Tag Archives: icc

Auschwitz and Destructive Labels

My first article has been published! It appears in the latest ‘Insight’ Magazine. ‘Insight’ is the quarterly magazine from International Christian College, Glasgow. I’ll be putting up a scanned copy soon but here is the original draft. It is a reworking of an earlier blog post.

As always, let me know your thoughts.

 

This summer I was fortunate enough to merge two of my greatest, creative passions: filmmaking and youth work.

A former youth worker, now teacher, asked if I would accompany a group of pupils on their trip to Auschwitz.  My role would be to document their reactions to the camp in order to produce a series of short educational films based around the Holocaust.  I jumped at the opportunity, not only because I would get an opportunity to widen my filmmaking experience, but I would get to visit an incredible piece of history.

What I saw and felt there will stay with me forever.

I had heard stories about what happened at the concentrations camps. I had seen films depicting events there. But none of this prepared me for how I felt when I physically stood in a gas chamber where hundreds of thousands of people spent their last few minutes on earth screaming; it hit home.

As I walked through the different buildings and saw the piles of clothes, shoes, glasses and hair of the thousands of people who lived and died there; it hit home.

As I walked through the registration building and saw where thousands were stripped, shaved, hosed down and left to die; it hit home.

This really happened, to real people. Death was allowed to flourish here.

As a Christian youth worker, my beliefs, my worldview, permeate every part of my work and are, in fact, at the centre of everything I do. When I was at Auschwitz, I tried to process the horror. I tried to understand how something like this could have happened and how people could have done this to one another.

I believe that what happened stems from labels. The negative labels we put on other people, those that others force on us, and those we choose for ourselves.  This lesson is found in the first few pages of the Bible where Cain murders his brother because labels have divided them.  Abel was labeled as ‘favoured’ and, by default, Cain felt labeled as ‘unfavoured’. The great sadness of the story comes when Cain, unable to break free from the hurt of a negative label, takes his own brother’s life. Throughout the rest of the Bible, I find countless examples of the labeling of people. Both for good and for ill.

Recognising our differences is not wrong, belonging to a group is not necessarily harmful, but the trouble begins when it breeds a persecution mentality of deciding who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. When we strip people of their humanity and no longer see them as God created individuals, the floodgates open wide.  We then feel able to do whatever we like and say whatever we like because they are now different from us.  It is a truth we find in the Bible and a truth that has echoed throughout history.  At worst, labels allow us to indulge our darker tendencies to bully, manipulate, discriminate and hate other humans.

I believe that, in part, this is how the Holocaust unfolded. The Jews, and many other minority groups, were no longer seen as human beings, and so the Nazi’s rallied against them.  They were labeled as ‘different’ and that quickly morphed into them being seen as ‘less than human’, which then led to the justification of horrendous abuse. The slave trade, the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, the recent shootings in Norway all happened because human beings chose to label fellow human beings as ‘unimportant’, ‘unwanted’, ‘dangerous’ or ‘expendable’.

What continues to sadden me is that similar attitudes still thrive today. When I see people being singled out as different, and then being ridiculed or bullied because of it, I am aware that the concentration camps are only a few steps away. I recently read an article in “The Independent”, that stated that one in five children are victims of cyber-bullying.  In some cases, this has led to children taking their own lives. All because other people have defined them as ‘different’ and then ridiculed them mercilessly because of that label.

When I read about Jesus’ life in the Gospels, I see a man determined to do away with the labels that constrict, and turn us against one another.  Paul puts the actions of Jesus into words when he states in Galatians 3:28 that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.  These were the religious, political and biological labels of Paul’s day and he claimed that none of them should be used to create divisions.

Instead of starting with what makes people different, Paul urged the early followers, and now us, to find a common identity that unites people, rather than one that forces them apart. And that common identity was Jesus.  In order to heal the rift between mankind and God, Jesus stripped himself of the labels that defined him (Philippians 2:7). To heal the divide that exists between groups of people, we must do the same.

It is this theology of unity that is at the heart of my youth work practice, and it is what I attempt to share with the young people I come in to contact with.  It is a theology that proclaims that we all share a common origin and identity and that are our relationships with one another must start from that place.

Because until we stop casually defining each other with suffocating and toxic labels, there will continue to be casualties.  Tribes will continue to rise up and slaughter other tribes.  Minority groups will continue to be excluded and discriminated against, and individuals will continue to be crushed under the weight of bulling and ridicule. Death will continue to flourish.

Let us stand against this oppressive labeling system and choose to walk the alternative path that Jesus trod.  A path that unites rather than divides; includes rather than excludes; brings life rather than death.

 

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‘Prodigal’ Review

On Saturday 16th January, my latest short film “Prodigal” premiered at the Glasgow Film Theatre.

Check out the review by the Vice-Principal of International Christian College here

Check out the facebook page here

check out the trailer here

Everything is Spiritual

My mind is racing with thoughts, questions and I thought the only way to try and make sense of it all was to put down a blog. I don’t normally do these things. It’s not really for anyone else to see (although if you are reading this then it is). It’s more a way for me to explore my thoughts.

I’m a student youth worker, studying at ICC in Glasgow and working as a youth worker, part time at a Church of Scotland in Mauchline and I have a lot of questions.

How do we communicate to young people that FAITH/ GOD should not be something else that we have to make time for in our life…but that it should be our life. It shouldn’t be another activity we have to do. I have to read the bible, go to church, spend more time praying…Yes these are aspects but that’s not Faith. God is in the time that we spend with our friends, the films we watch, the sports we take part in, the food we eat. faith is the our life.

My wife and I have a picture wall in our hall of all the places we have been, all the people we have met along the way. It covers most of the wall in our hallway. That is ‘the christian faith’. That is life with God. I’m still wrestling with it, sure, but how do I communicate to the young people I work with?

How do we get a balance between information and formation? How do we take the things we learn and let it change our life? I don’t want the young people to leave our groups thinking that they don’t have time for God or enough space for God. He’s in it all anyway.

As God said to Moses, “The ground you stand on is holy”. The ground was always holy because God created the world and saw that it was good. He’s in the dirt, the grass, the sky, the people we walk by every day.

Do you see what I’m getting it. My whole being longs to se my young people ‘get’ this. To see a relationship with God as something completely different from religion. A way from rules and traditions. It is something we opt out of, not opt in on. God is there whether we believe it or not. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one gets to the Father except through me”. Does this mean that the door is now open whether we believe in God or not? That he has already chosen us, loved us?

I don’t know but it’s things I think about.

I found out today that there is no Hebrew word for spiritual. In Jesus’ day no one would ever have asked him how his spiritual life was because to say that means that there has to be a part of your life that is not spiritual. I don’t believe that there this. The whole earth and all of us are saccred beings. The breath of God was blown in to us to allow us to live. There is no sacred and secular. It…is…just…life. I don’t believe some movies are sacred and some are secular. God is in them all and can work through them all. The same with music.

At our youth group last Sunday I talked about the song ‘Run’ by Snow Patrol. I have no idea of what they believe about God or faith or any of that but God is in their music and their lyrics. The chorus goes…

“light up, light up as if you had a choice.
Even if you cannot hear my voice, I’ll be right beside you dear”

I can hear jesus singing that song to me, to us, to the world.

But how do I communicate this to young people who are stressed out by exams, parental pressure, homework, school, college, university?

How do I show them that God is ‘in them’ and ‘through them’. He’s in their good and their bad days.

I shake with excitement, frustration, hope, regret, longing, emptiness.

“Discipleship is not just about the process of studying; sooner or later we have to do it”. Faith and God needs to be more than what we are told, it needs to be who we are and what we do.

How do we show young people their part in God’s story? Since the fall, he has been in the process of restoration. Jesus came to bring restoration to the earth and to our relationship with God. “The rocks cry out” for the day when the earth will be restored to what it originally was when God said, “It was good”.

So often we preach a faith of ‘do nots’ rather than ‘do’s’. Jesus got at the pharisees for loading heavy burdens on believers (Matt 23). jesus wanted the opposite, to lift off burdens. To show them that faith this like the wind (this is what Jesus said to Nicodemus) It blows where it wants, picking people up and dropping them off. Doesn’t that sound like a life you want to get it on?

Join with me as we wrestle with these issues or life, love and God and how we communicate to our young people. Boy, I feel better.