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In which I have a few things to tell you about #Ferguson

Image via Tweet from @AnneHelen and @MotherJones

Image via Tweet from @AnneHelen and @MotherJones

If you’re not angry and grieved about what has been going on in Ferguson, then you simply aren’t paying attention.

On Saturday night, I was in the car with two of my best friends. We had just left Barnes and Noble and I pulled out my mobile to scroll through Twitter as we drove home. Immediately, I discovered that two more young unarmed men had been killed by police. I was horrified and sickened, oh, and so angry. Again!

There was 18-year-old Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri who was shot in his neighbourhood, and John Crawford who was shot in a Walmart for holding a toy gun in the toy section. (I’ll let that last one sink in for an extra second – as I hear tell of “American patriots” who wander into grocery stores with assault rifles dangling off their shoulder because it is apparently their constitutional right. Meanwhile, John Crawford apparently does not have a constitutional right to life. Or due process.)

According to witnesses, Mike Brown was unarmed and was surrendering to police when he was shot. Shot multiple times in the middle of the street. And then his body was left in the street, uncovered, uncared for, for hours.

Both of these young men were killed because they are African-American.

Let’s not kid ourselves. This was murder. This was injustice. This was heinous and evil lack of regard for life or the law on the part of the aggressors. And sadly, it is all too common.

This is when the vigils and protests began. People gathered to watch over his broken body, to stand as witness. That is holy work. Then the community began to gather to protest police brutality. And all hell broke loose.

I cannot pretend to know everything about the history and context for Ferguson. I have watched and listened and followed closely over the past four days. Ferguson has turned into a war zone. Tear gas, smoke bombs, rubber bullets, tanks, riot gear. Suppression of information, arrests of reporters and citizen journalists.

Ferguson reminds me of the Arab Spring uprising. The people of Ferguson are rising up against their oppressors and hallelujah for that. I pray for their endurance in the face of state sanctioned violence against their children.

I have hesitated to write about Ferguson because I have preferred to amplify local voices or the voices of those who have been engaged in the real and difficult work of race relations in the United States. After all, Canada has our own issues, particularly with our treatment of First Nations.

But these past four days in Ferguson have broken through my usual resolve: this is absolutely a justice issue. I have waited patiently for more white Christian bloggers to speak up, particularly the Americans, trying to give them precedent to respond, but I have been disheartened by minimal response there. I want to come alongside the African American voices already writing and advocating, even in this small way.

So imperfect as it is – and I am well aware how imperfect – there are a few things I want to bring to our attention:

Black lives matter. I cannot even believe I have to write that sentence but there it is. Black lives matter. These young men matter, their lives are sacred. It doesn’t matter if Mike Brown was on his way to college or on his way to the unemployment line – his life had value and purpose. He was loved. His life mattered. Every single black life matters. If your pro-life ethic doesn’t include black lives, then your pro-life ethic is useless.

White privilege is real and it’s time we acknowledged it. White privilege is being told that the police will help you and protect you. White privilege is being able to lawyer up when arrested by the police. White privilege is being able to say things like “due process of the law” or “wait for the facts to emerge.”

We need to be listening to African-Americans and other minorities – in our lives, on Twitter, in the news, in education, in poetry, in art, in literature, in politics. Listen. When people tell me that America is not for black people, I want to listen to why. When people tell me that there is a case for reparations, I want to listen to why. When First Nations tell me that they will be Idle No More, well, then me, too.

Watch the narrative. The news media is notorious for this – it’s only by listening to voices on the crowd and on the front lines that you see it though. For instance, NBC went to Mike Brown’s Facebook page and pulled a photo of him for their broadcasts. They chose a photo of him flashing a peace sign with a stern look on his face over any of the other photos he had there, including one of him in his cap and gown. They changed the narrative of the story by how they characterized Mike Brown in the minds of their viewers. Another example is the image of a young man throwing a smoke bomb. It’s probably the defining image of the protests so far. But what most news media outlets aren’t clarifying is this key face: that young man was throwing that smoke bomb BACK at the police who threw it at him. Another example: is it an “angry mob” or is it a “community protest”.

This has also given rise to the powerful images of #IfTheyGunnedMeDown which also show how the media portrays young black men who are victims – victims! – in the media. Most of us have photos of ourselves that are ridiculous or terrible or in compromising situations but by fixing a victim in the mind of the public as a menace, they change the narrative on a subconscious level. “He’s a thug, he was probably doing something wrong.” Here’s an example image:

IfTheyGunnedMeDown

Don’t shoot. One of the defining protest images so far will haunt me for a long time. The people of Ferguson – and all protesters who gather in cities and colleges and communities around the world – are doing one thing: they are standing with their hands up and their faces blank. That is the posture. Don’t shoot: I’m unarmed: my hands are up. This image of the student body at Howard is unforgettable. This is powerful prophetic witness.

Howard Don't Shoot

This is also about the militarization of police. This is not proportionate response but it is not surprising. When we sow to the wind, we reap a whirlwind. When we outfit police like the military instead of as officers of the peace, they will treat the citizens as enemies and engage in war tactics. It’s time to ask some serious questions and make changes here.

This is NOT about looting. Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare bring up looting in the face of this situation. There was minor looting on one night of violence AFTER police brutality. Looting is not the point. People talk about looting because they cannot bear to face the truth of what is happening and why it is happening, it is a distraction. Same thing with folks who want to debate black-on-black violence right now. This is not that and this is not the time.

Twitter is the place to be right now for news. Main stream news outlets are turning a blind eye to Ferguson. But on Twitter, #Ferguson is hopping. Next time someone makes fun of Twitter as a place where “people tell you what they had for breakfast” I’m just going to say one word: #Ferguson. The people I follow on Twitter are the only reason I heard about Ferguson and it is the only reason why we know the truth of what is happening there. They might be able to arrest reporters and shut down the airspace and try to suppress information but the freedom of the people is happening in that medium, much like most uprisings around the world.

In particular, check out Alderman Antonio French who has been present from the beginning. (He’s currently being held in police custody – Lord help us.) If you don’t know about Ferguson, it’s because you’re not paying attention, because your circle of news and information is too small. But go back through his timeline to see what has been going on in great detail. And pray for him.

Churches and people of faith need to rise up together with the oppressed by the state in small ways and in big ways, in policy and in prophetic witness. David Henson, a friend and an Episcopal priest, has challenged other pastors to simply stand in their pulpits on Sunday, silent, with their hands up as a witness.

Or this image below…. This is another example of powerful goodness that needs to happen on our part. Can we make space for the lament and for the grief, for the anger and the fear?

Other churches are marching, organizing protests, standing with the powerless, lobbying their governments, speaking up and using their voices to amplify the oppressed.

And pray. Pray. Pray. With your voice, when your spirit, with groans and tears, with your hands and your ears, with your mind and your feet.

Let justice roll down.

Continue Reading · social justice · 208

In which God is transforming the world :: on hope, Iraq, and everything else

One of my tinies has a particularly sensitive spirit.  (Well, to be honest, I tend to think most kids do. Maybe some of us just get really good at dulling our sensitivity early.) One night, he couldn’t sleep and seemed very rumpled in his soul. Finally, hardly able to speak the words for how they gripped his mind, he told me about a poster he had seen at a community event. He had been out with his dad for the day. And there were booths set up at the event, not only for local businesses but also for local charities. And I guess one of them was for a charity that works to prevent child trafficking.

“It was a kid, Mum, and he had chains wrapped all around his body and he was scared.”

My son was devastated at just the memory of this poster, unable to sleep. He was too young to see such a thing perhaps, because he didn’t understand marketing materials. He was just at a little community event and was confronted there with an image that now tortured his sleep. We didn’t notice it and so couldn’t help him understand or process it at the time.

That night, I wrapped him in my arms. We prayed and talked about it and prayed more. He curled up into our strength. He slept with us all night.

But I admit that I lay awake wondering why I’m not more bothered – especially because I know the truth behind images like that. And so many others.

A religious minority chased up a mountain to starve to death in Iraq, their children being beheaded and crucified. Forced female genital mutilation. The girls still in the clutches of Boko Haram. The situation in Israel and Gaza, so many Palestinian civilians dead, their children weeping or injured or worse. There’s the Russian escalation, planes being shot out of the sky, the spectre of people littered in a field without proper care for days, 24 hours news coverage of carnage. There are the kids caught in the midst of the central American refugee crisis, pouring over borders and now being kept in detention centres. Lonely, sad-eyed children trapped in airless buildings without hope. Ferocious ebola outbreaks in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and now into Nigeria it seems. Unarmed young African-American men killed o the street or in the Walmart toy section without provocation as they move through their daily lives.

And the list goes on. and on. and on.

I scroll through Twitter and in between snippets of snark and jokes, people are posting pictures of someone else’s dead kids.

With the news coming out of Iraq, I remembered – almost against my will – every single sermon I have heard in my life around Easter, a preacher usually describing in terrible detail the crucifixion of Christ in gory nuance (why do preachers do that?) and then I found myself applying all of those same descriptions to someone else’s child in the cradle of civilization just yesterday, and my stomach heaves and then I shut down my entire mind and heart, unable to bear it.

I can’t think of it, I can’t think of it, I can’t think of it. No one could. This is evil, this is hell.

I hear of these things and then I cannot bear it so I stop thinking of them. I simply close the gates of my mind and heart to it, it’s too terrible. And yet I move through my day somehow. I sleep well. I eat meals. I am consumed with my own concerns.

But on the night one of my children came to me, utterly devastated by just the sight of marketing materials having to do with child trafficking, I knew he was more right than me.

I should be devastated. We should all be devastated. It should disturb my sleep.

Perhaps lament and anger and grief is the most godly response and posture. 

Grief and lament and anger is the beginning point of hope, it seems.

I lay in bed with my broken-hearted boy and saw the truth of this. His heart was broken by just the glimpse of injustice towards children, and I had to wonder why my heart is not more broken, why my sleep is not more disturbed when I know and have seen so much more.

My son was right in his response. I have become too callous to suffering.

It’s been a hard summer in this old world of ours. The Kingdom of God seem so far away in these days. It feels foolish to pray and hope sometimes.

The dream of turning swords into ploughshares seems laughable. Who could turn tanks and missiles into farming equipment? Who could dare speak of a day when all tears will be wiped away? Who is foolish enough to hope for the desert to burst forth into bloom, for streams of water to flow in the parched and barren places?

I turned to the words of the great Desmond Tutu, who carries both hope and sadness like an anointing. He wrote, “Dear Child of God, I write these words because we all experience sadness, we all come at times to despair, and we all lose hope that the suffering in our lives and in the world will ever end. I want to share with you my faith and my understanding that this suffering can be transformed and redeemed. There is no such thing as a totally hopeless case. Our God is an expert at dealing with chaos, with brokenness, with all the worst that we can imagine. God created order out of disorder, cosmos out of chaos, and God can do so always, can do so now–in our personal lives and in our lives as nations, globally. … Indeed, God is transforming the world now–through us–because God loves us.” 

And so I find myself hoping.

Foolishly, perhaps. But it’s a company of holy fools, spreading like yeast. Small seeds grow to mighty oaks.

We feel small in these days. And that smallness makes us feel powerless in the face of such suffering. Even stretching out our opinions from the place of disinterest and objectivity on each story is a privilege.

So how do I hold onto that hope that God is transforming the world now through us?

We can’t willfully push away the suffering of humanity and the terribleness of the world out of selfishness and discomfort with the truth.

We can listen – truly listen – to the stories that people need to tell. Maya Angelou wrote that there is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.

We can kick against the injustices and amplify the voices of those who are suffering. We can read the prophets like Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah. We can educate ourselves and seek to understand complexity outside of our pet sources. We can light candles and, oh, we can pray.

We can write letters and advocate. We can be teachable. We can hold space for the suffering. We can both prayerfully and practically support people and organizations who are working towards peace and shalom in the front lines. We can do that work ourselves, daily small and unsexy as it is.

We can let our children lead us back to the right response – compassion and tenderness of heart again.

In the words of Isaiah, we can sweep our lives clean of evildoings, say no to wrong, learn to do good, work for justice, help the down-and-out, stand up for the homeless, go to bat for the defenseless. (Isaiah 1:12-17)

Isaiah

If we want the light of God to be the light by which we live, let that light shine in our lives and let it expose the truth. The truth shall set us free. We can give myself over to a sleepless night, holding vigil with all those who weep and watch and wait. We can create beauty. We can be what Kathy Escobar calls a “pocket of freedom and love,” setting up prophetic outposts of the Kingdom of God in our right-now lives.

And we can pray with our children and then raise them to listen, and to work, and to partner with God in the work of truth-telling and reconciliation and justice. This is God’s work, to love well.

We can be men and women who love.

Sometimes, absolutely, mountains move in a great sweep, picked up and cast out into the sea.

But these days I find that God often asks us to move a mountain one small stone a time.

Faithfulness is picking up my small stones, instead of screwing my eyes shut and denying the existence of the mountain.

Sometimes it all begins with the terrible prayer: Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours.

Be careful, because when your heart breaks, everything and everyone can tumble right in, right where they belong, right to the centre of your love and your hope.

Kyrie eléison. Lord, have mercy.

 

 

Continue Reading · faith, peace, social justice, suffering · 35

In which we pray: bring back our girls

bringbackourgirls

 

Our Father who art in heaven, bring back our girls.

Two-hundred-and-twenty-three precious young women are still lost to us.  We are weeping for our children, hear our prayer.

We are grieving and we are angry. So angry that our beautiful girls have been abducted, stolen, from their lives and their innocence by such unspeakable evil. We are desperate for their return, and we are desperate for someone to pay attention to them, to save them, to rescue them.

Our pillows are soaked with tears. We carry our grief in our wombs. We cannot be comforted while our daughters, our brilliant and beautiful daughters, are in the hands of extremists who are threatening to sell them. Dear God.

Why does no one care about our girls, Abba? I am angry because I believe that if they were 200 students from Ontario or Ohio, the world would have turned itself inside out until they were found but because our girls are in Nigeria, they are just another story, another “what a shame” story.

But I don’t want to remain isolated in my anger, I want my anger to work for our girls. Use my anger, Jesus, turn the force of it towards justice.

There is still time.

Abba, I pray for rescue. I pray for ways to escape and favour for the journey.

I pray for people on the inside who are filled with doubt to begin to set the girls free. Reach into their hearts, into the shred of humanity that is still left, and may they stand up against their leaders and fight for justice from within this evil. Repent, may they repent.

l I pray for governments to move to action. I pray for the United Nations and the leaders of Nigeria and Cameroon, the people of influence all within the region, may they lean heavily and hard into the evil, until all of our girls are free. From the north and the south, from the east and the west, may we begin to rise up against such evil, such common evil.

We know that if this group succeeds, it will only be the beginning. Give us the courage and the resources to end this, now. Compel our leaders and wake them from their slumber. Dismantle the self-preservation instincts of governments.

I pray for courage to be in each school – the students, their parents, their teachers – who still stands in the crossfire between extremists and education even now today. They are feeling vulnerable and afraid, please guard them. Give them friends. May their communities rise up and surround them. This school, these girls, are hope to a nation and to a world, let our hopes not be crushed.

Father, among all of the devastation that this group has wrought throughout their region, all of the deaths, so many sparrows falling to the ground, may we notice it, may we have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to understand, and may we grieve our brothers and sisters, may we rise up and say NO MORE with you. 

I feel so helpless. All I know to do this morning is to pray. It feels futile but take this small seed.

We know that your heart is for rescue and for life. May we move with you, however we can, to rescue, restore, and redeem our girls and their neighbourhoods from this evil still stalking the land.

We don’t understand it all, this is complex in some ways but glaringly simple, still. So we are fasting and we are praying and we are standing. We will use everything we have to help, everything. Jesus, bring back our girls.

Whether by miracle or by diplomacy, bring back our girls. We will lean heavily on our leaders until these girls are as dear to them as they are to you and to us.

I pray for an earthquake and for the jail doors to be swung open only by the Spirit. I pray for safety. I pray for courage.

Abba, be near to our girls and keep them safe, envelope them in courage and in love. Speak hope to them: someone is coming for them. We have not forgotten.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Amen

 

 

Related:

Boko Haram to “sell” Nigerian girls abducted from Chibok – BBC News

Bring Back Our Girls – by Nicholas Kristof

Sign this petition

Speak up and use your voice – contact your government leaders, write articles, spread the word, protest, rally, anything.

 

Continue Reading · social justice, women · 61

In which her kingdom calling grew with every sentence :: a guest post by Tamara Rice

book club

I have asked a few of my favourite writers/bloggers to respond to the Jesus Feminist discussion questions. The discussion questions are meant for small group discussions or journalling but I wanted to make a bit of room on the blog for each of us to respond to them, too.

(Okay, so really I wanted an excuse to give away books, encourage people to work through the discussion questions, and also introduce my readers to some exciting new-to-you voices!)

From Chapter 10: Kingdom Come

How can you take part in the redemptive movement of God for women around the world? What hurt are you drawn to heal in even the smallest way?

Weigh in with your response to the day’s question in the comments.

One commenter’s response will win a free signed copy of the little yellow book.

Today, Tamara Rice is responding to our question.

Trigger warning: child sexual abuse.

***

As a female Bible major at a conservative Christian college, my ministry dreams were limited. If I didn’t want to work with kids, women’s ministry was mine by default, so I took the class—the class where we learned this ministry was about putting on retreats and planning teas, neither of which was complete without a proper Bible lesson. So my kingdom calling seemed obvious …

Teach her. Teach her.

But I was young. This proved difficult. I had not yet earned the right to be heard by the women around me. I lacked seasons of serving and seasons of suffering. (Oh, thank God, no one let me be a teacher.)

Then, by the time my babies came, my faith surroundings had changed. The women of our new church embraced a variety of roles out in the world, but they shared one commonality: they knew how to love. A few of them taught, sure. But mostly they loved, with hands and feet. They knew how to roll other people’s socks, rock other people’s babies, and put dinner on other people’s tables. It was beautiful, this kind of love, and suddenly I felt my kingdom calling shifting …

Love her. Love her.

Repeatedly, however, life put me on the receiving end of love instead, no matter how I aspired to give it away. The days of my psych ward stay I know by heart, the number of chemo rounds comes quickly to my lips, but the number of my surgeries by age 35 … I have to stop and count every time. I can never quite wrap my brain around the sheer depth of my need for the hands-and-feet love of others in that decade.

And then three years ago, the events of my childhood on a Baptist mission field in Bangladesh began to surface. An American missionary physician had had a thing for girls young enough to be his daughters … then his granddaughters. My childhood friend had exposed his evil in 1989, and for her 14-year-old courage she’d been forced by the mission board to sign a confession of adultery, while he was simply sent back to his home state where he continued to practice medicine.

“Don’t talk about it,” her family had been told. “It’s gossip,” others had been warned.

Justice is underrated, and the need for it doesn’t always fade with time. Twenty-plus years of injustice takes its toll, just ask my precious friend. And three years ago it became clear the man’s victims on that mission field had been many, and a proper investigation—and end to his medical career—was long overdue. My kingdom calling began to shift without warning …

Bind her wounds. Bind her wounds.

And working toward justice was the only thing I could offer her from 2000 miles away, but how? American victims of other American citizens on foreign soil prior to the Protect Act of 2003 have no legal recourse in the US. Options for victims are extremely limited, and the mission board that knew of this man’s guilt refused to expose him, no matter how many adult female MKs (missionary kids) came forward.

As their stories began to emerge first over the phone, then through a blog one victim started, missing puzzle pieces were revealed. My own encounters with this man, who was my childhood pediatrician, began to make awful sense. My 20-year struggle with anxiety and depression began to make awful sense. Slowly, I realized that in attempting to bind the lifelong wounds of my friend and other women, I was actually binding my own.

But the frustration of fighting injustice within the Church has often gotten the better of me. Though we eventually succeeded in preventing our abuser from practicing medicine, the hopelessness of trying to elicit sincere change in this mission board overwhelms me and has left new scars.

But I’m not alone. To date, the advocacy group MK Safety Net reports that dozens of American and Canadian mission boards and boarding schools for MKs have mishandled cases of child abuse abroad during the last 50 years, with the horrific details of the abuses, the number of abusers, and the subsequent mishandling—lack of investigations, lack of reporting, lack of accountability—often staggering.

And when I started writing more recently, on my own blog, about this struggle for justice, I was startled by the overwhelming response of those who’ve been fighting abuse in Christian environments, like local churches, much longer. Men and women alike, Catholics and Protestants, and those who’ve left the Church, resonated with my laments and my hopes. This was much more than “women’s ministry,” much more than pretty teas and retreats. In finding my voice, my kingdom calling grew with every sentence …

Bind their wounds. Bind their wounds.

While those abused outside the Church have sometimes found healing within its walls, those whose abusers have been among the holy have too often found the Church itself to be the wall—a wall of injustice that cannot be penetrated.

But I beg you to see that these beloveds from whom the Church has too often knowingly withheld justice are a bleeding artery in the Bride of Christ. If you are the Church, every tear shed against that wall of injustice is blood leaving your veins, and I beg you to reach with me for the bandages. You have the power to unleash healing in the body.

Bind her wounds. Bind her wounds.

 

Tamara Rice Tamara Rice is a lover of words and Jesus and family, though perhaps not in that order. She is a breast cancer survivor and an advocate for mental health and for victims of sexual abuse. She was a contributor to The Way Bible (Tyndale) and did dabble for a time in women’s retreats–but the best part was always the remarkable women, not the retreats. Tamara blogs now at HopeFullyKnown.com.

Continue Reading · Guest Post, social justice, women · 50