Friday, March 16, 2007

My Journey So Far...

I am a Nigerian! Unabashedly, unapologetically, unequivocally, and proudly, Nigerian. I must admit though that living in these United States has made me patently aware of some of our cultural foibles and tendencies that we, as a people are often completely unaware of. We are a loud, ostentatious and colorful people. I recall growing up in Lagos and attending the “Owambe’s” that literally shut down streets and entire neighborhoods as we celebrated deep into the night with lavish displays of wealth and passion, what it meant to grow up in a Nigeria of the oil boom days.

I recall the laughter and boisterous conversations that ensued, with each person talking over the other in a vain attempt to be heard. We hurled around invectives loosely, and if someone didn’t agree with your point, why, it was perfectly alright to label him a ‘fool’ or an ‘idiot.’ Let me digress down a rabbit trail for just a moment at the risk of losing you. Tigers are tigers. Right? At least in my opinion they are. Bengals, Siberians, Sumatran. I can’t tell the difference (If you can you’re a better man/ woman than me). However, watching the discovery channel (I’ve found this experience to be more profitable and enlightening than the loud arguments that no one ever wins); there is one tiger that I am able to distinguish from all others. The rare, white tiger. Whether it is Bengal, Siberian or Sumatran, it stands out because it is white. I discovered after I’d lived in the USA for a while, that Nigerians are white tigers!

Living in Nigeria, we were all the same. Loud, aggressive and argumentative, so we didn’t stand out or even recognize that fact because we were all alike. We were all tigers of the same color. Living in the USA, I discovered that one of the things people avoid the most is confrontation. While Nigerians thrive on it, Americans avoid it like the proverbial plague. Consider the dinner we hosted at our home a short while ago. In attendance along with my family were, my brother-in-law who pastor’s a church in Nigeria, his wife, the Lead Worship Pastor at our local church, and his wife. As you visualize the evening I should help your mental image by telling you that the worship pastor and his wife are white.

The evening progressed nicely with great food, pleasant company and the usual small talk that accompanies such gatherings. At some point, as is bound to happen when you put two Nigerians in a room anywhere, my brother-in-law and I engaged in an opinionated discussion about a topic that I can’t for the life of me remember. As we bantered back and forth, the decibels rose, as each of us attempted to drive home our point with passion and gusto. This, to our minds was a normal, healthy and, for the benefit of the Americans, “dialed-down” conversation. Suddenly the worship pastor looked at his wife who had a Mona-Lisa-like enigmatic expression on her face, and said something like, “its okay honey, they aren’t fighting, and they really do love each other. This is just how Nigerians hold discussions.” Now, before you become all indignant and aggressive about his assessment, I should tell you that He has been to Nigeria with me in the past and was speaking as one who had observed us first-hand from the standpoint of an objective outsider.

As one who is in the people business, I deal with different people in various situations on a daily basis. I consider myself somewhat of a ‘reformed’ Nigerian, in that I have discarded some of my tendencies to be overtly loud, drive overly aggressively (I still do have somewhat of a lead foot), and feel the need to insult anyone who disagrees with my perspective or opinion. Amazingly, I have been involved in passionate discussions with people and they have asked me why I am yelling at them. In shock, I try to explain that I am not yelling but simply expressing my point with passion.

I discovered that it works great when you’re preaching from a pulpit but not so well when you are holding a one on one discussion with a ‘regular tiger.’ I am a preacher! I pastor a church of predominantly white Americans. It is imperative that I learn to understand their cultural nuances if I am to be effective in evangelizing and making a significant impact on their lives. This is my daily struggle. Reminding myself that I am a white tiger in the midst of many regular tigers. The skill is in learning how to stand out yet blend in. I know, I know. A paradox, I hear you say. But I have the rest of my life to figure this out since making a difference in people’s lives is what I am called to do.

So what have I learned on my journey so far? I’ve learned that launching a strident and vitriolic attack against people who express opinions that differ from our own, serves to undermine the integrity of our voice. Life and exposure have taught me that it is the tendency of people who feel that they are not in control of a discussion, to lash out with insults. There is an old adage that says, “Never argue with a fool, people watching can’t tell the difference.” Finally, I’m working on being a white tiger that fits right in with the regular tigers. I love pastoring in America!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I'm thrilled to be here doing what I'm doing

I must admit that the last year has been a real eye opener and a real season of testing for my family and I. The Well is and has been our dream for the last two and a half years, and now that it is here it's turning out to be the hardest thing I've ever done. The most amazing thing is, I wouldn't trade where I am and what I'm doing now for anything else.

God has been so gracious to us as he has added some incredible people as part of our church family. I am constantly amazed that people consider me their pastor and are willing to entrust their lives to my counsel and insight. I have spent much of my time over the last few months praying, fasting and studying. I feel like a butterfly that is just about to emerge from the pupa stage or is it larva (it's been a while since I took biology in school), and I am ready to spread my wings in all their glorious color and fly.

The biggest thing I've learned over the year that our church has been in existence is that there are subtle cultural nuances about being a pastor in the USA that differ vastly from being a pastor in Nigeria or for that matter anywhere else. Part of the learning curve for me is staying true to the vision God gave me while adapting to these cultural nuances. I love what I do! I love the people I have been called to serve!! I love what God is doing in and through The Well!!!

Monday, March 5, 2007

I kinda like staying home!

Hey guys,
Meet my absolutely, breathtakingly, beautiful wife, Sola. I heard a guy once explain that he didn't go out much because they had six kids. He explained, in response to peoples question about whether he had figured out what 'causes' kids, that not only did he know what caused them, but that's the reason why he stays home so much, since he and his wife have discovered that they like it too much to give it up, especially since he has a "smoking hot wife." I kinda like staying home too! Oh, before I forget, meet Ron, one of my best buddies, golf teacher and partner, and my lead associate pastor. It's great living life with people that you really like and enjoy hanging out with. I really hope that you have relationships in your life that you can depend on and be completely real with.

Grey Beards

I'm amazed at how much grey there is in my beard. It seems like it was just yesterday that I was getting married, with my whole life stretched out before me (It'll be nineteen years this December). Now I have three kids (one of them taller than me and a year and a half away from being done with High School). Where on earth did the time go? Having said that, I really do love the grey in my beard. It speaks of life lived, lessons learned along the way, and hopefully wisdom gained from the journey. How's your beard? What does it say about you? (If you're female it says you really need to make an appointment with a specialist). Seriously though, remember to enjoy the journey, because all to often we miss it because we are focused on the destination, while the real lessons are learned from the journey. I really liked being twenty-something, absolutely enjoyed being thirty-something, but I'm really loving being forty-something and getting to do what it is I love the most: Introducing people to Jesus at "The Well" so that they may have an encounter with Him that changes their lives and sets them on the course to their destiny. By the way, the grey in my beard makes it easier for me to do what I do since people for some weird reason equate grey beards with wisdom. Oh well, ce la vie eh!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Of TSA and Flying

I rue the day terrorists attacked our comfortable utopian lifestyles and rudely awakened us to a dose of reality; America is not invulnerable to terrorism within the presumed safety of our national borders. 9/11 stands out in my mind for many more reasons than the tragedy of innocent deaths that befell our nation and disrupted families forever. The carnage of that unconscionable event impacts us still, five years removed from the cowardly attacks.
One of the more subtle disasters of the 9/11 attacks was the formation of the TSA (for those of you who happen not to be frequent flyers, these are the guys and gals at all of our airports wearing pseudo-police uniforms and rubber surgical gloves, whose sworn duty is to harass weary travelers and ensure that we give serious consideration to taking the bus next time we have to travel across the country).

I know, I know, some of you are already on the defensive as you think of how helpful they have been in averting potential bombs being brought on board aircraft designed to be used as missiles. I apologize in advance to those TSA employees who truly understand and value the nature of their job and do it with great pride and honor, but as with anything that you paint with broad brush strokes, the innocent are bound to get splashed with color.

Consider for instance my recent trip to St. Louis, MO. I was on a scheduled one day business trip from Orlando and so packed as lightly as my cumbersome but life-saving C-pap (breathing machine) would allow. Wanting to avoid the potential hassles of delayed or lost luggage, I packed just enough to fit into my carry on wheelie. I meticulously went through everything in my toilet bag so as to ensure that I wouldn’t be transporting anything that would potentially be confiscated at the TSA security checkpoint. I left behind my shaving knife even though it wouldn’t slice through melted butter, as well as my metal nail file and nail clippers (believe it or not I have seen these items confiscated as potential weapons).

The outbound journey to St. Louis went without a hitch. The TSA agent checked my bag and did whatever it is they do with the little round magnetic strip, rubbing it on the different surfaces of my C-pap machine, placing the strip in a large piece of hi-tech equipment which eventually gives the green light that I hadn’t been anywhere in the vicinity of bomb making material (or at least my C-pap hadn’t), and I was on my merry way. Not so the return journey the next day. I was unfortunate enough to end up in a line manned by a female TSA agent whom we will call Ursula (this name springs to mind each time I picture her and it seems rather appropriate considering her Nazi-like disposition). Ursula began by politely informing me that she needed to check my C-pap machine. Evidently she’d seen enough of them come through so that she knew what it was before she had opened the bag. I gave her the thumbs up and she proceeded to meticulously take my bag apart after she had merely glanced at the C-pap.
Ursula unzipped my toilet bag and picked up my tube of toothpaste, informing me that it was too large of a tube to be allowed through security, based on directives from Washington D.C. Then she examined my shaving cream tube and decided that it was too large also. Apparently I foolishly failed to check the TSA website before my departure otherwise I would have discovered that the limit on any gel, liquid or paste is 3.4oz, and since my shaving cream was a whopping 6oz pack, it was instantly apprehended. Next was my bottle of body lotion along with an $18.00 bottle of facial cleanser from Mary Kay (Yes, I admit I use skin care products because I’m a pretty secure male). By this time my irritation was apparent and so Ursula, having carefully studied the German print all over the bottle of skin lotion which I had purchased in Germany on a previous international flight, decided I could keep it. She then picked up my tiny tube of lip balm and asked me if I had a small Ziplock bag in which to put it. Responding with exaggerated patience, I informed her that I didn’t whereupon she proceeded to add that to the growing pile of “illegal” contraband items I was attempting to transport through airport security. Did I mention that there was a stack of Ziplock bags sitting on the counter right in front of her?

By this time the commotion had attracted the attention of a TSA agent with a brain, who suggested to Ursula that she could give me one of the Ziplock bags strategically placed in front of her for just such a purpose. Phew! I had saved my lip balm, but for good measure and to ensure that I knew she was still in charge Ursula decided that the German body lotion had to go in lieu of the lip balm. I watched despondently as my German skin care lotion, my $18.00 tube of Mary Kay facial cleanser, My tube of toothpaste and my shaving cream were unceremoniously tossed into the massive trash can strategically positioned just for that purpose.

So let me try and make some sense of all this. TSA was created to protect citizens from potential acts of terrorism that might occur on airplanes as people surreptitiously attempt to transport bombs and other such paraphernalia through airports. It would appear that somewhere along the line they lost sight of that purpose and decided that in view of the limited amount of airline terrorism that has happened lately; they needed to redefine their purpose. The new purpose, it would appear, is to monitor and discourage the growing number of dissident travelers that attempt to transport toiletries which exceed 3.4oz, and stop our sordid and flagrant abuse of that rule.

It is beyond unfathomable that hard working tax payers have to fund an organization that seems obsessed with the idea of confiscating “illegal” items that we are transporting through our airports for hygiene purposes and tossing them in the trash. For my own sanity and peace of mind I have to believe that discretion is an option in this profession. I fully understand that safety is paramount---but come on, toothpaste, shaving cream, body lotion and face cleanser are hardly threats to national security!

I imagine that the rule to limit the size of these types of toiletry articles (gels, pastes and liquids) was established to ensure that no one was carrying a pack large enough to hold a certain quantity of potentially dangerous explosive material. This being said, I’m equally confident that the purpose of the rule was not to have TSA agents toss away our hard earned money because we are carrying 3oz more toothpaste than Washington D.C. thinks we need on any trip. So my question is this: are TSA agents worried or concerned that they may lose their jobs if there isn’t enough spurious “activity” going on? It would be disingenuous for anyone to suggest that seizing oversized toiletries is a job worth paying people for. Come to think of it, what did these people do for a living prior to the formation of the TSA post-9/11?