I once met the king of a pigmy tribe. I was traveling though a remote, mountainous region of Uganda with World Vision. We stopped along the side of the rutted pathway, stepped out of our Land Cruisers, and the King greeted us.
The king was a figurehead of a tribe of fifty Batwa. The Batwa are the oldest recorded inhabitants of central Africa. For generations, this nomadic group of hunter-gathers lived in expansive tropical forests. But due to government sponsored forest clearing, the Batwa were forced to leave these areas, and now most Batwa are landless and live in poverty. Their governments have never recognized the ancestral land rights of the Batwa and no compensation was offered.
Due to their pygmy ancestry, they suffer ethnic prejudice, discrimination, violence, and exclusion from society. Batwa men struggle with alcoholism, and whole communities face cultural collapse, as men can no longer provide for their families. Currently, begging is the primary source of livelihood for many Batwa.
After we met the king, we sat on benches, while the Batwa put on headdresses and preformed an extended dance left me feeling unsettled and saddened. The Batwa were forced out of their land, and had adapted to their dislocation, but in doing so, they were loosing their identity, their honor, and their humanity.
Dislocation comes in many forms. The transitions you are I face are much less disruptive than the dislocation the Batwa or any refugee faces. But through any transitions we face the hopeful possibilities and the deadly dangers of dislocation.
On one hand, when we transition to a new place, it helps us to see that place with fresh eyes. Change is good, as I have found. It gets one’s blood flowing, and thoughts popping in ways that don’t happen in the mundane of prolonged routine. On the other hand, as we transition we are in danger of settling with the status quo, and in that settling we settle for less.
When Jesus calls us to follow, he invites us into a life of dislocation. “Be in the world, but not of the world,” he said. The apostle Paul expands on this when he writes: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Romans 12:2 (Message)
The wisdom of Scripture strikes me with its promise and warning about dislocation: as we transition though life, we can settle and become well-adjusted to the dictates of culture, fitting in without even thinking. Or, regardless of our circumstance, we can fix our attention on God, and recognize what God wants from us, and respond to it, trusting that God is always seeking to develop a “well-formed maturity” in us. That’s the hopeful part of dislocation I’m seeking to live into as I remember the dance of the Batwa.