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

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Beyond Tolerance

Here, we begin a new series, 'Beyond,' that explores how God calls us into a richer understanding of racial justice and reconciliation. 

Tolerance is important. It lets us live in harmony with each other despite our differences and helps our society function in peace with itself. We need to be able to get along, to avoid fostering animosity or division. We emphasize the importance of tolerance in our schools and our workplaces. We like tolerance.

But is it all that God would have for us?

We tolerate loud music on the subway. Or tolerate commercials during a TV show. But we should we simply tolerate one another?

No one wants to be tolerated. We never want someone to just swallow hard, grit their teeth and bear our presence. We want to be affirmed, to be celebrated. We want to be loved as Christ loves us.

There is a big difference between "I tolerate you" and "I love you." The latter requires a commitment to one another that goes beyond coexistence. It requires really getting to know one another. It requires bearing each others' burdens, and grieving for the things that make our neighbors grieve. It means celebrating in each others' victories and valuing what is important in each others' lives. It means sacrificing of ourselves for others' gain, and allowing others to do the same for us.

Practically speaking, going beyond tolerance means no longer leading separate lives. It requires us to support the leadership of those we are trying to affirm. It means learning and celebrating histories and cultures that are not our own. It means being mindful of who is being represented in our meetings and who is allowed to be the decision makers. It means promoting the visibility of marginalized groups in our media and our marketing. It means becoming so familiar with each others' cultures that we no longer cause pain simply out of our own ignorance. It means we come to realize the central importance of each of our contributions in the complete Church of God.

There is a place for tolerance. Sometimes it is all we can manage until we find the grace to lean in more.
Most people are able to agree that tolerance is important, and are even pretty good at it. We've learned not to overtly discriminate or commit hate crimes. Tolerance is what our laws can mandate--and such laws serve as important regulators of behavior. They protect our rights and our safety. But the law cannot compel our hearts to abide with one another. For this, we need to dig deeper.

We need to understand the difference between what we are socially obliged to do and that which God calls into. Jesus did not say "tolerate one another, as I have tolerated you." Through His death and resurrection, he bound us as one body--a bond that cannot function by simply putting up with each other during our time together her on earth.

Perhaps it would be understandable for a holy God to simply tolerate sinners like us. But God dwelt among us, he washed our feet, he bore our pain. He laughed with us, and wept with us. He identified with us. Being part of the body of Christ means going beyond tolerance.

Continue to 'Beyond Diversity'...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Friday Fruit (3/28/14)

Colorlines/China Photos/Getty Images
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, March 23, 2014

    Disunity in Christ (Part 2)

    The following is part two of BTSF's review of Dr. Christena Cleveland's Disunity in Christ:

    Identity in Christ
    As Christians, our identity within the body of Christ needs to trump that of our individual and cultural alliances. Instead, we often are “clinging to our subordinate identities (e.g., identities base on ethnic, denominational, theological or political affiliations) while distancing ourselves from our common identity —our identity as members of the worldwide body of Christ. It’s more important for us to feel good ourselves than to embrace other members of the body of Christ.“ (94)

    In her interview with Smith, Cleveland observers that churches "tend to rely most on our smaller, cultural identities and ignore our larger, common identity as members of the body of Christ. Pastors and churches are pressured to distinguish themselves from others, as we compete for the loyalty of members and seemingly scarce resources.” Do we not believe scripture that tells us the harvest is plentiful?

    Somehow, we end up thinking that "all of the wisdom and knowledge that we need to succeed as Christian organizations is located within the boundary of our cultural group. Many Christian groups are like a 5000-piece puzzle that has 5000 duplicate pieces!" (60) However, if we will begin to "enter cultural situations with the belief that our cultural group is holding one piece to the puzzle, we can confidently make our contribution, while also looking for and valuing the contributions that other groups make." (62) Indeed, Cleveland suggests that "we need to adopt the belief that to be a follower of Christ means to allow our identity as member of the body of Christ to trump all other identities." (97)

    Moving forward
    Cleveland notices that "We believe that we are fighting the good fight for an immutable truth, when in fact we are simply waging war against a cultural threat, a different perspective that threatens ours." (p139) When it comes to theology and doctrinal teaching, we must discern the difference between 'golden standard' cultural bias and the Truths of the spirit. If we learn to tell which is which, we will have a better chance at elevating our greater identity in Christ. 

    Harry Wormwood is not a good model for the Church
    By bringing these issues, and their underlying phenomena, to the conscious level, we become better able to identify and combat their effects.  Talking about the barriers is a good start, but it is all empty if we leave it there. Cleveland also outlines steps to move forward in "1) working toward a larger goal; 2) creating equal status; 3) engaging in personal interaction; and 4) providing leadership." (158)

    Disunity in Christ, includes questions at the end of each chapter to help us process the concepts predestined (well designed for group dialogue--*hint hint*). Cleveland problematizes our binary categorizations and makes room for a richer complexity within the body of Christ. It is a rich invitation to lean into the tension, allowing the challenges to shape us into the image of Christ.

    Disclosure: BTSF received an advance reader’s copy of Disunity in Christ from InterVarsity Press for review.

    Thursday, March 20, 2014

    Friday Fruit (03/21/14)

    "Go Home, Terrorist":
    A Report on the Bullying of
    Sikh American School Children
    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, March 16, 2014

      Disunity in Christ (Part 1)

      BTSF has at times offered book reviews to help keep our hearts and minds on justice and reconciliation in the body of Christ. This review of Dr. Christena Cleveland's Disunity in Christ will appear in two parts:

      One of the things I appreciate about Dr. Cleveland’s work is the broad scope with which she examines Christian unity. She doesn't ignore issues of ableism, marital privilege, mental illness, and classism within the church.  Though racism is the explicit focus of the BTSF forum, some of these issues are closely intertwined, and are every bit as divisive. 

      In her book, Cleveland once again demonstrates her skillful ability to articulate the brokenness we observe around us, and to frame it in the context of scripture and Christian theology. Her conversational and down-to-earth style gives her ideas an accessibility that helps us apply her principles to our own lives. Using the tools of social psychology, Cleveland explains many of the dynamics that cause division within the church.

      Right vs Wrong
      Cleveland opens her text describing 'Right Christians' vs 'Wrong Christians'--our desire to screen our acquaintances into one of these two categories, based on how similar our opinions are on theology, politics, hobbies etc. The more closely someone agrees with our views, the more likely they are to receive 'Right Christian' status, while 'Wrong Christians' are relegated to the realm of wackos and crazy uncles (see quote in the comments section).

      We decide that our own group of friends and family members are unique and interesting, but those in on the 'wrong' side are all pretty similar in the disillusions they hold. Unfortunately, "once we reach this conclusion (and we often so quite swiftly), we are no longer motivated to interact with and learn about the out group. We think we already know everything there is to know about them." (53)

      Clearly, this phenomenon holds major consequences for a Church divided along racial lines. Division begets division. We value perspectives that are like our own, never realizing that "people can meet God within their cultural context but in order to follow God, they must cross into other cultures because that’s what Jesus did in the incarnation of and on the cross." (21)

      Colorblindness in the Church
      Cleveland notes that "culture-blindness is simply disunity disguised; it falls short of the unity to which we have been called. Research on colorblind policies in integrated schools shows that teachers in these schools tend not to notice when students self segregate, tend not to notice justice issues such as racial difference in student suspension rates and fail to incorporate teaching materials that represent the diversity of the students." (187)

      Too often, churches declare an interest in cultural unity, but what they really want "is a group of happy
      minorities who will happily pose for media publication and happily assimilation to the dominant culture without so much as a peep. Everyone wants diversity, but no one wants to actually be diverse." (184)

      Cleveland points out that "diversity initiatives are doomed to fail among Christian groups that idolize their cultural identities" (147), but that "those who adopt a multicultural perspective in which group differences are not only acknowledged, but also celebrated—exhibit less racial bias than those who adopt a colorblind perspective." (189)

      In an interview with C. Christopher Smith, Cleveland notes that "the cognitive processes that drive categorization are most powerful when they are hidden from sight. Once individuals become consciously aware of these processes...the processes begin to lose their power." This is why it is so important for Christians to move beyond colorblindness into intentional justice ministry. But it takes energy, and what Rev. Jim Caldwell terms 'cognitive generosity' to combat our pre-programmed ways. (61)

      Continue to part 2 to read about our our mutual identity in Christ and how we move forward as a diverse community of unified believers.

      Disclosure: BTSF received an advance reader’s copy of Disunity in Christ from InterVarsity Press for review.

      Thursday, March 13, 2014

      Friday Fruit (03/14/14)

      Stephen Shugerman/ Getty Images/ Colorlines
      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, March 10, 2014

        Lenten Disciplines for Racial Justice

        Lent is time when we refocus our minds, hearts, and souls on Christ and his loving sacrifice for us. These 40 days are meant as a time of centering and reflection as we approach the Easter season. It is
        an opportunity to reconcile our inward beliefs with our outward practices.

        This season, what if our Lenten disciplines help us lean into God's heart for justice? What if, instead of chocolate, we gave up some of our privilege? What would it look like to make radical sacrifice for the sake of reconciled body of Christ?

        In addition to several good devotional resources available online, here are some practices to help you begin your Lenten journey for justice:

        • Fast from dominant culture news media, instead seeking out news converge from the perspective of marginalized groups.
        • Fast from sporting events and broadcasts that feature racist or appropriative mascots.
        • Fast from fashion and culture magazines that promote narrow beauty standards
        • Fast from books by white authors, substituting for a broader library of choices
        • Fast from TV shows and movies that do not have robust representation of people of color on screen and behind the scenes.
        • Fast from national chains and corporations, instead patronizing small local business, especially those owned by people of color.
        • Fast from fuel. Ride public transit, taking the opportunity to get to know those that ride throughout the year.
        • Fast from products made by companies with unjust manufacturing or hiring practices
        • Fast from being comfortable. Spend these weeks as a guest at another church. Join groups actively discussing tough issues of racial injustice. Listen. Just listen. 
        • Fast from material possession. What items have you accumulated that would better serve others in your community? 
        • Fast from fear. Re-examine who we are told to be afraid of and why. Consider how you might make your church a more welcoming space for folks often greeted with fear.
        • Fast from your desire to be a leader, instead allowing yourself to be led and creating new leadership spaces for people of color.
        • Fast from an attitude of saviourism. Partner with those around you who are already doing good work. 



        Personal change begins on the inside, but then bears fruit in what the world experiences from us on the outside. Many of the steps above will take you well beyond the Lenten season, requiring longer term commitments and sacrifice. But isn't that what Lent is really about? Through power of Christ's death and resurrection, we become transformed disciples, setting aside our own worldly desires to act as the hands and feet of God on earth.

        O God, we pray for those in our world who are suffering from injustice:
        For those who are discriminated against because of their race, color, or religion;
        For those imprisoned for working for the relief of oppression;
        For those who are hounded for speaking the inconvenient truth;
        For those tempted to violence as a cry to overwhelming hardship;
        For those deprived of reasonable health and education;
        For those suffering from hunger and famine;
        For those too weak to help themselves and who have no one else to help them;
        For the unemployed who cry out for work but do not find it;
        We pray for anyone of our acquaintance who is personally affected by injustice.
        Forgive us Lord, if we unwittingly share in conditions or in a system that perpetuates injustice.
        Show us how we can serve your children and make your love practical by washing their feet. 
        -Mother Teresa

        Thursday, March 6, 2014

        Friday Fruit (03/07/14)

        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, March 3, 2014

          Representation at the Oscars

          Please welcome backMaxine Naawu, who among many other things, blogs about art, film and photography at Side Hustle Stories and hosts her own artistic work at her website.

          I’m not a huge fan of award shows, but I do take time out every year to watch the Oscars. Films have every element I love about the creative arts, everything from the acting to the music, and the Academy Awards are a fun night for me to appreciate the people behind these talents.

          However, my love of the Academy Awards is hindered by the fact I rarely see people who look like me as nominees, much less winning the awards. In the 86 year history of the awards, 99% of the winners for best actress have been white. The one non-white woman to get a Best Actress award was a black woman, Halle Berry. Across all acting categories, 91% of the winners have been white. Seven were men of color.

          As for directors, out of the 425 that have been nominated, only 18 were not white males, and out of those 18 only 3 have won: A white woman, Kathryn Bigelow, Taiwanese-American Ang Lee, and, last night, Alfonso Cuarón from Mexico. So yes, that means that only 2 non-white people have won the best director Oscar, one of them just yesterday. Seeing the complete lack of people of color in both the acting & directing side of filmmaking is especially demoralizing for non-white people who are acting and creating films of their own.

          Source: Colorlines
          One big reason not many films created by or starring people of color is, well, not many of these films are being made. Media outlets this past year reported that things were changing for black film in particular, calling 2013 a banner year for black film. Yet in reality, the percentage of (Oscar eligible) films* released in 2013 with predominantly black casts or main characters was about the same as it has been in years past – a little over 5% (see data here).  Stats for other groups of people of color are not much better. A study of 500 films from 2007 - 2012 found that Latino actors had only 4.2% of speaking roles, black actors had 10.8%, 5% were Asian and 3.6% were from other ethnicities.

          Lots of arguments for why this is the case are thrown around, but the laziest argument is “Those films just aren't as good as the others.” I tend to hear this argument about black films in particular. I cannot tolerate any argument that simply dismisses films by non-whites as not as good without critiquing a system that excludes an entire swath of America from its perspective. 94% percent of Oscar Award voters in the Academy are white, with the majority of them being men. The majority of members in the acting, directing, and writing branches are white. And the way to join the Academy? Nomination by someone already in the Academy, after working on several films that “reflect the Academy’s highest standards” It’s not surprising that an institution made up of white men tends to celebrate films created and starring white men to the exclusion of others.

          Why is fair representation in film important? For one, it’s NOT to fulfill some kind of U.S. census quota (Hear that Jerry Seinfeld?). It’s not to earn political correctness points or as a balm for white guilt. Ignoring people of color when it comes to casting and filmmaking erases us from a society that we have every right to be a part of, just like everyone else. Representation of people of color in film is about telling stories of living individuals whose perspectives are just as valid as whites'.

          Recently there was controversy of the casting of Michael B. Jordan for the role of the Human Torch in the upcoming Fantastic Four film reboot. Due to the original character being white in the original adaptation of the character (his sister is still white in the reboot), those upset about his casting called it unrealistic & breaking with tradition, diversity for diversity’s sake. I feel that even if it is untraditional & unrealistic (it’s not, mixed race families do exist) increasing depictions of non-whites in film is more important than strictly hewing to the source material every time. Being untraditional doesn’t hurt anyone. Having Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch adds another black sci fi hero for a child to look up in a media landscape that is severely lacking in them.

          In fact, even if the number of non-white roles in Hollywood did fulfill some “census pie chart” quota, that wouldn’t necessarily be the equivalent of fair representation. Representation in filmmaking also means including roles that are substantive and that span the wide variety of existence, just like roles for white actors currently do. Using black film as comparison, the only roles that have won for best actress & best supporting actress: maid (twice), abusive mother (twice), spirit medium (a literal magical negro), singer, and, most recently, slave. Since 1994 the white winners for these categories have included army nurse, queen (twice), lawyer, serial killer & politician. Even if representation Oscar winners perfectly matched the representation in the US census, if people of color in stuck in limited roles, representation would still be lacking.

          Representation in film is NOT about non-whites seeking approval or validation from whites. For those who work in the film industry, lack of representation in film equals lack of jobs, both on the acting side and on the production side. Parallel Film Collective and AFFRM are two examples out of MANY organizations that seek to create and promote films by people of color outside of a Hollywood structure that excludes us. The goal is always to have people in color in positions to greenlight & distribute films. But while this goes on, striving to break down the prejudices and indifference of whites in power so that more non-white films are distributed is still important.
          Click for Whoopi Goldberg's story

          What representation in filmmaking IS about is telling untold stories that reflect the humanity of the subjects. It’s about allowing stories from the perspective of people of color to not only be told but also heard for the enrichment of everyone. It’s about allowing children to see heroes who look like them on screen, expanding their world of what is possible in their own lives. It is about affirming beauty and strength in a multitude of shades & voices. It is about non-whites in addition to whites being full participants in the beautiful, humanizing effect that a powerful film can bring to a person’s life. It is about giving filmmakers and actors an avenue to tell their own stories.

          A recent speech by Lupita Nyong'o illustrates this point so well. an excerpt:

          And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no consolation: She’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then Alek Wek came on the international scene. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me.

          Yesterday’s Best Supporting Actress win by Lupita Nyong’o, the Best Director win of Alfonso Cuarón and the Best Picture win of 12 Years a Slave do not automatically mean that Hollywood’s problem with representation in film are a thing of the past. Still I hope that these wins are another step toward the day that movies, and society, continuously affirm the ideal that:

          “no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.” 
          - Lupita Nyong’o

          *Nearly every film that has a theatrical release meets rules for Oscar eligibility. However, theatrical releases are expensive affairs that usually require the support of a major film studio or distributor.  Doubts about the financial success of a film with a non-white lead (whether valid or not), lack of access to the “old boys club” of film executives & producers, and even limited funding can affect whether a film gets distributed for theatrical release. There are often films by people of color that are created, and even win awards at festivals, that never see the light of day in theaters and are therefore ineligible for an Oscar.
          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