What’s Left To Say About #Ferguson?

Photo from Legal Insurrection
Photo from Legal Insurrection
Guest Post by Joelinda C.

Until now, I have kept quiet about #Ferguson. It feels like so many things (too many things) have been said: Things I am encouraged by and things that I can whole-heartedly  “AMEN.” Things I am not quite sure what to do with and things that make my blood broil [no point in linking to that nonsense]. A well-respected friend of mine went to the protests – I am riveted by what he writes, but I also appreciate this perspective on why marching is not the answer.

A lot is swirling around #Ferguson. More than I can read and process, let alone respond to. So I have been propelled inward – maybe out of self-protection, definitely out of despair, but also out of Providence. And silence is all I have been able to muster.

But then something happened that finally forced my fingers to the keyboard.

The other day, I took a drive up Route 1A – to get away, be with God. The pull of the big blue sky, my deep hunger to behold beauty and clear my head drew me to the open road.

I wasn’t disappointed. Route 1A snakes northward and winds along the edge of the ocean. The crescendo of the drive is in North Hampton, New Hampshire. The breathtaking ocean vista clears concern and inspires hope and peace. I was overtaken and I parked on the side of the road in order to take it in.

I had been out of my car about two minutes and was about to sit down on a bench when a car filled with young white males whizzed by. As they passed, one of them stuck his head out the window and yelled:

“black pussy!”

…at me.

I was in shock. But only sort of…after all #Ferguson had been swirling around my psyche. But that was the first time that I, personally, was the target of such pointed racism and sexism. It was bound to happen eventually, I guess.

I got back in my car and continued to drive.

There is a time and a space to decry injustice. My #NewHampton experience calls for it. But #Ferguson infinitely more so. I wish this were more universally understood and accepted – I mean: why are we even arguing about it?

But, #Ferguson has also forced me to examine me. And, even as a “victim” – #NewHampton forced me to examine me.

The other day, a young man ascribed two descriptors to me. I’m not sure why he felt the need to yell them out the car window at me (I have some guesses…). But the reality is that he needed to order his world by categorizing me in the simplest, and most demeaning way he could.

I do this to people, too – in my own way. To be honest, before being harassed in New Hampton I would have been more nervous about a car filled with young black males driving by than my white assailants.

Yeah…so, that’s painful to admit.

But recognizing how, in many ways, I am just like them makes inward reflection essential. And it also makes continued silence on #Ferguson impossible.

Photo From NBC News
Photo From NBC News

This seems like an appropriate time for a slew of disclaimers: Disclaimer #1 – I am not saying that what happened to Michael Brown is in any way on par with what happened to me. Disclaimer #2 – I took Sociology 101; I get victim blaming. I am not blaming myself or Michael Brown or anyone else for the evil that is perpetrated on them.

But what I am trying to say is that, as Christians, #Ferguson should make us all examine our own hearts and come to terms with our ignorance and self-preserving categories. These are the roots of racism, sexism, prejudice – plain ol’ Sin.

As we point out the flaws in the police, the government, the system, let Providence not allow us to forget to recognize the sin in ourselves. The fact that all of us are racist, sexist, selfish. Yeah, all of us: not just the guys who yell slurs from a passing car, not just the cops who kill unarmed black men. All of us – as in, me too.

And when we recognize this, #Ferguson is not a problem over there – it is a problem of which we are all a part. When we own our own sin, #Ferguson is not a nuisance in our newsfeeds that we can’t do anything about, it is a problem that we have an active part in combating – each of us in our own way. When we are grieved over our own sinfulness, we are granted the ability to respond to #Ferguson with grace, truth and justice.

It is much easier to stay silent in pre-occupied passivity, to yell ignorance from the safety of a moving car, to point to all the “facts,” to [insert your coping mechanism here], than it is to own your sin.

[Insert pin drop sound…here].

At least….it was for me.

But music is grace in the midst of weighty silence. My grace came through the refrain of the song “Faint Not” by Jenny & Tyler.

May its words stir the hearts of Christians honest enough to say of #Ferguson “yeah, I do this to people, too – in my own way,” wise enough to believe that there is grace for even that sin, and courageous enough to do what the Lord is prompting to address prejudice.

And may our reflections on #Ferguson spark change not just over there, across the country, or even a few blocks down the road, but deep within our own hearts.

Otherwise, there’s nothing left to say.

“O my soul, faint not, no, faint not
O my soul, keep up, up
In love.”

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This post originally appeared at : Joelindacoichy.wordpress.com

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Cool

The view from the docks at the camp in northern Iceland on a very cool, wet, and dreary day. Perfect day for ice cream!
The view from the docks at the camp in northern Iceland on a very cool, wet, and dreary day. Perfect day for ice cream!

When we first began telling people we’d be spending our summer in Iceland, a common reaction we received was: “Iceland! Oh, that’ll be cool (wink, wink)”. So yes, Iceland is very, very far north.

In fact, Iceland is so far north that it has the honor of being home to the northernmost capitol of the world: Reykjavík. Furthermore, a good portion of the country sits just 60 degrees from the Arctic Circle. All that said Iceland is saved from a fate of year-round arctic conditions by being situated smack-dab in the middle of the Atlantic Gulf Stream. So while it is incredibly far north, the environment here is actually rather temperate and consistent: summer temperatures rarely push above seventy but in the winter it is rare for Reykjavík to see the thermometer drop below zero. Nonetheless, while it may not be totally frozen solid, Iceland as a whole is still very cool.

Which is why I was, and still am, surprised to encounter the Icelandic obsession with ice cream. I grew up in the mid-western part of the United States. During the peak summer heat, one could easily sweat off five pounds just fetching the mail or taking out the garbage. It’s understandable to me why an ice cream shop would be an opportune business endeavor in a region that regularly issues heat advisories.

But what I cannot fathom is why, on a day when it’s fifty degrees out, cloudy and raining to boot, I might be walking downtown with an Icelandic friend, soaking cold and wet, see a line of people stretching beyond the horizon, enquire “what’s everyone waiting for?” and receive the answer: “Oh, that’s one of the best ice cream shops in town…do you want some?” But it happened and I did. And I was so befuddled, and my teeth were chattering so hard from what I’m semi-convinced was stage-one hypothermia, that I could hardly answer what had to have been a hypothetical and seethingly ironic question. But it wasn’t. He was completely serious. It doesn’t matter if it’s their last meal atop a glacier before an avalanche swoops down over them: Icelanders love their ice cream.

They love ice cream so much that they literally roll out the red carpet when it arrives.

Last week, we took the opportunity to journey north from Reykjavík to Akureyri, the second largest city in Iceland. Bill heard of a Christian youth camp run by two brothers in a small town east of Akureyri and we managed to connect with them and arrange a visit. So on Thursday we piled into Bill’s car and embarked on an eight-hour drive to the other side of Iceland.

We arrived late Thursday night amidst heavy fog and damp cold just in time to join the camp staff meeting. We introduced ourselves as visitors from the States who were interested in learning about the camp and the work they were doing. Many of the staff members are volunteers, some of them from Iceland, others from the Faroe Islands. They introduced themselves individually, smiling and asking how we’d enjoyed our time in Iceland thus far. All of them were incredibly polite, cordial and welcoming. After the meeting there was evening tea, all the youth met in the dining hall for drinks and pastries before washing up and going to bed. We were offered refreshments and told to make ourselves at home. With the fog and rain outside, a cup of warm tea in my hand and Icelandic youth chattering and snatching cookies off plates next to me, it was difficult not to feel at home and yet very foreign and displaced at the same time.

The next day dawned with no positive change in the weather. Rain fell steadily; the staff members told us it was the rainiest day they’d had all year.

“Usually it will stop for at least part of the day,” one of them said me as we sat inside, staring out the window onto abandoned boats docked on the lake. It was cold, wet, and miserable. A perfect day to stay inside, a perfect day to do everything possible to stay warm. And, for Icelanders, a perfect day for ice cream.

It was mid-afternoon and I was watching a chess game between two of the campers, unable to understand much of the trash talking but clearly sympathizing with one chum who was getting his butt kicked. Suddenly, an announcement came over the intercom in Icelandic and for a moment I feared something terrible had happened. I feared maybe the local volcano had erupted, or a nearby dam had given way because everyone was running around and screaming, grabbing raincoats and shoes and sprinting out the door. And so I joined the crowd and ran around screaming, snatching my coat and hoping at some point that someone might inform me if a volcano was in fact exploding so I might perhaps go back and fetch my wife.

I sprinted out the door only to come to a sudden halt with everyone else because it was there the crowd had stopped and gathered around….an ice cream truck. I was baffled. This was what the chaos was all about? Ice cream? Let me remind you: it’d been raining all day. The temperature couldn’t have been above 55 degrees. I was standing outside in jeans with a sweatshirt and jacket atop and I was still a bit chilled and I’d just been rushed out of the building like a five-alarm fire for…ice cream. I like ice cream as much as the next guy, but this was a little eccentric.

Then it got weirder.

Because as I stood beneath the porch, watching the campers huddle and shiver in the pouring rain (some of them, in all their urgency, had forgotten a jacket) I watched as some of them actually lined up to take pictures with the ice cream man. I mean, don’t get me wrong: the delivery guy was handsome and all: but taking a picture with him? Isn’t that a little much?

Apparently not. Because next thing I knew, a group of the staff members dashed back inside then reappeared with a box full of supplies. Within seconds, they had arranged a red carpet leading to the ice cream truck, lined the campers on either side with horns and Icelandic flags, and positioned the smiling deliveryman at the end next to the truck. And there they stood, blowing on the horns and waving the flags as the rain fell and I stood off the to side asking myself: what. on. earth. is. happening? At this point, I was truly baffled and started to wonder just what type of camp I’d wandered into and if maybe I should lock the door when we went to sleep that night. At the same time, I was leaning down to tighten my shoelaces, just in case the next thing they did was trot out a goat to sacrifice to the ice cream gods; if that happened I’d just start running. In case you’re wondering, I was concerned about my wife, thank you very much. But she’s run a half marathon. She’d catch up.

But just in case I was missing something, and because they really did seem like nice, amazing and awesome people, I turned to one of the staff members next to me and asked her what was going on.

She turned to me and laughed. “Já” (that’s Icelandic for ‘yeah’ or ‘yes’ the one word I readily understand) “this must look a little strange, huh?”

I allowed a small laugh but kept tightening my shoelaces nonetheless.

“There’s a competition with this ice cream company right now for the best picture taken with their delivery man. You take a picture and then tag them online. Winner gets, oh, I guess it would be equivalent of $2500 US dollars.”

“Oh…oh. Okay, I gotcha,” I wiped my brow. “That makes sense.”

She laughed. “Yeah, they’ve been planning to do this all week. They really want to win. I guess it must look a little… uh…strange, yes? I can only imagine what you must be thinking…it must…is something wrong with your shoelace?”

“What? No, sorry…just needed to tighten them a bit. Look at that! They’re all set.”

So many times we are quick to judge a culture by our own standards and biases. I’ve heard endless stories of missionaries who’ve tramped into foreign environments and immediately wrecked Christ’s reputation with misunderstandings of the local culture. A missionary in Europe declared the national church heretical for their use of wine in communion, a minister to the Congo was appalled by the immodesty of the local natives whose women didn’t wear tops, this one American buffoon thought Icelanders were really weird for how they reacted when the ice cream delivery guy arrived even though they were actually just trying to win a photo competition… the list goes on and on. We have a tendency of attempting to fix a culture, to break it down and smash the circular way things are in order to fit them into our square perspectives before even taking the time to understand what’s really happening, what’s truly going on.

The more time I spent with the camp staff, the more I enjoyed their presence. They were some of the most joyful, sincere, and welcoming Christians I’d met on our trip. I stayed up till midnight that day just hanging out with them. We sat around the kitchen table and ate popsicles. They talked, laughed and since they were speaking Icelandic I simply laughed when they laughed and hoped they wouldn’t notice that I hadn’t a clue what was being said (spoiler alert: they did). I never would have come to enjoy this kinship if I’d assumed the worst and written off an innocent attempt to win a photo competition as some lactose-ridden golden calf incident.

I’m not saying there isn’t right or wrong, I’m just saying that there’s also culture. And before jumping to the conclusion that something is morally unacceptable, we owe it to the people we’re with to assume that perhaps, just maybe, our view is culturally nuanced, that there’s a log in our eye that’s keeping us from seeing things clearly. Especially when it comes to spreading the Gospel.

For the Gospel message is one that stretches to every tribe and every tongue, and you can bet that it doesn’t sound the same or look the same in all of them. Some of us will inevitably dance differently, act differently, understand things differently and say things differently than the rest. But it doesn’t mean we aren’t all worshipping the same God. And it doesn’t mean we don’t have more to learn than those who’re already here.

Because who knows, some of them may even line up to buy ice cream when it’s really cold outside. And for what it’s worth, I guess that’s not too weird. In fact, I think it’s kinda cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Face of REAL Persecution

Taken from an IS video, this photo shows Iraqi prisoners, including what appear to be children, piled onto trucks before being driven off for execution. Photo from Anglican Communion News Service
Taken from an IS video, this photo shows Iraqi prisoners, including what appear to be children, piled onto trucks before being driven off for execution. Photo from Anglican Communion News Service

It’s three AM in the morning and I hear a dog bark down the street. I turn over in the night and feel my wife next to me in bed, hear my children sleeping in the next room. Suddenly, there’s a loud bang, the door to our house is kicked open, lights flash into our house and masked men yielding guns charge into the room. I jump out of bed and one of them slams the butt of his rifle into my face. My wife cries and lunges for our children, but a man grabs them and begins dragging them outside. There’s yelling, my children are crying. I hear similar shouts coming from the other houses. I hear my neighbor’s wife screaming in terror.

I try to push through to my wife, but another rifle butt hits me in the eye and I cannot see out of it. I am on the ground and I turn over, trying to stand up when another blow hits my good eye and I see only darkness. I crawl on the floor, blood pouring from my face. Lord, hear our prayer. I am trying to reach the sound of my screaming children. I feel two sets of hands take me by the ankles, and pull me out of the house, dumping me in the yard. I hear the sound of a pistol loading behind my head. Lord, hear our prayer. I hear my children screaming. I feel the muzzle position itself at the base of my skull.

Lord of mercy, hear my prayer. 

The situation in Iraq has gone from dire to hell. ISIS, which now calls itself simply the Islamic State, claims that it “can do anything now that the world is just looking at Gaza”. The Vicar of Baghdad, Reverend Canon Andrew White has issued an impassioned plea for prayer and support as the ISIS onslaught against the minority Christian community increases and worsens. According to some unconfirmed reports, up to 1500 people have been killed by ISIS already.

This is not to say that we should not be concerned with the events of the Gaza Strip; Christians should be praying fervently for both situations. But the worsening crisis in Iraq should draw on the heartstrings of Christians in particular because the killings in Iraq are not due to war or political disputes, they are religiously based slaughterings. Christians, as well as various other religious sects, are facing unprecedented persecution. And they need our prayers. 

Displaced Iraqis from the northern town of Sinjar flee to the mountains, seeking refuge after Islamic State extremists seized their hometown and vowed to execute them. Photo from New York Daily News
Displaced Iraqis from the northern town of Sinjar flee to the mountains, seeking refuge after Islamic State extremists seized their hometown and vowed to execute them. Photo from New York Daily News

As American Christians, news of the sufferings of our brothers and sisters should awaken us to the realities of the world we live in. And it should not just sadden us, it should convict us. Because American Christians have a terrible habit of crying wolf when it comes to religious persecution. Even when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in a controversial judicial decision this past July, many Christians were quick to remark that the whiplash faced  by the media had taken some form of persecution. Shortly thereafter, Fox News Host Gretchen Carlson came out and warned that America’s increasingly anti-Christmas spirit promoted Christian persecution. When President Obama signed an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, Christian author and radio talk show host Michael Brown called it throwing “religious- in particular Christians- under the bus”.

In far less official and undocumented cases, I’ve had numerous conversations with fellow Christians in America when they refer to the “persecution” they face from the government for not being allowed to pray publicly in school or because of the remote possibility of losing their second amendment rights. Others of us may mention persecution not at the hand of the government but of peers: we are mocked, looked down upon or viewed as intellectually inferior. All these things are unfortunate and discouraging. But none of this is persecution. This is “being in the world but not of the world.” It’s being a Christian.

And when reading of the horrible events taking place in Iraq we ought to be humbled into prayer and drawn into the grateful realization of how well off we really are. In truth, we ought to be a little bit ashamed of ourselves. Because the American tendency of labeling our standing in society as “persecuted” is akin to standing next to a cancer patient in the hospital and complaining about a chest-cold.

I am not saying we don’t go through difficult times or that there are not some people reading this who are not facing depths of despair: but if they are it’s not because of persecution. Mislabeling any hardships we face displays great ignorance and great insensitivity and diminishes our ability to properly minister to our brothers and sisters in their greatest moments of need. It betrays the fact that, on a practical level, we care more about our political standing and whether or not we’ll be allowed to buy ammunition at Wal-Mart than the fact that some of our brothers and sisters are falling asleep tonight not knowing if they’ll awaken with a nozzle to their foreheads.

I say this as a reminder to myself as much as anyone. I say this to awaken myself from the apathy that haunts me into caring more about updating my Iphone than praying for the persecuted church, more about what type of shoe I will wear today and whether or not 1500 Christians in Iraq are slaughtered while I sleep. It would make for an awful day if my boss yelled at me and berated me publicly for my faith. That would be a good day for an Iraqi Christian; at least they and their family would still be alive. At least they would still have their house, their possessions and a safe place to sleep.

We are not persecuted in the United States.  Take a moment today to read about Christians in Iraq and Syria. Take a moment to read the plea from the Vicar Of Baghdad. Then bow your head, picture yourself as a sibling, parent, child in the Iraq church. Feel their pain, their vulnerability, their suffering for the sake of Christ. And for a moment, let us try and put aside ourselves and be unified with them.

 

Pray for the the church in Iraq and Syria who are facing dire persecution at the hands of ISIS.

Pray for people everywhere who are persecuted for their beliefs.

Continue to pray for the war in the Gaza strip, as the violence continues there.

Pray for the American church, that we would be awakened from our apathy and united with the global church in their sufferings.

 

Lord, hear my prayer,
    listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
    come to my relief.

Psalm 143:1

 

 

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The Arabic letter N is a sign of solidarity with Iraqi Christians. The symbol – meaning Nazarene, or Christian – is being painted on Christian homes by IS supporters to mark them out for attack; and is now being adopting by Christians around the world as an act of support.