Rattling around in my brain last night were words from the second chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
And I wondered, sitting around the table with friends over a shared meal, what, if anything, this whole Kony campaign had to do with the way of Jesus.
Countless videos and posts have already stated that this campaign is, perhaps, a decade too late. What concerns me now, however, is the way in which this campaign – high production values and all – has filtered into the church. I’m glad that we’re talking about it.
I just hope that if we do plan on discussing it in the church, we do so in light of the gospel of Christ, and pray, with Paul, that the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus. I shared in a previous post that, if nothing else, this should open us up to an honest dialogue about the issues at play, and recommended a few resources, including Emmanuel Katongole’s “Sacrifice of Africa.”
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove highlights one story from that book in a blog he published earlier today. I think it’s worth re-posting:
Is it possible to respond to Kony with the power of Jesus’ nonviolent love?
For me, this is not a speculative question. I know the answer is “yes” because I have met her. Her name is Angelina Atyam. (For a rich theological account of Atyam’s witness, see my friend Emmanuel Katongole’s new book, The Sacrifice of Africa.)
In northern Uganda, 139 children were abducted from their local school by the Lord’s Resistance Army in 1996. Among them was the 14-year old daughter of Angelina Atyam, a local midwife and nurse. Atyam knew she would never see her daughter again. Thousands of parents before her had bitterly resigned themselves to a brutal reality that could not be changed. She had every reason to be angry, but little room to hope that anything could change.
Still, Atyam could not remain silent. This was her daughter, after all, abducted and abused along with other young women whom she had helped welcome into the world. She knew she had to do something. Her sense of urgency was every bit as strong as that of the KONY 2012 Campaign. But her approach was different.
Atyam founded the Concerned Parents Association, seeking the release of the children while at the same time advocating a different approach to their captors. “Our message is unconditional forgiveness and reconciliation,” she said. “We have absolutely forgiven them. We can turn to a fresh page; we do it for the sake of the children who are alive.” She continued, “I have waited more than three years; some parents even longer. We are tired of war and our children need a better life. Of revenge I would say that we cannot throw petrol on a burning fire; otherwise we would be like them. We can say this because we have been at the center of the pain.”
Atyam was relentless in her love, speaking out against Kony on radio and in print. When he sent threats, she did not waver. Finally, he sent a message to say that he would release her daughter if she would stop her campaign against him. “They are all my children,” she said. “I will not stop until they are all released.”
Atyam’s story is compelling. It is the story of a response inspired by Jesus’ self-sacrificing love, a love that values human dignity, the image of God in every man, woman and child, and a love that transcends the boundaries that often leave us divided.
Hartgrove ends his reflection with these words:
Yes, we are more creative than cynical apathy or violent intervention. We are more creative because we’ve been invited to pray a prayer that’s not ours and live a life that has power beyond our capacity to imagine.
We’ve been invited to pray the prayer of Jesus, the Lord’s prayer. A prayer of resistance, perhaps, but it is not the prayer of an army. This is a prayer of humility and dignity and creativity. A prayer that calls us and this world into a new way of being. It awakens our imaginations to new possibilities – possibilities that move beyond the cycles of violence and injustice that ensnare us. It awakens us to the truly creative act of self-sacrifice.
Isn’t it Jesus, who himself suggests that “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”?
While targeting the world’s celebrities and so-called change makers is one thing, I wonder what this has to do with the way of Jesus and his approach towards power and politics.
Above all, what does it have to do with the way of the cross? This is, after all, the road on which we travel throughout this season of Lent.