Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Advent Conspiracy - Ruinin' My Wants

Tis the season to be jolly, right? The earth lays slumbering under a blanket of white, cars drive frantically to their next purchase, children run wild with the joy of no-school and, soon, presents to come fueling them. It seems to go like this every year. Nothing out of the ordinary.

But maybe that's the problem. Our consumption has become so ordinary. For myself, I have long wanted to be more socially active, especially pertaining to areas of injustice. Throughout the past several years, a number of justice non-profits have seen my financial support, some of which I also directly did work for and traveled with. I suppose that's why my Christmas list pained me so.

At the top of the list was an X-Box 360. I don't care if it's new or not, but it's what I wanted. I was asked to make a list of the things I wanted, and so I wrote that down and a few DVD titles. I even wrote that I wanted donations given to a few charities in my name. Doesn't seem wrong or anything. Then why do I feel this awkwardness?

A video made by Advent Conspiracy has recently come to my attention, and I think that is what has done it. I knew it was already to late to take back the list I had made. All the gifts are bought and wrapped at this point. A part of me wished that I had be awakened to my selfishness earlier, before I made the list, so I could make such things a priority.

I am not saying gifts are bad. I think they are fine. I like getting and giving gifts, but I do wish I had made more of an effort to make the needs of those who are being oppressed; or in the case of the video, those who won't have access to clean drinking water, more of a priority. Maybe I am over-reacting and am simply to hard on myself. Actually, that's most likely the case, but it bothers me that people don't have access to such a basic thing as water. I'm worried about an X-Box? Just doesn't seem right to me.

I wanted to vent. And so I have. Thanks.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Love Overcomes

Studying injustice has been one of the great awakenings of my soul. The desire to help free the oppressed and rescue the abused; to bring reconciliation and love to those who have suffered - it's a desire that isn't momentary, but one that I feel will last. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm in no way saying that I'm happy that injustice exists so it can be one of my adventures or anything, but I am happy to learn that God deeply cares about the oppressed. Not just that, but even positions himself as the God of the oppressed. To know that I follow a God who is deeply moved and bothered by injustice, brings me hope that their freedom will come. It's in following this God that I find that desire. I don't know if it would be as strong as it is without my faith. They seem to work together, at least, for me.

I've been really surprised at the kind of resistance I've encountered lately though. Resistance that has told me that I'm wasting my time; the causes I stand for will never find their resolution. Not only that, but to hear the criticisms from some who blame me for abandoning the poor in America, saying that I should be focusing here and fix the problems here before I focus anywhere else. I haven't been sure how to respond to this kind of criticism. I am relieved that it's merely assumption. If they knew me, they'd know that while I've fed the homeless in Serbia, I've fed and clothed the homeless in Pittsburgh. While I've helped rebuild the broken parts of a home in Bosnia, I helped tear down walls and put new ones up in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. I've witnessed injustices that would make a lot of people fall apart and ask, "why?" I know that these things are simple assumptions and can move past them quite easily. Hearing about how wrong my other stances are, and how they won't work out in the end though...those have been a bit harder.

Beautiful Serbian lady

Sometimes you are told something so often, that you start to wonder if they (the doubters) are right. Am I wasting my time on this cause? It's been years and years and yet resolution has still not come to this area or that, so why do I push on? Clearly nothing is going to happen. Clearly I am naive. Or am I? Am I naive to think that love can overcome? Am I ignorant to think that a conflict of 23 years can end, bringing peace to a region who's only known war since I've been born? Am I simply wasting my time?

I recently read an email by Dave Eggars (Author of "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius") who had a take on his own critics when his first book came out and became successful (thank you, Kenny for sending me that email). What it boiled down to was something I needed to read, something I needed to hear when this was happening to me. It was so simple too. Who cares what the critics say? Who cares what anyone says? I do something I enjoy. I find life in what I do. And even more so, what I fight for has meaning. If even one person can find freedom from the chains of injustice, is that one person not enough? Should I care about one person when millions suffer in similar, if not, worse conditions? Absolutely. To bring peace to even one person who has suffered, that is to do something amazing.

There is a tug on my heart to free those chained down. I've traveled half the world for the past 2 years and seen a lot of things. I've seen pain and destruction, terror and hatred, oppression and suffering. But in those things, I've seen something miraculous. I've seen love conquer fear, hope conquer oppression, joy conquer pain. I've seen the eyes of the homeless lady in Budapest, Hungary light up with hope and amazement, simply because someone noticed her and gave her flowers and a smile. I've seen life come through the destruction that still lingers after years of war. I've seen barriers broken through as beggars stopped begging and simply enjoyed time spent with one another, happy to be noticed not as a money drop, but as a person; as flesh and blood.

The critics can say what they will, it makes no difference to me. I hope they get to see the life that I've seen come through the pain we feel. I will continue to work towards reconciliation and peace. Desmond Tutu has said that, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." I don't think I can stop working towards justice. I know the moment I give in, the moment I stop even trying, I will die. I will walk among the living dead. To ignore injustice in this world is to let yourself die. I won't stop. I won't be silenced.

I will use love to overcome this dark world.

The Question Isn't For God...It's For Us

It's been really strange being home. With each passing month, I feel more and more empty. I feel like life is passing me by; as if I'm letting my chances to do what I may have been made to do, simply blow on past. I am excited for what is coming, as the future holds possibility, but until that comes (and hopefully comes soon), I'm not quite sure what to do. After almost a year and a half of studying injustice and working to bring freedom to those who are chained down by oppression, sitting in my parents house in the rural area of Pittsburgh seems so...not for me. I am glad I have been able to spend time with friends and family and catch up with people that I haven't been in close contact with. I'm happy to be involved in my home church, whom I missed while I was gone and found a place where I am able to serve them while I'm home - but I feel like there's more I need to be doing. After seeing a lot of the different things that I have seen, I don't know that I can simply settle down to a 5 day a week job. Not that this is a bad thing if that's what you choose to do. We need people in those jobs. For myself though, I've never belonged in those areas.

I've never found contentment in jobs like the one I currently have. I found contentment in the jungles of the Amazon, while I cried out to God asking why he could let such injustice happen to the Natives and to the children of Puerto Vhelo, or in Bosnia, where I can see the Sarajevo Roses scattered throughout the city, a reminder of those who died during the siege in the 90's, or in Auschwitz, where unspeakable horrors were brought into reality and genocide was committed without remourse. How can I possibly find contentment or hope or life in any of these things? It was when I looked into the eyes of those who suffered from these, when I spoke with women still recovering from the wars, when I played with the children who were left in the jungles to die as infants, when I befriended the soldiers who fought off the Serbian Army as they lay siege to their beautiful city. It is seeing the hope and life in these people that I find this.

When I think of the horrors that are currently destroying this world, the injustice that enslaves us, in a general way - I find myself overwhelmed. Where can I make a dent? How can this happen? If people don't care now, why will they later? But when I set my focus, when I look into the eyes of those affected and see hope within them, that is when I can see clearly. That is when the scales fell from my eyes. I see my friends, working to fight sex trafficking by making and publishing books and documentaries, to bring awareness. I also see them on the ground, not just asking people to help, but actually being that help. I see other friends, working to bring an end to a long running war, so that a new generation may not know war, or those working to save the refugees who are disowned in their surrounding countries for being where they're from. I can see the dents being made. I can see the pain washing away when my friends, who have long suffered under the chains of oppression, are welcomed and loved and included.

So I guess - when I was crying out to God, asking him how he could let things like this happen, I realized he wasn't. It wasn't that he was letting them happen. He was trying to stop them from happening. He was sending people to break those chains. He was sending me to bring love to a world of hate and despair. I found contentment because I realized, God's not ignoring these issues but is actively doing something about them. I read a story once, about a young woman who had been a victim of sex trafficking. In that time, she never wondered where God was. Her faith was strong and she knew God was with her, but her real question was, "where are God's people?" We look at the world and see a broken, fragile existence that many have given up on and we ask where God is. Maybe we're looking at it wrong though. Maybe God has been there all along, and is just waiting on those to take up their call to fight injustice. Maybe it's not God that's the problem, but us. We just choose to blame God because we don't want to take responsibility for a fallen world.

I realize now, in my asking how God could allow such things to happen, that he simply asked right back, "how could you allow such things to happen?" The question needs to be directed at ourselves. How can I let a tyrant abduct children to fight in his war? How can I sit by while people go hungry and cold on the streets of my city? How can I be silent while so many don't have a voice? There are a lot of ways to get involved with fighting injustice. Not everyone needs to or is even meant to fly overseas and take it head on. We can fight injustice in our everyday, by choosing to simply not gossip or put down those who we may think are lesser than ourselves. For myself though, while I will try to do just that and more, I feel this tug to be more involved. I don't care about security and 401k's and all that, but I care about the poor and the broken. I care about helping those who need help. I care about seeing those who go unseen. I care about listening to those who go unheard. I know I make mistakes, even by being blind to those around me who suffer from these very things, and for that I'm sorry, but I will not give up trying to become someone who can do exactly as I've said. I'll keep trying. I can't allow such things to happen in my own life anymore, and I can sit by while it happens throughout the world. I'm willing and ready to take injustice head on.