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Message from Tanzania
Mark A. Goldman                                                              Dated:  5/18/07 

On 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 dealerships.)  I 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 wheelbarrow.   Somewhere 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 

Love one another.  Be with other people in a spirit of brotherhood.  Treat one another as you yourself would want to be treated.  Have 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 understanding. 

You know, when Jesus walked on this plane he was not a Christian or a Lutheran.  There 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 to understand. 

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 message.  Whether 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. 

When I 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 another.  Treat 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?  Iím saying that Godís message is already written on the scrolls of your own heart. 

Religion can be a good thingÖ if your practice of it inspires you and others to love, to be kind, to have compassion, to forgive.  

And 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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