The NFL is the New Sheriff in Town

There are two common responses to the Adrian Peterson suspension. One goes like this: “What?! Others players have done far worse and have gotten far less.”

The other side says, “Good. He got what he deserved.”

But both sides take the phenomenal leap of assuming that the NFL should be in charge of distributing justice–even taking priority over the justice system.

This idea is simply taken for granted. It’s not if the NFL should punish its employees, but how.

At first, this got me thinking of my father, a mechanic with a small business employing one or two guys at a time. A few years back, one of his employees got a DUI for the second time. What did my father do?

Nothing.

That’s why we have a justice system. But if his employee wasn’t able to come to work due to not having a license or being in jail, then my father would have to fire the guy. That’s how that worked.

I posted this argument on Facebook and some responded that the NFL is public, so the situation is different. But I don’t see movie studios not hiring actors because of their recent transgressions.

Nevertheless, when another NFL running back, Ray Rice, was caught on camera earlier this year hitting his fiance, there was public outrage because he let off without much punishment. But it wasn’t the justice system people were mad at–it was the NFL. Petitions were started to oust the current NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell. No petition for the prosecutor or judge who were the ones actually responsible for doling out justice.

The assumption on the NFL to act has become so ingrained that one popular media went so far as to say that the NFL “has condoned domestic violence for years” because it hasn’t always punished its players for their crimes. By that logic, my father condones driving drunk.

When did the NFL become the barometer of justice in America?

I think it got this way, because of the NFL’s size and influence. That’s perhaps a drawback to the power the NFL aims for. Becoming an entity with such gravity, the satellite of justice now revolves around it.

And being a high paid athlete for this entity isn’t seen as a job. (This is where my perspective differs. Why shouldn’t a man be allowed to work while a case is pending, or in the case of Peterson, after his case is settled?) However, for most of America, it seems, playing in the NFL is seen mainly as a privilege. And people who screw up shouldn’t be afforded such privileges.

Whatever the reasons, the NFL is looked at as a gauge for justice.

This is why Peterson was punished the way he was. The NFL has a brand to protect, and because popular (or at least the most vocal) belief equates the NFL’s response with the measure of justice, the NFL has to do what’s now considered right and take action.

So the question to ask is: where does this mean for American justice?

That the NFL is now required to punish their players in addition to what the justice system sentences indicates, I believe, a phenomenon of the public looking to entities outside the government for justice. Again, most people didn’t even care that the prosecutor and judge let Ray Rice off the hook. Along with the NFL’s growth and influence making them a bigger target for taking punitive action against their players, the increased connectivity of the internet fans the flames of people’s demands. And now, it’s simply more effective to demand justice from the NFL rather than from the government. Just look at how quickly the NFL adjusted its policy. One year they don’t punish a player for domestic abuse; the next year they do.

This has appeal. It’s nice to know one’s voice is heard.

But it’s also concerning. On September 18, the Arizona Cardinals football team, out of fear of the issue and the public outcry, released a player just hours after his arrest for domestic assault. To the degree that the NFL is malleable and able to change is going to be the same level of susceptibility to mob demands. And the NFL is the only game in town, so what can a player do? Playing for the NFL is a job. And now that player, who hasn’t even had his day in court, is (as far as I know) unemployed.

It’s also concerning because of the language used two days ago in the NFL commissioner’s letter to Adrian Peterson to explain Peterson’s suspension. The parental and scolding aspect of the courts that is sometimes criticized is now part of the job description of the NFL commissioner apparently. Referring to Peterson’s abuse to his son, Goodell stated to Peterson:

“…the injury was inflicted on a child who was only 4 years old. The difference in size and strength between you and the child is significant…”

Adrian Peterson

“While an adult may have a number of options when confronted with abuse — to flee, to fight back or to seek help from law enforcement — none of those options is realistically available to a 4-year old child.”

“…you have shown no meaningful remorse for your conduct.”

Roger Goodell

“The well-being of your children is of paramount concern.”

“In order to assess your progress going forward, I will establish periodic reviews, the first of which will be on or about April 15, 2015. At that time, I will meet with you and your representatives and the NFL Players Association to review the extent to which you have complied with your program of counseling and therapy and both made and lived up to an affirmative commitment to change such that this conduct will not occur again.”

Maybe these are words of a man guilted into saying all of this by public outcry. Maybe these are the first awkward steps in this infant phenomenon of the NFL being the new sheriff in town.

Last night on my way home from work, I was listening to sports talk radio and national personality Dan Patrick said he doesn’t like that the NFL is “going down this road” of micromanaging the players’ personal lives. But I think the trend will perpetuate.

NFL to MLB to NBA to NASCAR to WNBA to PGA to SAG to 3M…

The justice system of any society is designed to punish offenders and curb the offenses committed. With a more connected society than ever before, people–at least in these NFL cases–are bypassing their politicians and setting their sights on other means of seeking justice. Perhaps this is a social evolution of justice. Employment and social acceptance will hang over wrongdoers’ heads. Not jails or community service. But that would require the justice system to step aside or at least take a back seat. As it is now, people like Adrian Peterson are having to endure two modes of justice for their mistakes.

Goodbye, East African Village School

As a boy in northern Minnesota, we’d drive down to “the cities” on special occasions. On the way, we’d often stop halfway at a city called Brainerd. Back then, you had to drive through the city because there was no bypass. Mom-n-pop shops through downtown Brainerd were the roadside attractions, and a McDonald’s or gas station would be our halfway point pit stop.

Today, I don’t see any of those mom-n-pop shops. They may very well be there, but I wouldn’t know because I don’t drive by them anymore. A four lane highway gets me around all that, lined with new big box stores and franchised restaurants along this thoroughfare to the northern half of the state.

Besides all these new options for pit stops when driving from the Twin Cities back up to my stomping grounds of Blackduck and Bemidji, I’ll also keep in mind when driving through that this flourishing hub in central Minnesota is now also a place to share my stories about Africa and other topics.

I’m honored to announce that the Brainerd Dispatch is now subscribed to my blog, The Periphery. Happy reading, Brainerdites.

Allow me to introduce you to my stories from Africa…

***

After eight months of working on tech in a village in central Tanzania, East Africa, it was time to start thinking about home. But just like a grand finale in a fireworks show, the most jam-packed showing of scenery and experiences would occur just before things came to their end.

In the two weeks before flying home from Nairobi, Kenya on September 30, I would trek around giant Lake Victoria. Here was my planned route:

Starting from Iringa, was a five city, three country tour.

First, I had to say goodbye to the people and places that dressed my life the past eight months…

I arrived to Iringa, Tanzania January 25, 2014. Things were as fresh to me then as they would be to you if suddenly placed in this mid-sized East African city. Dirty asphalt streets lined with small vendors of produce, breads, and sodas; alleys filled with locals on foot and more vendors peddling clothes, sun glasses, cheap electronics, sandals made of old tires, and seemingly a million other things.

Iringa

All year long, this city would be my noisier, more developed weekend respite from the quiet and isolation of my village 90 minutes away. Here I got to know other foreign volunteers, a couple of expats making Tanzania their home, and some local residents.

After a few hours soaking in urban East Africa, I hopped in the rattle trap bus to my village, Magililwa. Out here, corn fields over rolling hills were interrupted by the occasional patch of forest. The village sat quietly on this land like a camp site. But instead of tents, were the mud/brick buildings with red dirt roads and trails as streets and alleys.

Magulilwa

I’d get to know a few of the villagers. But I got to know many more students and staff at the school I was working at.

Boys and girls 12-18 wearing thin, dark green sweaters, light green pants or skirts, and black shoes. Every pupil had buzzed hair–causing me more than a couple of embarrassing pronoun misspeaks when addressing my youngest classes.

Female students

Teachers were mainly young Tanzanian men, staff were a couple of women helping with student meal prep, a couple of men worked on maintenance, and a grandfather-figure was our headmaster.

In both the village and the city, there were jobs to be done and adventures to be had. In the village, helping set up the computer lab and teach computer classes was my priority–the reason I came to Africa.

A class working in the completed lab

But I also had a way of following other curiosities to keep me busy. I photographed the life around the village: the traditional livestock and crop agriculture; the after-work social in the village square with old ladies selling produce, men playing intense rounds of some marble counting game, and others just socializing and drinking their sugar cane spirit. I would become their village portrait photographer.

On my weekends in Iringa, I photographed an incredible church service (blogged about a couple of weeks back), I befriended a young woman whose three-year-old niece lost her battle with malaria, and I found some time to help a couple of small businesses with their websites.

But like I said last week about stories being meaningless without someone to share them with, so are activities enhanced–even defined–by the relationships of those who shared in the experiences. All the activities and projects above were no exception. And a life split between the village and the city meant I had two occasions to say goodbye to those I came to know and care for.

The school goodbye was without much fanfare. This didn’t surprise me. It’s not that life in the village or at the school didn’t have its share of joy and celebration (soccer matches come to mind), but they didn’t punctuate certain occasions in the way my culture would. I remember my birthday in May–and it falling on the same day as one of the students, a boy turning fifteen on the 15th of the May. “Whoa!, it’s your golden birthday,” I exclaimed to him and his friends. I might as well have been speaking Chinese to these students. Birthdays just didn’t matter to them.

But though my parting wasn’t an occasion, I did have a couple of students recognize it. One girl said, “It’s your last day?”

“Yeah,” I responded. “But I might stay one extra day.”

“Stay two,” she shyly suggested.

Indeed there were many touching (and downright powerful) moments during my time at the school. I wanted the school to know this. So I printed pictures that best captured such moments and stapled them to a cardboard backing. My gift to the school was a reminder of the times they gifted to me.

Headmaster Mgongolwa and I

 

Now at the risk of breaking the vibe I have going on here, but for the sake of accuracy and painting a complete picture, there was another side of my departure.

Two days before leaving the village, the maintenance man, Busara, came by the teachers’ quarters. The 40-year-old, mustached, athletic, and good-natured man walked in the door of our dining space with his usual wide smile and dressed in his usual rubber boots, jeans, and worn green sweatshirt.

“Brandon?” he said as he entered.

“Yeah?” I answered while seated at our wood dining table.

He walked toward me holding out a limp wrist in the Tanzanian culture’s respectful gesture.  (It’s my job then to grab his wrist as I might his hand if offering the method of greeting I was more used to.) I stood up and held his wrist.

“You’re leaving,” he said.

“Yes,” I said touched that he came to say goodbye.

“When you leave, maybe you have a, uh, gif. A gifi.”

As I looked at him without response, he finalized it with one more pronounced, “Guifts.”

Oh, a gift. He wasn’t the only one. The day before, after a day dotted with student goodbyes, I was walking home in the dark of night after computer class. Between lit-up school buildings, a younger girl walking behind me caught up with a bounce in her step.  These being my final days at the school, and with a send-off vibe in the air this day, I welcomed her approach both because I was savoring each moment and because I figured she might want to say goodbye herself.

I couldn’t see her face in the dark. But I knew she was a younger student due to her size.

“Sa?” she asked lightly. (How they say “sir.”)

“Yes?”

“Give me my money.”

“What!?” I said with a mild but definite “ah, c’mon” surprisingly frustrated vibe. She wanted me to give her some cash.

In addition, my closest companion in the village–the older gentleman who I referred to as Grandpa Ndambo–offered a similar parting. What can you give to me? was his sentiment.

Back in the dining area, I explained to Busara that I gave him (and the school gave me) seven months of each others’ time. I said that gifts come as an unexpected and pleasant result of the effort and time and love you’ve offered. For example, I reminded him that I gave him a picture of himself earlier that year by surprise.

As much the philosophy of gift-giving, though, was this also a lesson for me in the way that Tanzanians stereotype white people as having money to give. They knew this school was mainly backed by white Americans. They knew the village water wells were also. Things to Tanzanians tended to be pretty black and white. And as much a lesson to me in how Tanzanians view people like me, was perhaps a lesson for Busara in the shortcomings of his stereotypes. He asked earlier in my year if I could give him a computer. I’ve had students ask me that as well–and since via email. But regardless of any philosophical breaches in his asking for a gift was the reality that I had nothing to give anyway. Not all Americans have money.

Feeling awkward, perhaps, he offered thank yous and your welcomes. “Asante…Asante…You’re welcome…You’re welcome,” he said while looking straight through my chest.

I tried to offer a reassuring smile, but it was a bit awkward for me, too.

In the city, Iringa, I had a goodbye dinner with the friends I made there. The occasion was the second time in eight months that I actually combed my hair. It was two nights before I would leave for that five city, three country, two week trek around Lake Victoria. Ryan showed up, a 27-year-old Peace Corps volunteer from Indiana. There was Leah, my one fellow foreign volunteer out at the village school. And there was Kathy, a Colorado woman who found love, a new career path as a safari guide, and a new home in Iringa. Both Kathy’s Tanzanian husband and Leah’s Tanzanian boyfriend showed up, as did other people I befriended along the way.

In two days’ time, I’d leave the village and city I called home for eight months.

***

Goodbyes are powerful for two reasons. We will miss that which (or who) we won’t see for at least a long time. The other reason is more subtle, but I also think more powerful and fundamental: goodbyes remind us of the temporary nature of things–and we don’t like this realization. Someone’s death, a break-up, a move, seeing your child go off to college. All these occasions have us reflect on the moments–the moments not to be had again–the moments we want to capture in a bottle–the fleeting moments that remind us life is short and temporary despite how much we want the beautiful to last forever.

There’s no remedy for this. There’s no escaping the fact that all things come to an end. But realizing this truth can help us cherish the time that we do have.

The day before I left the village, I walked the school grounds like it was my first day there. I just saw everything clearer, sharper: the buildings, the fields of tall grass. I felt the wind on the jacket-weather day.

Walking up the slight hill to the flagpole and administration buildings, I met Headmaster Mgongolwa at the top.

“Hello Headmaster.”

“Yes, Brandon,” he responded in that voice of his combining gruffness and warmness.

I stood and surveyed the school. Just him, me, the surroundings, and the elements. Shallow hills in the distance, village buildings decorating the valley below, school buildings closest to us. The cool air and cloudy sky filling the emptiness and setting the mood.

It felt like fall in Minnesota.

“Everything feels so fresh,” I said. Headmaster just listened. “Why is that things can’t be this fresh everyday? Why only when you are leaving?” Somehow it reminded me of the similar trait of only getting one’s butt in gear to get a task done when a deadline is looming.

I realized that I was present precisely because I knew the end was near. I could feel the end; I could see the temporary nature of my time here. This realization put me on a plane of presence.

But why not be on this plane always?

“We think things will stay the same.” I continued aloud. Indeed, when I don’t “feel the end,” I’m allowed to slunk down into a mode of being where I ignore my surroundings–or at least where they aren’t nearly as crisp.

“Presence is the recognition of impermanence,” I surmised to Headmaster.

Otherwise, we think things will be the same. Maybe this is good, a natural mechanism so that when we are in a place for any length of time, it allows work and productivity and project completion to take over in lieu of this plane of presence.

I wondered, though, if it was possible to have both.

Can I “feel the end” not just when a project is ending, or a deadline is looming, but just in general–knowing that I won’t live forever?

***

On the 15th of September, 2014, I started off on a journey. Presence was easy these two weeks as everything was always new. I learned, though, that sometimes presence isn’t pretty when facing the rugged reality of African travel.

Rugged, relaxing; ugly, beautiful; unique, universal.

So is East Africa. So will be the following weeks’ articles.

Goodbye village, hello Lake Victoria.

The Real Tragedy of #pointergate

Last week, KSTP Minneapolis ran a story on their website about Mayor Betsy Hodges and her get out the vote involvement in North Minneapolis. They weren’t congratulating her. Rather, they received a tip about a photograph taken at the scene of the canvasing. In it, Hodges and a community member (who also happened to be a convicted felon) are smiling and pointing at each other. KSTP and their source, a retired Minneapolis police officer, deemed the gesture to be a gang sign.

The picture that launched a million tweets.

To most reasonable people, Hodges and the man were simply pointing. This is made clear when viewing a video taken at the scene. Thus, KSTP’s story was strongly reacted to–as an irresponsible piece of investigative journalism at best and a deliberate smear and appeal to race-based fear at worst. On Twitter and Facebook, the tag #pointergate went viral with people mocking, insulting, and shaking their heads at KSTP, while showing support for Hodges.

(See the rest of this piece on StarTribune.com)

The Saga of Getting Electricity to an African Village

I rolled into the green, rolling highlands of interior Tanzania with two suitcases of computers and a mission to put them to use. The founder of the school at which I arrived had been telling me that electricity was always being worked on, but costs, government bureaucracy and favoritism, and the logistics of getting the poles erected and the wires run along the sloppy, dirt roads were factors inhibiting this process continually.

Our local member of Tanzanian parliament was our best chance of getting electricity. Not only was he our region’s representative, but he was a senior member and appointed as the nation’s financial minister. So weeks before I set off for Tanzania in January of 2014, the school administration and I discussed how to contact him for a meeting and a plea for power–that we’d be getting a new computer lab up and running.

But the man died in December.

A vacant seat in parliament was the impetus for taking the matter into our own hands. From the void of government provision, private companies had been offering their services throughout the country to communities able to pay for getting hooked up.

It so happened that my lone Western colleague at the school, Leah from Colorado, was dating a Tanzanian man whose friend, Malugu, worked for Tanzania’s government-operated utility provider, Tanesco. And he knew a man working for one of these private power-suppliers. I got in touch with Malugu’s friend, George, who happened to be coming to our region on other business in February. And on Valentine’s Day, he arrived in his head-turning truck.

George on the right, with school admin looking on

He surveyed the school grounds, spoke to school leaders, and then drove a group of us out to the nearest village on the grid to calculate costs of extending the line. The extension would be 8.2 kilometers according to his odometer. And according to his quick math, this would require about 100 electric poles. He promised a quote in the coming days. He sent it, and it was an eyebrow-raising $257,000. In no way could we expect to raise that much money. But taking the action of having the company come out and offer a quote did allow us some fodder for reaching out elsewhere for help.

The US president had recently visited Tanzania–even had “Barack Obama Avenue” along the Indian Ocean coast of Dar es Salaam named in his honor. Obama pledged a bunch of money in an effort called Power Africa to help connect rural villages in the country. Ours seemed a great candidate. I visited the website for US Aid and their Power Africa page to see pictures of engineers working with local villagers, all with smiles on their faces as Africa was getting jump-started into the 21st century. I emailed them. I also discovered and emailed the head of the Rural Energy Agency (REA) of Tanzania, whose mission was evident by their name and who were in charge of distributing the funding from Power Africa.

But from both places, I got nothing back.

And the next six months seemed a desert of progress with the occasional mirage of hope. After my third email, the REA director responded saying to give him time to look into it. But subsequent emails to him in the coming months would go unanswered–even though I was to be in Dar es Salaam (where they are headquartered) in April. But the opportunity to see them was missed.

I also happened to meet another member of parliament at the internet cafe in Iringa one Saturday. She was the representative of the adjacent district and upon meeting her, I told her why I was there, showed her pictures of our lab, and then was even able to introduce her to our school headmaster who happened to be at the print shop next door. She asked us to get in touch with her about her visiting the school, seeing the lab with her own eyes, and then going back to the halls of parliament to make the case for our school.

Politician and headmaster introduced

With optimism, I followed up our introduction with a thought-out email, thanking her for her time, interest, and an invitation to come see our school. The timing was perfect. Our founder was coming to vising in the coming weeks. But I heard nothing back–nor would I after further attempts.

One last gasp for electricity came in the form of an unexpected trip I was going to take back to Dar es Salaam in August. I was to meet another volunteer arriving at the airport. So I sent out another round of emails to the parties in that city: REA, a Chinese company who had donated to our school previously, and another non-profit helping schools with solar power that I was put in touch with. Of the three, the one that responded was the one I considered the least likely–the Rural Energy Agency. The director wrote back saying he would meet.

I got to Dar August 12th. On the 13th, I prepared the quote from the private company, which he requested, and a Powerpoint presentation of our school and village’s need for electrical power. First I had to get to the their offices. The motorcycle driver in Dar was daring.

In one piece, I entered the modern office tower of echoing tiled floor. I needed to go through the security guy with metal-detecting wand and then empty my pockets and open my bag.

I went upstairs where I signed in at the REA’s front desk. And a few minutes later, I went into the engineer director’s classroom-sized office. The business-casually dressed, stocky middle-aged man offered an upbeat and friendly welcome, but it also came with the words that lunch was waiting. So sitting with him at his round table with his secretary, I went right into who I was and why I was there. In seconds, he interrupted me to say, “Yes, okay” with a sudden recollection. “Your representative was the former finance officer.”

“Yes,” I responded.

I continued with my Powerpoint presentation highlighting our need for electricity for our computers. He stuttered a chuckle that we have a lab without electricity. Then he interrupted me again, this time to explain what I need to do.

“You’ll need to contact Engineer Andrew. He is the REA engineer placed in that district. Tell him you stopped by and talked to me.”

“That’s it?” I wondered.

“We’re laying a 33kv line there.” he continued.

I said “okay” with a little confusion at the sudden instruction and lingo.

He got up and came back with a map, showing me where the new lines were going. He brought over from his paper-ridden desk a sheet upon which was a project list. Maguliwa was listed as third.

I was supposed to call his representative engineer for the district and stay on him to see the project done.

That was all.

He had to run. So I did, too.

Two days later when I was back to Iringa, I called Engineer Andrew as the director had instructed–once by myself and once with the school headmaster and I trading talk time. The engineer was receptive to the calls, laying out the plan and schedule of how Magulilwa would be getting electricity. The headmaster hung up excited that this might be the real deal this time and thanked me for my help. The engineer came out to survey when promised. Next was the waiting game–a game that had been played by the heads of the school for a few years, if not longer.

But on Wednesday, August 27th, right in the middle of a slow afternoon at the quiet village school, I heard loud noises coming from outside our teacher housing brick complex. Thuds and knocks and diesel engine blubbering. I looked out my window toward the road and saw this:

Then I went outside and saw this:

Here’s video of the delivery:

It’s possible my visit to the REA offices simply coincided with plans already in the works. At the same time, people there tend to take things more serious if there are foreigners involved. So it’s also possible that my visit and calls helped grease the wheels–all the way to rolling the logs to the village and then off the backs of the semi trailers.

As of now, electricity is said to available by the end of 2014. Last I heard, the poles had been stuck into ground, and the next step was to run the power lines. But whether by December or January or March, Magulilwa and our school will have power.

***

We humans love stories. We like to partition our lives into chapters. I’m no exception. Seeing the polls rolling off the truck felt like an appropriate finale to my time at the school–and my time in Africa. It provided a nice sendoff, an accomplishment years in the works, but also a milestone that offers so much more than the reflection of efforts made to see it happen. It was a fitting end in the ways that movies powerfully end: by offering a new beginning, an extension of experiences to look ahead to, new adventures, new opportunities, new life.

Two weeks after the poles arrived, I’d begin my journey out of Africa. But like an ending that is just a beginning, so is the start of next week’s posts that take us all around the beauty and wonder of East Africa.

The Truth About School Teachers

I recently filled in for a 3rd grade teacher at a St. Paul, Minnesota school. Her colleague, the other 3rd grade teacher, was a middle-aged woman with greying, thin hair down to her shoulders and business-like demeanor despite being dressed as a farmer in overalls for Halloween week.

As soon as I arrived, this woman took it upon herself to pick up the slack for things neglected by the teacher I was filling in for. There were supposed to be learning objectives written on the board, said the woman in overalls. So she went to work writing them out. She printed out for me assignments for the day. We’d later discover a class period left off my day’s lesson plan. So without hesitation, she said we’d combine classes for that hour, and she’d lead the way.

I’ve been amazed by this before. And it’s often touted by others in the know: teachers are some of he hardest-working people out there. Their passion for educating the youth drives them to go above and beyond what is required.

So what do those complaining about teachers’ unions and tenure have to say for themselves? Well, they point to the other side of the coin.

A few years back, I knew another middle-aged female teacher–a friend of our family. She too, had greying, shoulder-length hair. But instead of a business-like demeanor, this woman was weathered from a fair amount of drinking. She called in sick frequently–hangovers most likely. Her personal problems aside, she never worried about losing her job as a middle school art teacher. And because she was 50+, was making a decent living. (About five years ago, I checked the data for a piece on public employees’ salaries and saw that some teachers in the metro earned over $70K a year for their nine months of work.)

So yeah, there are overpaid, ineffective workers, secure in their employment.

I’m not exactly sure why teachers have become the target for failing schools when the reason, in my opinion, are factors outside the school building. I guess in a nation–and particularly in urban school districts–with poor results, those responsible for doing the educating are prime targets–especially when it’s easy to point out the egregious examples of bad teachers staying in place. Then these attacks are countered by passionate defenders pointing out the truth that most teachers are more like the woman I described at the top: over-worked, under-appreciated.

This back and forth is why the teacher debate stays ablaze; it’s just one of many out there perpetuated by both sides being right.

Should teachers be honored? Yes.

Should teachers be held to reasonable standards? Sure.

Whether pointing out the under-performers keeping their jobs or the over-achievers not getting the respect they deserve, we all ought to pan out and expand our viewpoint to recognize where both sides have merit. Perhaps from there, we could move on and get to the root of poor performing districts instead of spinning our wheels on the topic of teachers.

Should You Circumcise Your Son?

Circumcision is an issue that triggers sharp and divided responses because it addresses the most personal and deep aspects of our lives: religion, parenthood, and sexuality.

I recently came across this piece that broke down the arguments for and against the procedure–slicing off the foreskin of the penis–in an interesting and thoughtful manner. (The author actually didn’t know he was circumcised until he was 19 and was angry when he found out.)

For my experience, I grew up within the culture of northern Minnesota, where the practice was normal. In fact, not being circumcised was a trigger for embarrassment. Having experienced life away from the U.S., however, I now see that circumcision worldwide isn’t normal. More important, viewing my culture from afar allowed me to see the practice objectively.

I asked, “What would aliens think looking down on Earth if they saw what over half of American parents do to their newborn sons?” This indicated to me how unnecessary–even odd–circumcision is.

So why do it?

People argue that it’s because of health. More pressing factors, I think, are religion and culture.

Culture is no small or unimportant thing. I’ve discovered that people elsewhere do more extreme things to their bodies to fit into the group norm. And whether it’s circumcision or clothing or tattoos or hair or whatever, it’s no fun being different than the group. Ask this to the uncircumcised boys in my high school locker room.

More significant for Jews and Muslims (and as I found out recently, the Maasai people of Tanzania), circumcision is a religion rite. To deny this custom would be hollowing out part of the richness of their tradition.

Regarding the health argument, I saw these billboards in Africa advertising the benefits of circumcision:

Studies show that for African men who don’t wear condoms, circumcised men are less likely to transmit HIV than those who aren’t. America, of course, doesn’t have the problem of HIV as Tanzanians have, and American men are more willing to use protection. But there are other health benefits for circumcision, such as fewer infections for boys who don’t wash properly.

Also of note is that though the procedure isn’t severe, it also isn’t like clipping one’s fingernails. You’re removing a part of the body that won’t come back and some argue is necessary for full functionality. It’s a bloody procedure and one that undoubtedly hurts the baby.

As was argued well in the article linked above, I think the bottom line is that for Americans there are cultural benefits of circumcision–religion or not–and those have a rightful place in the debate. Outside of the culture, however, one sees that the procedure isn’t as automatic as many in the Midwest deem it.

Because we’re dealing with that part of the body, the stakes are raised, but the question to ask is this: Are you going to do to your baby what’s normal given that there is no significant health benefit and even some harm involved? Or are you going to withhold performing on your son what most others do at the benefit of the baby being left natural but risking having your boy being different than most of the others?

People argue adamantly on either side. And exaggerated claims of  benefits and harms are given due to the touchy nature of the debate. A final thing to keep in mind is that the decision isn’t as dramatic as those on either extreme argue. Whether a man is circumcised or not probably isn’t going to affect his life all that much.

The Spiritual Warzone at the African Church Service

Terrifying screams and cries of suffering and mass hysteria. This wasn’t what I imagined would happen in a church.

But this wasn’t church as I was used to. It was a worship running the gamut from celebration and joy…

…to the pits of spiritual and mental anguish:

You will probably be disturbed by the descriptions and footage of the finale of this service. But for Overcomers Church in Iringa, Tanzania, it’s just another Sunday. They are a congregation willing to express and address the extremes of their spiritual battles. And as a weekly slice of life, I was privileged to witness it–and now am pleased to be able to share this extraordinary grand finale with you.

***

As described last week, halfway through the service, a woman in the front row stiffened back in her chair and screamed hysterics. As three men approached to help, she flailed at their touches. But despite her resistance, they knew they had to proceed. There was a demon in her that had to come out.

Yet as dramatic as this scene was, the woman’s extraordinary show of possession and the congregation’s rise to caste out her affliction turned out to be a warm-up. After the woman was taken outside by those three men to finish the job, things calmed down. Bishop Boaz proceeded the service with his sermon. Like all aspects of this four-hour afternoon worship, his preaching would extend beyond the twelve-minute lectures my pastor growing up would give. So I saw this as an opportunity for a break, as had some others:

Then I reentered to hear the end of the sermon.

Bishop Boaz

His sermon ended on a high note: exclamations and shouts from him and resultant cheers from the audience.

As he finished, a young woman in a white dress walked up on stage prompted by his request for anyone in need. As she stood next to him, he asked her a question, and she quietly, plainly said something back–a explanation of what was wrong, I suspected.

He nodded back reassuringly and reached out his microphone to his assistant pastor like a doctor handing an instrument to his nurse. A couple of other “nurses” then stood behind the girl. Bishop looked at the girl, said a few words, put his hands over the side of the her head and face, said a few more words, and then with her head still in his hands, jerked his arms which jolted her head and had her body go limp. She fell backward into the waiting arms of the two men behind her, who set her gently on the stage floor.

The rising action continued.

There she lay behind while Bishop asked those interested in the congregation to stand up and come to the front. A good 100 of the 300 people approached the stage with Bishop standing over them, offering what I thought was to be the benediction to this already-powerful service. I was wrong. He spoke commanding phrases which the standing crowd repeated with increased enthusiasm. His voice and the looks on their faces increased in intensity with each call and response. These members, this time in unison, were reaching a level of intensity similar to that which I saw earlier during their individual meditative praying that I shared two weeks ago.

Their eyes closed, their hands raised, their faces serious and focused on the sounds and meaning of the bishop’s words.

Then it started.

Like the lady mentioned at the top of the piece, a partaker of the intense prayer erupted. A high pitch scream that sounded at first terrifying and then sexual came from the thicket of the crowd. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact location, but after a few moments, two men walked out carrying the body of a woman overcome. In her purple Sunday dress, they laid her body stage right. She rocked onto her right side and coughed. Unlike the previous woman, this one remained calm. Her demon was apparently not so stubborn to exit.

Yet she was just the start.

Within seconds, another loud moan, and another woman was carried out from the crowd and brought forth to the other side of the stage. One, two, three seconds later, another woman screamed. And then another. And another. Meanwhile, the audience crescendoed in their intense shouts, murmurs, tongues, and gestures. Every time I focused on one woman, it seemed two more were carried up. My attempt to capture every detail had me overcome myself with all the activity. I finally just looked up to take in the scene as a whole.

Bodies were filling both sides of the stage; others were being put in the center. Within a ten minute span, there were eight. All women. Some stationary; some rocking; some flailing. Some quiet; most of them moaning, and some screaming guttural, agonizing cries like the featured vocalists to the congregation’s chaotic choral back-up. And I was caught with that same hand-over-open-mouth gesture with which I had caught myself first doing earlier in the service with the one woman’s possession.

Making my way across this battlefield, tip-toeing around an over afflicted bodies, I got to the other side and did zoom in on one young woman no older than 20 lying still–even stiff–in her white skirt, purple top, and baby blue sweatshirt. Her still body was countered by her hands together and fingers twiddling in the air while her face expressed an array of loud, rapid, unintelligible declarations.

I looked back up to survey the scene from this side–and to discover that it had increased by at least three more women. One girl carried on stage screamed with such resistance and fear that one would think they were carrying her off to be executed. Another woman convulsed with vibrating hands. Mental and physical afflictions had manifested from their spiritual conflict, people were rushing to their aid, and an audience was right there to support with their own cheers, shouts, and gestures.

It was chaos.

I have never seen a war zone, and I don’t think I ever will. And those that have will no doubt scoff at my comparison. But warzone is exactly what came to mind: suffering bodies laid out in numbers that helpers had trouble keeping up with.

I took my face from behind the camera with a look of mouth-gaping shock which I didn’t realize was chiseled into my expression until after several second of it being so. In all, there were about 15 women in various states, each accompanied by an attendant or two rebuking the demon with various gestures and incantations or simply comforting the afflicted with an arm around.

I’d later confirm that these women were up here because a demon was indeed being removed. This surfacing was the demon’s last gasp, one last effort to make a stand in holding reign over the woman. This was business of the utmost seriousness, and some of these women were not to be deterred in their possession. Despite the amount and intensity of the praying over them, they seemingly ignored the outside activity and remained in their state for several minutes.

I looked down from my chair and to my left. There was a toddler boy sitting on the chair next to mine. He sat there quietly, and I knelt, shook his little hand, and patted him on the back. He just looked at me and then back out, not startled nor scared nor happy. Then I hopped off my chair, and up came carried from the audience a boy of maybe 12 dressed lying limp in two men’s arms. Laying on stage in his nice grey suit, he was the only male to be purging a demon, and his expression also stood out from the rest with an animated facial display of his eyes rolling into the back of his head. Seeing the whites of his eyes turned my stomach. But one lady stood down the demon and prayed over the boy with her hands holding his face. The boy remained in trance for many minutes.

Difficult to estimate the time, I think after 30 minutes of this activity, the energy started to lessen. The demons were leaving the bodies. Those who had been possessed started up in recovery. Some walked away looking good. Others looked like they’d been through a month of shock therapy.

The other side of hysteria. The girl who offered such an extraordinary expression now stood with none at all.

Here is the footage of the eruption: the overcoming, the possessions, and the rebuking. This footage is loud and shocking.

***

Perhaps now was the time for the benediction. Bishop said a few words and reached out over the crowd eager for his spiritual touch.

Their reaction made me think he was a cross between Jesus and a rock star. If he missed them while walking by to the left, some would wait expectantly as he came back to the right. Others wouldn’t wait at all and muscled through the crowd to catch up to him and his holy hand for a chance to touch the power of God.

After this, the people started to pack up to go about their lives, while children were gathered and chairs were folded up and stacked. The concentrated energy of a mass of people focused on a deep expression was now relieved. And like the calm after a workout or a good cry, the people now came down off their high and addressed one another, their normal day, and then exited to the outside world of strangers, traffic, grocery shopping, and their jobs. It’s amazing the clash of energies between the inside and outside of this room.

I had planned on speaking with Bishop Boaz after the service to talk about the church. We met outside, where he had his SUV waiting right outside the front door. He said he would drive me to their new church being built. Indeed, Overcomers Ministries, which runs a radio station and a school, is hoping that volunteers and donations will be enough to fulfill their dreams of a new church campus just outside Iringa.

If you have questions about their church, or are interested in getting in touch with them, you can let me know.

***

Coming from a Lutheran heritage and an American culture, seeing this service was a lot to absorb and raised a lot of curiosities. What’s going through the minds of those who come here, who really let go and get swaddled into the mass effect of such powerful worship and meditation? What’s going through the minds and bodies of the women possessed on stage? And why were almost all of them women? (An assistant pastor answered this question by saying Eve was tempted by Satan. Women are more susceptible to a demon’s lure.) And are such scenes beneficial or harmful for the children to see?

Some may watch the above video with fear and concern, but I think it is just an alternative style of worship. What I see is a church who has taken the basic ideas of demons, temptation, sin, affliction, release, and the power of Christ to a new level.

But irrespective of the specifics of the beliefs, I see the benefit of coming together with others to unify not just a community, but oneself–mind, body, and spirit. It’s a chance to step off the track of daily mind and mood and center in on a truer existence often forgotten while wrapped up in work, sports, relationships, competition, alcohol, ego. It’s their chance to expel such “demons” which interfere with their route to a more centered, calm, truer place.

The Exorcism at the African Church Service

I heard a lot of yelling from across the street. I had been hearing it each weekend when trying to write on Sundays from the internet cafe in Iringa.

I thought there was a political rally going on. It turned out to be a church.

A large church within

I crossed the dusty divided street to a warehouse-like space filled with jubilant worshipers. Returning future weeks, jubilation would be replaced by intensity, screams, and faints. I asked around the attendees and was eventually introduced to the man in charge, Bishop Boaz. He gave me permission to record their service. I did so on May 4th, 2014.

I shared last week about how this four-hour afternoon service kicked off with feel-good song and dance. It was having me feeling spiritually high as well. After 45 minutes, Bishop Boaz–middle-aged, a bit stocky, a friendly face, and an equally-warm yellow pants/yellow short sleeve button-up outfit–took the microphone from the last singer and started to get things really cooking. It was prayer time.

But I grew up Lutheran. So this wasn’t the prayer I was used to: a time of lowered volume and calm while listening to the pastor. This was a time for individual recitation, internal dialogue from each of the 300 practitioners spilling out to become mouthed and then voiced monologue with eyes closed and hands raised.

Then a man fell to his knees, and a woman buckled in pain. Faces contorted. peaceful expressions became pained. One young woman started to cry.

It seemed they were all coming clean. “For what?” I wondered. The anguish indicated a penance for something terrible. Only I doubted any of them did anything so bad. The feel-good had turned into the dramatically humble and unworthy. Then, perhaps as a source for this display or perhaps as an end to these humiliating means–or perhaps demonstrating another element of this worship altogether–someone erupted from this build-up.

***

After several minutes of these congregational cries and expressions of “I’m not worthy!”, Bishop Boaz took the mic and proceeded with the service. “Okay, let’s bring everyone back together and move ahead to the next part of our worship,” directed his words. One woman, though, wasn’t ready to move on. As Bishop quieted the crowd, she countered from the front row. Leaning back in her chair, but not relaxed in the least bit, she rambled loudly with a stiffened posture.

Unlike me, people didn’t stare in wonder. They knew what to do in this situation. Three men grabbed her limbs and lifted her off the chair. She wiggled and flailed like a fish out of water. But the men contained the swings and kicks and had her on the floor in the front middle, just before the stage where Bishop stood.

He also knew what to do.

I hadn’t ever done that surprised-with-concern expression of putting one’s fingers in front of one’s open mouth. But I was doing it the whole time this scene transpired.

Bishop calmly asked an assistant to take the microphone, and he stepped off stage to address the afflicted woman being held down and surrounded by three men and a woman. As she squirmed under their containment, the woman compensated lack of physical movement with verbal expression. A teaching colleague of mine later translated an exchange between Bishop and the shouting, rambling woman. Turns out Bishop wasn’t exactly speaking to her, though. He was arguing with what was inside.

Bishop wanted “it” to come out. Here’s what was said:

Woman: “I can’t get out until I get human blood! I can’t get out; I can’t get out; I’m telling you I can’t get out!”

Bishop: “Hold her down, the demons are coming.”

Woman: “I’ve told you I can’t get out. I’m a man. I can’t get out until I get human blood! Why do you tell me to go out? Why today? Why do you tell me to get out?!”

Bishop: “You must get out!”

Bishop (to congregation): “She says that she needs human blood, but she knows what is going to happen today.”

Bishop (back to woman): “I’m asking you, who are you? Where are you coming from?”

Woman: “Who are you to ask me?”

Bishop: “Don’t disturb us. Who are you?”

Woman: “I’m a man of men, who are you?”

Bishop: “Where are you coming from?”

Woman: “Who are you?”

Bishop: “Where are you coming from?”

Woman: “Who are you?”

Bishop: “Do you know Jesus?”

Woman: “Who is Jesus? Who is Jesus?”

Bishop: “If you are a man, please open up your eyes and see.”

Woman: “I don’t like you.”

Bishop: “If you are a man, open up your eyes.”

Woman: “I can’t open up my eyes. Even if I open, what can I see?”

Bishop: “Aha, go!”

Woman: “I’m a man of men, I can’t get out.”

Bishop: “She says that she’s Satan.”

Bishop (to congregation): “Raise up your hands and say ‘Satan!’ Tell Satan, ‘You don’t have anything here. You have failed. Since 2000 years ago!’”

I did find it amusing that they put the microphone up to her mouth as she spoke. “Why are you making an even larger spectacle of the poor woman,” I thought. But I later learned that this was because they wanted the audience (including the children, apparently) to hear what the demon was saying–and then to be witness, and even participate, in this exorcism. It was the power of Jesus, the pastor, and the family of that church that would tell that demon who’s boss. And the congregation was proud to fight in the corner of Jesus by standing up, cheering, and offering their pantomimed smoting gestures. The peak of the battle reminded me of the audience energy of the old Jerry Springer show.

After a few minutes of battle, Bishop recognized the need to move on despite the demon refusing to do so. He asked the men to take her outside for more purging.

Interestingly, the service continued with me.

Almost as soon as the men carried the woman off and the room quieted, did I hear the word, “Merikani.” I was then alerted by an assistant pastor that it was time for me to address the audience. Not certain what to make of the event I had just seen, I chose to focus and recall the feel-good song and dance, from which I felt the love and uplift.

I stepped up, took the microphone, and stared back at the crowd. With an assistant pastor translating, I introduced myself, said where I was from, and why I was there.

“I’m a writer and share about the Tanzanian way of life,” I said to the crowd and then waited for the translation to go through. “I’ve written about schools, and villages, and food, but not yet about worship.” Assisted pastor translated. “Every week I work across the street at IringaNet and can hear the worship in this building.”

The audience was proud when hearing this translation. I’m assuming they were proud to know that outsiders can hear their worship. So they cheered.

I continued, “I was intrigued and came over. At first I was interested in photographing the service because I was curious.”

The audience evidently liked that they caught a curious ear and so clapped again.

“But my curiosity has been replaced with admiration for the love I feel here.”

As soon as this translation came through, there was an impressive applause and cheer. I smiled.

Then I finished by thanking them for letting me be here to witness and share their powerful service. I walked off and bishop took back the mic.

As he spoke, I wanted to check on the woman out back. I walked down the aisle to the back of the church and went out the left rear door to the alley behind the building. Outside was a walled-in space housing the men’s and lady’s bathrooms. Just to the side of the bathroom doors, five men and one woman huddled around the woman laying flat on her back and under the sun.

Her helpers prayed intensely over her, holding her head, continuing to rid the demon.

The woman (or the demon) seemed to be tiring. Something was working. I was glad to see her calm.

From eruption to resolution, here is the footage of the exorcism:

I went back inside nearing 4:00. Church was half-way over. Bishop was now starting his sermon. Understanding that I wasn’t going to be able to get much from this Swahili speech, I took a break from the action. And with such a stretched out service, I figured his sermon may take a while. I was right.

But I was wrong about the possessed woman being the peak of the service. That, it turned out, was nothing. She was just a wounded soldier from a stray bullet in this spiritual warfare.

The finale of this service would be a battlefield.

Why the Federal Government Struggles to Fight Ebola

This article on Politico.com says that Americans are not confident in their government’s ability to response to the Ebola scare.

Truth is, the U.S. has never done “government” well–as in, nationwide government action. It wasn’t created to do that. We’re not China. So we struggle with nationwide efforts such as immigration, with helping after Hurricane Katrina, and now with Ebola. That’s the sacrifice you make when you have a looser system.

The benefits shouldn’t be ignored. Less control at the top means more freedom below. We are fifty fairly independent states and 350M independent, empowered people. In the hands of Americans, this freedom has spurred more wealth, innovation, and artistic creativity than anywhere else.

But yes, the Federal government will struggle with blanket policy–education, health care, natural disasters.

This is an institutional issue. So of course Bush will “drop the ball” on Katrina and Obama will “bungle” the Ebola response. The Federal Government wasn’t made to do these things.

Actually, the U.S. used to excel in all these areas. Hurricane responses were more local and less funded, but quicker and more effective. And education and healthcare were the best in the world in decades past with a similar formula.

Maybe the systems that worked so well for Americans before are outdated. Or maybe America has lost its way and forgot what made it rise to the top. Maybe this is a new middle ground America is finding–not China, not the U.S. of old, but a new America balancing both freedom at the ground level but also an effective government at the top when a situation warrants. Can you have both? Historically, it’s been a teeter-totter. You can have a responsive, efficient national government. But then you also have a compliant and less-empowered population. But who knows? Maybe today things are different.

Either way, the expectations are there for the federal government to act and act well. We’ll see how it plays out.

I would just want to convey to Americans that the government will struggle in these areas, so be patient.

The Animated African Church Service

In case you didn’t go to church on this Sunday, I have just the thing.

On May 4th of this year, I was given the chance to document one of Iringa’s liveliest, most intense congregations. I suspect that the photos and footage these next three weeks will be met with a mixture of disturbance, intrigue, and perhaps genuine appreciation for the work this church is doing.

I leave the reaction up to you.

***

Sundays mornings were always a peaceful time in the ordinarily-active city, Iringa. Since my arrival in January, I took advantage of this lull each weekend by working on my blog at the town’s Internet cafe, Iringanet. There, I’d park myself on the patio, set my laptop on the tabletop, and type away.  

Sunday afternoons, however, became a different story.

At around one o ‘clock, loud, booming music erupted from somewhere across and street. I got used to it and didn’t pay too much attention while concentrating on my writing. But then began a raspy-voiced man declaring his speech in revolution-style. With his declarations and screams and an audience’s resultant cheer, I thought it was a political rally. As interesting as this would be, it was not a political rally, but a spiritual one.

The cheering and speeches and singing would go on for hours all afternoon, each Sunday week in and week out. I eventually discovered that directly across the street was a church housed in the warehouse space making up the bulk of a sheet-metal roofed complex fronted by many small businesses.

A large church within

If this was their weekly routine, there was no use trying to fight against it by hoping for some sudden peace and quiet to write. Interestingly, their activity would become an inspiration and an experience from which to write about.

One Sunday I walked across the street and found the church entrance between two of the small business that fronted the building. The music ever-louder as I approached, I made my way past some attendees dressed in their Sunday best standing just outside. Over a cement step and around a wood pillar, I poked my head into the already-open door to discover the church in full swing.

It was a large, open room packed with a sea of 300–men in slacks and button-ups and even suits and women in either similar Western church-style or their traditional, brightly colored, thin fabric shawls, skirt wraps, and headscarves. Everyone stood at their chairs probably three dozen rows deep, facing a smooth, cement stage where a Western-suited, middle-aged preacher stood alongside an eight-person chorus belting loud singing and praise. 

It lifted my spirits; I enjoyed the experience being here with all the energy. People in the back looked at me, but no one did so unfriendly. I simply stood back near the entrance without saying a word, a fly on the wall. I flew away after a few minutes.

I returned the next week to witness attendees involved in intense prayer. They weren’t bowing, but standing and even moving about in such a way that I can imagine athletes might pump themselves up before a big game. I watched a thin man in his thirties and in his white button-up, pumping his fists at his side, his eyes clenched as hard as his hands with head cocked down while mouthing words with tight intensity.

My third visit offered something I’d only ever previously seen on TV: the two-handed, head-touching, immediate faint-inducer. I watched a few women fall for the preacher’s touch and into the arms of waiting people behind her. This third visit was the charm, motivating me to return with camera to catch these interesting aspects to their worship. While there, I asked around and met one of the assistant pastors. Eventually, I was introduced to the the middle-aged preacher, and man in charge, Bishop Boaz.

He welcomed me to come photograph his church. I did so the following Sunday.

***

I arrived in my own Sunday best at 1:45 to find the room 3/4 full and Bishop Boaz sitting silently and straight-faced in back while his people led the way for the first hour. The service lasted from 2-6pm. 

Things started off with a white top, black bottomed six-member dance/singing troop walking out on stage with the sounds of the first drum beats/keyboard chords/bass notes out the large, black cube speakers off stage left. 

The half dozen didn’t just sing and look good, they had choreography for each song.

Yet they were just the backup for the lead singer who changed from song to song.

Meanwhile,  a team of dancers did their thing on the floor.

It was all in Swahili, but I knew the words Amen and Hallelujah. And a Tanzanian teacher friend of mine from my school would later tell me that the man in the picture above sang, “There’s a fire.” This meant, there’s a fire from Satan if you don’t watch out. Despite the dire warning, he sang it in a light, upbeat fashion. 

During this time, Bishop Boaz calmly remained in the back.

And while adults worshiped, children all sat to the left of the stage.

The audience mostly stood and moved–some modestly, some eagerly–with the music. An evermore-snugly packed 300-person crowd made for a warm energy.

After a couple of songs, I realized I was smiling. Sounds corny, but I felt a lot of love in that room. And the love uplifted me–not just in mood, but in spirit and outlook. I wanted to be a better man; I wanted to do more with my life.

I even started to dance a little.  

And then I was struck by the contrast with which I entered this hall. I came in wanting to capture the parts of the service that were the most interesting, the shows of praise that had caught my eyes before, that separated it from worship as I knew it back home. It was academic at best and even “look at them” at worst.

Now feeling the positivity from the crowd, I felt guilty for having had such motives. There was nothing here to scrutinize. This was a gathering of people to celebrate life and improve themselves, and I dug every minute of it. The assistant pastor had asked me prior to the service if I’d be willing to say some words to the audience when Bishop asked me up on stage to do so. I said sure but didn’t know what I was going to say. ”Nice to meet you all”, or something. Now I knew what I was going to share, and I was eager to do so. Before I had that chance, however, things would take an interesting turn.

After 45 minutes of music and praise, Bishop took the mic and led some words of prayer. Though the audience listened, they also took it upon themselves to engage in their own praying. And soon this took over as Bishop quieted. With no music and no one at the mic, all there was–though it wasn’t insignificant–were the murmurs and speaking of 300 people with hands lifted and eyes closed.

This, too, was a show of spiritual power and uplift. And like the singing, had me straddling the fence between observer and participant. Yet this very session of prayer straddled a fence itself, starting from a prayer and meditation eliciting calm, peace, and spiritual oneness; then graduating into ever-quickening voicing and emotional outbursts from the people.

 

Bishop and company helped lead the escalation.

And things were kicked up a notch.

I didn’t feel what these subjects were feeling, but from the energy and high I felt from the worship beforehand, I could better empathize with how they got here.

Empathy though, would be tough to muster for the next scene.

Next, there was an eruption.

And I’ll share that with you next week.