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!