Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I am not sure when it really started, but it’s got something to do with Africa. It seems that after each trip I come home less certain than I was before. I just don’t know. I can’t seem to reconcile the way people talk about miracles or God’s intervention here with what I have witnessed time after time, in country after country there.

I am not saying I flat out don’t believe it, but I have a healthy skepticism and that has led me to lead a life of active doubt. What I mean is I am very cautious around ‘absolutes’. I am critical in my thinking. I can’t rest on what I thought I knew.

They say that a lot of the problem now with the economy is that people are paralyzed by uncertainty, and therefore they are not out spending or investing. Maybe, just maybe, the real problem was that for years we were too certain. Fools rushed in with no fear where they tread.

I stand in the midst of a sea of desperate people. Over six thousand members of this community on the eastern border of Burundi have gathered to each collect a kilogram or so of corn seed. The ‘plan’ is that, planted-grown-and harvested, this corn will see them through. There has been no rain. The last crop failed. Without the harvest they have nothing in reserve. In speaking to the mayor he doubts this seed will ever find it’s way into the ground – it will be eaten. “They are on the first day of their starvation” he told me.

I left that event uncertain. I fully appreciate the problem, I know that the officials and NGO’s did all they could to provide for those folks, but without rain, it was all for not.

The Rwandan Genocide. Millions slaughtered. One of the memorials is a church where people went for refuge, at the encouragement of their priest. They were then locked inside and brutally murdered. I don’t get it.

I have come to see that doubt and uncertainty can be just as powerful as faith. I can’t assume I know. I can’t assume what’s right. Especially when my life experience suggests otherwise.


  1. Hi Rory. I hope you don’t mind that I am taking the liberty of commenting. I have been reading your blog and am very much enjoying the food for thought.

    With regards to doubt, I do understand, on some level, what you mean. I feel that doubt can be a very useful tool to keep us from becoming too certain of our own conclusions. In my opinion, there a few things more obnoxious than individuals who think they know the answers to all of the world’s problems. The more I travel, the more I learn, the older I get, the more I realize how little I know about anything. To me, the world is not black and white, but rather, a thousand shades of grey. Being in health care, I am surrounded by the sick and dying. It causes me to confront my own mortality on a daily basis. How does anything we do really matter, in the end?

    My feeling on this is this “Act like what you do matters. It does.” If every person alive made it a goal to change the life one other person for the better, well, the implications of this are simply staggering. Perhaps I am too optimistic. I probably am. The world is also filled with misery, poverty, pain, violence, tragedy, sickness and death. For a recent forensics course, I wrote an essay about ongoing brutality in DR Congo and felt a myriad of emotions not the least of which was doubt about the human condition and anger at appalling disinterest of the role of the international community has shown in what is going on.

    All I am saying is, I hear what you are saying. And I don’t have an answer. Other than telling you that there is a Chinese proverb that I look to in this regard that says advises us not to curse the darkness, but instead, light a candle. In the end, what each of us does, even if it helps only one, matters significantly to that one individual. As Mother Teresa said, “We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.”

    Angela “Muyeti”

  2. Rory

    I really appreciate your questioning and questing for meaning and clarity. And Angela thank you for your response. In the face of disempowering overwhelm it is reassuring to be reminded of the value in simply taking the step in front of us.


  3. Faith and certainty are opposites as I understand it so I think your doubt would be good friends with faith, especially if Hope were to be invited along for the ride.

  4. I recently read a wonderful book about Krystaal, a singing group made up of three brothers who came to Canada from refugee camps in Kenya. The stories recorded in "Keep on Standing" might casue one to doubt, but in the middle hell, these boys found something of which to be certain.

  5. I'm a month late, but better that than never right? For me the doubt, which is also increasing in my life, is not in whether God is there or performing miracles, I have evidence of this almost daily; my doubt is with myself, can I after so many years of failing to do right of choosing wrong, do that which will be a part of a miracle for someone else. For me, "know thyself", is not often an encouraging thing. I guess it's a good thing someone else is driving.