Friday Diary: Forgetting Ferguson

Friday Journal

“Every time in history that men and women have been able to respond to the events of their world as an occasion to change their hearts, an inexhaustible source of generosity and new life has been opened, offering hope far beyond the limits of human prediction.” Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

I said to a friend, “in six months, when the cameras roll out of Ferguson and the news coverage shifts to some other world injustice, I’m afraid we’ll forget.” It was a very white, middle-class American thing to say, the words of one who owns a small but lush one acre homestead boasting peonies, hazelnut trees, and an ample garden.The stalks of corn and maples are the only things always reaching for the sky here, and police brutality is a non-notion.

Forgotten, I said, and the stark contrast of the word against the images I’ve seen in the recent Ferguson news coverage left me embarrassed. I consider the police playing Afghanistan dress-up, firing teargas canisters and rubber bullets into a crowd. I consider the images of women flushing their eyes with milk. I consider the images of hurled molotov cocktails. How can such a thing be unremembered? How can such a thing be reduced to a footnote in the collective consciousness of country, much less in my own life?

The stark reality is this: forgetting such a thing is the luxury of those living a life of convenient short-term memory.

I don’t want to forget Ferguson. I want it to be an etched memory, one which leads me to keep my ears to the ground. I want to keep listening to those living a wholly different American experience, and to show generosity in understanding their particular reality. And yes, I used the word “reality.”

I’m not quite sure how the remembering will look, but I hope it gives rise to an “inexhaustible source of generosity.” Maybe if enough of us remember, we can work together toward creating a better, more generous reality. Maybe that’s romantic idealism, but some ideals are worth chasing.

I’m just a middle-class white fella in Northwest Arkansas. I’m not a frontline journalist or an urban dweller. I’m not a policy maker or pundit, not a historian or history-maker. I’m just a normal joe, and I’m promising not to forget the folks of Ferguson.

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A Few Good Weekend Links:

1. “When Going There Means Going There,” by Deidra Riggs;

2. “Because it’s not #Ferguson. It’s Ferguson.” Preston Yancey, “When We Go Quietly?“;

3. “Don’t let me bury my son alone. I don’t want the cameras, reporters, bloggers there. No tweets required. But friends – come.” Kelley Nikondeha, “The Scars of Our Sons“;

4. “I once read of a sort of euphoria that overtakes the body in drowning.”  On Rest and Stillness, by Guy Martin Delcambre.

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Scriptural Imagination and Ferguson (Part III)

In light of the Ferguson protests,  I’ve been exercising “scriptural imagination,” and reading the words of Jesus with fresh eyes. (Follow this link to read the entire series). Yesterday I examined Matthew 7:1-23. Today, I’m taking a fresh look at Matthew 7:24-29.

Follow the hashtag #ScripturalImagination on Twitter for more renderings, and feel free to add some of your own.

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Matthew 7:24-29

The Two Foundations

Jesus drove the point home. “Everyone who hears and acts on my hard teachings—the teachings on secret prayer, mindful action, bearing the sorrows of others, and bearing peace—is like a wise person who builds their house on the high ridge of reconciliation outside the flood zones of violence. The rain of terror and violence may fall, the floods of oppression may breach the sandbag wall, and the winds of propaganda may blow and slam against that house to the point of great fear; and yet the house will hold strong. It will not fall, for it has been founded on the rock of a correct and active faith. It has been founded on the rock of my teachings.

“But what about those who hear these words of Mine and does not act on them, who opts instead for violent revolution, the terrifying teargas oppression, or who otherwise seek glory through contrived and false reconciliation? Or what about those who see a ‘good crisis’ and act in self-interest, self-righteousness, or self-indignation? They will be like foolish men who built a high-rise apartment complex at the lowest point in the flood zone. The rains of terror will fall. The floods of fear and oppression will come. The winds of propaganda will blow and slam against the building, and because the high-rise was built on an incorrect faith, it will fall. And its fall will be loud and raucous, and it will be broadcast on CNN for all the world to see.”

When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their politicians and pundits.

 

*Photo by Debra Sweet, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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Scriptural Imagination and Ferguson (Part II)

In light of the Ferguson protests,  I’ve been exercising “scriptural imagination,” and reading the words of Jesus with fresh eyes. (Link to the series). Yesterday I examined Matthew 7:1-6. Today, I’m taking a fresh look at Matthew 7:7-23.

Follow the hashtag #ScripturalImagination on Twitter for more renderings, and feel free to add some of your own.

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Matthew 7:7-23

The Narrow and Wide Gates

“You’ll have to put down your weapons, crawl out of your MRAPs and tanks, perhaps lay aside your possessions, prejudices, and maybe even your picket signs to enter through the narrow gate. The gate wide enough to accommodate all the artillery, television trucks, helicopters, militia members, gangs, provocateurs, and even well-meaning activists, empties onto a violent and wide road that leads only to war and death. Too many well-meaning men follow the masses through that gate to their peril.

“The gate of peace and reconciliation is a very slim—in fact, it’s a super-tight fit—and only the smallest empty-handed children can fit through it. It takes great imagination to find this narrow gate. Stop walking with the masses. Strip naked! Get on your hands and knees, and search for the small entrance that leads to life and peace.”

A Tree and its Fruit

“Beware of the provocateurs, anarchists, and activists looking to make a big name on a legitimate crisis; they seem to take the side of peace and reconciliation (have you heard the term ‘sheep’s clothing?’), but they only fight for their own agendas. You will know them by their hate-filled backpacks, how they hide within the crowd and pitch bombs over your heads at the police. Their weapons of warfare belie their intentions.

“Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor strawberries from AR-15 assembly lines, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears the fruit of anarchy and violence.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a factory of warfare cannot produce organic, farm-raised, homegrown tomatoes (the kind you ate straight from the vine as a child; remember those?). The truth is, sooner or later these factories of violence and the societies that build them will go into the fire, just like every sick tree that bears rotten fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“Look closely; do you see it? You will know the reconciling children of God by their fruits.

“And one more thing: not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ cares about the kingdom of heaven. (Not really.) But he who does the will of a peaceful and reconciling God? He will enter the good and eternal kingdom. Many will say they belong in the kingdom, will say ‘Jesus, did we not enforce law-in order in your name?’ or ‘did we not bring peace to a riotous, raucous crowd?’ or ‘did we not picket and protest for justice in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘You did all of this for your own gain, which is its own sort of lawlessness. Did you take off your riot gear and join the protestors? Did you lay down your picket sign and talk with the police? Or did you just engage in a war of words? Get out of here. I never knew you.’”

*Photo by Craig Dietrich, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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Scriptural Imagination and Ferguson

In light of current affairs, namely the Ferguson protests, I’ve been reading the words of Jesus with fresh imagination. His teachings seem more and more relevant with each passing day of protesting, and so, I thought that perhaps it’d be a good time to recast the teachings of Jesus into the modern context.

Today, and every day this week, I’ll be exercising my scriptural imagination, will be recasting Matthew 7. I’d like you to engage your own scriptural imagination, to begin the process of apply specific passages to the world around you. Also, follow the hashtag #ScripturalImagination on Twitter for more renderings, and feel free to add some of your own.

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Matthew 7:1-6

Judging Others

Jesus said, “do not curse the ignorance of others unless you want your ample ignorance exposed and judged. For in the way you condemn others and wish for their damnation, you will be condemned. And the standard you use to judge ignorance will be used against you. Consider the implications of that.

And why do you look at the Molotov cocktail that is in your brother’s hand, but do not notice the AR-15 that is in your own? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the rock, the cocktail, or the picket signs out of your hand,’ and you haphazardly spray rubber bullets across the crowd? You hypocrite, first lay down your guns, your teargas, your tactical gear, and your PR campaigns and then you will see the path of reconciliation.

“Do not Tweet righteous indignation to the racists, prejudiced dogs, or even to the indifferent. Do not throw your wisdom before the enlightened swine of the twenty-four hour news cycle. Do not engage the bully-pulpit. They will waste your time attempting to make your wisdom appear foolish. They have boots made only for walking on you, and that’s just what they’ll do.

Prayer and the Golden Rule

If you really want reconciliation and not just a war of words, pray and it will be given to you; seek peace and an end to violence, and you will find it; knock on the doors of the oppressed and be ready to listen when they let you in. Those who pray in earnest for reconciliation receive it, and those who seek peace find it, and to those who knock with a willingness to listen, doors will be opened.

“Let me ask you this: when your son asks for supper, will you give him homemade bombs and loaded sawed-off shotguns? Or, when a child asks for toast and eggs, will a father give him riot gear and a gang-load of submachine guns? If you know how to give good, sustaining, and nourishing gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give what is good to those who ask!

“In everything, therefore, treat all people—the violent, the peaceful, the ignorant, the wise, the prejudiced, and the enlightened—with the patience and thoughtfulness with which you want to be treated. Try to emulate your Father, God. This is what the Law and the Prophets were all about.”

*photo by Shawn Semmler, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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On 6 Steps Through Cynicism (And a Book Birthday)

“Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” ― George Carlin

“Day by day, I’m leaning into it, being reignited by a personal revival. And by the grace of God, I just might see a full recovery from cynicism after all.” –Nish Weiseth, Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World. photo (2) We come weeping through the birth canal full of wonder, and grow into that wonder with tactile experience–the feel of the velvet blanky, the taste of the summer-ripe strawberry, the slimy lick of the puppy’s tongue. We grow, also, into the belief of taught ideals. “Jesus was a good man, a God-man,” they say, and so we believe. “The church is your family,” they say, and so we believe.

The experiences and ideals of our youth shape us. And though some things seem ever-true–the sweetness of the summer-ripe strawberry, for instance–other things seem to lose their luster. This, I think, is how cynics are born.

Allow me to walk you through the steps of cynicism.

1. Begin With a Grand Ideal

I bought the most youthful expression of Christianity, one accompanied by Kool-Aid, edible Goldfish, and the idealistic felt-board Jesus. Jesus gave me loaves and fishes (Goldfishes to be exact), and came to heal me of every disease. Jesus was my friend.

2. Learn Every Nuance of the Ideal

Idealistic Jesus was the perfect God-man, one who healed the sick, fed the poor, and advocated for the downtrodden. He was not so much above-the-fray as below it, he working up from society’s bottom. Friend of sinners, they called him. In fact, his friendship was so fierce that he died on the cross, rose again, and sent his Holy Spirit to indwell me.

Ah, the indwelling.

It is the indwelling that made it possible for me to be just like Jesus himself. They told me this with one caveat–you can be like Jesus if your belief is fierce enough.

3. Compare the Ideal to the Teachers of the Ideal

Jesus, poor and itinerant, was propped up by the teachers, who seemed to be less poor and less itinerant. In fact, they skewed the ideal, lived lives that proclaimed Security-Jesus, the Jesus that gave eternal life and a decent shot at an early retirement. He died to make them less poor and less itinerant, it seemed.

A preacher came to me, said (at least ’round about), “one day you’ll understand how important this building campaign is to Jesus. If we preach safe messages to secure donations, he’ll understand.”

4. Embrace the New Ideal or Become a Cynic

When the ideal was co-opted by a wholly different message (i.e., “Jesus friend of the poor,” become “Jesus the master mega-church builder”) I was left with two options. First, I could embrace the new ideal regardless of all internal angst and discomfort. Alternatively, I could choose to become cynical of the former ideal.

See how impossible a thing it is to actually be like Jesus, I said.

5. Hate the Ideal

When I realized the impossibility of Idealistic Jesus, I began to see hypocrisy everywhere–the faith-healer who was dying of cancer; the celibate priest who piddled around; the minister who refused to marry the woman impregnated out of wedlock. These things were askew with the espoused ideal, and so, in a sort of transference, I associated hypocrisy with an ideal that seemed a lie. And this is where the hate set in.

Hypocrite hating is an easy thing when I adopted the role of victim.

6. The Way Out

The way out is simple, but it’s not easy. The ideal is real–Jesus friend of sinners; Jesus the poor; Jesus the itinerant; Jesus working up from the bottom. I heard this story fresh, and believed. Then I set to looking less at the hypocrites and more to the true ideal carriers. I looked to the believers struggling for faith in the far east, or the ones being persecuted for the ideal in the Middle East. I looked more to the factory worker, or the businessman choosing morning prayers at his office. I chose to look at the housewife who instilled small virtues in her pre-schoolers.

I chose, too, to see the ideal in creation, in the coming spring and the turning fall. I found the ideal again in the taste of the summer-ripe strawberry. I believed the creative, age-old ideal of the genesis of things.

The way out of cynicism begins with a re-birth into fresh eyes–eyes that look with wonder on the ideal and bounce from the hypocritical co-optors.

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The details of my story would take too many words to write here. These are the sketches. But the truth is, my process does not exist in a vacuum. In fact, others have written better words about the topic. This being so, might I suggest a book?

Today, Nish Weiseth releases her book, Speak:How Your Story Can Change the World. In Speak, Nish devotes a chapter to her fall into cynicism, and how she found the way out. She writes:

“I haven’t always loved the church. In fact, I hated it for a good while. I know ‘hate’ sounds harsh, but when your heart gets racked by bitterness, cynicism, and anger, ‘hate’ is probably the best word for how it feels.”

If the story stopped there, it’d be tragic. But it doesn’t.

Nish pulled out of church cynicism with the help of stories from a few friends, and she’s written parts of this story in Speak. It’s poignant, and evidences how the stories of friends, how the power of a timely word can move one from the cynicism that kills into the fresh re-birth of the ideal.

But Speak isn’t just a story of rebirth; it’s a book about the power of stories, how stories can change things. Nish writes from personal experience, yes, but she also delves into the stories of others, offers proof that there is power in the collection of our experiences. She shares how the power of these collective experiences change individual lives, how those individual lives change societies, and how those changed societies change the world.

It is true: stories change things. No one knows that better than Nish. So today, as you ponder your own story, perhaps your own shedding of cynical skin, would you consider picking up a copy of Speak? You’ll be glad you did.

(For more on Speak, visit Preston Yancey’s site. He makes a startling confession: “I wish I wrote you this book.”)

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© Copyright - Seth Haines