Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Do you know the difference between black sheep and a prodigal? I don’t know either, but I think that I’m more of a black sheep. If you know the story of the Prodigal Son, there was a part where the father says that his son was once lost but now is found. I think a black sheep isn’t found yet, so there’s no huge celebration or party of any sort. So in my extended family, if I had to choose one by which I’m classified, I would say I’m the black sheep of the extended family.

There are a few misconceptions people have about this black sheep (me). But I was talking to a young Nigerian girl living in the U.S. about something she was having trouble explaining to her family in LA. She was telling me how sometimes the culture infuriates her because the elders are always right or the parents are always right. So she has absolutely no way of explaining her position because she’s wrong. But it’s more than that, they actually have no variable cultural lens with which to understand her viewpoint. She, for instance, can understand where they are coming from. They (the adults in her family) cannot. It’s incomprehensible. So she can try and she did, but it doesn’t work. There’s no budging. For them it was incomprehensible how she could not have traveled to LA when her mother arrived there. It just didn’t make sense no matter how she explained the situation. But she feels the need to be the one to initiate. I told her to start a campaign and open up a dialogue at the next National Nigerian Convention in the States (that’s not the name; I’m just simplifying).

So these misconceptions are difficult to correct in the proper light. Any explanation just doesn’t make sense. But I list them here to help you understand what can make a black sheep black. Remember though, it’s completely relative. So I may look quite amazing to some people or there maybe parents that would love to have their kids to have just gotten a bachelors degree and be teaching, but it’s always relative to what you have. So I am below where I should be.

First, I believe that you must be poor to help people. This is not true, of course. My mantra is to help people period. That means you don’t wait until your rich. I’ve written about this elsewhere, but if you wait until you are rich to give back, you end up with a person who gives back less and less as much as you give. If you rather teach kids a culture of constantly giving no matter what they have, then when they are rich (if this happens) they will naturally still give relatively equal percentages and you don’t end up with people who give a smaller percentage the more they make. In other words, they are not giving because they are a sports athlete or some music star (shame that those are the first to things to come to mind), they are giving because that’s what they’ve always done. They always gave a quarter away or half away. That’s just what they do. They know the importance. Rather, for me, it’s not about being poor, it’s about sharing what you have. If you read the last update, maybe, it talked about the “politics of sharing” and communism versus capitalism and the 1st century Christians in Antioch and how there was no one needy among them. They were not poor, they just shared everything.

Second, I follow after women or girls. This is not true. In 2005 I had a number of different teaching opportunities, one in Haiti and some in NYC or instance. I wanted to go to NYC with a friend Joy but political instability made the country extremely dangerous (well the capital city) so we could not go. One person said to me “Why do you have to teach somewhere else? Why can’t you teach here in Houston?” Taking it at face battle and thinking that was the problem I acquiesced and taught here in Houston. The problem was not that. Her question is more like an attempt to win a battle but not the war. The problem was not location at all. It was what I was doing. But I didn’t know that. Extended family sees it as following after a girl who taught in Houston. But that’s not true actually. When the girl I was dating was going to SA, I didn’t even consider it. It took a good friend of mind (the con-artist and biostatistician) to say to me “you should at least consider it.” So I did and only applied to one thing in the entire country which I got and had to make a decision before even starting a job search. It was a good opportunity to get back on track to a professorship due to my rough time in graduate school. I prayed and considered and chose to do it. Though I’ve spoken to my extended family about this, it is difficult to believe my words because they see actions as speaking louder than words. So my words don’t count. Part of the problem is that they don’t realize I’ve had other passions that I have kept at bay.

Third, I have only ever wanted to do engineering; new things like education or international affairs are due to following people. That’s not true. I’ve written about this elsewhere as well. The first scientific vocation for me was astronomy. That was quickly crushed as a little by words from an adult but that dream has been re-awakened in the form of astronautical ambitions. K-12 education, wanting to live abroad, international development and relief, and humanitarian/service/missions work have been inside me and growing before any girl. But that is not known. Explaining this never works because people believe actions are louder than words. I did like engineering and definitely was considering it but I have always liked other non-popular things as well. I seriously wanted to major in music, for instance, in college. So these are not new things coming from following women, but rather God-dreams resuscitated from the recesses of my heart.

Fourth, something is wrong with my head. I don’t think anything is wrong. But the concept of passions and living life from your dreams and passions is completely incomprehensible. It doesn’t make sense; good luck trying to explain it. It seems quite Western. And it makes me feel that everything I say is just as cultural (Western) as anything someone African would say is African, or as anything someone Asian would say is Asian. How do you get out of the grips to the truth? What is truth? Does it matter? I don’t know, but in Nigeria, you do what needs to be done. It’s about sacrifice and taking one for the team. It’s about community (like in many Asian countries). At what point can you now say, the community is taking care of so let me do something for the wider global community? Not sure. There’s a wonderful book called “The Dream-Giver.” In it the truth about dream-chasing comes out. Before you ever step out, you must first overcome your own complacency. You must step out of your comfort zone. That’s the first challenge. The next big step and challenge is that stepping out disrupts the comfort zone of those closest to you. And you often face the most resistance from those closest to you. It doesn’t make what you do right (you would face resistance either way) but it does show you that it’s quite natural. But the idea of dreams and living to do that doesn’t work. I’m seen as having thrown away education, engineering, life, money, position, etc. And I was even told once “Didn’t you once say you would love to go to LA and work a menial job while auditioning for roles? You gave that up, too.” This one was tricky because it used an actual passion of mine, but experience has taught me, this is one of those winning-the-battle statements used to win a battle (like getting him to live in the U.S. or something else) before the harder stuff. Trust me, a sheep pursuing acting in L.A. is still a black sheep.

Fifth, Jesus came to make life easier for us. Well, I like the slightly different Christian philosophy where Jesus came to shake things up, and turn things around, not for our comfort, but for our character and so that we would bless others. My extended family can come from more prosperity theology leanings, but you have to be careful because there are all kinds of degrees and flavors of it. And I know no one who I would classify as falling under prosperity theology that sees himself or herself as prosperity theology. It’s always the next guy. But I don’t lean in that direction as much. This actually is not a misconception of mine. This is the conception some family have that I don’t ascribe to. I’m viewed as having the ability to help people by first getting really rich and then putting one boy through school. Doesn’t Oprah in her richness have more influence than me as a school teacher? How do you answer that question? Ha ha. I’m considered to have some self-effacing, demeaning spirit in me because my brother, who doesn’t have as many degrees as I do looks like a million bucks when he exits the house—from his car to his clothes to his hair to his shoes. I, on the other hand, don’t realize Jesus came to give me stuff and make it better; I wear horrible embarrassing shoes and clothes and don’t buy stuff. So there’s a bit of a different philosophy. Teaching is seen as a demotion; most things are. That means I’m outside of God’s will. I don’t see that. But many hope one day I will.

That’s just a little of what make a black sheep black. And I completely understand every perspective, but it seems impossible to explain another perspective.

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