Friday, March 6, 2009

Lynching Today

Please be forewarned, this is a heavy one.

Last night I attended a Theater Dance Production where I saw much talent and a lot of skin.

Some dances were sensual, some merely sexual. One in particular stood out to me where a posse of women (teens?) danced around one man to the music of Timbaland and Ludacris. I believe the songs were "Bounce" and "The Potion". At one part the women enacted a violent sexual act with the music sounding much like a woman gasping for breath as she was being choked again and again and again.

After the number I leaned over to my friend, Emily and told her I had three major issues with the whole thing.
  1. Most of the moves were not interesting. I mean if you want to watch women and men bumpin' and grindin' just go to any club. The ones I've been to in my teen years gave me enough pelvic thrusting to leave me rather bored with the unoriginalness of it all. Isn't dancing an art? Shouldn't it be creative beyond club moves?
  2. It was sexier than sex, which means it's not real enough to be rooted in the ways of romance between a real man and woman, which means it's a farce, a deception, a lie. And I have a problem with anything that smacks of lies because it finds it's source in the Enemy of our Souls, the Father of all Lies. The reveling in this kind of dance is the kind of thinking that destroys marriages, prevents intimacy, keeps women invulnerable and men silent and stony. There's no life here.
  3. Women were re-enacting abuse with the man on the stage. They were charading being backhanded, sucked dry, flayed, suffocated, slapped and abused. If the dance was meant to show the pain of evil, it might have been redemptive because it accurately portrayed a reality in this world: woman are abused. But there was no mourning going on, more of a promotion of this kind of sexual/violent encounter. It looked almost cool. Every woman or teen in the production was dressed in a gangsta outfit, baggy pants, one leg up to below the knee, plenty of midriff, sidewayz baseball caps, that sneering, I don't give a @%$*! attitude. They all looked tough, as if they still had control of their body and their heart, even while the guy slapped them around. There was a bit of glory in the manhandling of their bodies, and an attempt to sexify the physical abuse. I cannot enjoy seeing my gender abused and I cannot call that sexy.

So I went home last night rather discouraged that women would want to dance like that.

Today dawned rather solemnly as Dale and I had plans to attend a funeral of a young friend of ours, a twenty year old from our town named Stephen Thomas.

But everyone called him Chongo. Addicted, heartbroken, stony and guarded, Chongo was a guy we ran into regularly around town when we were out past 10 pm. I always felt sort of awkward around him, like he was too cool for me and that whatever I said was not clear enough or interesting enough. I didn't know how best to love him.

We knew those who were mentoring him. We knew he had recently accepted Jesus. We also knew that sneer that often met us when we said hello. He was downright unkind and rude to Dale several times. And I'm fairly sure the reason he talked with me is because he found me mildly attractive.

Chongo overdosed last Saturday. His life snuffed out. His apprenticeship for electrician work, his recently gained GED, his sense of humor, even his sneer that masked his pain are gone from this earth. His funeral did not comfort me. The evangelistic message fell flat on my ears, except in one point.

Buck Chavarria, a jewel in our town, was one of the mentors in his life. He and his fantastically matter of fact wife, Tara, are good friends of ours. Together they run Christ for Life Sk8 Church, a local ministry that works with the kids most of us have given up on. He and Tara serve the kids on drugs, the high school drop outs, the runaways, the vagabonds, the true ragamuffins of our society. They feed them dinner every week, hang out with them at the skate park and help them know what love looks like.

Buck shared at Chongo's funeral one line that has stuck with me this evening. Facing a crowd that spilled out into the foyer, Buck, his black hair greased back in his faintly punk/rockabilly style explained the ways things were, "Chongo didn't know he was loved by you. He had a hard time believing people would love him. I think we all have a hard time believing all the people who love us."

Those words echoed in my soul as I thought through my day. I had spent the last few hours picking up hot Starbucks coffee, coordinating soda and water bottles and driving them to the reception for after wards. I had lugged crates of coffee up stairs through doors, sweating with the effort. All the while I was thinking, what if I had spent this much effort trying to love Chongo when he was alive?

I know I listened to him and complimented him and tried to draw him out. But he was so closed, in so much deep pain. I remember a time when Dale and I were speaking for Sk8 church when Chongo was asking us questions. He was, for a moment, really relating to what we were saying. He asked us something and we tried to take him a step deeper, but he couldn't follow us. I was frustrated with how he gave up. I was frustrated that we couldn't explain the concept of Jesus and his love better. And since that day I would feel a sense of inadequacy around Chongo, hoping I could share anything, even listen, in a way that showed him I cared.

At the church I looked out on the audience of people who all claimed to love Chongo. I mean, that's why we were here, right? Why didn't Chongo feel loved? Why did he seek refuge in substances to alter his reality? Why couldn't he break out of his addictions? Why couldn't he take our love?

I felt the immense wound of this world so intensely.

If you could have met Chongo, you'd see a lack of willpower, a sense of frivolity and meaninglessness. But this was a mask. Every now and then you'd see the pain in his eyes. On the table at the church were many of Chongo's childhood pictures. In a picture taken when he couldn't have been more than 2, I saw something in his eyes. His eyes were dewy, I imagine he had been teary right before being plopped down for the photo shoot. But the expression in those eyes, open, wide open, they radiated such a heart wrenching sensitivity, one that, as I looked at pictures of him growing up, dulled into a sneer, a protective, hardened, even dazed look. The hope and sensitive spirit in him had been dying before he did.

Buck shared about Chongo's kind side during the service. But it was a side Dale and I rarely got to see. As fellow friends, perhaps some who had hosted the party where Chongo had OD'ed filed out of the sanctuary, I was overwhelmed with their grief and hopelessness.

I came home, put on some soft music, lit as many candles as I could find and grabbed the biography of Rosa Parks I've been pouring through. I read two pages before I came upon a horrible lynching story of a young man, Emmett Till, when he was fourteen years old. His body was found in the Tallahachie River, his eye gouged out, his skull crushed, a bullet in his brain and a 75 pound cotton gin barb-wired to his neck. The lynchers were found not guilty.

I put the book down and marched over to my computer and began to write this.

Times have changed since then. In 1954, some white men were the perpetrators against some black men. Today, we don't have to read about horrendous lynchings, but we are still hateful, cruel to some of the people closest to us. I don't know the particulars in Chongo's case, but I have read enough and spent enough time online chatting with teens during Soulation Ask LIVE and after speaking events to know that teens are being destroyed from the inside out. Smoking, using, cutting are only symptoms of their soul's pain.

Often this is due to parents who will not face the truth, who live as people of the lie, who would rather sweep the painful picture of gouged eyes under the rug. It hurts too much to know what painful things we do to one another--often so unintentionally.

Soul pain is the most insidious method the evil one uses, for we cannot immediately see it, tend it, heal it, unless we study each other's eyes. And even then, we know how to mask our pain.

Today we hear about young men and women destroying their souls. Their spirits so abused by others (mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, themselves) that they have no will to feel or live or know.

Today, teens are lynching themselves; the signs are rampant. They starve themselves, they cut themselves, they fall into abusive relationships where they have no will to break away, they grow passive in school, their eyes no longer carry any sparkle or sensitivity to give me hope, the women glory in their lithe, supple bodies, magnifying their sexual powers far too soon, captured by their own powers of captivation.

And these children and young adults are the walking dead among us. And they are very, very hard to love. Their lives are snuffed out as they continue, numbly, to exist. Mostly their choices are meaningless and their lives feel controlled by someone else. Most of the teen addicts are living in ways against their will, for their wills have been rendered useless against the power of the evil one. He bends his will to make the image bearers of God grow passive, listless and powerless to find the good stream of living water.

At the moment, I cannot bring myself to think of solutions, I can only meditate on Buck's words that we are loved. We are loved, though few of us know it.

12 comments:

Gretchen said...

Thank you for sharing this Jonalyn. I have seen this so much in the youth I have know and those I don't know.
I pray that I would be sensitive to the soul of not only my husband and child but to those around me.

Nicole said...

I received a "crash course" in 21st century teenage culture when I started working in a public high school last October. Since I graduated from a small Christian high school, it was even more of a culture shock. Even though the school has a good handle on discipline and connecting with students, what the students take away from the school in the sense of values is minimal at best.

Since I'm a reading tutor working with just one teacher, I don't interact with many teachers. But I get frustrated when teachers can't see beyond the "attitude problems" these students exhibit. Like you, I try to see behind the defense mechanisms and reach out as much as I can while still teaching. I think many teachers forget what it was like being a teenager; like Atticus Finch told Scout, we've got to put ourselves inside their skin and walk around for a day.

I just pray that I'll be reunited with the ones I work with someday in eternity.

Jodi H. said...

Wow, Joni, that's some serious stuff. I'm so grateful that you and Dale have been equipped with hearts to understand and love and are reaching out to our new generation and providing them with HOPE. Thank you, Lord, that we always have hope in You!

Anonymous said...

It is sad to see what society tries to glorify. I understand what you're saying about the dance-show you observed. My friends and I are big 'So you think you can dance' fans...but i found myself questioning what exactly i was cheering for at times. Some dances were beautiful and creative and inspiring. Others, were what you explained, they actually made abusive, domination over-sexualized men and women grinding on stage...seem attractive! I sat there thinking...this is all you can come up with...and should we be making these abusive (both men and women) situations look sexy? I don't think so. It was disturbing and sad to think of what young teens are growing up thinking is healthy...hopefully they don't take this as an example for how to treat partners in a relationship. Thanks for your eloquent thoughts, as always. :)
~ Coryn

Jonalyn Fincher said...

From my aunt

Joni, these teens are walking "dead".

We just had a young man come to our church. He is 27...his "wife/girlfriend" has his 2 12 year old daughter. They are homeless, jobless and basically useless. He is willing to do ANYTHING for work. We had a snowstorm and needed the drive cleaned at our B & B inn. Rick asked Paul if he wanted to chip ice and shovel. He did. We paid him by check and he cashed it at the local bank....then we got a call from the police. (small town) "Do you know who this guy is? " No....just met him at church...needed work". "He is a heroin addict...charged with theft and forgery." We have kept him out of Kennebunkport....your choice, but I would not recommend you have him around."

How do you show God's love when the police call and I'm scared to death to have the B & B and our guest's exposed. Rick and I have decided that before we can be of any help, he must go to AA or NA and have a sponsor and prove that he has been clean for 9 months. Our youth are being so deceived by Satan who is using the drugs to get to them.

Stacia, my daughter who was an addict, has called twice since January to express gratitude and appreciation for something we've done for her. This is a first. We are encouraged but know that we must be careful. God has been very clear to us to Love her. Keep contact. Do not judge or criticize and let Him do the work.

As you know, Stacia has been a challenge and we know very clearly she could be like Chongo. We also know that she is in a better spot than she was even at the age of 16. She has a roof over her head, a job she is responsible to, making her insurance payments etc. Satan is alive and well and wrecking havoc whereever he can.

Aunt BEV

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Gretchen- thank you for sharing how you see this, too.

Nicole- I loved your reminder of Atticus Finch... especially as that's one big inspiration in my next writing project "Walking in Her Shoes"

Jodi- appreciate your encouragement and perspective.. as always :)

Coryn- glad to hear your thoughts. I wish that dancing moves didn't influence our behavior, but I can attest to even the small amount of MTV exposure I've had that it had/has influenced my ideas of gender norms, romance, sexual norms and what is sexy. Those images have power... search "Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video" on you tube or go here for more: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDMo5cIJN3A . See also the commentary on my blog about this video in the comments: https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=2187790137288910965&postID=3401811243443800057 and

Anonymous said...

thanks Jonalyn, I'll check those out! :) Coryn

Anonymous said...

Wow, I viewed the Dreamworlds video. What a disturbing, sad, twisted portrayal of male/female relationships and identity..but so true. It upsets me, cause as you say, I know that I have had my idea of romance, sexiness, female identity influenced by music, music videos and such. And I struggle a lot with how I do not measure up to the sexy, seductress ways it seems that i'm supposed to possess. I will never look or move like Beyonce, and I'm afraid that just takes me off the market as a woman. As much as I rebel against it and hate the idea...I also find myself seduced by it and wondering if that is what's sexy...if there aren't men who think differently than this!?
I guess there must be, but they're hard to find these days...
Now, I need to think about how to counter these ideas, how does God think of my femininity? Guys seem so easily seduced by power and by these unattainably pretty women, their bodies, their movements..why were we created like this?!? It seems so innate...
Sorry I don't think this all makes sense, just trying to sort out my thoughts...:)
~Coryn

A.T. Stowell said...

Jonalyn,

good post. for lack of better words, it has sharp "existential teeth".
And this kind of pain--big, loose, and lawless in the human heart, exacerbated by the psychological daggers cast by "friends" --cannot be remedied by the contrivances of the modern church; cannot be healed in the absence of an experience(s) of love--the kind of love we don't "have" to give, though we often think we do. Until we have experienced love of that sort, we cannot give love of that sort.

things are OK, by the way... :)

adam

Jonalyn Fincher said...

Coryn,
Couldn't help but write to you and tell you that there are many men who care about more than the body's sexiness... but most of them want to be a with a woman they are attracted to. Here's a tidbit that inspires and delights me, though. Beauty is not the same as attraction. You, or a guy, can be attracted to a person who may not be beautiful. And a beautiful person may not be attractive to you. Make sense?

The beauty of this is that we can cultivate our tastes. I am more attracted to my husband now (and he to me) after 7+ years of cultivating our tastes FOR each other than we were when we first men.

And often what is attractive to all men (and women) is a openness, a vulnerability, a quickness to laugh at oneself and others. And this is a quality of soul :) The seeming innateness of men's attraction to sexy, unattainable bods is not unique to men (women's porn is on the rise, by the way). It is INNATE in that it is something that easily turns animalistic, or better worldly/fleshly, in us. But the original desire for sexiness is God-given and something both genders desire. The problem comes when we desire the body more than the soul (as many men and women struggle with).

As far as what does God think of our femininity? THAT is why I wrote my book Ruby Slippers. I hope you'll pick it up.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for those words Jonalyn, I completely understand and agree with you!
Yes, I have grown more and more interested in this Ruby Slippers book, I think it is just what I need to read write now. :)
Thanks for your honest and intelligent voice on these matters, it's refreshing!
~Coryn

Anonymous said...

Jonalyn, the earlier part of this post reminded me of the most recent issue of CBE's Equality magazine on pornography. It had me thinking harder about some of the erotic work of the poets in whose sharing/critique circles I'm in.

I relate to too many things in the second half of this to know where to begin. Also, sometimes it is hard to know where and if to begin in real life: One of my friends recently took in a homeless couple. Her whole family felt good about it, but at the end of the story she and her young family live in fear for their lives. And I once tried to do some ministry among strippers and realized that the team with me was too sexually broken to effectively move forward yet (to prone to get some of the "stuff" on them). But we want and need to show His love. In my former church, I believe the majority of the teens had at some point struggled with cutting themselves. And the KKK is not terribly well veiled in my area.

Difficult but needful questions here....

Deborah