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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Why talk of magical birds in a time of true troubles?

Publication dates being set many months in advance, it is impossible to choose a trouble-free week in which to turn attention to something as seemingly trivial as juvenile fiction.  As I've been devoting hours to correspondence with my publisher, thanking my endorsers, writing blogs (see two previous) about A Bird, A Girl, and A Rescue ahead of tomorrow's release date .  . . I've actually been spending more attention reading about Tulsa and Charlotte and fear and violence and injustice and protest.

And the two are not as disparate as one might think.

In a time marked by distrust, when historical and current injustices seem to be reaping a harvest of death, when political candidates twist facts to play upon our fear of anyone "other" and convince us that (in spite of much evidence to the contrary) everything is getting worse and will continue to get worse unless we vote for them, when a ridiculously armed civilian population keeps killing each other and the police shoot first and question later assuming anyone could be holding a gun, what makes a difference?  What can we do?

I would like to offer some thoughts based on two weeks of solid sermons by Pastor Simon here in the AIC church, a couple of articles that have caught my eye, and being immersed in matters related to the Rwendigo Tales.

1.  Love casts out Fear.  Tribalism (which is pervasive in America as well as in Africa) thrives on fear, fear that someone else will get what I need, fear of scarcity, fear of the unknown.  The only foundation for courage in a world run amok is love:  the love of God, the love of family, the love of friends and community.  Because love gives us a calm assurance that we are known and cared for and ultimately all shall be well.  Love in the capital-L sense has the long view, though in the short term we struggle to understand that which we can not predict or fathom or explain away, suffering.  But even in suffering we need not fear if we can trust a greater purpose written by Love.  In the book, Kiisa resists the decision her parents make to send her to boarding school, and doubting their love makes her vulnerable to fear.  But as the story unfolds, being loved gives her confidence to put fear in perspective: first fear of being bullied, and later fear of something much more sinister in which her life is truly in danger.  We need constantly, daily, to be reminded of God's love and human love to drive out fear-based violence.

2.  Loving our neighbour starts with seeing our neighbour.  I stumbled upon this blog via facebook because it mentioned Eugene Peterson's quote that a pastor's main job is not to get something done but to pay attention to what is going on.  The author quotes a Maori proverb:  a person seen is a person alive.  How well do we really see each other?  How much attention are we paying?  Certainly in Charlotte and Tulsa and all across the world, humans tend to circle the proverbial wagons and hunker down with those most like them.  But entering into another's reality, hearing their story, is the beginning of love.  Kiisa in the book grows in empathy for her supposed enemy as she learns more of her story.  I hope that readers grow in empathy for children in east and central African places like Rwendigo by absorbing the book's story.  That happened for me today reading this beautifully written and poignant article about girls my daughter's age, in the country where she is currently studying abroad.  Stories help us to truly see our neighbour, and therefore to love.

3.  Kindness creates kindness.  Another excellent article from the Atlantic a couple years ago about what holds marriages together, related to point two about seeing above, goes a little further.  Paying attention, noticing, participating in another's joy, this is the stuff of kindness and the opposite of contempt.  Small acts of the same lead to an "upward spiral" . .  (from the article) 

" 'My bounty is as boundless as the sea', says Shakespeare's Juliet. 'My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.' That's how kindness works too:  thre's a great deal of evidence showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindess, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship."

Whenever there is a disaster, a shooting, a riot, a tragedy, we catch glimpses of a few people who can turn the tide by choosing a response of kindness that deflates the hate.  In the book, there is a crucial scene where Kiisa makes just such a choice, and that changes everything.

4.  Fear reveals our priorities, which allows us to change.  If we take a moment to think of what we truly fear, it may help us to see what is most important to us in life.  And if that is anything ahead of God (and if we're honest, 99% of the time it is), then we're putting our trust in the wrong place.  If I'm afraid of working in a new hospital next week, is that because my priority is to be comfortable, or to feel on top of things, or to be known and respected, or anything besides following in faith the path God has put before me?  If I'm afraid every time I know one of my kids is driving on a trip, or playing in a rugby game, or facing a difficult test or situation, what does that say about my heart?  The good news is, that paying attention to those fears can help us acknowledge misplaced priorities and turn back towards the only thing that really matters, the solid rock of "no other God."  Who is perfect love, that drives out fear.  What would American, or African, communities look like if this were true?  Throughout the book, Kiisa has to make choices, and when she is reluctant to speak up, or do the right thing, she often finds the fear reveals a jumbled pirority in her heart, which when re-aligned allows for courage and action.

My childhood home, the very city where most of my first-degree relatives live, has been rocked by fear, hate, violence this week.  My adult home, the countries where we have lived and worked over the last 23 years, suffers even more.  Three years ago this weekend we were grieving and traumatized by the terrible siege at Westgate in Nairobi.  We can't pretend that this world holds nothing but safety and comfort.

One of the reviewers used the phrase:  "what it means to become a person of character in a hostile terrain" (D. Allender).  This is the relevance of story in the week of Charlotte and Tulsa.  The terrain is hostile, the world is broken, and children face great danger wielded by armed groups, kidnapers, traffickers, war, brutality, and loss.  All of that is in the book. But the story follows a girl whose character is evolving.  A girl who faces fear, who sees her neighbour, who chooses kindness, who steps out to love as she has been loved.  And that weaves a thread of redemption through the tapestry of suffering.  One small voice matters in the story, when she sees evil and speaks out, and that encourages us in a week like this one to believe ours does too.

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