A reflection on white people in Africa

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Kigali, Rwanda.

I am standing inside the Rwandan Genocide Memorial. In front of me are photos, telling the stories of genocides that have come before. Stories of Africa that have been long forgotten by the Western world.

Next to me is a young man, only a few years older than me. Rwanda runs through his veins and paints his skin a rich brown. He tells me he does not know whether he is Hutu or Tutsi, because his family is so afraid of the power the knowledge might hold, that the power of seeing difference could rekindle the hatred.

After the Belgians took present-day Rwanda from the Germans at the end of World War I, the previously unified people were divided when the Belgians preferred the Tutsis over the Hutus for having lighter skin. The Tutsis were given the power and weapons to rule. The Hutus overthrew the Tutsis in 1961, but the resentment and tensions that resulted would only continue to rise until they climaxed in 1994, wiping out approximately 800,000 people.

I look back to the wall. In front of me is a painting of the Herero and Nama Genocide. Taking place around 1905, the Germans overpowered the tribes in modern-day Namibia, coming into rule and making the native peoples slave to the desires of the Germans. Approximately 100,000 native people were killed, primarily from starvation and the poison Germans put in their wells.

I glance up at him. His face unreadable. “Europeans have brought a lot of pain to Africa,” I said slowly. “I wonder if Africa would be a less wounded place if we had never come.”

He ponders for a moment. “Even if Europeans had never come, sin would still exist in Africa.”

I nod, and we return to silence once more. But I still wonder, how can you not be furious about what we’ve done? How can you not resent me, coming here like a tourist to learn about the realities you cannot escape? How much blood has been poured out on this soil in the name of developing civilization?

We’ve killed millions of people to bring Western civilization to the new world, and we think we’ve done you a favor.

• • • • • • • • • •

Kampala, Uganda.

Kids walk up to us and drag a finger across our skin, looking to see if the white will wipe off. Some of the neighborhood children run up and hop in our arms unabashedly, while others hang back shyly. For some of the kids, we are the first time they have ever seen white people. Trash lines the streets, in sewers and at the bottom of ditches. Some of the kids do not own a pair of clothes that will cover their entire body.

I am embarrassed. Some of the people in our group are taking pictures of the kids, little strangers whose parents we do not know. This would be illegal in America, I think to myself. I am so haunted by this that I only take one picture, a little girl who hops on Logan’s back like a monkey and clings to him, grinning from ear to ear.

We leave an hour later, piling the 15 of us back into a van to bump down the dirt path back to the main road. I try to remind myself that some people must bear witness to the suffering of the world, that this is my calling, so we can work toward a world where people aren’t forced to live this way. It sounds hollow to my ears.

All I can hear is my heart, whispering poverty for one is a direct result of the abuse of power by someone else. And I know that we are the ones who should be found guilty for our crimes.

• • • • • • • • • •

Jinja, Uganda.

I am visiting my friend Erin. We sit on the porch swing, watching the kids run around the playground. She tells me that a high school group came earlier in the week as a part of their missions trip. Their trip consisted of four days touring Ugandan slums, and four days on a safari.

I know a girl in America who thought Africa was a country.

My lunch does flips in my stomach.

• • • • • • • • • •

Musanze, Rwanda.

I have been asked to give a sermon at a church. I agreed two weeks ago, but as I lay in bed the night before, my mind continues to hamster wheel. Who am I, an American university student, to tell them how to live well in Rwanda? Like I have it figured it out because I was born in America? My privilege tastes bitter in my mouth.

Earlier in the week, Jéan-Baptiste tells me that the Prosperity Gospel runs rampant through Rwanda. Most believe that God has blessed America because we call ourselves a Christian nation.

Every young Rwandan I meet tells me of their plans of coming to America. They ask me if it is easy to live here, and I swallow, not sure how to tell them that it will be so much harder for them than it ever was for me. That they will be forced to prove themselves in ways that I never had to for being American-born and white. I stumble over my words as I try to explain to my 26-year-old bus driver that few people in America will care that he is Rwandan, because he will be black first, African second, Rwandan last.

• • • • • • • • • •

If all I return with is thankfulness for what I have and to “never take what I have for granted”, I will have failed. I knew this before I left.

So instead, the questions I return laden with are much heavier ones: in a restored earth as God intended, what does distribution of wealth look like? How can I, one single individual, make steps toward bringing that vision to earth? What does it look like for me to steward my power well?

These are not questions I will find simple answers for. But I will have failed every person I met on my journey if I don’t try.

• • • • • • • • • •

I closed my sermon with a prayer, and when I finished I opened my eyes and scanned the room. In a moment of conviction, I put away the bullet points and spoke with every ounce of my being.

“I promise you that before I die, I will answer to all of you for how I chose to spend my wealth while I was here on earth.”

I promise that I try to do you justice.

I promise that I will try not to let you down, you who are the very least of these.

Whoever is last shall be first in the kingdom of heaven.

These are the promises I made in that little church in Musanze, Rwanda. These are the promises that I will spend the rest of my life trying to keep.

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Missing in Action: Where Are You, Church? A guest post

June 17, 2015 was just an ordinary Wednesday. When twelve people attended Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that night, not one had a clue it was their last. They kissed their families goodbye, grabbed their keys and started their engines.

The shots rang out across the nation as the nine fell, the nine to match the Little Rock Nine, nine taking a stand before nine fell. Five more than the bombing of the four little girls at 16th Street Baptist Church in Montgomery in 1963.

Those of us fortunate to have pastors who are sensitive to these things mentioned them in our prayers, said their names one by one, and prayed for strength and courage and kindness. Our country’s president spoke boldly about America and its pain, these chains of racism that still shackle our feet.

America, for the first time in nearly 50 years, is tentatively opening the door to this conversation once more.

And the majority of white churches across America remain silent.

 

Read the rest over here.

When our opinions no longer matter: LGBT and loving others well

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The internet has pretty much been in an uproar for the last few days over the news about Caitlyn Jenner, previously known as the famous Olympian Bruce Jenner, and her transformation and introduction into the public eye as a woman. I have seen opinions ranging from “YOU GO GIRL! Werk it!” to “Bruce will never be a woman. He is sick and needs serious psychological attention” and everything in between.

We sure like our opinions, don’t we? And more than that, we like to voice our opinions loud and clear for the rest of the world to hear them.

I used to have opinions about people who identified as LGBT. It was actually a topic I felt pretty strongly about. But then I had a friend come out to me for the first time. And I read the story of a young man who was raised an Evangelical Christian and was thrown out of his home when he came out to his parents as gay. And I read from my friend Ben Moberg about what it’s like to be a gay Christian. I learned that 1 out of every 4 kids who identify as transgender will attempt suicide at some point during their lifetime. Although LGBT youth make up only 10% of minors in the U.S., they represent 20% of homeless youth.

LGB youth are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide if they come from highly rejecting families.

And when I put faces to those numbers, my sweet friends being thrown out into the streets when they needed love and loyalty the most, changed me.

Those statistics are not okay.

The fact that we choose our opinions over saving livesis not okay.

What are we doing? What the hell are we thinking, that being right matters more than being kind. We are majorly missing the point, friends. If we haven’t figured it out by now, it doesn’t actually matter whether we think it’s right or wrong, because kids are coming out anyway and gender changes are still happening and they’re still going to, regardless of our personal convictions.

Because, while the Bible is gray about sexuality, the Bible has never been gray about love.

Love is not a gray area. There are no exceptions. No one off-limits. And we don’t have to agree with the life choices of someone in order to be their friend. (If you are only friends with people who agree with you, you are missing out on a much richer life.)

I don’t know what you believe, friend. But I hope you can set them aside sometimes to recognize that the world is much bigger than the lens you see it through.

Your opinions will not save you. Only God can do that.

Caitlyn Jenner is brave because she, of all people—a previous Olympian—knows that we don’t know how to accept people who operate outside of the norm. She knew there would be hate and there would be judgment, even from her own family. She chose to make a space for herself anyway. And I deeply respect that.

It’s time to stop the witch hunt, and it’s time to stop whining that we’re so persecuted that we’re actually expected to treat everyone fairly. It’s time to acknowledge that we have not loved others well. It’s time to acknowledge that we are beginners, not experts on this topic, and to start from ground zero and go up from there.

It’s time to listen, and it’s time to humanize those we don’t agree with. Otherwise we are no better.

Secular Oscars: Why Christian movies don’t make the cut

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So.

The Oscars happened last night. And a lot of people said a lot of stuff, whether it was about gender equality or racial incarceration or how everyone is STILL mad that the Lego Movie didn’t get nominated. But, to no one’s surprise, there were no “Christian” movies to be found. While a couple have been nominated over the last few decades, no Christian movie has ever won an Oscar.

Why?

A lot of people argue that the Oscars are anti-Christian. That the Christian message isn’t “worldly” enough, so it won’t ever be received well. Sure, that could be part of it someday, but I don’t think that’s our reason at the moment.

Want to know why Christian movies don’t make it to the Oscars?

Because they suck.

Honestly. They’re the worst. I’m a Christian, and even I don’t like them. To Save A Life, God’s Not Dead, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Old Fashioned, Left Behind…they’re all terrible. Adequate at best. The only good one worth mentioning is The Passion of the Christ, which was actually received pretty well by the general public. I guess our country doesn’t hate everything Christian.

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Then why did you spend the whole movie trying to prove the existence of God? Just wondering.

So why did The Passion do so much better than the rest? And what are we, Christian artists, doing wrong?

In my photography class last semester, my professor talked about how we interpret art. There’s a big spectrum, and on each side there are two extremes: esoteric and didactic. In esoteric art, there are a million interpretations; the intent of the artist is incredibly vague and the viewer doesn’t know how to follow. In didactic art, the artist takes the message and hits the viewer over the head with it; what is supposed to be subtle becomes a sermon. The goal of the artist is to find the happy medium between the two. 

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“Fact: most people know more about someone after a job interview for delivering pizzas than they do after most dates.” That’s because you’re not paying someone to be your significant other. Also, is that real dialogue??

Christian art is almost always didactic. We hit our viewers over the head with our message. We’re afraid to be subtle, because WHAT IF THE AUDIENCE CAN’T TELL IT’S A CHRISTIAN MOVIE? What if the audience doesn’t walk away learning that you save your first kiss for marriage???

Christians don’t deal in questions, we deal with answers. So it’s not shocking that our art reflects that attitude. We’re scared to ask a question and leave it open-ended – we have to wrap it up in a pretty bow. But that’s not what art is intended to do.

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I’m sorry, is this a movie or a sermon analogy?

In the words of Cesar Chavez; “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

Think of movies that have inspired you, brought tears to your eyes, and even made you a little uncomfortable (but not in a God-when-will-this-movie-end way). I think of Forrest Gump. Selma. Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. Shawshank Redemption. Movies that I left a different person than when I came. Not only good stories, but good art. Movies that asked questions and left it up to me to find the answers.

We resonate with those stories because they challenge us, and they don’t coddle us. They’re not condescending or judging. They’re merely asking us the question – tossing the ball to our court – and it’s up to us to decide what’s next.

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THIS resonates with my soul.

So how did The Passion of the Christ break into the Academy and earn several Oscar nominations? What did it do right that we’re missing from Christian films today?

It told its story, and that was all. There was no sermon, there was no moral. It told its story with no subtext and no soapbox. Jesus’ life was enough. By inviting people to come and listen to the story, it won a larger audience than any other Christian movie made. And it didn’t have to “conform” to earn its spot at the top.

So, Christian artists and viewers and consumers: stop using art to preach. Use art to create empathy, connection, and emotion. Movie theaters aren’t churches and cameras aren’t podiums. Art cannot teach what we don’t connect with. And art cannot reason when it is created by emotion.

In the words of my dear friend Forrest Gump:

My mama always said, ‘You’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.’

And it’s time to do just that – leave the crappy art behind us.

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Not a dick: a man’s perspective on modesty

There is so much to be said about modesty – more than what can be summed up in one blog post – and after my post about modesty and yoga pants, I realized there is so much more to the topic than what I can address as a woman. My dear friend Austin has offered to share some of his thoughts, and I’m so excited for you to read them. You can find him on Twitter at @LindnerAustin and Instagram at austincarrmusic.

 

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I’m a man. And I generally like to think of myself as more than a penis.

As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s honestly how I feel whenever a heated conversation about modesty begins. The two sides of the debate form opposing lines, ready to attack the other side with thrown words or rocks at the drop of a hat. And without a doubt, whenever the “modest is the hottest” team steps up to defend turtlenecks and floor-length skirts, one of the first things out of their mouths is “Do you want men to lust after you? You know guys are more visual creatures. You know they can’t help looking. You don’t know how hard it is to be a man.

Bullshit.

This argument is used to justify too many things in today’s society. Assault, sexual harassment, rape, really anything can be pacified with a good “boys will be boys” mentality. And as one of these “boys” myself, this logic has always seemed offensive.

It implies that I am little more than an animal. That I will uncontrollably lose my cookies at the slightest mention of the word “sex,” or if I walk past a girl in a mini skirt. That my hormones and sexual instincts control my life on a day-to-day basis and I am constantly resisting the urge to mate with anything that moves.

It implies that I am stupid. That I don’t know lusting after a woman is wrong, because I haven’t been taught not to. I never had the chance to attend “Human Decency 101”, so I get a hall pass. It’s okay girls, I didn’t mean to grab your butt- I’m just an idiot.

It implies that I have no restraint. That I have no power over my body whenever a girl with yoga pants walks in the room. That I’ll turn into an unhinged rapist if a girl’s shirt slips a centimeter too low.

And the part that bothers me the most about these statements is when I hear guys saying the same thing to excuse their own behavior.

Living on a college campus, I hear things like this all the time.

“If you wear yoga pants, how can you expect me not to stare?”

“Girls should really consider how distracting they can be before putting on stuff like that.”

Growing up I understood these sentiments. Yeah, why does she have to wear that? If she dresses like that, she’s obviously a slut. Which means I can stare. Because she wants me to stare. Right?

Society told me that I wasn’t responsible for these feelings. It told me that when a girl trespasses some invisible line in the modesty department it is suddenly okay to judge her. To view her as less than a person. To objectify.

But after maturing a little more, I realize how selfish this line of thinking is, to demand that someone slap some more fabric on her body for the sake of my own comfort.

Lately I’ve heard a lot of guys comparing “immodest” women to food (go figure). These pro-modesty dudes say things like, “When you dress like a slut it’s like you are turning yourself into a big mac, and then asking us not to look at you or touch you. How can you expect us not to try something?”

Look. I get it. Big macs are the bomb. And I may instinctively want to snatch a big mac out a stranger’s hand if I’m in public around lunchtime, but that doesn’t mean I have the right to. And it definitely doesn’t mean that I have the right to complain about all these strangers walking around with their slutty, unwrapped hamburgers. Or request that everybody around me refrain from eating big macs in my presence because of my own issues and preferences.

I may love a good burger, but I’m not an animal running on pure impulses. I’m a human, and so is the burger-woman. And we both deserve to be treated as such.

And maybe a good place to start would be to stop comparing the opposite sex to inanimate junk food.

– – – – –

Something that Hannah has mentioned before that I wholly support is the idea that lust is a choice, not a reaction.

I may be instantly attracted to a woman wearing a bikini walking past me at the beach. I can’t stop the quick rush of those feelings, it’s biological. But that isn’t lust, which seems to be where a lot of guys get tripped up.

Lust is turning around to get a better look. To imagine what’s underneath the fabric. Lust is shying away from her face so you can see her only as a body, an object. Lust takes time and active thought.

Since I’m not a woman, who are the ones most affected by the modesty debate, I honestly don’t know how to address this issue as a whole. Modesty is a complicated topic, dealing with things like self-expression, cultural standards of respect, public decency, and freedom of choice. The answer isn’t as clear as society often tells us, with nasty sluts on one side and respectable women on the other.

All I know is I plan to view members of the opposite sex as people, even when it may seem easier to objectify. Even when I have a society-supported excuse to act like a bundle of sexual impulses.

But I know that as a man, I am more than my genitals. I don’t need to be coddled because of my sex. And one day, I plan to teach my future sons the same thing. Not to see themselves as boys being boys, but as men who respect the people around them, no matter what they are wearing.

 

– – – – –

 

_MG_0601I’m a college student studying journalism and music. I try to tell the truth in a funny and genuine way. I love fast walks on the beach and collecting sharks’ teeth to throw at my enemies. Also I Boggle. 

 

The loyal kind of love

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They broke up for their families.

That’s what you told me over the crowd, as an afterthought while the group behind us laughed loudly. They broke up because they fell in love, but they were both married so they decided to go separate ways to save their marriages.

The conversation moved on quickly and nothing more was said about them, but this image haunted me long after talk shifted to celebrities and other scandals. Two musicians, making art together, fell in love over the art, but didn’t let their emotions stop them. They were stronger than what they felt. And they decided to choose differently.

– – – – –

I am afraid of marriage.

There. I said it.

I spent years dreaming about the ceremony, the colors and the dress and the flowers (gosh I love flowers), and whether I would serve dinner or just hors d’oeuvres? But the part that comes after “I do”. I have woken in cold sweats at 3am over dreams of divorce. Death. Or worse: boredom. Discontentment. The 7th year itch.

I’ve heard them all. The warnings. Don’t marry him for who he is now, because he’s going to change and you’ll wake up next to a stranger. Don’t marry him for who he could be, because you need to love him for who he is right now. Don’t marry him for what he could give you, don’t marry him for how he makes you feel, blah blah blah. All the advice has turned into one big pile of crap and I am left with major commitment issues, feeling like Snoopy – I think I’d rather just crawl under the porch and die.

I have never gotten very good advice about marriage, and it’s not because I haven’t asked. I had to put down the marriage self-help books because of the waves of anxiety that would wash over me every time I picked one up. I wish nothing more than to sit down at the feet of someone I admire and plead, tell me your secret. Tell me how you still glow.

But no matter how many books I read, how many blogs I follow, I find myself still yearning for some secret I haven’t yet learned and that is when I discovered something: we all want the answer to an unanswerable question. We all want the guaranteed “3 steps to perfect your marriage”, and there are plenty of people who are willing to put their ten cents in on the topic. But that 3-step formula doesn’t exist. There’s no how-to manual for doing life with a completely one-of-a-kind human being.

I’ve never been married – I can’t tell you what it’s like. But I do know that there’s no finish line. I know that every day is a choice, and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I know that being honest about when I’m scared or doubting is the best way to relieve fear and doubt. I know that love is more than a fleeting emotion, but a skyscraper that you build brick by brick.

And if you seek out a wise man, he will pace himself. He will show up in the unspoken moments, the quiet hand in yours, the steady shoulder you lean your head on. He may not write poetry, but he’s the kind of person who always has to check the oil in your car before you drive, just in case.

Beware the man who tells you you’re the prettiest girl in the world, because you’re not. There will always be someone who is prettier than you. But choose the man who tells you that you’re the prettiest girl in his world, because he just might be telling the truth.

– – – – –

There’s only one kind of love that’s cool anymore – the passionate kind of love. The kind that kisses fervently in the rain and tells someone “my feelings will not be repressed”.

But the kind of love that says goodbye to a man you’ve fallen in love with to choose the man you’ve stayed in love with just isn’t cool anymore. It’s not flashy or glamorous. But it’s romantic because it’s loyal. The loyal kind of love is the kind that lasts.

They broke up to save their marriages – that’s what people say. I don’t know if the story is true. But even if it’s not, I hope I will be the kind of woman who says no to what’s convenient to say yes to what is lasting. Because loyalty might just be the secret I’m hoping for.

I am Jacob: wrestling with God

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We gathered on Monument Circle in the dripping rain, hoods pulled up over our heads, bright umbrellas popping up like daisies. There was something electric about the atmosphere, buzzing with the passion we all shared for change. You don’t go to a protest if you don’t care about change.

And so we marched. And I found myself listening to their chant, the sound of determination over and over. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” Was repeated until it branded itself into my mind.

I find myself here, drawn to the passion, still not sure what we’re begging for, but knowing that the pressure will give one way or the other and I know where I want the rocks to land.

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I have found myself inexplicably drawn to different people from the Bible in my life. I have been David fighting his Goliath, Gideon as he doubted his worthiness, Ruth as she laid herself vulnerable before a man she trusted. I have been Peter screaming over the waves, Noah as he prepared for rain, Mary as she treasured up all these things in her heart.

But this season. This season is different.

I have always known what I believed. I have never been one to hang around with uncertainty for very long. I like to know what I want. And for the very first time in my life, the world has been grayer than I have ever known it to be and I don’t know to do. The uncertainty makes me feel shifty and conflicted.

And I think about Jacob. The leader of God’s people. Israel. The man who wrestled with God. He and I, we wrestle with what it all means, with the problem and the solution and the how do we bring change for those who feel unheard? What is the right answer here? What do I do if I’m wrong? And what do I do if we’re right?

I see people on both sides of this fight that I deeply admire. I have seen people I respect up to their ears in bias, and others so heated with the anger of injustice that they couldn’t see straight. And I knew I didn’t fall in either party. I was going to have to pave my own way.

And so I march anyway, even if I’m not sure, because people are hurting and that’s enough. That’s a good reason to support them. I can’t afford to wait until I know it all, because I know the most important thing: black lives are always going to matter.

–––––

We marched with the people, John and Zack and I, until we turned to each other with conviction and John said: we need to go back. We need to be at our university tonight. We need to start this conversation in a place where we can see it through. And Zack and I nodded, knowing our voices were needed most where we were known the best.

And so we went back. And we showed up. And we stood, holding a banner – some of us white, some of us black – proclaiming that black life matters. And no matter what happens with each individual case, no matter who happens to be responsible in Ferguson or Staten Island, black life is always going to matter. Always.

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photo cred (above): Logan Evans