Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Vive la France

Bonjour from France, where I am speaking at an annual arts camp. The camp is situated in the southern region called the Cevennes, about an hour and a half inland from the Mediterranean. This is my third time to be invited to speak here, but it's been five years since the last time. I was eager to see how things have evolved.

It's impossible to visit any place in Europe without discovering some historical significance; in this case, many an impressionist painter, for example, traversed and painted these rolling hills with their picturesque villages. But what I find most striking goes back further than the impressionists: it was to this part of France, among others, that the Huguenots fled the persecution of the Catholic church under Louis XIV in the 17th century. This post will hopefully be followed by a Part II after a visit to the "Musee du Desert." The "desert" in question is not a physical desert, but a period of such intense persecution that the years have come to be known as such. More on that later...

In the meantime, it's gratifying to see the arts flourishing...they've assembled an impressive faculty representing practically all the artistic disciplines -- and I'm speaking at the morning plenary sessions. Reunions with old friends and great conversations with new friends...grateful for the privilege! Out of time for now...more later.

And welcome to Water Cooler Wednesday!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bringing Out the Finest China

After watching the opening cermonies of the Beijing Olympics, I suppose the cynic could say that the awesome display of artistry and grandeur was merely China putting on its best face, hiding a truer China of oppression, poverty and uniformity.

But what if what we saw on 08.08.08 was actually the truer China after all? What if the breathtaking magnitude and splendor of the opening ceremony -- the rising of the curtain on what has already proven to be a most memorable Olympic Games -- was the China God had in mind in the first place? I don't usually delve into matters of religion in this blog, but indulge me for just this: in the book of Revelation in the Bible, it says of the New Jerusalem that "the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it." We tend to think of heaven as a nondescript existence of golden streets and harps. I believe that nothing could be further from the truth. I believe that heaven is the perfect version of all that is splendid and beautiful about the universe we know and have known.

The reason I fought back tears during that performance is that I felt I was getting a taste of the beauty of heaven. And we ain't seen nothin' yet.

...and welcome to Water Cooler Wednesday!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ubuntu Beads

I recently met a man on a mission named Jared Miller. Jared is the son of life coach Dan Miller, who has had a profound influence on my thinking over the past year.
Having been weaned on success theories based on entrepreneurship and firmly rooted in capitalism, Jared is taking a road less traveled, yet gaining momentum in our day: cross-cultural social entrepreneurism.

Enter KEZA, a growing division of the nonprofit organization Sisters of Rwanda, founded by Jared. KEZA is the result not only of an entrepreneurial spirit fueled by a genuine desire to achieve gender equality in the East African nation, but especially of over two years of listening.

Having heard of the horrific fallout of the infamous Rwandan genocide of the 90's, Jared made his first trek to Africa almost three years ago. His initial contacts in Rwanda stopped him in his American tracks: as he sat and listened, first to Pastor Joseph Ayienga, then to Virginia and Rosa's stories, all his well-intentioned plans began to evaporate. It suddenly occurred to him that his time would be better spent with an ear to the ground, rather than setting to work immediately implementing plans that, in hindsight, could have proven disastrous.

As Jared listened, a philosophy known as ubuntu began to take center stage in his consciousness. Ubuntu can best be summed up in the statement, "I am who I am because of who we all are." Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains, "We cannot be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for family." In this case, 'family' means helping dozens of Rwandan women make their way out of gender-based, violent oppression where there is little to no opportunity for self-sustenance. KEZA provides them an opportunity to reflect the beauty of their culture through the making of vividly coloured necklaces. Each bead is, remarkably, hand crafted from old calendars, posters and paper scraps, then varnished and strung together to make a beautiful fashion statement.

Jared has now launched a campaign to export this jewelry to other parts of the world as a stream of revenue, not only for the women directly, but also so over a hundred children can go to school and make their own way out of the cycle of poverty and oppression.

Read more about KEZA and the Sisters of Rwanda here.

Bravo, Jared.

...and welcome to Water Cooler Wednesday!