Under Umbrellas

“During the war we… we never knew what would happen next. So they are my way of showing both paranoia and protection. That’s why I paint them.”

As she sat there spilling her story to me, I couldn’t help but fall apart. You’d have to be cold not to. My Aunt and I talked as we walked through this woman’s studio, looking at all of her work, the ghosts of her horrifying past. And inside most of her masterpieces were beautiful umbrellas. She saw them as symbols of safety, an expression of her fear and, a surprising discovery about her childhood. One day, sorting through her five-year old doodles, she found that as a kid, she always drew umbrellas. Psychology suggests that this may have been a way to fill a void of security. It’s not easy growing up in a war zone.

Following her into the next room she pulled out an enormous framed piece. The subject was a nude woman collapsed upon the ground. Her body was colored in a deep crimson red before a gray backdrop. Umbrellas and a fading sun filled in the negative space. The sun was on the left, umbrellas on the right.

The woman was her grandmother. Her two sons had been taken captive by enemy soldiers when they were just teenagers, only kids. And in the aftermath of the conflict when the mass graves were being dug up on a weekly basis, her grandmother was tortured by two hopes. One, in which her boys would be in the mass graves so she could carry them home to a proper burial and the family, might finally have peace. The other- that her sons may still be alive.

“She was strong for all of us. Tortured within, but strong. She covered us, like an umbrella.”

Stepping away a bit weepy, I started seeing all the umbrellas in my life. The places I go to find peace and protection in times of duress. In times of war.

Upon returning home, I hopped on the laptop and saw a flash roll across my news feed. A major Christian leader tweeted his support for the proposed Kill-the-Gays bill in Uganda. He actually called Uganda, a nation “returning to God”. As grotesque as his support may be, it’s important to note he’s an outlier within the Christian community. But in the same token, his militaristic tone is rather mainstream evangelical.

The Flock has always had a tendency to talk about it’s beliefs in battle metaphors. The “armor of God” in Ephesians gets a lot of airtime and most Christians understand what it means. It’s spiritual war. The invisible world of darkness that we cannot see, but only feel. That’s the darkness God is waging war on every day. Tragically, some believe God’s war is on the physical not the invisible. Some believe gays and lesbians should be wiped off the face of the earth.

When folks fancy themselves to be “soldiers for Christ”, I get really uncomfortable. While everyone knows that the “Armor of God” scripture clearly points to warring with the spiritual realm, Christian Extremists struggle with a temptation to mix the spiritual with the physical, ultimately driving divisions between whites and blacks, gays and straights, Muslims and Christians. Different is dangerous.

And there are times, when I hear the story of both the war ravaged grandma and the new African genocide, I feel their swords encircling me. Quite literally, they’re encircling the LGBT community in Uganda. Some call it a nation “returning to God”, others say its purifying the human race, and others say that it’s the divine will of God.

I call it Hate wearing a crucifix.

And when things like this happen, I step backwards and walk until I am under the cover of the umbrella.

Like Runaway George’s “golden cloud of protection” I run until I’m in the safety of His shadow. Where He holds my head to His heart, just so I know it’s really Him. He shields me from the stones, the hate, the misunderstanding. He says he’s “not like them” and that it’s okay to be afraid, just as long as I stay at his side.

I find my stillness and strength when I wake up to him whispering: See! The winter is past, the rains are over and gone” (Song of Songs 2:11) Like the artist’s grandmother, I see the sun hanging off in the distance.

God is an umbrella. He’s a shelter from the storm and a refuge for the runaway. He is not a sling to shoot with. We don’t wire him like a bomb to throw.

Your bullets are not blessed and your shackles hold no salvation. Your guns are Godless.

Pray a prayer for Uganda tonight.

RR