Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church

TEEZing Out the RootsImage
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in Hope

Spirit, Burst Forth

Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

Things are not good in Zambia right now. The election has messily split the country into two. The opposition has submitted a petition to the constitutional court in order to challenge the validity of the results. This is a provision that the ruling party shoved through late last year, I am sure out fear that they might need to use it because polls were so close running up to this election. Now that the results have come out in their favor, though, they are refusing to accept the challenge and crying foul. According to the constitution they pushed so strongly, the president is technically not allowed to be in power until the court rules on any challenge. Again, the ruling party has refused to follow their own rules. Instead, they are blaming the opposition party for inciting tribalism, as it essentially represents the Southern, Western, and Northwestern provinces of Zambia. These three provinces are largely made up of Tongas, Lozis, and their cousin tribes, all who have traditionally been at odds with the majority Bembas and their cousin tribes in the other provinces. They point to the fact that in those three provinces the opposition won by a hugely lopsided margin, even though it was the people themselves who cast the votes and not the party. The thing is, however, that there was an equally lopsided result in favor of the ruling party in their provincial strongholds. Neither party is really to blame, as this has just exposed the tensions and feelings that have been simmering for a long time. In my own analysis it seems that the provinces most strongly in support of the opposition long to have more of a voice in Zambia, as none of the six heads of state in the country’s history has come from this half of the population. The problem, though, is that instead of acknowledging a legitimate need for more representation and a fairer unity, the toxic rhetoric of blame is being flung around the country (with the muzzling of opposition in the press making matters worse). Previously unheard of post-election violence has erupted in these provinces and Lusaka. It has been minor in the grand scheme of the world, but it is a major deal for famously peaceful Zambia. On top of all of this, power cuts, inflated food prices, and a devalued Kwacha have come back with fury.


As I walked to church this morning I could really sense the heaviness that has settled upon the people in a way that I had never felt it before. There were more downcast eyes, more angry spates between people, more folks seeking alms, and in general more desperation. Everybody seems to be hurt by the situation, regardless of their political affiliation. And it was contagious for me. I felt profoundly sad on what should be the joyous amble to communal worship


Praise be to God, though, Spirit broke out during that worship! The ever-powerful Chosen Generation Choir of Chimwemwe Presbyterian Church raised such a joyful noise to God and the community that I couldn’t help but smile and dance.


I also couldn’t help but reflect upon the amazing strength and resilience of this great country. It is strength and resilience rooted in the remarkable communities that exist all over Zambia—communities defined by interdependence—interdependence marked by shared resources in times of abundance for one household and need for another, shared celebration, shared mourning, and shared accountability. They are residential communities, spiritual communities, and communities based on intersections of interest and identity…many of which defy any expectations of tribalism. To my eternal gratitude, they also defy the cross-cultural barriers that necessarily come with histories of colonialism by honestly engaging difficult conversations and honestly expressing a love that flows through the beauty and complexity of race and culture.

This strength of community never fails to knock me over in wonder. I experience it daily at the office.


Esther, my mother at the office


I experience it daily with all of the neighborhood kids who make sure I never have a dull moment at home.


Prince, Yamikani, Royd Junior, and Alexander always having a good time


I experience it daily with my many dear friends who come knocking at my door and who always leave their doors open to me.



With Esau and Jacob

And sometimes I experience it in ways that strike me at my core and force me to praise God for Creation, as happened at a dinner party tonight when a primary schooler blessed the food in flawless Italian. She was taken to Italy when she was younger to undergo surgery for severe foot and leg deformities, funded by the largesse of a community member who had resources to share. She even had an audience with the pope. She now walks. And plays. And studies. And sings. And bids me ado with a “Ciao!” Here she is in a pink sweater surrounded by her beautiful family (who have also become family to me) after schooling me in the differences between Zambian draughts and American checkers.

A mixture of Mozumders, Kaleyas, and a Mwila: Prince, Laya, Leah, Andy, Leah, Miriam, Andrew, and Akash


I don’t mean to imply that communities here are perfect, nor that they are all free of the injustices and oppressions that plague this world. Rather, I mean to uplift the incredible strength of people in relationship with each other in the face of and in defiance of those injustices and oppressions. In gloomy times when national unity seems to be ripping at the seams, it is these communities of actual people actually taking on life together that give hope to Zambia. They also give me hope for our broken world as a whole. I am learning to see that the Spirit of our living God is living amongst us, communing with us, and bursting forth even in the many ruptures. Let us breathe in this Spirit. Let us share ourselves with this Spirit. Let us share our Spirit-breathed selves with each other.

Posted August 28, 2016



Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots


In high school Latin Ms. Kris Schwickrath instilled the power of this onomatopoeia in me through our translation of the Aeneid.  From ululare, it means “they wail” or “they cry out.”  The reason it burrowed deep into my consciousness was her urging us to keep adding lu-lu-lu-lu-lu and imagining the actual sound being made.


As a high schooler in Shelbyville, IN, I could imagine something but could never actually grasp what this might sound like. In the States it seems that many communities have lost the practice of ululating. I say “lost” because etymological research shows that several of the root languages from around the world have a similar form (Greek—ololyzein, Sanskrit—ululih, Lithuanian—uluti, and Gaelic—uileliugh). Given that the word was there in our ancestral history, I am sure the practice it evokes was also there. Indeed, I think it names something that was there in the very beginning for shared ritual expression.

Let me tell you, because of my time in Zambia I no longer have to imagine anything. Ululations have become a striking part of everyday life. Celebrations, times of mourning, expressions of appreciation, and cheering are all marked by a chorus of lingual and glottal howls.  I’ll never forget the first time I heard it, now pretty much a full year back. Since a proper church service can take a community through all of the above celebrating, mourning, appreciating, and cheering, churches are the echo chambers of ululations across Zambia. So, it was when I first walked into Mindolo UCZ—of squeak yodel fame—that I was hit with this undulating wall of raw, human sound. I was honestly in awe.

I still stand in awe of the communal ululation and all that it communicates. There is nothing quite like rising as one and expressing something vocally without having to use words. This is especially powerful when it comes to community-wide lamentation. It is all too often the case that words get in the way of what really needs to be expressed.

I am saddened that in my own context we have lost the ululation. We certainly have communal expressions, like clapping and shouting, but we don’t have anything that reaches the depths of the elemental choruses here in Zambia. Even after a full year I am not very good at it. It’s difficult for me to let go and let it all out. I get concerned that I am not doing it right or that I am an imposter or that I sound ridiculous—all worries and rationalizations related to my privileged social location that fundamentally contradict that spirit and purpose of the ululation.

And I NEED the ululation. I am to the point here that I need to express something deep down that words simply cannot convey. I need to let out this great big mess of grief, joy, gratitude, guilt, hope, anxiety, and love that is growing in my gut as my time here comes to an end. And I need to do so communally with my friends and neighbors, loved ones and family members who have impacted me and whom I have impacted.

Will you join me?

Come on, do it.


Posted August 23, 2016



Being planted in the rich soils of Zambia to inspire regrowth at home. “Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit” -Matthew 13:8