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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calvinism, Christianity, and the weight of the gospel

I’m studying 14th-17th century literature right now at Keble– I can hear you all groaning.  I was wary, but it’s actually been incredibly interesting.  I’ve learned a whole lot (I hope).  Of course, you can’t talk about this time period without breaching the subject of the different Christian sects of each time.  I, honestly, have loved this: I have been able to write my essays on God’s grace and mercy.  I have been able to commune with John Donne (my love) and attend lectures on religion in the Elizabethan era.  I was assigned Augustine for reading.  But a few weeks ago, our class on Calvinism hit me like a load of bricks.

Let me first clarify.  The class was on 17th century Calvinism, and it brought up a lot of uncomfortable things.  Calvin believed that man’s free will would cheapen God’s sovereignty, and so God controls everyone; he also chooses his elect and rejects the reprobate on seemingly arbitrary whim.  Because of this, you can never really know if you’ve been saved or not, and you can never know if you’re going to heaven or to hell.  According to Calvin, God even causes the rejected to feel like they have experienced God’s grace and Spirit.

This mentality wreaked havoc on the people of the time period.  They assumed God was punishing them for sins or for their own reprobate status; people even convinced themselves that, although they believed in Christ, they were still going to hell.  I’m not saying this was Calvin’s intention; I’m just saying that regardless, this is how it was taken by people of the 17th century.

Can God fairly and justly punish someone who He controls completely? This is when I realized that my greatest fear is not a nonexistent God; my greatest fear is that the universe is ruled by a cruel and arbitrary tyrant.

Do I believe this? I don’t think so.  If God were not good then our idea of order and justice and morality would be a sham, and the fabric of the universe would unravel.  Do I wrestle with questions I will never be able to answer on this earth? Yes, constantly.

The reactions of my classmates were telling.  They responded to the cruelty of Calvinism in a way that triggered their moral outrage, their sense of right and wrong.  And perhaps we can cite this same sense as evidence of a loving and justice-seeking God.  God, of course, does not have to follow the rules we make up for him.  But my heart sank as they spoke of these concepts as nonsense and rubbish, as they conflated this with Christianity and with Christ himself.

I cannot believe they are the same thing.

The constant fear of hell that Calvin expresses is not Biblical. Romans 10:13 tells us that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”; 1 John 3:19-20 that “This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” We have assurance in Christ – John has even written: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  We are confident and assured – we know.

But I still came out of that class with a realization: regardless of Calvin, and regardless of what others believe, people will still go to hell.

It haunted me for days. It still is, honestly.  That day I sent frustrated messages to my parents as I tried to reconcile these concepts of agency and sovereignty.  I sat on my bed at the thought that my classmates, the strangers I pass on the street, the homeless man on the corner, the musicians behind each song I listen to, the friends I share my life with – that they could all be barred from heaven.  And I wept.

I think this is the proper response.  A friend told me that when we draw close to the heart of God, we become grieved for the same things He grieves for.

I don’t know how all of this works.  I hate that people have to go to hell.  I don’t understand how, if God can harden people’s hearts to keep the Israelites in slavery or soften them to accept the Holy Spirit, he can’t just do this for every human being on earth.  I have heard of dream-vision conversions, and I can’t understand why God will not send them to every living person on this earth.

But I trust him, and I think that this deep, heaving grief is also God’s response when we refuse him.  I think that free will has to exist, because without it, love cannot.  Without it, we have no choice to accept or reject.  But I trust God because I believe these things about him: that He is sovereign, and that He is good.

I trust that I cannot fathom the idea of hell as he can. I trust that he, as the ruler of the universe, knows better than I do.

I’m sorry if this feels like a cop-out.  I know it must.  But the simple truth is that I do not understand, I will not understand, and I will mourn.  And as we follow these truths out to their logical conclusions – as we struggle with these things – we act on where they take us.

We cannot simply weep over the non-Christians in our life and in our world.  We cannot mourn them as though they have already been damned.  There is hope for every human being in Christ, and we are mandated to share it: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

This is the scariest part.  There is a piece of me that does not want to post this, because if I do, I become a hypocrite if I don’t tell others of the grace and glory and beauty of Jesus Christ.  So that’s probably a good reason to put it up here.

I will confess that I feel uncomfortable telling other people about Jesus.  I’m scared they will avoid me, and I’m scared they will shy away from preaching and proselytizing.  I’m terrified.  But I can’t hold my own discomfort as more valuable than the lives of my brothers and sisters.  If you love someone – really love someone – you are compelled to show them the cure for eternal death.  Penn Jillette, an atheist, says this:

“If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

I know this is really heavy.  It’s been weighing me down.  But to forget would be folly.

My fellow Christians: hold me accountable.

My non-Christian friends:  I love you so dearly.  I do not want you to die.  I love you deeply, and that is why I tell you this:

We’re sinful.  When God gave us everything, including our very lives, we rebelled against him.  We chose death.  But God does not want us dead.  God is love itself, and God enacted this plan – he saw us in our suffering and sent us a remedy.  Jesus came to earth as God in human-skin so that he could take the penalty that we deserved.  He died – God took on the pain and death of humanity – for love of us.  We’re humans, we’re nothing compared to an eternal God – and yet he loved us.

He rose again from death, he defeated death itself.  For you.  And here’s the deal, now – we are offered grace.  We are offered redemption and future perfection and life with a wonderful and life-giving God.  If we take him up on the offer, we have to give up some of our idols and sins.  We have to serve God instead of our friends or careers or desire for money or fame or pleasure.

But it’s worth it.  I can’t express how much it is worth it, how content you can be when your worth is derived from the love God has for you instead of from your own accomplishments.

Ask me about this.  Tell me how weird this sounds, how improbable it is, tell me honestly what you think and why you cannot consider it.  I’ll tell you how much it’s worth it.

Peace, my friends.  Thanks for sticking this one out.

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tragedy

When I first set out to write this, I was thinking in purely literary terms of the four genres of expression – comic, tragic, lyric, and epic.  My friend texted me last week after I read the Waste Land, “What do you think the purpose of tragedy is?”

In light of this week’s nearly apocalyptic events, however, I think it apt to discuss, at least a little bit, the purpose of tragedy in literature and in our own lives.

I hadn’t really known the answer to that question before.  I’d read Oedipus, Hamlet, Lear, Death of a Salesman, and related to them in a deep, basic way – I could feel the twisting of my gut as the inevitable suffering played out.  And there’s a lot to be said of it – it reminds us of the inevitability of our own mortality, provides us with a cathartic pity and fear so we can better live our own lives.  It shows us that there are forces at work far outside our own power.

All these are important – wildly so.  But there is one more, very simple thing that I realized while reading through Eliot’s Waste Land for the thousandth time: tragedy shows us the brokenness in the world and in relationships, and, by our deep, instinctive reactions to the events, shows us that things were never meant to be like this.

We live in a gloriously constructed world, filled with great beauty and a great potential for love, experience, and happiness.  At the same time, however, I think that we can forget its inherent brokenness – even as Christians, we tend to think that we are basically good, that this world can make us happy, and that we don’t really need anything else but ourselves.

Until, in a week of darkness, a city is bombed and riddled with bullets, a plant explodes and levels everything in its path, a sinkhole opens in the middle of a city, deadly letters are sent to world leaders, an earthquakes shakes miles of nations, and an already hurting country is bombed, its civilians murdered.  Oof.

Seeing this is so, so hard.  I’m not going to go into detail about the problem of pain here, about what God’s doing, or how He could possibly let these things happen.  I don’t know.  Thankfully, I’m not Him.  That can be so hard, and so frustrating, and so painful to see families broken and people grieving and souls hurting so desperately.  But I do know that He’s got a plan in all of this.

I do know that this world was once a beautiful thing, where relationships with God and people could be whole and lovely.  And I know that we sinned, and we used that free will to break that relationship with God – and consequently, everything else fragmented as well.

This is the world that the Waste Land shows us so precisely, a fragmented, perverse, and lost world.  Critics have labeled it as a generational issue with “the modern world”, but there’s a reason we’re still reading the poem.  In our era of flickering images and sound bites and texts and tweets, we’re more fragmented than we’ve ever been before.  Relationships were already cracked, but this constant “connectivity” has widened those cracks until they nearly splinter apart.  We’re more isolated than we’ve been.

But here’s the great beauty of this revelation, this painful truth about our world: it’s where the gospel starts.  We think to ourselves so often that we aren’t that bad and that we don’t really need God.  This realization of the state of our world – more than that, the state of us – leads to either despair or resurrection.

We live in the Waste Land, and we can see that.  But the Waste Land also lives in us, which should scare you.  Eliot’s whole poem hovers on the edge of a knife, between death and resurrection.  The bones of the Phoenician sailor are at the bottom of the ocean, the land is dry and cracked and broken.  But, something begins to stir these dead bones, and the thunder cracks across the sky, waiting.  We hover on a rebirth into eternity.

When we begin to see our own brokenness, we see that we need to be rescued, and that we can’t do it on our own.  As mortals, we will fail, and die, and the tragedy will end with a poisoned sword or a watery suicide.  But God saw this broken world and came down into it as one of us, and he died – and when he rose from the dead to new life, the healing began.

If we accept our brokenness, we can now accept the salvation that’s so freely offered to us.  Eliot did, and was able to find new life in Christ five years after the hopelessness of this poem.  We come to hopelessness so that we can understand hope when it is offered us.  If we live in Christ, we live forever, and we live in hope of healed people and a healed world.

The dead bones of the drowned Phoenician sailor don’t die, “but doth suffer a sea-change, into something rich and strange”.  So then do we.  The rains fall upon the thirsty, dry ground, and we learn how to love each other again.  It has to start here, on an individual level, where the Waste Land of your soul is inhabited by a loving, personal God who revives you and brings you back to life.

As hard as we try to instill goodness into people, this world will still be broken while Satan roams it.  Does this mean we should stop fighting against the brokenness, accept the evil in the world, and give up? By no means! The devil has no power where God is concerned.  He can only bend what is already good and try to break what God has already created.  We can fight against him.   And sometimes it’s awful.  But we have the hope of an empty tomb with us, and that is more powerful than any desolate, hollow Waste Land.

My prayers for safety, justice, and deep healing are with Boston, West Texas, China, Iraq, Iran, and the rest of our world.  May God bless and renew you.

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Read thisThe Waste Land, T.S. Eliot ; Mark 13:8 ; my other friend’s post