There’s a post I’ve been planning for a several weeks now. It was the original idea that spawned the Prom Queens and Cheerleaders, and was put aside as a follow up to that post, a way to put into practice what was being preached, a way to begin even in a small way to rewrite that narrative. It was going to be a simple post of affirmation, a praise to those women whose strengths and talents and hearts have, instead of provoking deep feelings of insecurity, made me love them even more and inspired me to be better.
That was the plan. And I’ve tried to write it many times, but I haven’t been able to get past the first paragraph. My mind, and heart, hasn’t been able to stay there.
I haven’t been able to write something happy and light and affirming because my heart is aching and weighted. Because I am sad, angry, frustrated and sick with the pain of the world.
I can’t write that post yet…
Because the last few weeks, the atrocities of the terrorist group ISIS have been replaying over and over again gaining more and more international attention. Reports of men, women, children, religious minorities, and my own brothers and sisters in Christ, shot, sold, beheaded, and crucified at the hands of evil men.
Because Christians, who have been marked for death, are leaving all that is familiar so that they would not be forced to choose between death and conversion.
Because thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes, for fear of execution at the hands of ISIS, only to flee to a mountain where death from heat, hunger and exposure were almost just as likely.
Because all the while these people are mourning friends and families and neighbors who did not make it to the mountain because they had already been killed or sold like human cattle.
And now, even as we watch in relief as thousands make it out, we know there are still many trapped, too weak, or too sick, or too old to make the journey.
And I have found it difficult to write with the thought of scared young girls kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery, the thought of wives seeing their husbands executed, the thought of parents seeing their children murdered, the thought of people watching their friends and family die on a mountain because they have nowhere else to go.
I think of that fear, that hurt, that loneliness, that uncertainty and I can’t sleep for want of justice.
I can’t write that post yet because almost two weeks ago Mike Brown was shot and killed in the middle of the street, his body left exposed to a traumatized community for 4 hours. And no, I don’t know what happened, I don’t know who started what.
But I do know that his mother didn’t sleep that night. I do know that her son is dead, and there is nothing she can do.
I do know his life mattered, and I am grieved by so many people who think that it didn’t.
I am not interested in blood-thirsty cries for the officer’s head on a platter that suspend due process and justice. I am also not interested in whether Mike Brown smoked weed or shop-lifted, or was college-bound or a high school dropout. I do care that justice is sought with clarity and transparency.
I can’t write that post yet because I have watched livestreams for the past 10 days of protests. I have seen looters bring businesses to the ground and police offers bring peaceful protestors to their knees. I have seen tear gas shot into people’s lawns, bruises from rubber bullets, reporters threatened and arrested without explanation. I have heard angry voices crying out for blood and vengeance, but also many voices desperately crying out for justice and answers.
I am sick because, while I don’t know what caused the shooting, I have seen Christians rally behind the cop with as much a lack of facts as those who have already decided that he is guilty. I have seen, more clearly then I have ever seen, the thinly-veiled, and sometimes not veiled, vein of racism that runs through the rhetoric and ideology of so many people that claim to love Jesus. I have read and heard words that have made my blood boil with rage, and I think, maybe, that rage is a good thing.
I am finding more and more that unrest is not a bad thing. I am learning to listen, and take seriously, when people share stories and experiences that do not reflect my own, and to question whether or not I make my experience, as a White woman, normative for everyone.
Unrest is not such a bad thing.
I can’t write that post yet because Robin Williams committed suicide. And people can complain and rant because he happened to be a well-loved celebrity and how he wasn’t the first to die of suicide or suffer from depression, and how not everyone who suffers in the same way gets this kind of attention. But I think that’s a silly derailment.
Because a man suffering from depression, felt he had to choose between a life of unbearable sadness and pain, or death, leaving behind a mourning family that loved him dearly. And that should make us pause. That should make, some part of us, ache. That should make us hurt even for just a moment. It should not make us jump to conclusions, accusations, blaming and shaming, which serves so little except to silence even further those struggling secretly in the way Williams did.
I was filled with sadness for this man, sadness for those who I know who have been impacted deeply by suicide and mental illness, and anger at those with platforms who spoke of it in such ungracious and uninformed ways.
I remember, being shocked by the impact of his death on me. And several days later, I still am.
I broke yesterday afternoon with the news that journalist James Foley, kidnapped in 2012 by terrorists, was brutally executed by ISIS.
With so many deaths around the world at the hands of injustice and oppression, I don’t know why this was the one that made me cry for ten hours yesterday. But it did.
I didn’t know him, and I wasn’t even hugely invested in the story. I was familiar with it and knew the name, but I was largely unfamiliar with his work as a journalist. So I am by no means trying to pass myself off as some freedom fighter or make it appear that I could even begin to understand the grief of those who knew him and loved him, even if it was just through his work or the work of tirelessly fighting for his freedom.
But all the same, when I heard what was done to him and when I knew of the pictures and video being posted wantonly and voyeuristically I felt so much rage, anger, sadness and despair that I couldn’t breathe. Through my tears, in my hurt and rage, I went twitter and reported every picture and video posted that gloried in the death, filing abuse report after abuse report, probably to no avail. But it was all I could do.
After that, I just cried. And then I stopped. And then I cried again, and again. I cried because even the non graphic photos of Foley that appeared on mainstream news station and news feeds, depicting him seconds before his death, were burned into my brain, and I couldn’t stop seeing it. I couldn’t stop imagining what those moments were like, what he was thinking, knowing his executioner was inches away. I couldn’t get my brain to stop picturing his face and wonder if he was scared, if he was resigned, if he was lonely, if he was tired, if he was hungry, if he was thinking about someone.
I thought with vengeful rage how I wanted someone to march in and kill every last member of ISIS. And then I cried again because Foley was still dead.
I didn’t sleep well last night because all I could think about was his family, who had wondered and feared for him for two years. I wondered if that excruciating not knowing was preferred to the knowing. I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about how they weren’t sleeping. How their lives were changed forever but the world spins on.
The infuriating injustice, and unfairness of it all, chocked my spirit yesterday. It made me pull my car over on my way home from work to cry, yell, swear and pray. Because there was nothing else I could do. And that made me angry too.
I am, generally, optimistic, filled with hope and belief and trust for people. But yesterday, I couldn’t be that person because of all of this. Even up until yesterday, with all that lead up to that moment, I had planned on writing that first post sometime this week. But yesterday made me put it off once again because I couldn’t write a post like that through tears of sadness and anger.
Luckily, I had people with me who were taking care of me. A friend who works for CPS, who deals with evil on a daily basis, reminding me to step away when I need to, a friend whose job consists so much of helping sick children die well on a daily basis reminded me that passion is good and apathy in the face of these things is evil, but that I can’t carry that weight with me all the time, a boyfriend, who I was supposed to be celebrating a one year anniversary with yesterday, patiently listened while I sobbed on the phone and tried to make sense of what I was feeling. They all helped me not to ignore the significance of the feeling, but also not to let it become my focus.
But I do think we need days like this. But that can’t become our lives. I didn’t even try and take on these problems, above my attempt to spread ground reports from reports actually on scene at Ferguson, all I did was sit, look at them, acknowledge them and not turn away. I prayed, I prayed as hard as I could, but even then I felt so helpless in the face of it all.
But all I did was sit with those hurts and injustices and felt them. And for many people, that is not a luxury they can always afford. For those who are on the battle field, working to right these wrongs on a daily basis, they don’t have that luxury. For my friend who works for CPS, and the one who works with dying and sick children, and the one in Africa fighting for the rights of widows and orphans, to sit and concern themselves with the problems going on everywhere else would not be healthy.
But I don’t think those days are useless either. I think there is something to be said for acknowledging those stories and not turning away, bearing witness to atrocity and letting in the weight of it. Not for the purposes of ruining your day, or making yourself feel guilty, or getting caught up in the drama of a “cause”, but just for the purpose of facing, of knowing, of looking at evidence that our world is desperately broken and longing for restoration.
I felt helpless in the face of it all yesterday, and that didn’t mean I have given up on the world, or the people in it, or God’s redemptive work to restore His creation and my place in that work. It just meant that all I could do was sigh and cry out, “Christ have mercy.”
Those days don’t do anything if left on their own, but if used for the purposes of change, of motivating you to help bring peace to the places you are at, they can make all the difference. Facing huge injustices that I may not be able to touch at this place in my life, reminds me of the small ones that I can touch. That oppression that seem so evil I can’t even fathom a human being responsible for it, beats at my heart until it is raw and can no longer ignore the “smaller” pricks of injustice that may be right in front of me. Facing those injustices also make me consider and wrestle with how I may be complicit with them.
These days make me yearn for the time when swords are hammered into ploughshares. But, until that day, I want to continue to engage the hurt of the world, to be neither overwhelmed by it or numb to it, able to be more than someone who merely “comment on the darkness” (Pastor Jonathan Martin) and to be someone who actually speaks life into those broken moments, healing through words, actions, solidarity, support, and advocating.
I can listen to stories that are not mine, learn from walks in life that are different, listen to my brothers and sisters in Christ who have a different experience then me and take their concerns, their plights and their struggles seriously, even if I do not personally share them.
It’s a small thing, but it’s a thing I can do. It’s how I can engage in the upside-down Kingdom of God, where the proud are humbled, and the captive set free. It’s a long, hard, process filled with tears and days like the one I had yesterday, but we are doing it, we are, slowly but surely, pushing back against the darkness.