Nowhere to Go

Blatantly unavailable but also    irresistible.
Connection points that resonate deeply
And yet, don’t.
A cul de sac of opportunity,
Nowhere to go.

Revolving memories of shallow experiences.
Relentless in their grip,
Determined to endure.
A cul de sac of opportunity,
Nowhere to go.

Tender moments nestled in between
Troughs of doubt and conflict.
Yearnings unspoken, heart torn open.
A cul de sac of opportunity,
Nowhere to go.

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Bootstraps & Assets: Three (Post) Evangelical Views on the Poverty of the Poor

Tough reading, but a great reminder of how we should be working towards the upside-down Kingdom.

Left Cheek: The Blog

In my experience with (Post) Evangelicalism, there are three basic models for dealing with poverty and poor people (though most experience some overlap).

The loudest-  though probably not the most widespread – we can refer to as the Dave Ramsey School of Thought: People in the US are in poverty because they choose to be. They are lazy, bereft of character, are without industry and resourcefulness. Poor people basically deserve to be poor. I mean, they can’t even bother to take one of Dave Ramsey’s $200 Seminars on Saving Money and Becoming a Success by the age of 60™!

The above view is deplorable, despicable and ultimately has no redeemable value whatsoever. It’s a Ponzi Scheme for greedy would-be condo developers – the sorts of people who run around twirling their mustaches while tying up their tenants to the train tracks just because.

But its real deviousness lies with…

View original post 1,642 more words

Postcolonialism, Neoliberalism & Patriarchy

I’ve been meaning to write a post summarising the key themes that stood out to me during my first year of development studies.  Since this post is coming rather late (and that I’m now more than 18 months into my course), I will attempt to amalgamate what should be two posts into one.  I’ll try and keep it brief…

Disclaimer: These are my personal thoughts and reflections on my study thus far. This was not intended to be an academic exercise with APA referencing.  I’ll try and reference where I can!

I have greatly enjoyed and benefited from the interdisciplinary nature of development studies. It draws on wide variety of disciplines within the social sciences and humanities such as anthropology, sociology, politics, economics and even a bit of history.  As a person who is constantly finding dubious linkages across disparate topics, this has been like semi-heaven.

 Furthermore, despite my first degree being in finance & economics, I can unequivocally say that the development studies department feels like “home”.  It has stoked the fire of my social justice heart, whilst tempering my wild improbable dreaming with some more robust theoretical frameworks.  Or in other words – it has helped shape my thinking about human rights and poverty issues.

An over-arching theme that has encapsulated this for me is the notion of power-inequality.
There are a number of concepts and theories in the social sciences which address different symptoms or aspects of power-inequality.  I will address three that spoke to me the loudest.

 

Post-colonialism:  As a person hailing from a colonised nation, this is a theory I understood intuitively at the outset.  However it is more complex than “colonialism is bad”.  It attempts to uncover the wide-reaching effects of the colonial past on cultures and nations.  In addition looks at how colonial history plays out today in development work and in the modern “international community”.  An eye-opener for me was learning that development studies came about as a way of employing ex-colonial administrators when they returned home. With such “interesting roots” – it’s understandable that some critics of foreign aid label it as neo-colonialism / neo-imperialistic.  Post-colonial scholars will also often point out that today’s international trade regime somewhat resembles the colonial period.  Whereas in the past imperial governments controlled the colonies, today the new imperial masters are the multinational corporations that wield a considerable amount of power over developing country governments.

 

Neoliberalism: This could basically be interpreted as “the market will decide… EVERYTHING”.  Well, not quite everything, but a lot of things.  In a perfect world, where everyone has equal access to life’s necessities and people had “healthy” levels of greed – just enough to inspire innovation, free markets are the best option.  Unfortunately, this is not the case, as we see time and time again.  Markets fail either because they do or because greed simply runs amok.  With the brief study I have done on microfinance, Nigeria’s economic situation and through conversations about New Zealand’s economic history, I have gleaned that the 1980s was a bad time economically for many nations.  During this period, the World Bank advised many developing country governments to down-size and give the market (namely financial market) more free reign[1].  The result was skyrocketing unemployment and poverty levels, as well as decreased government spending to off-set the hardship.  Needless to say, neoliberalism is a dirty word in the development studies department. 

We also must not forget the Global Financial Crisis of 5 years ago, the devastating effects of climate change and the widening gap between the rich and poor between and within countries.  Thus, whilst markets themselves are not innately bad, it has made me more appreciative of the need for balance. 

Patriarchy: Another reviled concept within development circles.  The Oxford Dictionary of English defines it as a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.  

Obviously it is more pronounced in some societies than others.  It manifests in subtle ways such as men being paid more than women who are equally qualified, performing the same job.  Or it could be exploitation of the female body in advertising.  Alternatively it can be more extreme such wife-beating being enshrined in law[2] or severely restricting the movement of women.  Either way, patriarchal systems effectively say “female perspective is less important and she is subordinate”.  Some people reading this blog will probably be thinking “I don’t see a problem here…?”  However as someone who believes that all people are equally deserving of dignity, respect and a life free of discrimination, I see a big problem.  A problem that I could talk about for a few more thousand words (but not on this post).

 

It is no surprise then that such a concept led given me the confidence to wear the badge of feminism with pride.  Not a man-hating, bra-burning lesbian feminist.  Rather a feminist in the theme of Chimamanda Adichie’s “Happy African Feminist”.  One that believes domestic violence is never ok; one that believes women have the right to say “no” to unwanted sexual advances whether or not it is from a stranger, boss or spouse; one that believes girls should be allowed to finish school and not be pulled out early to marry an old man she did not choose; one that believes a baby girl has just as much right to life as a baby boy….  And most relevant to my thesis topic – one that believes that widows have the right to remain in their matrimonial property (and inherit their husband’s estate) irrespective of whether or not they have sons or if they have children at all.

These three major themes of Post-colonialism, Neoliberalism and Patriarchy have helped me interpret the world around me – from international political upheavals, to poverty issues I see prevalent within my local community.  I can especially see how they interrelate and interact within my thesis topic.  However, that will be for another post! 

****

This will be my last “promised” post of 2013, unless I have a sudden burst of enthusiasm to convert my internal rants into text.  However, I advise you not to hold your breath.

I wish you all a joyous Christmas and blessed New Year!  May you be blessed by the only gift worth having – the promise of the resurrection and perfect reconciliation with our King Yahweh through his Son Jesus.  

Thanks for reading my sporadic posts over the past year and being so supportive and encouraging. 🙂

 


[1] Affectionately known as the SAPs or the Structural Adjustment Programs.

[2] Nigerian Penal Code, Chapter 89, Laws of Northern Nigeria, 1963.  Section 55.

Present but not here

The whole tortured musings of a “third culture kid” ought to be old news by now.  I should have knocked this on the head and moved on to bigger and better things like making poverty history or championing the cause of the African woman.  However a recent trip to Nigeria sent me hurtling back to confusion, shaking the confidence I had in where I’m heading (or where I wouldn’t be heading!).

image

I have to be honest.  The last time I came to Nigeria, I was spoiling for a fight.  I had just spent a year on the continent and wasn’t interested in what Mama Naija had to say.  I scoffed at her acquiescence to NEPA’s silly game playing  (Sure, Kenya is a “small, poor country” in comparison to our dear Nigeria; but at least they have constant electricity!).  I rolled my eyes at the obvious cultural hypocrisy that excused (even glorified) male infidelity whilst being overly moralisic on homosexuality.  I burned with self-righteous anger when my beer was delivered to my uncle at a restaurant without a question – an indicator that gender equality is still pure rhetoric.  I suppose in some circles my attitude could be described as arrogant?  Loose canon perhaps?

However this time round I was more prepared to be less judgmental.  More accepting of Mama Naija, whilst remaining discontent with the way things are.

Nevertheless, whilst I enjoy her embrace from time to time – I’m still non-commital.  Not yet ready to give her all of me.

So for the next year we will dialogue.  We will wrestle through issues of patriarchy, imperialism, human rights and African feminism.  Maybe Mama Naija will embrace me a little longer.  Maybe she won’t.

Widows, ophans and theses

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I met her in Uganda in 2011.  She was a twin.  Hanging out in the front yard with her brother, playing.

That day I had accompanied my friend Scott (an intern at the time with IJM Uganda) and other IJM staff on a client visit.  Her mother is a widow who was almost driven from their family, home by her in-laws.  Thankfully, IJM had stepped in and helped her get her property back from the perpetrators.

Mama took us around the compound and adjoining small plot of land, to show us how she was progressing.  Fearing abandonment, Baby Girl started wailing.  I picked her up and we wandered around the allotment.  She didn’t smile. In fact, she looked at me suspiciously.  She stopped crying, at least.  When we were about to leave, I went to put her down.  Baby Girl, wasn’t interested.  She grabbed my neck a little tighter and started to cry…

I wonder how she’s doing, two years on.  I wonder how her mother is doing.  Raising her a young family without her husband.  Yet, not destitute, because she’s in her own home.

***

Last month I completed my Post Graduate Diploma in Development Studies.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to celebrate.  Rather, I spent almost three weeks of what should have been an inter-semester break, anxiously searching for a thesis topic.  I had vague ideas of what interested me.  You know – controversial, radical ideas about…. many issues.  Jennie issues. However, they all seemed to point towards knowledge production for the sake of it.

An afternoon of scribbling on a whiteboard, paper, face-palming and pacing my room, I mulled over Isaiah 1:17:

Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.

 

Although it wasn’t immediately clear in that moment, the memories of my time with IJM were colliding with the cares of my heart and a growing academic interest in Nigeria.  Consequently, I’ve decided to study at the treatment of widows in Nigeria. 

It’s going to be an interesting journey – literally, emotionally, spiritually.  I’m looking forward to building upon what I have learned over the past year.  Most importantly, I would love if this piece of work could contribute in some small way to the issues on the Father’s heart – the Defender of the fatherless.

P.S.  Next blog post, I promise to synthesise what I learned during the past year of study.

Man, I suck at this!

Last week, I ran into mama & papa from Myanmar – the Burmese Karen family that I helped out with last year.  I was on my lunch break at Tear Fund and saw them coming out of their English class just up the road.  It was an insane, slow motion sort of reunion.  At first I didn’t notice them.  I was concentrating on the Ethiopian women emerging from the building, wrapped up in their beautiful, traditional white shawls.  I wasn’t wearing my glasses at the time, so it wasn’t until she began to run at me, that I knew who it was.

 

I had been thinking about them on and off for the past few weeks.  Mentally kicking myself for not keeping in contact, biting off more than I could chew.  That very morning, I had been sitting with Tear Fund staff members hearing their experiences of Myanmar; their predictions for the future and adulation for The Lady.  Mama, Papa and Boy flickered across my mind.

 

So when mama and I embraced like long lost relatives and she stood crying in front of me, it was a cold stark reminder of how much I suck at this.  I had failed her and the family.  Yes, I had helped out with great enthusiasm in the beginning.  Running up and down, taking them to various appointments, visiting every few days.  However, by the end of the six months, the busy-ness of life had had its way with me.  I succumbed to the pressure of assignments and other commitments and didn’t get a chance to clearly articulate the end of the formal relationship…to properly say goodbye.  Perhaps I also needed to have more clearly defined boundaries.  Burmese Karen family have extended family in NZ.  They probably could have stepped up a little more than they previously did.  Nevertheless, the pain of separation is no less.

 

Yet, I’ve been given a second chance with this brief encounter.  For this I am grateful.  I’m not sure if I can ever make it up to them, but at least I can try.

 

Helping people is awesome, fun and life-stretching.  You should definitely do it!  But don’t be like me.  Don’t draw fuzzy boundaries and disappear like Harry Houdini.  That sucks.

 

For more info on Refugee Services NZ visit: http://www.refugeeservices.org.nz/

A naughty post and a brief rant

Haha, hopefully that title reeled you in!

The reality is, this post is naughty because I should be doing assignments…or sleeping (it’s 12.03am).  However I came across a blog in the Global Guardian criticising missionary efforts in Haiti and it stirred me a bit.  You can read the article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/17/haiti-development-missionary-aid-wrong

Let me make it clear.  It is always good to critique the intentions of every action – particularly those of “good will” or done in the name of any religion.  Nevertheless in academic circles it is fashionable to blame EVERY developmental problem on its missionary-related colonial past.  In the process everything that is Christian gets painted with that brush.  What they fail to see, is the colour of the paint.  Of course, they fail to see that colour because it is more often than not a reflection of them.

Yes, you know I’m going there.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but did any Coptic, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Indian Orthodox (that originated from St Thomas), or any other Christian tradition that pre-dates the white people jump on-board imperialist ships, go marauding around the world and force people to convert to the capitalist protestant work ethic?  Didn’t think so…  Anyway, I digress.

I actually wanted to share this eloquent reply to the blog post.  This author mentioned many of the key points I have been thinking about over the past year.

By the way: next post, I will try to synthesise some the things I’ve been learning over the past year.  This might go in part to explain my yet another end-of-semester-induced-exile.

Enough from me.  Enjoy:

Strangely, those who make these kinds of assertions fail to notice that the roots of almost every contemporary liberation movement fall back to Christian sources. Feminism, for example had some of its earliest proponents in the theological arguments of Damaris Masham and Mary Astell in the 1600s. Abolition found its strongest proponents in Christian academic freed men such as David Walker and Frederick Douglass, and in Theodore Weld and William Wilberforce whose advocacy for nonviolent, persuasive Biblical exegesis and leading by example shaped the movement. The tracks of the “underground railroad” were laid upon hymns of liberation. Post civil war reconciliation, reconstruction, and YES, DEVELOPMENT AND SELF-RELIANCE efforts, were spearheaded by the theologically informed projects of Booker T. Washington and Gearorge Washington Carver. The strongest German resistance to Naziism was found in its “Confessing Church” and the bold, anti-imperialist and anti-aryan theologies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth. What would the modern civil rights movement have been without the coordination of southern churches and the leadership of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.? What would the end of Apartheid have looked like without the South African Commission for Truth and Reconciliation or Bishop Desmond Tutu? What would the fall of communist totalitarianism in Poland have looked like without the corporate non-violent resistance of the church in the 80s? Here in Latin America, who has given voice to the need for a valuation of the rights of the poor more than the liberation theologians and clergy such as Oscar Romero and Gustavo Gutierrez? Would any of this history have been likely without some universal ethical grounds that could serve as a foundation for universal human rights? Whether you believe them to be true or not, the life and teachings of Jesus have provided such a common authority and guided these historical efforts by suggesting that the worth of all humanity is valuated by the high price that has been paid for each human being regardless of their performance or family tree. There is, therefore, according to the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians, no room for evaluative distinction based on ethnicity, religion, gender, economic position, or any other human category, including legal or ethical guilt, becuase all are enfolded in the divine acceptance and human worth spelled out on the cross. This kind of all-embracing ethic goes beyond the reach of most justice advocates, sadly beyond many modern reinterpretations of Christianity, and certainly beyond the scopes of the kind of exclusive claims to the forms of righteous aid put forth by this rather flimsy article. And yes, It certainly strips us Christians of any foundation for top-down, unlistening, uncooperative, uninclusive forms of aid. We, of all people, have a reason to not tolerate work in Haiti that does not give preference to Haitian voices, ideas, resources, and initiative. We are Haiti’s guests, and most certainly not its lord.

All this to say, while I strongly encourage and invite helpful critique of missionary efforts in Haiti, I hope that it will not be the off-the-cuff religious alienation and run-of-the mill pseudo-academic, veiled religious intolerance such as was exemplified in this article. This is me turning the other cheek. Please hit us squarely in the jaw, but please, swing to land the punch. Make observations of actual ministry. Ask Haitians their opinions. I’m confident that some of us will follow our Rabbi’s call to confess our faults, take the appropriate blame, and change accordingly. Too much is at stake to spend all this ink on little more than the juvenile journalistic equivalent of “Christians are bad”. We need to hear valid, studied critiques, and positive ideas about ways forward. As a Jesus-follower who works in Haiti I observe a lot of the colonial kinds of attitudes in the missionary community that warrant the critique that the article attempts, but wish it would have landed some direct observation of charity gone wrong. Without data, this is lazy and prejudiced reporting. And this too, is covered by grace.

Your combustible straw,
Corrigan Clay