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Monday
Apr232012

SATAN'S PUPPET? Really?...just sign your name.

Let’s begin here… www.IJM.org  

If you have followed the fight against modern day slavery or even found the topic of sex trafficking in your periphery at any point, you probably became aware of International Justice Mission. 

They have been using their knowledge and resources to bring justice to people who wrongfully enslave others or keep girls trapped in sexual rings where they are forced into prostitution.  This is a simplification of the work they do.  They have been responsible for bringing freedom and healing to countless girls and families.

They have recently been asking people to join with them in signing a petition that would influence President Obama’s awareness and approach to the kinds of injustices that IJM is working to end.

 It seems simple doesn’t it?  Just add your name to a list of people who care that young girls are not forced into prostitution?  It seems simple enough to add a name to a list of people who want to make sure entire families are not forced into manual labor hauling bricks as voiceless, helpless servants.  Just add a name to a list that helps bring momentum in the fight to get people who are wrongfully imprisoned with life sentences because they did not speak the language of their accusers and were unable to defend themselves in a trial situation? 

So what’s the problem?   On the Jars of Clay Facebook page, on IJM’s  behalf, we asked our audience to add their names to the list. 

Here are a few comments: 

 

“Ask Congress, President Obama has been their slave for 3 years now!”

“Why would Obama help end slavery? He's a socialist... that equates to modern day slavery.”

“Lol, Jesus a socialist? That’s rediculous. How many socialists would defend Christianity today? Certainly not Obama! He knows more about Koran than he does the bible. Its sad how many people do not really know what is going on with our country.”

“Then why not go to Europe and stop sex trafficking yourself? Why not got to Africa and stop slavery yourself?  Those are deprivations of human rights throughout several foreign countries. And you want me to sign a petition to the president of the US to "end it all"?  This isn't a political matter, let alone a national political matter, stop making it one and be a valuable asset to your cause.  Ignorance will make you feel better, but it won't take away hurt from real people with real problems.”

“It is an issue of knowing it (the petition) is being handed to a presence that has no morals that makes little sense to me. How do you ask satan's puppet to show mercy? Unless of course it would benefit it's ratings for the upcoming election.

Just how do you believe this will change the hearts of man? I appreciate your devotion but you know what hits a nerve with me; abortion and contraceptives and yet these horrific nightmare's still exists. Some people do things in other ways such as FASTING, SACRIFICING and PRAYING with all their heart and all their might.  Voices sent to the Maker and Ruler of all the earth are promised to be heard and I believe these acts of faith are also promised by God to be productive! Not much can be confidently heard by those in sending stacks of protests to satan's puppet.  I do not put my "hope" in satan's puppet.”

These comments are frustrating to me on many levels. 

My initial reaction was to block all of these people from our Facebook page.  But that would not represent the “Middle Space”  where we want to exist… as frustrating as it is to have these voices at the table, they are invited.  Perhaps the biggest issue is that not a single comment acknowledged that we are talking about REAL slavery.  IF you can believe it, this isn't about you and  your political leanings, or convictions surrounding who should be or shouldn’t be the President of the United States!

How can anyone decide not to sign a petition like this based on political dissatisfaction?  Are people so compartmentalized that their lives are that distanced from actual human experience that they can look at a situation like child slavery and prostitution and find “politics” as a good reason to NOT simply put their names on a list?

Do people not consider actual people?

“I’m sorry little girl, I know you are being raped repeatedly every night, but I’m frustrated with a political leader that doesn’t share my views, so I just can’t help you out by signing a petition. It’s just too much for me to handle right now.”

NOTE:  This is NOT to guilt you into doing anything.  This is to show the short sightedness of the arguments that have already been posted as to why someone isn’t going to sign it. 

I know that some people are afraid of giving out their information, or the internet and technology is a big scary monster breathing spam and porn links and shamwow advertisements, and so people are hesitant to add their info to a petition. 

Those reasons somehow are not as bad because, they represent a bit more of an innocent reasoning… BUT for those who are actually standing behind a “political conviction,” and are willing to back up the inaction,  it is unjustifiable in my eyes.

Another angle...  

The mentality that some Christians have regarding prayer as the only action they are required to take, and prayer as a kind of absolution from the problems at hand is tragic.

I believe prayer matters.  I believe God answers prayer.  I believe we have the privilege of knowing more of God’s heart through prayer and contemplative disciplines.  BUT….BUT…. I don’t think it is enough in a situation like this to say,  "I won’t sign our petition, but I will pray."  

I truly believe God answers prayers through HIS people.  I believe we are the hands and feet and eyes to look compassionately at the world.  I think we pray as a means to have our eyes widened and perspectives drawn to the places where we are to bring our own hands and heart to bear on the injustice of our time.

If we are aware of an action that would serve the poor or a person in need, (especially actions that don’t put us in harms way or funnel us into some reckless activity that may hurt others) WHY wouldn’t we act? 

And if we don’t act, How do we justify it with Bibilical ideas?  Or Hide behind scriptures.   I have learned that serving others is a privilege, not an interruption to MY life.  I don’t think the Bible EVER speaks in opposition to this. 

IF a person sees an opportunity where they can help and does nothing that is fine.  Accept that I will think of them (as I would myself in those situations) as lazy or callous, or misguided, or sadly naïve, or busy,…or… a host of other things both decent and sometimes evil… BUT There is no place for using prayer as a reason for inaction and it will never cause me to consider them spiritual, or devout, or faithful. 

If IJM was asking us to travel to Uganda or Cambodia for a month to serve in aftercare facilities, I could understand why someone would choose not to do so.  The difference is in a specific calling to this kind of story… not everyone will be called to it.  A good friend once reminded me that, “the need does not necessitate the calling.”  Basically, just because you see the need does not mean it is entirely yours to see to it. “  We must know where we are best utilized.  However… this is a simple act, 30 seconds.  It took most of us longer to brush our teeth this morning. 

Rest assured, Obama is  NOT “Satan’s Puppet”  as one comment mentioned,  any more than you or I. 

We can cut our strings and act like real people who love real people, or we can stay wooden and heartless and continue to let our excuses keep us from action.  I will know jump down from my soapbox.  

http://www.ijm.org/content/sign-your-name-stand-for-freedom

Sunday
Apr152012

Roller Girls + Coffee

I woke up this morning, got dressed and walked off the bus in search of coffee. I was guided down to the lake and a coffee shop called, Alterra by The Lake.

We are getting ready for our third show of this tour. Already, there has been something different about the shows. It is hard to put my finger on it, but I would describe it as a freedom, or a weightlessness.

As I made my way in line at the coffee shop, I noticed a group of girls wearing t-shirts that said, "Brew City Bruisers."

They were a Roller Derby team. I decided I wanted to say hello. The vocation of a Rollergirl is intriguing to me. It seems like a hard kind of life.

I grabbed my coffee and sat outside. Once I mustered enough courage, I walked in and politely asked if I could have the honor of a photograph with them. The intimidation I felt left immediately, as they smiled and graciously said yes.

Once back at Turner Hall, I told the story of meeting the girls to a local helper. He grumbled something about lesbians and kissing, and getting beat up.

I invited the girls to the show. One of the things that struck me was that "the middle space" leaves room to invite rollergirls to a Jars concert. It might not have been an accepting environment had we been in a church, for all the reasons on both sides of the conversation. I was grateful for Turner Hall, and the chance to play in a neutral venue like this. It reminds me a lot of the first years of touring.

Hopefully some of the girls will show up. It was mostly just good to feel the freedom to invite.

That is the middle space. It has room for everyone. Come join us tonight.

Milwaukee, WI at Turner Hall. Maybe you can have your picture taken with a Rollergirl!

Sunday
Apr082012

Touring: The Middle Space

I recently did an interview about our upcoming tour, and the question posed by the interviewer was:  “Why are you touring?”  I thought I would expound on the short answer I gave in the interview….

I don’t know if you have ever thought about it, the reasons an artist might decide to go out on the road and perform concerts night after night.  It might seem like a simple matter of economics.  After all, at a point in history where people are not buying music in any shape that would allow artists to make the labor of creating music, a sole vocation, it is obvious that concerts would factor in. 

The economics do matter.  People can support an artist by purchasing a concert ticket and maybe a t-shirt at a show.  This helps put confidence into the minds of the promoters that have to wonder if the gamble they make on the artist is a good one or not.  If fans don’t show up for concerts, artist, will take their nomadic circuses elsewhere, since promoters don’t usually gamble on the same act more than once.

There is the record cycle.  This is the space usually 3 months before a record releases, and six months to a year after the record is released.  Artists tour and perform a specific group of songs in order to promote the recordings, and bolster sales and awareness of the band.  This also helps solidify a brand with images and a performance aesthetic that helps define who the artist is and wants to be.

Some artists tour because they are in demand.  The tour is more of a response to a cultural awareness, or exposure that placed them in the public conscience for a given moment., in other words, striking while the iron is hot.  Others tour in order to build the necessary army of fans who support and push the artist into the public conscience. 

Some artists tour with a transactional mindset.  They are there to capitalize on their success, ride the wave and suck as much life out of their fifteen seconds of fame.  The artist operates similarly to a professional athlete who knows they only have a few solid years of wear and tear on their bodies, so they push for the greatest amounts of money and build their sponsorship and endorsement portfolios as quickly as possible. 

Who could blame them really?  Artists don’t get much of an opportunity for longevity… and many new artists don’t really want it anyway.   The idea of an artist “selling out” to a corporation is an antiquated idea.  Having songs in commercials and in movies, even bad movies, is a sought after opportunity by almost all artists.

The reasons artists love performing are vast.  Some need the attention and applause.  They have an inexhaustible hunger for the spotlight.  It is the central tributary that feeds their significance, and without the attention, they wither. 

Some artists love performing because they consider the music they make to be a gift rather than a means to get.  I have watched artists sing songs to people believing that the song they sing is meant for a specific purpose in that place and time to heal a wound or provide a gift to a single person.  Music is for giving away.  It is a form of “disinterested love,” which is a term I borrow from Thomas Merton.  It means a love that has no interest at stake.  It is love without an end.  Artists who carry this kind of belief find their music to be purposeful and their touring to be missional in some form or fashion. 

I believe that most artists navigate touring with a cocktail of all of the above motivations. 

On April 10th,  I will step on a bus and begin the journey up to Minneapolis to begin a tour.  I have asked the question of myself.  Why am I touring?

I don’t have a record to promote.  In fact, we are at least 9 months from releasing another collection of songs.  We don’t have a current surge of awareness in the cultural conscience.  We are not a new band in search of a growing army to push us into the spotlight. 

I am touring because I want to remember what it is like to love music, love the people who sing along, and love the communities where our music is born. 

Jars of Clay turned 18 years old in 2012.   We finally get to vote this year.  We are touring in clubs and small theaters because we voted and realized that it matters that we start playing music in places where people go to experience live music because they love music. 

We aren’t playing as part of a large music festival with 100 other bands plopped down in front of a large radio banner for a station we probably haven’t ever had the chance to listen to.  We are not playing in places where we are co-opted into someone else’s agenda.  We aren’t making music as a means to some other end like an alter call, or a statement of relevance for some organization or project we don’t believe in.  We aren’t using music as a tool or a means to manipulate people into some spiritual or emotional experience they didn’t sign up for.  And we aren’t playing in places where we have to apologize for the abundance of ferns and pipe organ spires or pastel colored banners that all fight against our ability to offer the best musical experience we can. 

It has been years since I have been able to write those statements.

There are so many voices adding to the noise of who a band is, and why they do what they do.  Those voices are loud, and in the various moments of imbalance, where we wonder how much of what we do is supply and demand, how much is inspiration, and how much is rebellion, those voices can be a siren leading us to our doom.  We have followed voices like those.  Those voices will lead only to mediocrity.  Those voices that push an artist to create so deeply within the confines of a “market” or focused group will dissolve the artist’s confidence, and ultimately turn artists into manufacturers, driven by someone else’s ideas or motivations.  It chips away at honest.creativity. 

One day, I woke up and realized that I was not satisfied with the reasons I was making music anymore.  I was not happy with my motivations for touring.  Even though I loved our audience, I resented the performances where the expectations on the band to be more charismatic, or worshipful, or religious, or safe, (especially when I knew we weren’t making music in order to deliver such things) left me wondering if I had disappointed nearly everyone at the show. 

Jars began as a band for, what we call, “The middle space.”  We did not want to be a Christian band.  We did not want to be a mainstream band.  We wanted to live in the tension of both worlds.  We were comfortable with the tension of that middle space.  We loved the conversations and debates it would stir.  We felt like we were right were we needed to be.  We fought and elbowed our way to keep ourselves in that tension.  We’ve written songs for R rated movies and for church music albums.  We played for Billy Graham festivals and for Modern Rock Radio station festivals. 

We like the middle space.  It is a place where real conversations about doubt, struggle, faith, love, joy and pain exist in their most genuine and uncensored forms.  We love that the middle space has room for the drug addict and the preacher.  It is a table big enough for those who love God, and those who don’t care about God.

Jars of Clay is touring this season in the middle space.  We will from now on.  We will make music for the middle space.  We are coming to your cities to play music, tell stories, and enjoy the gift of music and friendship with you as less of a reinvention, as a restoration of what we care about as a band.  We hope you will come out and see the show.  Have a beer and consider the depths of love and faith.

We have selected songs for this show that are our favorites.  We have brought along artists that we believe in and will most likely blow us off the stage.  Come and join us in the middle space.  

Here are the cities and dates: go to www.jarsofclay.com for tickets!

APRIL:

12- Minneapolis, MN 
13- Des Moines, IA
15- Milwaukee, WI
16- St. Louis, MO
18- Fort Wayne, IN
26- Monroe, LA
27- Dallas, TX
28- Waco, TX
29- San Marcos, TX

Thursday
Mar152012

Dignity part 2

I know that the Invisible Children Organization is probably shaking their heads because they are simply trying to do a good thing.  I think their hearts and passion for Uganda's fight against Kony is real.  More importantly, the kind of backlash and useless critical engagement they have had to carry could make other people with big ideas pause.  I would hate for others to come to a conclusion that doing a good thing is too risky OR that doing a good thing carries too many chances for failure.  

People should continue to dream, and at the same time, take the time to have the necessary conversations with people who have been there before.  The pool of wisdom regarding community development is deep and wide.  And the Invisible Children campaign should teach us that great marketing is nice, but ultimately not the biggest piece of the puzzle.  

Here is a link someone sent yesterday.  If this is a majority opinion in Uganda, than I wonder if the campaign needs to dissolve.  I have received comments that include people saying that Ugandan's wouldn't understand because the video is not produced with them in mind, it is produced to get American's to act... This betrays a lot of misconception surrounding how smart Ugandan's are, or how connected they are.  A classic case of limited resources = limited intelligence.  That is not how the world works.  

Check it out.  

http://boingboing.net/2012/03/14/uganda-screening-of-kony-201.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

 

Friday
Mar092012

Dignity: why I don't support the IC movement

Let’s first get it out of the way… It is hard to speak ill of non-profit organizations.  Especially one like Invisible Children. They have pioneered a lot of the best ways to use social networking to bring light to an issue that NEEDS to be thought of and engaged.  And they are just so damn cool.  It is also a hard task to speak with a critical voice amidst a positive movement having such a well-intentioned purpose.

The repercussions of a movement like this going sour could have lasting effects on the ways we engage social action for decades to come.   And that means real lives are at stake.  If this movement hurts more than it helps, it will change the climate of skepticism toward humanitarian causes and stories.  It will be another barrier for us to overcome to care and to act. 

What happens if “we” remove Joseph Kony?  There are complexities in that question that are hard to miss.  If you speak to Ugandan’s about the KONY2012 movement, the complexities become even clearer. 

Dignity is the fundamental issue with the movement.  The means to achieve a goal in any social action that focuses on illuminating and correcting an unjust circumstance is that you have to ultimately consider the people you desire to serve.  This may sound simple, or might be a no brainer.  But sometimes a good idea can completely undermine the infusion of dignity in a situation.  Well-intentioned photos of children with flies on their faces taken as a means to tell the story of famine can actually do more harm than good.  We can establish postures that make it easy to feel like we are the saviors and people in poverty are one-dimensional victims.  It feels good being the hero.  It can imply that people can’t save themselves without us. 

 Let’s start on the U.S. side of this current call to action:

The call to action is to “make Kony famous.”  This will be done by what feels like a slight act of civil disobedience.  We are called to canvas our towns and schools and streets and buildings with posters and stickers.  This might seem harmless enough, and it might even be effective.   But the problem starts with dignity. 

Where is the dignity in the activism?  If I was a store owner and I woke up to find my store front plastered with posters and stickers for a movement that I was never asked to endorse, I might feel disrespected.  If I had to spend a day chipping away at stickers that were attached to things I owned, put up in the middle of the night by people engaged in a passionate and small act of civil disobedience I might be pissed off.  And I might also feel a bit violated.  I certainly would not feel like I was invited to care or offered a chance to leverage my own voice and resources in the movement.  It would create a community wide feeling of alienation.   We don’t want to alienate people from our movement do we?  What if someone put stickers for Planned Parenthood on your car?  What if political candidates with a host of passionate reasons put their posters up in your yard, and plastered banners on your home?  We have to care for our own communities if we are going to sustain a movement. 

In Uganda, the problem is worse.  From the perspective of Ugandan’s, the movement speaks loud and clear that the Ugandan Army has done nothing.  The call to action speaks about our drive to elicit a response from U.S. military forces to act and remove Joseph Kony.  We are sending the message, “Ugandan’s can’t do this on their own.”  Even though, the Ugandan army has been responsible for removing Joseph Kony and the LRA from Uganda. 

The movement, in speaking nothing about the process of bringing Joseph Kony to justice, neglects to tell everyone that military factions have been told to shoot on sight.  Joseph Kony is to be executed.  This is what “brought to justice,” means for this man, and the movement at hand.  So, for those of us who thoughtfully wrestle with the death penalty, or the sanctity of life, (all life)… this poses a dilemma.  The simplicity of the awareness movement does not communicate this, and therefore leaves us to believe that a simple act of removing a tyrant is the solution.  

It neglects to tell the stories of ALL the other organizations and individuals and citizens who have been hard at work serving those effected by the war in Uganda and those who have spent their lives trying to end the horrors of Joseph Kony. 

It’s almost like telling a bunch of people who have never had a drink to start a movement to get alcoholics to just stop drinking.  It’s that simple… just stop drinking.   Does this honor the life long struggles and the people who have died under Kony’s military?  Does it honor an alcoholic to remind them that you know how they can stop better than they do if you haven’t even asked them to tell their story to you? 

I work with an organization that holds true to the sequence:  Know, Love, Act.  This is vital to the work of Blood:Water Mission, and should be for all those who seek to exist in the social justice world. 

You need to take the time to know someone.  This means knowing their story.  It means understanding their hearts and passions.  It means being familiar with their dreams and goals.  In knowing, we often find that we will come to love those people.  We will come to find our own story woven into the fabric of theirs.  We will them see our selves implicated in the work of helping them with the things they want to change in and for themselves and their families or communities.  This takes time, and often it is work done without the glamour of a movement attached to it.  But it is the only way to keep dignity in tact. 

Most people don’t want to feel like they are being rescued.  That can be humiliating.  So… what do we do with a movement that does not work toward dignity? 

Do we simply applaud it for the marketing genius that it is?  Do we buy into it and support the cause even if it turns out to be misguided or misinformed because we don’t want to be the poop in the punch bowl? 

In closing, I do applaud the western world for looking at this situation in the world.  It is far beyond our backyards and it does not encroach on our drive into work, or our gaming, or general lives… We have shown in our immediacy that we do have pulses and hearts.  We have shown that our reflex toward justice is still strong.  What we should do is match our passion for justice with wisdom and humility.  It was Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, who told me, “ Justice without mercy is tyranny.” 

Thank Invisible Children for bringing this issue into the public conscience.  Please take a breath and walk humbly into the realm of action.

How do we keep the work from hurting more than helping?  These are the questions that we must ask.  These are the questions that I wish Invisible Children was asking before they launched this campaign to coincide with our election year.  It is a good marketing idea.  It just isn’t a great and dignifying form of action.