The grief police

Reeling from the triple bombings in Brussels yesterday, some of my friends have projected the colors of the Belgian flag or written pleas for prayers for Belgium. Others have taken it upon themselves to judge those expressions of shock and grief by saying that they are biased and thus, flawed. Citing the multiple loci of international terror, they search articles, the meme-o-sphere and blogosphere for graphics and pointed prose that aims to correct the presupposed racial and cultural bias.

Police

The trouble is, the presupposition is both erroneous and proud. And as such, it will be ignored or have the opposite effect than what was intended, because it will only annoy people.

Here’s why:

  1. Identification. If people see themselves as closer related to Belgians than Turks, Arabs or Africans, it’s because they are closer related. This is not bias, it’s ethnicity. And cultural affinity. If the pictures of the bloodied women in the Brussels subway connect to westerners more than those of women wearing hajibs or African women, it’s because that scene and those people look and dress like us. That will always be true. Turks, however, will naturally connect more with suffering people who look and dress like them. It’s not bias, it’s cultural and ethnic relationship.
  2. Historical affinity. The allies, America, Britain, Canada and others, fought and defeated the Nazis 72 years ago in Belgium. Belgium was a founding member of NATO. That matters, because the spirit of that alliance was that an attack on any of its members was an attack on them all. Turkey joined later which constitutes no second-class membership, but the link between the West and Turkey has never been like that among the European NATO members. No bias but affinity.
  3. Proximity. “If it can happen there, it can happen here” – said by Europeans or Americans – is more true referring to Belgium than to Africa or Turkey or other Middle Eastern states. Part of this is the nature of bordering nations in each case, part of it is form of governance another part is patterns of people movement. It may be inconvenient that the demographics of those practicing terror are Muslim and from Arab lands. And is tragic to use those demographics too loosely and ban all people whom they describe. Furthermore, I’m making no assumption that a terror incident in a nation that has lots of people who fit those traits is somehow less tragic or traumatic. But it is the case that terror done to nations further away has muffled implications compared to those closer. So, the outpouring is less. And those who would ban people movement to keep the problem away gain fuel. But for those who mourn, again, no bias, just proximity.

Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Jesus spoke these words during his introduction – the beatitudes – to the Sermon on the Mount. The mourning is not only the common sorrow of loss but a deeper grief over the state of humankind. That kind of mourning cannot be practiced with bias, because it starts with my own sin and depravity. And really, I’m the only one I can let God work on. And I must surrender the conviction of wrongdoing to the Holy Spirit, who is VERY good at it. I mean that I make a lousy Holy Spirit.

When we project bias or any presumed internal attitude or disposition on others, we are attempting to do a job we don’t have the equipment to do.

Let people mourn. Deeply. As they will. It’s actually a very constructive practice in the end.

 

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The prison called “I can’t”

There are those reading this that don’t believe in God. And those who believe in God but are suspicious of anyone claiming a personal encounter or even communication with God. I acknowledge and grant you the right to believe what you will, but ask you to grant me the same. And to suspend your beliefs long enough to read this story because it might well be for you.

In the early 90s, God gave me a dream as I slept. I know it was God because of the nature of the dream and the communication afterwards.

It was an intense, vivid dream of a little boy. He was only 4 years old or so, just learning how to draw.

And he took all his best crayons, and with all the love and hope in his young heart, he drew a wonderful, beautiful picture of his house, his family and all the trees flowers all around. In the dream I wasn’t just watching him do this like someone looking over the shoulder of a child and saying “Isn’t that cute”.  No, I was feeling his emotions as he drew. And they were absolutely beautiful.

When he was done, he was so proud of it, and it was so much a part of his young creativity that he took it to his mother to show her.

He had no way of knowing, but it was bad timing and she was not in good health emotionally.

Out of her own pain and hurt, she took her son’s beautiful picture, ripped it up into little pieces and said “that’s a piece of garbage”

God let me enter his little heart to feel how it broke, absolutely devastated that something he thought was so beautiful could be cast off as ugly and shameful.

And I woke up in horror, devastated, and asked God – “Where is that boy now? You’ve GOT to tell me” Because it wasn’t just a dream. It was the story of someone’s life.

In my spirit, I heard God say “He’s in prison. A prison called “I can’t””

I told the dream to 2 groups of people shortly after that – at MCI Shirley to a group of inmates and at church. In both cases, multiple people came up later and said that little boy was them. If not verbatim, then thematically.

So I said 2 things to them:

  1. That drawing was VERY GOOD and you have vital gifts that you have put away in shame.
  2. You’ve been in a prison of lies but today you’re going free.

 

“Saving Mr. Banks” and traumatic echo – hunger for a happier ending

I’m probably going to own Saving Mr. Banks, the story-behind-the-story of Walt Disney’s making of the movie based on her story Mary Poppins.

Using the old but effective present-to-past flashback technique, the story of author P.L. Travers‘ (née Helen Lyndon Goff) childhood is projected into the story of her masterpiece.   Disney had promised his family that he would make the story into a movie and doing so proved an adventure of persuasion to the point of sacrifice.  But the film was made.

The interplay of the songwriting brothers Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman and Travers was very well portrayed, with their liberties with the story and the songs being written presented very tenuously, and withdrawn at the first whim of Travers’ objection.  But by the end, Travers was delighting in the joy of the compositions and the fit into her story.

I don’t know how real the story of Travers’ childhood being superimposed into Mary Poppins is.  I do care, but I care more about the power of redemption afforded by it.

In Saving Mr. Banks Travers’ father, Travers Goff, struggled as a worker at a bank and struggled worse with alcohol, slipping into depression and dying when she was still a girl in Australia.  He was unhappy with seemingly everything except being her father.  And she knew his love, but was tortured by his destruction.  The character of Mr. Banks is seen as an obvious portrayal of her father and his pain in trying to be a professional banker is a key target of the “ministry” of Mary Poppins in the story.

The echo is loud and clear.

I recommend watching the movie; I intend to again and again.

A repeating pattern in my ministry and personal life is the echoes of past trauma that keep getting replayed and replayed.  I believe it’s universal, though clearly some have a worse problem here than others.

I’ve sought for a reason that I (and others) do this.  I believe it’s because I want to “get it right” this time; I want the story to have a happy ending.  Of course it does not, at least in my memory, recalling the trauma or shame or pain of the past.

But Walt Disney pulls off a good ending for Travers.  The scene where she sings along with Lets Go Fly A Kite is a view of real healing.

There is redemption.  There is a different ending.  And we can have it today.

Stories abound with endings like this; we love them because we need them.  One I love is the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis.  The analogous scene of redemption in that story happens after Joseph’s father, Jacob, has died and his brothers now fear for their lives because of the horrible way they treated Joseph, selling him into slavery years ago.  But he says this and their is deep healing:

Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

So for me, the challenge is to see good being accomplished in the evil intentions, words and deeds of people and even in circumstances I consider painful.  That”s how to resolve traumatic echo.  And it’s seen in God’s good purpose which is thankfully not thwarted by anything.