Monday, October 22, 2007

conversation with an eritrean guy

I had a really interesting conversation the other day here on campus with a guy from eritrea whose name I can’t remember (partially because it was a foreign name). He was a really nice guy. We ended up walking along the same direction, and I said,

“Good afternoon”. And he said

“Good afternoon, how are you?”

Benjamin: I’m okay. The gray, heavy weather gets me down a little”

Eritrean guy: Oh really? I feel happy in spite of the weather. Jesus is my lord and saviour–so I feel happy all the time.

B: (somewhat bemused, and somewhat triggered, and therefore kind of gearing up for a potentially fascinating conversation) really? what do you mean when you say Jesus is your lord and savior? How does that make you happy?

E: Well, he died for my sins, so I can go to heaven when I die. Everybody needs Jesus as their savior so they can go to heaven.

B: okay–that sounds kewl. But what has Jesus done for you here?

E: well–he died for my sins.

B: yeah–but what has he done for you here? Has he helped you in any particular way? like for instance, I get in arguments with my wife sometimes. Has jesus helped in relationships with your spouse, your friends?

E: well–yes of course we are humans, which means that we get into fights and arguments. that’s okay–it’s part of life. We work through that stuff. But Jesus (as before)

B: (bull dog now with bone in mouth–won’t be put off =) Yes–great. But has your life changed since you met Jesus? Are you any different now from how were you before (thinking to self: come on, come on–tell me a goddamned story already–I’m setting it up for you here!!!!)

E: oh yes!!! I used to be a drunkard, and a (goes on to describe person who is a general loser). Yes Jesus changed me a lot. Don’t you want to be a christian too?

B: well it’s really interesting and great that you had that experience. I’ve had almost the opposite experience. Back when I was a Christian and knew Jesus, I was a pretty horrible person. Now that I’m not a christian anymore, I’m a much nicer person–I treat other people and myself better. Isn’t it intriguing that we have had such opposite experiences?

E: Well, I’m very happy to be here in a christian nation, and be able to love Jesus and that he has forgiven my sins

B: (alas, a new trigger) Why do you call this a christian nation? what do you mean when you say christian? didn’t Jesus say to love your enemies? But we kill our enemies.

E: Yes–but you must of course defend yourself!

B: well–at one level I agree with you. but then I’m not a christian. you call yourself a christian, and yet you condone killing your enemies? How’s that?

(this next bit is mega fascinating to me)

E: well–I don’t really like to talk about politics. But you know, back home in eritrea–this is how Christians believe–that we must not kill our enemies. The fighting has been going on a long time with ethiopia, and the government requires everyone to serve in the army, but the christians refuse. and many of them are imprisoned or killed because of this. So when I came to this country, I joined a little Eritrean church (points in general direction of church building). and about 80% of the people in this church have this different view now that since america is a christian nation, that it is okay for them to condone killing enemies in defense of america. So I have been swayed by this 80%, and my thinking has changed. But perhaps you are right.

B: (thinking to self: wow!! I’m stoked I got in this conversation. How fascinating is that???) So what do you mean when you say Jesus died for you?

E: well, you see, he was killed on a cross for your sins and my sins, so we could go to heaven. He did not sin–but you, and me, and all of us–we sinned–we deserved to be on that cross–and he took our place.

B: yes, yes. But what is this “Sin”? I mean you know what a cross is, right? It’s a roman execution by torture device. Our closest equivalent might be an electric chair combined with a cia black site. So you are saying that you deserve to be tortured to death? what for? what have you done that’s so awful that you should be tortured to death? What is this “sin” you are talking about?

E: well, it doesn’t have to be about what I personally did. It’s in our blood. Adam sinned, and that sin came down to me in my blood.

B: So you are saying you are convinced that you and me and everybody ought to be tortured to death because some guy thousands of years ago didn’t exactly follow what god said?

E: yes–we deserve to die for our sins, but Jesus came to save us.

B: okay–I don’t get that. I can’t really believe that you believe that. I gotta get to class. Great talking to ya. Later!

All of which to say, among other things, that people get taught and buy into what seems to me to be a really shockingly cruel, horrible theology–but there seems to be a huge disconnect somewhere between their theology and their actual real world experience as a human being.


No comments: