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Rubblebucket » Sufjan Stevens

John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

We met Rubblebucket a couple months ago and had that experience of running across old friends who you just hadn't met yet. Their immediate and empathetic response to the situation in Central Africa and to how music is being used there reflected in their choice to take on a song that deals with a difficult subject matter.

We had talked a bit about the song, how it deals with a killer but not in the obvious ways, how it tries to penetrate to the humanity of the situation. That humanizing, the struggle for that understanding is what's been dealt with in Uganda, and now Congo, CAR and South Sudan on a daily basis - the challenges and the nuances of reconciliation, child soldiers returning from a fight that often was brought to them, but one nonetheless they have had to participate in. Peace and forgiveness are easy words to toss around, to advocate, but given the scope and brutality of the atrocities it can sometimes seem distant and difficult to visualize when hearing the story of how it is really happening. It seems if we are to learn from what's going on, it's up to us all to humanize and try and understand that process at a real level.

In this conflict there are victims on both sides, and even the word sides loses its meaning when the attacked become the attackers and are placed in that seemingly impossible situation of being made to kill and a system within the LRA where there are structured rewards for that compliance. Home returns and reconciliation are a difficult journey for all involved, physically and emotionally. Restitution and compensations are made when possible, responsibility accepted and repentance made, but one of the key features is how responsibility for the process is shared. The formal ceremony which is truly a cornerstone of the reconciliation process in Uganda is the "Mato Oput" ceremony. It involves all parties sitting down together under the oput tree, victim and offender but also the families, tribes and the communities, to drink the bitter juice extracted from the tree. The bitterness of the root symbolizes the bitterness of the conflict, and the red color the blood. Both the offender and the offended take turns drinking from the same calabash, and the community members as well share in the process. It reflects the central value of the culture, that we are all in it together, being employed when it is most needed. And maybe that's where part of the learning is for us in all this. Our tendency to demonize and dehumanize especially in the media, it so easily serves to marginalize, to separate us and objectify both offender and the offended, and in the end that serves no one. Humanizing, sharing, rolling up one's sleeves and being willing to accept the humanity and the situation of all involved, and even the difficult feelings that come with accepting that in ourselves, that's where forgiveness and its necessary precursors of empathy and understanding come from. The quotation from Terrence that says "I am human, nothing human is alien to me," it seems that's the wisdom the Mato Oput ceremony can teach us, and what a song like this can help us speak to even when we can't find the words ourselves. Thanks so very much to Rubblebucket and our friend Tatiana McCabe who shot this.
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