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May 6, 2007 I was in church most of the day.
The church was in Tanzania.
The service was conducted in Swahili and I didnít
understand a word that was spoken.
In attendance were about seven or eight choirs from
various Tanzanian churches, one of which was led by my
step-son, who now lives there with his family as missionaries.
My wife and I were his invited guests.
A week later we were in a different church.
This time the service was in English.
The following day we were on our way back to the US.
In the week
sandwiched between these two church visits our family had gone
on two safaris, attended a poisonous snake museum, attended a
concert, visited a Maasai village where we were invited to sit
inside a Boma (a round domed hut where a Maasai family lives).
We had shopped at various markets and had even
purchased some artifacts from young street vendors who try to
eek out a living from tourists.
(Their persistence suggests these kids could one day
make an excellent talent pool for a new generation of used car
spent the better part of one day at the UN mission in Arusha
where I sat in on several still ongoing trials pertaining to
the Rwandan genocide of 1994. We had met friends, students and associates of my step-son,
and his wife. My
step-son plays keyboard with one of best jazz groups I have
ever heard. The drummer graciously gave up his seat so I could sit in for
a couple of tunes. Luckily
I didnít play long enough to ruin their reputation. Near the
end of our visit we all suffered from some gastrointestinal
malady. As we
drove down some of the main and not so main streets of
Tanzania we had an opportunity to see some of its people up
close, a great many of whom work harder every day, day in and
day out, than I ever have.
Most do not own cars.
The bikes they ride are for the transportation of
people and goods rather than just for the fun of it. But most
walk from place to place in the sun and in the rain, the women
carrying loads on their heads that I wouldnít attempt with a
along the way the question came up as to whether the people of
the West and the people of Africa would ever really understand
one other, which is to say, speak the same language.
Hereís my answer to that:
It is true
that when I was in church the first week, I didnít
understand a word of Swahili.
But while I donít understand Swahili, I do understand
a smile. And I do
understand when someone graciously welcomes me to their home
or personal space. I
understand the look in someoneís eyes when they are glad to
see me. I
understand patience and kindness when it is given and I
understand enthusiasm and joy when people sing and dance with
abandon. And as
for love and kindness: these
I understand. Love
and kindness: it is both a language and a message. It is a language and a message we all are able to understand.
This language is Godís message to each of us.
It is part of who we are.
It is a language and a message that is closer to us
than our own breath. And so what is this messageÖ
another. Be with
other people in a spirit of brotherhood.
Treat one another as you yourself would want to be
patience and compassion for others.
Learn to forgive.
Be slow to judge. Seek justice.
This is not
hard to understand. Godís understanding might be infinite, but that does not
mean it has to be complex.
In fact it is simple:
love one another.
Be kind to one another.
Treat others as you would be treated.
This is profound wisdom, yet not beyond our
when Jesus walked on this plane he was not a Christian or a
was no church, no bible that he said everyone should read or
try to understand. No.
He simply said he had come to share what he had learned
from his Father. And
what was that? It
was the same as I have already stated.
Love one another.
Be kind to one another.
Do not judge. Learn to forgive. Simple
message. Not hard
So what is
all this about religion?
Why religion? Well, I would say that the message is very simple:
speak and live in the language of love and kindness.
Everything else is commentary.
And thatís what religion isÖ commentary on the
you are a Christian a Jew or a Muslim or anything else, the
message is the same because the message is already written on
every heart. We
only need to acknowledge it.
The purpose of religion is to remind us of this
message. Love one
another. Be kind
to one another. Treat
one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
visited the UN and attended the genocide trials, it reminded
me how easy it is sometimes to forget this message.
So we need reminding.
If the religion you practice reminds you and supports
you and encourages you to live the truth of Godís message,
then your religion serves a useful purpose.
Just calling yourself a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim,
reading scripture, or following orthodox traditions does not
guarantee that you understand the simplicity of what God has
to say. And what
is that? Love one
one another with kindness.
Seek justice. Forgive. Do not
be quick to judge. Use
your abilities to understand and strive to become all that you
can be. Be with others as you would want them to be with you.
So what am I
saying that Godís message is already written on the scrolls
of your own heart.
be a good thingÖ if your practice of it inspires you and
others to love, to be kind, to have compassion, to forgive.
so I now can say to you, that I traveled half way around the
world. And do you
know what I found there?
I found people there who speak my language. It's
nice to know.
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