Created for Christianity Today’s This is Our City with the ideas from the post below regarding simulation culture.
Just outside Las Vegas sits a cluster of camouflaged trailers. Inside one trailer is Afghanistan. Inside another is Iraq. Other trailers serve as portals to Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, and so on. Stepping inside one of these trailers is kind of like Lucy stepping into the wardrobe to find herself in Narnia, except instead of a fantasy land, they link us to a real war zone in another part of our world.
Sitting behind computer screens and joysticks, US military pilots fly Predator drones half a world away, conducting missions in real-time. Using cameras on board the Predators flying at 15,000 feet above Afghan territory, pilots have the ability to zero in on Taliban targets, and when given orders, launch laser-guided hellfire missiles all from the safety of a trailer in Nevada.
These “combat commuters” are officially deployed but live regular lives like the rest of us in North America. “[They] commute to work in rush-hour traffic, slip into a seat in front of a bank of computers, ‘fly’ a warplane to shoot missiles at an enemy thousands of miles away, and then pick up the kids from school or a gallon of milk at the grocery store on his way home for dinner,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Martin in the book Predator: The Remote-Control Air War over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot’s Story about his time flying drone missions over Iraq and Afghanistan.
For many drone pilots, this kind of existence is surreal. They know they are in a trailer in Nevada but yet they are also just as present on a battle scene across the globe as the troops on the ground. When they press a button inside their simulated cockpit, something real happens somewhere else. They flinch when something comes at their screen but they don’t feel the speed or a hard bank to the right. And though they are able to take a life in battle, pilots are untouchable when a rocket takes down the Predator because they are not really there.
When we can no longer tell the difference between reality and simulation, French philospher Jean Baudrillard calls this experience hyperreality. However, the trailers in Nevada are not the only place in our postmodern world where the gap between simulation and reality is shrinking. Simulation culture influences our professional worlds by enabling surgeons to train safely, forecasters to predict weather and stock trends, and filmmakers to create alternate worlds that educate and entertain us.
Hyperreality also influences our personal worlds by allowing us to simulate power through video games, prestige through possessions, and community though sports events (as discussed in this video). The difference between what is real and what is artificial is, at times, a blurry mess.
Baudrillard points back through history to show the significance of this cultural evolution. Before the printing press was invented, the distinction between real and counterfeit was clear. However, after duplicates of the real became easily replicated, the line between the two began to smudge. The replica was no longer viewed as counterfeit but as a duplicate and it held a value of it’s own. The computer chip further smeared the boundary between real and imitation to the point where the two are indistinguishable. The simulated may even happen before and determine reality, diminishing its value.
“It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real,” says Baudrillard.1
Simulation culture not only permeates our professional and personal lives but influences our spiritual lives as well.
Drones for Jesus
While Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and the Easter bunny are obvious examples of the hyperreal replacing the real, these are not the primary modes of simulation that we engage in church life.
“In pop Christianity it is the rage for an ever sexier way of making Jesus seem cool and relevant,” says Carl Raschke, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Denver.2 The stage, the lights, the LCD projectors, the smoke machines, the rock bands–even the organ and choir–all build an experience for the viewer, luring them into the spectacle of worship. Crosses and religious icons have been substituted with TV screens displaying mesmerizing graphics that enhance song lyrics and scripture text.
We become vampires of scripture, sucking up the last drops of the pastor’s sermon without ever opening the bible for ourselves. Many pastors rely more heavily on books about scripture than on scripture itself when writing sermons.
Well-used words like “gospel” and “community” give an impression to realities we aren’t actually comfortable spelling–or living–out. We tattoo our bodies with symbols and languages we do not understand. We don’t tithe because our money is used up on the commercial goods we rely upon to define us.
So subtle are these hyperrealities that we do not recognize our dependency on them to drown out the static of our souls. How easy it is to simulate the activities of worship without engaging our heart or mind or spirit. While at church (or movie theater or sporting event–it doesn’t matter where we are) our culture tells us that it’s OK to check reality at the door and engage in something that is not unreal, but more than real–something hyperreal.
Paul warns believers not to exchange the truth of God for a lie or worship the image–the replica, the simulation–of God above the creator.3 Too often, we live like drone pilots, doing Sunday warfare, flying high on an amped up worship experience, then spending the rest of the week in a Vegas-like state feeding our insatiable appetites. But are we really living? Are we really worshipping? Are we really engaged with the people we call community?
Immersed in simulation culture, our battle is to love deeply, to serve sacrificially, and to worship truthfully. We must fight to be present; to give our children more attention than our smartphones and TVs, to experience significant moments with others instead of tweet about them, to make memories instead of photos, to kindle desire for our partner rather than a digital image, to read more of the Bible than books about the Bible. This is nothing less than spiritual warfare as these simulations beat the droning cadence of narcissism’s march into the spiritual realm.
1 Jean Baudrillard. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press, 1994), p. 2.
2 Carl Raschke, Hunger and Love – The “Logic of Late Capitalism” Unwinds into the Postmodern Apocalypse (The Other Journal, November 28, 2011)
1. Pray. Prayer tunes us in to what God is doing in us and around us, shedding light on what is artificial or hyperreal.
2. Make memories. When those important moments in life happen, ask someone else to take a picture so that you can experience it as fully as you can. Chances are that everyone else will already be hiding behind a camera or smart phone and you might be the only real face in picture! Go old school and retell that important moment in story to reinforce the memory.
3. Read your Bible. Devotionals and spiritual resource books are great supplements, but don’t let them override your own Bible study time.
4. Don’t Porn. There is nothing true or authentic in pornography and it only serves to enslave you to something that’s not real.
5. No gadget time with kids. If your kids are pros at the iphone or facebook, it might be because you are spending too much time with those things instead of them.
6. Worship anyway. Be aware that entertainment and spectatorship foster self-worship. If you become mesmerized by the show, ask yourself who is the object of your worship. You alone can’t change culture, but you can change your heart, and that’s a great starting place for changing culture.
7. Tithe. There really isn’t an excuse not to tithe. If you seriously have no cash, give your time or talent. Give more than you consume.
8. Serve. Get outside of yourself for awhile and see what is really going on in the world around you.
9. Share. Spend time developing real relationships by sharing time, meals, dreams, fears, and prayers with other people.
10. Watch your language. Instead of using clichéd words like “gospel” or “community”, use a thesaurus and find other ways to communicate what you mean, and make sure to mean what you say.
Every good TCK has a wad of left-over foreign cash stored away from their travels (unless, of course, they are a very good TCK and deposit their unused, post-trip money in a UNICEF collection bin in the airport). I recently found my global cash stash and was struck again by the beautiful colors and design work. After spending too much time with American green-backs, my jar of foreign cash gleams as brightly as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
I’m always under the impression that I will return one day and having some loose change when I hit the ground for a taxi ride or bottle of water will come in handy. Unfortunately, with the rapid global changes taking place these days, so much of the money looses it’s value either through inflation or getting pulled from circulation–or worse yet, I never go back.
I decided that these bills needed better use, and thus the money art began. I selected my favorite bills from my stash and my husband’s stash, including some money from our honeymoon in Japan and Mongolia. Then I laid them out in two frames that I painted. I also selected a few coins and placed them in a rugged barn wood frame my brother had made for me. It was hard to narrow down my selections, and even harder to choose which side of the bills and coins to use.
These pictures now hang in our kitchen sunroom as perfect party conversation starters, and ready to use in case of emergency travel!
I don’t know if this is normal, but I dream three kinds of dreams. There are the regular dreams that are usually a medley of recollections, ideas to process, pizza to digest, etc. Then there are the dreams that I control. Like a movie, I can stop and replay them, and I can also change the scenarios and play various characters. I am not usually myself in these dreams. Then there are the dreams I refer to as Other. Other dreams stay with me long after I wake and sometimes for days and months. They leave a strong spiritual impression and impact what I think and believe when I awake. Two nights ago, I had an Other dream.
I dreamed that the audience at my church was full of new faces. Scattered throughout the auditorium, they broke into a throng of ecstatic worship gestures: full body convulsions, heads thrown back, arms outstretched, undulations, and bellowing cries in Gibberish. When this group of outsiders took the stage with rainbow flags waving, it wasn’t difficult to recognize the mockery. They commandeered the Sunday worship service.
In my dream, I confronted the demonstration leader seeking to understand his purpose. He explained to me that this protest was in response to the wounds he received from the church. As an outsider, the hypocrisy he witnessed within the church convinced him that their worship was false, and so he and his followers came to demonstrate the ridiculous spectacle of false worship that he observed.
At that moment, a friend of mine approached him in tears, begging him to stop the mockery. His actions were insulting to her faith and to God. Pointing at her, I told the demonstration leader that this woman had also come from the outside, but that the church was to her a place of restoration. It was a place for wounds to be healed. Her experience was real.
I began to apologize. I was filled with grief that the church had not been a place of restoration for he and his followers as it had been for my friend. As I called the pastors to gather with me around this man, we asked him to name our sins.
In my dream, the pastors were very angry and broken-hearted by this whole incident, yet we leaned in and implored this man to name our sins and to name them loudly. Each sin that he called out, we wrote on paper, pierced with a nail and violently hammered into a statue of Christ that hung with a cross in the front of the church.
Silence. Names of sin. Crack of a hammer smashing through the hands, the thighs, the abdomen, the skull of Christ. Gasps, moans, silence, and then it happened again and again.
With tears swelling my eyes, I asked the outsider for forgiveness. I pointed at the demolished statue of Christ and told the man that he was not the only one who suffered because of our sins. This, I explained, still pointing at Christ, is the path to restoration. His body broken for us. While we may know grief, suffering, and feel the pang of death tugging at our souls, the way of Christ is resurrection, renewal, and restitution. Christ made alive to rebuild and restore all things. This is why we celebrate and worship. Without this, as he observed, our activity is a ridiculous spectacle of false worship.
Then I awoke. My eyes were swollen and heavy and my heart full of sorrow. How many sins do we hide under the shroud of our righteousness? Oh that someone would stand up and name them for us.
Tags: impact phialthropy, love, motivation, narcissism, philanthropist, power, relief, religiosity, religious activity
During a recent weekend trip I had an intense discussion with an agnostic friend. Church and religion are to her one of the great evils of our time. Her experience has been one of manipulation, coercion, disrespect, and hypocrisy. I found it difficult to defend the church in light of her experiences. In fact, my own experiences have often echoed the things I heard her share –and I am one of the insiders. So, if my experiences have not differed too greatly from hers, what has kept me active in the church and in faith despite these “great evils”?
I’m not sure when I first started viewing religion through the lens of love vs. power, but it has been my saving grace . . . and a thorn in my flesh. I’ve seen religion practiced both ways. I’ve felt the weight of both. I am regretfully an undisciplined practitioner of both.
Power: By using the term power I do not mean capability or strength. Rather, I’m referring to the authoritative aspects of power like hegemony and sway. By exercising this kind of power, we are lured by the ascendency of position in order to influence others, particularly if that influence makes us look benevolent and bolsters our reputation. The true motivator here is self.
Love: Likewise, when using the term love, I do not mean passive warm feelings, but rather the activity of gratuitous affection without want of compensation.
Perhaps, these lenses are a result of working as a religious storyteller for many years and encountering powerful examples of religiosity practiced during intense times. Allow me to give an example of one such intense time.
I still cannot shake the disgust and frustration I felt in the wake of the Indonesian Tsunami a few years ago. I was first struck by the magnitude of the disaster. Then, as I began stumbling across watches, boots, and baby stroller parts in the rubble, a tsunami-sized force of grief struck me for the individuals who were lost in the rolling waves. People all over the world felt this grief and gave to countless relief organizations with the hope of making a difference.
The response of American churches was immediate and generous. That was my initial thought anyway. But as I began listening to the stories of the people on the ground, my heart sank. I learned of relief organizations competing with one another by staking-out villages with airdropped packages. Along with the packages came stipulations for the village leaders to choose that particular organization as a patron and refuse help from others. Often, the villages waited months for follow-up and were sometimes abandoned for more sensational villages. In many cases, the aid was driven by the appeal to donors more so than by the actual needs of the tsunami victims.
In one situation, a NGO hired workers outside of the area to build ships for the tsunami victims so that they could begin fishing again. A noble cause indeed! However, when the fishermen received their new boats, they found them to be useless in their local waters and incompatible with their style of fishing. They pleaded to be given the resources to make their own boats but the good deed was done and the NGO and it’s donors were already celebrating back in the US of A.
Love was not the primary motivator of these actions. This was very clear. And yet, donors were applauded for their altruism and benevolence.
The good news is that I did encounter many examples of love-motivated activity while I was there and felt surprised to see how these actions brought about a profound sense of empowerment (meaning strength and capability) to those in need.
I’ve witnessed good and bad stories like these all over the world and struggle with the best way (and most ethical way) of communicating them. Many relief workers also wrestle with this tension. Social psychology refers to this dynamic as altruism (action motivated by a selfless concern for others) vs. egoism (action motivated by self-interest). Economist Brian Duncan labels donors who give out of a sense of “making a difference” Impact Philanthropists.* He warns that “impact philanthropist may fall into a codependent relationship with recipients in which the recipients remain dependent on philanthropy.”
The power of influence is a strong motivator and has led many relief organizations to set up giving models to meet this demand. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. You probably receive catalogues in the mail that let you set up yearly giving administered to a single child, or allow you to buy a sheep for a specific family and drill a well for a remote village. If you raise extra funds for yourself, you can take a trip and see the work for yourself and call it a missions trip.
Aid organizations realize that they need these sexy projects that cater to a donor’s sense of power (AKA altruism) in order to fund the less sexy projects like overhead or maintenance, which are essential to meet the broader needs. This causes substantial ethical dilemmas for many relief organizations.
But let’s take a step back and look at the broader relationship between religiosity and power that stretches far beyond charitable giving. It seeps from pulpits and blogs and facebook status updates. Desperate appeals for influence under the guise of gospel truth simply reek of manipulation. This is the sort of thing my agnostic friend can sniff out before a Christian opens his mouth. When it comes to proselytizing, she says it starts with a look of pity followed by condescending words that reveal their moral superiority.
“If they would just say, ‘I have found the most amazing thing in Jesus. It has changed my life. I can’t help but tell you about it and would love for you to experience it too’, I could handle that. I can see that it is motivated by something real and out of a love for Jesus and for me”, she says. But this she rarely hears.
Choosing love isn’t easy.
The day following our discussion, I had one of those uncomfortable pew sessions. I jostled and shifted and sighed and finally walked out during the sermon. I was really glad my friend was not with me. She would have sniffed it out before the sermon began. Initially, I was bothered by the eisegetical engagement of the text – I get fidgety when the sermon becomes a support for personal agendas, guilt-trips, and manipulation (I’m not just talking about pulpit bullying but also minor things like seeking affirmation, reputation, or just meeting a budget goal).
When I walked out into the sunshine and took a stroll around the parking lot, I became aware again of this tension between power and love. My first response was anger followed by a desire to protect the naïve souls of the young congregants. Then I felt the pang of Christ – so many words that could have been spoken about his beauty and character where lost in the narcissism, focusing instead on the deeds of men and the awesomeness of this particular church.
In the face of “great evils” and injustices, will my response be motivated in love or power? It was a hard question to ask myself. Did I see Christ active in this church? Yes. Why is he active here despite these “evils”?
Love. Gratuitous affection without want of compensation.
I thought of the speaker again and felt that strange and heavy weight of compassion. Was I able to see beyond his words to glimpse at his heart? Was it really full of “evil” or was there something else there–perhaps insecurity or fear? What does Christ see? I spent the remainder of sermon time praying for him.
I believe that power will always be a temptress to those in authority. I believe it will always be a motivator of religiosity. And yes, I believe it can cause great social and spiritual harm. But I am coming to terms with the reality that my instinctive response toward religious power plays is often a religious power play in itself.
“But there is only one thing that has power completely, and that is love.” Alan Paton
Walking in love will require of me a more deliberate look at how I give, speak, defend, and pray. I have a long walk ahead.
* Duncan B. 2004. A Theory of Impact Philanthropy. Journal of Public Economics 88:2159-80
- It’s about God, not about you. It’s through experiencing the great love of God and understanding the nature of Christ’s sacrifice for us that we are taught how to love.
- Love God back. We are told that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
- Love your neighbor as yourself–this includes those of lower economic or social class. Be careful of factors related to privilege and power when developing these relationships.
- Judge your heart. What is the true motivation behind your religious activities?
- When giving, consider the long-range and big-picture. For instance, if an organization is drilling a well in a community that needs water, think about the less glamorous aspects of sustainability like well maintenance, irrigation, water containers, training, salary for support staff, etc. Are you willing to meet these less glitzy needs?
- When volunteering, offer your skills but be willing to do whatever is most needed – even if it means cleaning toilets or answering phones.
- Rather than raising money to go somewhere on a work-missions trip, consider giving money to hire locals to perform the same task.
- When leading, turn on your manipulation radar. Are you coercing others in order to accomplish selfish goals or meet an unfulfilled need?
- Be reverent with the Holy Scriptures. Seek deep understanding to the point of conviction paying careful attention to context and history. Be careful not to misinterpret a text to support your ideas and agenda, however good they may be.
- Before you start a new ministry or non-profit, learn about what others are doing. It may be more efficient and powerful to work together, gleaning from their experience and failures and building on their successes. Besides, competition amongst churches and charities doesn’t really help those in need and can limit resources. Before you start something new, know your motives.
Love takes time to listen and learn before acting. You may be surprised by what this will require of you.
Tags: Church, consumerism, evangelical
After writing the post Consumerism for the masses; Mass for the consumer, I took some time to reflect on how one might engage in worship without succumbing to the lure of religious consumerism. As we grapple with troublesome cultural trends within our churches, the temptation may be to withdraw. However, the best way to change culture, is to change our own habits. At the heart of worship is Christ. Taking time to experience him in simple ways without the hype of pop-culture drama, can do wonders for renewing the soul. Below is a list of 10 practices that I have found helpful in resisting consumerism and refocusing on Christ. This is not an exhaustive list and so I welcome additions from readers!
1. If you find yourself in a church that uses self-service communion snack-packs, administer the elements to your friends or neighbors, reminding them that this is the blood and body of Christ broken and shed for them. Give to another rather than take for yourself.
2. Invite friends to your home for a simple meal of bread, soup, and wine. Spend time talking about Christ. Confess to one another and remind one another of Christ’s forgiveness.
3. Once a year, partake in communion by celebrating the Passover meal. Think on Christ.
4. Join the global church in the daily lectionary readings of the liturgical calendar. Listen for the bigger movements of the Spirit throughout the world.
5. Memorize some ancient prayers. Allow yourself to dive into deeper understanding with each recitation.
6. Participate in the feasts and liturgical seasons. Take part in the story of Christ’s life as it unfolds throughout the year.
7. Practice no-consumption Sundays: don’t buy or consume anything at church except for Christ.
8. Attend a mid-week Eucharist service somewhere.
9. Pray for your church leaders.
10. Don’t be a chronic church-hopper. Settle somewhere and accept your church, culture-blemishes and all, as Christ accepts her. You will never find a church that doesn’t beat to a cultural drum of one sort or another.
Tags: art, Art of the steal, cathedral, commodity, consumer, glory, mass, museum, worship
“When art is not flourishing, religion languishes . . . the two often wax and wane in tandem.” Earle Jerome Coleman.
There seems to me a mysterious metaphysical connection between aesthetics and religion, art and worship that I find myself hesitant to explore. Each subject on it’s own is daunting, yet I am intrigued by one familiar and alarming cultural point of intersection: consumerism.
This concept was sparked when I recently watched the documentary film, Art of the Steal, about the conspiracy-theory riddled billion dollar heist of the famous Barnes art collection. Barnes, a self-made millionaire began affordably acquiring thousands of Renoirs, Cezannes, Matisses and other late-19th and early-2oth-century works of art when they were still considered crude and primitive by the elite American art circles. Barnes specified in his will that he wanted his collection, now worth billions, to remain in its original location in a wealthy Philadelphia suburb, never to be sold, loaned to museums, or opened to the mass public.
Barnes believed that the setting in which art is viewed is part of the art. He put considerable thought into the aesthetic display of the collection and made art education rather than art consumption a prerequisite for his appointment-only visitors. He despised the “depressing intellectual slum” of the urban art circles and the whitewashed, sterile walls of elitist museums that encouraged artistic consumption rather than wonder. Their version of viewing art mirrored a crowded shopping mall and pandered to the consumer. And so, he created a place set-apart from the masses; a place designed to reflect the value of the art more so than the value of the viewer. Matisse famously said that the Barnes Foundation is the “only sane place to see art”.
According to the film, after Barnes’ death, his will slowly unraveled in the hands of politicians and elites finally culminating in the impending relocation of the collection to a center city location better fit for herding the cellphone-picture-snapping masses through the priceless exhibit. The court ruled against the Foundations appointment-only policy and required the doors to be made open to the public in order for the foundation to keep their non-profit status.
“Paintings, money, tourism—that’s what people see when they see art,” laments one former Barnes Foundation student. PA Gov. Ed Rendell confirms this notion by pursuing the collection in order to boost tourism and calling the move a “no-brainer.”
As I watched the film, I was sickened by those on both-sides of the debate. Power, money, and acclaim had muddled the intellectual will and testament of Dr. Barnes. The languid pang of disgust that I felt was a familiar one. For me, this film was not just about art but also about worship – for what we have done to art, we have also done to worship.
Where worship was once designed to reflect the value and nature of God, we have made it into a talent-show. The center of focus is no longer the alter, which trained our attention on the glory of Christ’s great sacrifice but rather our attention is pulled to the American-idol stage blazing in the glory of LED wash lights. We have traded the complex design of the cathedral, cruciform in shape and axised toward the coming of Christ, for a white-washed, shopping complex layout better suited for the masses than for mass. Worshippers partake of individual sized communion snack-packs rather than stand in line to sip from the common cup of Christ’s blood.
We have made the evangelical church a seeker-friendly place of enjoyment striped of the mystery of Christ. While Christ made his message accessible to all, he held the deeper things at arm’s length, speaking in parables and shrouding his meaning in a cloud of ancient symbolism that pointed to profound spiritual concepts. Again and again he called out, “He who has ears, let him hear.” But we like spectators, gather in contentment to watch the show and hear a motivating message stitched together from quoted Christian-bookstore best-seller finds.
In the art-world, there is an age-old debate: for whom is art created? Art for art’s sake or art for the spectator?
In some ways, I don’t feel pulled to either extreme in this debate, but I do cringe when art clearly become a shrink-wrapped commodity; when the gift shop becomes more popular than the art displays.
R. Cronk, a prominent muralist and art essayist warned that “while consumerism offers the tangible goal of owning a product, it lacks the fulfillment of other cultural mythologies . . . it exists as an incomplete and inadequately engineered system of values substituted for a waning cultural heritage.”1 He argues that consumerism not only appeals to the drive-thru fix of ego-gratification but ultimately damages our language, art, and cultural traditions, weakening their ability to inspire metaphysical truth.
I resonate with Cronk’s sentiments and believe they also apply to consumerism within the American evangelical church. So often the Sunday service affords a quick-fix of ego-gratifying worship experiences peppered in pop-culture Christian slang. This raises some difficult questions like, how pervasively has consumerism seeped into the fabric of our gatherings? Are we losing the language that delves deeply into spiritual mysteries? Have we abandoned the traditions and sacraments that have historically bound the global church together through the elements of Christ and his teachings? Why have we traded stained-glass windows and icons of faith for exposed warehouse ceilings and massive LCD screens? Do we prefer sipping the welcome table coffee than savoring the wine of Christ’s blood? Have we favored a hallow rhetoric of absolute truths over the difficult pursuit of metaphysical and epistemological understanding?
I was struck by this comment following a NY Times article entitled Museum going as compulsive consumerism?: “The majority of the public only goes to museums because they think that somehow they are ‘supposed’ to, and beyond that, it affords some status to say that one has been to the Louvre, or wherever. Most museum goers do not engage with the art objects or pictures because they simply don’t know anything about them, and don’t make an effort to prepare to have a meaningful experience by informing themselves. The roots of this, in US culture especially, come from the notion that arts are merely a pleasure, a distraction, and not a necessity or something worthy of intensive study.”
As I read the comment, my mind replaced the words “museum” with “church” and “art” with “worship” and came to the same conclusion. Earle Jerome Coleman keenly referred to the mysterious connection between art and religion with this statement: the two often wax and wane in tandem.” I would add that when consumerism is flourishing, both art and worship languish.
Tags: Bamako, brothel, Carina, Mali, pimp, prostitution, Rahab Centre, sex trafficking, West Africa
A few years ago, I traveled on assignment to Mali, West Africa. At the end of one particular day as I tried to account for my expenses, I scratched my head wondering how to write prostitute into my budget. Carina, a Dutch mission worker we had come to see, took us to a brothel she visits weekly to counsel the prostitutes. She and the brothel owner have become odd friends. Even though he makes a lucrative profit as a pimp, he likes it when Carina visits and he encourages her to help the girls find a way out of the business.
After a nice long chat about how much he loves George W Bush (“if i see him with this eye, then i can die in peace!”), the pimp rounded up a few girls and demanded they sit for an interview with us. For security reasons, he asked us not to film their faces, but gave us full access to their stories through audio. The stories were all the same… lured to Bamako via deception, swindled out of thousands of dollars, health problems, loosing face with family back home, unable to speak the language, and finally a turn to prostitution in a state of absolute hopelessness and abandonment. I’m not sure if our friendly pimp was motivated by a sense of guilt because of his dirty business or pride, viewing himself as a protector of his girls, keeping them off the dangerous streets of Bamako. Either way, we were grateful that he and Carina could find a way to work together to help these women regroup and try to get their lives back together.
Today, Carina and a team of Malians provide an alternative for the ladies trapped in the red light district. The Rahab Centre offers job training and a small loan to help street women start businesses and find things to sell other than their own bodies. Many ladies attend weekly bible studies and prayer gatherings longing to grow in their faith and cast aside the shame that so often binds them to the darkness.
This video tells the story of one of the prostitutes we met while visiting the Bamako brothel.