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

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top #BTSF Posts of 2013

As the year, draws to a close we give thanks for the blessings of 2013.
I am particularly grateful to the #BTSF readers who have sparked brilliant dialogue and joined in tremendous efforts toward racial justice.

In 2014, follow all our conversations through email or RSS feed!

Check out the top ten #BTSF posts of 2013:

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Friday Fruit (12/27/13)

One of the 2013 book picks!
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

Weekly Round Up:
These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

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.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Christmas Story

Today, we remember the occasion of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 13:55 
We remember Mary, a pregnant teen whose dreams of romance gave way to a shotgun wedding and local gossip.

We remember Joseph, a working-class laborer everyone thought had been duped.

We remember the journey, a forced migration by a ruling class seeking to increase their tax revenue

We remember Bethlehem, and parents making do in a tough situation: hotels booked solid, ‘no vacancy’ signs everywhere. But the baby’s coming, and there’s nothing to be done but to pull over at the nearest gas station.

We remember the manger, just a food bowl with old newspaper lining the sides to soften the surface.

We remember the shepherds, migrant field hands on minimum wage and working the night shift at a dirty job, who punched out early to go see a miracle. 

We remember the Magi, the statesmen, ambassadors, and dignitaries who cancelled their meetings to travel and bear witness to the prophecy.

We remember the flight to Egypt, when undocumented emigrants fled the authorities across the border to start a new life together as a family.

We remember their return to Nazareth, the backwoods town where the Child would grow up.  

We remember the Christ, the Savior, who began his life on this earth as an outcast, a worker, an immigrant, a nobody on the side of the road.

Will you welcome Him?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Look around you this Christmas: all the greeting cards, advertisements, TV specials, store displays, nativity scenes. Santa Claus’s race has gotten a lot of press this year, but it’s not just him.

The popular portrayals of Christmas in the United States reinforce the ‘white default’ that takes an assumed white perspective: from matters of marketing and consumerism, to social values and theology.

White faces depict the fatherly Joseph, the virginal Mary, the saintly angels, the hard-working shepherds. Are these characteristics only the traits of white people? When we link these faces with our holiday values of love, joy, and peace, we lose the full spectrum of God’s grace in the Christmas narrative. In the very story of our Lord’s birth we perpetuate the marginalization of God’s people.

We are selective with which ‘historical realities’ we cling to. The bible never claims there are three wise men, or that Jesus was born in December. Saint Nicholas never lived in the North Pole or probably even ever saw a reindeer. But we are willing to accept these particularities as part of our Christmas tradition. What does it say about our priorities when we insist on the whiteness of the savior?

Frosty is the only character that
should consistently be white
The whitening of the baby Jesus is potentially the most damaging of all racialized Christmas portrayals (see post: The Color of Christ). Others have expounded on the historically inaccuracy of the portrayal, but it is problematic for the theologian as well as the anthropologist. White folk have literally changed the image of God into their own likeness. It means demeaning any other race as less God-like, less made in the image of God. It means identifying with the savior more than with the saved (see post: White Savior Complex).

On some level, Megyn Kelly is right. With all the publicity and social construction, both Santa and Jesus are functionally white for many Christians in the United States. But there are serious consequences to the predominant perceptions of a white Jesus. Theologians have noted that "if we accept a White Jesus, if that is the image we see, we have also adopted an image of salvation, of health, wholeness, happiness, that also comes to us via a White culture and comes to us with a White value system." This imagery perpetuates the tenancy of white folk to view themselves as morally superior and as rightful leaders.

Families recently visiting a black Santa at a Los Angeles mall remarked that "I just don’t want [my godson] to think that all greatness comes from a different race…There’s Santa Clauses his color doing good work, too." Furthermore, added another parent, "We need our kids to understand that good things happen in chocolate skin...We are often bombarded with the opposite. We’re not trying to exclude anybody, but [instead] celebrate our chocolate skin."

Representation matters. Children need to learn that good things (both Christmas presents, and salvation itself) can come from many different races and nationalities. We all need Black Santa. And we need Asian Santa, Native Santa and Latino Santa too.
“For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white ... just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change, you know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too ... that’s a verifiable fact, I just want kids to know that.” (2013)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Friday Fruit (12/20/13)

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

Weekly Round Up:
    These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

    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.

    Sunday, December 15, 2013

    Missing Children: Avonte Oquendo

    Update: The remains of Avonte Oquendo's body were found on a Queens Beach on January 16th. The below was written during the search for him:

    Avonte Oquendo has now been missing for over two months.
    Have you seen him? Have you even heard of him?

    Avonte is a 14-year-old boy with autism from Queens, NY who went missing after wandered from his school's supervision on October 4th, 2013. His parents have done all the right things to bring attention to his case: a massive flyering campaign, publicity through social media, sweeping police searches, TV interviews. There is even ~$100,000 reward for information leading to his recovery.

    But Avonte's story has failed to garner large-scale national media attention. Even local news coverage has largely gone silent as hope of recovering the boy diminishes. Yet media attention for other cases has been known to persist for months or years after the initial disappearance. Coverage of Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping continued for over nine months until she was finally found alive in a different city. Even 17 years after the death of JonBenét Ramsey, media outlets still clamor over new tidbits from her case (the most recent installments were widely publicized around the same time that Avonte disappeared).

    The reality is, if you're going to go missing, your chances of being found are best if you're a white girl from an upper-middle class family in the United States. Your odds are even better if you match certain popular beauty standards. The stories of Laci Peterson, Chandra Levy, Natalee Holloway, and Caylee Anthony are famous, while hundreds of others are ignored. The abduction of Jessica Lynch in Iraq was nationally lamented, while Shoshana Johnson, who was captured in the same ambush, was largely ignored.

    The Missing White Woman Syndrome
    Sheri Parks and Gwen Ifill have termed this effect the 'missing white woman syndrome,' describing the tenancy for media, police, and public bias in their attention to missing children and murder cases. It's a well known and reported phenomenon (even by media themselves), and yet it largely fails to be corrected, year after year.

    There are so many examples of half-attempted awareness, and yet very little additional attention given to the hundreds of Asian American, Black, Native, and Latino children that go missing every year. Children of color are more likely to be victims of abduction (65% of non-family kidnappings), but missing white children are 14% more likely to receive major media coverage.

    Racial bias matters when it comes to missing children and their chances of recovery. Some stories are simply considered more important to report than others. Finding missing and kidnapped children requires the strong support of the media and law enforcement, but these are "two institutions not historically known for favoring minorities, particularly blacks." These biases have a negative effect on rescue success.

    These same biases also affect the probability that individuals on the street will stop to help a child in distress. Stacia L. Brown asks "if you saw a black teen boy wandering a city, how closely would you pay attention to him? And if you truly noticed him at all, would it only be because he raised your suspicion?"

    Our subconscious bias affects which children get the help they need, and the odds are not in Avonte Oquendo's favor. History tells us that in encountering someone like him, we're more likely to call the police in fear of our own safety, than for the safety of the child himself.

    While the deaths of some children are treated as national tragedies, others are treated as inevitable consequences of social pathology. How differently might the murder of a young blond girl returning home with her Skittles have been perceived (weather or not she wore a hoodie in the rain)?

    "Jesus loves a subset of
    the little children?" 
    The disparity in our national attention speaks loudly to the differential
    value we place on human beings' lives. It reveals who we perceive as vulnerable and innocent, and to whom we are willing to bequeath victim status. Surely like our Heavenly Father, we will search for the one lost coin, for that one sheep that has gone missing. Will we only rejoice when certain ones are found?

    We are warned "Beware that you don't look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father" (Matthew 18:10). To be a Good Samaritan to children in distress, we must first take the time to notice the strangers on the side of the road, and then overcome our biases against them in order to offer our life-saving help.

    There are so many missing children. Lists and pictures are available for your perusal. Jesus's attention to the little children shows us how important each of these lives are. Let's help find them.

    Friday, December 13, 2013

    Friday Fruit (12/13/13)

    Gyasi Ross Cut Bank Creek Press
    On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

    Weekly Round Up:

      These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

      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.

      Wednesday, December 11, 2013

      Mandela the 'Terrorist' (Part 2)

      This is part two of BTSF's look at Nelson Mandela's legacy, and the world's response to his work.

      The Green Mile
      (see also: Bruce Almighty)
      Despite years defamation, Mandela's name and message are now co-opted for an array of politicized messages. But to do so undermines the very self-determinism for which he fought.

      Mandela is sometimes treated as a real-life 'magical negro.' Abagond describes this common plot device as a character "who comes out of nowhere with strange powers or deep wisdom to help white people, sometimes even giving his life...Their strange powers allow them to escape white stereotypes of blacks as incapable. It allows them to deal with whites on equal terms."

      This stereotype not only paints Mandela in a one-dimensional light, it implies that everyone else of his race remains depraved. Specifically, it backhandedly perpetuates the stereotype of angry, violent mobs rising against benevolent benefactors for no good reason. "Can't we all just get along? Can't we all just be peaceful, like Mandela was?" But he wasn't.

      Musa Okwonga observes that politicians and media pundits "will say that Mandela was not about race. You will say that Mandela was not about politics. You will say that Mandela was about nothing but one love...You will make out that apartheid was just some sort of evil mystical space disease that suddenly fell from the heavens and settled on all of us, had us all, black or white, in its thrall, until Mandela appeared from the ether to redeem us. You will try to make Mandela a Magic Negro and you will fail. You will say that Mandela stood above all for forgiveness whilst scuttling swiftly over the details of the perversity that he had the grace to forgive."

      When politicians, who for years ignored (or even despised) Mandela's policies, suddenly become hyper-adulatory after his death, they belittle his work and his daily courage in speaking to power. Mandela is not a mascot to be appropriated at our political whim. Instead, his nuanced beliefs and polices deserve to be remembered for what they actually are, even if it doesn't always align with our own agenda. So let's remind ourselves of Mandela's capacity to forge his own way for South Africa:

      Mandela's Continued Defiance of Power
      Mandela was not afraid to speak up against injustices he saw around the world. It is perhaps this perspective for which we have the greatest need today.

      United State's prolonged support for Apartheid South Africa was often justified by calls for 'freedom and democracy' in the face of the inconvenient communist political affiliations of the African National Congress (ANC), and the opportunity for economic profit. Mandela saw parallels between this behavior and the United State's 'defense of democracy' in Iraq, saying that “all that [Bush] wants is Iraqi oil.” Mandela believed that in both cases the the USA's rhetoric and actions were to the detriment of liberties of the citizens of the countries in question.

      Having been labeled as a terrorist himself, Mandela was critical of the 'War on Terror.' He stated that "if there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don't care for human beings." In contrast, he characterized Fidel Castro as “a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people."

      The point is not that Mandela should be reviled, any more than it is right for him to be idolized. The point is to allow him to be a hero, fully remembered for who he was, without twisting him to fit our own agenda. Mandela did not believe that the Western democracies were pure and holy. Neither should we.

      The Whitewashing of History
      The practice of whitewashing our collective heroes is not a new one. It happens to Martin Luther King, to Abraham Lincoln, and even to Jesus Christ himself.

      Jesus too was hated during the hay-days of his activism. He spoke truth to power, and agitated authority. He lived among the marginalized, and was vilified by the establishment. He made controversial statements, and was condemned as a traitor to his country. Jesus preached forgiveness and peace, but he did not shrink from confronting corrupt authority with searing words. He too has been on the political terrorist watch list. But we often remember him simply as a shepherd with his lambs, or as a sweet little baby lying in a manger.

      In these stories of resistance, there is also a theme in which 'moderates' call for patience and temperance, rather than standing up for justice. The 'Birmingham 8' clergy urged King to wait, saying the "cause should be pressed in the courts...and not in the streets." The Western powers made tepid calls for gradual negotiations with the Apartheid regime of South Africa. And the Pharisees hoped to mollify the Roman rulers by keeping the local peace. These were the 'moderates', and they all ultimately found themselves on the wrong side of history.

      There is nothing safe or comfy about the radical love of Christ. As with Mandela, if we forget these aspects of Jesus's character, we become complacent to our roles as God's hands and feet in the world today. Being a follower of Christ isn't easy, and we shouldn't expect to be cozy with the voices of privilege. If we are, perhaps we are doing something wrong.

      Hannah Heinzekehr wonders if perhaps "we’ve 'sainted' all these peacemakers as a way to make them seem superhuman or beyond what any normal human can accomplish. In this way, we can simultaneously celebrate them and also wash our hands of any expectations that we can emulate them." Indeed, rather than "feel[ing] like we’re part of the choir that Mandela is preaching to, we also need to see ourselves as the subjects of his critique."

      Our challenge after Mandela's passing is to avoid reducing him to a brand name of revisionist history. We must continue (or begin) to learn his history by reading his books and speeches so that we have a better understanding of what it takes to be a 'Hero for Christ.'

      Peter Beinart notes that "American power and human freedom are two very different things. Sometimes they intersect; sometimes they do not. Walking in Nelson Mandela’s footsteps requires being able to tell the difference." The same goes for walking with Christ. 

      Special thanks to the following tweeps, whose great writing helped bring much-needed clarity to the media swirl of the past week: @graceishuman,@deluxvivens, @jamiekilstein, @AntheaButler, @Blackamazon, @GradientLair, @zellieimani, @JeffSharlet.

      Monday, December 9, 2013

      Mandela the 'Terrorist' (Part 1)

      This week, we offer a special BTSF edition to explore Nelson Mandela's legacy, and the world's response to his work. Begin with part one:

      We tend to flatten the biographies of deceased heroes into tidy, tame packages. In the limelight of such adulation, Nelson Mandela appears to have been a universally-admired father figure, spreading love and peace around the world. But this was not always the popular perception. We must avoid a collective amnesia about the global opposition he faced and the true heroism of his deeds.

      Mandela was no dove. In 1961, he co-founded the group Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation"), which was the militant wing of the African National Congress (ANC). Following the Sharpeville Massacre, in which scores of black demonstrators were gunned down by South African police, Mandela and the ANC felt they could no longer rely on solely non-violent strategies in opposition to Apartheid. Umkhonto we Sizwe led guerrilla-style attacks on the South African government and was subsequently labeled as a terrorist organization by both the South African and United States Governments.
      Sharpeville Massacre

      Later in his 'Prepared to Die' speech at the opening of his 1964 trial, Mandela recalled that "[we] came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force."

      In the wake of his death, commentators and politicians wax poetic about Mandela's legacy of peace and reconciliation, commoditizing and co-opting his name for their respective causes. But it is important not to gloss over his work with Umkhonto we Sizwe, and other acts of resistance, because they highlight desperate nature of the oppression he faced. It also gives context to other struggles for freedom today, both violent and nonviolent. Many such groups are also called 'radical' and 'terrorist,' labels that we may later find embarrassing:

      The United States' Response
      As a result of the ANC's continued resistance to the Apartheid rule of the South African government, both it and Mandela himself were placed on the United State's terrorism watch list in the 1980s.

      Under the Reagan administration, State Department listed the ANC among "organizations that engage in terrorism." Shortly thereafter, President-elect George H.W. Bush wrote the forward to the Defense Department's "Terrorist Group Profiles," a list of 52 of the "world's more notorious terrorist groups," which also included the ANC.

      In the midst of Cold War turmoil, it was the Soviet Union, not the United States, that quickly came to the aid of black South Africans. Preferring to back political ideology over the defense of human rights, Reagan vetoed the US-imposed sanctions on South Africa drafted in the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. Then-Congressman Dick Cheney also voted against the bill, and in 2000 defend his stance stating "I don't have any problems at all with the vote I cast 20 years ago.''

      This United States was not alone in its opposition to Mandela and his organization's cause. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stated that "the ANC is a typical terrorist organization ... Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land."  Parliament Member Teddy Taylor said Mandela "should be shot." 

      Prominent Christian leaders were also outspoken in their opposition to Mandela and his work. Both Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell defended the Apartheid regime. Falwell urged his followers to write congress to tell them to oppose the Anti-Apartheid Act stating that “the liberal media has for too long suppressed the other side of the story in South Africa.” (See also: The Cross and the Lynching Tree).

      It is important to remember how recent these events are (see post: Recent History), and how many Americans and Christians now find themselves on the wrong side of history, even as they clamor invoke Mandela's name today. Apartheid ended in 1994 after over a half century of legally-mandated and government enforced racial segregation and oppression. Mandela wasn't removed from the terrorist watch list until 2008, by which point he was a 90-year-old man and recipient of the Nobel peace prize (15 years earlier!). Even as he served as president of South Africa, he was required to obtain special permissions from the US Secretary of State to enter the United States, a situation that Condoleezza Rice found "rather embarrassing."

      As Class Struggle notes, "News outlets around the Western world are hurrying to publish obituaries that celebrate his electoral victory while erasing the protracted and fierce guerrilla struggle that he and his party were forced to fight in order to make that victory possible...Nelson Mandela used peaceful means when he could, and violent means when he couldn’t. For this, during his life they called him a terrorist, and after his death they’ll call him a pacifist—all to neutralize the revolutionary potential of his legacy, and the lessons to be drawn from it."

      Continue to part 2 for a discussion of Mandela's more recent controversies, and the importance of keeping all aspects of his biography alive. 

      Thursday, December 5, 2013

      Friday Fruit (12/06/13)

      Read Mandela's Own Words Today
      On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

      Weekly Round Up:

        These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

        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.

        In Mandela's Own Words

        With all the commentary and press coverage following the passing of Nelson Mandela, be sure to take time to read his own words. You can begin by enjoying his 1994 Inaugural Speech:

        Your Majesties, Your Highnesses, Distinguished Guests, Comrades and Friends:

        Today, all of us do, by our presence here, and by our celebrations in other parts of our country and the world, confer glory and hope to newborn liberty.

        Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.

        Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity's belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all.

        All this we owe both to ourselves and to the peoples of the world who are so well represented here today.

        To my compatriots, I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld.

        Each time one of us touches the soil of this land, we feel a sense of personal renewal. The national mood changes as the seasons change.

        We are moved by a sense of joy and exhilaration when the grass turns green and the flowers bloom.

        That spiritual and physical oneness we all share with this common homeland explains the depth of the pain we all carried in our hearts as we saw our country tear itself apart in a terrible conflict, and as we saw it spurned, outlawed and isolated by the peoples of the world, precisely because it has become the universal base of the pernicious ideology and practice of racism and racial oppression.

        We, the people of South Africa, feel fulfilled that humanity has taken us back into its bosom, that we, who were outlaws not so long ago, have today been given the rare privilege to be host to the nations of the world on our own soil.

        We thank all our distinguished international guests for having come to take possession with the people of our
        country of what is, after all, a common victory for justice, for peace, for human dignity.

        We trust that you will continue to stand by us as we tackle the challenges of building peace, prosperity, non-sexism, non-racialism and democracy.

        We deeply appreciate the role that the masses of our people and their political mass democratic, religious, women, youth, business, traditional and other leaders have played to bring about this conclusion. Not least among them is my Second Deputy President, the Honourable F.W. de Klerk.

        We would also like to pay tribute to our security forces, in all their ranks, for the distinguished role they have played in securing our first democratic elections and the transition to democracy, from blood-thirsty forces which still refuse to see the light.

        The time for the healing of the wounds has come.

        The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.

        The time to build is upon us.

        We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.

        We succeeded to take our last steps to freedom in conditions of relative peace. We commit ourselves to the construction of a complete, just and lasting peace.

        We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.

        As a token of its commitment to the renewal of our country,the new Interim Government of National Unity will, as a matter of urgency, address the issue of amnesty for various categories of our people who are currently serving terms of imprisonment.

        We dedicate this day to all the heroes and heroines in this country and the rest of the world who sacrificed in
        many ways and surrendered their lives so that we could be free.

        Their dreams have become reality. Freedom is their reward.

        We are both humbled and elevated by the honour and privilege that you, the people of South Africa, have bestowed on us, as the first President of a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa, to lead our country out of the valley of darkness.

        We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom.

        We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success.

        We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.

        Let there be justice for all.

        Let there be peace for all.

        Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.

        Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.

        Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.

        Let freedom reign.

        The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement!

        God bless Africa!

        Thank you.

        Monday, December 2, 2013

        Downward Mobility

        Please welcome guest blogger, Drea Chicas, learner, artist, youth educator and community activist now working in full time urban ministry in Seattle, WA.

        Every Sunday a kaleidoscopic blend of families worship together along polished pews in a local church. Beyond this colorful snapshot, however, exists an uneven power structure that privileges the body while pushing the needs and gifts of the surrounding community to the margin.

        In this congregation, more than half of the members are white; 60% of the paid staff is white while 40% are staff of color. And yet, the church is located in a multi-ethnic, urban context where more than 50 languages are spoken and 41% of the residents are immigrants. Despite the community’s cultural wealth and capital, 18% of families live below the poverty line. And yet, the church’s yearly profit makes it an upper-middle class entity in the community.

        When Jesus came to earth (the incarnation), he dismantled uneven power structures in order to walk humbly with, suffer with, and transform humanity, especially those on the margins of society. In the article “Rethinking Incarnational Ministry,” theologian and professor Soong-Chan Rah analyzes present day incarnational ministry and names its misappropriation and misapplication. Towards the end, Rah offers a constructive way to do incarnational ministry by emphasizing God’s mission for the city and the downward mobility of Christ.

        In the first half, Rah singles out white Christians who have historically relocated to the city to jumpstart urban ministries by drawing on the theology of the incarnation. According to Rah, many relocators may have arrived with warped perceptions. They hoped to save “the fallen city populated by the sinful people of color” by taking on a messianic role (see post: White Savior Complex). Such dysfunctional misinterpretations of the incarnation may “severely” negate God’s work through indigenous leaders who have labored together for the city long before relocators arrived. Urban ministries rooted on the incarnation so often mirror American middle class ideals such as upward mobility.

        US American churches, says Rah, are more concerned with upward mobility rather than the “downward mobility exemplified by the incarnation of Jesus.” Just as God emptied out of the “heavenly places and to the earthly realm (Phil 2:5-8)”, Christians must also mirror Jesus’ downward mobility in the form of humility and sacrifice. But many in urban ministry don't. Instead of practicing downward mobility, present day American churches are places where “power tends to speak more loudly than humility.” The author challenges us with this question: Are Christian communities able and willing to yield privilege in the same manner that Jesus laid down his privilege?

        Rah’s analysis and overview of incarnational ministry holds urban ministries accountable. Given many church’s white majority how do we make certain that power and privilege within the body are not speaking more loudly than humility? Individual white people and individual people of color have given up power and privilege to some degree, but where are the unifying voices of the church Body laying down their privilege by walking together with those on the margins of our community?

        Incarnational ministry isn't easy, trendy work. It’s hard work. It requires that we enter into people’s pain and walk closely together, just like Jesus did/does. Often, we'll have to go places we don't want to go and experience things we don't want to experience like oppression and poverty. Either way, God’s mission for the city is present, it always has been. What an honor it is to follow that mission here. Let's first confess and then continually lay down the power and privilege holding us back.

        What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree, disagree? What power + privilege structures do you see in your parish?

        Friday, November 29, 2013

        Friday Fruit (11/29/13)

        Photo credit:  Candy Chang
        On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

        Weekly Round Up:

          These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

          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.

          Sunday, November 24, 2013

          Creation Myths: Thanksgiving

          There are two sides to history, and it is the winning side whose story is remembered. Such is the case with Thanksgiving.

          The Black Commentator suggests that "the Thanksgiving story is an absolution of the pilgrims, whose brutal quest for absolute power in the New World is made to seem both religiously motivated and eminently human. Most importantly, the pilgrims are depicted as victims – of harsh weather and their own naïve yet wholesome visions of a new beginning."

          There is much debate regarding the very first Thanksgiving. Indeed, there were many ‘days of thanksgiving’ proclaimed after settlers first landed, or survived harsh winters, or experienced plentiful harvests. The earliest Thanksgiving was not celebrated by British immigrants, but rather by Spanish conqueror Pedro Menéndez de Avilé, in Saint Augustine, Florida on September 8, 1565.

          Over the subsequent century, many other Thanksgivings took place as new invaders and immigrants arrived. One of which, one was held under truly despicable auspices. Thousands of Indians had been killed or sold into slavery during the Pequot War (which began after the British-led nighttime massacre of  Mystic village). Heartened by their 'victory' and the death of thousands of men, women, and children, Connecticut Puritans declared October 12, 1637 a holy day of thanksgiving.

          William Bradford, the governor of the Plymouth Colony gave the following account:
          “Those that scraped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others rune throw with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escapted...It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and sente there of... [The pilgrims] gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemise in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie.”
          The TRUE origin
           of Thanksgiving
          The most famous Thanksgiving meal was indeed held by British immigrants in partnership with (and thanks to charity from) members of the Wampanoag Nation in 1621. However, that alliance was only forged subsequent to the enslavement and mass death of the Patuxet Indians, an occurrence which necessitated more acquiescent relationships with the British immigrants in the region thereafter.

          However, it was over 150 years later that the familiar story of the 1621 Mayflower Thanksgiving was actually established, in large part due to Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879). Her enchantment with the pilgrim narrative compelled her to campaign aggressively for the adoption of the national holiday. Her bucolic editorials and petitions shaped the modern conception of Thanksgiving, which became a national holiday in 1863.

          This year on Thanksgiving, take time to learn the stories that aren't being told in school. Become familiar with the National Day of Mourning and the Indigenous Peoples Alcatraz Sunrise Gathering, which commemorate the true history of Thanksgiving and honor the many voices that have been silenced.

          Wamsutta (Frank B.) James
          Read the suppressed speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, which was supposed to be delivered in Plymouth in 1970 as part of a celebration of the pilgrim landing. The event's public relations personnel edited his speech because they didn't approve of the history he told in it, but Wamsutta refused to deliver the revised version. Read the words he would have said that day.

          The fact that such a sordid history is associated with the day we set aside to ‘thank God’ for his providence should give us pause. In reality, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving because the majority of its population benefits from the fruits of genocide and slavery. Let us indeed set aside time to count our blessings, but let us also be honest with ourselves about the legacy from which those blessings are derived.

          See Also: Adam Ericksen's great article discussing similar issues on Sojourners

          Friday, November 22, 2013

          Friday Fruit (11/25/13)

          On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

          Weekly Round Up:

            These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

            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.

            Sunday, November 17, 2013

            Why Being “Colorblind” Is Impossible

            Please welcome back Ryan Hansen, a graduate student in clinical psychology. Here, he demonstrates why being colorblind just isn't possible:

            What do you know about the individual in this picture?

            Objectively, you know nothing other than the fact that someone posed for the picture. But take a second to notice what is going on in your head as you look at this picture. The picture is essentially a blank slate, and if you slow down and pay attention you will probably notice that your mind is frantically working to project meaning on onto it. Our brains are built to categorize information and make assumptions, and one of the primary ways that we do this is with social information relies heavily on the use of stereotypes.

            Stereotypes, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad. Living in large groups, it is virtually impossible to treat each individual that you meet as the entirely unique individual that they actually are. You have to find differences in appearance and behavior that allow you to make inferences and assumptions. 

            That is not always a bad thing: it keeps you from approaching a kindergartener for help with your calculus or asking someone’s great grandmother for help moving your furniture. It is such a useful ability that it seems to be fundamentally baked into the way that we perceive other people. 

            Take a second to take conscious control of this process. First, notice the individual’s age. What inferences does your brain naturally want to make based upon this information? What traits do you assume this individual has? Your brain is activating its age-related stereotypes, and it is probably trying to get you to assume that this individual will be patient, caring, and wise. You might find yourself wanting to assume that this individual wakes up early, or does not use Facebook regularly.

            Now take a second, and focus on the individual’s gender. Notice how your perceptions shift. Your brain may try to get you to assume that this individual is nurturing, empathic, and warm. You might find yourself making the assumption that she knows how to cook, and that she may not know how to change the oil in her car.
            Finally, take a look at the picture and focus on the individual’s race. You might feel yourself assuming that she is conscientious, emotionally reserved, and intelligent. You might assume that she knows Tai-Chi, and that she may not be the best driver.

            Notice that all of this is what you are projecting onto the photograph based upon your stereotypes. You have never met the individual in this photograph, and you have little to no empirical data to support any of the assumptions listed above. Rather, you are basing these assumptions on either a limited set of personal experiences, or on the biased portrayal of social categories in the media you consume. Furthermore, most of the time these assumptions are made without your realizing that you have done so.

            A famous study highlights the fact that stereotypes constantly, automatically, and unintentionally influence our thinking in social interactions. In it, participants were asked to do a simple word completion task. You can do it right now- try filling in the blanks: Ri_e, s_y. They found that when the experimenter administering the task was Asian, significantly more individuals gave the answers “rice” and “shy”. When the experimenter was not Asian, significantly more individuals gave neutral answers such as “ride” or “say”. 

            The important thing to note is that the people in this study were not consciously paying attention to the experimenter’s race, and they were wholly unaware that they were letting it influence their results. Rather, the simple act of seeing an Asian individual automatically caused these stereotypes to be activated in their minds, and it made stereotypical words slightly more accessible when the participants were searching through their memory banks. If you ask the individuals who participated in this study, they would probably say that the experimenter’s race had no impact on them whatsoever. They probably thought they were “colorblind” throughout the entire procedure.

            In this example, the stereotypes were rather harmless, and the impact of these stereotypes was trivial. But it is easy to see how the impact of negative stereotypes across millions of people and billions of interactions could be a lot more problematic. Assuming that you are “color/gender/age blind” because you don’t use vulgar words or actively discriminate when making hiring decisions does not mean that the negative stereotypes that abound in our society have stopped influencing your thinking or behavior. 

            These stereotypes are the default basis for the judgments and decisions that we make. We need to consciously see things like gender, race, and age. Noticing our reactions and assumptions, and then correcting for them, will actually help us see individuals as the unique children of God that they actually are.

            Thursday, November 14, 2013

            Friday Fruit (11/15/13)

            Photo credit: Naima Lowe
            On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read about racial justice & Christianity from other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

            Weekly Round Up:

              These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

              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.

              Monday, November 11, 2013

              Cultural Exchange in the Multicultural Church

              Please welcome guest blogger, John Farmer who is on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Guilford College. He, his wife, and daughter live in Greensboro, NC. You can follow him here.

              What is the line between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation? I’ve felt that tension many times when trying to explain my love for Mexican or Thai food. Am I truly appreciating those cultures? Am I borrowing from those cultures ethically? Or am I appropriating their cultures for my own enjoyment in a white context?

              A few weeks ago, I shared an article for Friday Fruit that brought up these good questions in my mind and heart, most of which I don't have answers to. But it also didn't address one particular complexity, simply because it was written from a secular perspective: how should cultural exchange happen in the Church?

              The Church is, by the good will and intentionality of God, multicultural. For the thousands of years between the call of Abram and the birth of Jesus, the narrative of Yahweh seemed to be monocultural – taking place in a specifically Jewish context. But we can’t miss the moments where Gentiles were critical participants in God’s movement. 

              It all begins with God’spromise to Abram, Israel’s patriarch: “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” We must think of Rahab and Ruth, two non-Israelite women who would eventually show up in the genealogy of Jesus. We can’t overlook the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian from the days of Elijah and Elisha, respectively. Jesus used these two examples in his hometown to show God’s heart for those outside the Israel community, and was promptly driven to a cliff so they could throw him off it.

              Jesus began to undo the misguided thinking that had arisen in Israel that God’s heart was solely for them, teaching in John 10: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” However much Jesus’ contemporaries missed the not-so-subtleties in these teachings, Pentecost made this reality boldly apparent: God cannot be contained within one cultural reality – God is multicultural. And so the Church, the Body of Christ, is multicultural.

              We have struggled mightily to live into that vision in American churches. So on Sunday mornings, and throughout the week as well, most of us go off into our ethnically divided faith communities. We are the body of Christ, and yet all the eyes, the noses, the hands, and the feet worship separately with those who look just like them.

              Our primary goal as Christians is to move towards Jesus, to become joined together with him, the Head of the Body. Our goal is to be joined together in his vision for the world, his mission to reconcile all people and all things to himself. That means we are mandated as Christians to move towards reconciliation, one with another – one flock, one Shepherd. 

              Cultural exchange is a way we move towards knowing our brothers and sisters. And cultural exchange is a way that we move towards knowing our God, whose image can only be represented by a mosaic of many different cultures.

              Cultural appropriation has shown up in churches because of selfishness. I’ve experienced way too many dramatic representations of kung fu movies, hip hop culture, and other cultural goods in the mostly white churches or ministries I have been a part of over the years. I have participated in them. I have acted them. Because we like to be entertained. 

              But Jesus has called us not to self-entertainment at the cost of our neighbors but to laying down ourselves for the good of our neighbors. If we are ever to know how to do that well to those outside the Christian community, we had better learn how to do it with our brothers and sisters who share faith in Christ.

              To love our brothers and sisters means to build trust in humility. It means to show an interest in the things they enjoy as part of their culture, allowing others to share as much as the trust we have built warrants. And it means being willing to share our own cultural goods in the context of that trusting community.

              We must do this because of the vision of Revelation 7, where the multitude from nation, tribe, and language does not merely tolerate each other or get along. They do not merely say, “Those people do those things, and we will do these things.” They share their cultural diversity, saying one thing in many languages: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
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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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