A Lesson from #Ferguson

I have been deeply affected the past couple days as I watched events unfold in Ferguson, MO, following the shooting of Michael Brown. Even following only the account most charitable to the officer who shot and killed him—which other eyewitness accounts don’t seem to support—it is difficult for me to comprehend a way in which it is acceptable for a police officer to shoot an unarmed citizen multiple times. Further, when militarized police units roll in tanks shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed citizens, dispelling media and dismantling their cameras, I again struggle to find just cause; it reminds me more of Tienanmen Square than suburban police monitoring protests and looting.

However, I’m inclined to assume that these police officers are—at least for the most part—genuinely doing what they feel is right and trying to protect the public. So how does it happen? How can a well-meaning police department go so far afield?

As part of trying to process these events, in particular the military-style response, I began reading a book that chronicles the militarization of police forces. One of the telling passages describes how President Nixon had to portray drug abusers and dealers in order to get bills passed.

He declared drug abuse “public enemy number one” and asked for emergency powers and new funding to “wage a new, all-out offensive.” 48 Years later, both this speech and a similar one he gave the following year would alternately be considered the start of the modern “war on drugs.”

Note how the focus is on drugs and drug abuse, without mention of the actual target: the people selling and using drugs. If drugs were really the enemy, it would be relatively easy to round up and dispose of them. Furthermore, there would be no need to make any arrests—at most, seizing and destroying the drugs would be enough. Drugs simply cannot be a problem without people to produce and consume them.

As time and the “war on drugs” progressed, the rhethoric would become stronger and less human. With that as a backdrop, then, the situation in Ferguson begins to make more sense. When Darrel Wilson (the officer) drives into an area of town he perceives to be a haven for drugs, sees a young man carrying stolen cigars, and gets into some sort of skirmish with him, he doesn’t see a person. He sees evil. The enemy.

Show me a war or human rights violation anywhere throughout time, and I would argue that you will also see people who view some other group of people as somehow sub-human. For the Christian, this should be particularly troubling. A fellow image-bearer of God should always be viewed as such and treated with dignity and respect.

Which brings me to an article by one of the great philosophersof our time, Andrew W.K. (best known for the song “Party Hard”). As part of a response to a question from someone who continually argues with his father over politics, he says,

When we lump people into groups, quickly label them, and assume we know everything about them and their life based on a perceived world view, how they look, where they come from, etc., we are not behaving as full human beings. When we truly believe that some people are monsters, that they fundamentally are less human than we are, and that they deserve to have less than we do, we ourselves become the monsters.

This is a lesson I hope to take from Ferguson. When I reduce someone to a set of ideas I can argue against or villify, it’s just as dehumanizing as any of the events I witnessed from afar this week. Conversely, the simple act of treating someone as a whole person and loving them brings peace and heals.

Review: Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women
Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women by Sarah Bessey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When the subtitle said “an invitation,” I didn’t realize it’d be all self-directed. I kept waiting to read something about feminism or what Jesus said that would show me “the Bible’s view of women,” but I was left wanting. But then again, it wasn’t written for me (it was frequently insinuated that boys aren’t welcome, which seems odd, given the title), so maybe I just missed it. Overall, it’s mostly a failure of marketing, setting expectations the book has no intention of delivering on.

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princess mug

On Princesses

princess mugThis morning, I had the privilege of sharing some time with my almost-three-year-old (and don’t you forget it!) daughter, cuddling and sharing a cup of coffee. I had my black ceramic mug, she her pink plastic princess mug.
I’m a bit conflicted on the Great To Princess or Not To Princess debate. On one hand, I certainly see reason for caution in going to excess on externals and a Barbie or Disney perception of beauty. But I’ve never really understood why it is that some contend that I would need to avoid all princess language with my daughter. Since when does princess necessarily become equivalent to external beauty? I’ve never made that connection, and I don’t see that it’s necessary.

Yes, I can see how the two are related. And I can see how they’ve become more interrelated because of toys, movies, and programming aimed at girls. But I also know that those industries follow the money, and the money wouldn’t be there if girls didn’t crave that. As much as I hate to admit it, my girl loves pink. Loves it. And purple. And girl characters. And yes, princesses. She likes to wear dresses and run to show me how pretty she is. I did my best to not force it on her, and she found all that stuff anyway.

So I’m left with a bit of a dilemma. I want her to be a strong, independent woman. But I also want her to feel free to embrace her femininity, even if she fits some of the stereotypes. I want for her to avoid the trap of letting society enforce an arbitrary sense of beauty on her. I also want for her to feel beautiful, desired, loved, and special.

And—I’ll just say it—I want to be able to say she’s my little princess. I think there’s some real benefit in that. This morning I came to a realization, and I just decided I could go for it. Unapologetic. The only catch is that I’ll make sure I define what it means for her. So, as we talked about the princesses on her mug, I pointed out that they’re all different–that there’s no one like her either. I told her that princesses are important because they could one day be ruling the kingdom, and that’s why they’re special. Princes and princesses need to be protected and taught so that one day, when they’re in charge, they can rule well.

So if you overhear me one day call her “my princess,” know that I’m defining the terms, not Walt Disney or anyone else. Perhaps too, when she sees those films, she won’t get some view that the princesses are only valuable for their appearance, or to attract some certain prince. (I know I didn’t come away with that perception.) Because she’ll have been taught that the princess was already valuable because of who she is.