Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Love and Memories

The other day a friend told me what he thought of memories- that they are simply misconstructions of reality. As soon as an event happens in our lives, it is no longer real, it can no longer be fully captured or recreated. Our minds are limited by the information about situations that we remember, and slowly over time, as we continue to pull up the same memory, it looses it's grounding in the real world and simply becomes a figment of our imagination. The event becomes faded and fuzzy and usually appears behind a rose-colored glass as we soften out all of the wrinkles of the challenges which we experienced at that time and only focus on the positive. Taking this idea, each time we recall a memory, we become further and further from remembering the actuality. Depressing right? I guess it depends on what exactly you are trying to remember.

While I was in South Africa I was very conscious about remembering fine details about my experience so that I could recall them later. I remember trying to put words to the specific smell that my house in Masealama had, or imitating the phrases and accents of my closest friends so that I could realize what it was about them that I would miss. I made a ridiculously long list of what I loved about South Africa in my journal that I just now remembered and pulled out. I cried and smiled and laughed. But despite all the time I spent intentionally trying to remember things, I now find myself forgetting. The glass is getting frosted. I can no longer hear everyone's voices clear in my head. I find myself forgetting common Sepedi phrases. I no longer randomly break out into a South African chorus. I no longer hear the beautiful weaving harmonies. I don't remember how frustrated I would get when a taxi wouldn't come to Masealama for three hours. I forget to pray before every meal and car ride.

These memories are slowly fading like all the memories from the previous 23 years of my existence. But I don't want them to. I am deeply missing that connection that I have with the people in South Africa, and the only thing that I have left is these memories and some broken-up phone calls once every few months. What I hate most about memories is that they are easily forgotten. I don't want to forget. So, I am taking it on myself to intentionally unbury these memories. One of my many new years resolutions this year was to be in better contact with my friends all over the world. By talking to them and hearing their voices and stories the memories freshen a bit. I have also decided to start taking it upon myself to research South African architecture and how it is currently affected by racial implications and Western ideals which are not necessarily good or life-giving designs for the typical South African. Hopefully my studies will help bring back more concrete memories of places that I visited and people that I met. But this is a fighting battle that I can't win.

Eventually it will all be a faded memory. But when that point comes I want to be a changed person because of it. I don't want this memory to become buried amidst the trash I am accumulating in this American lifestyle. I want it, however faint, to become a beacon which guides my path from here on out. By consciously reconstructing these memories, although they may leave me in tears, I hope to keep these memories stored in a safe, visible place. I am fighting not to forget. I am fighting my own mind, but sometimes that is what we have to do to induce change. It won't be easy, and I will not succeed, but I am going to try anyway.

~Heather Anne Nelson

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Fall of the Idols

About this time last year I was seriously missing one thing… You may be thinking- aww, it's during the holidays she was missing her family, or missing singing Christmas carols in English, or missing watching the ball drop in Times Square, but no. Not to say that I didn't miss all of those things, but the one thing that I was craving at this time was a sweet little slice of good old American football. Sure I had "futbol", so much futbol it would make your head spin, but it was the end of the season (the NCAA, I don't do NFL) and with all the championships and bowl games all I wanted was to see a few guys knock each other senseless in the name of this revered sport.

During a quick visit to a pastor's house, I was sitting in their living room flipping through their television channels, and because they had a fully serviced dish, they had ESPN. Needless to say, this being the first time I've seen ESPN in about 5 months, I watched the same sports center three times as it repeated one after the other just so I could see a little snippet of NFL football. I didn't even care about any of the teams which were playing, but just seeing that familiar American sport made me feel at home.

Football has certainly become a major defining part of the American lifestyle. I do love the sport, but what I love even more about it is the ability for the game to bring us all together. What I missed about football wasn't necessarily the game itself, it was watching that game on the couch on a Saturday with your father, or starting a tailgate at 8 am for an 8 pm game, or cheering along with THOUSANDS of other fans all dressed in orange (sorry, Clemson fan) in complete unison. Football has become so integrated into our society that it is nearly impossible to remain separate from it. Football can satisfy our need to feel like we belong, it can inspire us, it can shock us, it can force us into prayer, and it can make us feel more alive than we often feel as we travel along in the day to day grind of the real world. No wonder it has become so central in our nation. But as football has taken hold of us, what have we given up in return? What things in our life have become trumped by this sport at one point or another?

As many of you hopefully know, December 1st is internationally deemed World AIDS day. All over the world on this day, people gather to provide prayer, support, and hope for this terrible disease which is still ravaging the world. One such group that uses this day to raise money for the children affected by the HIV/AIDS crisis in the poor country of Lesotho is Bloom Africa (, a non-profit organization founded by a group of students from Wittenberg University which include past YAGM, Andrew Steele, who joined me last year in the MUD 3 program in South Africa. This year Andrew asked me and the other MUD 3's to help Bloom Africa with their annual World AIDS day event- a nationwide happy hour whose proceeds go to those children affected by HIV/AIDS in Lesotho. Our job was to find a local bar or restaurant which would be willing to host such event, and willing to donate part of their earnings from the evening. The date was set for Friday, December 2nd, the day after World AIDS day. I went around to my five favorite bar establishments in Eugene to see if I could set up an event, and they all seemed really positive at first. But after receiving little response I went back to one of the bars and met with the manager who mentioned this one little fact--- the PAC 12 Championship was also on the night of December 2nd, and there was a good chance that Oregon would be going to it.

So now the truth comes out- no bar is willing to host a Happy Hour event to help the poor children of Lesotho because that evening they are guaranteed to be packed to the brim with people watching Oregon play in the Championship game, and they are guaranteed to make a LOT of money. SO- moral of the story- Football over helping poor children in Africa.

I realize this is being a little harsh and I am probably disregarding a lot of significant information about why these bars rely on the money from this one special event so much,,, but I am trying to make a point. As football becomes a bigger and bigger deal in America, what are we pushing aside? No one in their right mind would agree that a simple game of football trumps getting clean water to children in need, but as a whole this is what we are doing. We are ignoring God's call to do his work. We have made football our idol, which begs the question, what other idols have we placed in our lives that are further inhibiting us from God's call?

I love football, and I missed it terribly last year. But what I missed wasn't necessarily the sport itself, it was the community centered around that sport- a community which can and should be sought elsewhere- like in the Church. While football is important (and I am certainly stoked that Oregon won the Rose Bowl!), I see now that maybe some new priorities are in order. It's time to bring down the idols, so we can see what they are covering.

~Heather Anne Nelson