Who’s Life Is It?

Filed under:children, faith, life, violence — posted by Sonja on January 30, 2012 @ 5:37 pm

So one night a couple months ago a friend asked me this question: “You have have been pregnant and had kids. At what point during your pregnancies were the children you carried your children? I mean, when did you consider them life? (not trying to start an argument, just trying to understand is all)”

She asked me in a chat window and made reference to something I posted on FaceBook concerning the beginning of life.  I am ashamed to say that I did not answer her right away and I went off-line.  It was not the kind of question I felt I could answer in a chat window.  I wanted to take my time working through a lot of angry thoughts I was having about the state of affairs in our country concerning women, pregnancy and the beginning of life right now.  I did not want to dump those on to my friend.  I needed to let the question percolate and I wanted to write about my thoughts more fully here.

My friend is correct, as all of you know, I have two children (the LightChildren).  But I’ve had four pregnancies.  Two pregnancies ended as live births and two ended as abortions.  One abortion was caused by medical professionals, one was caused by nature’s capriciousness.  Both of those pregnancies ended at about the same point – between 9 and 10 weeks.  You see, a miscarriage is medically classified as an “abortion.”  I didn’t know that until I read my chart in the emergency room.  I grieved after both pregnancies ended.  I was sad.  I was much sadder after the second (a planned pregnancy) than after the first (unplanned).  After the second I also felt a crushing sense of guilt because the thought occurred to me that the justice of a God who required an eye for an eye might have taken the second pregnancy in payment for the first.  I now recognize that this is not true.

So I began to think (after my friend posed her question) what was it that I was grieving?  Why was I sad at the end of those pregnancies?  When did I feel that my children’s lives began?

My best answer to that is … I don’t know when I actually considered my children to be alive and embodied with who they are (their soul, for lack of a better term).  It might have been when I first felt them move.  I know that when those two pregnancies ended I was not grieving actual people.  I was grieving dreams, potentials, wishes and hopes.  Far more were shattered when the second one ended capriciously than when the first ended as a planned event.  But even though I and LightHusband knew that first pregnancy had to end (for reasons far too complex to write about here), it was not something we did lightly or without sober thought.  Given the circumstances surrounding that pregnancy and the context we were in, I believe I would do it again.  My sense of loss and failure were the tightly woven warp amongst the weft of self-preservation, ability, and meeting expectations.

I know that for every reason given by every mother who makes that Hobbesian choice, there is a person out there who can counter with a Tebow like story of transcendent victory over obstacles with God’s grace or the assistance of some other natural intervention.  Yet there are an equal number of stories of children born into oblivion.  Mothers who have multiple children in their teens, but only one (if any) is given up for adoption.  The cycle of poverty, ignorance and misery is visited upon another generation.  For them the American dream is a nightmare of squalor, dependence, and terrible options.

We sit at a crossroads in our country right now.  No one is comfortable here and a lot of vitriol is being thrown around in attempts to regain comfort levels and upper hands.  People who support the right of a woman to be in control of her body and pregnancies are called by various factions, “Pro-choice” and “Pro-abortion.”  People who support the right of the fetus to exist to the limits of it’s potential are called variously, “Pro-life” and “Pro-fetus” or “Anti-Choice”.  The problem is that none of those labels are adequate.  People who support the right of a woman to be in control of her body are not running around promoting abortion (despite what anyone says).  I have yet to meet a single person who thinks it’s even a mediocre idea; it’s not a choice that anyone wants.  Believe me.  So saying that one is in favor of a choice you never want to make is like saying you love blood ice cream.  Gross.  What women are really saying is that they want freedom (and I’m going to get back to that in a minute).  On the flip side of the coin, those who support the existence of the fetus are not truly pro-life.  There are a few in that set of people who take on what might be called a consistent ethic of life positions (that is, they also reject war, death penalty, etc.) and thus are truly PRO-life.  However, most of the speaking on behalf of the fetus/baby has been just that … simply get the child born.  Once born (since the pro-life movement is primarily conservative) there is not very much support for it’s life after that should s/he be born into an impoverished family.

Boiled down, we have an impasse between mother and fetus.  What a terrible crossroads to be at … pitting mother against pre-child?  One set of people proposes that the mother’s rights are paramount.  The other side proposes that the fetuses rights are paramount.  Yet both sets of rights must inhabit the same body.  Both sets of rights (if we are going to grant rights to a fetus, and I am not certain that we should) may not be compatible with one another.

How have we gotten to this impasse?  Well, it’s been a twisty, windy road.  But I’ve lived through some of it.  So I’ll describe some of the view from my perspective.  Just as we’ve reached an impasse between mother and pre-child, we are also coming to an impasse between reason/science and faith.

Reason and science teach us many things about the pre-child.  But they cannot teach us when a child is given its soul; that breath of being that brings a sparkle to each of our eyes.  We know that a fetal monitor can find a heart beat at 8 weeks.  That at 12 weeks s/he is growing fingernails.  At 24 weeks a pre-child is considered “viable.”  Viable means that doctors and medical personnel can keep it alive outside the womb with costly medical equipment.  Whether or not the child will suffer permanent loss of different abilities (both physical and mental) as a result of these heroics seems to be capricious.  And when I looked up fetal development here is what I found for 25 weeks -

  • At 25 weeks pregnant, the structures of the spine begin to form — joints, ligaments and rings. These will protect the all important spinal cord which serves as the information transmitter for your child’s body.
  • Blood vessels of the lungs develop.
  • Your baby’s nostrils begin to open. There is a study out of Belfast that suggests babies at this stage have the capability of scent preferences!
  • The nerves around the mouth and lip area are showing more sensitivity now. When baby is rooting for food later on, these will be valuable!
  • His swallowing reflexes are developing at week 25 of your pregnancy.

Based on this, a baby born at 24 weeks would not have a spinal structure, nor blood vessels in the lungs and no swallowing reflexes!!  Getting a baby to survive under those circumstances is a miracle!  Some of them thrive.  But does a tiny baby born at 24 weeks have a soul?  Or is it a fetus outside the womb?  How would we know?

I have seen in the papers (read that on-line media) that politicians in various places want to introduce legislation that prohibit abortion … even in the case of incest and rape and even when the abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the mother.   I read those articles with a sense of awe and bewilderment.  Awe that someone could be so wed to their principle that they don’t see the human face on it.  Bewildered at the lack of understanding and the lack of nuance.  Somehow it doesn’t make sense to sacrifice the mother for the baby.  No, what doesn’t make sense is that the sacrifice would be codified into law.  There are some families who might choose that sacrifice, but it should never be forced on anyone.  Nor should the bearing of a child as the result of a rape or (worse) incest be forced on a woman or young girl.  Should she decide to make that sacrifice, wonderful!  Let’s embrace that and applaud it.  But don’t make it a law, molesting women a second time.

We, as a culture, are in a place where science has outstripped our ability to make decisions.  50 years ago, women very often didn’t know they were pregnant until enough time had passed that abortion was not even an option.  Now we have the ability to know within hours of conception.  The language we use surrounding pregnancy has become dystopian in many ways.  I believe this is an attempt to relieve some of the pressure that has built up around pregnancies and our choices concerning them.  What are the ethics of competing rights inhabiting one body?  How do we choose which rights are paramount?  Some would say faith points the way, others say science.  I think that both carry inherent flaws and strengths that need to be explored.  But that is for another post.  Hopefully later this week.

You Are What You Eat

Filed under:ain't nuthin can be done, anger, being jesus, education, faith, freedom, girls, grief, justice, life, violence, women in church — posted by Sonja on July 12, 2010 @ 8:05 am

The other day I wrote about a Barna survey that will be coming out with full documentation in about a year.  The posted statistics are quite provocative as I (and several other women) noted.  The data have raised a lot of criticism and left many women scratching their heads, thinking, “That’s not my experience, so how can those numbers be so high?”  It will be interesting to see the full report when Jim Henderson publishes his book next year.

FTR, I am still aghast that a man, without any co-authorship from a woman, is writing this book.  Upon reading Pam Hogeweide’s testimony about her involvement with it, I am further dismayed.  I don’t know Jim Henderson at all so I cannot comment on this.  I will speak my own mind and say that to me it feels as though he is stealing our voices for himself.  He has said that he is writing this because no woman has stepped forward to write it.  That may be.  It may also be that the time is not right for a woman to write it and therefore as a man he is taking away our right to speak for ourselves in our way, in our own time and with our own unique voice.  Que sera, sera …

I stopped writing about this issue for some time.  In fact, I stopped writing at all for a long time because I was and am undone by a lot of this.  I am struggling to find my place in the world; struggling to understand my faith without the trappings of church.  I don’t always know what is real and what is a reflection in a funhouse mirror.  But then I saw this data and began to remember …

I remembered a time when I might also have answered all those questions affirmatively.  Or in such a way that I might be part of the large percentage of women who were following the tail in front of them.  I grew up in an egalitarian home; a home in which my mother finally decided that she would NOT learn how to use a chainsaw because then she would have to use it more frequently than she wanted to because the boundaries between women’s work and men’s work were blurred (except dishes and laundry).  Everyone did everything.  I took shop classes in highschool.  My brothers took Home-Ec and I was jealous that my brother can still bake a better loaf of bread than I can.

Then LightHusband and I joined an EFree Church.  As a new believer I remember that I wanted to be like the other women in my church.  I think I wanted it mostly because that was the way to fit in and be part of the group.  But it was also the key … the key to being “Godly.”  In an evangelical or Bible-believing church, this is the defining characteristic of any adult … are they Godly?  I have no idea what that means.  What I can tell you is that people stand around looking very serious and hand out that superlative like it’s a crown.  It is placed on the head of this person or that person … it was never put on my head, I’ll tell you that up front.  Usually the character qualities that seem to be in common with a “Godly” person are those found in the fruits of the Spirit verses in Galatians:  self-control, patience, peace, etc.  They also have to be really good with their money (aka … rich).  Women should be submissive to their husbands.  Men should be the head of the family and make all the decisions.

I struggled to fit my round-peg into this square hole for 14 years.  I now battle an most likely lifelong case of depression because I so depleted myself from this.  I cannot even begin to catalogue the fallout from all of this in my life.  I’ve been gone for 7 years now.  I’m finally beginning to get my life and my mind back.  I have held on to my faith by the barest edge; the evidence of grace and love.

I did some poking around because of a throw-away comment in my earlier post.  I said that the Church is like an anorexic who looks in the mirror and sees someone who is fat and needs to lose weight, but the reality is she is wasting away and starving herself.  I thought about that some more and did a little research into eating disorders.  I found a little known cousin to anorexia called, orthorexia.  Orthorexia is like anorexia because people (mostly women) who become trapped in its snare waste away and starve.  However, the motivation for orthorexics is different.  It is an eating disorder characterized by a focus on eating healthy or natural foods.  The person who has become orthorexic feels better and better as they are able to purify their diet.  As it becomes an obsession, the person begins to focus more and more time and attention on what they eat.  I first discovered this through an on-line journal of a young woman who ultimately died as a result of her obsession with natural/healthy food.  As I discovered more about this, I found this helpful Ten Signs Of Orthorexia:

Dr. Bratman suggests that you may be orthorexic, or on your way there, if you:

  • Spend more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food.
  • Plan your day’s menu more than 24 hour ahead of time.
  • Take more pleasure from the “virtuous” aspect of your food than from actually eating it.
  • Find your quality of life decreasing as the “quality” of your food increases.
  • Are increasingly rigid and self-critical about your eating.
  • Base your self-esteem on eating “healthy” foods, and have a lower opinion of people who do not.
  • Eat “correct” foods to the avoidance of all those that you’ve always enjoyed.
  • So limit what you can eat that you can dine “correctly” only at home, spending less and less time with friends and family.
  • Feel guilt or self-loathing when you eat “incorrect” foods.
  • Derive a sense of self-control from eating “properly.”

Bratman suggests that if more than four of these descriptions applies to you, it may be time to take a step back and reassess your attitude toward what you eat. If they all apply, you’re in the grip of an obsession.

Now you’re probably wondering why I’ve included this here.  As I was reading about orthorexics and their quest for a pure diet, the parallels between seeking a pure and undefiled diet and seeking after a pure and undefiled faith became very clear to me.  They may not be to you.  But I began to look at the Church in terms of this obsession with pure food.  I think we all exist on a spectrum here.  Some believers have no issue with pure/right faith, others are obsessed with it to the point of starving themselves of any other sort of food than that which they deem pure.  Think about those 10 markers in terms of the faith of believers you know or about yourself -

  • Spend more than three hours a day thinking about a healthy faith
  • Plan your day’s faith practices more than 24 hour ahead of time.
  • Take more pleasure from the “virtuous” aspect of your faith than from actively participating in it.
  • Find your quality of life decreasing as the “quality” of your faith increases.
  • Are increasingly rigid and self-critical about your faith practices (and those of others).
  • Base your self-esteem on your knowledge of Scripture, your pure faith, etc., and have a lower opinion of people who do not.
  • Expose yourself to “correct” media to the avoidance of all those that you’ve always enjoyed.
  • So limit what you can be exposed to that you can practice your faith “correctly” only at home, spending less and less time with friends and family.
  • Feel guilt or self-loathing when you expose yourself to ideas, images, etc that are “incorrect” according to the tenets of your faith.
  • Derive a sense of self-control from practicing your faith “properly.”

So what does this have to do with women in church and/or church leadership? I’m not sure yet. But I do know that in many churches today there is an unhealthy focus on being “Godly,” on having correct doctrine, and on having a pure faith. For many of those churches, this includes attitudes about women and men that are not reflective of a healthy body. Some of these attitudes run to the extreme (such as a growing trend known as Christian Domestic Discipline, or another growing trend known sometimes as Quiverfull others as “radical family planning”).  Some of them are more middle of the road and merely separate men and women into different classes during Sunday School, women are not allowed to teach men either from the pulpit or in a class, etc.

No one can fault these churches or these believers because they really truly are seeking after God and seeking to find Him in the purest way they know how.  They get a lot of satisfaction from being a “Bible-believing” church, or having that crown of “Godliness” bestowed upon them.  And truth be told, we all get that sense of satisfaction when we’re told that we’re doing something good and pure and right.  It makes us want to be part of it and work harder for that cause … whatever that cause may be … so that we’ll get some more of that praise and that sense of satisfaction that comes from a job well done.  When we’re part of a group, that’s what happens in our socially-inclined brains.

But what do you do if your group is killing you?  I mean that both literally (sometimes women die from trying to have their babies unassisted at home in the so-called “Quiverfull” movement) and figuratively.  What if seeking after a pure faith (even walking in the middle of that road) isn’t an obsession, but just a concern … and the “food” you’ve decided is healthy, really isn’t?  How would anyone know?  How do you know when you’re being slowly inexhorably being poisoned and it’s gone on all your life?

We’re Cruising Now

Filed under:being jesus, faith, family, freedom, justice, life, politics, religion, violence, women — posted by Sonja on April 3, 2008 @ 7:38 am

My in-laws visited for a few days recently. They are snowbirds. That is, they spend several winter months in Florida in their motorhome and then return to Vermont for the remainder of the year. So they were visiting on their way back north. My mother-in-law (LightMIL) recently marked her 70th birthday, so we had a celebration with her while they were here.

We did this by taking her on a lunch cruise of the Potomac River to see the cherry blossoms.

at the lunch table

The boat docks at a pier in southwest DC. There’s only a very tiny little bit of DC that is southwest and this pier is in it. So is Fort McNair … the location of the National War College. It takes about an hour to get there from here, no matter how you cut it. We spent a fair portion of that hour in some heavy traffic going and coming. I entertain myself by reading bumperstickers and vanity plates when I’m in traffic. Especially here in the DC area, where I’m familiar with the surroundings (i.e. there’s not much interesting to look at).

I saw the usual number of intolerant bumper stickers. Things like “You can’t be both Catholic and Pro-life.” “Put the Christ back in Christmas.” “Man’s way leads to a hopeless end! God’s way leads to an endless hope!” I reflected, as I often do when I see these bumper stickers, with no little resentment and aggravation, what do the drivers of such cars hope to gain by bearing these stickers? To me (and it is possible that I’m wrong) these stickers seem arrogant, harsh, and hubristic. I don’t mean to pick on the Catholic stance on abortion in this instance, because there are many anti-abortion stickers out there. But all of them suppose that the bearer has thought through the issue most thoroughly, and you, dear reader of the bumper, have not. If you would simply accept the veracity of the sound-bite on the bumper you will be issued into a new level of truth and righteousness.

They also make me think of the nearly constant refrain that this is a “Christian nation.” Keep “under God,” in the Pledge of Allegiance … it’s very important. We must institute or keep prayer in our public schools; letting it go has been the downfall of our whole way of life. Or has it? Are we really a Christian nation? What would that really look like? Who would decide which brand of Christianity we would follow as a so-called Christian nation?

I think about those things. Because some versions of Christianity have a lot of rules. Some have much fewer. Who would decide? Typically the many rules version of a religion is the one that takes charge in a country, when there is a country ruled by religion. There was a time (back when I was in college studying anthropology) when I could tell you the reason for this. Now, I simply understand that it happens and grieve it. I was thinking about this as well the other night as I read toward the end of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini. (warning … spoiler alert)

A main character has killed her abusive husband. He had raped her, beaten her, withheld food and water, thrown her around like a rag doll and treated her worse than most of us treat our household pets for nearly 20 years. She killed him as he throttled her best and only friend. Killing her husband was an act in defense of another human being’s life, albeit a woman. What follows here is her sentencing by a Taliban court in Kabul:

“It does not frighten me to leave this life that my only son left five years ago, this life that insists we bear sorrow upon sorrow long after we can bear no more. No, I believe I shall gladly take my leave when the time comes.”

“What frightens me, hamshira, is the day God summons me before Him and asks, Why did you not do as I said, Mullah? Why did you not obey my laws? How shall I explain to Him, hamshira? What will be my defense for not heeding His commands? All I can do all any of us can do, in the time we are granted, is to go on abiding by the lsaws He has set for us. The clearer I see my end, hamshira, nearer I am to my day of reckoning, the more determined I grow to carry out His word. However painful it may prove.”

He shifted on his cushion and winced.

“I believe you when you say that your husband was a man of disagreeable temperament,” he resumed, fixing Mariam with his bespectacled eyes, his gaze both stern and compassionate. “But I cannot help but be disturbed by the brutality of your action, hamshira. I am troubled by what you have done; I am troubled that his little boy was crying for him upstairs when you did it.

“I am tired and dying, and I want to be merciful. I want to forgive you. But when God summons me and says, But it wasn’t for you to forgive, Mullah, what shall I say?”

His companions [2 other judges] nodded and looked at him with admiration.

“Something tells me you are not a wicked woman, hamshira. But you have done a wicked thing. And you must pay for this thing you have done. Shari’a is not vague on this matter. It says I must send you where I will soon join you myself.

“Do you understand, hamshira?”

Mariam looked down at her hands. She said she did.

I know a lot of people will read this and think things like well … that’s the Muslims … we Christians aren’t like that. We have grace, after all. Do we? How do you think this situation might have played out in a Christian court? I’m not certain it would have looked any different.

I ‘m glad we don’t live in a “Christian nation” but one that is guided by our First Amendment. A nation where Jews and Christians and Muslims and Hindus and Flying Spaghetti Monsters are all equal under the law. The idea of becoming a Christian nation frightens me, quite frankly. While I want to know that those who lead us have thought through their personal issues of faith, I also want them to be open and welcoming to members of other faiths. Thinking that one has all the answers to questions that haven’t been asked has no place in the government of an empire.

That Gender Thing (Again)

Filed under:being jesus, church, community, faith, holy spirit, theology, violence, women, women in church — posted by Sonja on March 31, 2008 @ 8:27 am

Married To The Sea

marriedtothesea.com

Well … that’s pretty damn offensive, isn’t it?  Grabs you right by the lapels, shakes you up … and screams in your face.  But it doesn’t happen in the Protestant Church, so it’s meaningless for us … right?  We can laugh at it and go home.  Those foolish Catholics … if only they’d let their priests get married, they wouldn’t abuse children anymore … they could have sex when they wanted to.

I’ve got some news for you.  It’s not about whether or not the priests get married.  Child molesting is almost always about power.  It’s about institutions.  It’s about turf wars.  We have the same problems painted in different colors here in Protestant-land.

Keeping women out of the priesthood, out of teaching, fighting these gender wars … it’s about power.  It’s about institutions and it’s about turf wars.  You can layer the color on as thick as you want, but the base problem is that the men who are in power do not want to share.  For them it has become a zero-sum game and when women win, they lose.  They cannot see any other outcome.

Most of the battles currently being fought in the Church are ultimately about control.  They are about who will control the information.  Who will control the people.  Who will control access to God.  What a mind-rape.  It’s offensive and bears the mark of being against God, if I’m not mistaken.

God does not manipulate.  She is not overbearing.  He does not beat us up.  God is love … anything else is a clanging gong (have you ever heard one?  It will bend you double in pain).  God is love.

Kingdom of Heaven

Filed under:family, fun, life, movie review, redemption, technology, theology, violence, war — posted by Sonja on March 9, 2008 @ 11:24 am

LightHusband loves gadgets. He especially loves electronic gadgets.

I may have mentioned that I lost the battle over the large screen television. Did I mention that? He got a lovely bonus this year. I lost the battle. When we got the television, we got a new gadget to go with it. It’s called Apple TV.

Apple TVApple TV is a network device designed to play digital content originating from the iTunes Store or another computer onto an enhanced-definition or high-definition widescreen television. Apple TV can store content on an internal hard drive or stream it across a network from another computer running iTunes on either Mac OS X or Windows.

LightHusband thinks this is the coolest thing since sliced bread. I am much more understated.

However, last night we were able to go to iTunes on our television screen. Did you see that?? On our television screen … which is as hugelynormous as a small wall. So, we’re at iTunes. We look for movies. We find movies. We search them for a few minutes and find one that looks interesting. We rent it. For $3.99. It downloads. In less than TWO minutes we are watching the movie. No driving. No boxes to lose. No movie to return (or not … ). No fines to pay … and trust me – we ALWAYS pay fines, because we are 12 and not that organized. We/I can watch that movie as many times as we/I want in 24 hours. For three dollars and ninety-nine cents. Amazing.

So, we rented Kingdom of Heaven, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Eva Green, and Jeremy Irons. It came out in 2005. It was an excellent movie … but beware. It is not for the faint of heart or queazy of stomach. It is a movie which does not hide the violence or filth of the times from the viewer. I wondered if Orlando Bloom washed his hands at any point during the making of this movie as I watched.

It was thoroughly enjoyable. However, without some knowledge of history and/or the religions involved I’d imagine a viewer would be thoroughly bored. But I loved the fact that for the first in history there was a movie made about the Crusades in which the thoroughly evil people were not the Saracens but the Knights Templar. Those radical fundamentalists who could not live except when they were killing innocents of another race. Hate and fear had twisted their faces.

If you love history, the history of Christianity and/or Islam this is well worth a watch. It is historical fiction and the writers have played with some of the history. However the main characters are all real people who were in and around Jerusalem. Who played a part in the fragile peace of Jerusalem in between the 2nd and 3rd Crusades. Who’s to say they didn’t believe they were bringing about a kingdom of heaven?

A Definition of Insanity

Filed under:community, freedom, history, politics, violence, war — posted by Sonja on January 30, 2008 @ 7:02 am

I’ve had another theory about war and killing knocking around in my head for a number of years now about the difference between the army of empire/invasion and the army of defense. Take a look at the following images that I’ve taken from around the web (I’ve given credit for them) and I’ll explain my theory at the bottom.

Roman Army invading Britain
Roman Army invading Britain – ~55 CE

The Celts who defended Britain
The Celts who defended Britain ~55 CE

Battle of Bannockburn (1314)
Battle at Bannockburn – June 1314

Bannockburn Re-enactment ... Scottish Army
Bannockburn Re-enactment-Scottish Army

British Army during the American War of Independence
British Army in American War of Independence

American Militia during Revolutionary War
Militia in American Revolutionary War

American Army invading Iraq
American soldiers in Iraq

Iraqi Soldiers defending their country
Iraqi Soldiers Defending Their Country

I could have found and used a lot of other images from many other times in history, but these will do. You can do your own GoogleImage search for your favorite wars/battles and you will likely find similar results. Notice the similarities in the invading armies of empire.  Notice the similarities in the defending armies of the indigenous people.  There are many reasons for this.  Empires are well financed and can afford to outfit their soldiers well.  Their soldiers are much safer, have better equipment and arms than the soldiers of defense, for the most part.  It is in the empire’s interest to keep the indigenous people poor and ill-equipped.

Here’s another thing I don’t understand though.  The armies of empire almost always lose.  Oh, it takes a long, long time.  Sometimes longer than others.  But empires always crack and fall; indigenous populations survive.  It may take generations, but over time it is the indigenous people who will overcome the invaders.  There are very few cases where this has not been the case … but the reach of empire becomes over-extension.  The strain of maintaining force in too many places eventually cracks the foundations and the empire breaks apart.

One definition of insanity is repeating the same pattern of behavior over and over again, expecting a different result.  Yet, as a species, we do this.  We continually raise up empires and their armies, send them into foreign lands.  Then wonder why we cannot make the center hold.  What is wrong?  Why does our collective head hurt so badly?

I wonder what would happen if we tried something new?

Instead of sending armies of empire to quell unrest, tax, rape and pillage and behave brutally badly, I wonder what would happen if we simply decided to live well where we are?  What if all the countries did that?  I am aware that this is naive.  We are, however, at a rare point in history, with a rare confluence of circumstances.   What would happen if we decided to be good neighbors, instead of the mayor, police force and justice system all-in-one?

What if …

I Don’t Understand

Filed under:community, economics, freedom, history, justice, violence, war — posted by Sonja on January 29, 2008 @ 10:26 am

I don’t understand the taking of life.  Honestly, I don’t get it.  I become nauseated when I have to squish a spider or an insect … unless it’s a mosquito; mosquito’s get no quarter.  I’ve been wrestling with this lately.  Here’s how it’s been moshing around in my brain.

We watched Braveheart together for the first time as a family about a week ago.  The LightChildren did not see the end.  We stopped the movie at the scene in which William Wallace is captured.  That’s where it all ended for them.  I cannot even stomach that final scene, I was not going to visit it upon my sweet kids.

I was fascinated by the Battle of Stirling Bridge.  That’s the big battle between the Scots and British … the battle everafter referred to as the “Butt” Battle by the LightChildren, because it is the one preceded by a mooning of the British by the Scots with a salute by raising of the kilts and posteriors in such a way as to mock the British.  We all had a good laugh as we were intended to.

As the battle is filmed the camera cuts back and forth between the British soldiers and the Scottish warriors.  Here are some things I noted about the differences in the armies.  It’s something I’ve often pondered and when I think about it these are “rules” that go back to the dawn of time almost.  The British army (the invaders) were uniform.  They all wore the same thing.  They were heavily armored and protected.  Notably they were also cloned.  They weren’t actual clones, but their armor made them all look alike.  You could not tell one from another; they were faceless, nameless units of destruction and killing.  They operated on command and as a unit.  They did not move or react unless told to do so.

On the other hand the Scottish army was at the other end of the armed spectrum.  Every soldier was different.  They all carried different weapons; whatever they had in their home at the time they left.  The same for their armor, what little they had (hand shields for the most part).  Their primary source of energy was their wits.  They operated on a whim and on their hearts.

Now, here’s the meat of what I don’t understand.  The Scots were fighting to regain control of their land, lives and their freedom.  Those are things worth sacrificing your life for.  They are worth fighting for and risking your life for.  But I have never been able to understand how men (and now women) march into battle without those things at risk.  The British Army were not defending anything.  The men on the ground fighting risked punishment if they didn’t and dying if they did.  But, really, I’d take the punishment over dying.

I’m not saying this very well.  The powers that seek to gain empire are never the schmucks who do the actual fighting or take the actual risk.  The powers must seek out others to do their dirty work for them.  But there is nothing to be gained for those doing the dirty work, because the prize goes to the powers.  So, I’ve never understood how they go about getting the battle fought for empire.  I just don’t understand …

Let Them Eat Cake

Filed under:being jesus, bread, church, faith, hope, justice, kenya, peace, politics, poverty, reconciliation, violence, war — posted by Sonja on January 11, 2008 @ 8:25 am

Homeless Kenyan Man

I ended yesterday’s post wondering if it really matters and I quoted “Crumbs From Your Table” – a song by U2. If you click that link there, you can listen along as you read the lyrics below:

From the brightest star
Comes the blackest hole
You had so much to offer
Why did you offer your soul?
I was there for you baby
When you needed my help
Would you deny for others
What you demand for yourself?

Cool down mama, cool off
Cool down mama, cool off

You speak of signs and wonders
I need something other
I would believe if I was able
But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table

You were pretty as a picture
It was all there to see
Then your face caught up with your psychology
With a mouth full of teeth
You ate all your friends
And you broke every heart thinking every heart mends

You speak of signs and wonders
But I need something other
I would believe if I was able
But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table

Where you live should not decide
Whether you live or whether you die
Three to a bed
Sister Ann, she said
Dignity passes by

And you speak of signs and wonders
But I need something other
I would believe if I was able
I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table

So why should any of us care what happens in Kenya, or any of the African nations? Or the Middle East? Or Asia? Or anywhere but our little neighborhood for that matter? What does it matter to us? I can think of a million different answers to those questions. I think they’re different for different people. But I’m interested in answering them from the perspective of a Jesus follower. Why do I care? Why is it important for someone who follows Jesus to care what happens in the lives of people half-way around the world?

There are still numerous answers to that question. There is, of course, the idea of bringing aid to orphans and widows. Then there is the idea that we must succor the least of these brothers and sisters in the name of Jesus for in so doing we are aiding Him. Those are valid and indeed wonderful reasons for caring about people in the name of Jesus.

I think though, there is a larger reason we need to care. Jesus talked about bringing His Kingdom to pass. He talked about it being here all around us and being not yet. He said when it came to be the deaf would hear, the blind would see, prisoners would be free and the lame would leap for joy. He also said it was here … right now. He said that if we have faith that is the size of a mustard seed we could move a mountain into the sea. We could also bring sight to the blind and sound to the deaf and freedom to the captives … that in our presence the lame would leap for joy! Indeed, this is his Good News that we call the Gospel.

We also call it hope. It is hope for a better world, a better place and a better time. It is hope that my children and their children will play together and that the content of their character will count for more than the color of their skin (MLK, Jr.). It is hope that where you live will not determine the time of your death (Bono). Because in the now, those things are true and yet not true. In the not yet of God’s Kingdom towards which we strive, they will not be true at all … and that is the hope which we extend and push forward.

In caring we become ambassadors of hope. In hope there is reconciliation. Where there is not hope, there cannot be peace. When hope has died, neighbors war with neighbors and burn houses to the ground. When the truth of Love has been extinguished, fighting and war breaks out. No one can love their neighbor when hope has left the building.

We see this time and again throughout history. Marie Antoinette was famously misquoted as saying to the French peasants, “Let them eat cake.” It was a royal solution to a bread shortage. The shortage was not of bread, but of wheat. The royals did not feel the pinch or lack, but the poor did. Poor Antoinette had no clue. Her cloistered, pampered life ill-prepared her for the storms that came her way. She loved her country and her people, but could not give them any hope. The Jacobins and other forces at play in the French Revolution tore at the fabric of hope in the lives of the people.

In India the reverse happened. Gandhi was determined that independence from British rule could be gained without resorting to violence. Instead of tearing hope away from the poorest of the poor, he restored it. The more real hope he gave them that they could be honestly independent, the stronger and more united the Indians became. Yes, there was violence, but the Indians were not fighting amongst themselves … until later (but that’s another story).

Kenya (and Uganda, Somalia, Sudan and the list goes on) is important because we Jesus-followers are to be ambassadors of hope. We must restore hope to the little people. It is the poor who are fighting and dying. It is the little people, the poor, who are hurting and crying. The rich all around the world continue to eat cake; while the poor have no bread. If we are ambassadors of God’s Kingdom in the here and for the not yet, we must bring hope. We must restore sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, freedom to the captives and cause the lame to leap for joy. It is hope, and that hope alone which will restore peace to the country and allow her people to live in harmony with one another; neighbor helping neighbor to overcome the odds.

Restoring Hope:

Christian Mission Aid

OneWorld.net – Kenya … learn more about Kenya overall, follow links and become an expert!

Avaaz.org – send an e-mail that encourages your foreign minister (US Secretary of State) to put pressure on all parties in the conflict to continue mediation.

Global Partners – invest in Kenya’s future: women and children

WorkNets-Help Kenyans – direct connections with Kenyans on the ground during the crisis. I can’t vouch for any of these people or this site, but it looked interesting. Apparently Kenyans can trade phone credits for food?

Amani Ya Juu – a womens cooperative dedicated to peace and hope in Nairobi (here’s where you can donate to help the women in the current crisis)

Restoring Relationship:

The Walrus Blog (ht Achievable Ends)
Mentalacrobatics (ht Waving or Drowning)
KenyaUnlimited Blogs Aggregator

A Kenya Primer

Filed under:history, justice, kenya, peace, politics, poverty, violence, war — posted by Sonja on January 8, 2008 @ 2:20 am

I wrote about Kenya the other day. I was a little passionate and perhaps obscure. I’ve had time to sort out my understanding, my knowledge and my senses. I have no direct connection with the unfolding violence and mayhem there, but I find it strangely compelling nonetheless.

I wrote this statement: “Africa is crumbling. In the West we will be held to account for this in some form or another. It is on our shoulders that this mess lies.” I asked these questions: “But … have we done the work of understanding the other? Of knowing who they are? Of truly becoming One with them as God asks us to? Or do we simply wrap our culture on top of theirs like a blanket and hope that it takes?”

In a comment, Janet wrote so succinctly:

I don’t believe the missionaries are the worst offenders… the Colonial powers drawing up national boundaries based around geographical features rather than tribal identity or ancestral lands hasn’t helped. Nor has economic systems of trade that advantage the West. Nor has political covert interference by Western nations… especially in the cold war era by Russia and the U.S. Nor has impositions of political / military systems that work in the West but haven’t perhaps been translated to work with cultural realities. Nor has the world community’s tendency to tolerate the utterly intolerable as if African nations are a special case… we seem far more willing to ignore civil war, genocide and famine there than we are if white people are involved….

I’ve been contemplating that and then there’s my long since misplaced classmate from college.

He stood out even on the first day. I think he was about 6 foot 4 or so. With a smile to match. The purple and gold beanies they made us freshmen wear looked even more ridiculous on him than they did on the rest of us mortals. But Ken wore his with style. The ever-ready grin became his fashion statement. As did the workboots he wore year round. Dunhams. He wore them with shorts or jeans. It didn’t matter. They were his shoes and I never saw him in anything else. No one could keep up with him walking because his legs were so long.

I had several classes with him as the International Relations department at our college was small. So we crossed paths often and had an easy going friendship. Ken … from Kenya. He was smart, funny and good looking. And interesting to talk to. But it was not a deep or long lasting friendship. He was returning to Kenya and I went to college BI. Before Internet. For all intents and purposes I went to college BC (before computer). I typed all of my papers on … get this … a typewriter! So I lost touch with most of my classmates almost immediately upon graduation. My class is still the least reported class in the alumni rag … except for the class just before mine. We’re terrible.

In any case, I’ve remembered Ken from Kenya. I’ve remembered his full name. It’s a name you don’t forget … though I won’t reveal it here. So, when the recent poop hit the fan I began to do some research. I wanted to find him again, if I could, and mostly reassure myself that he was likely okay. I found him alright. What I found gave me pause and made me sad.

I always knew that Ken’s father was a “minister” in the government in Nairobi. I found him alright. It wasn’t hard to do. The name, as it turned out, was fairly well known. Or infamous. Depending upon one’s perspective. As I read articles about Ken’s father I read all the sad stereotypes that come to mind about African government officials. Then I also read heroic things about him as well. It really did depend upon the perspective of the author. The author’s perspective depended upon their ethnic background. Were they Western? If not, what tribe were they from? The answers to those questions really did color the perspective of the author. Western authors tend to view ministerial activities in a very light than African authors. Africans tend to have their perspective colored by their tribal affiliation. So it’s very difficult to sort out where the lines are.

In searching for Ken I’ve had a primer on Kenyan politics for the last 40 years or so. There is a lot to learn. I think it’s important that we in the West learn our lessons quickly and well. The ghosts of Rwanda and Somalia are still too fresh. We cannot afford to let those happen again. Ultimately the responsibility does lie on us. For we did carve up a continent based not upon the people who were already there, but upon a boundary system that was guaranteed to create problems in the future for these people. We have then laid over top of the cauldron of tribal/feudalism a blanket of democracy that is supposed to repair any problems that were created during the colonial period. The blanket has created a warm dark place for the problems to fester and grow … like a rotting wound covered with an unclean bandage.

I thought about attempting to write that primer out here. But I am still unsure of myself. I do not understand the finer nuances of the intertribal conflicts to spell it out yet. Here are the parts I do understand (I think … and I may have missed huge chunks) and there will be a list of links at the end.

Kenya gained independence in 1964 from Great Britain. Her first president was Jomo Kenyatta. He was first prime minister under British rule and then President of an independent Kenya from 1964 to 1978. I believe that he was a member of Kikuyu tribe. This is the main taproot of the violence and unrest that we are seeing today.

The second president of Kenya was Daniel Arap Moi. I believe he was president for 24 years (1978 – 2002). He was a member of the Kalenjin tribe. While he was president the Kalenjin was ascendent, but the Kikuyu tribe maintained it’s hold on power as well.

In 2002 Kenya held it’s first contested presidential elections and Mwai Kibaki was elected president. Kibaki is a member of the Kikuyu tribe (again) This was the first presidential election in which more than one person (man) was running … for real. In late 2007 another election was held and I assume it was accordance with the Kenyan constitution. Mwai Kibaki, the incumbent, ran again. He was opposed by Raila Odinga (a member of Luo tribe) among others. The reason that the presidential results are in question is that most of the parliamentary incumbents were ousted; especially those who were of the Kikuyu tribe. When Kibaki declared himself the victor and had himself sworn in without the election being properly overseen violence ensued.

Given the pattern established by his predecessors (Kenyatta and Moi), it is not unreasonable to think that Kibaki anticipated that he would be in office (by hook or crook) for a number of years. Certainly he anticipated more than five years in power.

Map of Kenya with tribes and ethnic groups

Tribal politics and vendetta relationships are the primary driving forces creating the state in Kenya at the moment. An unspoken issue is that when this generation dies out, there is a vacuum in leadership. The men who drove Africa to independence in the 20th century and have governed her since, have not raised up leaders to replace themselves. There are very few young Africans willing and able to take the reins of government and administration when this generation passes from the scene. The middle class is paltry and small. We, in the West, have done a pitiful job at passing the flower of democracy to the cradle of civilization.

Kenya: Roots of Crisis by Gerard Prunier

Ethnic Tensions Dividing Kenya by Adam Mynott

New Broom For Graft Ridden Kenya by Jeremy Scott-Joynt

African Successes: Four Public Managers of Kenyan Rural Development by David Scott

Where Tribe Is Everything by Geoffrey Clarfield

UPDATE – Because I’m Western my perspective is questionable as well … as you may discover here, in Kenya: Causes and Solutions:

That the elections results were rigged – of that there is little doubt. The hasty inauguration, the blanket banning on the broadcast media, the dispersal of security forces to deal with expected protests – all these have given the post election period the flavour of a coup d’etat. What was not expected was the speed with which the whole thing would unravel. The declaration of the members of the Electoral Commission that the results were indeed rigged only added to the growing realisation that a coup had indeed taken place.

People across the country took to the streets to protest and were met with disproportionate use of force by the police and GSU.

Emotions ran high. And there is evidence that politicians from all sides used the occasion to instigate violent attacks against their opponents’ constituencies. There have been rapes, forced circumcision and forced female genital mutilation. The western media has been quick to describe these as ‘ethnic clashes’ – but then they appear only to be able to see tribes whenever there are conflicts in Africa. What is ignored by them is that the security forces have been responsible for the majority of killings.

How Can We Sleep?

Filed under:being jesus, church, justice, kenya, life, peace, politics, reconciliation, violence, war — posted by Sonja on January 1, 2008 @ 12:23 pm

When our beds are burning?

I’ve been reading the reports out of Kenya with increasing agony and sense of shame. I read the latest and wept inside. People were burned inside a church. They had fled for sanctuary to a church and it was burned. There is something about the idea of being trapped inside of a burning building with dozens of other people that scares me skinny. It seems like the worst form of torment.

Africa is crumbling. In the West we will be held to account for this in some form or another. It is on our shoulders that this mess lies. And it all brought this home to me. I’ve seen it before, but BlisteringSh33p gave it to me again yesterday:

whenthepoweroflove

We gave them our creeds. Then we tried re-writing those creeds for them:

Masai Tree of LifeWe believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the bible, that he would save the world and all the nations and tribes.

We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.

But … have we done the work of understanding the other? Of knowing who they are? Of truly becoming One with them as God asks us to? Or do we simply wrap our culture on top of theirs like a blanket and hope that it takes?

How can we sleep while our beds are burning?


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