November 19, 2014

The Danger of a Single Story

The ideas bouncing around my head come somewhat from the ideas Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009) presents in this TED talk. 

"It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is 'nkali'. It's a noun that loosely translates to 'to be greater than another.' Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person." - C.N. Adichie

Chimamanda discusses the impact of one story about a place or culture, and its deceiving impact on what people believe about the people of that place, namely, Africa. I am thinking about single stories as being told about a social place. Specifically, I'm thinking about the place where the lonely, the social outcasts, the lost and struggling in our society find themselves.

Some "single story" labels may include experiences in or histories of or self-identify as:
Abortion.   Gang Sexual Assault.   Porn Addiction.   Truancy.   Rage.   Fear.   Mental Health Issues.   Forgotten.   Sick.   Sex Work.   Substance Addiction.   Trafficking Humans or Drugs.   Trauma.   Robbery.   Assault.   Pimp.   Self-Harm.   Victim.   Homeless.  Crown Ward.   Dirty.   Used.   Broken.   Weak. 

I heard some first and second-hand experience stories today about Domestic Human Trafficking. Police, survivors, service providers, caregivers, and specialists spoke on the ways children, women, and men get lured, groomed, used and dominated by traffickers. This complex issue is one that this city's stakeholders are grappling with, as the charges of human trafficking have come to a guilty verdict for the first time in this calendar year.

Today, as I listened to how I as a social worker am encouraged to work alongside the victims of these crimes, much of the focus was placed on allowing for the individual to not 'just be' the identity as a victim, but to help them find the multiple storylines of their lives. The place of loneliness, helplessness and worthlessness where these individuals survived is all to common to people in different ways all over the neighbourhood, city, country and world.

I was more struck by the importance of my role also as a Christian in making safe spaces for these individuals to recover, discover and share their multiple storylines. I think the way the Church responds and cares for those who are otherwise rejected in many social arenas is very important.

What does the message from church have to be on the welcoming a sex worker to church? It has to be open arms. It has to be listening ears. It has to be a curiosity to learn and grow in the knowledge of hurting people's lives so that we can be effective in responding to the pain and isolation people are experiencing.  

This week at Knox we talked about Zaccheus. This is one of my favourite stories (along with A Woman Caught in Adultery and The Bleeding Woman) for thinking about how to treat these individuals who find themselves at the outskirts of society.

As a chief tax collector, Zaccheus is an exploiter of his own people; he takes their money, in large amounts, and gets rich by it. He's not very well liked. He had to climb a tree to see Jesus because he was short and no one in the crowd would like him get to the front. Jesus comes to the town and goes to Zaccheus' house, interested in relationship with him, saying he came to "seek and save what was lost."

The story that everyone in the town was telling was about Zaccheus is that he was a filthy, immoral tax collector. That's what he was (in)famous for. That's why they wouldn't let him in the front of the crowd when Jesus came by, because he wasn't one of them. But, Jesus saw Zaccheus very differently. He went to his house and welcomes him back (seek & save) from social isolation (what was lost). 

Too often it is society that shapes and frames the way I think about and judge those who stray from the norms of our Christian bubble. We are prone to snap judgements and gut reactions. We have closed doors and even placed fences around our churches with literal fences and formalities or expectations from those with complex backgrounds or who wouldn't pass a Vulnerable Sector Screening. 

No doubt, we need to protect the vulnerable and advocate for victims of crime and injustice. I fear, however, we have lost the importance message of grace in the life of those who are isolated, marginalized and broken in and by their circumstances. People are made to feel and remain ashamed of the things they have done, the ways they've been exploited by others, the cycle of trauma they are tied up in, or whatever life choices they have made that we deem negative. They can be made to feel worthless with a look, a facial expression, a Facebook rant, or a sidewalk switch. 

We have to reframe our perspective, our view of others. We must challenge our 'othering' and figure out what we are called to have as a response to people who are different, struggling, hurting, and suffering. Compassion instead of judgement, care and not disgust, must be what pours from us. We don't need anymore dripping, mouldy rags of shame to get dragged out in a "see-they-did-it-again-way" every time people fall short of our standards of success.

Matthew 25:40 says "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

We are to introduce people to the radical Gospel grace that we have come to know in Jesus Christ. This grace means that because of repentance and forgiveness, my ugliest stories of sin and shame are covered in Jesus blood and are no longer used against me to condemn me. It's Jesus saying -- "neither do I condemn you; go now and leave your life of sin". It's Jesus greeting you at your lowest state with -- "I'm coming over to your house today."

Allowing and creating space for multiple stories in people's current realities makes a difference. I work with youth who have been charged with various offences. I often have the privilege of redirecting these young men and women by telling them I know they are more than this charge, this level of apathy, this pattern of destruction. Without fail, their faces always light up. More often than not, they have believed or been told only one story about themselves.

It is our privilege to approach and come alongside with care instead of judgement those who most need us to be listening. 

September 21, 2014

o death, where is your sting?


Sometimes, especially in my work, I am witness to what can only be described as death's sting. Children are abandoned, lives are lost, people employ reckless methods of survival, minds are torn apart-- diseased and damaged, crippled hearts still suffering in front of me from the memory and reliving of horrendous abuse. 

Hope is all but lost in the eyes of those I see on a daily basis. The reality they know best is their suffering, the festering wounds, the lack of escape, and the new and harsh challenges that await. All this is a much more present reality than hope, redemption, forgiveness, and freedom in Christ.   

Today, I am reminded of the difference Jesus' defeat of death makes. 

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 -- "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 

God is in charge. He loves and has loved deeper and greater than I ever could those who hurt. He will watch over them and I can trust Him. 

"Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing." Isaiah 40:26

April 30, 2014

because

Why do I work with youth in the messy state that they find themselves in?
It's simply:

because sometimes they're alone
because maybe they've been kicked out of 'home'
because often their roots are on fire
because soon their joy will expire
because now they're thirsty for hope
because so far they didn't find lasting dope
because til now they haven't been told it can be okay
because unfortunately they haven't evaded the fray
because they have asked the question: can i be free?
because I know the help they need can be me.
because they're reaching out and dropping their guard
because their life's been exceedingly hard
because they lack good choices to choose
because they had no good to refuse
because they are more than have-nots
because.... why not?

April 1, 2014

dis-ease

Learn how you can reach them.
And from where trouble stems.
Open the doors to something more,
And show them what could be in store.

Then give your heart a shake.
Don't stop until it breaks.
Protect and give and share.
Don't hold back, if you dare.

Watch as your hope unfolds,
Give courage and be bold.
Pick your heart back up again,
Could be that it's on the mend.

Don't ask too many questions,
Don't beg them to believe,
Don't further their oppression,
Don't ask them not to leave.


March 27, 2014

My Lighthouse -- A symbol of faithfulness

I decided to try another song-related blog post. For those of you who didn't know, that's where "Off With Your Sandals" all got started. Just little me getting real about what Jesus means to me and reflecting on songs that have pointed me towards some great truths. 

I am getting married in 24 days. Unreal. Truly, the joys and blessings leading up to this celebration have certainly made for the most beautiful, exciting season of my life so far (by far).


And yet, to be honest, leading up to our wedding has been a bit of a disorienting time for me because of the life-altering changes which are imminent in a time like this. Don't get me wrong-- I could not be more thrilled and truly blessed that the man I am marrying is 'in it' for the long haul with me. But, really, what will that look like? How much does that change other relationships? What ugly thing will it bring out in me that will be exposed to someone whose opinion matters so much to me? Well, that's the beauty of it, we're promising to be there throughout it all, no matter what comes our way, together. 


More truth? We don't really know how to do that yet. Y'know, the 'being in it no matter what' thing. I know I'll be bad at it sometimes. Other times maybe it will feel like it comes (super)naturally. Mostly, I think we'll just look at each other in life's different seasons and be like "What is going on here?!" and be thankful to have a teammate to go through it with. 


All that said, this song came at a really cool season in my life ('My Lighthouse' - Rend Collective). The lyric that pushed me to write this is: "Fire before us, You're the brightest. You will lead us through the storms." Thank God! 


We're super-fresh newborn babies in this whole realm/idea of the commitment of marriage, but what we do know is that it's not going to work if we're banking on each other to be the other's anchor or guide or lifeline or compass when we're in the same boat. God's promises, His Word, and gentle leading have gotta handle those roles for us. The good news is, my experiences show me He's got it covered! 


FIRE BEFORE US


I like this title for God. We just we reminded at Knox (our church) through The Lord's Prayer (Psalm 23) that it is important to address God by His names. Helps to arrange ourselves in an appropriate posture when addressing El Shaddai -- Commander of Angel Armies, for example. I love when God is called "a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). It's not a flickering flame. That fire is raging and jealous -- in a powerful, not weak-jealous way. 


Also, probably not surprisingly, it wasn't a huge stretch to take this image to the "Fire By Night" and think about the practical measure of God's presence, faithfulness and provision for Israel when they were escaping from captivity in Egypt. 


Exodus 13:21 (NLT) -- The LORD went ahead of them. He guided them in the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light with a pillar of fire. This allowed them to travel by day or by night.


The fire is provided for the purpose of providing light and being a guide. The cloud is a poignant image throughout the Bible of God's holy presence being with His people. I also love how His provision made it possible to travel continuously. It's like God saying "I've got this, just keep moving, keep trusting me as I go ahead of you". 


YOU'RE THE BRIGHTEST


When things get crazy, and you're disoriented on the ugly waves of grief, fear, suffering, and a myriad of other troubles... light is a way out. "WHAT SIDE IS UP!?" gets tricky to answer if you can't see anything. 

John 8:12 (NLT) -- Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, "I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life."


There can be other things that provide light, but they don't always lead to life. A focus for me has to be that I rely on God's truth, His Word, to guide my steps. This true light, in our world, is a beacon for others, too, so that when God's presence is found in us (because we just get out of the way), then they can also be encouraged and find solace. 


YOU WILL LEAD US THROUGH THE STORMS


Referring to the same first passage about fire, 1 Corinthians 10:1 talks about not forgetting what God did, that He was able to protect God's people and lead them through... the sea! The Israelites had no way to go -- a body of water stood between the land of slavery, which was all they had known, and a new land of freedom and where they could be make a new life. 


If he's leading, we've gotta follow. A tall order? Yup! 


Matthew 16:24 -- Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.


As a team, we will need to always be listening/watching for His leading. Also, may I just say, from what I know of myself already and what I've heard about marriage -- probably, if I could "deny myself" at all, I will be able to better be lead to care for another more than I care to look out for myself!

Dear Jesus -- thank you for being our guide, for being the truest Light and the truest Love we can depend on to lead us through all the seasons of our lives. 
========================================================================

-- M Y ... L I G H T H O U S E --

(Rend Collective)

In my wrestling and in my doubts
In my failures You won't walk out
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

In the silence, You won't let go
In my questions, Your truth will hold
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

My Lighthouse, my lighthouse
Shining in the darkness, I will follow You
My Lighthouse, my Lighthouse
I will trust the promise, 
You will carry me safe to shore (Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh)
Safe to shore (Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh)
Safe to shore (Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh)
Safe to shore

I won't fear what tomorrow brings
With each morning I'll rise and sing
My God's love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea
You are the peace in my troubled sea

Fire before us, You're the brightest
You will lead us through the storms

March 26, 2014

old men gone, young man taken

some old men grow old
and great stories get told
of when they were young
and life's fun had begun
and how they lived well
with jokes ready to tell
and gave it their all
how they were good at 'ball
and what they would say here and now
we say rest in peace
and can have a calm ease
to know that their love was received
and though he is gone
his voice somehow goes on

but then sometimes instead
a young man is found dead
and his story was not set to end
tears come and grief flares
of the truth hard to bear
a lost brother, son, and friend
we consider our ties
and break down the lies
that we could have done something more
the loss here is great 
and feeling its weight
a wonder of what else is in store:
when again will we be this shaken?
who else will be taken?
you know if you've felt it before.





[an odd ramble]

watch out
you could lose it
just cool it
relax
be mindful
be simple
be careful
stick to facts

forget it
it's nothing
and wonder
instead

you're trying 
and wishing
you're being
your best

it can't be
it is, but
won't always
be
what is it
it's rare 
and life-giving
and free

a friend 
an ally
a truth
a light

it's worth it
it's giving 
a reason
to fight

watch for the whispers
listen for the signs
give up your hopes for
the truth you can find

January 28, 2014

she screamed

She screamed full of terror,
full of loss and void of hope.
She screamed like drowning
and without a sign of rope.
She screamed four times strong
and then sputtered a line.
She wanted vengeance and justice;
she wanted a life for a life.
Her screams were not deep
or strong, though few.
Her screams were weak
and tired and hurting through.
Her soul did then break,
her breath fell all too short.
I wonder what they'll put
on their police report:
"There's nothing to be done,
her eyes no longer cry.
Her only, newest wish is
that she could quickly die."
She lost her child today,
one simple, awful, concrete fact.
There's almost no chance
that she'll ever get them back.
A woman's heart gave up today.
I listened to her screams.
I heard the most awful sound,
in four long, haunting streams.