The Danger of Forgetting

The Danger of Forgetting

A long ago friend is killed miles away from his family.


Notre Dame Cathedral burns, an icon in flames.


A dear Kurdish friend’s sister dies. I sit at the funeral, silent and alone with my thoughts, a sea of women and children are quietly talking all around me. The mom’s tears are a window into her grief.


My Kurdish colleagues are told there is no money for their salary this month, leaving many of them at a loss as to how to provide for their families.


My own family members struggle with projects that cannot continue if they are not funded. Important projects in places that matter to God.


It is the 6th week of Lent and as I sit here on a Tuesday afternoon I feel the heavy weight of life. In every one of these circumstances I am helpless. There is nothing I can do. I numbly respond to emails and scroll through pictures of Notre Dame, conscious only of the fact that I am powerless in making any of these things better.

I am in danger of forgetting – forgetting that appearance is rarely reality.

All these thoughts come under a cloudy sky and I long for the Kurdish sun to appear again. Just three days ago the signs were so clear. We had just completed a successful international conference for the college of nursing. The world and the air were sunny and light. It’s easy to have faith when things are going well.

Now, I am in danger of forgetting – forgetting that appearance is rarely reality. Forgetting that part of faith is walking through air that is thick and heavy with grief and pain. Forgetting that the air will not always be heavy and thick, laughter and joy will come again. They always do.

In the Volume 6 of the Narnia Series, The Silver Chair, Jill is tasked with rescuing Prince Rilian and returning him to his father. It’s a seemingly impossible task, but the lion Aslan gives her a series of four signs to watch for. He makes her memorize the signs and repeat them, because he knows that the journey will be difficult and the signs might not always be clear. Today I think about this book and realize that I too need to remember the signs. The air is thick down here in Narnia and I’m struggling to remember the signs.

But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.


CS Lewis in The Silver Chair from the Chronicles of Narnia Series

Picture Credit: Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Evil and a Challenge

There’s a word for what happens when one group of people sees another as less than human and insists on its right to hurt and humiliate them for fun. It’s an everyday word that is often misused to refer to something outside of ourselves. The word is ‘evil’.” Laurie Penny

I arrived in the country of Oman one day ago for a short vacation. Right now I am sitting in a small slice of heaven on earth. I am surrounded by incredible beauty – palm trees and blue sky are above me and a pristine beach surrounded by a slate-blue sea is in front of me.

Waves from an infinity pool splash behind me and there is just a touch of a breeze, enough to create a perfect 78 degrees.

The ocean is far below me, down some steep steps. It’s a small lagoon surrounded by craggy rocks. Palm trees are scattered across the landscape. There are no flies, no ants, no bugs of any sort. It is as near perfect as life on this earth will ever get.

I am sickeningly aware of the sharp contrast between this landscape and that of the carnage in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a community is grieving after being targeted in a terrorist attack. They were targeted as being unworthy to live. Because that’s essentially what terrorists do – they decide that a group of people are not worthy to live. True, they have their own skewed ideology that tells them this is okay, but that doesn’t make it any less evil. And that’s what it is. Evil. They destroy life, deciding to eliminate that which God created and called “good”.

I spend all day every day with Muslims. They are my colleagues, my friends, my cultural brokers, my students, my community in Kurdistan. Five times a day the Call to Prayer goes off at this mosque behind our apartment. Five times a day I’m reminded of my own faith because of the faith of others.

And so I am deeply saddened by what happened in New Zealand.

If you are as well, challenge yourself to reach out to those who don’t look like you, believe like you, think like you, and behave like you.

Ask a Muslim co-worker how they are doing.

Find out if there is a mosque in your area and call them, expressing your sorrow over what happened in New Zealand.

Call out evil when you see it. Commit to kindness and giving others a chance. Embrace beauty, create beauty, look for the beauty in others.

Communicate across boundaries. It’s not easy, but it will change you and challenge you. You will be better for it.

It’s not enough to write a meme or cover your social media profile with a statement. We must do more.

And remember, evil won’t win.

Information Overload and the Cost of Caring

 

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Confession – as I read or listen to the news I am not feeling much of anything besides tiredness and incompetence. I am embarrasingly disconnected as I watch flooded streets and homes in Texas.

My husband and I were talking about this over the weekend, about our inability to care about everything we hear about; about our ability to self-select newstories and situations that we care about and dismiss the rest. As I filter through news stories I want to care about every tragedy, but it turns out I don’t have the emotional capacity to do that and remain sane.

In the 1950’s a new word made it into our lexicon of trauma related diagnoses. The word was “Compassion Fatigue” and was first seen in nurses. As a nurse, it makes sense to me that we were the people who first displayed a tendency towards these symptoms.  The symptoms included negativity, lessening of compassion, tiredness, and feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and inadequacy for the job at hand. It was the ‘cost of caring’.

The word has evolved over time and is often called ‘Disaster Fatigue’. Used by the media and donor organizations to describe the response to tragedies and world events over time, it gives an accurate picture without having to be explained.  Events that have such massive implications that our brains can’t quite take it in and our responses show a disconnect between what we see and hear and how our hearts and bank accounts respond.

If I list off the events that have happened even in the last month, I know immediately why I have compassion/disaster fatigue. News and events transport us from Syria to Charlottesville to Houston and back again. Every aspect of human need has been affected. The need for shelter, security, food, safety, and the list goes on so that self-actualization seems laughable. The pain and shock of people and nations are felt across oceans and continents creating a sort of secondary trauma zone. How much am I capable of caring about before I move into the disaster fatigue zone? Not very much, it turns out.

Added to this are the things that might not affect the world, but they affect me and my extended family. Family tragedies and crises that make me cry out to God in the night, begging for strength and help for those that I love.

We are overloaded and our minds can’t handle the overload. This in turn leads to apathy, despair, and callous hearts. To compensate, we often update our social media status, just to prove that we really do care, and we expect others to do the same. It’s like wearing a badge of honor; a status symbol of caring.

In the book Amusing Ourselves to Death, the author Neil Postman describes what he calls the “low information to action ration”. He links this concept back to the invention of the telegraph. Before the telegraph people received information that was relevant to their lives, information over which they had a measure of control. After the telegraph, people received information from miles away, information that they could do nothing about. News of wars and tragedies from across the world began to take central stage, while local news took a back page. “the local and the timeless … lost their central position in newspapers, eclipsed by the dazzle of distance and speed … Wars, crimes, crashes, fires, floods—much of it the social and political equivalent of Adelaide’s whooping coughs—became the content of what people called ‘the news of the day'” (pp. 66–67). So a “low information to action ratio” refers to the sense of helplessness we have when faced with information that we can do nothing about.

As Tish Warren says in an excellent article We are small people who, for the most part, live quiet lives, but we have access to endless stories of pain and brokenness.” 

I have been learning something about information overload and the cost of caring over these past years. I have found that I have to exit the noise. I cannot sustain the information overload. It renders me useless in every day life.

despite my huge limitations, a quiet place of contemplation and prayer are far more valuable than distraction and overload

When I give myself permission to exit the noise, when I allow myself to move to a place of quiet, I become healthier and more compassionate. In that quiet space I become far more able to see that despite my huge limitations, a quiet place of contemplation and prayer are far more valuable than distraction and overload.  “Think about it, Mom” says my son “prayer is the highest form of empathy, the greatest act of compassion.” He is wise beyond his years.

Prayer leads me to a reliance on a God who “will not grow tired or weary, and whose understanding no one can fathom” and in the comfort of those age-old words, I can lose the guilt and rely on a never-ending resource of compassion and strength, available to all in crisis.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. Isaiah 40:28

You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught


Last night I went to an Iftar celebration. It was sponsored by the Greater Boston Muslim Health Initiative – a group that periodically meets to focus on specific health needs of the Muslim community in the area. It was an eclectic group of people, each of us with strengths in different areas, community members and advocates.

And of course – Nabra’s death came up. You may not know the story. Nabra Hassanen was a 17 year-old who lived in Northern Virginia. Early on Sunday morning, Nabra prematurely lost her life to a man filled with rage and bent on destroying life. She was assaulted and beaten with a bat, her body left in a pond to be found by law enforcement a few hours later.

Nabra had celebrated a Ramadan meal with friends and was on her way to the mosque with the same group of friends when the incident occurred.

Seventeen. Muslim. A young woman. A person of color. Now dead.

A death like this makes no sense – indeed it is put into the album for the unexplainable. Is it road rage? Is it a hate crime? No matter what you call it, it won’t bring Nabra’s life back. She’s gone – gone way too soon.

A song in the old musical South Pacific unwillingly goes through my head:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Taught to be afraid. Taught to hate. Taught to kill. Taught to think of people as less than. Because when you are carefully taught these things, you can treat people as you like without conscience or remorse. 

What might our world look like if we were taught to see the image of God in each person? If we were aware of how bound together we are in our life journey? What might it look like if we saw people as God sees them – beloved and worthy? If we changed our worldview from glorifying the individual to humbly loving collective humanity.

My heart weeps for Nabra’s family and community. This assault must feel so big and so awful, so personal during the month of Ramadan.

My heart also weeps for the cancer of prejudice and racism in our society, that we are so carefully taught to despise and hate, without even being aware. 

And even as I write this, I know I am not innocent. For any time I ignore others, anytime I dismiss another as unworthy, I’m doing the same thing. The consequences are less, the action and heart attitude is the same. When we deem people as unworthy, we can do whatever we like to them. 

How can we change this societal narrative? How can we begin to see ourselves as integrally connected, bound together in this journey? Your grief is my grief, your sin is my sin, your joy my joy, your burdens, my burdens. 

How can we rid ourselves of what we have been carefully taught and soften our hearts? 

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, monasticism is alive and well. Contrary to what many believe, monks and nuns do not merely seclude themselves from the world. Instead, they align themselves with the world through prayer. They pray for the world. They are “intentional in living this mystery of our mystical unity and responsibility.”*

St. Isaac the Syrian writes: “and what is a merciful heart? It is the heart’s burning for the sake of the entire creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons, and for every created thing; and by the recollection and sight of them the eyes of merciful men pour forth abundant tears. From the strong and vehement mercy that grubs his heart and from his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear if or see any injury or slight suffering of anything in creation. For this reason he offers up tearful prayer continually…” 

What more is there to say, but that God would “unteach” us that which we have been carefully taught; that he would give us hearts of mercy instead of stone. 

And that we would take seriously our mystical connection and our mutual responsibility and act upon it. 

*Scott Cairns in The End of Suffering

Earthquake Hits Genovia

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The top news story from all major news sources today is the earthquake  in the Kingdom of Genovia. The earthquake, measuring .2 on the Richter scale, was felt while plans for the New Year’s Eve Annual Gala, put on by the Royal Family, were underway. Multiple locations were affected, with the most destruction found in a parking lot full of Porsches and Mercedes near the Royal Palace. While no one was killed, many lost their precious vehicles  and the government is asking for aid for the many victims. “Our small  country is in shock. We just can’t believe that an earthquake would come so close to New Year’s Eve and hurt our celebration this way! It’s so terrible that this has happened! Genovia never did anything to deserve this” said the Foreign Minister of Genovia, tears streaming down his cheeks. He went on to say that he felt the people mocking the country for its response toward such a small quake did not realize that his fellow Genovians are like the “Princess in the princess and the pea – we are extremely sensitive and should not be mocked.” Indeed, social media like Facebook and Twitter were alive with the hashtag: #bigGenovianbabies and #SendadiapertoGenovia, adding insults to injury.

The United States, Russia and Iran have decided to press the pause button on their political differences and have pledged support to Genovia, calling for a joint meeting to discuss emergency aid. An unnamed source was heard saying “Of all the bad things that have happened this year, this is the baddest!”

It surprised no one when Agrabah said “Good Riddance! They got what they deserved.”

Internet sympathy for Genovia quickly spread with people spontaneously posting videos of themselves singing the Genovian National Anthem and displayed selfies with signs declaring “We LOVE Genovia and Princess Mia.” Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls have been quick to express financial and emotional support for the Kingdom. One candidate spoke of the affection he felt for the wealth of the country while another declared that “This should teach the people what is really important! If mean-spirited people think they are babies then I’ll be a baby with them!” So there.

Princess Amelia [Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo] also known as “Mia” to her friends, is said to be safe and in a secure location. She is rumored to be asking after her cat – and no one in their right mind can blame her for that.

So we ask you to stop and remember those good people of Genovia already.

Meanwhile in real news, the war in Syria is now going on five years, outpouring of sympathy for refugees is rapidly fading, Iraqis from Mosul and Qaraqosh continue to pray that they can return to their homes, and people are rightly outraged and grieving about a young kid being killed.

*****

It happens to the best of us — We pass on things that we don’t really read; things that are false or completely ridiculous. We are quick to believe sound bites instead of waiting on more substance. We join the throngs of commenters and opinionators, immediately adding our thoughts on whatever the matter is – even when we don’t know anything about the issue at hand. We care deeply about the sound of our own voices and want to make sure that we are heard. And too often we end up caught in embarrassment and remorse.

And I can be the worst, so this coming year is my year to be more careful about all of this – more careful about what I read, what I share, what I write, and what I believe. If I let social media control what I think and what I don’t think I’m in a really scary place. Social media is amazing. I use it all the time. But it’s also a big, dangerous beast that needs taming and we are the only ones who can tame it.

So in this last post of the year, as I close out 2015, I have a wish. That is this: that we all be more careful  of what we read and what we share in 2016 and by doing so, tame the beast.

PS -If the country of Genovia sounds familiar here is why.

Paris is White, Lebanon is Brown, Mizzou is Black

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[Poem is attributed to KARUNA EZARA PARIKH @karunaparikh http://www.dailyo.in/politics/pray-for-paris-isis-paris-attacks-prayer4paris-islamic-terror/story/1/7368.html%5D

I was off-line most of yesterday and so it wasn’t until late in the day that I saw the news about Paris.

Horrific news of multiple attacks throughout the city — a rock concert, a stadium, gun attacks at the center of the city in a heavily populated area. In all, 128 people dead and over 180 injured. France has closed its borders and ISIS has proudly taken responsibility.

The world has poured out its support and love for France, much like it did during the Boston Marathon attacks. My newsfeed fills up with people expressing sadness, outrage, and shock. Rightly so – it’s an evil, terrible attack and our minds try to make sense of the terror. I think the statement so many will not voice is this:  “If it happens in Paris, it can happen anywhere.” If it can happen anywhere, than no where is safe.

*****

On Thursday twin suicide bombers attacked the city of Beirut. 44 people are dead and over 200 people are wounded. ISIS claims responsibility and Beirut grieves once again. It has been over a year since they have experienced this kind of violence. One person writes about it on her newsfeed – a friend who lives in Lebanon and loves the city. Otherwise I am struck by how unimportant it is to the Western world.

*****

In Baghdad, a suicide bomber targets a funeral while two roadside bombs go off in Sadr City. At the funeral 18 people are killed while over 40 men lay wounded, unable to do anything but wait for help. I don’t see this news on anyone’s newsfeed. It’s unimportant to the world. Because it happens all the time.

*****

In Missouri, a university continues to reel in chaos and anger. It’s been months, years even and black students have not felt safe. They have called out for help for a long time and no one has listened. A swastika is scrawled in feces across a residence hall wall, but there is no newsfeed outrage. This is a symbol known across the world as a symbol of violence and hatred of people groups. But still no news. Over and over again black students say they don’t feel safe, but they are largely ignored by both their administration and the rest of the nation. “White silence is violence, no justice, no peace” the protesters cry out for someone to listen. Why is it ignored until a president resigns? Racism is too hard, so much easier to ignore than address, both systemically and individually.

*****

I have a conversation with my daughter. She went to a Christian college, and her friends from college are outraged by Paris. They send off messages of prayer and hope and light for the City of Lights. But not one of them seems to know about Lebanon, or Baghdad, or Mizzou. Her high school friends are not Christian, yet they have stood in solidarity with Mizzou and tried to bring awareness to those issues. They care about Lebanon and Baghdad as well as Paris.

And I wake up troubled. The world feels so broken, so beyond repair.

And I too weep for Paris, for the grief and loss that cannot be quantified. But I can’t help thinking about how little the other events matter to our world. I can’t help thinking that somehow we have been deceived into believing that the white, Western world is more worthy of empathy and concern, not only in our sight, but in the sight of God. I can’t help thinking that the reason for the difference in interest is because Paris is white, Lebanon is brown, and Mizzou is black. I know in theory it may be more complicated – but it doesn’t feel complicated right now, because I watch this over and over again. I know my words when written will be subject to critique, but I write them all the same, because it’s the only thing I know to do.

I pray yet again the only prayer I know to pray during these times of sadness and frustration – Lord Have Mercy. Lord have mercy on our broken, hurting world – and on all of us who are just as broken.  And I thank God that he does care, that he is not influenced by newsfeeds, that he weeps for the black, the brown, and the white, offering love and comfort to all.

I Choose Good

I’m sitting here in the safety of a coffee shop. It’s almost empty at this hour and so I can think, write, and pray.

I don’t want to listen to the news. The death toll is over five thousand and counting in Nepal. Newsfeeds are endless in their stories and statistics.

The governor has called the National Guard to Baltimore, with hopes that peace will be restored. Looting, riots, police violence – it’s all there and more.

And then there’s life in our neighborhood, where the lawyers for Tsarnaev are arguing against the death penalty. It is amazing the number of people vehemently opposed to capital punishment who want Tsarnaev to die. At what point do we change hard held opinion based on what we deem to be a crime worthy of a death that we have argued against?

The fact that I’m safe, drinking a great cup of coffee only serves to make me feel more depressed, more helpless.

And that’s the thing – in the face of all this, we are helpless. There is little most of us can do to make any of these situations better. It would not help for us to get on a plane to Nepal unless there is a specific skill we can bring. When my oldest brother was in Pakistan helping in earthquake relief he told me of a group that sent hundreds of people to Pakistan. He said there were around 250 people wandering around the hillside with no language skills, no knowledge of Pakistan, and no knowledge of humanitarian aid. It was a disaster, but they all went home with good pictures of the tragedy.

It’s the book of Kings where I find comfort today. For those not familiar, these are books in the Old Testament. They are full of blood shed and violence, full of stories of tragedies, full of the sordid tales of leaders and others doing evil things.

These books tell the narrative of the different Kings of Israel and Judah. The books begin with David’s death and sweep us through history looking at every King. I’ve no idea what scholars say about the books of Kings but it strikes me that the theme is simple; really simple.

Either they did what was good, or they did what was evil. There is no ambiguity. We are told their names and immediately after their names we have an assessment of their lives. They either chose to do right or they chose to do wrong.

Could it be that simple? Could it be that I complicate my life far more than I need when it’s really about choosing God and good, or choosing to not choose God and not choose good? About refusing evil and choosing good? 

Could it be that in the middle of these worldwide tragedies that are so far away in distance, and yet so close to all of us in terms of news reports, that what I am called to is to do good?

Is it that simple? 

Today the prayer of my heart is that I choose good.