Social & Political Issues

Sorry, Mom. Potato chips are no longer the downfall of society. Donald Trump is.

In the way that most health-conscious mothers do, my mom once off-handedly declared potato chips ‘the downfall of society’. Now a health conscious mother myself, I have great empathy toward her desperate but hyperbolic attempt to convince our youthful metabolisms to take heed of their coming threat. However, when I saw the most recent propaganda from the Donald Trump campaign using children to sweetly sing about America crushing the rest of the world,  it became immediately clear that his campaign had debunked my mom’s prophetic words.

Speculators lament his campaign as a “national mistake“, hopeful it will at some point clarify itself as a joke, a media circus, or at least a conspiracy to promote Hillary Clinton. Yet what’s hardest to ignore is the number of people who appear to actually support Trump’s ideas. His campaign is no longer as simple as the salty snack that we mistook him for. Our overindulgence on his addictive-but-unhealthy appeal is now cultivating an obese empathy for renewed support of a modern-day inquisition.

In the developed west, we tend to think of Inquisition as an old word, something that belongs with the Spanish in the 15th century. “The scariest thing to me about the word,” writes Kathleen Norris in her book Amazing Grace, “is the way that it can haunt ordinary conversation … When power is so heavily weighted between two people, fear all too easily enters into the equation.

This is a primary offense of the Trump campaign: it wields power toward anyone who does not fit its mold to make them feel afraid. Immigrants would not be flocking to America in record numbers if the world did not see something unique in our fiber. Yet, the Trump propoganda threatens this long-lived tradition of welcoming the stranger to our shores. Lest we think that such xenophobia is a new concept in the US, our founding father Benjamin Franklin labeled German immigrants “swarthy” and advocated to keep them out of Pennsylvania:

Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become  Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?”

Germans in his day were demonized for being lazy, ignorant, clannish, unable to assimilate, and unwilling to speak English. They were blamed for a wide array of societal ills including Pennsylvania’s harsh winters. Laws were made against speaking German and German education that were later repealed. Trump is now making similar accusations against immigrants of all backgrounds in the US today. Ironically, he himself is of German heritage.

More than social inequality

While its advocacy of a segregated society is immensely disturbing, promoting social inequality is not the only the hazard of the Trump campaign. At its core, it chips away at the essential foundation of a civil society: conversation. Kathleen Norris offers further wisdom:

The inquisitor has the answers in hand and does not wish to change them. It is good to determine, when someone asks you a question, whether they are asking in a good spirit, or conducting an inquisition. When it is the latter, one may begin to feel that the person one is speaking to is not listening at all but merely biding time. Clicking off the points against you; waiting, like a lion, for the proper time to attack.

Inquisition begins, then, in the human heart. And it is what has occurred in the twentieth century, not the fifteenth, that should most concern us. For it is in our modern, “civilized” age that we have been forced to confront the depth of the inquisitorial spirit.

Ultimately, Norris concludes, the spirit of inquisition manifests itself as “a debilitating suspicion and lack of good will” far more frequently and insidiously than the violent conflicts that dominate headlines. Sadly, it is no longer an exaggeration to compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. When the spirit to destroy others with our power supersedes our desire to build unity with them, we will cease to be the United States of America.

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Spiritual Formation, Travel

The puzzle of many homes

Photo by PeterDargatz, public domain
Photo by PeterDargatz, public domain

In honor of our dear friends on their return to the Midwestern home they left long ago. May the many gifts of a life lived between worlds be theirs in abundance.

I am not a Third Culture Kid. I have one home with deep roots and long histories and pictures-on-the-wall-for-decades. But I have left home, and sometimes it makes me wonder who I am now that I have parted ways with the place that cradled me as a child. It knows nothing of my new reality. It spins in place, repeating the same stories generation after generation.

My world is different now. It is filled with places my childhood mind could have never imagined. There are street tacos, saris, homeless people, loud music, dusty streets, freeways, endless plane rides and too many languages to count. It is not the big skies and broad cornfields I once knew.

I return to the cornfields one summer and a day after I arrive, I have a dream:

My husband and children are aboard a sinking ship. Anxiously awaiting their rescue, I am safe on shore. Finally rescued, they stagger off a lifeboat into my arms. My heart breathes deep relief at their presence with me.

As the dream replays in my mind, the painful reality dawns on me that my home was their sinking ship, and I am so-very-relieved they didn’t drown there. It is a conflicting reality I don’t always know how to navigate. The land that cradled me so gently had not done the same for them; it had nearly drowned them.

Who am I in this place? I wonder.

More than any other place, it has carved the majority of my days. It will always be home and yet it may never become home again. I am an outlier now. I live amongst the freeways, alongside the sea, in the shadow of the movie stars and the mountains. My family spans the whole-world-wide. My children’s friends are Chinese and Filipino and Caucasian and Vietnamese and African-American and Mexican and Chilean and too many blends to count. My students and my neighbors come from even more corners of the globe…Syria, Albania, Egypt, El Salvador, Samoa, Italy, Vietnam, Pakistan. In the space of just one week, we can eat Malaysian curry, Mexican tamales, Lebanese kabobs, Peruvian chicken, Japanese boba, Portuguese peri-peri, and an In-n-Out double double animal-style.

It is in this journey from a cornfield-mind to a global one that I taste the reality of those who have known many homes but belong to none. Tears brim as I mourn the loss of what once was, but beneath my sorrow simmers more. On this path of many homes, I am learning resilience, beauty, and humility in ways I have never before known. It teaches me to walk toward the unknown, to reach for a hand in the dark, to surrender my privilege.

By faith, Abraham left his home and went to a land he did not know. 

Me too, Abe.  Me too. 

I wonder how Abraham, Sarah, his sons and daughters felt when they left their own cornfield. Did tears brim for the loved ones they left behind, for the relationships that would never quite be the same again? Did they struggle to learn the language and navigate the foreign culture? Did they ever long for the familiar-that-once-was?

I am not a global nomad. Instead I am something of a global pioneer – the first-in-my-line making many corners of the earth my home while my roots remain buried deep in a soil far away.

swirl

Everything changes; everything stays the same.

It is a paradox I now know well.

I fit and I don’t fit.

I belong and I stick out.

I understand completely and I am utterly baffled.

There is no longer any box. Lines established long ago are blurred now. I am left in a world wide open with unclean boundaries and shadows in every shade of gray, no longer the clean blacks-and-whites of just one place.

And God saw all that he had made and it was good, the highways whisper softly as I traverse the country from coast to cornfield to coast. Surely God intended some of us to stay and some of us to go, some to plant and some to tend, some seeds to grow deep roots and others to float on the wind. It is a purpose that we struggle to accept when we leave behind loved ones and familiar lands. Yet with each new home, I can’t help but wonder if part of this plan is, in Parker Palmer’s words, “to think the world together”.

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My feet have known the silky soil of a freshly plowed field, the dusty chaos of the developing world, the cement sterility of the city, the pristine lawns of the suburbs. These days, I am less perplexed by this world’s diversity and more fascinated by the beauty of its vast complexities. Clearly, this place is not an accident. We are pieces of a puzzle, meant to form a picture of a larger whole. 

The challenge to those-who-move-around is to understand how those pieces fit together to tell a bigger story. Some would say it’s mass chaos; and there are days we hopelessly agree. We have seen the differences mount like a giant brick wall in the middle of Berlin. Yet we’ve also seen mothers who love their children both in war and in peace, people who serve the needy in red states and blue ones, and tears in children’s eyes both rich and poor. We have lived the intensity of Willa Cather’s words that “there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”

When the last box has been packed and the goodbyes have all been said, we know far-too-well that the clashing realities of cornfields and freeways shape home for many hearts; and we embrace that sweet tension within. For while home may very well be where our story begins, it is far from where it ends. With each new step into the unknown, we cherish the gifts of the old and lean toward the hope of the new, our hearts irreversibly expanded by each of these places we’ve called home.

Restoration & Reconciliation, Social & Political Issues

What I wish we’d remember a little louder on 9/11

I’m usually fairly quiet on 9/11 as it’s a day that holds a lot of memories. We lived 5 minutes from the Pentagon at the time and the plane crash shook the windows of our small apartment right along with my personal sense of stability. A family member worked in the WTC and we spent the entire morning awaiting his phone call. Thankfully, it came and we breathed deep sighs of relief.

Over the years, 9/11 has become a day where we honor the ones who ran toward rather than running away. When all of human instinct screams to protect itself, those brave souls did not. They were heroes in the truest sense of the world, and none of us will ever forget their sacrifice.  I hear a lot of references to this idea that Fred Rogers encapsulates so well:

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 9.12.35 PM

While so much of me resonates with these words and the value they place on so many who sacrificed that day, I also find myself feeling a lingering hole in the dialog about who matters when 9/11 rolls around.

“My dad says that all Muslims are bad,” a boy in my son’s third grade class shared this week. It’s become a norm – this alienating story of the West vs. the Middle East. Media stereotypes from both sides have flown for over a decade, and now, as I honor the heroes, I also mourn the victims that have been born from the political rubble of 9/11.

As a kid from the 80s, I saw the exact same story play out with the Russians. I remember distinctly thinking that Russians were evil, dangerous, and scary and that Nancy Reagan was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen (which of course meant that Reagan’s policies had to be right…).

Like so many today, I missed the critical reality that people are distinct from political agendas. In his song, Russians, Sting captures the hole I feel every 9/11:

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too*

In my heart today, I hold all of those mothers on the other side – Russian, Iraqi, Saudi, Afghani – who love their children too, who hold them in their arms at night, tears brimming over what the world has come to. I picture the fathers tickling little ones, teaching them simplicities of daily life and the hope for a better world. I remember stories of widows like Susan Retik and Patty Quigley – women who lost their husbands that day and now fight for the plight of Afghan widows.

They are heroes, too, all the ones who love their children. May our remembrance of them honor the hope they offer to the world.

swirl *Listen to the whole song here:


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Culture & Race

Some big words (and helpful ideas) for when the race conversation explodes

Some big words (and helpful ideas) for when the race conversation explodesIn spite of decades of diversity awareness and training, race continues to be an explosive topic, and the media headlines attest to a continued struggle of our multicultural country to come to grips with its multiple realities. There are microagressions and macroagressions, accidental insults, and purposefully racist rants.

While I don’t believe we can do much to change the extreme ends of the spectrum that refuse to think, question, and consider other viewpoints, I do have great hope for all of those who exist in-between to establish a culture of respect for diversity within society at large. Most white people I know have no desire to be actively racist, but usually either don’t know that they don’t know or have no idea where to begin and no understanding of how to consistently deepen their perspectives.

When a colleague who teaches social work first introduced me to the term cultural humility, I instantly connected to it as a fabulous starting point for cross-cultural relationships. Working in education, I had not yet heard this term that has been gaining popularity in the public health and social work fields for nearly a decade now.  While I am quite familiar with the terms cultural competency and being culturally responsive, cultural humility had a whole new feel to it, one that I believe the general public would benefit from significantly given all the public sparring over our differences.

In his recent response to the Donald Sterling fiasco, Kareem Abdul Jabar captured the state of the country well, “Moral outrage is exhausting. And dangerous. The whole country has gotten a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome from the newest popular sport of Extreme Finger Wagging. Not to mention the neck strain from Olympic tryouts for Morally Superior Head Shaking.”

Something has to give. 

We simply can’t keep finger-wagging and head-shaking if we truly want to affect change. This is where I find the concept of cultural humility such a great place to start. Its three basic concepts include:

  1. Lifelong, reflective learning
  2. Respectful partnerships that recognize power imbalances
  3. Institutional accountability

Melanie Tervalon, one of the researchers who coined the term, explains that the ultimate goal of cultural humility is a “sense of equity, equality, respect that drives us forward” (Chavez, 2012). These concepts turn the idea of competence upside-down, for they shift the focus from simply attempting to gather information about people who are different to an approach that shapes how we think and act toward others.

If you’ll indulge the ‘think-y’ side of me for a moment, I want to pull a few more academic/theological terms into the conversation because they address an idea that I believe needs to gain some solid traction in the public conversation. In Christianity, the white evangelical church has spent a great deal of time focusing on orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice or behavior) of individuals, but not so much time on orthopathy (right passions, emotions, attitudes) in relation to how we interact with society at large.

This lop-sided growth has resulted in some significant holes in our interactions with each other. We can wave our carefully crafted orthodox flags while simultaneously finger-wagging and head-shaking, but we have a long way to go before our we actively lay our flags down, cross lines, and extend a hand of kindness and humility to someone who holds a belief that violates our carefully carved theology.

Lisa Boesen offers a helpful acronym as a guide to ASSESS how to develop consistent cultural humility:

Practicing Cultural Humility - TheLinkBetweenWorlds.com

As I write about and live out racial and cultural understanding, one of the strongest realities I’ve seen is that what creates the deepest change in relationships is who we are, not what we know.

In think-y words, this means that orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy must be deeply intertwined rather than separate values from which we pick and choose. “We have drawn upon a negative, hostile, and confrontational form of orthopathy,John W. Morehead reflects on recent evangelical interactions, “and out of this has come an expression of orthodoxy and orthopraxy that has been interpreted as less than compassionate by those outside our faith.”

Rather than perpetuate a hostile orthopathy, Morehead suggests evangelicals (and I would also add quite a few other Christian traditions) have another option, “Evangelicals can reflect on the scriptural call for love of neighbor, and for hospitality to the alien and stranger, and this can then can provide the basis for a reformulation of the form of orthopathy from which our orthodoxy and orthopraxy springs.”

Essentially, what it boils down to is that right theology (orthodoxy) and right practice (orthopraxy) should also foster compassion and empathy in our interactions with others (orthopathy) – not ‘farewell tweets‘, dismissively harmful comments, or polarizing reactions over disagreements.

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It all leaves me wondering who we would be if the church-at-large and individuals-in-it spent our primary energies cultivating these notions of cultural humility, orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy rather than defending our own interests? How would this reshape the imbalanced power dynamics and segregation in the western church as a whole? What if loving-one-another took the face of humility and respect for each other rather than igniting hostility and condemnation?

Instead of exhausting each other with our moral outrage, perhaps such steps would nurture our ability to respond to one another with the kind of sacrificial love Jesus himself taught us. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” Jesus told his over-confident disciple just before he predicted Peter’s ultimate betrayal. Ironic, eh? 

While we’re clearly not the first ones to stumble over ourselves in our feeble attempts to follow Jesus, may our imperfections not prevent us from seeking the deep-wisdom of those around us as we walk the winding path of loving one another.

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Culture & Race

35 conversation-starting videos about race, stereotypes, privilege and diversity

YouTube has taught us all that sometimes nothing is as powerful as a video clip that delivers a powerful, memorable message in less than 5 minutes. I’ve found videos endlessly useful as a means of starting productive and thoughtful conversations about issues of issues surrounding diversity, whether in the classroom, on Facebook, or in personal conversations with family and friends. The videos below are the best I’ve found (with a little help from my friends – thanks to those who gave me ideas for this!).

On race & stereotyping

What kind of Asian are you?

 

Scene from Crash

 

Racist harrasses Muslim cashier

 

Guy brings his white girlfriend to barbershop in Harlem

 

How to tell someone they sound racist

 

Moving the race conversation forward

 

The Lunch Date

 

A look at race relations through a child’s eyes

 

African men. Hollywood stereotypes

 

The women of Nyamonge present: Netball

 

UCLA Girl’s Offensive Asian Rant

(be sure to watch the response below)

 

Asians in the library of the world: a persona poem in the voice of Alexandra Wallace

 

A trip to the grocery store

 

(1)ne Drop

Make sure to watch their other videos about race here.

 

5 Things White People Should Do to Improve Race Relations

 

Harvard professor Henry Gates Jr. on his arrest

 

Lin’s success crosses racial boundaries

 

On privilege

Africa for Norway

 

Cadillac Commercial (Make sure to watch Ford’s response to this commercial below)

 

Ford’s response to the Cadillac Commerical

 

On white privilege

 

Make Poverty History

 

Giving is the best communication

 

 On diversity

America, the beautiful

 

It’s beautiful, behind the scenes

 

Ethnicity matters: The case for ethnic specific ministries

 

Move – Around the World in 1 Minute

 

 Where the hell is Matt? 2012

 

The world’s most typical face (National Geographic)

 

Reconsider Columbus Day

 

 On Immigration

A new dream: Evangelical undocumented immigrants tell their side of the story

 

Accents and fair housing

 See more videos on immigration here.

 

Longer Documentaries

A class divided with Jane Elliott

 Watch the whole documentary here.

 

Who is black in America?

 

America’s Promise: Black boys in America

This is a trailer. Read more about the series here and watch a few more clips here.

Did I miss your favorite clip? Leave it in the comments below!

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Culture & Race

Confusing the ‘American Dream’ for the Good Life

I’m guest posting today at A Life Overseas about the temptation for people around the world to pursue the hollow and meaningless parts of American culture.  Here’s a quick excerpt:

In class, my Burkinabé students echoed similar assumptions, believing that American streets were literally paved with gold.  Consequently, it wasn’t difficult to understand why a ticket to America was their dream come true (especially since most of the roads in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital city, were not paved at all).  This mentality recurred throughout Ouagadougou – American flags on T-Shirts, pictures of American movie stars on billboards, or American rock classic playing in restaurants.

“This isn’t what you want,” I challenged my students one day as we discussed the opulence of American culture, “I know it appears enticing, especially in comparison to the poverty, hunger, and injustice people here face on a daily basis.  But what I see being chased – the pride of “image”, the greed of materialism, the selfishness of “independence” – is a façade.”

Read the whole article here.

Culture & Race, Restoration & Reconciliation, Spiritual Formation

Rethinking how we speak about American blessings

“We’re so blessed to live in this country.”

I cringe a little when I hear a statement along these lines, wondering about the sentiments that lie beneath the actual words.  I usually hear people respond this way in response to conversations about difficult realities like poverty or hunger or lack of sanitation or war.

Statements like this unsettle me for a variety of reasons.  When people say, “We’re blessed to live in the US,” sometimes I hear an assumption of superiority behind their words that portrays an attitude of we’re-so-much-better-than-those-poor-folks-in-the-poor-world.  It makes me wonder if focusing on our assumed ‘blessings’ of comfort, prosperity and sanitation allows us to numb out the feelings of horror, responsibility, and generosity we might feel if we actually let those realities of global poverty sink in.

Another reason these words unsettle me is because they passively imply that those in other countries aren’t equally blessed to live where they live. There’s a sense that we live in the promised land, and those poor folks – well, sucks to be them, eh?  On one level, I follow the idea that a developed and civil society is a more comfortable environment to live in.  Cleanliness, prosperity, order, and efficiency are good ideals that benefit society as a whole.  However, they certainly aren’t the only qualities by which the value of a place should be judged.

While I know a lot of people who’ve sacrificed immensely to move to the US, I also know quite a few who would never want to live here.  They don’t hate it, it’s just not home.  They feel blessed to live in their homes, with their food and their loved ones and their dirty streets and inefficient systems. They’re also horrified by our violence, materialism, sexual ethics, and isolation from each other.

A friend of my husband’s from Sri Lanka who’d lived in Singapore for several years recently told him, “Everything there is soooo clean and efficient and productive, sometimes you just need to get out to get a break or you go crazy.”  I chuckled when I heard this, for at the time, I was in Sri Lanka missing those very qualities about my American home.  Sometimes, it’s all about what you’re used to.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my homeland.  It’s taken nearly three decades, but I can even say that I love living here (California has helped this process quite a lot).  Driving across the country a few years ago gave me a whole new appreciation for its vastness, diversity, and beauty.  I love that the freedom here allows for a global mosaic like Los Angeles.  I love the sense of community the lingers in my heart from my small Midwestern home town.  I love the hustle and bustle of New York City, and the never-ending quietness of Kansas.  It really is a unique, diverse, and beautiful country.  

But there are a lot of such places around the world that people call home.  From the outside, we might perceive some of these places as destitute or hopeless, but this is not their only story.  I spent a summer once in Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world at that time.  The capital city, Ouagadougou, had two paved roads.  Disease and hunger were rampant.  At first glance, the people were destitute.  But then I looked again.

I saw old women with their heads wrapped in vibrant scarves dancing down the church aisles to give away the little money they had.

I saw bright eyes, curious to learn, fascinated by color, eager to smile at passersby.

I saw people sharing meals with each other, spending long hours together, warmed by each others’ presence.

I saw a generous hospitality that gave up beds, welcomed strangers, and cared for the sick and the poor.

I saw eager minds, grateful for the opportunity to learn and hopeful for the gift of an education.

There was so much good there that I would have never seen from a picture in a magazine of a bloated baby with flies in her eyes.  While their good didn’t look like my good, it was still very real.  They were blessed beyond measure, and I had so much to learn from them.  

When we hear about the hard-things-of-the-world, what would happen if we refocused our response away from our own comfort, safety and prosperity?

  • Issues of poverty seem so devastating, are there ways I could help alleviate it with the resources I have access to?
  • So many people go without, how could I simplify so I have more resources to share?
  • While it may look like a desperate situation, what is the strength of the people in it?  How can I learn from them rather than pity them?
  • If I live in comfort, are there people near me who don’t?  Do I see them?  How might they perceive the country I say I’m blessed to live in?

If we ask these questions first in our hearts, maybe our words would start to change too. Instead of responding that I’m so blessed to live in the US, maybe we’ll start saying, I love my home, and I have much to learn about how to see the blessings in the rest of the world.    And while we’re talking about it, maybe we’ll actually start doing it as well.

Let’s brainstorm new ways of speaking about where and how we live that honors the whole world, not just the US or the West. Have you found words/ways to do this?  I’d love to learn from how others speak about such things.  

Also, be sure to check out this post from Communicating Across BoundariesThe Problem with Blessing, to ponder the idea of blessing even further.  

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Books, Culture & Race

More than a tourist: Living deeply across cultures

DSC_1609When I first started to cross cultures, there was a distinctly romantic quality to every adventure – fascination with food and language and buildings and transportation and landmarks. I would inhale the smells and sights and textures with wide eyes, captured by the difference they represented. I would wrap my tongue around the words and sounds, attempting to capture some small meaning with my own mouth. Culture captivated me, and I drank it in with every cup of tea I shared.

As time has passed, however, this romantic captivation slowed, and I found that crossing cultures no longer carried the same zing it once did. In fact, it required more energy with each new encounter for I no longer entered ignorant about my own assumptions and inadequacies.  When I enter a new culture these days, it is slower, more observant, less enraptured. I walk carefully and quietly, curious but patient about the new realities I encounter. After nearly half a lifetime of loving across a culture, the exoticism of such differences is being slowly replaced by a simple expectation of normalcy and humanity.

Click here to read the rest of my guest post this week at Communicating.Across.Boundaries.