Mourning With Those Who Mourn

During college, I worked at a large hospital in the city of St. Louis. The neighborhood seems better now, but at the time it was one of the most dangerous in the city.

Late one night, I was heading for my car in the parking garage. I stepped on the parking garage elevator as a man was stepping off.

The doors were just starting to close when the man whirled around and wedged his body between the two doors. Terrified, I cowered against the back of the elevator and gasped. I was too scared to scream. In less than a second, I imagined all sorts of awful outcomes.

The man instantly realized how his actions appeared. His face softened. “Sorry,” he said. He backed out of the elevator and let me continue alone.

Once I calmed down, it became clear what had really happened. He had simply forgotten something in his car and needed to go back. He had no plans to harm me. When he saw my distress, he kindly chose to wait for another elevator so I wouldn’t be frightened.

And before I write further, I should probably mention that the man in this story was white.

With the news out of Ferguson, I’ve been thinking a lot about my seven years in St. Louis. I’ve wondered about several of my former coworkers who lived in the North County suburbs. When I later worked for a retail chain, I even filled in a few times at a store in Ferguson. It was a quiet there then, nothing like what’s being portrayed in the media.

While I was still working at the hospital, a black coworker mentioned she would be stopping at a nearby grocery store after work. I warned her to be careful. A friend had been loading her groceries there one afternoon when a man got in her car with a gun and told her to drive. She was lucky that all he wanted was a ride. My coworker shook her head. “I’m safe there, because I belong in that neighborhood. You and your friends don’t.”

Another time, another coworker and her husband were looking for a house. I mentioned a new subdivision I had driven by in the south part of the county. She laughed. “Me, live down there? That’s hilarious.”

And that was the thing. We worked together, ate lunch together, laughed together, and discussed our lives together. But after work, they would drive north, and I would drive south. Unless your workplace was integrated, you could spend most of your days interacting with only those of your own race. I’ve seen a lot of racism, and most of it started with ignorance. We can’t cure ignorance if we’re not interacting.

I think of another friend, white, whose son was murdered. Yes, his own bad choices had put him in that place on that night, but that’s not what we talked about. I didn’t shrug because he wasn’t making a valuable contribution to society anyway. I mourned the loss, both of life and potential. I could be that grieving parent. That’s what we do when something happens to teenagers who look like my son. We aren’t so quick tell ourselves that it won’t happen to our kids, because we know it could.

The gospel requires us to take an honest look at the evil we harbor in our hearts. Becoming a follower of Christ means we set aside our self-righteousness and trade it for the only thing that can make us right with God—the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That great exchange discussed in 1 Corinthians 5:21 has implications for all of eternity (1 Corinthians 15:19), but the change it effects, that future perfection that we long for (Romans 8:23), begins here (Romans 6:4–5). It begins imperfectly, and we still fail, but it begins. So, how should the gospel inform our thinking about Ferguson?

We Can Be Honest About Sin

The gospel strips away any hope of self-justification. Self-justification is the only hope of the non-believer, but we have something better—something that actually works. We don’t have to be afraid when sin is exposed, because that’s when the light can shine in (Ephesians 5:13–14, Psalm 112:7).

What sin am I referring to here (i.e. Which “side” am I on)? All of it. The sin of racism. The sin of violence. The sin of injustice. The sin of using a tragedy for personal gain. The sin of half-truth. The sin of covering up. We should rejoice at the truth, even if it hurts our “side” and forces us to rethink our position on certain issues.

We Can Be Honest About Death

Death is the enemy (1 Corinthians 15:24–26). Our society often tries to sugarcoat it by saying “it’s a natural part of life” or mock it by making it entertainment. But when death separates us from the ones we love, we mourn. We don’t need anyone to explain that this shouldn’t be so, because we feel it in the wrenching of our souls. When a believer dies, we do have the comfort of knowing they are with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), but even then we still grieve.

We Can Be Honest About Our Unworthiness

We don’t deserve our salvation. We can’t do anything to earn it. We can’t make ourselves worthy of the grace of God. That unworthiness then affects how we view others.

Sometimes, like in the story of the Good Samaritan, it means helping the hurting at personal cost. The Good Samaritan didn’t evaluate if the injured man deserved his fate. He didn’t weigh whether the injured man would properly appreciate his help. He just helped. Helping someone is a journey of many steps; the first is not looking away.

Michael Brown was created in the image of God. That alone makes his death a tragedy. His death is a tragedy whether he was an honor student or a criminal. Measuring a person’s worth by their contribution to society is the same evil that gave birth to eugenics and Nazism. It’s the same evil used to justify abortion and assisted suicide. Mourning the death of Michael Brown doesn’t automatically condemn the officer’s actions any more than mourning the murder of my friend’s son celebrates drug deals made in back alleys.

I think back to the man on the parking garage elevator. I jumped to the wrong conclusion that night. But it was a conclusion based solely on that man’s actions, not his race. As long as white people are hitting the locks on their car doors just because a black man is walking by, we still have a problem in this country. As long as we have groups of people who have been silenced so often that they expect it, we have work to do.

The problems in St. Louis started generations ago. They won’t be fixed in a day. But we need to stop looking away. We need to stop telling ourselves why it won’t happen to our kids and realize that it’s only by the grace of God if it doesn’t. Then we need to weep with those who weep.

I’ve decided to keep the comments closed on this one. Thanks for understanding.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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