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

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Black History Guides our Walk with Christ

Black history is a year-round endeavor. Here, I offer a few resources to help us link the great figures of Black history with our walk with Christ throughout the year (originally published on the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship blog February 07, 2013). 

The month of February is set aside to reflect on the many Black leaders who have shaped United States history, and who are often unjustly skimmed over in our classrooms. We can learn valuable lessons—and help build a more unified and redeemed body of Christ—by remembering Black role models and acknowledging large chunks of our mutual history.

As I’ve grown in pursuit of cross-cultural relationships, I have found myself embarrassed by my own level of ignorance about major figures in history. I am so far behind in my knowledge of literature, music, civics, and science that I need several Black history years to catch up. It might not be my fault that I was never taught Black history in school, but I choose to honor my sisters and brothers by learning these lessons now.

Series by 
Eunique Jones Photography
It can be difficult to break free from the tokenism with which Black History Month is often treated. One or two famous figures are given all the attention, while hundreds of others remain unrecognized. Can you name five Black figures of historical significance? It’s not too hard. Now how about ten more? Even with regard to the most popular figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass, how many of us can say we’ve actually read significant portions of their original writings?

Take some time this month to reflect on the contributions made by our Black forbearers. Read speeches other than “I Have a Dream,” and broaden your mental library of historical figures. And check out these excellent resources that will help you in your journey this month:

His Story, Our Story by Ramon Mayo:
This new 31-day devotional highlights important figures in Black history and what they teach us about God’s purpose for our own lives today. Mayo is a writer and speaker with a heart for racial healing within the body of Christ. His years of expertise in developing cross-cultural relationships in churches and communities help ground his book in the gospel’s call for justice-minded reconciliation. His Story, Our Story includes discussion questions and prayer prompts for connecting the journeys of African American leaders with your daily walk with Christ.

Hero for Christ by Chris Sunami
Ideal for a small group or Bible study, Hero for Christ offers a Christ-centered guide to changing the world. By examining the lives of famous Christians from a beautiful array of backgrounds, we become mindful of our need for rich diversity among our heroes. Sunami profiles 22 Christian heroes (including Archbishop Desmond TutuSojourner Truth, and Mahalia Jackson), giving us a glimpse into the heart of Christ through the leaders who sought to be his hands and feet on earth. Chris’s book offers lessons of justice, peace, and personal growth that are drawn directly from the message of the gospel and the heroes who have served it.

Inauguration Ball 2009 by Richard Kenyada (from his book Reflections in the Dark Room): 
In this short story, we are invited to imagine a gala of history’s great Black figures on the night of President Obama’s first inauguration. Regardless of your politics, this narrative offers a compelling look at the many accomplishments and struggles that culminated in that historic night. Spend a couple of minutes each day this month learning about a broad array of people who have shaped our lives in today’s world.

All three of these resources are compact and accessible, even for the busiest among us. They offer an opportunity to learn about our role models from Black history and how we can be inspired by them to live out Christ’s purpose for our lives.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Friday Fruit (02/22/13)

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, February 17, 2013

Creation Myths: Founding Fathers

Do American Christians idolize their country? Do we worship the nation's founders more than our true Creator?

Many in the United States look to the 'Christian nation' that once was, and decry our modern wandering ways. We long to return to the 'morals of our founders' two centuries ago. Some think that if we were only as pious as those who came before us, perhaps our country wouldn't be facing its current crises. 

But it turns out that the founding fathers were not at all what we would co-opt them to be. Jesus is absent from almost all important documents of our founding. He's not in the Declaration of Independence, not in the Constitution, not in the Federalist Papers, nor the Articles of the Confederation

Moreover, the second president of the United States, John Adams, states in the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli: "The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion."  

While it's true that some founders believed in God, many were Deist and highly influenced by Enlightenment-era thought that espoused a powerful, but distant and uninvolved God (ie. no divine Son of God). 

James Madison, the primary drafter of the US Constitution, declared that "religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise." Likewise, Thomas Paine, hero of the American Revolution stated "All national institutions of churches... appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind."

Thomas Jefferson famously removed all the parts of the bible that relate to Jesus's miracles, including his resurrection. He stated that "the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."

Jesus makes no appearance in any of the first 20 annual presidential addresses (those of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson). Yet he is routinely dragging along on campaign trails today. We co-opt  the authority of the founders, just as we claim Christ for our causes. We cherry-pick constitutional clauses as well as biblical verses. 

So, why make such a big deal about this? Because deluding ourselves about history is a dangerous business. We have become very good and avoiding the uncomfortable truths of our past.  

Many of us already know that our nation's creation stories are myths. But we perpetuate and cling to them anyway for the validation of our own narrative. A desire to return to 'how things used to be' reveals a nostalgia for a country that was inherently unjust and unequal, not at all reflecting Christian values

It is good to respect our founders and honor them for their guidance of the nation.  But canonizing our history undermines the hard work of our heroes that strove for betterment of the country. It belittles the struggles of those that sacrificed to bring about change from the realities of that past. And it estranges us from those that continue to deal with the negative consequences of that imperfect history.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Fruit (02/15/13)

Peter W. Chin:
"Diversity Cannot Always be photographed"
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, February 11, 2013

Pursuing Justice

What does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

What if pursuing God means pursuing justice? Have we obeyed God's command: "Follow justice and justice alone"? Have we given the cause of justice the true attentions of our hearts, souls, and minds?

Ken Wystma's new book, Pursuing Justice, reminds us of the centrality of justice in our relationship with God. Wystma challenges us to transform our understanding of Christian faith, hope, and love into the fruits of justice-driven redemption of the world.

We want to believe that the world is a fair place. But it's not. We see oppression, poverty, sickness, pain everyday on our new feeds. This jarring realization can be crippling to our faith until we realize that these injustices deeply grieve our God as well.

The miracle of God's grace is that he allows us to take part in the restoration of His world--a restoration that He has begun, and He will finish, but in which He has also allowed us to participate. 

Like children shattering grandma's heirloom china, we destroy the the intricate harmony of God's Kingdom when we pursue our own agendas. We forget the fragile nature of each other's spirits, of our community's bonds, of our nations' peace, of our planet's ecosystem. How precious, how delicate we each are, yet how coarsely we treat one another.

But Christ's reconciliation helps us pick up the pieces and gently glue each one back together We have the opportunity to mend the brokenness--if not perfectly, then at least in such a way that we learn the value of what was damaged. By allowing us to participate in it's redemption, God helps us care for, and ultimately love His creation better. And thus, God restores our relationship with Him, as well as with the rest of His creation.

This is God's desire for our relationship with Him. Will we instead turn away from the brokenness? Pretend it isn't there? Pretend we can do nothing about it? 

"Do not be alarmed.
This is a kindness"
Wystma asks "When was the last time we considered—seriously considered—our own moral blindness?" How does our own self-righteousness actually hinder God's message of love and justice? Are we hurting when we think were are helping? Do we mistakenly believe we are the saviors, when really we are the beneficiaries? 

Wystma asserts we have much to learn from those we think we are serving: "The wisdom of community resources and creative thinking. An understanding of what it means to be an exile. The importance of family and extended family and networks of kin. Enthusiasm. Wise stewardship of available resources. Resiliency. Strategies for fighting materialism and consumerism. An organic connection between spiritual and material concerns. What it means to trust God daily." Would we miss out on what God would have for us in these things?

The final warning from Pursuing Justice is that we not simply fall prey to the trendy fad that Christian justice work is in danger of becoming. Justice is an act of worship. In fact, holds far more value in God's eyes than any of our Sunday morning praises (Isaiah 58 and Amos 5:23–24). In these passages, "God seems to be saying that the purest form of worship, the worship He finds most pleasing, is justice."

We need not be compelled by guilt, or a desire to make ourselves look righteous. We don't even need to get involved in the big-name issues of injustice that often get all the attention. Indeed, "the call to give your life away is more about the small and faithful over many years than the grand and exciting." God has given each of us specific passions for His kingdom, and equips us with the skills to engage with those passions.

Find your unique place. What has God called you to do? How will you worship Him?

Ken Wystma is the founder of The Justice Conference, President of Kilns College, and Pastor of Antioch Church in Bend, OR. Find his new book, Pursuing Justice, in bookstores starting February 12.

Disclosure: BTSF received an advance reader’s copy of the
Perusing Justice manuscript from Ken Wytsma for review.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Friday Fruit (02/08/13)

Photo by 2100 Productions and
Intervarsity Christian Fellowship
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, February 3, 2013

The School-to-Prison Pipeline (Part 2)

This is the second in a two-part examination of the school-to-prison pipeline, the national trend of "criminalizing, rather than educating, our nation’s children."

What creates a school environment that criminalizes its students? 

As mentioned in the previous post, a push for increased school security has led to schools' hiring full-time police officers as “school resource officers,” to maintain law and order in their hallways. But cops are trained to chase criminals, not to nurture troubled kids. So they "approach youth as they would adult “perps” on the street, rather than children at school." 

What might have once been an opportunity to learn from mistakes, now escalates into repeated conflict with law enforcement. In the midst of steep funding cuts and budget crises, these officers are a burdensome expense that in many cases actually impede students' educational opportunity. Alan Singer reports that "at an unannounced scanning at Murray Bergtraum High School in Manhattan in December 2010, police confiscated a reported 500 cell phones, but no dangerous weapons." Thus, students are provided with criminal records instead of school supplies and textbooks.

In addition to an increased presence of law enforcement in schools, increasingly prevalent zero-tolerance policies impose a one-size-fits-all model of educational discipline, mandating that automatic consequences be doled out for certain kinds of offences, regardless of context. 

For example, a straight-A student was given a mandatory suspension after holding the door open for a familiar adult because it violated a zero-tolerance policy that required a machine-based identity confirmation security system. According to the ACLU, "under these policies, children have been expelled for giving Midol to a classmate, bringing household goods (including a kitchen knife) to school to donate to Goodwill, and bringing scissors to class for an art project." 

Zero-tolerance policies prohibit discretion for cases such as these where full expulsion may not be the most appropriate recourse. Classroom behavioral issues that may have been resolved though mediation or counseling are pushed onto an already-overwhelmed legal system.

A school's curriculum can also play a part in fueling the school-to-prison pipeline. With No Child Left Behind, and other testing-based regulations, classroom focus has shifted to 'teaching to the test'. Because of the high stakes involved with student performance, these practices incentivise the 'weeding out' of troublesome students.

Common Dreams reports that "schools in Florida gave low-scoring students longer suspensions than high-scoring students for similar infractions, while in Ohio students with disabilities were twice as likely to be suspended out of school than their peers."

Furthermore, when course materials often ignore or disparage students' heritage, children begin to learn that their lives are not important (see post: White History Month). This lesson is reinforced school authorities objectify and harass students as they travel the hallways.

Click to view Alexa's journey on
the school-to-prison pipeline
The school-to-prison pipeline carries with it life-long consequences for our children. Students are entangled in the justice system at a early age, prematurely initiating a vicious cycle of criminalization. 
Matt Kelley notes that “Whether or not they realize it, the punishments school officials hand out can literally determine — and derail — the path of a student’s life. Which makes it even more critical that when schools make these decisions, they hand out discipline that’s fair.” Essentially, these policies "push students out of school and into the criminal justice system."

Increasingly, children gain early exposure to prison environments and internalized the idea that they are expected to be criminalsIndeed, "the overuse of suspensions and expulsions may actually increase the likelihood of later criminal misconduct."

We are teaching our children that delinquency is normal and expected of them and their peers. Students learn to distrust teachers, adult mentors, law enforcement, and the judicial system. They learn that jail is an inevitable destination, regardless of their behavior.

George Galvis describes his first experience with police at his school this way: “I was 11. There was a fight  and I got called to the office. The cop punched me in the face. I looked at my principal and he was just standing there, not saying anything. That totally broke my trust in school as a place that was safe for me.”

Children are supposed to learn from their mistakes within a supportive environment, but instead they can be haunted by their transgressions. Past arrests affect the severity with which future infractions are punished, and so bad behavior compounds itself. Singer notes that "children on probation are routinely arrested and incarcerated for allegedly violating their probation by committing minor school infractions, such as dress code violations."

Click to enlarge infographic
Even when law enforcement isn't involved, increased suspension rates result in alienation from the education system and accumulated days of missed school. Students don't view the classroom as a place where they belong and relinquish any belief in a right to education. After even a couple of forced absences, students loose the chance to attend college, to earn living wage, and to pass on accumulated wealth to future generations.

It's true that the Bible says "do not withhold discipline from a child" (Proverbs 23:13), but it is also clear that our youth "are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from Him" (Psalm 127:3).  Do we really believe that only certain kinds of children are precious? Thus, we are also instructed "do not provoke your children to anger" (Ephesians 6:4) and "do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged" (Colossians 3:21)

Play this interactive game to learn how easy it is to get caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline and then find out what you can do to ensure that schools are a safe and nurturing environment for all students.

From the ACLU: How can we ensure safe public schools while respecting all students’ right to education? If you had a million dollars to spend on education in your community, what would you do with it?
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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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