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The Scandal of Calipers and Nursery Rhymes

The Scandal of Calipers and Nursery Rhymes

Several times over the past few years, I  have visited the Rwandan genocide memorial in Kigali. The first exhibit in the memorial displays an ominous image. At first glance, the picture is innocuous enough. It is far less grisly than many of the pictures throughout the rest of the memorial. But it is far more haunting.
In the picture, a Rwandan man sits in an examination room. A Belgian examiner measures the width and length of the man’s nose with a metal caliper. He then measures the eyes of the Rwandan man, contrasting and comparing the shape and size of the man’s eyes to a chart of various cultural eye shapes.  
We now know that the Belgians sent scientists to Rwanda, wielding “scales and measuring tapes and calipers, and they went about weighing Rwandans, measuring Rwandan cranial capacities, and conducting comparative analyses of the relative protuberance of Rwandan noses.”
These tools, though far less violent than the machetes and guns used to perpetrate the genocide, are far more barbaric. When walking through the genocide memorial, jarring images of soldiers and militants line the walls. But it is this seemingly benign activity—a scientist wielding a caliper—that created division and preceded the slaughter of nearly one in ten Rwandan people.
First the calipers and scales were dispensed. Soon, the common physical appearances of the Hutus and Tutsis codified. Then, government officials mandated Rwandans record these divisions and differentiations between Hutus and Tutsis on identification cards. As the genocide unfolded, the perpetrators used these cards and physical differentiations to separate neighbors from each other. To separate friends and groups of students from their peers. To determine who lived and who died.
At the memorial, the second floor exhibits the terrible realities of genocides committed across the world and across history. In each case, division precedes violence. The Nazis forced Jewish men, women, and children to adorn their clothing or an armband with the Star of David. Turkish military and government officials organized the genocide against hundreds of thousands of Armenians who were identified as Christians on their national identification cards.
Earlier this year, we lived in the Dominican Republic for a few months. There, we learned about the history of Hispaniola and some of the horrific massacres carried out against ethnic groups on the island. In 1804, Haitian dictator Jean-Jacques Dessalines murdered all French residents who were unable to sing a Haitian nursery rhyme in Creole.
In a horrific turnabout, in 1937, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo commanded his troops to round up dark-skinned people living near the Haitian border. Once they did so, journalist Michele Wucker recounts that the soldiers held up sprigs of parsley and asked, “‘What is this thing called?’ The terrified victim’s fate lay in the pronunciation of the answer.”
If the victims were unable to get the Spanish just right, they were killed and thrown into the Dajabón River, known commonly as the Massacre River in commemoration of the thousands of people who were killed because of their inability to say perejil—parsley—correctly.
Massacre River flows between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. This geographic divide is emblematic of the many symbolic divides we create between ourselves. Caliper or nursery rhyme. Badge or identification card. These create borders between us, separating men and women from each other, signifying those who have more (and less) worth. These are of course heinous examples, but this evocative history gives us a glimpse into the human heart. And Christians are anything but immune.
Jesus says our oneness is the way that others will identify us as his followers: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Yet as clearly as Jesus prioritized unity among his followers, we are quick to disregard it. Our natural inclination is to splinter. For Protestants, protest is in our very name. In our tribe, when disagreements emerge, we split.
“Very soon we will find it difficult to sustain the metaphor of the ‘body of Christ,’” said Ajith Fernando, author and Youth for Christ teaching director. “We believe in ‘a lot of bodies’ of Christ … [but] there is one body of Christ.”
There is either one body or there is not. For followers of Christ, “Winning is when we are united, not when one has won and the other has lost,” Fernando argues.
As the culture around us in this country grows increasingly suspicious of and unfamiliar with our faith, it provides a new opportunity for Christians to share and show what we are for. To lead and serve differently. To focus on our unified mission and tenaciously pursue it. To do more together than we ever could do alone.  
There is no better time of year than Christmas to model and extol this type of unity. The world around us sings our songs and tells and retells our favorite story. As we surge into Advent, might we eschew every temptation to castigate and embrace every opportunity to love.

Having Fully Loved

This post is a stop on the Lenten Blog Tour, which brings the story of Jesus and the Christian tradition of lent to you through the lens of a new Bible translation, the Common English Bible, and 41 different voices.
Having loved his own who were in the world, He loved them fully. – John 13:1
The backdrop for the events which follow is seen in the first verse of John 13: “He loved them fully.” This is the context, the setting, the foundation for what comes next: The night Jesus cleaned the filthy feet of his friends as he prepared to bear their pain on the cross.

Having loved fully, Jesus provided food when the stomachs growled.
Having loved fully, Jesus calmed the seas when they were in turmoil.
Having loved fully, Jesus answered foolish questions with grace.
Having loved fully, Jesus shared truth, broke bread, and fed their souls.
Having loved fully, Jesus stooped down to clean their weary feet.
Having loved fully, Jesus gave himself so they–we–could be forgiven.

He loved them fully. As we ponder this statement, our thoughts drift to times when we’ve been loved fully.

Having loved fully, our parents said no when we thought we wanted them to say yes.
Having loved fully, Matthew made us laugh in moments when he knew we needed it.
Having loved fully, Grace taught Scripture in a way that children could grasp.
Having loved fully, Amy set aside the busyness of her day to connect over a wonderful meal.
Having loved fully, Jesus sought us out in moments when we sought everything but him.

During this season of Lent, comfort-seeking gives way to reorienting. We are called to reorient our lives to resemble Christ, with both our heart and our hands. Insert a name and ponder whether it resembles Christ: Having loved ______ fully …what happens next?
Having loved our neighbor Sylvester fully, would we bustle into our house when he’s sitting on his lawn chair? Would we turn up our noses at his foul language? Would we attempt to fill the empty chair at our dinner table with someone just a bit more safe?
Having loved Sylvester fully, would we pick up the trash which blew over from his lawn? Would we bake him fresh bread just because? Would we engage in conversation when we don’t have time to do so?
The love of Jesus begs a response. Having been loved fully, how will we fully love?
John 13:1-8, 12-15 (CEB)
1 Before the Festival of Passover, Jesus knew that his time had come to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them fully.
2 Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal. The devil had already provoked Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. 4 So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing. 6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “ Lord, are you going to wash my feet? ”
7 Jesus replied, “ You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later. ”
8 “ No! ” Peter said. “ You will never wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “ Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me. ”
12 After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. 14 If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example: just as I have done, you also must do.