Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Elephant in the African Brush

With various stories floating around the last few weeks regarding President Obama's trip to South Africa, I've been reminiscing about our Wabash trip last fall.  I also discovered a poem I wrote on the plane ride back from South Africa.  I doubt much of it will translate, but hopefully the theme will come through.  I was inspired by the awesome experience of this elephant above appearing out of the brush in a wild game preserve.  This formidable animal came striding towards our open-top transport vehicle, stood in front of us a moment - just long enough to define our place.  Then the elephant moved on.  I was immediately struck by its silent determination and subtle yet profound strength.  It immediately became a symbol of the King and the Kingdom of God to me, something that would not be "denied or dismissed."  I was also impressed by the liquid sorrow of the elephant's eyes and the thousand-creased skin.  It's face seemed a representation of all the tragedy I had witnessed and heard of in the heart of South Africa.

The Bull Elephant in the African Brush

Out of the bush it strides,
     in mass and alone;
It twinges and stretches,
           its tusks turned and tilted,
           its almond eyes crying inside its
                 leather-patched, hardened hide.
The bull alerts itself and its predicament,
            fanning and fronting to its onward course,
    not to be deterred.

It strides past the seven-mile cesspool,
           walks its way through the saffron and dust
               of the stricken-street,
    Walks across the squalor and shambles,
        of zinc and tender dry
            sticks stacked as refuse and refuge,
    Across the further lands of Cape Town's mall,
      past the merriment and morbidity of the system
            the Xhosa serve,
      Of spinning wheel and
            hanging indulgence,
      of Waterfront and white.

It walks beyond the unspoken, unseen borders
      of every shantytown
          that mars and marks the African veld,
    Past the teeming tarnish,
The troubled and troubling
       Gehenna of Khayelitcha,

It sniffs the poisoned, polluted air -
      surveying, assessing.
         at its expanding and expansive tenement, baking
         in the valley beneath the dialectic
  of Stellenbosch,
    and soteriology, and sin,

Then turns its head
     towards its beckoning point,
     to its home-bound boundary
    Of which the whole creation waits and groans,

And strides again. 


It marches on past the tourists and the tribal troubadours,
    Past Zuma's cronies and capitalists,
    Past the Afrikaaners turned aristocrats.
    Past the twenty Rand trick,
         The sex-inducing blonde,
         The soul-worn umfundizi,
         The medicine man who stares out
              his Rustenburg shack
                  with his ailing eyes,
           Enchanting his inadequate summons of salve
     While his daughters' daughters wither and die.

It marches past the bishop holding his
    creamy, careful hands
     palm flat upon the screaming, scalding
       skin of another shanty girl -
     Riven and riddled by men and disease, raped by father
         and gold and market and
               the million greeds that yawn across the never closing market
           from corner to continent,
           from godless domains
               of powers and principalities
    Entrenched as postmodernism's modern gods.

Its eyes cry in silence - probing to the depths
    the degraded humiliation,
      the deplorable degrees of devastation,
And marches somehow onwards still. 

It pulses and pushes its Herculean
   not to be denied or dismissed,
     but persistent and proud.

So goes its will; its might,
    under the African sun and
     across the
         aching, ailing earth,
crying silently its
Groaning for creation's renewal,
     which has been promised
        and foreseen.  

Saturday, July 06, 2013


Anna is in the kitchen this lazy afternoon, and the sound of vegetables hissing in hot sesame oil just began.  She is dead-set on making an Asian dish she's had targeted for over a week now.  "Bound and determined" is how she described her intentions.

Through the open windows of our bedroom window, I can hear Wyatt and Elise running around the neighbor's yard, likely playing "guns" or "sneak game" with the two neighbor's grandchildren.  It has only been in the last few weeks that our kids have begun playing with the two boys when they come out to visit grandma and grandpa.  Anna and I have been grateful two new playmates have been found, especially as it affords us personal time.  It is no less satisfying for Wyatt and Elise, and they come home to dinner after an hour or so full of stories and flush faces.

We've celebrated our nation's independence largely with a relaxation in our individual scheduled activities.  Anna is done with swim lessons and practice, at least for this week anyhow.  The kids too are done with their weekday trips to the pool.  And, I have emerged from a week as a camp director for 32 Junior High kids down at Camp Pyoca in southern Indiana.  We were therefore more than grateful for two extra days off this week, and we've spent them mostly ordering our home as well as our rhythms in our home.  

I don't know how many times we've rearranged rooms and furniture in this old farmhouse, but it is up to at least a dozen times now as we try to find the perfect balance between our growing possessions and our finite space.  Ever the optimists, though, we feel we've finally found the best arrangement to date with the kids back in the room just off the living room.  We are also working to turn their old bedroom into a schoolroom for the coming year.  We don't know why we didn't try this layout earlier, but improvements only come by mistakes and many attempts.

Without the demands of coaching, church, and extracurricular activities for the kids, our days have been more stable, and we've been able to actually sit down to dinner several times in recent days.  We've also managed to get back to some good, although challenging rhythms of bed time routines.  Add that to our new "manner list" on the fridge, and we're slowly eeking out some order and normalcy in our home.  Well, as much order as one can expect for a family of four living in a century-old house with a huge dog, chickens, and eleven acres of lush, vibrant woods, lawn and garden.  Much of our efforts in this place go towards stemming the tide of chaos.  But, what else are our 30's supposed to look like?

Thankfully, our extended family chipped in on the Fourth of July, part of an agreement to band together once a month at one of our homes to check off old projects and tackle new ones.  Our list for the day included taking down a Locust tree near our garage, painting up some trim on the inside, and odds and ends that never got checked off my "honey-do" list.  Per usual, I decided to jump right into a job without applying much critical thinking, which nearly resulted in me dropping a fifty foot Locust tree on our house.  Thanks to Grandpa Joe, one Bobcat, and one steel cable the crisis was averted, and we ended the evening in good humor eating hamburgs, coconut cream cake, and watching modest fireworks exploding in the late day air.

Hopefully, the next couple weekends will give us the chance to get up and see my extended family.  It has been awhile since I've been able to see my mom & step-dad, my sister and her girls, as well as my step-mom and dad, and I'm excited to catch up with them.  It seems like these summer days are endless with darkness staying away until late in the evening, and yet the days themselves are just not numerous enough.