation of this jump has been laid. As some of my best friends from high school joined ROTC I could admit I still loved them, because after all, I knew them before they were soldiers. And this summer when a soldier heading to Iraq became one of my best friends, I tried to shake it off as an ironic coincidence. And then here, some of the only young Americans, and thus some of our tightest friends, are all ex-military here to work with the UPDF (Ugandan military who come in shifts and head out to fight in Somalia once their training is over). When they invited us out to see what they do all day I was expecting to see soldiers, but surprisingly what I saw, was people.

Although my theology on war is far from developed, one thing I hate about it is the way it dehumanizes. A quote from a book I just read called The Passion by Jeanette Winterson says this, "There is no such thing as a limited victory. Every victory leaves another resentment, another defeated and humiliated people. Another place to guard and defend and fear. What I learned about war in the years before I came to this lonely place were things any child could have told me. 'Will you kill people Henri?' 'Not people, Louise, just the enemy.' 'What is enemy?' 'Someone who's not on your side.' No one's on your side when you're the conqueror. Your enemies take up more room then your friends. Could so many straightforward ordinary lives suddenly become men to kill and women to rape?" But I don't think war only dehumanizes the defeated. I know very little of what soldiers have to do. But of what I do know- the places they have to go, the things they have to do once they're there, and what they are required to think about it- those are things that are better done by machines. But sense we have not created robots yet, we create soldiers, asking men to put aside their hearts, pick up a weapon and become something slightly less human then they were before.

This is where my conviction comes in. My fears and stereotypes and assumptions of soldiers have only added to their burden. I have spent years withholding love, dignity, and humanity in a pathetic form of protest. Today I admit to being a pitiful pacifist, doing the very thing I hate, fighting fire with fire and doing nothing to stop the house from burning down. If I desire to free the oppressed in a way that also frees the oppressors, if I long to see the homeless taken in without the rich sleeping on the streets, if I want to follow what I believe Jesus was doing as he ate at tables full of losers and still did not withhold grace from the winners... then I still have a long ways to go.

So what does this mean? Am I suddenly okay with the idea of using intimidation and power as a means to get what you want? No. Do I think it is ever okay to take the life of another person? No. Am I okay with insulting soldiers in training by kicking sand in their faces and calling them "Women" and "Homos" implying that both of those are lesser people groups? Definitely not. But it does mean that I am going to stop passing out judgements that aren't mine to give. It means that I am going to try my best to have ears to hear and eyes to see people for who they are... people. All of us, hippies and soldiers, equally undeserving of Grace and yet deemed worthy of Love.


everything and nothing

It is amazing how time seems to move faster then me, even when I'm running.

The past few weeks have been full of everything and nothing. Things at work are moving slowly but surely. The preschool now has a projected budget and a uniform design. The storage room is 3/4 finished with my organizational wrath. Matty can now spell his name with out any help. And today I became an accountant. Don't worry, it's mostly data entry stuff and how hard is it to balance an equation? Not hard. Plus I get to hand people their wages, which is always a good feeling. I finally got out of my is-the-work-I'm-doing-really-making-a-difference slump when I read the chapter in The Prophet on work. In summary it said this- Work is the manifestation of love. Every work you do, do it as though you were working for your beloved. If you cannot work with love, it's better to become a beggar and collect your wages from those who can.

In other news, I am finally feeling like I have a community, humble as it is. The boda drivers who we now call mukwano guange (my friends). The staff and parents at the international school who finally remember my name. The church we go to, where we don't know most people's names, but where we want to. Coworkers who are more like compadres, and friends that we can just chill with and not feel awkward. It's far from my vast network of loved ones at home, but I think it will work at sustaining life.

And I have to confess... today I played pretend. Holding my cup of coffee up to my face I closed my eyes and traveled all the way across the ocean and land masses to Court St. in Salem. I was at starbucks. I could smell the pumpkin spice lattes and overprices pastries. I could see the newspapers and laptops busily being poured over by rushing business men and overheard the prayers and gossip coming from a few pastors, as well as a teenage girl talking a bit too loudly on her cell. I saw the rain outside and the people bundled in Northface and Ugs to keep out the mucky damp leaves and prickly November cold. I thought about leaving, going to my car and driving down the road to my home, or just up I-5 to portland to meet some friends on 23rd or at Whole Foods. As safe and comfortable and wonderful as it was to be home, in that familiar moment I missed Uganda. I missed the unpredictability, the black skin, the sunshine, and the near death experiences on every boda ride to work. I missed knowing my need. I missed my friends, my work, and being literally dirty every day. And so I decided to come back. It was a quick journey because of course I only had to open my eyes.

The educational lesson here: Playing pretend is not only a vital part of child development.

And so now, back home in Uganda I am writing to send you my love and let you know all is well.