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Monday, January 4, 2010

A Lack of Faith

(Al and Tadesse walked half a day in the Ethiopian countryside to get answers to their pressing questions from the wise man of a local village, Tsehye. They didn't know much about him. Tsehye at first pretended he only spoke Amharina, Ethiopia's national language. Once he could trust them, Tsehye spoke in English directly to Al about his lack of faith and shared his wisdom on the subject.)

Excerpt #8 from "A TIME TO..."

“Why? What do you mean? You sound angry,” Tadesse said with surprise.

“Yes. Why are you so angry? Was it something God did?” Tsehye asked in perfect English, with a scholarly British accent.

“What the... You know English?” asked an amazed Al.

“Yes, I know English. I picked it up at Oxford University,” said Tsehye with a grin. “Please tell me why you have a problem with my wisdom. It also sounds like you have a problem with God.”

Al and Tadesse looked dumbfounded at each other. “God? What God?” Al responded after Tsehye’s surprise wore off and his question registered.

“”OK. I see. You are one of those,” Tsehye said.

“One of what?” Al shot back.

“One of those people who turns their back on God when some tragedy or painful experience happens to them,” Tsehye said as he sipped his coffee.

“Who are you?” Al asked sternly.

“I’m a wise old man. Probably too wise for my own good,” Tsehye replied lightheartedly.

“”Why did you lie about your English? You were a student at Oxford, but you’re living like a poor peasant in the middle of nowhere. Something is not right. No more lies. Explain yourself,” Al demanded.

“Yes. Don’t treat us like fools,” Tadesse added.

“You came to me. I’ve shared my thoughts with you. Treating you like fools?” Tsehye repeated with a hint of irritation. “I lied about my English to protect myself. I had to be sure you were not a threat. You said yourself, ‘Change is in the air... big change.’ You must know there are government agents everywhere, ready to arrest anyone who would like to see change.

“I was poor... my family couldn’t afford to send me to school... But I was able to get an education by working odd jobs at a Christian mission. I did everything from making charcoal to washing clothes. In return, they paid me money, that I gave to my parents. They let me live with them, and they schooled me. I was a very good student, they told me. So good, that they helped me get a scholarship at a prep school in Addis Ababa. By the time I graduated, I was the top student there. I became somewhat of a celebrity because of my humble family history. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was in England, attending Oxford. A rich businessman paid for it,” Tsehye said while shaking his head as if his story was hard for even him to believe.

“I never met him. He never contacted me. Several years after I graduated and returned to Addis, I heard that he had died. A part of me wished that I would have had the opportunity to thank him, and a part of me wished that I had the chance to curse him. You see, I was a misfit... a man without a culture. I preferred Western music, art, literature, clothes, food and even English. It was what I had come to know best. My goals, my success all told me that Western culture was superior. Nobody came out and said that, but it was implied. Nobody ridiculed Ethiopian culture, it just didn’t matter. So, when I returned to Ethiopia to live after graduation, I couldn’t relate to most Ethiopians. And they treated me like the foreigngee I had become,” Tsehye said as he closed his eyes and turned away. The pain in his voice explained the tear that he wiped from his cheek. “Excuse me. I don’t know why I told you this. It is the first time I spoke these words to anyone but myself.”

“You talk about ‘faith’ and ‘God’ like you know them well,” Al said haltingly, as if walking on thin ice. “How has your faith and God helped you? Look at what you’ve become.”

“Ah, yes, by the grace of God, look at me now,” Tsehye said proudly. “I’ll finish my story another time. Now, I want to hear yours... the reason why you came to see me today,” Tsehye said gently and with great compassion.

“Tell me... this God that you talk about... Is he good?” Al asked.

“Of course... the ultimate good,” Tsehye replied.

“Is he all powerful? Can he do anything... even miraculous things?” Al continued.

“He can and does move mountains, heals the sick and raises the dead,” Tsehye said. “If that’s what you mean.”

“OK. Then why does he let things happen that leave innocent people dead or behind bars for the rest of their lives? I’ll tell you why. Either he chooses not to act, to prevent these things from happening, which makes him less than good. It makes him cruel and indifferent, like someone standing by and doing nothing when he sees a child about to be hit by a car but doesn’t push that child out of the way even though he was standing right next to him,” Al said with bitterness.

“Or, he doesn’t exist. I think he doesn’t exist because how could an all-powerful God exist and just not save innocent people from untimely deaths, or injustices that they have to live with for their entire lives,” Al added as he slapped the rock they sat around.

“What can I say? It sounds like you have already made up your mind... but maybe not, since you’ve come all this way to talk about it,” Tsehye said. “How long have you felt this way?”

Al looked at Tadesse then into Tsehye’s eyes and said, “Ever since a friend of mine killed someone to protect me. It was a big mistake. The guy he killed was just playing around with me. My friend is now spending the rest of his life in prison to pay for his mistake, and the guy who was playing around is dead. Two lives lost because of me....,” Al confessed. “And, because there is no God.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Tsehye told Al.

“Sorry about what?” Al blasted.

“Sorry you have suffered so much. I know there is a God,” Tsehye replied. “Blaming yourself for those things is wrong.... and just because you say there is no God doesn’t make it so.”

“How... How can you say all this? How do you know?” Al countered.

“First of all, you’re not responsible for what others do. God is not even responsible for what people do. Only we are responsible. God has given us the freedom to do as we please. For some this is a blessing, but for others, it is a curse because they make bad choices. To make matters worse, some of those who do terrible things don’t accept responsibility. Some even say ‘God’ told them to do it,” Tsehye lamented.

“Yeah, crazy people... only crazy people hear God talking,” Al interrupted. “God never said anything to me.”

“Ha, ha, ha... Are you sure?” Tsehye asked. “Maybe you’re not listening. Maybe he’s speaking a language you don’t know.”

“Yeah, maybe... Hell, you’re speaking English and I don’t know what you’re saying. So, I guess anything is possible,” Al offered.

“OK. Let me try to say it another way. God doesn’t speak to us with words, except those in the Bible. He speaks to us through our souls, our spirits... that part of us that is not of this world. It’s only when we engage our spirits that we can hear God. After all, he is not of this world. He just created it. To say there is no God, when we have Bibles and houses of worship all around the world, makes no sense. It makes a lot of sense to say God has spoken to the writers and the builders, and those who have revered their divine creations. Do you really think this is all just a collective fantasy?” Tsehye asked.

“Yes...wishful thinking for a God who takes care of those who pray to Him. It hasn’t worked for me,” Al said defiantly.

“Ah, so you did believe at one time,” Tsehye responded.

“I told you... If He exists, and I doubt it, He’s turned his back on me, and lots of others. Just look at the news everyday. Look at the poor, starving people in your country. So, I’ve turned my back on Him. I treat Him as if he doesn’t exist. It doesn’t make any difference to me if he exists or not. Either way, I’m living my life without Him,” Al declared.

“Are you sure?” Tsehye asked Al again. “Your bitterness speaks loudly. It tells me your soul is in pain. Listen to your soul tell you there is a God... a mysterious God who doesn’t seem to care about you and others in this world. You wouldn’t be so angry if you didn’t believe. God is alive and well in your anger. Can you hear your spirit talking to you?”

“No. I don’t hear anything,” Al said with a hint of confusion and a trace of disappointment.

“Then, I can’t help you, not now. You’re not ready,” Tsehye told Al.

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