Friday, August 15, 2014

A white cop, a black kid, and a crime.


My husband was a cop for 10 years.

I'm not making that up. Before we became missionaries, he worked for the Sac Country Sheriff's department for a decade; patrolled in a bad part of town, wore a badge over his heart, carried a gun, upheld an oath to Protect and Serve. His brothers on the force were black and white and asian and latino.

I'm telling you this because I want you to know that I totally understand the desire to defend the officer who shot Michael Brown. I want to defend him. 

I want to raise my hand, poke out my chin, and pompously explain that even if that cop was in the wrong, there's a meaningful difference between murder and manslaughter.

Yes. He had a pornstache. 
I want to tell you about the quiver of fear in a cop's voice when he gets home from swing shift at 2am, hangs his duty belt over the closet door, climbs into bed with his wife and whispers, words coming out in a shudder, “I almost shot someone tonight... I thought I was going to have to shoot him...”

I want the public to understand that when an officer involved shooting occurs, it's not celebrated back at the office. The department weeps. They cry for the dead and they hurt for their partner... because, contrary to popular belief, most cops aren't anxious for a chance to fire their weapons. Most cops became cops to save lives, not take them.

I want to demand the details of the case before we call for the head of a cop who showed up to fight a crime and shot a man in the line of duty.

Oh. How I wish it were all that simple.

But it's not. It's not simple. It's not cut and dry.

It wouldn't be fair or right or good to try to explain or excuse the death of an 18 year old, the anger of a community, or the agony of his mother. Surely, they deserve better than that... And, certainly, this story is bigger than that. This is so much bigger than a white cop, a black kid, and petty crime that ended in death.

I've watched this story unfold many times over now. I've followed stories like Michael Brown's before, too many stories of unarmed black men shot dead, and the ensuing cry from the black community for justice. Every detail goes on trial in the court of Internet Opinion, which leads to no shortage of hateful, blind, ignorance spouted off in comments on news feeds and blog posts and editorials. It makes my stomach feel hollow and my heart feel shrunken. It makes my brain ache. But my pits get super sweaty when I see people who are anxious to defend the police (like me? Lord, help me.) try to blow off empirical evidence and hard statistics which show black men are at much greater risk of being shot by police, by using... well... empirical evidence and hard statistics to explain it away.

They are at greater risk of being shot because they're statistically more likely to be carrying a gun. Duh.”, they shrug.

You'd get a similar response if you were to point out that black men are more likely to end up in prison;“That's because it's been proven that black men commit more crime than white men.”

Or unemployed;“Black people have a higher rate of dependance on welfare.”.

Or dead at the hands of a member of their own community; “Gang violence is factually higher among blacks.”

And the terrible truth is, they're kind of right.

In the U.S, our black neighbors are statistically more likely to end up economically challenged, planted in jail, or shot dead.

So at what point should we bother to stop and ask why?

 Why??

Why are our black children more likely to end up dead in the street than our white children?

WHY???

I'm gonna go out on a limb here, take a stab in the dark, venture a wild guess.... but I think it could be because RACISM IS A REAL THING and IT STILL EXISTS in our cities, schools, and communities. 

If you're not sure, pick any big city in America and ask the first person you find on the street where you can find a “white high school” and a “black high school”. I guarantee you won't need to explain the question, and you'll promptly be pointed in two different directions. You know why? Because segregation is still alive and well all over America. Our suburbs are homogenously white. Our city centers are homogenously brown. Don't tell me that racism doesn't exist today!

You can't have it both ways. You can't lean on statistics that claim black men are more likely to be under-educated, under-paid, or engaged in criminal activity (in order to prove they probably deserved to be shot), and, then, not conclude that our black baby boys are being born into some kind of serious systemic disadvantage.

Black children are born at higher risk of poverty and prison, because they are born black. That, my friends, is racism. That is a crime against humanity.

To be honest, while I believe there's no doubt the Ferguson Police department handled the aftermath of this travesty poorly, I'm not ready to condemn the individual cop who shot Micheal Brown. I can't. A cop's spouse knows too much about what happens behind the scenes when a 911 call is dispatched or a criminal suspect is encountered, and a man or woman in uniform races into action for the greater good of the people. Indeed, I actually hope a thorough investigation ends with the justification of the discharge of the cop's weapon in the course of his duty to protect and serve. If not, then we must sadly acknowledge the crime of manslaughter has been committed by a police officer and he must be held liable for his actions. I'm going to let the pieces of that puzzle fall into place without tossing my biased opinion into the ring.

But another crime has happened here, one that cannot be left unspoken.

For, no matter the exact details of this particular shooting outside of a convenience store in Ferguson, Missouri, Micheal Brown's death can never be justified. This is why our brothers and sisters are decrying the demise of yet another black man at the hands of the police. This is why people across the nation are gathering to mourn and pray and protest over another life lost.

Micheal Brown was born black.

He was born black in a country that's trying really hard to pretend that racism is in the past. He was born black in a nation that has, thus far, failed to bring true equality to her people. He was born black in a place where being born black is, in a lot of ways, still akin to being born less than white.

Where is the justice in that?!

How can we justify the death of a young man whose whole life unfolded under a pretty undeniable shadow of racial bias? Is it just to debate Michael Brown's death without also discussing his disadvantage?

As people of privilege (*ahem* you know who you are), we have a responsibility to ask WHY, and then listen intently to the answer. Our neighbors in Ferguson have been standing in the street with their hands in the air, because they're trying to tell us something about the balance of power and racial inequity in the U.S! Are we willing to hear them?

Because maybe it's time to shut up and listen. 

Or maybe it's time to get up and act; to meet our friends in the street, clasp their hands, share in their tears, echo their outrage, and stand by their side until, statistically, a long and healthy future is equally as likely for every child. 

Or maybe you're a white, upper-middle class, Christian and you're still not sure where you stand on this whole issue. If that's the case, please let me leave you with this...

Jesus (who was decidedly not white or American, but, it could be argued, held a great deal of power and authority) drew a solid line – like, he literally drew a line - and then He stood on the side of the weak, the burdened, the vulnerable, and the oppressed. 

Jesus rose to his feet in the presence of injustice.

Over and over again, we see Jesus stand on the side of the disadvantaged.

...And, I don't know about you, but I think I want to stand with Jesus. 


.....          .....         .....


Where do you stand? 


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Wait. Is this shit for real?


Sometimes when I come across "Christian" things online, I'm not sure if it was made by Christians to sell to Christians because who else would spend money on this stuff... or if it was made by non-Christians to sell to Christians because who else would spend money on this stuff?!

Like, I see this crap and I think, "The only two possibilities here are that we are being stupid, or we're being mocked for being stupid. There are no other explanations."

For example, The Brick Bible - a graphic novel depicting Bible stories out of LEGOs. It's brilliant and really well done... and I think it's obviously meant to showcase the idiocy of Christians who worship a God that (as implied by The Brick Bible) condones rape, torture, incest, genocide, and the murder of babies. But maybe I'm wrong.

Gotta admit, I was truly impressed by the artists ability to depict graphic sex scenes, bloody slaughters, and mass circumcision using only LEGO bricks. It's kind of amazing. 



Then there's this; "Christain Mingle", the movie. Which, I think is a Christian thing made for Christians. Like, I'm pretty sure it's meant to be one of those "Let's make a movie to invite our 'non-believing' friends to so they can see how fun and cool and normal it is to be a Christian!" movies. The terrifying phrase "evangelism tool" springs to mind...




But, every once in a while, I stumble across something like The Forever Bible, where I'm just not sure what's going on. It certainly feels like a mockery of dumb Christian culture and the first time I saw it, I found myself waiting for the punchline and, then, when it ended without one, I was like, "...*blink blink*...Wait. Is this shit for real?!"




I mean, 2:24 you guys?! WTF. This cannot be real.

 I just.... I don't even know...

Can anyone explain this stuff to me? 

Please try. 



Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sharing is caring.

The other day I posted this pic on instagram of my angelic baby girl... um, I mean... my brother's baby girl taking a nap on my shoulder at Starbucks...


...and then the whole internet was like,

"WHERE DID YOU GET THAT HEADBAND?! TELL US RIGHT NOW!!!"

But then I never said where it was from - and I'm sure people thought I was trying to keep it a secret, because sometimes when a girl finds something really cool, she has good reasons for keeping it to herself. I know you know what I'm talking about, since apparently we ALL own the exact same southwest print maxi skirt from Target and it's really awkward when two (or three!) of us walk past each other wearing it on the street, or at church... or in Target. (Which has happened to me.)


^^^^
Yeah. That one.

Anyway.

I swear, I wasn't being secretive in order to preserve and protect my spot as the only person on the planet with this kick ass headband.

I kind of love it so much.

In fact, this little headband is my new favorite way to pretend I don't have greasy summer bangs (Ha! Bite me, bobby-pins!) and the company that sells them is pretty amazing, too, so I'm actually super excited to share this find with you.

The headband is from a little New York based company called rePURPOSE that creates and sells accessories -- with God's planet and His people in mind -- by repurposing old thrift store junk into new, hip stuff. So, yes, I'm probably wearing the armpit of Uncle Joe's cast off triple X tee on my head, but I really don't care because CUTE, and also because of this (which I stole this from their about page):

rePURPOSE was started with one idea in mind - to raise money for those in need. It is based off of three major principles: to donate profits both locally and internationally, raise awareness, and to make a conscience effort to use materials that don't support slave labor. Every single aspect of this company is designed to make a difference.
Materials used for rePURPOSE products are donated, purchased from thrift stores or made in the USA. This also means that every single product is one-of-a-kind!
I hung out with the people behind rePURPOSE last weekend and, I'm telling you, they are legit. It's a great concept and a great business model and they're using the profits to do great things in the world and their community. Plus, part of their profits go directly to my favorite non-profit, so there's that.

I don't write commercials, you guys. rePURPOSE is not paying me to love on them in public. Over the last year, I've been actively seeking ways to make socially conscious purchases, ways to consume less, give more, and make all the ways I spend my money count toward the betterment of our world. I'm sharing (my kick ass headband and) rePURPOSE with you because if you're not already headed down this road, I think it's a good place to start.

Check out www.repurposeaccessories.com.

Happy head banding!


Thursday, July 31, 2014

If Evil has a best friend, it's Apathy.

Since my first exposure to the reality of sex-slavery and human trafficking, I've been trying to get my head around the whole mess of it. I wanted to understand it better, so I've tried to learn as much as I could about the history and the politics that drive it. I researched and read and talked to leaders in the anti-trafficking movement. I became aware of my own role in it, as I tried to see myself clearly in this injustice, both as a contributor to the problem and as part of the solution. (Yes, I'm both.)

But it's been a year now, and I'm still pretty confused.

I've spent the last 12 months trying to get my head around the language of modern day slavery and the fact that when we are using these words - word's like sold, smuggled, traded, transported, brokered, abused, starved, beaten, broken in – we're talking about human beings. Actual human beings. The kind with names and faces and families. The kind with dreams. The kind with hearts and souls. Real live people.

I've spent a year trying to get my head around the evil of it all, trying to figure out how anyone with an ounce of decency could treat another person – especially a child - like an object or an animal, a thing to be bought or bartered, used up, and eventually discarded. I've tried to understand the mentality of the mother who willingly sells her daughter's virginity, or the father who hands his son over to a sexual predator. I've tried to learn about the minds of the men and women who are drawn to the impoverished and needy the way vultures flock to the weak and dying. I've tried to find some sort of Grace for people who profit off the bodies of the young and vulnerable.

But, I'm still confused.

Initially it was hard to even consider how these terrible things come to pass, but it's not the “evil" part that has me baffled.

After looking at the big picture, I can actually kind of understand how slavery and trafficking have become so blatant in certain parts of the world. I can see how this particular brand of evil has been able to thread its way in to the moral fabric of the culture, eating away at the family unit and devouring the value of a life. It's not that hard to wrap your brain around how a murky cocktail of war and genocide, mixed with abject poverty, infant mortality, lack of education, and ongoing political unrest has created the perfect storm for exploiting the planet's poor and marginalized. There are millions of men, women, and children in SE Asia, perfectly groomed by the precariousness of their daily lives to fulfill the perverted demands of a broken world; cheap food, cheap goods, cheap labor, cheap sex. This is the survival of the weakest.

Last month, I sat in a dimly lit, sour smelling brothel and watched a group of men grabbing and pawing and touching teenagers dressed as half-naked school girls. Some of them wore pigtails to enhance the appearance of childishness, and they all rocked back and forth, with blank faces, to no beat in particular on an up-lit stage. Just rock step, rock step, rock step, forward and back, in tiny pleated skirts and towering heals, until some guy on the outskirts of the bar would pick them by number and they would be called down to sit on his lap for a while, or maybe leave with him for the hour. I watched a timid girl, repeatedly pulling her long hair forward to cover her exposed breasts, getting pointers from one of the veterans. “Rock step, rock step, rock step. You got it.”

Anyone you know?
That would be awkward.
I was supposed to be looking at the girls. I was supposed to be looking for the things The Exodus Road's undercover investigators told us they look for when they do “level one surveillance”, the little clues that can identify brothels with underage girls, and brothels who hold and sell women against their will, and brothels who traffic kids in from other countries. But I was staring at the men. I couldn't help it. In the Red Light districts of SE Asia, the brothel's guests hail from all over the world; white, black, asian, latino, American, European, African, Australian, Indian, Russian. You name it. You'll find sharply dressed business men and dirty hippies, muscle bound bros and scrawny geeks, old creepy pedophile looking dudes and young hot good looking guys - all there for the same thing.

Some of them don't even bother to take off their wedding rings.

I want to tell you that when I looked around at the faces of all those men, I saw evil. And maybe I did in some of them, but mostly I saw broken... I saw lonely... I saw addicted... I saw injured...

I saw men who believe the lie that wanting to have sex with a really young girl is normal. I saw groups of guys who believe the lie that “boys will be boys” and this is what boys do on a work trip. I saw men who could barely contain their shame, and I saw men doing shameless things. I saw them trying to drown their own brokenness in beer and bury it in boobs. I saw them pretending that paying for an intended act of love is the same as being loved. I saw the fear of rejection that lives in every man's heart made manifest. I watched it spill out and come to life in an eager willingness to degrade and abuse another human being, to devalue a soul, in exchange for a brief moment of pleasure - one minute to forget the pain of being fragile.

And maybe this sounds weird, but I can actually get my head around that. I'm not kidding. I can understand what drives it, for I, too, am broken, and I, too, am guilty of letting the shards of my shattered spirit cut their way to the surface of my life and hurt people. That kind of darkness isn't foreign to me. I mean, don't get me wrong; Sitting across from a greasy 63 year old who's groping a 17 year old who looks like a 13 year old still fills me with a special kind of rage (and it does make me wish I knew how to braid a legit, for real, Jesus-style bullwhip for some legit, for real, Jesus-style table flippin' and ass kickin'). I still believe that guy needs to be stopped. I still believe that girl deserves to be free. I still feel like the Red Light districts of SE Asia are crawling with... evil. But, what I'm saying is that I can see how we got here, to this place, where sprawling Red Light districts are plentiful, and where children's bodies are for sale, and where pimps and child molesters abound.

I guess it's just easy for me to see how a broken world full of broken people would have spots where the shattered pieces collect and congregate, surfacing like an open wound, in great need of care and healing.

I get all of that. I do. I believe that evil exists in the world (and in my own heart), so as I've spent this past year trying to learn as much as I could about all of this, it just wasn't shocking for me to consider the historical and cultural roots and the current driving forces behind modern day slavery and find the presence of “evil”. That really doesn't surprise me at all. I mean, duh.

But, you know what does surprise me? You know what I'm still super confused by?

Apathy.

I'm shocked by how easy it is to feel apathetic to the suffering of others. 

Sometimes it seems like we all know this atrocity exists, but we just don't actually give a shit.

That's the one part of this giant humanitarian disaster that lingers in my mind with a big fat question mark above it, like a huge neon sign, flashing “What-the-hell-is-going-on-around-here?!"

Most of us already know about human-trafficking.

A man directs a little girl to show off her flexibility...
in front of a brothel.
We know that young girls are being bought, coerced, or taken from rural villages and sold into slavery.

We know that children are being raped for profit on a global scale.

We know that bad men are traveling to certain cities where it's easier to buy little boys, or virgin girls.

We know that teenagers are being smuggled from one country to the next, to be used as sex slaves.

We know... but we don't really care. Or, maybe we just don't care enough to do anything about it.

One thing I've noticed this past year, as I've tried to understand this whole issue, is that we want to be entertained by the sad stories of slavery, but we don't want to be changed by them.

We want to pretend that perspective and awareness are as valuable action and service. But they're not. 

We want to be aware... but we don't really want to be involved.

Oh, how I wish I was pointing fingers at everyone else right now! I can't even tell you how much I wish I was talking about you, and not me. But that would be totally unfair, because I am so guilty of letting apathy rule my heart. It's hard to believe I could be apathetic after I've seen trafficked girls with my own eyes, and heard their stories with my own ears. It's hard to imagine that I could let those faces, those voices, those real live people, slip from the forefront of my mind, only to be replaced by grocery lists and orthodontist appointments and the numbers on the bathroom scale. But life is weird and it doesn't always make sense, so I find myself waffling back and forth between being a passionate advocate for The ExodusRoad's anti-trafficking efforts, and being a bored, self-absorbed, suburbanite who panics if there's no greek yogurt when I get home from the gym.

After a whole year of calling attention to the fact that real people are being bought and sold like cattle, it's my own apathy that I find so confusing.

I should know better! I've seen what happens when we stand by and do nothing because we're too apathetic to be affected, and I've experienced the exact opposite - the beautiful, life-giving things that happen when we choose to act on behalf of our fellow man.

I know "evil" is kind of a scary word, but there is real evil in our world. I don't care what your faith background is, this is a pretty undeniable fact. There are truly evil things happening right now to real people – real, living, breathing, dreaming boys and girls.

But we can't fight evil with apathy.

We can't change the world with inaction. 

We can't carry slaves toward freedom unless we, ourselves, can be moved. 

I do have sad stories of slavery to share with you, but when I do, I hope you'll do more than just read. Because I'm planning to invite you to become part of the solution. I'm going to ask you to care with a passion, and offer you a chance to take action. I'm going to invite you to do something small that will empower something big in the fight against modern day slavery. 

If evil has a best friend, it's apathy. The two seem to go hand in hand. And I don't know, but I think maybe it's time for us to forcefully push apathy out of the way, so we can kick evil right in the balls. 

Are you with me? 



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I'm on vacation to nowhere in particular....

....and the spotty wifi won't let me upload the pics I need for the posts about human trafficking and the SE Asian sex trade that I promised would go up this week.

A good blogger would have formatted them last week and scheduled them to post at a certain time on a certain day. But I am not a good blogger. I'm the kind of procrastinator who brings her computer on vacation and makes her family mad because she spends too long trying to format something that should have been done before she left. So, I'm gonna close my mac and stick it in the trunk and not think about any of this for 2 days.

Sorry.

I can upload pics from my phone which doesn't help me at all. But it let's me leave you with this:

The absolute WORST picture ever taken of me in my entire life... 

I don't even know.