Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Letter for Janay

I, like many people in this country, have gotten caught up in the on-going saga involving Ray Rice, his wife Janay, his former team the Baltimore Ravens and his former employer, the NFL.  There are many layers to this story with any number of people pointing the finger of blame in various directions.  What I don't want to do with this small space I inhabit is contribute to that.  I do hope and pray that these words resonate and encourage Janay and anyone that identifies with her.  

Janay,

I know you don't know me or that I even exist.  But I do want you to know that, as a man with a wife and children whom I love dearly, my heart goes out to you.  I know that you're in the midst of a storm unlike anything you've ever experienced in your life. There are people coming from every direction with something to say about you and about Ray. Most of us have absolutely no idea of what you've been through. Others, like myself, have lived through domestic violence and bear our own scars as a result of what we saw and experienced.  

You may never see this letter, but if you do, there are some things that I would like to impart to you - from one parent of a daughter to another - a parent who some 30 years ago was a young boy not much older than your daughter now...who bore witness to the ugliness and ongoing brutality of domestic violence.  

I was 8 years old when I first remember seeing my dad beat my mom.  All I could do was yell at him to stop.  That's all my 2 brothers and I could do was yell and hope and pray he would stop.  He would get to the point where he'd stop himself just short of choking her out and then he'd leave the room or leave the house in a raged panic...there was part of him that knew what he was doing was wrong but he couldn't stop himself from doing it. There were a few times mom would call the cops but somehow he'd come back home and things would get better.  Somehow he'd play nice for awhile and I'd see him be loving to my mom.  We got fooled into thinking that things would change...that it wouldn't happen again.

But inevitably, it would.  And each time the violence manifested itself more intensely. I remember thinking at times that I was going to see my mom die and then wondered what would happen to us.  Where would we go?  We had no idea what would happen.  I do remember one day leaving the apartment where we lived to go play and coming back a couple of hours later only to be confronted by flashing lights and seeing my dad in handcuffs being escorted to the backseat of a police car.  My heart sank and I wondered what I would see when I got inside.  I was relieved that Mom was okay but scared and angry because of the bruises on her face and body.  There was so much I didn't understand.  I couldn't fully wrap my mind around what was happening and why it kept happening.  Finally one night, under cover of darkness, we packed a few things and we left and stayed with family.  We had done this before, several times...but this time was different.  We didn't go back.  

The next several years we spent a lot of time in the family court system.  It was brutal. Mom finally decided to divorce Dad but he fought.  That what Dad does...he fights. He's always fought...whether it was on the streets of Baltimore as a young boy or whether it was in the jungles of Vietnam as a teenager, it's what he's always known.  It's almost like he has no identity outside of the fight.  Even after all of these years I'm not sure exactly when it was that my mom decided it was time to leave.  But I think ultimately she did it for us. Innately she knew the only chance we had of being able to turn into responsible young men was if she left.  I imagine that a vision snuck into a rare night of sleep that haunted her...a vision showing her sons growing up angry and bitter turning our rage towards our own wives in the same way he did to her.  This she could not allow to come to pass, even if it meant going it alone as a single mother of 3 boys.  She - once the young, beautiful, naive girl looking for a way out of a bad marriage only to stumble into a worse one - now as a wiser woman prayed for strength to leave and found it.  

All of these memories came flooding back to me as I watched and rewatched the video of you being brutalized.  It wasn't just that he spit on you, egged you into the knockout blow he delivered with devastating efficiency, dragged you into the lobby and dropped you face-first onto the marble floor allowing you to be partially exposed, stepped over and kicked you with his foot, then placed you in a heap only to fall back into the elevator as you were still regaining consciousness...no it was the indifference with which he did all of this.  Not one action that was caught in any of that footage reflected any measure of decency or respect due to you - his fiancee and the mother of his daughter. Please know that there's nothing you did to justify his vicious behavior towards you. At any point during this entire ordeal, he could've walked away to give you both space to regain some measure of composure.  No...this was too easy for him.  It was too casual...this is familiar territory for him.  But it shouldn't be.  It shouldn't even be an option to begin with.

I understand your wanting to create space to protect your family's privacy.  And I understand your defending your husband and what he's worked for in his career.  But this is about you and your daughter and the fight to give her a chance to grow up into a woman that understands that in no way is what happened to you tolerable, acceptable or normal.  I challenge you to make a new normal for you and for her...the kind of normal that makes no excuses for, nor aides or abets abuse or abusers.  There's no amount of money, no sense of security that can replace what you have the ability to offer your little girl by making the choice to disable anyone from abusing you ever again.  I believe that you have family and friends who love you and your daughter and will do anything in their power to help you. You are blessed to have a support system. Use it and do what you have to do to protect yourself and your child.  If there's any chance of Ray becoming the man he needs to be, you have to stop enabling him.  

None of what I'm saying is easy.  Being in the public eye certainly makes trying to live your life much more complicated.  I know you didn't ask for all of this but this is what you are having to face.  Even when you feel alone and that no one understands, please know that isn't true.  There are people praying for you and those who are in closer proximity to you - family, friends - are just waiting for you to tell them what you need. Don't feel guilty about asking for help from them.  God put them in that position for a reason because He knew they were uniquely positioned to help you in a way no one else could.

And know that you have people like me around the country that are praying for you, your daughter and Ray.  I hope that in the still quiet moments when it's just you and God, that you allow Him to minister to you...that you allow Him to give you what you need.  You'll find that you will have strength you didn't know you had to do things you didn't know you could do...like maybe even one day be the embodiment of strength and inspiration not only for your daughter but for countless women in our country and around the world who have been victims of domestic violence.  But that's for later. :) For now, just take it one day at a time.


Wishing you a better tomorrow,

Kunta






Monday, May 19, 2014

Kiss The Ring

The older I get the more disenchanted I get with celebrity.  The pursuit of it, it seems, is a worthy accomplishment of a great many people, powerful and anonymous alike.  I have to admit, growing up, I believed I was going to be famous.  I wasn't sure how, I was just sure it would happen.  But I can honestly thank God for the wisdom gained from growing older to be able to realize that the path to celebrity is a treacherous one...and the world buckles under the weight of this evidence.

Have you ever stopped to think of the emphasis our culture places on celebrity and how that impacts us?  It's a bit overwhelming to think about, but just try it on for size.  Our society, our world is littered with the carcasses of those who have been swallowed whole by the beast of celebrity. In our country, we consciously and unconsciously provide the fuel for the multi-billion dollar business of celebrity. There are countless blogs, magazines, radio programs and TV shows dedicated solely to celebrities and their lives. In the last 2-3 years, there has been an explosion of 24/7 tabloid journalism, like nothing we've seen, only because our appetite for it has driven up the supply of this type of content. 

And what do we have to show for all of this? A culture obsessed with celebrity and its pursuit to the point that it's pervading the "church". When I saw "Preachers of L.A." I was convinced it was evidence of cultural rot infiltrating Western Christianity...a type of tipping point I never imagined I see.  But then again, I never imagined I'd read a recent story about a mother purposefully poisoning her child just to raise the profile of her "mommy" blog. In any case, it's an indictment of our lack of "saltiness" as the body of Christ. And, for the record, I include myself in this observation. I question myself because I know in my heart I've left opportunities on the table to speak life into people and to stand for God's truth even at the risk of making people feel uncomfortable.

I say all of this knowing full well there are believers making an impact throughout the world and here in the States...many believers paying the ultimate price for their faith in Christ. It makes me mad to think about this while I live my relatively comfortable life making some choices for the sake of comfort and convenience. But doing this comes with a price. Every choice I make has consequences, and those ripple through present day as well as throughout eternity. And that's the reality of just my decisions. When I think about that in relation to the collective power/effects of the decisions we make as a body, it's tremendously significant. The world we touch suffers because somewhere along the line, we've decided to cede power and influence to popular culture - in big and small ways - to the detriment of both ourselves as Christians and the world at large. If we're not truly fulfilling our destiny as believers, how can we expect to sharpen each other and as a result, be the type of "salt" worthy of its flavor?  

It's the challenge we as Western Christians face - deciding, as Gandhi said, to be the change we want to see in the world or to allow the world around us to change us into being people who bow before the idol of celebrity - in big and small ways - hoping to be accepted and liked for comfort's sake.  I'm praying/working to live in a way that gives strength to those around me especially in days like these and that, ultimately, my life pleases the only One worth bowing to.