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

Monday, December 26, 2016

Top #BTSF Posts of 2016

Image result for 2016 2017 new year2016. What a year. Ready to move on.

Here's a brief look back at the year's top posts. Then, let us push forward to 2017. There is much work to be done. 

Here are the top ten #BTSF posts of 2016:

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Friday Fruit (12/23/16)

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, December 18, 2016

Dreaming of a White Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Biblical Justice

Image result for biblical justiceThe following devotion comes from Claire Richtmyer, United Methodist Women Coordinator for Spiritual Growth, Capitol South District, West Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

What is Justice? One meaning is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion or equity. It is also the act of being just and or fair.

What does the Bible tell us about justice, called Biblical Justice? Biblical Justice involves making individuals, communities, and the world whole, by upholding both goodness and impartiality. The theology of justice flows from the heart of God.

Micah 6:8  “God has shown you O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Justice flows from God’s heart and character and motivates God throughout the Old and New Testaments in his judgments on sin and injustice.

Proverbs 29:7  “…the righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”

Image result for Proverbs 29:7Throughout scripture, God is the defender and protector of the poor, the alien, the debtor, the widow, and the orphan. Justice is part of God's purpose for redemption. Justice is also about restoring our broken relationship with God to what he intends for us. Our role in God's purposes for all his creatures and for the world he has made.

Biblical justice is the center of true religion.

James 1:27 (The Message)  “…Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this. Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.”

If we are trying to live a life in accordance with the Bible, we do justice when we treat all persons as creations of God. Doing justice includes not only righting wrongs but showing generosity and social concern especially to the poor and vulnerable. The just person lives a life of honesty, equity and generosity in every aspect of life.

A deep social conscience, and a life of service to others, especially the poor, is the inevitable sign of real faith. Justice is the most important feature of a real relationship with God.

Image result for James 1:27The God of the Bible is a God who puts the world to rights. We are called to do the same.

Let us pray:
O God, you are always more ready to hear us than we are to call on you.
Hear us now as we turn to you.

We pray that you will help us truly be your church by seeking to serve
those who are little, last, least and left behind.

We pray for our world in which many starve and struggle to survive
while others have far, far more than they need.

We pray for our nation and our leaders, that the cries of injustice
will be heard above the clamor of corporations,
the needs of the vulnerable will come before the desires of the lobbyists,
the priorities of the poor will come before the positions of the powerful.

We pray for our communities, that we move from complacency to caring and action.
We pray for ourselves, for the courage to care when discouragement overtakes us,
for the energy to act for justice when day-to-day demands occupy us.

Ever present God, you have heard our prayers in the silence of our hearts and you hear us now.
We confess that we have dulled our ears to the cries of all who are hungry.
We confess that we have hardened our hearts to the plight of millions
living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet.

We confess that we have dimmed our hopes for a more just world
and our ability to make a difference.

Sharpen our ears we pray, to hear the voices of injustice and your call to us.
Sharpen our hearts to show compassion to all who are struggling.
Raise our hopes for how we can help bend the arc toward justice
and work for the world that you intend. 

These things we ask in the name of Jesus who sided with the poor
and reflected your intentions for the reign of God.

Prayer adapted from “How Long Must I Cry for Help Bending the Arc for God’s Vision of Justice for Children” Children’s Sabbath, Children’s Defense Fund

What is Biblical Justice”, Paul Louis Metzger, Christianity Today Website
How the Bible Understands Justice”, Jim Wallace. On Faith Website

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

First Taken, Last Released

The following is a guest post by journalist Howard Fields on his new book First Taken, Last Released: Overlooked WWII Internment:

Donald Trump's calls for interning Muslims and the upcoming 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that prompted the time when America did intern an entire class of people make First Taken, Last Released: Overlooked WWII Internment a timely book.

The book follows one of the first 160 men taken from churches, temples or homes in Honolulu before the smoke cleared over Pearl Harbor. He and about 1,700 others were taken in Hawaii during the next several weeks, long before the more than 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were taken on the West Coast beginning in February, 1942.

Much has been written of those 120,000, mostly families, but there is little about the first men taken and held in men-only camps behind barbed-wire for the duration of the war. Some, as with the subject of First Taken, were not released until three months after formal surrender by Japan in September, 1945.

These men were moved from camp to camp, in Wisconsin, Tennessee, Louisiana, Montana and then New Mexico with little, if any, contact with families or friends. The man we follow, a Buddhist minister, had sent his family to Japan before the war to be educated there and return. Before they could return, they were trapped there when the war broke out. One son survived the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, another endured two years in a slave labor camp in Siberia, kept on the edge of starvation.

twthumb-tommy and sally
Tommy, and wife Sally
First Taken also is important for its new perspective on the lead-up to the Japan attack on Pearl Harbor. It relies on its own translations of recently released transcripts of the meetings of Japan's leadership, including Emperor Hirohito, in which they discussed whether to attack. It shows the amazing and extreme dysfunction of Japan's leadership at the time. To a man, they knew they could not survive a war with the United States, and none wanted to launch the Pearl Harbor attack, but not one was willing to be the first to say, "No," so it happened.

Beyond that, the internment that began immediately after the bombing, was the result of a xenophobia and racism that still dominates American culture as well as in Europe. That and other parallels with today's political leadership should send chills up the spines of Americans and the rest of the world as a president elect calls for a return to those days of internment and belligerence.

It could happen all over again, not only in the United States, but Europe as well. Philosopher George Santayana wrote 100 years ago, "Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it." Let First Taken and books like it serve as reminders of a past we wish not to repeat.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Dia de Las Velitas

The following is a post by Diego Alzate Correa, a doctoral student at The Ohio State University. He is originally from Medellin, Colombia and I have had the pleasure of celebrating Las Velitas day with him for many years now, such that I asked if he would share a bit about the tradition for us here:

Declared in 2015 as the happiest country in the world by WIN/Gallup International, Colombia is recognized by the numerous festivals, carnivals and holidays held all year long. Given that Colombia was a Spanish colony for several centuries a lot of customs were passed and imposed to its inhabitants, among them of course was religion. Catholicism is Colombia's predominant religion where it is practiced with outstanding fervor. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise that 14 out the 20 official holidays correspond to Catholic Holy Days of Obligation.

Medellin, Colombia
One of the most traditional holidays in Colombia is the little candle day--Dia de Las Velitas. This holiday was established on December 8 of 1854 when Pope Pius XI declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Back then to honor Virgin Mary, candles were lit, starting a tradition of lighting candles each year on the eve before December 8.

Nowadays in Colombia, Las Velitas day marks the beginning of the Christmas season. Once it gets dark dozens of candles and paper lanterns decorate the facades of every house. Even though the celebration began for religious reasons, the tradition has been maintained through the years thanks to the most important part of the celebration: family gathering. 

In Latin America, and especially in Colombia, it is a tradition to celebrate religious events with your closest family members including, parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins. On December 7th the entire family begins helping with the preparations for this holiday, they cook special treats like natilla (corn pudding), buñuelos (deep-fry cheese balls) and hojuelas (a deep-fry pastry with sugar). When the time comes, candlesticks are organized in the front of each house either with long rows covering the entire house or making different patterns like flowers or hearts. Some candles are stood on the floor and others are placed in a little cardboard box (Farolitos) decor in the outside, or trimmed on religious shapes. The Farolitos are usually hung on a rope. 

This holiday is special for kids, on this day, they are allowed to play with fire; a lighter is passed to the oldest kid to start lighting the candles. Teenager and sometimes adults, have a traditional game called Candelada del Diablo (Devil’s fire). The game consists of a artisanal device made out of wire, candle wax and soda caps. The wire from a used sparkle is looped to hold a metallic soda cap. A candle is placed under the soda cap, and on it candle wax is melted. Once the wax starts to boil people spit on the wax causing a big fire (see video). A lot of people have a great memory of losing their eyebrows or eyelashes temporarily because of the Candelada del Diablo! Other people less fortunate have bad injuries on the face and even eyes and hands. Sadly Colombia is one of the countries most affected by burned children around December and most of the injuries occur on Las Velitas day.
A Cold Columbus Velitas Day, 2015!

If you look at the news about Colombia it is hard to believe that a country facing so many problems like poverty, corruption, and inequality could be named the happiest country in the world. But if you go a little deeper you may see that having a supporting family has a huge impact on how Colombians bear their problems. 

Living outside of Colombia has made me realize how unique our traditions are in Colombia. I have been in the United States during four consecutive Velitas days, and I’ve been lucky enough to find friends willing to light the candles with me and my wife. It does not matter where I am, my memories about Las Velitas will be always related with my family back in Colombia and now with my friends here.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Friday Fruit (12/02/16)

Jackie Salyers
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.
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