It Was Personal: Ferguson, ALS, Christian Genocide, and Tay-Tay

shutterstock_123429226

On August 12th at 11:30pm, a 17-year-old African American boy was riding his bike on 92nd and Dobson when a silver car pulled up and fired shots at his chest. He was rushed to the ER, and was pronounced dead just after midnight. The police report stated that this boy was a documented gang member, whatever that means.

On August 13th, my husband’s and my 3rd year anniversary, I checked the news and discovered that my former student, Tay-Tay, was that documented gang member, that 17-year old bike-rider, that boy who was shot in the chest and who was now dead. I discovered this, and all the color drained from my face.

I knew there were shootings in Chicago all the time, and I had even known of kids at my school that have died, and Mike Brown was just fatally shot by a police officer only a few days earlier. All of these facts made me upset, made me outraged, made me sad.

But I don’t know. Maybe it was because I knew Tay well. Maybe it was because I recommended him for my AP Lang class and I was looking forward to teaching him next year. Maybe it was because he came late everyday to my first period class his Freshman year but still aced all of the exams. Maybe it was because of the contrast between celebrating a marriage and celebrating a life that was taken too early.

But this, this rocked me.

I won’t go into too many details about Tay-Tay, one, because he was in fact a gang member, and pretty high up on the totem pole too, and I want to respect his family’s privacy. And two, because I have other things to discuss.

But I will say a few words to explain, and a few words to commemorate.

So, many of the kids out here, they are sort of forced into the gang-banging lifestyle. Yes, it’s true that they ultimately make their own choices, but joining a gang is a survival tactic in some cases. It’s part of life here, and honestly, you don’t have to do much to be affiliated with a gang. You just have to stay on a certain block. Where you live determines what gang you’re with. It’s really that simple sometimes. And because you’re automatically affiliated with a gang, it’s easy for you to get caught up in the activity of the gang and the hierarchy of it. It’s like a snowball effect. Or at least it can be.

I have reason to believe that Tay-Tay was a higher-up in the gang. He didn’t advertise it at school, but he didn’t need to. The kids that talk the most about it are usually affiliated, but not too involved. The ones who don’t talk, don’t talk because they are involved, and sometimes, heavily so. Tay didn’t talk about it. He was so intelligent and so talented, and he could play one hell of a game of basketball. He was cute, funny, and he had the best smile out there. He was one hundred percent a natural-born leader. I loved him like I love all of my kiddos. Yes, he made some silly choices, he had a little ‘tude some days, and his ability to show up late to class and out-test the ones who came on time drove me absolutely insane!– but I loved that kid. I really did. And now he’s dead.


I can’t help but connect Tay’s death to the world around me right now. People everywhere are getting up in arms about so many issues, from Christian genocide in Iraq, to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and whether or not to dump the ice or donate, to Michael Brown’s brutal shooting by a Caucasian police officer in Ferguson, to the journalist James Foley’s ugly and filmed beheading, and I can’t help but wonder if they are all somehow related.

And the funny thing is, as many times as I’ve seen people speak out to voice an opinion or simply to raise awareness, I’ve seen just as many twitter feeds and Facebook posts and even news quotes that bash the ALS Challenge, or that question the facts of Mike Brown’s case, or that deny the global relevance of any of the issues mentioned previously. We insist that one outrage is more outrageous than the other, and that the cause of another’s choice isn’t worth caring for as much as our cause is.

But even though we are quick the point the finger, and quick to reference another tragedy, the truth of the matter is, we are really just scared of our own selfishness. Scared that we actually might care about our own lives more than we care about the lives of those people who have suffered greater than we ever have.

When I found out Tay was killed, I was celebrating my anniversary. I wanted to have fun, to laugh, and to be romantic with my husband. But when I thought about him bleeding on the ground, scraped up from his fall off the bike, a bullet buried in his chest, in the same spot where he had buried into my heart, I felt utterly guilty for being alive. And somehow, I think that maybe we all feel that way when we look at a tragedy.

When someone with ALS’s body slowly shuts down while their brain remains the same, when a black man can’t walk on the street without fear that the law enforcement might take his life, when a pregnant Muslim encounters Jesus and is executed by her own government, and when a 17-year-old boy is gunned down while riding his bicycle home from a friend’s house, we are stunned with the guilt of still being alive.

So we rage, and point fingers at those who aren’t raging enough, or raging in the wrong way. We take personally what doesn’t usually effect us personally, and we feel better about ourselves…. for a little while.

Maybe this is a first world problem. Or maybe it’s just the byproduct of being raised in a middle-class, white, suburban family and being launched into a violence-riddled, urban neighborhood where my lack of color now is the minority.

Yes, maybe it’s my white-guilt… or my privileged-guilt.

But whatever it is, it’s the same reason I broke down last night after shots were fired a block away from us and we heard the shooter– the murderer of human life– running through the empty lot next to our house. All I could think about was Tay-Tay and the hand of God that protected me in this neighborhood. I sobbed into the humid air and demanded to know why God hadn’t protected him, and whoever else might have died tonight. 

We can’t help what race we are. I know. We can’t help what hereditary disease we contract or don’t contract. We can’t help where we were born, or how we were raised, or how much money our parents had, or whether or not our government is tyrannical or just. I know this. But I still think it’s unfair that we haven’t found a cure for ALS, that we haven’t found a cure for the plagues of racism, a cure for religious discrimination, a cure for white-guilt. I think it’s unfair that Tay-Tay, the boy with the bright smile and the big potential, had his life cut short while I’m still here breathing and teaching the class that he’s still on the roster for. 

And I think I’m more upset about Tay than I am about Ferguson, or about Christian beheadings, or about ice buckets. I think my outrage at his death has caused more genuine and heart-felt tears than anything in the news ever could cause. And maybe that’s cold of me to admit, but it’s true. I felt the loss of his life on a personal level.

I knew Tay. He taught me to value my students, even if they drive me crazy. He taught me to value my life, because it can be cut short. He taught me that sometimes the greatest injustices are the ones that aren’t publicized or argued or even remembered. He taught me all of this, not during his life, but he taught me this through his death.

So I guess what I’m saying is, we need to find out what all of this death and disease and destruction can teach us–what ALS, Mike Brown, and James Foley can teach us. And when we find out, we need to learn that lesson well and never forget it. We need to let it change us. Don’t get into a contest about who can be the most upset or who can donate the most money, and don’t let the privilege of being alive make you feel guilty when you witness those that aren’t.

Instead, value life–all life, especially your own. Because it is a gift.


Photo Credit: Tay's Memorial Obituary

Photo Credit: Tay’s Memorial Obituary

This past Saturday, I looked over the body of my former student. 

I didn’t have Tay-Tay in my class his Sophomore year, although he should have been in Honors English. But he would always pass by my classroom and give me a big ol’ smile, playfully asking, “you miss me Ms. Flo?” 

Yes, I miss you Tay. I will always miss you because you taught me lessons I needed to learn. You taught me that I am selfish, and that I will always care about the things that directly effect me more than I will care about the things that don’t. 

I miss you. And I think that’s the reason why your death hurts the most. Because your death meant a loss for me.  

It was personal. 

“I hate the world!”

How many of you are like Linus over there and totally hate someone? Okay, maybe not hate, but how many of you “severely dislike” someone in your life? It could be a co-worker, a classmate, your boss…a member of your family…

Chances are, there will be some people in your life that you won’t really like. It’s natural right? We’re all so different and sometimes those differences just get in the way….

Okay, another question: How many of you hate all people as a whole?

… Unless you’re a moody teenager or an endangered species, you probably answered “no” to this question. I mean, how can we make a generalization like that?

All people? Well, I’m a person, so no way!”

People often times love humanity and are despicable towards individual human beings. It’s easy to love everyone as a whole because it’s a generalized notion of who people are as a species or a community. It’s a whole lot harder to love our neighbors as individuals, especially if we know them really well.

But the Bible tells us that we must hate the world and love our neighbor. We are supposed to have  great contempt for humanity as a whole, but great love for the individuals who enter into our lives.

Some may object, saying “But God loved the world didn’t he? He sent it only son here!”.

Well, that’s true… which it why it’s difficult to understand why we are called to hate the world that God loves so dearly.

A look at two passages of the Apostle John reveals this intrinsic tension.  On the one hand, as the former argument references, John writes, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).  On the other hand, he tells us, “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him” (1 John 2:15).

The issue is clear. We are in the world, a world that God loves, and a world in which we have a purpose.  And yet we are not of this world (we were created by something divine, not the the mundane earth), and we should guard against falling in love with this world.

The New Testament often uses the word “world” (“kosmon” in Greek) to refer to culture, or the results of human activity and creativity.  Obviously these different uses also have different connotations:

1.) The first is neutral or maybe even a positive one:  World is seen as the created order, including the actual physical earth (Matthew 24:21), the people living on it (Matthew 4:8; John 12:19), human life (1 Timothy 6:7), and the target of the disciples’ mission (Matthew 5:14).  Though sin entered into this world by the Fall, it and its inhabitants are seen as God’s beautiful creation.

2.) The second usage has a negative connotation.  World consists of human things controlled by Satan, in open rebellion against God.  The earth and its inhabitants are seen as involved in a cosmic struggle between spiritual forces due to sin (Ephesians 6:12).  In this battle, the sinful world didn’t recognize Jesus as God when He came to this earth (John 1:10), so it, as a whole, is an evil place due to its imperfections.

Are things clearing up a little?

Now there are a few typical responses that occur when Christians read passages like those that I just referenced.

First response: opposition and separation.  

The history of Christianity is filled with examples of this response.  Early Christians rejected Greco-Roman culture, declaring it idolatrous and corrupt.  The monastic movement of the Middle Ages pushed for complete withdrawal from the world.  Many Protestant sectarian movements–the Brethren, Mennonites, Anabaptists, Quakers, and also the Millerites –also embraced this approach.

Those who choose this route, I am confident, do so with a sincere belief that they are living out the Word of God.  Their sincerity should be respected.

However, the Bible does not mandate a complete withdrawal and isolation from the world. We are created to be social beings, and it is within a society or a culture that we live, work, worship, and witness.  At most those who break away from the world simply develop a different culture or subculture.  More importantly, this response implies that sin is caused by the world, whereas the Bible teaches that sin begins within the mind.

Second response: assimilation.  

This position assumes that culture is basically good.

Stressing peace and love, cooperation and communication, this approach allows the gospel to be interpreted, understood, and embraced in a multitude of ways.  In the process, the essence of the gospel becomes compromised and suddenly we get Christ as the “great moral teacher” rather than the Lord of life and sole Savior of the world.  Thus, Christianity becomes an all-embracing humanitarianism;  there is blurred distinction between the realms of God and Satan, propped by a moralistic humanism which poses a case for universal salvation…. and we all should know that is NOT what the Bible teaches.

But how do we understand culture, community, and our commitment of faith? Where do we draw the line between the demands of society and the kingdom of God?

In order to engage critically with our surrounding world, we must balance four biblical approaches to it:

1. Separation from anything openly contrary to God’s revealed will.

2. Affirmation of everything that is compatible with God’s revelation and original plan for humanity.

3. Transformation of individual human beings to become unified with God’s principles.

4. Contribution to the surrounding culture through elements that benefit humanity and enhance life.

And in order to see the world this way, we must seek our wisdom from the Holy Spirit and God’s Word so we may allow God to guide us in our choices rather than let our own selfishness lead our worldly conquests.

Doing God’s will where we are

In Mark 5:1-20, Jesus frees a man from an evil spirit. Afterwards, the man wanted to follow him,  but Jesus told his new follower to return home–to his own culture–and share the good news with his family and friends.

Here is the key to a Christian understanding of culture: Be a follower of Jesus where you are. No matter the situation, no matter the people you are surrounded with (who you might dislike). We are called to love those individuals, even if we hate the torn-apart world that surrounds us and effects us.

As Reinhold Niebuhran American theologian and commentator on public affairs, noted: As Christians we “… are forever being challenged to abandon all things for the sake of God; and forever being sent back into the world to teach and practice all the things that have been commanded (us).”

 

How do you, as a follower of Christ, live in this world and survive in today’s sinful culture? Or am I way off? Is our culture not evil at all?  

Sexy

… I knew that title would get your attention.

The truth is I have been rather disturbed by our culture’s general view of sex. It is disgusting to me that pornography is one of the biggest money-making industries out there and I have become almost paranoid about men looking at me as simply a body rather than a person.

This is partially because I need to repent of my own sins and forgive the general culture’s addictive and idolizing tendencies because truth be told, I have my own vices which I am working on. I also need to remember that Christ forgives all sins, no matter what they are.

But the issue that I seem to be coming up against is that not all people really see their sex-obsession as a problem. In fact, some people even identify themselves by their sexuality, making it so much of a part of who they are that it truly becomes an idol to them, something they define their own worth by.

I know I am guilty of this. I mean, what girl doesn’t feel flattered when a guy thinks she’s attractive? But really…. deep down, we all are searching for something more than just flattery. We’re searching for a man who can make us feel truly loved, truly appreciated, truly accepted, and truly captivating.

But there is only one man who can do that, and his name is Jesus Christ. Every other man falls short of the glory that is God, and that’s how it was meant to be. It is meant to be that way because it forces us to need God so much and to depend on Christ’s love and fulfillment so that we do not mistake another man or a sexual act or a drug or another form of pleasure as God.

Our culture really does worship sex.

It is because we as humans are designed to worship. But we have gotten confused during that path and have turned to created things rather than the creator of things.

I could go on and on, but it’s rather late, and honestly, this guy says it better.

Sex: God, gross, or gift

Please take the time to listen to Mark Driscoll teach about sex both in and outside of marriage. It has both convicted me and inspired me to truly see sex as a gift rather than a gross think, or, like many people today seem to see it as, a God.

After you listen, please take the time to answer my poll. Thanks!

In the Garden.

Image

God blessed them, and God said to them… “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good…The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it… Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make him a helper as his partner”…  The rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh or my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed.

                                                                                                      –Excerpts from Genesis

Dennis and I have planted a garden outside of our home. It seems rather providential timing that we also began to read Genesis together in this new, fresh time of our lives. Genesis is the beginning story, where everything is set up and created. The creation story, as it were. I am finding simple lessons here as well as discovering the same old truths we all knew in our brains since sunday school, but knowing and hearing them be spoken in God’s own words which are written on our hearts is an entirely new experience. Perhaps I’m just feeling new about everything, but like our garden outside, I am very aware of the growth required in this transition period of time in my life. And it’s a wonderful reminder of where that strength and ability to stretch comes from, as we water seeds and read about the first humans before us.

First of all, I just want to point out that Adam and Eve were commanded by God to be Vegetarians in the Garden of Eden. (Shameless plug for veggie-eaters like myself and promoting such eating habits :-)They ate the plants of the ground and the fruit from (most of) the trees. Later God does allow people to eat animals, but it happens outside of the perfect world of the Garden when almost everything is peaceful and perfect.

However… there is that snake. God is all-powerful; nothing happens outside of his power and will, and yet he allows the snake to exist in Eden, the snake who tempts the woman and man into the first sin of the world. How and why could he allow this. It is this fact that makes me wonder if The Fall was necessary. If we were truly meant to leave Eden, and leave the perfect life of the Garden.

Perhaps our fall was tragic, but God meant it to be so, just the way he meant his Son’s death to be painful and tragic as well. In this case, Adam and Eve graduated from the Garden and into the rest of the world. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Another thing I noticed: God puts man in the Garden to till it and keep it; he gives us work. Here and not God also gives us work. We are all meant for what God has in mind, but many make the mistake that it is one thing. I know that God called me to be an actor when I was 16 years old, and the I know he called me to drop it entirely in order to teach when I was 21. Now, who knows? God may call me to become a crossfit trainer or a mural painter. His calling changes, and we never know what we are made to do until we begin to do it, by the work of God’s hands.

In Eden, work was enjoyable. Man and Woman had dominion over all creation and were required to take care of it and keep it. This was work. After The Fall, work became less fun and enjoyable and rewarding, which leads us to now. Now, all anyone does is work, and it’s not always enjoyable. God doesn’t call us to live in perfect peace anymore. Just look at Jesus’ life. Jesus was completely perfect, and yet, people hated him and killed him. We are called to die in such a way as well. To die to ourselves.

Another thing I have noticed. Woman was created from Man. Woman was designed from the beginning to be the Man’s helper. Now, this may sound demeaning of women in some ways, to say that a woman is only meant to help a man. But help is a huge thing. The bible talks about help in a lot of different ways, but mainly in regards to God being a helper, the Holy Spirit being a helper, and as the Woman being a helper. Yet, the way I see it, if God is a helper and the Holy Spirit is a helper, then it must be a pretty big deal to be a helper to men. And men need help. That is why a husband clings to his wife when he leaves his mother and father. He needs her, in a similar way he needs God. God designed it to be this way and so it is very good.

During our first year of marriage, I have slowly become aware of the innate differences between men and women; how they think, act, organize, process, fell, and express ideas or emotions. I have also seen how this directly connects to The Fall.

To the women he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of the ground you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The man is meant to lead, but women always resist the vitally important roles as helpers and try to take control by manipulating just the way Eve did when she gave the fruit to her husband. Men are meant to lead, but they often shy away from this responsibility the way Adam did when he went along with his wife’s sin. We are cursed with these same tendencies today. Women often want to feel powerful and in control, and often this leads them to sin. Men often want to be irresponsible and childish and this often leads them to sin. We are living today with the same tendencies as the very first humans had, and it was their punishment that now we face. Women will desire after her husband, and also after his role. Women are often needy in this way and appear to be clingy and emotional beings because of this. Men are called for more work, in which they sweat and are not rewarded highly for their pain and toil.

How incredible to see where it all began. To see not only my likeness to Eve, but also to God. In Genesis, God shows all sides of himself. The vengeful wrath of God as well as the merciful, regretting, and covenant-building God. He has both qualities of man and women in him, which is why, I find, that Marriage is so beautiful.

The two shall become one flesh. Marriage is meant to be holy, I am finding. It was designed to make us more like God and encompass all of his beautiful perfect qualities, both masculine and feminine. The bible said that we were created in God’s image, both male and female, and so God (even though we call him a “He”), is also feminine in who He is. The only thing that got in the way of Adam and Eve being the perfect humans was sin, and this is true today. Sin is the only thing that drives two people away from one another. Sin is the separator.

…..

I have been deeply convicted as of late. I have not been guarding my thoughts, and so my words have become poison rather than words that encourage or build up. I noticed it when I began writing letters to my students. The Holy Spirit was working as my incredible partner to help me see each of my students in the best way possible– the way God sees them and loves them dearly. This practice was incredible. I felt like a gardener, watering each child’s heart and confidence and mind. Where even the driest, hardest, and mealiest soil laid, I could grow a plant to bear beautiful fruit, so long as I looked at each of them through the lens of Christ. Christ died for people who hated him, but he did it because he loved them dearly. Although I was not dying for my students, I know that some of them weren’t exactly fond of me, nor had they been nice, polite, or even civil to me. It would be so easy to lash out at them or even ignore them, but God gave me the patience and positivity I needed to write them words of encouragement and love.

I realized yesterday that I need to apply this same practice to my marriage and friendships. Relationships need caring and love. They need to be fed and watered and cared for just like plants in a garden do. God called us to do it with plants and animals so long ago and now he calls us to do it with our partnerships, friendships, marriages, children, families, and any relationships at all. Nine months ago I made a vow to my very best friend to see all his failings as examples of God’s incredible grace, to love him actively as I actively peruse Christ, and to strive to see him in the way God sees him, as a beautiful image of his Son. Nine months later, I have fallen so many times, in the same way Eve and Adam fell so long ago.

But I have newly inspired hope.

I know God has moved people tremendously through my hands already. Not by my own doing, but by his. I know that he can continue to do so in each relationship I have here on this Earth. In doing so, He is tending to his own Garden and making it grow in his Son and in his Truth.

I am so blessed to be a gardener on this side and anticipate when I can also do even more rewarding work in heaven.

I am:

newly inspired and driven towards God and his garden.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.