BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Resurrection and Reconciliation

Christ has Risen!

Let us reflect on the miracle of Christ's resurrection--a resurrection that reconciled us to God the Father in a way that we could never have done for ourselves.

You see, I know I have messed up in my life. I may not have killed anybody or committed grand theft auto, but I know I have hurt people, both intentionally and unintentionally. Sure, I am basically a good person when I am well rested and not pressed for time, but I have lied when cornered, and wished ill for someone when I wanted to get ahead. I have thought I was better than so-and-so at such-and-such. I have had thoughts in my heart that I wouldn't want to share with my closest friends, let alone a holy powerful God, in any sort of intimate way.

And I know God loves me profoundly, but He also loves the people I have been disrespectful to, or have been scornful of. And He kinda wishes I hadn't done those hurtful things to His children and He would like it if I would make it right with them.

If only there were a way that I could apologize for all of those things, or pay some sort of compensation, so that when I saw God in heaven, I wouldn't be so embarrassed. Some way that when He reflects on the times I have been cruel to my siblings on earth, I could say "yeah, but I did X hours of community service to make up for it!"

But how many hours would be enough? And what happens when, as soon as I finish them, I have another angry outburst at my husband, or become jealous of my next door neighbor. And so I have to compensate for those new hurts too...Ad nauseum. There are simply not enough hours in a day, or days in a lifetime to keep covering my tracks.

Enter scene: Jesus. A guy with all the love of the Father, but all the personal experience of the struggles here on earth. He lived His life without accumulating a list of errors and oops that we all collect, which meant that by the time He died, He had no apologies to make, no compensation He needed to pay for His wrong-doings. He could stand before God, totally unhindered and unembarrassed.

Yet when the time came, He reflected on my failed attempts to apologize for myself, and said to God "blame me for the things she has done. Treat her as though she had lived her life perfectly, and let me spend the rest of eternity writing her apology notes, and repaying the hurts she caused. Let us trade places in Your eyes so that she need not feel the weight of her mistakes, but instead can enjoy her time with You, totally guilt free."

And so that is what they did: Jesus took the blame, and I got the promise that, if I want to, I can spend the rest of my existence enjoying an uninhibited relationship with the One who knows me, and loves me, the best.

Reconciliation: With one hand,
He holds to the Father,
and with the other, he holds to us
as we make the journey
Jesus, in the mean time, is a lot stronger, faster, and more powerful than I am. He managed to take the blame for my issues, and deal with all of the consequences of my mistakes, yet sill make it home in time for Easter dinner. Not only mine, but everyone elses's as well.

Without any mistakes of His own, and having the power and wisdom of the Father, He was ideally suited to take care of business. So much so, that having accomplished it, He too can now stand before God, unhindered and unembarrassed. It was His resurrection that demonstrated this ability, this power, to accomplish what I could not do on my own.

It is this miracle that we celebrate on Easter. It is this trading-places that makes me eternally grateful. It is why I follow Him, and try to take His advice on how to live my life. It was on the first Easter that Jesus reconciled us to God, so that we need not feel shame, regret, or humiliation, only bathe in God's love and caring:

 "But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation" (Colossians 1:22) 

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

Sisters and brothers, now that we have vertical reconciliation with God, let us work for horizontal reconciliation with each other: "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." We must continue to Stand in the tragic gap, between what is and what could be. We must remember how Jesus forgave even as He was on the Cross, and learn to forgive one another, be reconciled to one another.

See Also:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Friends Jesus Invited

There are plenty of folk that would feel uncomfortable chatting at a party with some of my sisters and brothers at Church For All People. We've got old folks, young folks, retired, wealthy, unemployed, convicts, PhDs, GEDs, physical illnesses, mental illnesses, addictions, and a whole lot of joy in the Lord.

Sometimes, we fear we have no common ground with God's people.We doubt if we interacted that we'd be able  to sustain conversation. But if we withdraw, we miss out. And we let Satan's whispers win: "we just don't have anything in common," "I feel too embarrassed for her," "It's just too uncomfortable," "he is just so socially awkward." But need it be as difficult as he would have us believe?

Are we Christians that love Jesus as long as He sticks to our social norms and knows how to put on a good face? What about when He smells funny, or speaks with a slur? Do we love Him then? Do we love Him when he overeats? Or when He needs help understanding the bus schedule? Do we love Him when he is incoherent and confused? Do we love Him when He is rude, or when our feelings get hurt?

And by 'love,' can we say that we seek out His company, that we enjoy being with Him? Or do we just tolerate Him? Do our time with Him so that we can move on with our lives? Loving through gritted teeth, and glances at the watch? Being charitable with our gratuitous kindness?  Is that what we mean by love?

You may serve food at a soup kitchen, but have you eaten at the table as well? You may 'pray for the poor', but do you ask for their prayers as well? Unless we have an attitude of equal partnership and fellowship, we cheapen and divide the body of Christ. Are we really so prideful to think we have the more to offer? Jesus, the One with the most to offer, spent his time in fellowship, not charity.

It is important to remember that we ourselves have much to gain from a relationship with the marginalized. This is not a charitable endeavor, but one that is fundamental for own souls. We need to understand what it is to depend on God rather than money, to enjoy every day as it comes, and not to be preoccupied with rat race that is 'planning for the future,' to gain pleasure from relationships rather than from stuff, to respect natural resources rather than domineering over them, to trust in the daily manna rather than storing up treasures. These are skills that I do not posses in any meaningful way. Do you? In a world where some churches have million dollar mortgages, we have a lot to learn.

Let us examine who Jesus had surrounding Him in His time on earth. Who did he journey with, break bread with, live, and love with? Who did he choose to die with? Jesus chose Mary Magdalene, Matthew, Peter, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, Judas...

These were doubters, weirdos, manual laborers, 'low characters,' nerds...mostly, they were people like me: just folk, trying to find their way.  How much more could we learn if we got out of the textbook, and experienced hands-on and heart-on learning?

Today, we know Jesus's disciples by name. Because they were Jesus's friends, not His charity cases. Jesus didn't call them to His death bed, just because it is what He 'ought to do.' These are the folks He walked with, shared His life with. And we are not too good for Jesus's friends. Sheer statistics tells me that there will be very few people in Heaven I might consider 'easy to converse with.' Surely, if God on High can find common ground, so can we.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

News Flash: Black churches like to sing

This article from the UMC just popped up on my blog feed: Study shows how black churches use music. Has some good things in it, but is also pretty awkward on a couple different levels.

Brings up some questions:
How do we gather information in order to better serve a demographic, without oversimplifying or homogenizing?  How do celebrate various traditions without over stating how different we actually are (example from article: oral and rote traditions, which are used in white non-denom mega-churches nation-wide)? How do we acknowledge cultural differences without stereotyping or categorizing?

Do some of the characterizations here come across weird, or am I being hypersensitive?

See Also:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

John Thompson, race, justice, and God

In a recent New York Times article,  John Thompson tells his story of being wrongly accused of murder, ending up on death row, and being acquitted moments before his execution. As it turns out, the prosecutors had withheld evidence that could have exonerated him. They have done so to at least five death-row inmates. They cannot be charged with a crime and most of them are still practicing law.

The article doesn't mention race and it doesn't mention religion, but both are extremely salient here. Read the article keeping mind the stories of the adulterous woman, the anger vented when the status quo is challenged, and how the crowd eventually turns on Jesus himself.

How do our collective biases and group momentum affect the lives (and deaths) of those that find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion? What is our responsibility as Christians in situations like these and do our own prejudices hind our owning up to that responsibility? Do our hearts model that of Jesus, or of the vengeful mob?

The racial sins of the prison system will be discussed in full in a later post, but for now check out John Thompson's testimony.

See Also:
Troy Davis: Georgia's 'Strange Fruit'
Break In

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Spanish-speaking Samaritan

A lot of the bible verses about Jesus and Samaria are lessons in reconciliation. Samaritans looked different, acted different, and were fairly separated from the Jews. They were made fun of, 'otherized,' and looked down upon. But routinely, throughout his ministry, Jesus makes deliberate efforts to bridge the divide between the groups.

In the parable of the 'Good Samaritan,' Jesus makes a member of the minority the hero of the story (something I wish modern storytellers would do more often in our movies and TV shows). Despite centuries cultural divide, and the estrangement from the Jews that he has experienced because he's from 'wrong side of the tracks' (read: desert), the Samaritan is merciful and willing to help the Jewish man in trouble. Conversely, the conservative religious folk stick to themselves and end up ignoring the pain of others, leaving the man on the road to struggle on his own.

Recently, the New York Times published an article that tells a similar story (Thanks to CGSA for the heads-up on it). The author doesn't look at the story from a religious perspective, but it certainly embodies many aspects of a modern day 'Good Samaritan' story. This parable is often recast using modern cultural divides to drive the lesson home (as MLK does, for example). Here, it isn't a story, its real life. Let us be reminded of Jesus's teachings.

We must understand who our neighbors are, who we are called to love, and how we are to interact with them. Are we the 'religious elite' that are too afraid to get down and dirty, maybe even risk our lives, for the sake of a Gospel that brings salvation and justice to all?

Do we believe Jesus has power only in heaven? Or does He reign on the road to Jericho as well? Are we more concerned about our own robes and garments, than about how we perpetuate the daily struggles of our sisters and brothers next door?  How do we treat a Samaritan, when we hear her speaking Spanish in the lunch line, or wearing a burqa on a plane, playing hip hop on the car radio?

I have re-posted the NYT article below. The original story can be found here. It's got its issues, but overall has a good message.

See Also:

The Tire Iron and the Tamale--Justin Horner
During this past year I’ve had three instances of car trouble: a blowout on a freeway, a bunch of blown fuses and an out-of-gas situation. They all happened while I was driving other people’s cars, which for some reason makes it worse on an emotional level. And on a practical level as well, what with the fact that I carry things like a jack and extra fuses in my own car, and know enough not to park on a steep incline with less than a gallon of fuel. 
Each time, when these things happened, I was disgusted with the way people didn’t bother to help. I was stuck on the side of the freeway hoping my friend’s roadside service would show, just watching tow trucks cruise past me. The people at the gas stations where I asked for a gas can told me that they couldn’t lend them out “for safety reasons,” but that I could buy a really crappy one-gallon can, with no cap, for $15. It was enough to make me say stuff like “this country is going to hell in a handbasket,” which I actually said. 
But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Immigrants. Mexican immigrants. None of them spoke any English. 
One of those guys stopped to help me with the blowout even though he had his whole family of four in tow. I was on the side of the road for close to three hours with my friend’s big Jeep. I put signs in the windows, big signs that said, “NEED A JACK,” and offered money. Nothing. Right as I was about to give up and start hitching, a van pulled over, and the guy bounded out. 
He sized up the situation and called for his daughter, who spoke English. He conveyed through her that he had a jack but that it was too small for the Jeep, so we would need to brace it. Then he got a saw from the van and cut a section out of a big log on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top and we were in business. 
I started taking the wheel off, and then, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones, and I wasn’t careful, and I snapped the head clean off. Damn. 
No worries: he ran to the van and handed it to his wife, and she was gone in a flash down the road to buy a new tire iron. She was back in 15 minutes. We finished the job with a little sweat and cussing (the log started to give), and I was a very happy man. 
After I said my goodbyes and started walking back to the Jeep, the girl called out and asked if I’d had lunch. When I told her no, she ran up and handed me a tamale. 
This family, undoubtedly poorer than just about everyone else on that stretch of highway, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took a couple of hours out of their day to help a strange guy on the side of the road while people in tow trucks were just passing him by. 
But we weren’t done yet. I thanked them again and walked back to my car and opened the foil on the tamale (I was starving by this point), and what did I find inside? My $20 bill! I whirled around and ran to the van and the guy rolled down his window. He saw the $20 in my hand and just started shaking his head no. All I could think to say was, “Por favor, por favor, por favor,” with my hands out. The guy just smiled and, with what looked like great concentration, said in English: “Today you, tomorrow me.” 
Then he rolled up his window and drove away, with his daughter waving to me from the back. I sat in my car eating the best tamale I’ve ever had, and I just started to cry. It had been a rough year; nothing seemed to break my way. This was so out of left field I just couldn’t handle it. 
In the several months since then I’ve changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations and once drove 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won’t accept money. But every time I’m able to help, I feel as if I’m putting something in the bank.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Looting, New Orleans, and Japan

Recall after Katrina the reports in the media about vandalism and looting, and the racial tension associated with differential reporting practices. It seemed black folk were being accused of criminal behavior, while white folk we just doing what they could to survive:

Now as we hear updates from Japan after the earthquake and tsunami, we are getting a different story altogether: there is almost no looting taking place there at all! We have heard all sorts of laudable superlatives describing the qualities of honor, integrity, and unity that the Japanese embody.

Now, perhaps there is a case here: if you have a collectivist society (which is how sociologists typically characterize Japan) it might be less prone to looting behavior. I don't know if it is a valid characterization (perhaps we are once again simply homogenizing the 'Asian other' into one uniform group), but perhaps such a society would yield these loot-lacking results. At the very least if we in the USA believe this narrative, it is easy to see where such media reports might originate. Indeed, psychologists tells us that the United States tend to be more individualist than collectivist (we value personal freedoms over a conformity and group identity), which may leave us more vulnerable to looting, or at least more vulnerable to news reports about our looting.

However, I find the whole media coverage of such acts highly suspect. The stories reek of old racial tropes: the hard-working/resourceful white folk, the lazy/criminal black folk, and the venerable, model-minority Asians.

Kamaishi: No looters one filing reports here either
So it is hard for me to take these news reports at face value. I notice that NPR reports on the impressively little crime taking place, but they are talking about Kamaishi (population ~40,000) and Unosumai (even smaller). New Orleans has a population of over 1.2 million. Yet the report finds it appropriate to bring up Katrina in their story as a comparison.

Also note the immediacy of the Japanese government's response to this disaster, which is in stark contrast to the US government's debacle of a relief effort. Would not this difference also contribute to levels finding/looting after a disaster?

If the media is going to compare hurricane to tsunami, shouldn't they also mention these differences as well?

I don't know what the truth is about the looting in Japan. I don't know what factors contribute to their situation, or if it is different than New Orleans's was in 2005. I do know that we are subject to racial prejudices that will bias our characterization of the world, and that the good folks in the news industry are subject to those same biases. Yet we are reliant on the media to bring us news of the many events that we cannot personally experience. The best we can do right now is to acknowledge those biases, work against them, and understand that they affect how we perceive the truth.

See Also:
Bush and Hurt Feelings
Model Minority
Breivik: "The Lone-Wolf"/"Terrorist" of Oslo

Friday, April 1, 2011

We are all just part of the HUMAN race

Ok...after some of the comments I have gotten this week from people, I'm done with all of this race stuff. There are too many other, more important things to worry about in this world. How do you think I feel as marginalized woman in my line of work? I mean, dang, what makes these people think they deserve special rights?

I think we should all just move on--I don't even really see a person's color. I judge people on what's on the inside--that's what counts. I just wish they would stop complaining and making a big deal out of every little thing. If they worked as hard as I do, maybe they wouldn't have so many problems. They bring it on themselves!

I'm not racist, I'm just saying...don't you think it's time to move on from the 1960's? I have several black friend that agree with me. Jesus would just want us to forgive each other and live in harmony.
They need to calm down!
Why can't we all just get along??
UPDATE (4/2/11): Although, this was a sarcastic April fools joke. We should be mindful the above mindset is as dangerous as it is pervasive. See the links below to learn more about white privilege.

See Also:
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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