The Sting of Shame

I had, for some reason, been thinking a lot over the last few days about some friends of mine from Africa. They kept coming to mind again and again and I sent some Whatsapp messages asking how they were. Then the news channel on my phone began to spring headlines about African students being beaten up in Noida, a city on the outskirts of Delhi, forming part of the National Capital Region, and today, news of indiscriminate violent outbreaks against Africans in Noida, and the warning bells began to go off in my head.

I quickly messaged friends and students, and read up a little on what had happened. Apparently, the violence was a public reaction to the drug-overdose death of an Indian youth in which apparently, some people from a particular African country were booked. The situation apparently escalated due to ignorance and prejudice. This is the second outbreak of violence in a year against Africans, the last being completely unprovoked.

Messages started to come back. Some had fled into Delhi and were safe, others were still in Noida, unable to venture out as some major connecting roads were blockaded and were under vigilance, making it unsafe for Africans to leave without being spotted and thrashed. Attacks happened in malls. Students young enough to be my children are afraid, some are in hospital, and everyone is shaken. Urgent messages from the Home Minister are receiving platitudes from the State Chief Minister, recently elected, although well known for vitriolic, communal hate speeches.

Tears

The face that captures how I feel!

I’ve been burning with anger and distressed with pain and shame. Anger at the ignorance, discrimination and prejudice, pain at the violence, and shame that we brown-skinned people have a long reputation of colour bias, casteism and discrimination of many forms, not the least being gender. I’ve had a long connect with Africa through music and friends, and I love the people. It pains me immensely to see them face harassment and bad behaviour in a country that many of them look to as a place of opportunity and hope.

I’ve started to pray again for Africans in Delhi and the NCR region, and have asked my church to pray as well. If you are in a habit of praying for people, I would encourage you to remember these precious people before God who loves us all. Many Africans that I know are Christian, but the shock and trauma of dealing with this, forgiving offenders, resisting hatred and cynicism and feeling unsafe is going to be a long and difficult journey. I sincerely hope they will find friends who will help who are Indian, and for sure, I need to step up to the plate.

However, as I was reflecting on these events, it came to me that when fanatics and criminals are at the helm, it’s often a wake-up call for everyone concerned. No one is exempt, because thorns planted will reap thorns, and we are all going to be living in the briars. We shouldn’t be surprised at the stabs and scratches. It’s up to every one of us to consider what we are planting and leaving for others, what we are giving to our children. What we are intentionally doing to make a difference to others around us.

The words of Jesus ring again in my head, ‘You are the earth’s salt. But if the salt should become tasteless, what can make it salt again? It is completely useless and can only be thrown out of doors and stamped under foot. You are the world’s light—it is impossible to hide a town built on the top of a hill. Men do not light a lamp and put it under a bucket. They put it on a lamp-stand and it gives light for everybody in the house. Let your light shine like that in the sight of men. Let them see the good things you do and praise your Father in Heaven.‘ Matthew 5:13-16

We may not be able to change worldviews and systems, but we can make responses, no matter how small and feeble they may seem. They’ve got to start where we’re at, no matter where that may be.

The song below is one of my favourite Bruce Cockburn classics, and I put it up because it helps us feel how others feel, because it reminds us of how we feel. I hope you will be touched by both the song and the post, and that God will be able to use you to make a difference in the life of someone else who is in need nearby.

Radiance

The season of lying fallow has been strange.

On one end, an intentional pulling back from writing, made easy by, on the other, the evaporation of the little drops of free time by a new intense season at work. In all of this the gentle whisper continuing, ‘Listen to me.’

The work season has been difficult with trying to balance winding up with my Grade 8 kids in Bridges Academy, the school for Afghan refugee kids that my institution has been involved in networking and founding, getting back to regular language classes in LIFE Education Language School where I work, and training new teachers that we’ve taken on board. The result has been a sense of saturation, of being hemmed in I haven’t felt for a long time, and a reluctance to go to class, that to me is always the first sign of a coming burn-out down the line.

Night Desk

Feeling hemmed in is like tunnel vision!

This coming right at the time when Lydia my wife, was offered a full-fledged class teacher’s post, an answer to prayer and a long dream for her of mine for many years, has made the season a strange one of joy, expectation and exhaustion, sort of like, as I commented on a blog post, ‘freeze-frying’. Not a wonderful thing emotionally.

I’ve also been plagued by longings for greenery, space and quiet, which make me suck up the sight of anything green and flowering in the city, and I’m thankful for many of these in the midst of the hostile city environment, in spite of scenes like in the photo below that I took from our terrace space in the building.

It was a scene that looked like a normal, beautiful sunset with palm trees, except that they weren’t palm trees, and the camera did something to the sun that quite matches with how I’ve felt, over the last few days – saturated by the city and the crass sound of human overactivity, boastful and ostentatious.

Sunset Skyline

If only those were trees…

Today I just had to take a break from work. The weekend was exhausting, busy with cooking and housework, and the morning did what J.P. Donleavy describes in one of his books in the words, ‘Today came crashing down.’ It was oppressive. I felt sluggish, like a lane of office-hour traffic, and unwell Night Trafficand thankfully was able to take the day off after calling and letting Dan, our managing director, know what was happening. I called friends and asked for prayer, and my pastor took the trouble of spending time on the phone with me, coming alongside and praying through.

Then in the quiet of my room, I was able to take it to God, express the feelings, read Scripture, make the choice to believe what I was reading, and rest in Him.

And in the evening, the return of my lovely wife and daughter. Lydia back from her first day of a new season as a homeroom teacher, tired but excited, and Hannah back from her first day of the new quarter. Stories, noise, hungry stomachs. It felt like it was all coming back to normal, except for the lurking feeling of saturation that tells me that it’s far from over and to be watchful against demotivation and loss of passion. In my experience, any symptom of impending burnout, needs to be dealt with unhurriedly and carefully, expressing the feelings to God openly and honestly, without being harried by distractions, and making choices that keep relationships and time with God intact.

In today’s reading with my family, we read from Jeremiah 6:16, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask about the ancient paths, ‘Which one is the good way?’ Take it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ Again a choice! One based on what was from the beginning, and that is unchanging: and that is the bottomline that God is completely in control, that He has a very good purpose in place that He is working out in us with deep, concerned love, that His presence in our life makes everything we do greatly meaningful and powerful, that His power is made perfect in our weakness and that it is, many times over, worth doing what He is leading us to do.

As Psalm 34:5 says, ‘Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.’

Radiant

It seems, overcoming our circumstances and situations, only gain their context looking to God in the midst of them.