ferguson (+ staten island + ayotzinapa)

The past two weeks have been heavy; I am exhausted in every way.  I am saddened and have been, at some points, near despairing. The pain of this world has been weighing on me; we are so, so broken.

I wrote most of this last week when the Ferguson decision came out.  Darren Wilson, the cop who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, will not be indicted, and St. Louis has broken into a deep and raw mourning.  This week, I have attended two events:

The first was a Skype call with survivors of the mass kidnapping in Ayotzinapa, Mexico earlier this year and with mothers of the missing students.  Their story was heartbreaking: “police” involved with the cartels attacked with violent force, shot six of their friends, and kidnapped forty-three others.  They have not been seen since; I fear that they will not be recovered, since the mayor of Iguala has all but admitted his complicity in working with the cartels.

The second was a rally to protest the innocent black men and women killed by police in the United States, primarily the most recent to not receive justice: Eric Garner.  Months ago, he was put into an illegal chokehold by police and died; the medical examiner ruled it a homicide.  He was unarmed and innocent with his hands in the air, and the entire thing was caught on camera.  As Jon Stewart explains, “None of the ambiguities that existed in the Ferguson case exist in the Staten Island case, and yet the outcome is exactly the same.”   The cop who murdered Eric Garner will not be indicted.  The only person who will be is the cameraman.  I’ll let the dystopian undertones sink in, but it’s sick. It is sick.

I haven’t posted here for months, and I hadn’t said much about these issues before; I have had a lot of moments lately when I haven’t known what to say or how to say it.  But I’m tired of staying silent.  I’m tired. Enough is enough.

Until recently I had hesitations; I have been focused on facts instead of emotions and pain, and I have not wanted to act out of incorrect motives.  The first of these I repent of; the second I stand by.  If my motivation is guilt, a desire to “be a part of history” or collect a story to tell later, I am incorrect, because all of these motivations point to one place: myself. Guilt can be a helpful motivator, but when the focus shifts to your own pain (I feel bad) instead of the pain of others (they are hurting), you take away their voices. When I say I am hurting, it’s true, but it is not my own pain, and it does not supersede theirs.  I do mourn, but it is not about me; as a white woman, privileged in education and wealth, I do not wish to stifle the voices of others.  It’s a biblical mandate to speak up for others:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9

but it’s also important to listen to and encourage the voices of those most affected as well as joining with them (my friend James has some powerful words about the Ferguson decision here).

The focus must be turned back to the Ferguson community, to the families and individuals who have lost one of their own to police brutality, who are subjected every day to unfair and racist treatment.  We can’t think that what happened to Michael Brown is a one-time event that we can brush over because of the grand jury’s decision; regardless of whether you think it’s fair or not, you can’t take this as the end of an event, something that we can finally stop hearing about in the news.  There are countless others – Eric Garner, Tamir Rice (a child), John Crawford III have all been killed, unarmed, in the past few months.  Ferguson is a sign of a deeper systemic injustice, a crying out over existing pain; police have released tear gas on peaceful protests and responded to anger and pain with more fear.  The police force is not reflective of the demographic they are supposed to protect, and there is deep and understandable mistrust.

As the body of Christ, we need to be listening, empathizing, and reacting in love.  We cannot continue divided; Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, to bring peace to this world, and to heal relationships, but he also spoke out against injustice and hypocrisy.

I’ve been praying a lot, and that’s what I want to ask of you as well.  As a friend of mine said at a prayer meeting last week, “Don’t think that we’re ‘just praying,’ or praying instead of doing something ‘real’ like protesting.  Prayer is powerful and effective.  It can move mountains, enact change, and transform lives and communities.”

I want to go forward with my actions as a reflection of Jesus’ truth; I want to speak out for peaceful change, to get involved in a way that Christ would want me to.  Is protesting a part of this? If we look back at the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, not a single person would say that what they were doing was not right; not a single person can look at those protesters and call their actions anything but heroic.  I have always looked back on them with inspiration, and until now I have assumed that, if I lived at that time, I would have joined them – the side of the just and righteous.  Recently I have not been so sure; my natural tendency is toward inaction, toward comfort and safety and the status quo.  It is easy to look back at history to make yourself feel good; it is hard to realize that we are living in a fishbowl, that we do not always recognize the cultural waters we swim in, and that “legal” does not always mean “right.”

I am praying that God would challenge that tendency in me in every way, that he would urge me on toward the right thing, not the comfortable thing.  I am praying that I will not act out of fear or stability but out of justice and peace and love.  I am praying that things will change, and that I will not look back with regret that I did not help change them.  I am praying that my heart will change, too, and every ounce that is not God’s would be eradicated.  This week I reached a breaking point, and standing with hundreds of students in solidarity was necessary.

The gospel is not easy, safe, or comfortable; the gospel does not allow the status quo or stem from the culture of the time.  The gospel is living and active.  The gospel makes us uncomfortable and does not allow us to stay where we want to stay.

Throughout history some of the greatest civil rights movements have been helmed by Christians, just as the greatest opposition has come from those who claim the faith but are more comfortable with the status quo.  It has always been difficult, and there have always been those who vocally and violently fight to keep things exactly the way that they are.

Things are not okay exactly the way that they are.

Lives are being lost in injustice.  The world is deeply, painfully broken; we need to see this pain.  As Christians, especially, we cannot look at this world as somewhere we’re escaping from, cloistering ourselves off until Jesus returns.  This world is our home. Christ came for every broken individual living inside it, and he came to heal and restore it.  As N.T. Wright and many others have pointed out, it’s right in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  In Jeremiah, God’s first command to the exiles is to get involved:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce… Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  Jeremiah 29:4-7

We are not called to evacuate, we are called to change things; we are called to enter in, just as Christ did, to the brokenness and the horror of it all, to come alongside people, to pray for our city.  Empathy is an act of entering into someone else’s pain and shouldering it; who has done this more than our God?

Don’t mistake my language, please: I’m not saying that we should be playing savior.  It’s an imperfect metaphor.  We are not God, and we cannot save anyone – only Jesus can save, and only he can bring true salvation and healing.  All we can do is come alongside our brothers and our sisters and live with them, fight with them, love with them, mourn with them.  Our response should not be contradiction, but compassion.  It’s not easy to empathize – to share -another’s pain – but it’s necessary.  The language of solidarity reflects this (“todos somos Ayotzinapa” – we are all Ayotzinapa).

Things are broken, but we do not have an uncaring God; as my dear and wise friend, Caroline, told me the night of the grand jury decision, we have a God who weeps for us.  As Hebrews 4:15 says,

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”

He has also suffered in every way; he understands.  He calls us to be pained for our neighbors, to mourn those who are hurting and those who do not know him – who do not have his peace or his hope.  We do not have a God who told us to cloister ourselves off from culture, society, and the world; we have a God of empathy who has sent us out into it to go into it to make disciples and to love the broken, to acknowledge our own fallen nature and strive to be more like him.

The fact that I can even write this gives me a luxury others do not have. I pray for the courage to speak for (and with) the oppressed, to stand against injustice, and to carry out my life with deep sympathy for others.  My prayer is for transformation – in this world, in this city, in the lives of individuals, and in my own heart.

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Read this: Pastor Leonce Crump’s very salient thoughts: It’s Time to Listen: “Will White Evangelicals Ever Acknowledge Systemic Injustice?”

Why You Should Still Care about Ferguson Despite the Facts (terrible title, good article)

Think this doesn’t directly apply to you? 12 things white people can do now because Ferguson

An incredibly powerful stream of the Skype call to Iguala earlier this week, with survivors and mothers of the taken; in English here.

As usual, let me know if you want to talk about anything.  Thanks.

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the symphony

I’ve been trying to write this blog post for weeks.  I jotted down all of my thoughts the night of the event and proceeded to lose and find that sheet of paper at least five times.  It’s currently lost.

One weekend in April this year, I went to the symphony for the very first time.  My friend and I gawked at the Rococo gold-and-white beauty that is Powell Hall, settled down in our fancy dresses, and waited for it to begin.

It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and I can safely say that it was life-changing.

Although I expected to like it, I didn’t expect the explosion of thought that would accompany enjoyment of the music.  I was completely fixed in my seat, but it was as if that tethering of intense focus only gave my thoughts more room to come alive above the wordless music.  Each different twist and turn of the music pushed my mind in another direction, prodding it, summoning up ideas and realizations.

The symphony itself was incredible.  I sometimes listen to classical music as I study, but this was arresting, much more so than mere background music.  There’s that lovely moment of prescience on the note right before where you wait on that cusp, feeling a contented jolt at a correct prediction and an electric pleasure at being proved surprisingly wrong.

Berlioz was terrifyingly brilliant.  Paganini was a madman. Aren’t all artists mad, though, I thought?  If madness is seeing something that isn’t there, then poets and artists – seeing the past, the future, and people that don’t even exist – are raving.  If madness is seeing what isn’t, then I was hallucinating right there, living in between two realities, planted in one and peering into the other.  These are some of my visions.

Watching so many people move together as a unit evoked an imperfect metaphor of the body of Christ and how beautiful true community can be.  In true community both people’s individual selves are kept intact as well as the group as a whole (Romans 12).  Diversity in the midst of community is one of the most beautiful things the body of Christ exhibits, people from every tongue and tribe and nation coming together for the singular purpose of living life together to praise God.

I thought about the misjudgement people make in comparing writing to music, and the beauty in telling a story without any words at all.  I tried to feel the plot from the notes and the instruments, and I didn’t completely get it.  But I remember feeling uneasy as my hairs rose, prickling, on my arms, or feeling relief at the tolling of bells.

I was also utterly captived by Augustin Hadelich, the violinist.  I saw how beautiful passion makes a person, and how much more there is to beauty than just physical appearance.  As he played, I thought about the intimacy of relationship between a musician and his or her instrument.  He knew every inch of the violin, exactly what to do with it, how to explore and find new wholes and play old melodies in an entirely new way.  He played, and I found myself in a space outside of time, and the rest of the world could keep on moving while I stayed and listened to him.

I imagined him as a boy, learning to clumsily pluck the strings of his new instrument, or maybe a borrowed violin, lightyears different from the borrowed violin that he currently played.  I imagined his first recital, his frustration that, even though his ability was growing, he still couldn’t play the hard pieces.  I imagined the horror that he felt after being trapped in that fire, his flesh rearranged and reconstructed, the terror that must have gripped him at the idea he might never play again.  And I imagined him with white hair, his mended skin wrinkling, playing with as much feeling and skill as he did here.

I saw the dome of the symphony hall tremble, speed up, begin to decay.  I imagined the cushions falling from their seats and the lights blowing out and leaving tiny shards of glass on the dirty carpet, the roof sagging and the paint peeling and the wind blowing leaves across the empty stage.  I imagined the hall in a hundred years, desolate, nature performing for herself and no one else, and I wondered if, even then, it would remember the sound of that symphony, if it would somehow ingrain itself into the structure.  If it would hold it close and bring it back up on lonely days, when the storm outside didn’t quite reach the inside, when the plinked dripping of the rain through the floorboards of the stage renewed itself in Paganini or Berlioz and the ghostly tune swelled within the shell of the hall.

And then a gasp of air, and the hall is glowing golden again, complete and full of life and music and the hushed rustle of hundreds of bodies shifting in their seats, fabric against velvet.

I’m sure there was more than this, and I’m disappointed that I don’t remember the flood of ideas.  I wished that symphonies could be like museums, letting everyone experience what I had; I wondered if everyone would want to.  I thought much of writing, much of inventiveness, much of God, some of others, and little of love.  But the symphony was nearly two months ago, now, and my memory has left me with this and with a feeling of fulfillment, peace, and reaching beyond my own shell.

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Listen to this: Augustin Hadelich playing Paganini: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsJyuJppA7s

Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DWjI1uLSzw

cab drivers.

I always have the most interesting conversations with cab drivers.  I don’t know why this is exactly.  Maybe I just like talking to people, and they’re usually pretty talkative.  I also think it’s basically a rule that they have to be foreign, so that’s also interesting to ask them questions about where they’re from, how they ended up in America, and what they miss most about their home country.

Last night, on my ride back from the airport, I talked with my East-African cab driver about school and family.  It was hard to understand him through his accent, but he had some pretty interesting things to say.  He moved here ten years ago in order to keep his entire family together.  He said that he gets to see his mother, brothers, and sisters on a regular basis now.  “Family should be together, in the same place,” he told me, asking me why my family wasn’t all together.  “It’s not good to be apart, and only see everyone once or two times a year, on holidays,” he said.  Which is an interesting point.  Is that an American thing, everyone being so far from each other?  I don’t know.

My cab driver the time before was Ethiopian Orthodox, and happened to be driving me on the same day as the Ethiopian New Year.  He told me about all of their different customs and holidays, which happen at least once a month, when the entire community comes together to celebrate.  They invite people to share coffee, an Ethiopian treat, and just enjoy spending time with the whole neighborhood.  There are also two separate holidays when the men and women go from door to door, singing to everyone.

And that time when my family was briefly in San Francisco, when we all talked to our Russian cab driver and discovered that he used to be a ship’s captain, and he had been to over fifty different countries.

These encounters have taught me a few things:

First, it doesn’t hurt to listen, ask questions, and appreciate someone’s culture.

Second, everyone has a story.  Those people that we walk by every day, who we see as inferior or unimportant.  All of us have somewhere we’ve come from and somewhere we’re going, and it never hurts to find out what their story is.  You could be standing next to someone who survived a war, or has seen something amazing, and you would never know.

Finally, show an interest in someone’s language.  People always appreciate it, even if you totally butcher it.  Well, apparently, Parisans aren’t so kind, but most people genuinely become happier when they hear their own tongue- I said “privet” to the Russian cab driver, and he babbled an excited stream of Russian back at me until I had to tell him that I could only say “hello”.  I also thanked my cab driver last night in Arabic and Italian when I learned that he spoke them, and we had a brief, 17-second conversation in Italian that quickly ended when my minimal vocabulary ran out.  But still.  Making connections is good.  One aspect of the American perspective seems to be keeping to yourself and ignoring strangers.  But who knows what they’ll have to say.

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