Since Hussein’s Anfal campaign, I have spent a lot of time researching genocide, democide and ethnic cleansing around the world. I began as a political conservative, moved back and forth over the course of my life and I always thought I was a mix of liberal and conservative ideals. In the course of life though, I really think I am rejecting human institutionalism and embraced a perspective based on limited institutionalism and deeper relationality.
Humanity has created institutions based upon ideological foundations that often begin with noble intent but over time morph into oppressive estates. It an be nationalist, tribal, cultural, religions, political or economic, but in the end all systems move toward centralized power. This is the will-to-power inherent in all humans. It is an aspect of the human condition that we must resist, and we must name.
From the grave, they cry out. Victims of the quest for power. Leaders climbing over a mountain dead bodies to reach the summit. In the 20th century, more people died at the hands of their own governments than in all the wars of history. This is the reality, ground stained with blood in the name of flag, belief, practice the suppression of “lesser” people. With muted voices, parents of Nigerian children, girls and boys sold into sex trafficking, those “collateral damage” people that surround terrorists, victims of terror and war, and so many more cry out for justice.
This reality has been the pain of my life, this cry haunts me in it silence, convicts me in its suppression. This is the wound that will not heal in my heart and soul. I am part of the violence in the world. That was the dissonance that my mind could not navigate. We are part of a world system rooted in the will to power, our institutions, systems, politics, ideologies and idols reek of this fundamental truth: we climb over each other in the quest for the power. To that end, we form relationships that are fundamentally extrinsic to our being. You have heard this in a more down to earth way: its business, nothing personal! Equipped with that untruth, we have omitted every atrocity that can be can be dreamed up in the name of a flag, language, ethnicity, tribe, religion, philosophy or any other identity we append to ourselves.
But Abels of this world, from the one I drew all the way back to the first murder depicted in the Bible and sadly likely until the end of time, cry out, “I am your brother, your sister, your parent, your child, your friend.” If they are correct, relationships are intrinsic, they are a part of our being. If this is true, then every part of business and how we conduct our lives in the treatment of others is personal. This is the message of Jesus in telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. The implication of the story is that the world is our neighborhood and we are our neighbor’s keeper. This is the longing I felt in seeing the bodies and comforted the grieving onlookers, for a connection, for their story before the ethnic cleansing. Here IS a human being, my brother or sister in the human family, separated by others addicted to the quest for power.
The original photo I took for an organization in 2004, near Kirkuk. It is one of the first drawings I did after my counselor suggested I use art to express what was going on in my head. I think at last, I can put words to the anguish in some moments of life, the rage, the pain. Have I walked through the dark valley long enough? Have I carried the guilt long enough? My arms and legs are tired, strength is gone, God be my guide.
Gazing upon a broken world, sometimes I get tired
Of tears rolling uncounted, down innumerable cheeks
Hunger, homelessness, poverty, illness
Ellas danzan con los muertos
The ache of loneliness plain gray walls of prison
the soul walled in where do I find peace?
and in those times of justice denied
Ellas danzan con amores invisibles
How do we build peace? Is there nothing more
than surrender to the flame, the shot and shell we know too well
Horsemen four they ride far and wide
Ellas danzan con los desaparecidos
A mother hungry, must choose medicine or food
A father ends his hunger but the moment’s gone
Hunger returns, always returns, shame in its wake
Ellas danzan con silenciosa angustia
Within all that, my hurt and loneliness seems small
though very real for my heart is pierced
is there room for sacred, love, a wife in my life
Danzan con sus esposos
Perdon, ma langue mais je suis tres desole
Anglais, c’est ma langue de travaille
Ce n’est pas ma langue de coeur
Et ma couer, elle parle ce soir
Can we beat our guns, tanks and bombs
Into tractors, plows and combines
Must the nations send our future against each other
Ellas danzan con los muertos
Must we fill the air and ground with our refuse?
What legacy do we leave future generations
Sons, daughters, what will they clean up?
Danzan con sus hijos y sus hijas
Where do we go from here?
“Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with us.”
I remember one late summer day as a child on the Geneseo farm we lived on, we walked out the door and the tall elm tree seemed to be covered with monarch butterflies. I have never seen that since so I don’t know if it was a child’s mind seeing it or that dramatic. But it leaves this imprint on me as I remember it. The butterfly has long been a symbol of our Christian faith with its obvious transformation from caterpillar into a butterfly and this amazing change is the result of certain dormant genes being turned on somehow. Sometimes I can’t help wondering if this was not God’s way of providing a graphic illustration of what happened to Christ and will happen to us. It is the caterpillar dying to the old way of life, entering the chrysalis tomb only to emerge to new life, spread our wings and fly. Science can catalog the changes, identify the mechanism of change, but the words and numbers fall short of describing the magnificence of that butterfly emerging from its tomb a new creation.
We get a taste of that in our spiritual lives, if we are blessed with transformative moments. Call them what you will, born again, born from above, new creation, words fall short. We simply cannot fully understand the transformation of a life. Perhaps some things are so very profound in meaning and implication that they can only be captured in art and poetry, words and image inter-twined. In Christ, God changes lives as though we were a radiant tapestry or inspiring song. When we embrace that, we emerge from our tomb-chrysalis to new life. All that is left is to unfold the wings, let them fan in the sun until we are ready to fly.
This piece was created in response to Pakistani friends in ministry. Their work cannot be overtly Christian, they cannot wear the traditional symbols of their faith: the cross. In the course of the conversation and the feedback of others, I began to sketch and paint butterflies based on photos I took at Butterfly World near West Palm Beach, Florida in 2004. Gradually this one won out and I finished it a few weeks ago now. It is done in oil and I am selling prints and canvas prints of this piece with 30% of each sale going to help the ministries of indigenous Christians in countries where they cannot be open with their faith. These ministries are about meeting basic food, water, clothing, disaster response and/or medical needs. Contact me about any interest you may have.
I call this one, “Desaperacidos” though the image is not from a Spanish speaking land. It is part of the Kurdish experience in the aftermath of the Anfal campaign near Kirkuk 1988. Many disappeared. It was reporting on this gassing that motivated some friends and I to follow and document incidents of ethnic cleansing, genocide and democide. I have depicted some of these mostly in drawing, a few in painting.
It is a matter of historical record that more people have died at the has of their own governments in the last 100 years than in all the wars of history. Governments try to hide the record, try to “disappear” minority populations, dissenters and sometimes to just clear the land. In the picture we have the dry bones, decarnated in a shallow grave, exhumed remains lay on the jacket that out-lasted all but the bones, out on white linen to be cataloged and then to be re-interred.
This drawing is not the best subject, not the best piece of art or anything but it is a depiction of a reality I wish would end. Too many are erased every year. it is bleak and kind of bland I suppose, as I study it now, and a little unbalanced. But life is that way. I have seen a lot of valleys of dry bones and this is part of unloading that experience. Draw your own conclusions of the image and what is good or bad. I am not the best at figuring that out. Al I know is that I believe the promise of God in Ezekiel 37 that these bones can live again, that governments fade and die, but the human will and human experience will live on.
Lately I have been meditating on the condition of the American church. I have been abroad to mission sites, in places where the “church” was more a symbol graffiti-ed on a wall than a building. The body of Christ more like an amoebic blob of intracellular mechanisms engaged in metabolic processes within the social mass of protoplasm. Has building become too paralysing a part of the body? Could the American church still be church without it?
What incredible things would be released if we did that? I can think of resources set free for ministry, hurting people not just salved by pretty words and a pat on the back or handshake, but set free from their bondage. It all sounds like ideological fluff if it ends there though. That’s all for now, while this unspools in my brain lol.
Friends, as I prepare for a run, I wanted to jot this down, my first ever blog. Those who know me best know I am in a season of transition, not sure what the next several months hold in store. The philosophical passions I have in life, Christian discipleship and chivalry reveal my idealistic temperament. Where this blog will go is never certain, but where it begins is: what does it mean to be a Christian community in the secular world?
As a pastor I feel more and more as though the pastorate is not what it was meant to be as we look back at Acts-Ephesians: one role among many in the expanding movement. So who am I? What am I? In a hurting, anxious world is a voice of instruction all I am meant to be? Where should I be among the people of “the Way?”
Here are some suggestions for your first post.
- You can find new ideas for what to blog about by reading the Daily Post.
- Add PressThis to your browser. It creates a new blog post for you about any interesting page you read on the web.
- Make some changes to this page, and then hit preview on the right. You can always preview any post or edit it before you share it to the world.