Last week I wrote a column on Talking to our neighbors about Kony2012. In it I asked for young Rwandans and friends in the USA to stop posting Invisible Children’s Kony2012 video and to start loving Uganda as we love ourselves. Shyaka and I had a disagreement. However, there seems to be consensus among most of my Ugandan and Rwandan friends that Kony2012 misrepresents reality, hinders healing from trauma, and stifles investment. Among my American friends the opinions are much more polarized. Since I noticed so much Facebook and Twitter discussion I decided to post my column to my blog on Thursday, 15 March.
On Friday, 16 March the Uganda media was active on Twitter with the news that Jason Russell, the Director of Kony2012, was detained by police after naked irrational behavior and taken to a local hospital.
My pastoral intuition makes me think two matters are being whispered. One is that deep in the jungles of Central Africa Republic Joseph Kony was afraid of Jason Russell and the effects of the Kony2012 video. Therefore Kony turned to his most potent trick, juju. His band of abductees turned soldiers sacrificed an animal (or human), danced, and recited magic incantations. Then boom – Jason Russell went mad. Kony Juju defeated Kony2012.
The other whisper may be calling me a “Great Man of God,” or “America’s Leading Evangelist in Rwanda.” After all a few weeks earlier I compared Westerners who use Africa for self-grandeur with Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar who went mad. I also wrote about a time one of my Uganda neighborhood mzee walked home a naked mad young man. Did I prophesy that Jason Russell would go mad?
I think neither whisper is accurate.
My guess is that Jason Russell is suffering from publicity addiction, had an overdose on 15 March, and now it is Africa’s turn to love Jason Russell the way we love ourselves.
Jason led over 80 million people to some conclusions about northern Uganda that are not accurate. My boss one time said, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, and criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment.” That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. (Matthew 7:1-5, The Message.)” Now for a season Jason Russell will be judged by the world by the standards he judged others. Many will come to conclusions based not upon the facts of Jason Russell’s life, but upon their wounds.
Jason’s wife quickly responded that he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Some will think that because we’ve seen drug addicts behave like Jason Russell.
Some have guessed he suffers from manic episodes, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. Again, probably because we’ve seen people with these types of mental illnesses act as Jason Russell.
Some will assume his mind just snapped. We’ll do this because we know that stress and lack of sleep will eventually drive us all to a psychotic episode.
Angelo Izama and I compared Kony2012 to pornography. When I first saw Kony2012, I thought this was produced by a sex addict. I did this because in pastoring I have several times seen families destroyed when the early signs were communication styles similar to Kony2012. The director of Kony2012 was a master at the internet hype, could not separate fantasy from reality, and had no conception how much relationship damage he would do in Uganda, plus he ran through the streets naked. These are all classic marks of a sex addict.
Another theory could be that Jason Russell is another flamboyant American entrepreneurial personality that thrives in extreme adversity, but simply snaps when life becomes ordinary (Such as Meriwether Lewis.) Again, we come to these conclusions because we have seen these types of events happen before.
All this gossip is just human nature. My boss was convinced it was the consequence of publicly embarrassing others.
When my Uganda neighborhood mzee walked his naked neighbor’s son home the village gossiped. Some of the theories had elements of truth. There was some neighborhood jealousy. Someone may have cursed the boy. The young man had experimented with alcohol and drugs. The young man had traveled abroad and had a difficult cultural adjustment both abroad and home. Witchcraft, drugs, and stress may have all contributed to the boy’s “madness.”
Yet, the mzee chose to love his neighbor’s son as he would have wanted his own son loved. He chose to deflect the gossip. It seems our Ugandan neighbors are treating Jason Russell with the same grace. While the Kony2012 video is still up on YouTube, not even The Red Pepper has posted photos of Jason Russell on San Diego’s streets. In Africa when our neighbor is in an embarrassing situation, we respect their dignity. After all we may too find ourselves in such a situation.
Last week as I discussed African neighbor’s love besides respecting dignity I wrote of two other matters. First, we help our neighbors in crisis. Second, we help our neighbors in opportunity.
I once watched my neighborhood mzee at a kwanjula where the bride was obviously pregnant. He gently insisted on a goat for a fine. Family honor had been offended. Good African neighborliness will insist in Jason Russell’s crisis that we keep the focus on northern Uganda. Jason’s feelings are irrelevant for both his and northern Uganda’s healing. In order to heal Jason will have to face reality. As he does this, the Kony2012 video should be removed from YouTube. Also, Jason should find a Ugandan mzee to hold his hand as he returns to Uganda and apologizes. This is how good African neighbors help someone in a self-imposed crisis. They respect dignity, speak gently, forgive magnanimously, and still insist on accountability.
After the goat was paid both a Catholic priest and Balokole pastor saw an opportunity to preach. My mzee took the microphone away and made a joke. The fine had been paid. Honor was restored. The bride only would have a kwanjula once. She deserved it to be the best possible. In a few months we would have a child. The child deserved to be desired, loved, and nurtured without carrying a community’s offense. The crisis was past. Now we needed to put our energy into the opportunity.
All Africans I know conclude justice should be pursued in Congo and Central African Republic. They also conclude northern Uganda needs better schools and businesses. If we love Jason as we love ourselves, after he apologizes and we publicly forgive him, we should invite him to bless northern Uganda with better schools and businesses. When Jason heals from publicity addiction he will be part of our community again. I long for that day because my boss told me to love my neighbors as I love myself.