Friday, March 09, 2012

Why the “KONY 2012” Critics May Be Right, But I Don’t Care

I admit it—the video got to me. When I watched the thirty-minute video produced by “Invisible Children,” with all the heart-rending scenes of child soldiers and the “so simple a four-year-old can get it” message about bringing Lord’s Resistance Army warlord Joseph Kony to justice, and I found myself choked up and, at the same time, so hopeful and excited that as soon as the video was over, I went to the website and signed up. I ordered my KONY 2012 kit and dutifully shared the video on Facebook, encouraging my friends to watch it, just like millions of others have done.

But then I started reading all the critiques of the video, and of the organization, Invisible Children, and I started to feel like a sucker. The message is over-simplified, some people said. The situation in Uganda is much more complicated. The organization only gives about a third of the money they raise to the child soldiers in Africa, others pointed out. The rest goes to American staff salaries and the production of videos and speaking tours. And the most damning criticism: this is just white Americans playing “savior” to Africans once again, trying to feel like they’re doing something for the world by making a You Tube video. Don’t buy into it, critics say. There are better organizations, more important causes, more culturally sensitive and politically astute strategies.

So I felt guilty, embarrassed, wondered if I was wrong to be so moved, so inspired by this campaign. Am I just a naïve bleeding heart? Or am I really a racist imperialist trying to make myself feel better about all the injustice in the world?

Then I decided—the critics may be right. But I don’t care. And here’s why.

1. The message is over simplified. And that, in my opinion, is the beauty of it. Too often we think that global problems are too big, too complicated that we can’t possibly do anything about it. So we just keep on doing nothing, hoping that someone else will do what we won’t. But this campaign has the message that while we can’t do everything—we can’t give every child soldier back his childhood, we can’t stop every war or eliminate all human rights abuses in the world—maybe we can stop one warlord and bring him to justice and maybe, just maybe, those other thugs and bullies out there in the world will take notice. It also just might be the starting point for me because now I might start learning more about Uganda and the history there and what’s happening with the conflict today. And maybe I’ll start writing my elected officials and caring more about what happens half way around the world in a country that has no economic or national security interest for the US, but where my brothers and sisters live and are suffering.

2. Why is it when a group does good work, so many haters try and point out how they could use their money better? I hear this all the time: don’t give to Heifer International or to Save the Children because they spend too much money on overhead and glossy catalogues. Don’t do a breast cancer walk or AIDS marathon because most of the money goes to the event organizers not the people suffering. I think it’s important for people to know where their money goes when they give to charities, causes or organizations. Read up on them on Charity Navigator, because I think non-profits should be good stewards of the money their raise. But I think raising consciousness about issues that most people don’t know anything about, or choose to ignore most of the time, is valuable and worth the money. And when a high profile organization raises millions of dollars through a national ad campaign or sharply produced video (which is expensive), even a smaller percentage of that is more than some low profile, low budget group can raise. And any campaign that gets people to give money to advocate for the rehabilitation of child soldiers rather than (or in addition to) spending money at Starbucks or on the newest Wii game or another pair of skinny jeans is alright with me.

3. So even if it’s mostly about us, and not about African children, is that so bad? Americans—especially white, wealthy, educated Americans like me—have a lot of privilege that we didn’t earn and that we don’t deserve. And most of all, we have the privilege of not knowing, not caring, not doing a single thing to help people whose lives are much harder, whose future is much more uncertain, that our own. However with power comes responsibility—and one of those responsibilities is to advocate for those without power. One of the things that Jason Russell says in the video is “where you live shouldn’t determine whether you live” and the video tries to convey the sense that the Ugandan child soldiers aren’t that different from us—that we’re all connected and therefore the suffering and the future of other people is important for us, for our world, for our shared future. So if this campaign gets us out of our comfort zones, wakes us up from our apathy, raises our awareness and consciousness even just a little bit, then it is worth doing. In addition, this video was viewed by 40 million people in three days on You Tube, and most of them were young people age 13-24. So if this campaign can empower young people feel like they have a voice, and that they have the power to change the world through political activism and service, then maybe they will, and the world will be a very different place when they are my age.

I think the critiques of this campaign and this organization are worth listening to—especially those who know far more about African in general and the situation in Uganda in particular than I do. People like Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire and African Foreign Policy expert Emira Woods. But let’s be honest, this video campaign has given them a wider audience than they had before, too. So we’re all learning, and hopefully doing and caring more today than we did five days ago, and for that, I for one am excited and hopeful, and refuse to feel cynical and critical. Thank you Invisible Children for opening my eyes and stirring my heart.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

we're moving...

I have started a new blog for our Silver Spring Cooperative Parish: "Inside-out Church" Come on over and see what's happening...

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Good Friday

To observe Good Friday, folks from Woodside and Hughes UMC, as well as some friends from the community walked through downtown Silver Spring observing a version of the stations of the cross. We called it "The Way of the Cross" and we stopped at various social service agencies, ministry partners and public places to read scripture, pray and sing. We lifted up the homeless, the poor, the sick, the disabled, the lonely, friends and strangers alike. We prayed for the righteous, the servants, the followers of Jesus who provide home, food, a place to belong and Christ's love to our community.

It was a gorgeous day and we passed people out for lunch, construction workers, and lots of traffic on Georgia Avenue. Some greeted us with smiles, some observed us with curiosity, some looked away uncomfortably. I overheard a child ask her father, "what are they doing?" We are witnessing to the love of God.

At Silver Spring Interfaith Housing Coalition, our reader's voice cracked with emotion as she read Jesus' command from the cross to his disciple to take his mother into his home, and our command to serve: "Do we notice the homeless men, women and children in our community? Or do they remain hidden from our eyes?" Some unhoused neighbors and a staff nurse joined us at Shepherd's Table. And when we got to the Easter Seals Intergenerational Center, some of the seniors and staff came out onto the porch to be part of our reading. I saw one woman from the staff wiping away her tears as we finished and walked away.

A couple of weeks ago, a little girl at church asked me: Why do we call it Good Friday? Now we know. Because the suffering of the cross was brutal, but out of that came the greatest gift the world has ever known. And out of the suffering that is all around us, there are, yet and still, signs of hope.

Just Because It's Holy Week...

the baby got sick and had to stay home from daycare for three days, and the dishwasher broke.
Is there something I am not doing right?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Bunny Week

Bunnies Gone Wild
Originally uploaded by Bakerella
So it's HOLY WEEK...the culmination of Lent, and the holiest week of the Christian year when we remember the Last Supper, the trial, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus and we await the coming HOPE of Easter with prayer, fasting and penitence.

And my four-year-old daughter Nora came home from preschool today with a calendar of her week's activities announcing this week's theme: BUNNY WEEK.


Now, let me just say, it's a wonderful preschool. I adore Nora's teachers and she is thriving there. And it's not a religious school. Not at all, in fact. I learned this the hard way back in December when they invited parents to come in and share about family holiday traditions and Nora wanted to bring in her nativity scene, which was fine, I was told, so long as we didn't mention Jesus. You have got to be kidding me...

So I am not expecting them to get into the religious significance of the Easter season. But it does concern me a bit that the most important Christian holiday (more important, even, than Christmas), is (hard) boiled down to eggs and bunnies. If that's not evidence that we live in a post-Christian, neo-pagan culture, I don't know what is.

It's just also a good reminder to me, as a person who seeks to follow Christ, and also to raise my children in this faith, that it's so important to really enter into the story of this whole week. I can't just go from Hosanna! to Hallelujah!, omit all that comes between, and really expect that the resurrection will have any impact on my life or faith.

So may Jesus keep me, and you, near the cross this Holy Week.

PS. I did feel a little better knowing that the kick off to "Bunny Week" was reading The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, which, if you haven't read it lately, you should, because it's a sweet story and one of the best metaphors for God's persistent love there is!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

On Collars and Titles

Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray
One of my Lenten disciplines this year, in addition to blogging regularly, has been to wear my clerical collar once a week. I try and wear my "clergy uniform" on days when I am going to be away from the church office and out in the world. The whole point is to try and remember that I am a minister of God at all times and that my speech, behavior, even my driving (yikes!) should reflect the image of God that I hope others will see. It's been humbling, and, I will admit, fun to see people's reaction. Today at lunchtime, as I was walking out of a restaurant with my rabbi friend, a man who was coming in audibly gasped when he saw us. Maybe he thought it was one of those bad jokes (a pastor and a rabbi are eating sushi...)

But the other piece of this is that I am constantly wrestling with my pastoral identity and the whole mix of pastor, mom, human being that I am everyday. When I put on my collar, the first thing that people see is my pastoral identity, but I am still all those other things, too, and those identities are just as important to me.

Today someone suggested to me that I shouldn't let people at church call me just "Rachel"; that I should have people call me Rev. Rachel at least, so that they show respect for the office and my role as pastor. I have never had a problem with people calling me by my first name--I want to be accessible and don't want titles to stand in the way of relationship. I have accepted the responsibility and privilege of being "set apart" for this work of God. And yet, I feel that I must earn people's respect--that it shouldn't just be given to me because I have a certain degree, title or shirt.

I hope that people will offer me respect just because I am a child of God and because all people deserve compassion, patience, love and mercy. And I also hope that whether or not I am wearing my collar, my words and deeds will show that I am someone who seeks to follow Jesus everyday.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Snow Day

I am reading a new book by Brian McLaren called Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices in which he declares that Christianity should be more of a way of life than a set of beliefs. He encourages a return to "the way" through the ancient practices of pilgrimage, fasting, sacred meals, common prayer, giving, Sabbath keeping and the liturgical year. So far I think this book has got a lot of good ideas that I'll be blogging about here, but today I want to celebrate Sabbath. After all, what's a better sabbath than a snow day?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

What Not To Wear

I love this picture, by the way. "Fashion is the new religion"? Seriously?

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
--Colossians 3:12-14

I got to celebrate a wedding today and the bride and groom chose this scripture to be read. It is a great passage for a wedding, because so many people spend so much time thinking about what they're going to wear at their wedding, but what do you wear to a marriage? Or to any relationship for that matter?

Compassion. Kindness. Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Forgiveness. Love.

Sometimes we forget that these spiritual garments are essential items in any wardrobe. We get so caught up at times in how we look on the outside and forget that we need dressing on the inside, too. And there are times when we need people to be honest enough to say to us, "Hey, you have a bit of selfishness stuck to your shoe." Or, "That anger and resentment really doesn't look good on you. How about trying a little patience and forgiveness?"

Those kinds of things never wear out; they never go out of fashion. They are appropriate for every season.