Month: December 2013

Understanding Phil and Everyone Else

One of the great things about living in Haiti is being separated from all of the absurd drama that US Americans like to create over very trivial things. Don’t get me wrong, Haitians sure know how to create their own drama over absolutely nothing, but in the US, the amount of time spent allowing issues of celebrities, reality television, and pop culture to influence the way we think and fuel our ability to care about something, is enough to make me want to ask for a refund on my citizenship. I enjoy being entertained just as much as anyone. No one should be surprised that even from Haiti I check the Project Runway website every week just to keep up to date. But I appreciate being able to choose what tidbits of American pop culture I get to experience without having to be bombarded by the faux importance that it surrounds us with when I’m stateside. Unfortunately, this week, however, even in Haiti, I haven’t been able to escape all of the hoopla over this Duck Dynasty crap. Gays in Uganda are being sentenced to life in prison, India’s passing anti-sodomy laws, a journalist in Russia said gays should be burned alive in ovens, and right down the street in Jacmel, homosexuals are in danger of being killed for their lifestyles, yet all that is covering my “news” feeds are debates about Phil Robertson’s comments and how they somehow relate to American’s privilege of getting to say what they want to say and their other privilege of getting to love who they want to love, two privileges that most people in the world don’t enjoy. Yet because the long lost cousin of the Oak Ridge Boys said a few things in a magazine and then got booted off a network because of it, suddenly these two things are all that matter to us in the US and we have to spend our time debating how the two aren’t compatible to each other.

Granted, it seems the controversy has already started to blow over as we search for something else to argue about and I’m a bit late to the conversation already. Because ever since the debate started, I’ve been trying to talk myself out of getting into it. I’ve been trying to convince myself that there are much more important things for me to invest my time and energy into than something so inconsequential that nobody will ever actually agree on and even if they did it wouldn’t matter. It’s the same thing I had to do when the whole Mileygate twerk thing happened. I was able to keep my mouth shut about Miley, but I’ve finally caved on this Duck Dynasty issue and decided to spend a few minutes to write down my thoughts. Maybe they’re something that someone else has already said, if so, then I apologize for wasting another 10 minutes of your time on this issue. I haven’t read what everyone else is saying, I’ve just noticed that they’re saying things. I did, however, read what Phil Robertson said in the original GQ article, as well as A&E’s statement on the dismissal, which should be the only two entities that this even concerns. Yet somehow it has become everyone’s problem. And as I write, I’m still a little ashamed that I’ve allowed it to matter to me. Phil Question

What stuck out to me were not the awful things that he said about gay people. He’s certainly not the first to ever say such things nor should anyone be surprised that such things would come from behind that beard and all of that camo. Also, we shouldn’t be surprised that after he used his platform as a well liked reality star to express his beliefs on a divisive issue, that the network would use their power to make a statement on the issue according to their corporate beliefs. That’s what we do in the US, we use all of the power, liberties, and resources that our nationality affords us to push all of our beliefs around into big muddy messes. What stuck out to me from Robertson’s comments were how he framed his statements in reference to his own desires.  I don’t need to rewrite what he said, I think everyone knows by now.

Phil Robertson isn’t an intolerant bigot that hates gays and ducks, nor is he a modern day martyr being discriminated for his religious views, he’s just a guy that finds a woman’s vagina “more desirable” and doesn’t understand how anyone else could think otherwise. That’s not his fault.  I think jeans and t-shirts are more desirable than head-to-toe camouflage, but that’s just me. It seems to me that it’s more desirable not to live with enough facial hair for birds to nest in, but that’s just me (maybe it makes hunting for them easier).  It seems to me that if we’re gonna judge, it’s more fun to judge someone for the choices that they make rather than what they naturally find desirable, but that’s just me. We’re all different and I understand that. I can even understand why Robertson would make some of the comments that he did. While reading them I was actually reminded of a paper I wrote back in a college English course on the topic of homosexuality that made some very similar arguments about the puzzle piece like logic to male and female body parts as he made in his interview. My personal views on the topic have greatly evolved since then and I would now be very ashamed of some of the things I wrote in that paper. But it was part of the process to help hash out in my own head what I really do believe and I’ve always had a tendency to play Devil’s advocate. Unfortunately in this particular debate each side thinks that the other is the Devil.

And herein lies the crux of why it has come to matter to me. Not because one side is right and the other is wrong or because any great injustices were caused, but because it has exposed the very disappointing deficiency of understanding that we suffer from in our society. Phil Robertson just can’t understand how one man could love another man. His critics just can’t understand how one man in such a public position could say such things against an entire group of people who are already targeted by enough hate. And everyone on both sides just keeps arguing about things that none of them can understand and allow their beliefs to trump the human need to search for that understanding. Meanwhile in the world, and even right in the United States, LGBT individuals are suffering a series of injustices far, far greater than that of one reality star’s lack of understanding. But no one takes to Facebook to defend them. There aren’t any support groups being formed to stand with the victims of hate crimes the world over that would ever have the number of members of pages supporting either Phil Robertson, A&E, GLADD, or any other party in the controversy.

And my writing this blog post about it all probably isn’t even helping. It might just be adding one more voice to the clatter that in the end doesn’t matter. It might be distracting me from making an effort to spread a greater understanding of one another and of the capacity of love from right here where I am, a place where the dangers to those truly affected by these issues is a life or death situation. As I see all of the e-controversy emerge I can’t help think about what Robertson would do if he was in Port-au-Prince last month in the middle of the anti-gay demonstrations in the streets that led to the death of two men where angry protestors shouted the same Bible verses that he sited in his GQ article while they killed the men? Or if he was walking through the streets at the same time that a group of young men killed a gay teenager in Jacmel last month as they equated his lifestyle to bestiality, just as the Duck Dynasty star did in the magazine? What would he say if he was asked, as a pastor, to officiate the funeral of one of the thousands of LGBT individuals in the US that commit suicide every year? If he saw people dying just because they desire different parts of a human than he does, then would he try to understand, even if he never agreed?

No matter what side we’re on, could we all just agree to quit refusing to search for understanding, because it’s hurting us more in the long run. It’s making us look like fools in the face of the rest of the world who is daily dealing with the true depth and gravity of this issue that we would reduce it to some shallow debate over a reality star’s rights. I understand Phil Robertson and where he’s coming from with what he said, perhaps more than I would like to admit. I also understand those who were so offended by his comments. I understand those wanting to defend freedom of speech and I understand those wanting to promote tolerance and love. And yes, I can even understand Miley and why she would twerk. What I can’t understand is how we’ve grown to become a society where we allow issues to pollute our ability to be human and we have allowed our reality to be constructed within spaces void of real feelings or perspective. What I can’t understand is how we’ve allowed the sanctity of our entertainment industry to take precedent over the preciousness of human life.

I pray and write so that hopefully one day the castles we’ve built to protect our own points-of-view break from the pressure we’ve put on them and our priorities begin to shift. Then maybe we’ll really start to see each other. Then maybe we can really start to understand one another.

An Artist, A Writer, and a Womanizer

On a recent trip to Port-au-Prince squished into one of the 10-passenger vans, carrying 18 passengers, that make the route between the capitol and Jacmel, I became an unintentional audience to the converstion of three young men sitting directly behind me. The three of them had never met before but somehow fell into a very vivid discourse with one another about their personal sexual exploits. From Fondwa to Leogane they took turns sharing detailed stories of the women they’d been with. I felt bad for the innocent woman who got stuck on the rear bench with these guys as they would intermittently consult her for a feminine perspective, “Know what I mean, Honey?”

This went on for an hour and a half as we wove through the mountains and then took the straight highway on into the city. I was on the bus with an American friend of mine who was on her way to a conference with the Clinton Global Initiative and she had been asking lots of questions about the effectiveness of humanitarian aid and international interventions in Haiti. I joked with her that I wanted to ask the guys behind me her questions because they clearly wouldn’t have held back their opinions. “Hey guys, speaking of getting screwed, how do you feel about foreigners trying to help your country?” I thought it’d be the perfect segway. Little did I know that I would soon get some answers without even having to ask them.

IMG_0401As we drove through Gressier, on the far end of the neighborhood before entering Port-au-Prince, the guy in the middle, who had just finished telling about a bootylicious girl that he had enjoyed poolside while her boyfriend was in the house, yelled out, “Mesi, Chofe!” signaling the driver to stop. He popped open the back hatch behind him and hopped out wishing the other two men a good rest of the ride. As we moved on the other two kept talking but it became clear that the one who had just gotten off was the real horndog driving the conversation, because now these two quickly turned the topics from women to work.

“It’s tough to make life work by doing what you feel is important.” The guy behind my right shoulder told the one behind my left. “You make compromises just to make money and then those choices end up making you fall down in the end.” When I heard this young man say that he was an artist, that’s when I really started to listen closely to what they were saying. He started telling the other a story about one such time that he made a compromise and it ended up costing him.

He had gotten a commission from a French woman to make 27 paintings for her. It was the largest commission he had ever received for his work and it was going to pay him well enough to live quite comfortably for some time after. The only thing was that this woman wanted him to do all of the paintings with voodoo imagery, which wasn’t his usual subject matter. But she liked his style so much that she asked him to do the paintings and he couldn’t possibly pass up the chance to make this money. So he agreed to do the series and after months of working was almost finished with all of them. He was even very happy with what he had created and knew that his client would be satisfied.

One day an uncle of his showed up at the house and saw the paintings that he had done and immediately went into a rage that his nephew, someone in his family, would paint such images. He went on screaming about how such things are dangerous, powerful, and sinful. Making such work was putting his whole family and anyone in the house at risk. He then went to the kitchen and found a knife which he brought back into his nephew’s room and started slashing each and every painting he had worked so hard to create, tearing them to shreds so that they’d be beyond repair.

At this point in the story the artist’s cell phone rang with a Lady Gaga “Bad Romance” ringtone interrupting his tale of trauma while he chatted for a moment with the caller.

When he hung up the phone, the other guy listening to his story took the chance to give his point-of-view. “I wouldn’t call myself a writer, but I like to write,” he started, showing that he can empathize with the struggles of the creative process and other’s interpretations of one’s work. “But when I write I never choose to write about spiritual things because it just gets too messy. Because we can never know what’s true. Because everyone’s got a different opinion on those things and we can never accurately express through our art something so beyond understanding.” He explained. He continued to say that he preferred rather to write about things that could be seen and touched and identified and proven. Those things are less risky.

Every couple of minutes Gaga would once again infringe upon my right to eavesdrop and I would curse her name and her catchy dance beats. But the two would pick right back up where they left off.

The painter maintained the importance of spirituality in the creative process but said that he felt it was important to create what you feel in your own spirit to be true and let what you believe to guide the art in a way that enhances your own experience rather than compromise it. He shared another story of a friend of his who was also a painter who had done a painting from a dream that he had had that depicted the all seeing eye over the ocean. The image and the painting itself haunted the artist so much that it eventually literally drove him crazy, making him mad. He never made another painting after that and after a while of it consuming his sanity and ability to live. The artist committed suicide and the man behind me on the bus said that it was because of that one painting.

I was so engrossed in the conversation behind me that I almost missed our own stop at the Karfou Matissant 23 where I had to shout out my own thanks to the driver and hop off of the bus with my American friend. As I pulled my bag out of the vehicle and watched the van drive away through the sludge of the city streets, I regretted not taking the chance to introduce myself to the guys and exchange contact info so that someday I could possibly hear the rest of their story and become part of their conversation. Because what they were discussing fascinates me and infuriates me endlessly, the intersection of religion, art, and the cross cultural relationships that drive them to often collide and explode and sometimes quietly destroy. Unfortunately I did not get that chance, or more appropriately, I did not take it. But their stories certainly struck a nerve and a heartstring within me and I wanted to share them for others who may find a bit of reality within the stories that speaks to them. I may elaborate more on that nerve and heartstring in a future post but for now will let the stories sit there and simmer.

Do you ever think about the stories that surround you on a bus, a subway, a plane, that you will never know? How would your life change if you did know them? How might theirs change if they knew yours?

The First Date

I frequently speak with groups of people in the planning stages of mission trips to Haiti and there’s always at least one person in the group who doesn’t know me and has never read the blog, who will ask the question, “What about clothes? What should we wear in Haiti?” And no, in such situations I do not rattle off my Top 10 Mistakes, but do try to give reasonable, easy-to-follow suggestions on what they should pack to wear that will be appropriate for their specific mission. “Just be yourself,” I usually say, “Wear things that make you feel good about yourself and the Haitians around you will respond positively to your presence as well.” But I still usually feel like my point hasn’t really gotten across and get the impression that the questioners are looking for a utilitarian list of dos and don’ts. So after several of these interactions during my recent trip to the States, I found a new way to illustrate my advice.

Think about yourself as going on a first date with Haiti. You’ve heard about Haiti maybe through the internet, or through shared acquaintences that introduced the two of you, and you’ve decided that you wanted to get to know him better. You’re able to land a date with him and are really excited but you want to make the right impression. No matter how much your heart has feelings for Haiti, you know that you can’t show up in just any outfit. You want to impress him but you don’t want to look overzealous and overdo it either. You want to look your absolute best but you also want to keep it casual because you don’t want him thinking that you’re trying too hard. You have no idea what his intentions are but you simply want him to see you as attractive enough to want to get to know you better and possibly pursue a relationship. But you remain confident that if he is interested in a relationship it will be based on who you truly are so you want to be authentic in your clothing choice. Just be yourself, but the best version of yourself. You are really interested in Haiti and you would be so thrilled if he gave you a great compliment on your style that first date, but you’d be crushed if you found out from your friend later that he really liked you but thought your shoes were ugly. So you remain very conscious of your style choices, but don’t worry to the point of it creating a false impression.

You know enough about Haiti to know that he won’t be taking you out anywhere fancy, probably just a casual dinner at a chain restaurant and maybe a walk in the park afterwards. So you wear sensible shoes, but not the dirty tennies that you wear for your morning jog. A nice shirt that’s not overly embellished, but not something as casual as a t-shirt which would make you look sloppy. Your favorite pair of jeans or pants, or a skirt to show off your legs, but not anything with too many pockets that might make it look like you’re stashing away leftovers from dinner for your camping trip over the weekend. You do your hair and put on a little make-up, just enough that you don’t look like you just rolled out of bed, but not so much that you look like a drag queen on her way home from the rave. You know that Haiti sees enough of them in his everyday life and you would like him to see that you’re a bit classier and more modest, someone with an education and interesting views.

If you make a good enough first impression, you’ll get the chance to get to know each other better, with each encounter getting more and more comfortable with the each other to where you don’t have to worry about what you wear at all. But if you make a bad first impression, Haiti’s not going to be interested in seeing you more or getting to know who you really are. If you don’t peak his interest from the first time he sees you, he’s never going to get to know your heart or all of the good intentions that lie within in. He’s never going to care about all of your good ideas or your interesting talents or how your relationship with him could actually help him improve himself just as he could help you improve yourself as well. You know that Haiti is a guy that sees a fun personality, caring heart, and strong spirit as important, but you also know that he’s not blind. You’ve got to show him that you’ve got the whole package from the start and care enough about yourself and respect him enough that you put some thought into your appearance. Not because you’re vain, but because you know he enjoys it and because you feel better when you look good. And when you feel better about yourself and appear approachable to others, you will be more effective at building that relationship that you’re after.

So, I know it might sound silly, but next time you’re packing for a trip to Haiti, or any other place where you intend to be in service to a different community or culture, think of yourself as preparing for a first date with them and see how it changes what you might pack. If you do it well enough you might just end up starting a relationship in which you end up growing old together despite all of your fashion hits and misses and can even laugh at each other in your underwear knowing so much about one another that none of it matters.

God is a Fashion Diva

Disclaimer: Please don’t get bent out of shape about the gender infused pronouns used in this post. Our English language has its limits and forces us to attach genders to things that shouldn’t be gendered. If I was writing in Creole, I wouldn’t have that problem. I chose feminine pronouns here just because of my choice of the noun “diva”. That does not mean that I think God is a woman or that fashion is only for women.

This is for all of those out there who like to respond to my fashion posts with the irrefutable, “Oh yeah? Well Jesus doesn’t care what I wear, he knows my heart.” I wanted to take a moment and introduce everyone to the God that I find when I read my Bible. She is a TOTAL fashion diva! I understand that part of the divine mystery of God is how She appears differently to each individual that believes in Her, so I realize some people might think I’m crazy for making such claims, but it seems clear to me that God didn’t create humans just so we could ignore the power of Style. It may not seem like the most important aspect of who God is, what with all of the problems in the world that She created, but I can’t read Her Word without being convinced of Her great love for that world so much that she wants her children to look fierce while we’re living in it. For real, She started showing just how fabulous She is from the very beginning with Adam and Eve in the garden.

Genesis 3:6,7 –

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

What was, in fact, the very first thing that humans did when they gained wisdom? Made clothes. The highest priority for those who had suddenly been made wise was not solving math equations, inventing tools, trying to decipher psychology, organizing government and civilization, discerning deep spiritual truths, or even trying to help one another; it was sewing together clothing. Those first few fig leaves sewn together represented the first steps that have now evolved to the highest couture that we see walking the runways of Paris, Milan, and New York. God has shown us that the epitome of wisdom is materialized in fashion design. In fact, it is so important to Her that God just couldn’t see Her precious creations walking around in those fig leaves for long. They were so last season. No, the Lord God is such a diva that She had to show them what the hottest fabrics were for the dawn of creation. Just a few verses later She demonstrates from the beginning the timeless versatility of leather.

Genesis 3:21,22 –

21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

Long before giving us humans the gift of Her Son to forgive our sins, God gave us the gift of fashion. But this fashion diva doesn’t stop there and let Her people run off and wear whatever short shorts, cargo pants, safari gear, and matching t-shirts that they want without at least some strong advice against it. She continually peppers Her Word with clear reminders of just how important it is for us humans to carefully consider the items that we put on our body. In Proverbs, for example, we see that noble character isn’t found only in the good intentions of the heart, but in the the fabrics that adorn our bodies.

Proverbs 31: 10, 20 – 25 –

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.

20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

In this passage we see that charity, respect, strength, dignity, and even joy are inseparable from fashion. If a good heart was all that mattered, then this passage could end after verse 20, where the woman helps the poor and needy, but no, it goes on to show that she and her family are clothed in the finest linens of the most beautiful colors and she even makes sure that everyone else has the fiercest garments and the hottest sashes to wear. As long as you’re clothed like a boss, you’ve got nothing to fear, because God dwells within the strength and dignity that comes from that. She created us to care about ourselves and how we look. She didn’t make us beautiful, extravagant creatures just so we could ugly up Her masterpiece with crappy clothes from the recycling bin. She also created us each to be unique children of Hers in Her own image but still each one different, so why would we ever want to hide that creativity that She invested in each of us by wearing something that matches everyone else or just makes us blend in? She created us to be filled with the utmost joy and goodness but if we believe that, then we must dress as vessels worthy enough to embody such a gift.

Haiti 899

I’m pretty sure this is some sort of lily.

But God’s focus on fashion doesn’t stop with the Old Testament where all the rules are kept. She walks that catwalk right on through the New Testament as well. Even during Jesus’ ministry he proves that he, in all of his tolerance and love, did not come to the earth just so that he could become our scapegoat for poor fashion choices. He was not only frequently criticizing those who overdressed in order to set them apart from the common people, like the Pharisees and kings, but also advised his apostles on specific ways to dress appropriately as they went out into service to the world (Luke 22:36). We may think that Jesus didn’t care about fashion because we’re used to seeing the contrived images of him in big white robes and plain old sandals, but Jesus was dressing in a way that made him most accessible and most relateable to those that the Great Fashion Diva Herself sent him to the earth to serve. He didn’t dress like a king but he didn’t dress like a beggar either. He didn’t dress in any way that set him apart yet still dressed in a way that honored the sacred creation that he represented. Jesus understood that his ministry was to be built on relationships, and warned about the dangers of allowing the clothing you wear to interfere with those relationships. He knew what it meant to consider the lilies (Matthew 6:28-30) which know how to embrace the beauty with which their Creator Diva has graced them with. Many people think that the lily verse proves that Jesus doesn’t care what we wear, but in context of the relationships he was building, this verse seems to show more how he simply wants us to have faith that he will provide what we need to wear in order that we may add beauty to our fabulous Creator’s garden. Of course, we can’t be completely like the lilies, otherwise we’d all be running around naked. Thanks to Adam and Eve, that’s not possible, so we have to find our own way towards achieving effortless, yet dignified fashion that is effective for whatever God has called us to.

Even Paul with all of his rules consistently made fashion a focus of his letters to his friends and churches that were trying to reflect the beauty of God. While encouraging their faith and deeds to speak for themselves, Paul would give specific guidelines as to what to do and not to do when dressing and accessorizing as to not allow their fashion to interfere with the ministry and service that they were intending to carry out in the world. (1 Timothy 2:9-10). It is our job now as the Church in this modern world to take these examples and see how we need dress in ways that do not interfere with our missions to our fellow brothers and sisters. How can we dress in ways that honor the splendid artistry with which we were created and still not distract from our service to others and our reflections of the image of God? How to do carry ourselves with a fearless faith in the Great Fashion Diva who knows our past, present, and future, and has promised to provide for us what we need to carry out the callings that She has placed on our lives?

Because the day will come when we will leave our life in this world behind along with all of the shopping malls and department stores that came with it. That doesn’t mean that the Diva won’t continue to make sure that we will be clothed in a way that represents all of our new found victory, worth, and glory. In the Word She drives Her point home right through the end.

Revelation 3: 4,5 –

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.

I’m hoping that I’m living a life that will someday end in being clothed in that final white garment by my Diva God’s side. I hope that I’m living with enough faith that I’m aware of the Spirit’s presence with me even when I’m picking out clothes to put on each morning. Living in a way that reflects her image as the extraordinarily beautiful deity that She is, following the examples that she’s given me and not ignoring the resources that She’s provided us with to make and wear respectful, beautiful clothing. I think that even though She knows my heart because She’s the one that formed it with her own hands, She still smiles when She sees me looking good as I follow that heart through relationships and personal discovery in this fancy, fabulous world. And I smile knowing that She’s there with me through it all, possibly shaking her head and rolling her eyes at the fig leaves that I’ve donned wishing that I would put on that leather jacket already!