Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Caveat Lector (Let the Reader Beware)

Folks who know me won’t need this warning, because they’ve already endured my style and have already grown to know and (I hope) tolerate it. I’m verbose. I process thoughts, feelings, and insights verbally. Some group on the Myers-Briggs types are characterized as those who “don’t know what they think/feel until they talk about it.” For better and (certainly!) for worse, I’m one of those.

As I prepare finally to do some serious blogging about my experience in this journey, I know I’m going to wear-out those sturdy souls who wish to read and understand what the experience was and is from my perspective. I ask your forgiveness in advance.

And I wish to share another insight, which originates from Deborah, our missioner who arrived in the Sudan 3 months before our team. Her blog is ADVENTure Sudan: Sarah's Laughter. Depending on where you are and what you do and with whom you work in Lui, you are going to be like the proverbial blind man trying to describe the elephant. If you experience certain things in certain ways, you will be tempted to say, “This is how things are in Lui.” But if you’re working with different people on another day in another Lui parish, you will have a very different perception of “how things are in Lui.” I want to go on record clearly in saying that my perceptions are only my perceptions. They are a piece of the truth, but they are not The Truth. I expect that – as more of us make that journey from our diocese – we will begin to flesh out that truth more and more.

And let me preface my comments with this other observation. When our group met before the trip, somehow it fell to me that my assignment was to be the “documentarian” for our group. It was my mission to document/record what happened, especially with a view toward informing future missioners what to expect and prepare for. Others in our group had more obvious/natural roles: As Archdeacon to the Bishop, Robert had an obvious “diplomatic” mission. As co-chair of the Companion Diocese Committee, Sandy also had an obvious diplomatic/fact-finding mission. [Besides, as one who had visited Lui in 2004, she had big-time passion for this mission!] As a priest, Bob Towner was obviously well qualified to lead the youth leaders’ workshop and to perform other clerical duties. With Lui’s desperate construction needs, our carpenter/contractor Rick also had significant gifts and insights to share with the Lui diocese.

Since I did not perceive any other gifts/talents I might bring to the mission, I willingly accepted my assignment as documentarian. The diocese purchased a digital recorder, apparently because past missioners had said the music in Lui was an important part of the ambience that their stories and photos could not capture. I was assigned to learn how to use it and to record lots of the music. And I took part of my job to be photographer. Since there is no electricity there, I knew I could not take a digital camera. Instead, I went equipped with a 35mm SLR and dozens of rolls of film. (I only used 19 rolls of film – somewhat less than I expected.)

I have this observation/hypothesis to offer re: the role of “mission documentarian.” I was happy to have this role – especially as I did not perceive any other obvious gifts/skills I could bring to bear on this trip. But as I reflect on the trip, it “feels” to me that my absorption with the camera and the recorder kept me at a remove from the experiences we had. Instead of enjoying the services, I focused on whether the recorder was capturing them well. Instead of enjoying the people, I had my camera fixed between me and them. I pray that I have done a decent job of documenting the trip in audio and photos in a way that will help us communicate the needs and possibilities to others in our diocese. But I have a hunch that, if we do this again, we need to prepare the “documentarian” to realize s/he will be experiencing the mission through a distant lens.

Or maybe it’s that the microphone and lens gave me permission to keep a certain distance from the experience. I honestly don’t know. But I pray it’s the former, and not the latter.

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