our world: in the good and the hard, don't let us hate you

The cruelty and evil we’ve heard about this week cannot be overstated; the heinous attacks on Paris (and responsive attacks in Syria), the Garissa University attacks in Kenya back in April, and the bombings in Beirut and Iraq this past week.

How?  How, as a people that so highly value life, a people that have a written history of redemption, restoration, and preservation of life, go to work today, this Monday, after such an assault on human life just days ago.  How, how do we process such evil in this world and what we, we small individuals thousands of miles away, can do about any of it?  How?  How do we process our theology, our understandings of Who God is, in the midst of such horrifying earthly realities?  How do we balance mourning lives so brutally taken while forgiving the criminals; balance trusting in what Christ says about the coming Kingdom, but live every day in the atrocities of this fallen world?

Challenged by some dear friends yesterday, I read an op-ed piece to get the wheels of my mind spinning.  It poignantly, albeit at times arrogantly, challenged the American mourning for Paris in light of the less covered attacks in Lebanon, Iraq, and, earlier this year, in Kenya.  The article made my house church fellows and I reflect on things like how (in response to the Paris attacks) Facebook provided the feature for people currently in Europe to mark themselves as ‘safe,’ but failed to do so for those in Kenya in April.  The article challenged how we cannot open our eyes these few days without seeing a French flag, but maybe we can’t envision the Kenyan or Lebanese flags. 

The article challenged my feelings.  I had basically been crying since I first heard about the attacks when friends in Paris marked themselves as ‘safe’ on Facebook.  The article quelled my insatiable crying.  At the very same time I felt too little and too much.  I was enraged and terrified by this idea that I had overly identified with specific attacks and not others—with specific lives lost.  I was enraged that my media outlets fail to give so much attention (and therefore inform me) to: the Syrian refugee crisis and the mind-boggling ripple effects like the rising unrest and escalating ethnocentrism in places like Sweden; to the bombings in Lebanon; and to the bombings in Iraq. 

Perhaps it was my white privilege that identified more with the romantic City of Lights.  Perhaps it was the whiteness that is prevalent in biased media attention in my country that failed to inform me.  Perhaps growing up through an age of such extreme unrest in Africa and the Middle East has blinded me to the horrific indignities happening there. 

Whatever my excuse could be… I don’t want it. 

I am able to choose not to see happenings in this world—this itself is privilege.  In the cozy comfort of my own home I cry for the events that have taken place in France, Kenya, Iraq, and Lebanon in the past year.  I cry for the events we still don’t know about around the world.  From mass bombings to in-home injustices that happen behind closed doors and curtains.  I cry for the injustices in the French education system that foster hatred through prejudice.  I cry for the brokenness of this world and the depravity of those indoctrinated with something other than goodness.  And I ask… God, how could this happen? 

I know it’s an unfair question… I know all the –ology to dismantle it.  I’m whittled-down to a single thought:

Please, God, don’t let us hate you.

Please, God, don’t let us blame you.  Let us trust that you know of these events, that you shed tears for these events, that far more than our empathy… you feel these events. 

Let us trust that you will do something about injustice, something restorative, something immediate—not only in the very end.

I cannot believe in a god that is able to turn his face from events like these.  I believe in a God that saw his Son’s human body barbarically contorted on the cross.  I believe Christ is tortured again in acts of violence like the ones we’ve seen this past week.  The utter blaspheming of the humanity and dignity of others gnarls Him again. 

I also believe that Kingdom will come… but I believe that we don’t passively wait for its coming.  My only other prayer in these days after seeing such malevolence and violent disregard for life and createdness… God, show me what’s mine to do… And God, protect me from hatred.

And in the midst… a small gift…

Mark 13:1-8 (NIV)
As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher!  What massive stones!  What magnificent buildings!” 
“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus.  “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen?  And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you.  Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many.  When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be earthquakes and various places, and famines.  These are the beginning of birth pains.”

What a mystery that at the end of such a difficult week on this earth, the above passage is the lectionary reading for this past Sunday (November 15, 2015).  It feels like some kind of provision—some kind of solace.  Small, small solace. 

Please, God, don’t let us hate you. 

 

 

Article referenced above:

http://www.outwithgeorge.com/blog/2015/11/14/our-mourning-is-broken-paris-and-privilege

 

 

I’m thankful for:

Vietnam-based designer Hubert Southall who is creating overlays for Facebook profiles with the Kenyan, Lebanese, and Iraqi flag filters (since Facebook isn’t providing this option) and has put out an open call to graphic designers around the world to help him, because he can’t keep up.

http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/facebook-flag-filters-france-lebanon-kenya/

Friend and fellow justice-pursuant, Jonny 5 (Jamie) from the Flobots gave honest and gripping words about his own processing about who ‘we’ are, how we decide who to empathize with, and how to act on behalf of others.

http://flobots.com/2015/11/15/who-are-we-identity-empathy-and-paris/

formation/creation.

I spent the first two semesters of this thesis-writing process attempting to write book reports.  I wanted to keep it distant and cold.  I wanted to remain unaffected.  My program has been so intensive and this seemed like the capstone, but in a celebratory way.  It seemed to me as though I could just show what I learned without being overly self-aware or sorting through interior movements as we’re encouraged (forced) to do in everything else.  I thought I could just write. 

As it turns out, writing is creative. 

Writing is more like birthing a series of artworks than I ever imagined.  My academic writing has always been fun and easy and flows out of that inflated ego that I have within my love affair of the written word.  It’s different when I write about something from my soul; when I write about something that is so absolutely close to who I am and why I’m in this world.  Those passionate things within me either rip and roar and lash and parade… or they’re silent and unreachable… sinking deep down afraid to be seen. 

It’s so strange that the most important thing is always the hardest.  It’s so strange that making myself write about the passions that I hold most dear would be difficult.  Strange is the way that such paralyzing fear can well with even the thought of writing.

I wanted other people to say it for me.  I cited every sentence out of fear of plagiarism, but mostly fear of myself.  I had become dead and glacial inside.  I’ve been working on the same series for over two years and it remains in the infant stages.  I haven’t shown my work since I left the district.  The pieces of me that do exist in visual form sit boxed and rolled in a closet that isn’t quite mine.  I never realized how powerless not creating made me.  How distant I had become from myself.  But that gracious God helped me stay blind to that until I could handle it.  I was blind until I was able to- and had space to engage the process, to engage myself, to engage creating. 

And this engagement is on a dire deadline and I struggle to be present.  I struggle to stay true to interior movements.  I struggle to want to.

But,

My art is me (my journey) in visual form.  My thesis is me in written form.  The lines are so close.  The boundaries blur.  What is mine and what is not?  What was ever mine?  And then I learn… Nothing.  And the tears come.  All is gift.  Every word, every photograph, every moment—all gifts.  As a tiny co-creator, I recognize that I make nothing… I simply repurpose it.  The Creator made everything and he did that out of nothing.  What a funny paradigm we live in when we fail to recognize that everything that is here, every cell within us, every breath is borrowed from the One who is. 

I am writing about the creative process while I move through the creative process.  I am writing about the Christian formational journey while I move through the Christian formational journey.  I hope my readers will know that.  Beyond the sometimes chaotic sentence structure, beyond the painstaking length, and the utter vastness in subject… I hope my readers know that it was a difficult journey because they can feel it.  I hope they know how real it is to write about what you’re living.  I hope there’s weight to it all… weight that comes with a connection of spirits that only the movement of the Holy Spirit can inspire. 

I hope.  I hope I can realize the good work God is doing in me through this thesis.  I hope there is benefit to going through this so very hard season.  I hope it looks like a flourishing and flurry of art making after graduation.  I hope… as they say… desolation ends with graduation.  I hope to make again.  And I hope I can forgive this seminary season for stealing all my time.  I hope I can realize that it will, as intended all along, make my work better and more powerful and more true. 

It’s almost funny how I forgot coming to seminary was always about making my artwork stronger.  It was always about learning how to make the process more about Him… more about me with Him.  It’s almost funny how this is exactly what I’m writing about in my thesis and what I’ve always wanted to gift to other creatives. 

No wonder this path has seemed so incredibly difficult. 

Not making that deadline means not making art, and that cannot be a possibility.

And so… I’ll type away, pouring myself on pages.