Pray the Devil Back to Hell

This has been Luther Hostel week at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary – a week with credit and continuing education events, as well as special worship and recreation events.  Last night we had opportunity to see the documentary film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.”  This movie is about groups of women, both Christian and Muslim, who worked for peace in war torn Liberia.

 

The story is stark, and difficult to hear: sons enslaved as soldiers, daughters raped by marauding gangs intoxicated with guns and the numbing power of drugs, mothers and fathers forced to see and hear the unspeakable, moments before their death.

 

I do not know so very much about this story.  The film served as a correction, even while alerting me to the fact that there is so much more to learn.  While a film such as this is disturbingly dark, it also came with moments of hope.  Seeing the women dance and sing – each turn, each stanza made into a prayer – was incredibly moving.  Hope shone through in strength of these women who refused to let the devil have the last word in their communities.  Together, in sit down strikes and stand out defiance, they turned faux peace talks into a test of accountability.

 

The film also chronicled the difficult task of facing former child soldiers, now young men, in this post-war situation.  We have the good fortune of having Esther and Lazarus, two church workers from Liberia, with us for a couple of months.  They were able to comment on the work being done in this area by the Lutheran Church in Liberia.  They reminded us that these former child soldiers have had their childhood robbed from them, even as they robbed life, and hope, and community from others.  In the film, some of the victims spoke of the difficult task of forgiving these.  Not all are able to do this.  I can certainly understand that.  But for those who are beginning to see their way into forgiveness, an important step was seeing them again as children rather than child soldiers.

 

I will never forget the strength of the women in this movie.  Their righteous anger echoed the beatitudes proclaimed by an itinerant preacher of a time long ago.  He talked of tables being turned, of the weak taking power, of the meek inheriting mantels, and the mighty being brought low.  Something of this was experienced in Liberia.  A new Reign fell upon this land.  Prayer and solidarity held hands as mercy and truth met in these strong women.  Much work remains to be done in Liberia, where our thoughts, prayers, and solidarity are coveted.  But hope is being enacted in the form of former child soldiers now learning talents and trades to contribute to a new Liberia, to a new kind of freedom.

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For Mom

Today we laid my dear mother Lakadia (Kay) Jorgenson (née Sommer) to rest. She died on October 2, 2013 at the age of 84 years. Her four children were at her side and she died in peace. Mom was someone who loved to cook for, care for and welcome others. She taught me lessons I am still learning and for her I wrote the following which was printed on her funeral card.

Tenaciously
her chest rises, falls
breathing in, breathing out
bearing witness to the glory of the
Lord who succored this sojourner from
Poland to Ponoka and points in between:
Pier 21, New Sarepta, Edmonton, Wilson Siding.
She mirrored mother earth in giving birth – groaning
in travail as she awaited the day of groaning no more. In
faith she stitched service into socks and kindness into afghans.
In hope she sowed compassion among beans and barley and berries.
Lovingly she kneaded care into bread that fed family, friends, and
wayfarers too. With a soft grace she tended Ken until his end
and then, at hers, Your wings wrapped her round as
her breath wound down – like a butterfly slowing
its beating wings into a posture of prayer.
At the last, Holy Breath, You took
her to Your breast where You
held, where You hold her
tenaciously.

Love, Allen

Revenge Revisited

In the movie The Interpreter, the character Silvia Bromme (Nicole Kidman) speaks of her commitment to non-violence saying “Revenge is a lazy form of grief.” Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), who is a federal agent protecting her, is mourning the senseless death of his wife and admits that he would gladly and swiftly take revenge on the one who caused the death of his beloved.  He admired other modes of grief from afar.

 

Is revenge really a lazy form of grief?  Is it even a form of grief?

 

I can remember, still with knots in my stomach, events in which I was wronged and longed to make things right by a sharp word (that came to me a tad too late) or a swift kick (that would have had me thrown out of the game).   My desire for revenge has more often come in response to assaults to my person, rather than those I love – although there has been more than enough of the latter too.  So, while revenge may be a form of grief, I tend to think of it more as a form of preventative defense: I will respond to your violence with violence in kind, or with the threat of violence that holds you at bay.

 

My parents, however, taught me that vengeance isn’t mine to exact: it is the Lord’s, or the teacher’s, or the judicial system.  Sometimes I listen to their now internalized voices; sometimes not.  But even when I do, still doubt nags.  Will my honour truly be returned; my right to fair treatment finally fulfilled?  Giving up vengeance always seemed, and seems, to be a waiting game.

 

But maybe we can make of it another kind of waiting game; a flip from waiting for to waiting on.  While waiting for vengeance, we can wait on others needing recompense: victims of economic violence, those beaten by racial stereotypes, children deprived of hope, etc.  When we wait on while we wait for we discover a most amazing thing: waiting on becomes a waiting with which brings me back to grief.

 

Grief’s condolence is accompaniment.  Those who suffer with others find – not exactly erasure of suffering – but the possibility of experiencing hope in suffering, in grief, in lament.  Such hope seems to dissipate the press for vengeance.  Maybe vengeance isn’t the Lord’s so much because it is God’s to exact, but rather God’s to absorb.  And maybe waiting with victims while waiting on them gives us something different to wait for: justice graced by love and righteousness kissed by peace.