Saturday, September 14, 2013

Rachel, Weep No More

a Sudanese sunrise

I wrote a song in 2008 while spending a few months in South Sudan with women who had been through the hell of war and displacement and vulnerability for over 20 years - and they had returned to their homeland, to re-imagine, rebuild and heal.  Many of them had lost a child: to war, diarrhea, childbirth.  There was still the threat of violence from the Lord's Resistance Army, sometimes just a few miles away; there were still fear and food scarcity and lack of healthcare - but these women lived with a hope that the future would be good, that God would make things new, in these very moments and at least someday.  The greatest victims of conflict and violence are always the women and children, and Rachel represents all the mothers who mourn and lament and grieve.  Rachel's prophetic grief (Jeremiah 31, Matthew 2) calls into questions the weapons of our warfare and the cost that we are willing to pay; that cost is the child that someone carried in their womb and in their heart.  The mothers weeping in Syria, Libya, Palestine, DRC, Afghanistan ... and the marginalized women of more "affluent" nations, they are our prophets and we need to listen.

my sweet friend who lost her only child in childbirth a few months earlier

I believe God is doing all that He can do to move situations towards justice and right-ness, towards a shalom wholeness that recognizes the interconnectedness of us all.  Our prayers invite God in even more, and our right actions change situations and give our prayers even more power.  As my friend Zack sings sometimes, "He will not rest until all things are reconciled to Him." (or Her). 


If you Knew Me, You Would Care - D.L. Mayfield

Come Hither Men, For I Have Sex Demons - Grace Biskie @ A Deeper Story [This is an incredibly intense and raw post with reference to sexual abuse and the over-sexualization of girls and women]

10 things that could go very wrong if we attack Syria - The Washington Post

On Syria: Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right - Shane Claiborne @ Sojourners

One of my absolute favorite books is Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: The Prayers of Walter Brueggemann.  It is filled with evocative prayers with which he would begin each graduate class that he taught.  I often use this book when I have no words.

Their plowshares are beat into swords

And now their plowshares are beat into swords -- as are ours.
now their pruning hooks are beat into spears -- as are ours.
Not only swords and spears,
but bullets, and bombs, and missiles,
of steel on flesh,
of power against bodies ...
And you, in your indignation sound your mantra,
"Blessed are the peacemakers."
We dare to believe they are the aggressor,
and we are the peacemaker.
Yet in sober night dream, we glance otherwise
and think we may be aggressor,
as we vision rubbled homes,
murdered civilians,
and charred babies.
And you, in our sadness, sound your mantra,
"Blessed are the peacemakers."
Deliver us from excessive certitude about oursleves.
Hold us in the deep ambiguity where we find ourselves,
Show us yet again the gaping space between your will and our feeble imagination.
Sound your mantra with more authority,
with more indignation,
through sadness,
in hope ... "Blessed are the peacemakers."
Only peacemakers are blessed.
We find ourselves well short of blessed.
Give us freedome for your deep otherwise,
finally to be blessed,
in the name of the Peacemaker
who gave and did not take.  Amen.

For the bombing in Serbia/March 25, 1999

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Powers of Addiction and the Honesty of Our Neighbourhood

photo cred: Spiro
I’d known Chris for two weeks when he told me about his addiction. It wasn’t a confession, nor an attempt to reel me in with an attractive pseudo-vulnerability.  We were talking about his album, eclectic, poetic and strange, and I asked him what the songs were about.  He went through them as he walked me home, of number six he said “That one’s about how I used to be addicted to pornography”.

I’d never heard anyone say those words before, not out loud, not in a normal conversation.  We said goodbye that night in 2007 not knowing if we’d see each other again, but began writing emails every couple of weeks (although my interest was much greater than my frequency let on).  Nine months later we became extra special friends of the long-distance kind and another year later we were extra special friends of the married and suddenly sharing everything kind.

When we met, Chris had been sober from a pornography addiction for two years.  That was after a decade of secrecy, self-hatred and intense shame, beginning in his early teens.  It was a private hell, he was powerless to stop using a substance stronger than hard drugs, one that completely re-wired his brain towards objectification of women and bonded him to a severe distortion of God’s design for sexual intimacy.  Coming out from under the addiction’s power began with extreme desperation and some life-altering honesty.  From then it was 18 months of regularly sharing in community, receiving unconditional love from people and letting God renew his mind.  One day it was done, he knew he was free.  For him, walking in that freedom has meant continually allowing people into that part of his story.

I’m so proud of my husband, eight years clean this August.  When I told him how amazed I was by him he said to me, “I’m still a recovering addict, becca.  I always will be.  You need to know that.”  There’s this honesty about him, this humility and openness about where he has been and a continual pursuit of wholeness.  We communicate very openly around the subject, with each other and with our community.

It was never really a pressing subject until we moved onto the main street of an industrial neighbourhood where we’ve lived for two and a half years.  I love it here–our street is lovely on sunny mornings, people visiting the small businesses and art galleries that have been popping up, it’s easy to forgive the abandoned buildings though they outnumber the healthy ones.  Neighbours teach my kids to speak Aussie and meet us at the park, shop owners know us by name and talk about grandbabies.

The situation has drastically improved in the last decade but people still come to our neighbourhood to feed addictions, escape reality and numb themselves.  Men file into the three pubs (read: bars) on our street or drive up and down looking for a sexually exploited woman who may be standing on the corner, leaning against a wall or stepping out of another man’s car.  Sometimes there are used condoms and needles at the park or you see a man and woman come out of the bushes together in the middle of the day.  Friday night is “waitress night” (read: topless) and I hear men hoot and holler when a woman appears at the pole specially erected for the weekly event.  Maybe five or six times I’ve been walking by and seen a woman’s breasts on display while she serves drinks to a table of men.  The more I learn about sex trafficking and prostitution worldwide the more aware I am of the invisible shackles on women in the industry, that it’s hardly their choice to be there if it is at all.

Power over addiction begins with honesty.  The media sells us a thousand lies about sexuality and pleasure and need, saying nothing of the terrible damage that occurs when we objectify other human beings.   But our neighbourhood is honest about the cost, about what addictions can lead to: a married man with kids risking everything for a body to orgasm inside, he’ll exploit a woman who is desperate, high or out of her mind; guys meet weekly with friends to drink while topless women ‘entertain’ them, people stumble outside drunk and angry at 2am.  There’s nothing glamorous or sexy here.
There’s been a new kind of pressure on our marriage since moving to this street- there are times when relatively small disputes feel like they carry this enormous weight, that there’s some cosmic battle already raging that we are just stumbling into.  God’s kingdom is a delicate eco-system of justice, freedom, and wild, beautiful Love and we are called to be an alternative people who honour rather than exploit.  When we are demanding rather than giving and ignoring the diversity and equality within each other we have subscribed to the dominant consciousness around us.

It’s really, really hard sometimes but there is something prophetic happening in our upstairs apartment.  It’s when my husband and I choose only each other again and again, even when we’re exhausted and frustrated and have said things we regret.  It’s when our friends pursue sexual wholeness together, when we name addiction for what it is and walk the hard road towards sexual sobriety.  It’s when we re-imagine the possibilities of honest to goodness friendship within our own gender and between men and women, when we really see each other as unique individuals powerfully equal, Imago Dei shining bright.  It’s when we practice the quiet, subversive sacrament of neighbourliness.  We are digging a hole here, planting our little tree and watching it grow; one day those roots will erupt through the concrete on our street.  As Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy has written, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Jesus’ resurrection frees us to to model our lives in his likeness, to treat each other with the honour and respect we all deserve.  Jesus has triumphed over the powers of addiction and exploitation that rage in our neighbourhood, he’s paraded them around to be seen for the lies that they are.  He’s made them get honest, and that’s our first step to freedom as well.  There is no shame or condemnation here, only healing and freedom and the transformation of our minds, the ‘conversion of our imaginations’.

Someday the tide will turn and the raging waves of misogyny and exploitation in the world will be drawn back out to the chaotic place from which it comes.   The pornography industry will self-destruct and all the precious children of God who make and consume it will be reconciled.  Men will drive home to their wives rather than up and down our street, our neighbourhood pub will be known for it’s good beer and honest conversation and everyone will take ownership over their thoughts and actions.  No one will feel shame over their God-given sexuality.  As we get free from our own addictions to self-comfort and escape, and when we give love freely in our families and communities, we are a sign that the new world is already on her way.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see the image of God in us all.
For some incredible resources on recovery and addiction visit The National Association for Christian Recovery.  

... this was orginally a guest post for D.L. Mayfield at her awesome blog - check her out!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Syria: memories and imagination

In April 2002 I spent a few days in Syria.  It was part of the semester abroad program I was doing in my second year of college, based mostly in Cairo, Egypt but with short trips to Lebanon, Israel/Palestine and then a three week excursion by land from Cairo to Istanbul, Turkey via Jordan and Syria.  I spent a few days in Damascus, staying in a monastery and exploring the immensely beautiful streets of that city - where you could knock on a door in the wall of the old city and then be immediately invited in, where street vendors with greying hair and wise faces joked that we were Egyptians because of our accents, where we had a lecture followed by dinner and dancing with young Syrian musicians.  It hurts to even begin wondering where those people are now.  On our way up to Aleppo we stopped at the oldest church building in the world, built into a mountainside in an Aramaic speaking village.  Then we had the incredible experience of visiting the extended family of one of the students in our program - Bethany's father was Syrian and almost all of his family still lived in a village there, although he had spent his adult life in the US.  When Bethany arrived - their American granddaughter and niece, there was so much weeping and laughing and hugging and kissing - a sacred place to bear witness to family in the quiet green of village life and apricot trees.  They set a massive meal before us and we sat on the floor laughing, feasting and drinking tea enjoying all the beauty of their lives.  It was a moment of sacrificial hospitality that marked me.  In May, Bethany's Syrian family had their homes destroyed and were forced to flee to neighbouring Lebanon as refugees.  They are doing alright there, she says, there are marriages and babies, they are a resilient people taking it one day at a time.

Bethany's Aunt and Uncle in more peaceful days

That semester in the Middle East was my most intense experience of culture shock (my first time outside of the US) and community and worlds colliding in the most untidy of ways.  It's when my "personal relationship with Jesus" met  "Jesus died on the cross so that the United States would not have to drop bombs on Iraq", which met an understanding of God's love for people groups and nations like never before.  Everything that I had thought was only spiritual and future in God's kingdom was finding urgency in our present physical reality.  It's when rhetoric and ideology was dismantled slowly and painfully on many life levels and I was confused, disillusioned but so incredibly alive.  Studying Arabic, Islam and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict ripped my small-town Pennsylvania world wide open for me and I spent the next decade trying to live in the tension of so many questions: what does it mean to be a privileged American who is also a follower of the crucified Jesus?  What does it mean to be a good neighbour, a global neighbour?  What is really going on in the Middle East beyond what the media is telling us?  What voices are being ignored?  How do I stay connected to suffering people when my own life can be so easy sometimes?  These questions still burn in my heart.

I've had seasons of being extremely engaged and active, and  I've had seasons of tuning it all out and getting absorbed in my own stuff.  I've had moments of pregnant hope and long, long moments of despair.  I have, what one of my professors calls, "the luxury of irrelevance".  It's not my home that could be bombed at any moment, I'm not crossing international borders with my children in my arms and not much else.  I can very easily turn down the volume or unplug for a few days, even worse I can throw my hands up to fatalism and the gods and not engage because I feel hopeless and apathetic and scared. But when I open my heart up even a wee tiny bit to the suffering of families in Syria, (or Egypt, Palestine, Libya ...) I sense the tremendous grief of God, the divine pathos, the suffering of Jesus on the cross that continues as the children made in God's image suffer in these very moments.  And as a Christian I'm called to engage with God in that place of pain.

I believe that prayer matters, whether it's specific times of really engaging and interceding or it's just carrying a people on your heart throughout the day.  I think knowledge matters and as an American I care about the decisions my representatives make on my behalf, I acknowledge the blood on my hands as well with every drone and missile strike.  And I honestly believe that my capacity to imagine is extremely important.  Walter Brueggemann writes in The Prophetic Imagination,
How can we have enough freedom to imagine and articulate a real historical newness in our situation?  That is not to ask, as Israel's prophets ever asked, if this freedom is realistic or politically practical or economically viable.  To begin with such questions is to concede everything to the royal consciousness even before we begin.  We nee to ask not whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable.  We need to ask if our consciousness and imagination have been so assaulted and co-opted by the royal consciousness that we have been robbed of the courage or power to think an alternative thought.  
I want to take back my imagination and let God lead me to think the thoughts of someone who has been born into the new creation.  I want to hold on to those words in Scripture that make no sense, that seem like they are impossible or worse, impractical, and write them on my walls and tell them to my children.  I want to raise children who can see the evils of war and violence and can think in ways about conflict that I probably never will.  And just like I grew up pledging my allegiance daily to the American flag, I now pledge my allegiance daily to the Lamb who was slain, who took upon himself all of the bombs and missiles and hatred, racism and greed that fuels this violence again and again.     

Here are a few good links to read.  Regardless of how we think or whether or not we pray, let's all carry our neighbours in Syria close to our hearts.

9 Questions About Syria You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask - Max Fisher @ The Washington Post

Syria: An Overview and A Call to Action - Joy @ Deeper Story

Greg Boyd's kingdom pacifist perspective on talking to Pres. Obama about Syria @

Why Italian Trappist Nuns aren't leaving Syria.

Sweden leads the way in welcoming Syrian refugees.

Read Mennonite Central Committee's call to end violence in Syria and send it on to your representatives.

Subscribe to 25 Days of Prayer for Syria @ SheLoves Magazine

In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills.  Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. ... He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, no longer shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.  For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.  (Micah 4: 1-5, NRSV)