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

Monday, March 28, 2016

Cesar Chavez Day

Cartoon of Cesar Chavez and the Eagle symbol of the UFWIn the United States, March 31st is celebrated as Cesar Chavez Day, in honor of his birthday. Cesar Estrada Chavez was born on March 31, 1927 in Arizona. At 35 years old, he founded the National Farm Workers Association (later known as the United Farm Workers; UFW), shortly thereafter joined by Dolores Huerta in the movement.

In a speech entitled Jesus's Friendship Chavez asserts that "the love for justice that is in us is not only the best part of our being but it is also the most true to our nature." In that same speech he goes on to say "I have met many, many farm workers and friends who love justice and who are willing to sacrifice for what is right. They have a quality about them that reminds me of the beatitudes. They are living examples that Jesus' promise is true: they have been hungry and thirsty for righteousness and they have been satisfied."

Dolores Huerta holding a sign that says "huelga" (strike). Quote: "Walk the street with us into history. Get off the sidewalk"Chavez led many fasts over the course of his work. He said  "a fast is first and foremost personal. It is a fast for the purification of my own body, mind, and soul. The fast is also a heartfelt prayer for purification and strengthening for all those who work beside me in the farm worker movement. The fast is also an act of penance for those in positions of moral authority and for all men and women activists who know what is right and just, who know that they could and should do more. The fast is finally a declaration of non-cooperation with supermarkets who promote and sell and profit from California table grapes...I pray to God that this fast will be a preparation for a multitude of simple deeds for justice."

Chavez encourages us in this work saying "it is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity."

Today, the work continues and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is leading the charge.  Though McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King and Taco Bell have all committed to higher wages for farm workers, Wendy's refuses to pay the penny more per pound of tomatoes that would make such a significant difference in lives of those picking them. The White House-recognized social responsibility program calls not only for the important wage increase, but also for a series of commitments to ensuring that workers’ and their rights are respected.

In honor of Chavez's birthday this week, consider fasting from Wendy's food to join the national boycott demanding the fair treatment of farmworkers. Then, check out this collection of litanies and worship resources from the National Farm Worker Ministry and see how you might honor the work of Cesar Chavez through prayer and service this week, and through the year.

"Free me to pray for others for You are present in every person.
Help me take responsibility for my life so that I can be free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others for in service there is true life.
Let the Spirit flourish and grow, so that we will never tire of the struggle.
Help us love even those who hate us so we can change the world. Amen."
-Cesar Chavez

Picture of Cesar Chavez with quote "Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Friday Fruit 03/25/16

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...

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 20, 2016

The Next Worship: Glorifying God In a Diverse World

Colorful book cover of 'The Next Worship'
Our God is a multicultural God. Our worship in heaven will be multicultural. In his time on earth, Jesus consistently sought out multicultural settings. Shouldn't the worship in our churches be multicultural as well?

But diverse worship is often counter to our instinct and our cultural inertia. It is easier to just stick with what is familiar and not challenge our personal or communal norms. Sandra Maria Van Opstal's new book The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World is designed to help communities take those next steps to broaden the musical worship in their settings.

Van Opstal asserts that "it is no longer a questions of whether we like or want diversity. The church is diverse. And congregational worship should reflect the diversity of God's people, even if a local congregation itself is not diverse" (14). Thus, it becomes  imperative that our churches adopt a multicultural approach to their music if they are to live into the mission of doing God's work.

The Next Worship walks readers through the the theological and sociological rationales and strategies for diverse worship music noting that "multiethnic worship acknowledges and honors the diversity of people in the local and global church, and teaches congregations to understand and honor that same diversity." (16) Worship is an essential vehicle through which we build community and form the inclusive body of Christ. Van Opstal invites us to move from simple hospitality, to solidarity and mutuality in our worship.

Video: Sandra Maria Van Opstal
talks about The Next Worship
The book also explores what we mean by culture. In chapter two, entitled "Is PB&J Ethnic Food?: The Myth of Normal Worship," Van Opstal observes that "the biggest barrier Christians face is developing communities hospitable to people of every ethnicity and culture is their ignorance about their own culture. We are unaware of what it means to be us and hyper aware of what it means to be them." (40) Van Opstal talks about "the joyous discomfort of encountering God in new ways" and encourages Christians to "practice the discipline of acknowledging difference while suspending judgment." (99) Van Opstal also offers a rich appendix of resources that can point practitioners to practical resources to use in their own settings.

This book delineates common models of multiethnic worship, along with each of their strengths and weaknesses. It notes that "as the church is led in worship, they will internalize values based on the model presented," and thus "it's all about intentionality!" (109) Van Opstal helps the reader to understand their how each model for worship facilitates different goals and how to counterbalance our inevitable tendencies toward the familiar and the comfortable.

Van Opstal devotes a great deal of time to the subject of worship leaders and leadership development. This effort reflects how essential intentional and well-supported diverse leadership development in our churches. She offers strategies to encourage leaders from many backgrounds and leadership styles. Van Opstal invites us to dream: "imagine if each of us considered working ourselves out of a job by training leaders who could succeed us." (173)

Sandra Maria Van Opstal leading worship at Urbana12
Each chapter of the book includes an outline of the key concepts covered, as well as questions for both personal reflection and for group discussion. Each chapter also concludes in a prayer, driving home the idea that this work is holy work, and will only succeed when we call upon the Lord to offer guidance and encouragement to our worship teams.

The seventh chapter closes with the following prayer that I invite us all to pray this week:
"God, humble us. Give us eyes to see the gifts you have given our fellowship. May we be able to give honor to those who have gone before us and creatively dream about where we are  going. And move in our midst that we would be open to grow in our worship of you, the God of all peoples." Amen.

Like what you see here? Check out The Next Worship and then stay tuned for an upcoming series on BTSF called #AllPeoplePractices that will explore lessons about worshiping together in a diverse world uncovered at UM Church for All People (which is one of the churches featured in Sandra's book!). 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Logical Fallacies: Model Minority

This post is part of an ongoing series on common logical fallacies used in conversations about race. If you have suggestions for logical fallacies that you'd like to see covered, submit your ideas here.

'Model Minority' is a term for those thought to consistently perform and behave better than other racial minority groups. In the USA, the term is closely associated with East Asians (such as Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans), as well as Indians.

Though it may seem like a positive characterization, 'model minority' status is still largely detrimental, still a stereotype, and ultimately harmful.

Take for example the statistics about 'median family income.' It is widely stated that the average Asian-American family makes more money than any other race in the USA. But it is important to examine these numbers in detail. As Abagond elegantly demonstrates, per capita Asian-Americans make 20% less than White Americans. And the statistic crumbles further when broken down by nationality.

Hundreds of diverse Asian cultures are victims of 'model minority' collateral damage. Because the stereotype applies broadly to 'Asians,' it perpetuates the homogenization of many distinct cultures. Typically, White-Americans use the term 'Asian' in reference only to those descendants of countries belonging to the 'model minority status,' neglecting in their minds countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Afghanistan etc. This constant Pan-Asianism perpetuates the tendency to generalize across a broad group to the detriment of the individuals within that group.

The 'model minority' stereotype, continues a long tradition of selectively attributing certain traits as individual characteristics, while allowing others to be endemic to the entire race. The perception of a 'model minority' status has lead to the invisibility of poverty and struggle within many Asian-American communities. An individual's misfortune is more likely to be seen as an anomaly of personal failing, than as a consequence of a broken system. This perception leads to under-funding of assistance programs/scholarships for a large chunk of Asian-Americans that do not fit the stereotype.

Conversely, in the same way that black individual achievement is often seen as the exception to the rule, Asian-American achievement is often discredited as being a byproduct of a 'natural course.' When an individual does achieve great things, it is more likely to be brushed away and taken for granted, rather than hailed as a credit to that person's hard work and perseverance.

As a consequence, Asian-American school children experience significant amounts of bullying on the grounds of their 'nerdiness,' yet many also feel a pressure to live up the high standards of achievement that the stereotype sets forth. Rates of stress, depression, mental illnesses, and suicide attempts are significantly higher for Asian-Americans than for other races in the USA.

Finally, it is easy to see how a 'model minority' stereotype might be just as self-perpetuating as other racial prejudices. Teachers that buy into the myth may unduly advance some students beyond what is helpful for them. Law enforcement/juries may be influenced by preconceptions of a 'complacent' culture.

The myth of 'model minority' is not a benign one, much less beneficial.  How have you seen the 'model minority' myth reflected in your day-to-day life? How does it manifest itself at work, at school, in the media?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Anabaptistly #BlackLivesMatter Interview

Protesters with large sign reading "Black Lives Matter"Fellow MennoNerd, Chris Lenshyn, recently hosted the following dialogue with me on his blog, Anabaptistly. We talked about Black Lives Matter, in particular what it means in his Canadian context. Check it out:

Chris: Thanks Katelin for your willingness to dialogue about the Black Lives Matter movement.  It is deeply appreciated.  For some of us Canadians, we don’t have a deep sense about what the Black Lives Matter movement is.  We hear the occasional news story from “Big” media and some of us know the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, but that is often the limit of our engagement. Being from a different country with different racial realities might be contributing to that I think.  Can you share a little bit about the emergence of the movement and how it has impacted current social realities?

Katelin: I suspect a lot of people in the USA (especially white people here) also don’t have a great understanding of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which often leads to undue suspicion, fear, or anger. There is indeed a reticence to immerse ourselves in full engagement with what it being said, so much of the message is misunderstood, or missed entirely.

The phrase itself was coined in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, who after Trayvon Martin was killed, used it to respond to the anti-Black racism that was being made so apparent. The phrase began to pick up momentum even more after Michael Brown was killed, because as he lay in the street for over four hours, it demonstrated again that some lives simply mattered less than others in our society. As the month unfolded, it felt like we were hit with more and more evidence, often videoed live in the act, that Black lives don’t matter.
MennoNerds logo (bird with glasses)So ‘Black Lives Matter’ is powerful for the very reason that such a statement is needed at all. Because so often Black lives are treated as though the don’t matter, we are compelled to reaffirm that yes, yes, they do!! It does not mean “Black Lives Matter instead” or Black Live Matter only” but it is an affirmation that gives special cover to those who have not felt that truth from the society around them.

And what an indictment on the Church! This, the very institution charged with conveying and acting on the message that our lives matter to God, especially those treated as ‘the least of these.’ (The white church being by far the most culpable).

Thus, Black Lives Matter is a statement of commitment that we will work to ensure that our Black sisters and brothers are protected, respected, and empowered in our society, in a way that has never been the case to this point in USA history. I am not immersed in Canadian culture myself, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were similar issues of injustice there as well, While I know the USA has a very particular and sordid history with race, power combined with prejudice is a mighty force that knows no borders.

Chris:  Canada most certainly has a sordid history with race, power and prejudice.  The Canadian history, and currently realities with Indigenous people is, well, terrible.  I think this is why it is important for us to talk, because of the different contexts, yet similar racial realities.  In common we both live in countries that are saturated with white privilege, and power.  

The Truth and Reconciliation CommissionFor some of us in Canada, we have been embarking on a process which is called the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”  The purpose is to reconcile Canadians with the injustice that occurred to Indigenous people through the Residential schools, which were more or less intended to assimilate Indigenous people into white, colonial, European culture which was masked and informed by a particular, power hungry Christianity.  It was a process where survivors of Residential Schools would share their experience and add it to official record.  It was a multiple city commission.  I attended one session in Vancouver and was drastically changed.  One thing I notice about the rhetoric here is that it is about truth telling, listening and reconciliation while moving toward a hopeful future.  It is often framed in the context of a journey.  This is certainly more complicated, but I am wondering how the engagement between the white people and power structures and BLM is being framed.  What does it look like to move forward together?  

Katelin: Canada does seem to be better engaged with the injustices surrounding its indigenous peoples than does the USA. One of the consequences of the USA’s particularly shameful history with its Black residents is that the injustices against other communities of color often go overlooked and underaddressed. A similar effect happens in other countries, with other populations. Even as Canada begins to address its sins against indigenous peoples, it often parallels the USA with regard to other racial groups as well. The focus is often on indigenous peoples (and much focus is needed!), but as this Rabble article notes, “collapsing Black struggles in the U.S. into Indigenous struggles in Canada actively erases Black/Afrikan struggles in Canada. It would be more appropriate to suggest that the Canadian corollary to Black struggles in the U.S. are specific Black-led struggles in our own country.”

Students writing on a chalkboard under sign "Looking Unto Jesus"
Indian residential school
As you mention, much listening is needed. Unfortunately, oppressed groups have been speaking up for years without much response from those in power. It seems it is only when things get rough that the media turns its attention–so what lesson does that teach? After centuries of being unheard, it reinforces the message that no one cares.

Chris: What does a hopeful future look like as the church engages BlackLivesMatter? Can you give an example or two of predominately white congregations working in a hopeful way?  What advice would you give us as individuals who are look to support and work toward justice and hope in the midst of diversity?

Katelin: The acts of struggle and protest are themselves deep acts of faith and hope. If we did not have hope in a better future there would be no reason to press on and to continue engaging these issues. Because ours is a religion grounded in hope, being in the midst of these acts of hope is exactly where the church should be. Of all people, Christians believe that it will all turn out alright in the end and that God chooses to do the work of hope on the earth through the Church. As Dr. Christena Cleveland points out, hopelessness is a state of privilege. Too often, those in the dominant culture throw up their hands at a situation that the oppressed have been dealing with courageously for generations. Let us act on hope by engaging, by showing up, and by offering our support.

Black Lives Matter protest signI confess it is difficult to point with confidence to predominantly white churches doing the work well. Not to say they don’t exist. There are certainly examples of churches opening their doors to marginalized communities and of pastors leading predominantly white churches that are leaning into the issues. But more often than not, once a white church fumbles through the early stages, and begins pushing down this path in earnest, they often find that they cannot truly do it well without fundamentally changing their composition (indeed I suspect this reality is what scares off so many churches from truly engaging!). A predominantly white church committed to the work or racial justice will soon find that the work can’t really be done if it is done in isolation from communities of color or without submitting to the leadership of those most affected. And then shortly thereafter it will find that it is no longer predominantly white. It’s better for their spiritual and institutional health that way anyway.

For those looking to support and engage in the work, I would suggest looking around and plugging into the work already happening in their area, particularly the work led by the marginalized and oppressed communities in question. It’s there, I promise. It’s just a matter of showing up, asking how you can be of service, and listening well to the answer. And educating oneself. It’s not the job of people of color to get earnest white people caught up on centuries of sociological thought and experience.

Chris:  What is the consequence of churches being silent on matters of racism?

Katelin:  I suspect you mean the white church’s silence (churches of color are rarely silent on racism, although perhaps underheard)? The consequences a dire and cut to very root of the Church’s existence on this earth. If we fail to speak up, we fail on so many axises: as a societal moral compass, as the hands and feet of Christ, as witnesses to God’s character, as spreaders of Good News. Both physical and spiritual lives are at stake. We destroy our witness and fail in our charge to love God’s people. As Spencer Perkins notes “white Christians’ decisions to choose comfort of their own race over the Christian ideals of brotherhood and oneness that our gospel so boldly preaches have undoubtedly weakened their witness to the African-American community.” James Cone concurs: “What is at stake is the credibility and promise of the Christian gospel.” He observes that ” “like most blacks of her time [Ida B.] Wells dismissed white Christianity as hypocrisy.” In her view, “our American Christians are too busy saving the souls of white Christians from burning in hellfire to save the lives of black ones from present burning in fires kindled by white Christians.” This effect continues today.When the white church is silent it is not only passively complicit in the deaths of millions, but actively contributes to the growing death toll going forward. In short, when the church is silent we fail to be the Church at all. We become known by the ‘strange fruit’ we bear.

What are your questions about the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States? 
What do you find yourself thinking about after reading this interview?  
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