How did you wake up?

awakenessI have previously made reference to the fact that the literal translation of the Luganda morning greeting is not “Good Morning,” but rather “How did you wake up?”

It seems to me a strong metaphor for the moment in time—or a specific event or series of experiences—that triggered our spiritual and mental awareness.

Have you had such a moment?  If I asked you, “How did you wake up?” would you have an answer?

If you asked me, I think I would refer to the process as an ongoing work.  Just as we are physically awake, and then asleep, and then awake again, I think my spiritual awareness has a similar cycle.

Saturday night, I said goodnight to the kids staying with me and made sure they were asleep and happy.  I then climbed into AidChild’s Land Cruiser—with a colleague—and drove to AidChild’s Olubugo.  Like me, generally speaking, Ugandans love late-nights and dislike mornings.  So when I arrived at 10pm, the party was just getting started.  Our entire rooftop was filled with people having a good time.  It wasn’t long before someone pointed out the fact that I was the only “Mzungu” (Caucasian) person there.  This triggered an awakeness for me, and my mind gave me a quick memory-slideshow.

First up was a slide of my early life on the Navajo Nation where I was often the only “Bilagáana” (Caucasian) kid in the room.

Then to my studies in Mexico and Guatemala where my Gringo-ness was often called out.

The next mental-slide was an image of myself in my early 20’s just as I emerged from Amsterdam’s “Centraal” [sic] Train Station.  The masses of people around me all looked like me.  Tall, blond(e), blue eyed, and white-white-white.  I remember feeling very uncomfortable with this because it was the first time in my life that I had such an experience.  I didn’t know what to do with sameness given my life experience rooted in diversity.  (I’ll admit that I do like when KLM flight attendants switch to Dutch when they speak to me onboard.  I do my best to go along.  I know what they mean when they ask “Wat wilt u drinken?” So I reply “Witte wijn,” and then I pray there are no follow-up questions.)

And the last slide depicted a very dark night.  It was of my first trip to Uganda.  I was standing near a campfire, giving a talk to a group of hundreds of youth.  I honestly could not physically see anyone else, but I could otherwise sense them profoundly.

Yesterday, I departed from my little house in Entebbe, hugged kids with a short goodbye, and I travelled to Kampala City.  (I have a meeting today with AidChild’s attorney.)  I spent last night at the home of a friend, a senior American diplomat.  As I type, five household staff members are at work: one cleaning, one cooking, one gardening, and two armed guards patrolling.  When I was physically awake in the night, I heard the Embassy’s external security team at the top of the long drive, knocking at the gate to check-in with the guards—and to check on us.

And I spiritually awoke again.

Indeed these were all moments that describe how I woke up.

I worry that the message here will get swallowed up by modern understandings of “privilege” and “race.”  But I assure you that those terms are far too limited to capture the awakeness which I describe.

I hear many conversations—and read many Facebook postings—that make reference to the politics of race and privilege, but I fear they are not rooted in actual awareness—awakeness.  It is my belief that they emerge from places of guilt or social pressure rather than from places of actual experience or understanding.  In order to experience this awakeness, I believe you must spend much time with Other.  Much, much time.  Thinking, loving, suffering—and finally knowing.

It has always seemed strange to me that the people who preach “diversity” the loudest often make no attempts to incorporate it into their lives.  They surround themselves only with people who agree with them, who have the same political views, same likes and dislikes, and same beliefs.  Same-same-same.  There may be ethnic diversity in their life, but ethnicity is often socially deconstructed to fit into these homogenized mini-worlds.

May I challenge you to ask yourself the following questions?

  • When did I last spend time—quality time—with someone of a different faith, and ask them to challenge me about what I believe, and how I know what I know?  (To read about my epistemology—how I know what I know—click here.)
  • When is the last time I judged someone, and then asked myself if the judgment was truly valid, ethical, and rooted in law, Scripture or common sense?
  • If your epistemology is rooted in Christianity, ask: When is the last time I actually looked for a Scripture to substantiate my beliefs?  Does the Bible really say what I believe it says?
  • Is it possible that I am not truly awake to issues which I claim to hold dear?
  • Am I awake?

I will close with a renewed commitment to not merely walk through this life as if it is meant to be a series of events for my pleasure and wellbeing, but rather as a human opportunity for my Spirit to grow, suffer, celebrate, delight, develop, be enriched—and to wake up.

And how did you wake up?  Please tell me below.

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