art, photography, random thought, travel, writing

why?

I won’t propose to wrap up the questions of the universe in this post, but I found the “why” question swirling around my heart and head a lot while in South Sudan the last few weeks.

The question is seemingly always apropos.  Though there are few answers, if any, that we are able to come up with for this interrogation.

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And if most of us are honest, we often direct it at God.

There are so many things we see every day that beg this question.  Even lately, times here in a prosperous, free America, demand an answer.

I was watching a British TV show yesterday, Outnumbered.  Ben, a mischievous 8 year old boy, always making trouble for his parents, was serendipitously sat at a table with the local Vicar, as the family was attending a wedding.  What ensued was both hilarious and timely for a lot of people.

“Can I ask you another question about the bible?”  said Ben.

“Uh, well… of course you can, Ben,”  said a reluctant Vicar.

“King Herod sent out an order to kill baby Jesus, right?”

“Right, yes he did, yep.”

“Well…. why didn’t baby Jesus zap him.”

A little comic relief for such a massive subject, I hope.

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It seemed that every South Sudanese we spoke with had an incredible life story.  Filled with unimaginable hardships, obstacles, loss.  But more than those milestones was the overflowing grace, peace, forgiveness, redemption, and joy that permeated many of their lives.  And I began to wonder if this would be the case had they not experienced the contrast of such pain.

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margaret dradu, anzo-aa

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And then I looked at my own life.  At once I saw great hurts and sorrows.  None as dramatic as my African brothers and sisters (isn’t it funny how we compare even our hardships to one another?), but still seemingly horrific injustices to me, none-the-less.  And even now, I have been moving through a season of great difficulty.  Many times over the last few months my inner voice has cried, “why!?”  only to receive no visible or audible answer.

unzea betty, anzo-aa

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But thankfully we’re not left there in that place; in the dark.  Unless we choose to be.

Seed Effect is Christ-centered micro finance.  Anyone who wants, Christian, Muslim, Tribal, can receive a small business loan.  There are no religious requirements.  And that loan often changes peoples’ lives.

But that doesn’t mean they never face trials and heartache again.

Jesus, before his death said,

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33 ESV)

What really changes lives is the knowledge of ultimate peace and saving grace, and the heart change that follows.  And Seed Effect offers discipleship to the folks that are searching.

But again, it doesn’t mean a life free from tribulation.

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Now i’m sitting here, racking my brain, in a feeble attempt to wrap up a life changing experience in Africa into one blog post, and unfortunately I realize I’ve opened a really big can of worms here.

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In spite of an amazing experience in South Sudan, I’m still struggling with taking comfort in the words of scripture.  I think a lot of people do.  In fact, I think that’s the single biggest reason people don’t believe the words of the Bible or the claims of Jesus.  It is hard to find peace amidst the ever-present storms of life.  And the question of “why?” is always looming.

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But then I’m reminded that we’re asking the wrong question.  “Why?” suggests that we are owed an answer.  It doesn’t come from a place of humility.

In answer to this question, God put Job in his place, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding…”  (Job 38 ESV)

Really, it comes down to an issue of trust.  Are we willing to trust that God is, in fact, good?  Even though injustice surely lives?

Our world is broken.  I think this truth is self-evident.  To Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, whatever.  Something is massively wrong.  I saw much evidence of this truth while in Africa, but just as much upon my return home.

So for me, the “why” is beginning to fade, because really, the more I toil over it, the less it actually matters.  The question now is presented, “what”.  As in, “okay, so we will experience discomfort and terrible sorrows… what now?”

Now we have an opportunity to do something in the face of hardship.  Not to necessarily fix all of the problems on earth, and not to defy our circumstances, but to love and comfort one another in the midst of these trials.  And to share the Comforter with the brokenhearted.  This is real Christianity.

I’m thankful that Elle and I had the opportunity through working for Seed Effect to witness the financial empowerment of the South Sudanese people, but mostly to see again the true light of the Gospel.

For he says,

“In a favorable time I listened to you,
and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6: 2-13 ESV)

click the gallery above to view the photos larger

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I realize some of you are looking for specific stories.  I apologize.  There were just so many that are so amazing, that I truly had a difficult time putting them into words.

But Seed Effect has already shared some, and will be sharing many more on their blog… please check that out, and check it frequently!  I will also begin to add captions to as many of these photos as possible!

And if you appreciate what you’ve seen and read here, please consider supporting Seed Effect’s efforts in South Sudan.  I’ve seen the work they do first hand, and I could not give them a more glowing recommendation.

Fine art photographic prints will also be available soon, and a portion of the profits will be donated to Seed Effect!

Thanks for taking the time to read!  Please fell free to comment here if you have any thoughts or questions….

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013

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photography, random thought

primal depression

i have always loved zoos.  some of my earliest and fondest memories include family trips to the famous ft. worth zoo, where i would gaze at the magnificent creatures before me.  i believe that these early visits actually cultivated my great love for animals.

however, i went to the zoo just the other day, and had quite a different experience altogether.  now, don’t get me wrong here – i am by no means a supporter of PETA, nor do i hold animals in higher esteem than humans.  i simply saw the zoo, for the first time, in a very depressing light.  i’m beginning to rethink my ideas about human/ animal interaction. 

to further explore this concept, i’m starting a series on “caged animal” portraits.

  

i’m not trying to contribute to some “great” cause or anything, i’m just trying to see something from a different perspective than before, and i believe this is worth pondering.  i hope the photographs speak for themselves. 

thankfully, in all the tragedy that is our world, there remains beauty and humor as well.  i hope that some will find all three in a few of these images…

the primates exhibit an obvious parallel to our own mental malaise.  but what really got me was the bald eagle.  i’ve been lucky enough to have first-hand experience with wild balds when i lived in wyoming, and they are some of the most freewheeling and majestic creatures i have ever seen.

  

this animal, whose wingspan is longer than i am tall, was in a netted enclosure approximately 10’x10’x20′. talk about a caged bird… but it certainly could have been worse.

  

another factor that i guarantee contributed to all the long faces, was the temperature.  i was drenched in sweat the entire time as i walked the wide paths inside this enormous facility.  it had to have been over 100 degrees fahrenheit on the concrete, so it’s a given that the animals (many with gratuitous amounts of fur, hair, or feathers) were overheating, and desperately trying to keep cool.

please let me know what you think about all of this.  what has been your experience at various zoos around the world?  america’s zoos would be some of the best and most humane in the world, i imagine.  and i know that one justification people have for the continuation of traditional zoos is to create an awareness and love for animals in humans, which is the precise effect zoos had on me.  are we justified because of this?

 

i overheard a woman guiding a tour that day ask a group of children where they think zoos get their animals.  

“from the wild,” the children all answered.  

she kindly corrected them.  apparently, american zoos now almost exclusively acquire their animals from captivity.  they encourage captive breeding so that they are not pooling from the wild, therefore in theory, caging animals that are “used” to being caged.

 

i don’t know what the answers are.  and frankly, i feel very strong that there are much more important issues going on today with our own species.  however, these questions will eventually need answers.  as we move forward in our own evolution, have we surpassed our need for these exotic attractions?  are there simply better ways of studying and learning about our animal neighbors?  

 

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2008

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