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

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Living Faith Award Address

Living Faith Award logo (blue and yellow flame)The following is a short address I gave last Thursday at the 25th Annual Living Faith Awards Breakfast hosted by the Spirituality Network in Columbus, OH. It is similar to one I gave to a gathering hosted by the UM General Commission on Religion and Race earlier this year: 

So, I am one of those elusive millennials that the Church is always worried about. Supposedly, I’m a part of that apathetic generation, that generation that technology has ruined and and that our parents have spoiled.

And I am also supposed to be of the colorblind generation. While many people of color learn at a very young age what race means for them, I didn’t really learn I was white until college. While I was theoretically aware of race, I had been taught to see no differences. I was taught that we were all the same. That was what was polite.

In high school I believed, we should all just get along. "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps" and pull your pants up too while you’re at it. And I knew I could ignore those tidbits of history that I learned in February, because it wouldn’t be on the final exam anyway.

But when I got to college I joined a Christian fellowship on campus that taught me that our God loves color, loves our culture, and wants us to learn from one another. I learned that we worship a Triune God, perfectly diverse and perfectly united. I learned we worship a God of the oppressed. And I learned that through my isolated dominant culture lens, I could see only dimly the true character of the God I worshiped.

And that launched a journey. I learned how race and ethnicity affected the daily lives of those around me. I learned the history that wasn’t taught to me in school. I read the books I had always passed over in the library. I found out about:
The school to prison pipeline, and stand your ground
About internment camps and exclusion acts
About broken treaties, and trails of tears,
About dreamers trying get to college and children at our border
And about the millions that were colonized and told that their own culture
        was not appropriate for worshiping our white God.
I once was colorblind, but now I see.

Neuroscience data
From life as a neuroscientist...
And then I moved to Columbus to start a doctorate in neuroscience, an unrelated life filled with glass beakers, petri dishes, and molecular genetics (in my case, all the stereotypes are true). It felt like the “smart choice” goodbye to so much that resonated with my soul. But I was good at it. I liked the lab, and the lab liked me.

So I turned to the digital world to continue my racial education, to serve as the professors of justice and theology that I never had. I started my own blog to hold me accountable and help me to continue to learn. It's called By Their Strange Fruit after the Billie Holiday song and the verse in Matthew that says "ye shall know them by their fruit." Because I believe it is no hyperbole to say that people are being killed in our own backyards because of the Church’s inability to bear prophetic fruit to the nations. Too often we bear 'strange fruit' instead.

It was during this time that my husband and I joined UM Church for All People, which is a multi-race, and multi class church on the South Side of Columbus. We joined out of a belief that isolating ourselves among believers of similar backgrounds only deprives our own souls of God’s majesty. We moved onto the block to be in relationship with the surrounding community. And we adopted a value of downward mobility, not as a charitable endeavor, but as one fundamental to our own souls.

However, the time came for interviews, professorships, and publications. It was time to move away.
But Jesus is a troublemaker and he would not let me go. My labmates thought I was foolish and my family had their questions. But I have never felt something so good, so right, as giving my all to the work of building the Front Porch of the Kingdom of God.
At the Living Faith Award breakfast

And it set me back on my heals. When I finally decided to leave neuroscience to work at Church
for All People full time, it was the easiest hard decision I have ever made.

Because I am of that generation that would rather do something meaningful than something marketable. That generation that would rather make a difference than make a profit. That values authenticity over apathy.

I am of that generation that has been woken up by Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown, and Sandra Bland, and Aiyana Jones, and Tamir Rice, and Freddie Grey, and Mya Yong, and John Crawford, and Eric Garner. Won't you say their names.

I am of that generation that is tired of my sisters and brothers being used as mascots and as Halloween costumes. That knows that undocumented doesn’t mean unloved or unworthy.

We are not a colorblind generation. We know we are not all eyes, we are not all ears, we are not all hands or feet. And thank God that in all God’s wisdom that we are not!

And I am of that generation that wants my church to believe in that vision as well.

Spirituality Network logoSo that’s why I stand with you today.
Because I love Christ’s Church.
And because I love, I want us to be better.

And it's places like this community that can help us do that. Amen.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Fruit (05/27/16)

Japanese American Internees Read "Letters From Camp" With Muslim KidsOn 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, May 22, 2016

A Refuge for Women of Color: #CCDAWOC16

"Clothed with Sun" logo for CCDA WOC retreatThis year's Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference will once again offer a post-conference retreat for women of color (WOC). This is an critical event for the conference and its attendees to support.

I am a firm believer in the diverse and unified Body of Christ. But for those who do not belong to the dominant culture, yet must navigate and endure it daily, it is important to have time among one's own. It is imperative to set space aside for fellowship and rejuvenation for those that most intimately understand the unique journey of being a Christian woman of color.

There is the need for sanctified space for those of God's people who are oppressed, marginalized, or in the minority. All through the year women of color are under the white gaze and the male gaze simultaneously, immersed in dominant culture, navigating white and male power. This takes a great social, emotional, and spiritual toll, and it is important to have a reprieve--a time of rest-- in which to fellowship and worship with folks that share lived experiences.

Book cover for 'Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength'
The planners of the CCDA WOC retreat note that:
"To be a woman of color committed to racial reconciliation and social justice in the Christian church––whether evangelical or mainline––is to be a perpetual outsider. Many of us are culturally and theologically isolated in the spaces where we live, work, and minister. Our existence at the intersection of race and gender invites unique experiences, different from those of our White sisters and our brothers of all races. Sometimes those experiences include struggling to be heard and valued by the very communities and organizations that we serve."
In addition, Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes, author of 'Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength' shares:
"Many of us spend the vast majority of our days as racial-gender outliers. We are used to being one of few people of color in white-dominant circles, one of few women in male-dominant arenas. And we are almost always the first or only woman of color. We are the marginalized among the marginalized. We are used to walking on eggshells, filtering our words and behaviors so as not to make waves, having our opinions discounted even as people affirm how important it is for us to be present. Being a woman of color in evangelical social justice organizations is akin being a three-dimensional creature trying to live in a two-dimensional world."
If we, as the Body of Christ, are to come together in diverse and unified worship, it will require tremendous and disproportionate sacrifice on the part of women of color. The multicultural church comes at a great cost for the oppressed and the marginalized, much greater than for those coming from power and privilege.

Last year's WOC retreat participants
To be sure, white men and women will have to sacrifice their comfort and preference to be a part of the multicultural Body of Christ. But in contrast, women of color end up sacrificing their rest, their privacy, their autonomy, their self-care, their safety, their sanity, indeed sometimes their very humanity.

The ongoing oppression of women of color (even, and especially, in Christian spaces) is emotional,
spiritual, and physical violence acted upon them. The consequences are long lasting. The need for sanctuary is real.

Thus, the WOC post-conference retreat "is an opportunity for women of color to come together to:

  • Share the blessings and burdens of being women of color in Christian social justice ministry
  • Form strategies to sustain personal and professional wellness in the midst of cultural trauma and isolation
  • Renew our commitment to justice and reconciliation in the body of Christ
  • Enjoy fun and fellowship as sisters in Christ"
This is a vital part of of our work as the Body of Christ.

If you'd like to help make this post-conference happen, consider donating by clicking here. I'm glad I did (both this year, and now this year as well)! Indicate 'I'm donating towards a specific event.' and type "Women of Color Retreat." Just $79 can sponsor one person to attend! 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Friday Fruit (05/20/16)

Loreal Juana Barnell-Tsingine
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, May 15, 2016

Logical Fallacies: The Three Bears Effect

Cartoon Goldilocks chooses between three bowls of porridge
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.

In many of our socialized norms and rhetoric, white people are set up as "normal" or the default against which other cultures are measured. This leads to logical fallacy commonly termed the "Three Bears Effect," in which communities of color are pitted against each other leaving white culture to be the Goldilocks in the middle that is jussst right.

Stereotypes about Asian-Americans often act as foils to those about Black folks. In whatever manner black people are characterized, Asians tend to be pegged as the exact opposite.

Readable text availible here:
Dare I mention stereotypes about penis size?
The tightly correlated dichotomy illustrates how contrived all of these stereotypes actually are. 
Check out the chart compiled by Abagond -->

Striking, isn't it?
Surely we don't believe that such descriptions just happen to perfectly parallel each other. These characterizations have been constructed by years of conditioning and prejudice. 

Polarized stereotypes allow us to suppose that if some people of color meet with success racism must not actually be a big deal, while ignoring the many struggles that those under this wide umbrella face. This dichotomy also allows us to assume that there is something wrong with those that don't succeed, and that we can feel secure in supporting the racialized status quo. 

The bowls labeled: Too hot, too cold, just right
Often termed the
 'Three Bears Effect'
Artificial polarization helps to pit people of color against each other, leading to division where we should have unity. The 'divide-and-conquer' strategy helps fuel modern racism. It also allows white folks to sit comfortably in the middle, further normalizing their culture relative to the 'extremes' around them.

By allowing such a false narrative, we belittle the fact that Asian-Americans do indeed encounter a great deal of racism. Even 'good' racial stereotype are never actually as beneficial as they may seem (see post: Model Minority). And at the same time, we vilify Black and Brown communities, rather than focusing on the system racism that is the true menace to society. 

What do you think readers? Does this model of stereotype polarization hold? 
What about other groups of color: how do they fit into this paradigm? 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Friday Fruit (05/13/16)

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, May 8, 2016

Divine Economy of Abundance (Part 2): #AllPeoplePractices

The following is part of an ongoing series looking at the #AllPeoplePractices that build the inclusive Body of Christ. This series is in partnership with the United Methodist Church for All People and the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR)

In the previous post, we learned about God's Divine Economy of Abundance and how that theological framework shapes our understanding of the world around us. Here, we will look at a couple of examples of the Divine Economy of Abundance at work at Church for All People.

This isn't just rhetoric or pie-in-the-sky thinking. It's scriptural. And because it's scriptural, it's also practical. Jesus fed the 5,000 with a bit of bread and some fish. Everyone ate their fill and there was plenty left over. This sort of miracle happens at Church for All People all the time (see Pastor Greg's recent story about Soup for the Soul).

Out of a congregation that is 60% below the poverty line, nearly $50 million in affordable housing development has been completed. How was it possible? We believe that God gives us assets, not deficits, and if we simply take the first step with the assets that we have, God will bless our efforts and multiply our results.

Our local community has its full share of vacant and blighted house. We have our share of unemployment and homelessness. But what if we don't see things as deficits...but rather see them as assets? What if the blighted properties are opportunities to provide housing? What if the unemployed are actually a ready workforce to repair those houses? And if we go to all that trouble, surely the homeless are very much an asset as those who can occupy these houses!

Having listened to the hopes and dreams of the community, and having heard the desire for safe, decent, affordable housing, Church for All People (through its sister non-profit Community Development for All People), set about leveraging the assets of homelessness, joblessness, and blight into building the Front Porch of the Kingdom of God.

We started small. We began with what we had and cast the vision for what God was doing in our community. Others came along side to contribute the assets that they had to offer. We acted, we made mistakes, we learned, and we acted again. Today, we have touched nearly 1 out of every 4 homes in our immediate area, and helped provide first-time home ownership, affordable rentals, and senior housing to hundreds in our community. Soon construction will begin on new workforce development housing that will provide affordable apartments in conjunction with critical job training and support.

Another example: First Birthdays! It is an unfortunate fact that Ohio is among the worst states in the country when it comes to infant mortality, which is defined as babies dying before they reach 366 days of life. Like so many other disparities, infant mortality rates are also split along racial lines (over two times higher for Black babies than for white babies). Church for All People's immediate neighborhood is one the most dangerous places in the country to be born Black and to try to survive to your first birthday.

The challenges are real. Access to healthcare is limited. Housing instability creates stress and stains precious resources. Air pollution and secondhand smoke impede development. Limited affordable birth-control access leads to unsafe birth spacing. For a long time, local government and healthcare providers wondered what could possibly be done to address all these issues.

But Church for All People looked at the situation asset-based perspective. Rather than focus on what was wrong with our neighborhood, we asked what were the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the community? What was the goal? The answer was obvious: babies reaching their first birthdays.

So Church for All People began to host First Birthday parties. These events have everything a good birthday should have: balloons, [sugar-free] cupcakes, music, gifts, games! And in addition, the building is filled with health resources, insurance information, smoking cessation resources, information about safe sleep habits, stress reduction activities, and free diapers!

At each First Birthdays party, the church building is packed to the brim with babies, siblings, parents, and parents-to-be. We reach hundreds more people than any stuffy community meeting on infant mortality ever could. And our partners recognize this fact. Healthcare providers and public agencies have many resources to offer, but sometimes have trouble connecting with the community. Even when they do, their words will not always be headed. But if we can reach the neighborhood auntie who sits on her front porch and insists no one on the block will smoke around her pregnant granddaughter..well now we are truly influencing the neighborhood!

Just as with the affordable housing initiative, Church for All People decided not to wait, but to simply act with the assets we had to begin to impact the community. We started small, and scaled the event to what was available. Then, as energy grew, new partnerships developed and the opportunities expanded. Now, in addition to the funding received to host the First Birthday parties, Community Development for All People is also funded to employ a full time staff member to engage the community with home visits, crib deliveries, and to follow up with the families touched by First Birthdays.

The smallest acts in God's Divine Economy of Abundance will trigger the next opportunity. We begin with the assets God has given us, we seek out the hopes and dreams of the community, and we leverage what we have into helping achieve those dreams.

Asset Based Community Development is not just about the rhetoric. Living into the assets that God has given us yields an energy, a camaraderie, a momentum to our endeavors that is otherwise terribly difficult to manufacture. Indeed, by focusing on assets rather than deficits, we find that community members and partners alike are better able to catch hold of the vision of prosperity for all and can more easily envision the pathway for achieving that dream.

After Jesus fed the 5000, he instructed his disciples to collect the scraps of food that were left over. Out of the initial small gift, 12 baskets full of food was yielded. Those twelve baskets provided the evidence for the miracle, but they also provided everyone there that day with the opportunity to go forth and do the same. What if each person had taken some of the scraps home and in faith had repeated the miracle themselves? Perhaps that is really what Jesus was trying to get them to do.

But instead, in a mindset of scarcity, the people devoured all the leftovers and were hungry again the very next day. They demand that Jesus give them more, instead of having leveraged the assets they'd already been given to create abundance.

God wants us to use the things God gives us to create transformation in ourselves and in our communities. God gives us every good gift and invites us to put those gifts to use. Will we seize the opportunity to live in to the Divine Economy of Abundance?

Are you and your church ready to engage in asset based community development in a Divine Economy of Abundance? Download this worksheet that will help you apply asset based community development to a ministry you're looking to launch or expand.

Then check out following books to learn more:

  • Luther K. Snow, The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act on Its Gifts, (The Alban Institute, 2004).
  • John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets, (ACTA Publications, 1993)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Friday Fruit (05/06/17)

Photo: Border Angels Facebook
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, May 1, 2016

Divine Economy of Abundance (Part 1): #AllPeoplePractices

The following is part of an ongoing series looking at the #AllPeoplePractices that build the
Body of Christ. This series is in partnership with the United Methodist Church for All People and the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR).

What if we full heartedly believed, not in a God of scarcity, but in a God of abundance? What if every gift that God has ever given us is an asset, and what if we dedicated those assets to building the Kingdom of God? What if "we already have everything we need to make the next faithful step in ministry?"
These are fundamental questions that shape the ministries of UM Church for All People (C4AP). 

When we open the Bible, we see that the story begins in abundance. And when we turn to the final page, we see that it ends in abundance as well. God created a world of plenty and has promised to restore us to that plenty in the end. In between, we observe the effects of human fear, greed, and selfishness that disrupt God's vision for us, and creates a false perception of scarcity. But by living into the generosity that God has modeled for us, we trigger a return to the Divine abundance that God intended. 

We do not worship a God of scarcity, but a God of abundance. There is not a lack of resources in this world, only a problem of distribution. The world wants us to focus on scarcity, that there isn't enough, that it's a zero sum game of winners and losers. But we insist that God does not work this way. When the world focuses on the needs and deficits of our community, we talk about its hopes and dreams. When the world tells us we don't matter, we proclaim our great worth in the Lord. 

Therefore, at C4AP we don't denigrate our community by bemoaning its deficits, even when each grant and each report asks us to describe everything wrong with our neighborhood. But if we compete to prove ours is the greatest need, we undermine the community and pit ourselves against each other. This tendency is pernicious. It suggests that to gain resources for our community we must buy into a mindset of its pathology. It leads to an unnecessary to a race to the bottom at the expense of the dignity of our community. Too often we focus on the obstacles instead of the opportunities

So instead, we listen to the hopes and dreams of our neighbors, and then leverage our mutual assets to make those dreams come to life. We don't ignore the injustices of the world. On the contrary, we are acutely aware of the statistics and disparities that exist because they affect each moment of our lives and of lives around us. And we work hard to combat those injustices every day. 

But we do so through a lens of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD; perhaps the more common and secular term to describe God's Divine Economy of Abundance). In ABCD, the people are not the problems, they are the solutions. More institutions aren't the answer, God's people are.

We believe we have two irreducible assets: God's people, and the Holy Spirit that guides them in doing God's work. God’s people are always assets, never liabilities. And God's grace has no limit. We believe that every person is an image-bearer of Christ, the solution to our brokenness and sinful division. 
Make Your Peace
Art by April Sunami

Instead of the paralysis and despair of a needs-based society, we must re-center the intrinsic worth that God has placed in each one of us, and restore value to the things that the world has deemed useless, or unredeemable. If we give of what we have, no matter how meager it may seem, God will use it and multiply it for what God is doing around us. 

If we will do this, all of the sudden vacant lots become opportunities for gardens, broken glass becomes a medium for artwork, our blighted buildings become the potential for stable housing. 

From a congregation that is 60% below the poverty line, we have done nearly $50 million in affordable housing. And we are among the leaders in second mile/missions giving in our region (and of note to my UMC friends, we always pay 100% of our apportionments!)

Through the Free Store, we give away over $2 million worth of clothing and household items every year. It's all free and our shoppers can come back as many times as they want. And yet, in a store where everything is given away, we have never run out. In fact, there is so much abundance that it piles high and spills over as we try to keep up with the growing piles of donations. 

Our sense of scarcity doesn't have to exist. Our economic gaps don't have to exist. Our racial disparities don't have to exist. Our political inequalities don't have to exist. Our societal injustices do not have to exist.

Instead, let us return to the abundance that God would have for us. Let us insist that God has given us everything we have, and that everything we have is an asset. Then let us use our two greatest assets, God's people and God's Holy Spirit, to transform our society together. 

This isn't just rhetoric or pie-in-the-sky thinking. It's scriptural. And because it's scriptural, it's also practical. Read on to learn about some of the real-life ways God's Divine Economy of Abundance has manifested at UM Church for All People...
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