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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Internal Conflict

Please welcome guest blogger, Chris Sunami. Chris is a philosopher and the author of Hero for ChristFind more of his writings on his blog, Yes and Other Answers

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato said that every city with a wide gap between the rich and the poor was really two cities, a rich city and a poor city, coexisting, but always on the verge of internal war. For a long time in this country, the story of race has really been the story of the wealthy versus the poor; and the color of people's skins has been the most convenient of weapons in that war. Under the rule of divide and conquer, poor whites and poor blacks have historically been set at each others throats, an effective way to prevent any unfolding of the natural unity of interests of the poor.

The underlying inequality of the system was this: a poor white always had an avenue to upward mobility. She might have to suppress her accent, change her wardrobe, and deny her origins, but with enough effort she could disappear without trace into middle-class America, as long as she was willing to give up any and all identification with the poor. This was not an option available to a black person. A black person could always be identified at a glance by the color of her skin. The stereotypes of race and poverty would follow her always, without fail. At most she could hope to be treated as an exception to the rule.

Recently, there has been a true sea-change in the beliefs and attitudes of the generation on the cusp of maturity, but it has neither been as simple nor as uniformly positive as many would like to believe. In today's middle-class, black skin color has become normalized. Being darker-skinned is no longer something of particular importance to many middle-class youth. Yet at the same time, black culture, particularly as associated with poverty, has been demonized.
The code words are simple and consistent --usually "Gangsters" (or "Gangsta Rappers") and "Thugs." This mostly means young, low-income African-American males, who are automatically assumed to be stupid, criminal-minded, violent, crude, misogynistic and dangerous. It is often used, however, as a catch-all for black culture in general. Surprisingly, these same terms are often found, with derogatory implications intact, on the lips of black people themselves. The once legendary unity of the black community has seemingly been shattered.

The divorce was perhaps first made public in black comedian Chris Rock's infamous piece "Black People versus N______s." The refrain of that bit went like this: "I love black people, but I hate n------s." The basic idea was that "black people" were good, rational people--with middle class values. "N----s" were the idiots who kept messing things up with their ghettoish ways. The underlying message was that as a person with dark skin you had a choice of which you wanted to be, a "black person" or a "n-----".

It seems as though Americans at large--both black and white--have bought into Rock's idea in a big way. In essence, black people in today's America now have the same choice available to them as the poor white person. As a black person, you can move upwards and be embraced by middle-class America. The only price of admission is that you deny, betray and forswear your every allegiance with the poor.

See Also:
Racism in Academic AdmissionsFriday Round Up (01/27/12) <-- Several links that relate to Chris's post

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Round Up (01/27/12)

On Fridays, we post a round up of the week's happenings.

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged. 

Weekly Round Up:
  • Sale Cereal: Seasonal vs. Perpetual/Generational Poverty

These are some of our links of interest this week. What are yours?

See Also:
Red Tails: Using privilege for good?
Tuskegee Airmen
Etta James (1938-2012)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tuskegee Airmen

Retired Tuskegee Airmen: Ivan Ware,
J. Byron Morris and William E. Broadwater
Formally known as the 332nd Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps, the Tuskegee Airmen were the first black military pilots and flight crews. While still subject to Jim Crow both in the USA and abroad, our soldiers defended the United States against Nazi Germany in World War II.

Their record was superb. With nearly 1000 fliers trained since their formation in 1941, they damaged or destroyed over 400 enemy aircraft and flew 1,578 missions. Four-hundred and fifty pilots served overseas, with ~150 receiving Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 66 killed in action.

In addition:
Captain Fred Hutchins

  • 3 Distinguished Unit Citations:
    • 99th Pursuit Squadron: for the capture of Pantelleria, Italy
    • 99th Fighter Squadron: for successful air strikes against Monte Cassino, Italy
    • 332d Fighter Group: for the longest bomber escort mission of WWII
  • At least 1 Silver Star
  • 14 Bronze Stars
  • 744 Air Medals
  • 8 Purple Hearts
  • 950 railcars, trucks and other vehicles were destroyed
  • 1 destroyer sunk

If you don't know the story of these airmen, take some time to familiarize yourself with their history through original videos and personal narratives. Read about the racism they faced beforeduring, and after their service in WWII.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Red Tails: Using Privilege for good?

Follow more conversations about racial justice and Christianity through email or RSS feed.

For white allies seeking racial justice, it's essential to examine the line between using one's privilege for good and becoming a white savior. In trying to promote his new move, Red Tails, George Lucas precariously walks that line.

Red Tails follows the story of the 332nd Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps in their early combat missions in Italy during World War II. In general, movies that glorify/sugar coat the horrors of war aren't high on my view list and this one has it's share of flashy fight scenes under a heroic veneer. But it's a welcome change to see black folks leading the gallant charge in a major motion picture. Lucas acknowledges "it’s not like Glory, where you have a lot of white officers run these guys into cannon fodder."

Lucas has been making the rounds promoting Red Tails in print and on television, hoping his Star Wars clout/fan base will help bring attention to the movie. Sometimes, the best thing a white person can do is use her/his privilege to help spread the word about racial injustice, knowing that (for better or worse) white voices get heard more than those of color.

And for the most part, Lucas seems to be doing a good job of bring attention to the issues. He talks about the systemic struggles that black directors/actors face, and points to the successes of people in color that came before him. He makes it a point to highlight the fact the film's release was significantly delayed by Hollywood's resistance to promote a black film with no major white roles.

Lucas bemoans the fact that if even he struggles to be allowed to produce such a film (despite the fact he financed the project with his own $58 million), it will be all but impossible for those facing continued racial discrimination to do so. He is also aware enough to recognize that if Red Tails flops, he puts other black films at risk by affirming the movie studios' prejudices.

So Lucas seems genuine in his desire to help, and for the most part is doing what he can to use his privilege for good. If he can lend his face recognition to help increase the notoriety of the Tuskegee Airmen, that's great. But there are a couple other things he might have done that would have kept him solidly out of 'white savior' territory. 

I understand that he's the famous guy everyone wants to interview, but Cuba Gooding Jr, Ne-Yo, and Terrence Howard have a good deal of name recognition in their own right. Why not have them join you for your Daily Show interview? Or it might have been nice if Lucas had also asked that Huffington and USA Today interview Anthony Hemingway, the budding director that is making his feature film debut. Or perhaps best of all would be to hear from the actual airmen that this movie is about! After all, they won't be with us for much longer.

It could be that Lucas did indeed ask that these things happen, but was denied. And it's not his fault that the media is the way it is. So, I'm more apt to be critical of white anti-racism pundits like Tim Wise, who have gained significant notoriety (read: $$) on news networks for decades without giving significant recognition to the people of color who laid the foundations for their work. Indeed, maybe I perpetuating the problem by talking about these issues, instead of about the actual Airmen and their legacy (See post: Tuskegee Airmen).

If you don't know their story in detail, read up on it. Then support the Red Tails at the box office and prove the movie industry wrong. Know that racism isn't cured over one beer at an officers club, and that the 'happily-ever-after-now-that-racism-is-dead' ending doesn't at all reflect the reality of what these men faced when they got home. But enjoy the war-glory film for what it is, knowing that it is a long awaited addition to its genre.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Etta James (1938-2012)

"A lot of people think the blues is depressing but that’s not the blues I’m singing.
When I’m singing blues, I’m singing life."
~Etta James

See Also:

Friday Round Up (01/20/12)

On Fridays, we post a round up of the week's happenings.

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged. 

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of our links of interest this week. What are yours?

See Also:
MLK: Paul’s Letter to American Christians

Sunday, January 15, 2012

MLK: Paul’s Letter to American Christians

Please welcome guest author Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. These words were originally delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, in Montgomery, Alabama on November 4, 1956Too many people have never read Dr. King's speeches, sermons & essays, yet religiously follow blogs parroting concepts he articulated >50 years ago. So before you read anything more from me, take a moment to read some of his words (audio here): 

I would like to share with you an imaginary letter from the pen of the Apostle Paul. The postmark reveals that it comes from the city of Ephesus. After opening the letter I discovered that it was written in Greek rather than English. At the top of the first page was this request: "Please read to your congregation as soon as possible, and then pass on to the other churches."

For several weeks I have worked assiduously with the translation. At times it has been difficult, but now I think I have deciphered its true meaning. May I hasten to say that if in presenting this letter the contents sound strangely Kingian instead of Paulinian, attribute it to my lack of complete objectivity rather than Paul's lack of clarity.

It is miraculous, indeed, that the Apostle Paul should be writing a letter to you and to me nearly 1900 years after his last letter appeared in the New Testament. How this is possible is something of an enigma wrapped in mystery. The important thing, however, is that I can imagine the Apostle Paul writing a letter to American Christians in 1956 A.D. And here is the letter as it stands before me.

I, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to you who are in America, Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

For many years I have longed to be able to come to see you. I have heard so much of you and of what you are doing. I have heard of the fascinating and astounding advances that you have made in the scientific realm. I have heard of your dashing subways and flashing airplanes. Through your scientific genius you have been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. You have been able to carve highways through the stratosphere. So in your world you have made it possible to eat breakfast in New York City and dinner in Paris, France. I have also heard of your skyscraping buildings with their prodigious towers steeping heavenward. I have heard of your great medical advances, which have resulted in the curing of many dread plagues and diseases, and thereby prolonged your lives and made for greater security and physical well-being. All of that is marvelous. You can do so many things in your day that I could not do in the Greco-Roman world of my day. In your age you can travel distances in one day that took me three months to travel. That is wonderful. You have made tremendous strides in the area of scientific and technological development.

But America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. Your poet Thoreau used to talk about "improved means to an unimproved end." How often this is true. You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood. So America, I would urge you to keep your moral advances abreast with your scientific advances.

I am impelled to write you concerning the responsibilities laid upon you to live as Christians in the midst of an unChristian world. That is what I had to do. That is what every Christian has to do. But I understand that there are many Christians in America who give their ultimate allegiance to man-made systems and customs. They are afraid to be different. Their great concern is to be accepted socially. They live by some such principle as this: "everybody is doing it, so it must be alright." For so many of you Morality is merely group consensus. In your modern sociological lingo, the mores are accepted as the right ways. You have unconsciously come to believe that right is discovered by taking a sort of Gallup poll of the majority opinion. How many are giving their ultimate allegiance to this way.

American Christians, I must say to you as I said to the Roman Christians years ago, "Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind." Or, as I said to the Phillipian Christians, "Ye are a colony of heaven." This means that although you live in the colony of time, your ultimate allegiance is to the empire of eternity. You have a dual citizenry. You live both in time and eternity; both in heaven and earth. Therefore, your ultimate allegiance is not to the government, not to the state, not to nation, not to any man-made institution. The Christian owes his ultimate allegiance to God, and if any earthly institution conflicts with God's will it is your Christian duty to take a stand against it. You must never allow the transitory evanescent demands of man-made institutions to take precedence over the eternal demands of the Almighty God.

I understand that you have an economic system in America known as Capitalism. Through this economic system you have been able to do wonders. You have become the richest nation in the world, and you have built up the greatest system of production that history has ever known. All of this is marvelous. But Americans, there is the danger that you will misuse your Capitalism. I still contend that money can be the root of all evil. It can cause one to live a life of gross materialism. I am afraid that many among you are more concerned about making a living than making a life. You are prone to judge the success of your profession by the index of your salary and the size of the wheel base on your automobile, rather than the quality of your service to humanity.

The misuse of Capitalism can also lead to tragic exploitation. This has so often happened in your nation. They tell me that one tenth of one percent of the population controls more than forty percent of the wealth. Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. If you are to be a truly Christian nation you must solve this problem. You cannot solve the problem by turning to communism, for communism is based on an ethical relativism and a metaphysical materialism that no Christian can accept. You can work within the framework of democracy to bring about a better distribution of wealth. You can use your powerful economic resources to wipe poverty from the face of the earth. God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty. God intends for all of his children to have the basic necessities of life, and he has left in this universe "enough and to spare" for that purpose. So I call upon you to bridge the gulf between abject poverty and superfluous wealth.

I would that I could be with you in person, so that I could say to you face to face what I am forced to say to you in writing. Oh, how I long to share your fellowship.

Let me rush on to say something about the church. Americans, I must remind you, as I have said to so many others, that the church is the Body of Christ. So when the church is true to its nature it knows neither division nor disunity. But I am disturbed about what you are doing to the Body of Christ. They tell me that in America you have within Protestantism more than two hundred and fifty six denominations. The tragedy is not so much that you have such a multiplicity of denominations, but that most of them are warring against each other with a claim to absolute truth. This narrow sectarianism is destroying the unity of the Body of Christ. You must come to see that God is neither a Baptist nor a Methodist; He is neither a Presbyterian nor a Episcopalian. God is bigger than all of our denominations. If you are to be true witnesses for Christ, you must come to see that America.

But I must not stop with a criticism of Protestantism. I am disturbed about Roman Catholicism. This church stands before the world with its pomp and power, insisting that it possesses the only truth. It incorporates an arrogance that becomes a dangerous spiritual arrogance. It stands with its noble Pope who somehow rises to the miraculous heights of infallibility when he speaks ex cathedra. But I am disturbed about a person or an institution that claims infallibility in this world. I am disturbed about any church that refuses to cooperate with other churches under the pretense that it is the only true church. I must emphasize the fact that God is not a Roman Catholic, and that the boundless sweep of his revelation cannot be limited to the Vatican. Roman Catholicism must do a great deal to mend its ways.

There is another thing that disturbs me to no end about the American church. You have a white church and you have a Negro church. You have allowed segregation to creep into the doors of the church. How can such a division exist in the true Body of Christ? You must face the tragic fact that when you stand at 11:00 on Sunday morning to sing "All Hail the Power of Jesus Name" and "Dear Lord and Father of all Mankind," you stand in the most segregated hour of Christian America. They tell me that there is more integration in the entertaining world and other secular agencies than there is in the Christian church. How appalling that is.
I understand that there are Christians among you who try to justify segregation on the basis of the Bible. They argue that the Negro is inferior by nature because of Noah's curse upon the children of Ham. Oh my friends, this is blasphemy. This is against everything that the Christian religion stands for. I must say to you as I have said to so many Christians before, that in Christ "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus." Moreover, I must reiterate the words that I uttered on Mars Hill: "God that made the world and all things therein . . . hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth."

So Americans I must urge you to get rid of every aspect of segregation. The broad universalism standing at the center of the gospel makes both the theory and practice of segregation morally unjustifiable. Segregation is a blatant denial of the unity which we all have in Christ. It substitutes an "I-it" relationship for the "I-thou" relationship. The segregator relegates the segregated to the status of a thing rather than elevate him to the status of a person. The underlying philosophy of Christianity is diametrically opposed to the underlying philosophy of segregation, and all the dialectics of the logicians cannot make them lie down together.

I praise your Supreme Court for rendering a great decision just two or three years ago. I am happy to know that so many persons of goodwill have accepted the decision as a great moral victory. But I understand that there are some brothers among you who have risen up in open defiance. I hear that their legislative halls ring loud with such words as "nullification" and "interposition." They have lost the true meaning of democracy and Christianity. So I would urge each of you to plead patiently with your brothers, and tell them that this isn't the way. With understanding goodwill, you are obligated to seek to change their attitudes. Let them know that in standing against integration, they are not only standing against the noble precepts of your democracy, but also against the eternal edicts of God himself. Yes America, there is still the need for an Amos to cry out to the nation: "Let judgement roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream."

May I say just a word to those of you who are struggling against this evil. Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself. Let him know that the festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. With this attitude you will be able to keep your struggle on high Christian standards.

Many persons will realize the urgency of seeking to eradicate the evil of segregation. There will be
many Negroes who will devote their lives to the cause of freedom. There will be many white persons of goodwill and strong moral sensitivity who will dare to take a stand for justice. Honesty impels me to admit that such a stand will require willingness to suffer and sacrifice. So don't despair if you are condemned and persecuted for righteousness' sake. Whenever you take a stand for truth and justice, you are liable to scorn. Often you will be called an impractical idealist or a dangerous radical. Sometimes it might mean going to jail. If such is the case you must honorably grace the jail with your presence. It might even mean physical death. But if physical death is the price that some must pay to free their children from a permanent life of psychological death, then nothing could be more Christian. Don't worry about persecution America; you are going to have that if you stand up for a great principle. I can say this with some authority, because my life was a continual round of persecutions. After my conversion I was rejected by the disciples at Jerusalem. Later I was tried for heresy at Jerusalem. I was jailed at Philippi, beaten at Thessalonica, mobbed at Ephesus, and depressed at Athens. And yet I am still going. I came away from each of these experiences more persuaded than ever before that "neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come . . . shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end of life. The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.

I must bring my writing to a close now. Timothy is waiting to deliver this letter, and I must take leave for another church. But just before leaving, I must say to you, as I said to the church at Corinth, that I still believe that love is the most durable power in the world. Over the centuries men have sought to discover the highest good. This has been the chief quest of ethical philosophy. This was one of the big questions of Greek philosophy. The Epicurean and the Stoics sought to answer it; Plato and Aristotle sought to answer it. What is the summon bonum of life? I think I have an answer America. I think I have discovered the highest good. It is love. This principle stands at the center of the cosmos. As John says, "God is love." He who loves is a participant in the being of God. He who hates does not know God.

So American Christians, you may master the intricacies of the English language. You may possess all of the eloquence of articulate speech. But even if you "speak with the tongues of man and angels, and have not love, you are become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal."

You may have the gift of prophecy and understanding all mysteries. You may be able to break into the storehouse of nature and bring out many insights that men never dreamed were there. You may ascend to the heights of academic achievement, so that you will have all knowledge. You may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees. But all of this amounts to absolutely nothing devoid of love.

But even more Americans, you may give your goods to feed the poor. You may give great gifts to charity. You may tower high in philanthropy. But if you have not love it means nothing. You may even give your body to be burned, and die the death of a martyr. Your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as history's supreme hero. But even so, if you have not love your blood was spilt in vain. You must come to see that it is possible for a man to be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. He may be generous in order to feed his ego and pious in order to feed his pride. Man has the tragic capacity to relegate a heightening virtue to a tragic vice. Without love benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.

So the greatest of all virtues is love. It is here that we find the true meaning of the Christian faith. This is at bottom the meaning of the cross. The great event on Calvary signifies more than a meaningless drama that took place on the stage of history. It is a telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking forth into time. It is an eternal reminder to a power drunk generation that love is most durable power in the world, and that it is at bottom the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. Only through achieving this love can you expect to matriculate into the university of eternal life.

I must say goodby now. I hope this letter will find you strong in the faith. It is probable that I will not get to see you in America, but I will meet you in God's eternity. And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling, and lift us from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy, to him be power and authority, forever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

First Steps for Equality and Justice

Margot Starbuck released a great article at Relevant Magazine called A Suburban Faith that complements our recent discussions about practical action for change. She discusses ways that folks can become a little less isolated, even while living in a privileged suburban area. The goal is simply to commune with others and to treat our neighbours with respect and dignity. Read the full article here, and begin to transform your attitude by taking the following advice:

  • Know the name of the person who touches your goods. 
    • “Know something about the one who serves you as a bag boy, attendant, or waitress. What’s her name? Does he live alone? What happens when her bus doesn’t show up? Honor this one by looking him in the eye, calling him by name and taking a genuine interest in his life.” 
  • Exercise in a place where you’ll encounter someone new
    • “For your next workout, choose a physical space where you might naturally encounter someone with fewer resources. Jog past your city’s social service providers or do your weird race-walk through a low-income neighborhood. And because it’s not a poverty tour, be sure to speak to some of the real live people who also think your race-walk looks ridiculous.” 
  • Get to really know those who you encounter in the course of your daily work. 
    • “Get to know the faces and names and stories of those who too often go unnoticed. Who is it that cleans the bathrooms you use most frequently? When you don’t make your own lunch, who is it that serves you the one you buy? What’s the story of the guy who waits outside the coffee shop asking for spare change? “ 
  • Build relationships with the elderly who have been forgotten. 
    • “Whether you have the natural entrée of an older neighbor rehabilitating after a fall, or whether you contact the recreation coordinator to be scheduled as a bingo caller, the poor, the weak and the forgotten are waiting for company in nursing homes in every community.” 
  • Engage in ministry with a partner from a sister congregation. 
    • “Does your congregation have a relationship with a sister church that’s socially or economically different from yours? Support the ministry they’re already doing. If it’s tutoring students, show up Fridays after work. If it’s Vacation Bible School, learn how you can serve. If it’s cleaning up the neighborhood, don your work gloves on a Saturday morning and make a new friend.” 
  • Open your home to children in the state foster care system. 
    • “Have a heart for young kids? Before you ever raise your own, consider opening your home to children in your state’s foster care system. When local kids are suddenly displaced from the home they share with their natural parents, they often need a place to stay for a night or two. This moment of loving stability can bless a child more than you know.” 
  • Invest in people living in a place where personhood can be easily overlooked. 
    • “Tuesday night your church is providing supper for people being sheltered through Interfaith Hospitality Network. Though it’s bad news for the poor when people of privilege dip into their lives only long enough to throw a casserole out their Prius window, your church’s support of local mercy ministry might be the vehicle by which you are able to develop a real friendship.”

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Reverb: The unintended consequences of our daily behavior

Please welcome Rev. Marty Troyer, a husband, daddy, and peacemaker, who serves as pastor of Houston Mennonite Church: The Church of the Sermon on the Mount, in Houston, TX. He blogs regularly with where this post was originally published.

I can relate all too well with the Magi of Matthew 2. After all, they did what they thought was best only to feel the devastating reverb of their decisions. Their good behavior impacted people they’d never met. Like Mark who drinks Starbucks, and Becky who shops the latest fashions, and Julie who loves her cell phone. All of whom participate in an unjust system oppressing folks half a world away.

And so it is with the Magi, who force Jesus's family to become refugees, and cause the death of all babies and toddlers in Bethlehem. Indeed, they trigger injustices that foreshadow the conflict Jesus will face his entire life.

But perhaps my own behavior is more like Herod’s than I care to admit. Oh sure, I don’t order anyone’s killing like Herod, who was well known for his rage and brutality, even killing off several of his own children. But is that just a convenient layer of protection to block me from truly seeing the reverb my actions cause around the world?

Bertha Beachy, a longtime missionary in East Africa, said, “North Americans find it very hard to believe that their wealthy ways of living affect poor people on other continents. But in Africa, people are fully convinced that North Americans and their actions strongly influence their lives.” Living More with Less says, “Our seemingly indirect actions can actually cause very direct consequences in the lives of many in parts of the world that seem distant.” Here are just a few examples of the reverb:

  • Our insatiable need for transport demands oil – lots of it – which through war causes the killing of many innocents for our convenience.
  • Our insatiable need for tomatoes out of season demands the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and transport which causes harm to our bodies and environment.
  • Our insatiable need for computers and cellphones demands the use of “conflict minerals” like tin & tungsten which cause “children and adults —through rape and brute force—to work in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” says Mark Regier.
  • Our insatiable need for cheap fashionable clothing demands outsourcing labor to sweatshops, causing unjust and unhealthy labor conditions and the perpetual poverty of those who make the garments.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the global complexities surrounding coffee, oil, food, clothes & computers. Longacre reminds us that the complexity of all this can be absolutely paralyzing. “Awed and even terrified” she says! Indeed. What can one person do in the face of overwhelming injustice done on our behalf?

The wisdom of the Magi opens the door for us all:

1. Take responsibility. When they discover the horror of what they accidentally did they embraced their guilt as a productive, not a paralyzing, emotion. Not that they pulled the trigger or gave the order to do so. Nor did they blame others, insulate themselves, or say “I was just following orders.” They acknowledge their part in the injustice, and make a change. Rather than going back to Herod and Jerusalem, they go home by another route, keeping the new kings’ whereabouts secret. We must see ourselves as part of the global family, and admit our decisions have global impact. Being response-able demands we unpack the layer upon layer of distance we feel from the problems we’ve helped create, and to live in the tension.

2. Make a change. It doesn’t have to be huge, and we don’t have to turn Amish. But we are all capable of making changes that love our global neighbors in healthier ways. Consider Fair Trade, which guarantees a livable wage and safe working conditions for producers 
and sustainable practices for the environment (yes, that means that non-fair trade items such as coffee, chocolate, sugar, and tea likely are NOT doing these things). Plant a garden, compost, shop at one of Houston’s numerous Farmer’s Markets or buy a share from the locally grown food co-op Rawfully Organic. Recycle everything you can using Houston’s RecycleBank cash-for-trash system. Live simply and below your means, decreasing your carbon footprint when possible. Send an email to your cell-phone provider and ask for conflict-free phones. All people, not just specialists, are required to do justice & love our neighbor, even those half a world away. 

3. Do what you can, knowing it will not solve everything. Notice the Magi can NOT undo the consequences of their choices or solve the problem. The kids still die. Jesus is still homeless. They did their part, and then went home. Likewise, we are responsible to act, but it’s not up to us to finish the job. And so one day in seven we rest, and live our lives, knowing that it’s not our job to save the planet or her people.

For those of us who profess to love our neighbor and/or Jesus, can we do anything less than the Magi, who gave their allegiance to Jesus above all else?

See Also:
The Christmas Story (#BTSF Style)
Practical Steps Against Racial Injustice

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Friday Round Up (01/06/12)

On Fridays, we post a round up of the week's happenings.

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged. 

Weekly Round Up:
  • Impatiently Waiting: The search for a church committed to racial reconciliation doesn't go quickly.
    • By @RevLadyCharChar recommended by @PeregrinaDiane  
These are some of our favorite links this week. What are yours?

See Also:
2012 New Year's Resolution Against Racial Injustice

Monday, January 2, 2012

Resolution Against Racial Injustice

Let's take a moment to recommit ourselves to perusing the redemption of a racially broken world, to seeking racial justice and reconciliation for the sake of the cross and the unified body of Christ. Here, we'll examine some small first steps that those in positions of privilege can take to begin the journey this year.

Firstly, of course, we delve into the Word. Study passages like Rev 7:9-10 in the context of racial justice. What does it mean that God's will be done 'on earth as it is in heaven'? Build foundations in scriptural mandates like Ephesians 4:1-14 and Isaiah 58. Looking at John 4:1-42, how does Jesus handle interactions with the marginalized, the disenfranchised, those considered different? What would today's Samaritan look like?

How does the early church handle being confronted with systemic racial injustice within their ministry in Acts 6:1-7? Take your time going through Matthew 8:5-13, Mark 1:16-19, Mark 7:24-30, Mark 14: 3-9, and Philippians 2. What do they have to say about  marginalization and our interactions with the 'other'? What do they say about justice in the context of the Kingdom? Who are the people that are exalted? Who are the people that are made low?

In addition to scripture, read books that will educate about the modern condition of racial brokenness in which we live. Begin with books like More Than EqualsDivided by Faith, and Why Are All The Black Kids (others here). Catch up on the history and literature that was neglected during our childhood education (See: White History Month). How much have we missed out on because we felt it 'wasn't for us'? Reread books you might not have appreciated as a kid, and delve into new ones that you might not have previously considered to be part of your heritage.

In black literature, for one example, Toni Morison, Octavia Butler, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes are great places to start. Sure, you've heard of them. Probably even read Caged Bird. But what else? How many speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. have you actually read? The original writings of Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X? And these are just the headliner names.  Explore 'White Readers Meet Black Authors' and immerse yourself in the rich options before you. Learn histories, watch films, study the important figures and their contributions to your world.

Notice, that above are all steps that can be taken within the comfort and safety of your own home. They are important to lay a foundation of understanding to give context to our daily interactions. It's not the job of those already marginalized to help us catch up in our own understanding. But real reconciliation only happens in the context of relationship. 

Healing, redemptive relationships happen when we meet others on their own terms, in their own time. This means shedding the privilege to be comfortable, to be amid the familiar, or to progress on your own timetable. White folks have lived in almost entirely unchallenged self-segregation: maintaining separate schools, neighborhoods, churches. While for folks in the minority this can be an opportunity to find rest and sanctuary, for those who regularly dominate majority culture it is a reflection of our own unjust privilege to perpetuate disparity. 

So often, we want to be reconciled and yet fail to yield to the very kinds of situations that we perpetuate on others daily. Take the opportunity to build relationships by surrendering some of that privilege. Regularly place yourself in situations where you are in the racial minority and submit to the leadership of others.

Join a gospel choir, or a book club that intentionally explores literature by people of color. Go the gym or join a church where you are no longer in the majority. If you choose not to, understand it is your privilege that allows you to make that choice. But we will need major shifts in the status quo to affect meaningful change. 

Do not do these things as if joining an expedition into "authenticity" or the "real POC experience," but enter with humility and submission. Invest in relationships, sacrificing time and energy for the sake of  redemption. Relinquish pride and privilege, being respectful of hesitancy and self-preservation on the part of others. Be mindful of the limitations that are the consequences of our corporate sin, and refrain from invading safe space. That being said, persevere even as Christ has preserved in His love for us.

Position yourself as a servant in the fight for racial redemption. Be prayerfully and intentionally relational with those around you, becoming an active advocate in your community. Find sisters and brothers of accountability and encouragement. Ask questions and be open to the answers.

  • What practical steps have you taken for racial redemption? What aspects of the above are most challenging or confusing? What are the next steps for you in your journey? What advice do you have for others?
Creative Commons License
By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at @BTSFblog