Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Think Without Acting

We are a culture of armchair critics.

We sit on the couch and yell at athletes, telling them how to play the game. We comment on celebrities' relationships, weight & fashion choices, vicariously living the Hollywood life for the
cost of cable. We tweet, blog, Yelp, write reviews on Amazon, and webcast our opinions & critiques. I think the real reason people go wine tasting in Napa is so that they can feel like a cultured critic, swirling, sniffing and mumbling about hints of blackberry & oak.

And I'm no different. I wish I was less critical.

I can remember years ago, going to see a movie with my family. My brother & I whispered snide remarks through the whole, awful thing, like we were characters in Mystery Science Theater. But when we shuffled out of the theater and finally let loose on the movie, my Dad looked shocked, "I liked it!" That night, my cynical bro
ther & I wondered if we would rather go through life enjoying mediocre movies, books, food & whatnot and just be happy, or if we preferred our highbrow excellent taste. In the end, we decided it was better to be disappointed, miserable, cynical and cultured than be some average Joe that had no taste. ;)

All these thoughts have been swirling around in my head as I hear the incredible responses to the Kony 2012 video that is all the rage right now. It seems as though the whole world is circling the kill, waiting for their chance at a witty, pithy critique, a personal jab, and an "I told you so"-- especially since the filmmaker's very public & humiliating meltdown last week.

Like I said, I'm right there with the rest of them, ready with criticism, opinions, and (if I'm lucky) a little recognition for how I could have done it better. I want to be gracious and humble, believing the best of people, and not pushing to have my way on top, but if I'm honest, I'll admit that I bend more towards the critical than the optimistic-- at least in my knee-jerk reactions.

I attended a training last week on Creativity that got me thinking. Give me just a minute to unravel this one...
There are four different roles in the creative process, and each one is important:
  1. The Pioneer collects, gathers, wonders & dreams
  2. The Artist takes the materials around them & creates something
  3. The Judge evaluates the worth & value of the creation
  4. The Warrior goes out and does something with the creation

The first two roles tend to be more innovative, dreamy & imaginative, while the second two roles are more practical "get 'er done" types. But, in order to create something that is new, valuable, worthwhile or beautiful, we really need each role in the creative process. If we just have the first two, we sit with our heads in the clouds & get nothing done, and if we only have the second two, we either allow our criticism to stop us, or we jump into something that wasn't well planned.

Okay, I'm going to tie it together now: As I have heard & read the criticism of Kony 2012, I began asking myself: Is it better to act without thinking, or think without acting?

In so many ways, it seems that the boys at Invisible Children have acted without thinking. They have been Artists and Warriors, without taking the time for thoughtful analysis. But it seems that their "opposition" is so busy thinking through all the complexities of the issues in Central Africa that they have not acted. Is one better than the other? In this particular case, I might say Yes.

The criticism is that Invisible Children didn't do it right. And yet, here they are, with 100 million (and counting) views, and the entire world talking about Joseph Kony. I was upset about the simplicity of the film, as well, and have plenty of critiques-- but when was the last time I did a single thing for Uganda? Seriously. In all my passion & knowledge of how to approach the issue, when was the last time I actually approached it?

I am lazy and jaded, and I live in a lazy, jaded culture that would rather write something off as incomplete than step in and help complete it. We all long for something true, beautiful, creative & good in our lives, and when someone takes a stab at it, we jump all over them with our opinions as though they were a restaurant on Yelp, and not a human with thoughts, emotions, strengths and weaknesses.

We all have a role to play in the creative process, but I wonder if we have all taken the "Judge's" seat, and left the role of "Pioneer, Artist, and Warrior" vacant. I know I need more risk in my life. I need to ignore the voice of the Judge in my head a little bit more, and allow myself to innovate, create, and simply step out. Maybe the world needs a little more bad art in it. I know it certainly doesn't need another critic like me.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Kony 2012

I am torn.

My mind has been running circles around Uganda ever since watching Kony 2012 a few days ago. I've been reading blogs, & articles criticizing every aspect of the video and the organization. I've been talking with friends who are directly involved with the peace negotiations and rehabilitation of the abducted children. I've been thinking, talking, and reading about it so much that my brain feels a little melty. My goal was to synthesize the info a bit for all my friends & family who have been asking what I think
of it all. But after everything I've heard & read & discussed, I feel even more muddled than before.
Here's my attempt to sort it out:

-I love that the whole world seems to be talking about the injustice of the LRA, and that millions of people have been moved to do something about it.

-I love the way that Invisible Children has raised awareness, and brought issues to light that so many had never heard of. I love that it was a bunch of college kids who didn't know what they were doing, but have held unwaveringly for almost 10yrs in their commitment to bring change. And I love the way that this video has captured the hearts of millions of people who
just want to do something to help.

-I love the smell, and the songs, the way the sun feels like it comes through a magnifying glass, the feel of the red, red dirt, the way the hammock sways back and forth at night in the mud hut, and the sound of the children in the Internally Displaced People's Camp in the morning. I love the hospitality, the pace of life, and a million other things that I had forgotten about until I watched that video, and found myself crying like a baby in my kitchen, as my toddler stared at me in confusion. I love Uganda, and I love Ugandans.

But I'm scared, too.

Even in our best intentions, we can enter a situation as outsiders and misdiagnose a problem. In our eagerness to help, we forget to ask questions, we forget to listen. We see a gaping wound and rush in to fix it, without understanding the complexities, the history, and the resources available. It is a good, noble, and beautiful thing to want to help, but sometimes helping hurts.

That has been the major criticism of the film Kony 2012, and there have been so many great thoughts (although most of them have been extremely harsh) that I will not repeat them. If you're interested, here are a few of the best responses I have seen. To sum it up, the video takes an incredibly complex situation and simplifies it into the logic of a 4yr old (literally). It also doesn't give great current information, or the viewpoint of the Ugandan people. Having said all that, though, Invisible Children has done a great job responding to all the criticism.

As I have talked to our friends who are directly involved in the peace negotiations with the LRA, and our friends who have been working directly with the child abductees, there is frustration and mixed feelings about the video. The main problem is that Northern Ugandans do not support the initiative to bring in US troops to "stop" Kony. It's their children who are out there, who would be forced to defend Kony if troops came in to capture him (just like the failed Operation Lightning Thunder, a few years back). They are working, and have been working towards peace negotiations and amnesty programs, and have seen incredible improvement in their region (I have had the privilege of seeing it, and in the tiniest way, even being able to participate in it, myself). The simple solutions (military troops) proposed in the video are not at all what our friends, or most of Northern Uganda, want for their country.

Okay, sorry. I know I said I wasn't going to do all that. Couldn't help myself ;)

So here's the real dilemma: What do we do with all of this?

Kony 2012 raises questions, issues, and brings to light a real problem-- one that breaks our hearts & moves us to action. But now we're all hearing that it's the wrong action, told in the wrong way, by the wrong people. So what do we do? How do we respond to the need without knowing any of the people who are in need? All of the brilliant & pithy criticism still hasn't led to a solution, or even an action step.

Is it better to do something rash, idealistic & ignorant than to spew criticism and do nothing at all? Is there a third option?

I've been asking our friends out there what we can actually do to help, and this is what they've said. (Warning: It's not sexy, glamorous, exciting or edgy)
  • Pray: As simple, and even silly as it sounds, that is the first thing that Ugandans ask for. Through the massacres, through the abductions, the mutilations, the rape, and other unspeakable injustices, I was humbled and amazed to see the unwavering faith of the Ugandan people. To be honest, I was ashamed of my own meager spirituality. They believe deeply in God, trust in Him, pray to Him, and want us to do the same.
  • Give: Find an organization that is working to rehabilitate the victims of the conflict and give sacrificially to them. In Northern Uganda, there are very few NGO's ("non-profits", to the American) left who are still providing relief and long-term rehabilitation. After spending the summer there, here are some of my favorites:
  1. Child Voice International: providing in-depth rehabilitation, counseling, education, job training & a whole lot more to youth affected by the conflict. (The group we lived/worked with. I can't say enough wonderful things about this organization)
  2. Doctors Without Borders: giving medical assistance to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe. (They were doing great things while we were there)
  3. International Justice Mission: working through legal systems (in Uganda, and around the world) to stop injustice. (One of the many complexities in this conflict is the corruption of the Ugandan government)
  • Learn: Read up on the conflict, ask about the needs, and share with others. It takes more time, effort & commitment than hanging posters for a night, but it is so very important, if we want to help, to know who we are helping, why, what exactly we are helping them to do, and how we are going to do it. It is also key in this whole process to give help with dignity, collaboration & humility.
  • Be an informed consumer: Give me a second on this one... Kony & the LRA have fled up to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they have become one of many conflicts & genocides in the DRC, Central African Republic, Chad & Sudan. These genocides are being fueled by minerals like Coltan (used in computers & cell phones), silver, gold, diamonds, and copper that are mined (by these rebel groups) in these countries and sold to us. Ever seen Blood Diamond? It's like that. So one thing we can do to help stop Kony (and dozens like him) is to raise awareness for a need of conflict-free Coltan, diamonds, etc. There's a great little group called Call + Response that is a helpful resource to get started in raising awareness & asking companies to be responsible. We can also buy refurbished & second-hand products to reduce the demand for these minerals.

My hope is that some of this was helpful to someone out there. It is an issue so very close to my heart, and I am grateful to Invisible Children for reminding me and informing millions (millions!) of people that there is a pressing, compelling, heart-breaking need out there. I'm not sure that I will be sporting a "Kony 2012" poster in my front yard (if you've seen my front yard, you would know that's actually an act of respect to the campaign!) or wallpapering San Francisco on April 20th. But I promise not to judge you if you do... just promise me you'll look into some of the details. ;)

Thanks for hangin' in there through all this information. I will update Comments with anything new I hear from our friends in the thick of it.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Believe it or not, I was in the Gospel Choir in college. And if I do say so myself, we were good.
Okay, to be perfectly honest, I dropped the choir's status a few notches when they let me in, but it was one of the best things I did with my college career.

Now, as a History major & Art History minor, I also admit that most of my classes weren't extremely challenging to me. I figured out how to write a 10 page paper with a perfect intro, thesis & conclusion, throw some quotes in the middle and get an A without breaking much of a sweat (unless you count the full sprint I usually did getting the paper into the professor's office on time). But learning how to sway back & forth and clap my hands on the off beat while singing required more mental energy for me than all my History classes combined. I am sorry to say that I will never live out my dream of being the drummer in a garage band. Rhythm has never been my strong suit.

My lack of rhythm has played out in the rest of my life, as well. I tend to move forward in awkward fits and starts, trying to pull together certain areas, while others are neglected. I over work, and routinely get sick every time I give myself a break (creating countless disappointing vacations).

There was this brief period of time where Chris & I were onto something. We called in Maintaining. We would set the kitchen timer every night for 10 minutes and clean as much as we could until the timer went off. We created a little weekly chart that we kept on the refrigerator with post-it's that marked how we would spend our free time each evening. We made sure that we included activities in our weekly and monthly schedules that were life-giving, and we also made space for the less-than-exciting duties of life. It was good.

We started the whole project by making lists of activities would restore us, dreaming up a life where we could go camping once every couple of months, hike every weekend, spend one night a week doing something creative or just hang out with the guys. Then we brought our lists together, looked at our calendars and did the best we could to match our fantasy life with reality. We took into account how many nights a week we tended to work late, how often we travel, and trips to the laundry mat and the auto shop.

Surprisingly, our dream life looked pretty similar to what we came up with on our chart. And even more surprising was the fact that we were able to actually live it out. Our lives are full, we travel more than is healthy, and our jobs (although we love them) can be absolutely exhausting. But when we were living out this simple rhythm and were intentional about using our time towards restoration, it was as though the reserves that are so often depleted were protected a bit more.

It is so easy, when I am worn out at the end of the day, to plug into my computer and scroll through Facebook or Pinterest and lose that precious hour or two between Nolan's bed time and my own. It is so easy to turn on Hulu and watch a few episodes of Modern Family, when what I really needed was to sit and talk with my hubby. It's funny how, in the times when we need restoration the most, we slump into our chairs stare at a screen and give ourselves the exact opposite.

Chris & I have decided that it's time to re-establish that rhythm we lost, to make a new plan to fit the current reality of our life, and help us move into living it more deeply, more intentionally. We've been red-lining for too long. So today, Chris takes his last grad-school final EVER (I just want that to soak in for a moment), tonight we celebrate with a giant homemade Italian feast, and tomorrow, we will sit down and create together a structure that will help us really live. Chris describes it an ancient Christian practice called a Rule of Life, but I've never really been one to like the word "rule". I like to think of it more as a rhythm we're creating: clapping, swaying and singing off-beat & out of tune, but singing nonetheless.