Belief, Books, Culture & Race, Women

If Jesus was brown and non-Western, shouldn’t some of our other heroes be too?

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In search of some role models of faith for my children, I recently began looking for biographies of Christians through history. I found several highly recommended series:

  • Encounter the Saints (Seton)
  • Hero Tales (Bethany House)
  • Men and Women of Faith (Bethany House)
  • Men of Faith (Bethany House)
  • Torchlighters
  • Christian Heroes: Then & Now (YWAM)

As I researched more deeply into these series, several themes stood out:

The Good

  • There are some AMAZING  people out there. The people featured in these titles were take-your-breath-away inspiring. Their examples of sacrifice, passion, commitment, and faithfulness are models for everyone. We need more people who live like they did.
  • We need to spend time hearing stories of those who have gone before us. While many lived in different times, the challenges they faced put our modern sensibilities to shame. Learning about their lives has more to teach us about our own journeys than obsessing over Justin Bieber.

The Needs-Improved

  • The majority of ‘heroes’ were white western men. Looking through the titles, I noticed a significant lack of diversity amongst the characters featured. Most, it seemed, were white men. The current state of the book publishing industry affirms the notion that history tells the story of the ones with the most power. Out of curiosity, I compiled the titles and researched each of the characters for gender, race, nationality, and marital status. Check out some of the results:

weneeddiversebooks (1)

  • Women need more equal representation. While the female figure was higher than I expected, when incorporating marital status, only 6 of the 49 (12%) women featured as the main character of a biography were married. In contrast, 70 out of 102 (69%) men were married. Only five of the biographies I reviewed had titles about men and women together. Who were the women behind the heroes? Why weren’t they featured as prominently as the men since their lives surely included equal levels of sacrifice and commitment? 
  • The Christian world extends far beyond the US, UK, and Europe. China is poised to become the world’s largest Christian country in 15 years. The church is exploding in Africa and the middle east. There is much to learn from the faithful followers in other nations and our faith would be deepened to know more of their stories.

Why does it matter?

Our children need to see that people from any background can follow God. If Revelations tells us that people from every tribe and nation will be in heaven, surely we can write a few books about them here on earth. The message behind the message when the majority of ‘heroes’ are white men is that this status is held only for a privileged few. Until our stories reflect this truth, children will subconsciously absorb this message.

Women need to see themselves as full participants in God’s story. We were not created to hide behind men but to walk beside them as equals. When we are relegated to the woman-behind-the-man, it becomes easy to shirk our own responsibility to heed God’s call on our lives, husband or not.

We need more diverse books. A popular Twitter hashtag, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement applies in equal measure (if not more) to the Christian publishing industry. Let’s dig deep into our history and publish the stories of our brothers and sisters who have followed Christ around the world, from places of low status and persecution rather than just privilege and power. Perhaps it would give us a deeper understanding of Christ’s call to make all things new.

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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.

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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.

Belief, Culture & Race

In honor of the steady faithful

“But I was exposed early to the real stuff – Top Shelf Christianity – Deep and Old Christianity. This kind is practiced by people who work until they stink and take life in great draughts. Their hands are as rough as their hides, and they DO their faith in secret, hiding their good works in obedience to Christ. They know how to love and be loved in return. Their laughter is loud and has its roots in joy.” – Gordon Atkinson

“There is no shortage of good days, it is good lives that are hard to come by.” – Annie Dillard

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I’ve spent a great deal of time both in my writing and my personal life sorting out the ways that I’ve seen race & culture mishandled, especially by Christians & the Church. Sadly, it’s not a difficult experience to find – we are, undeniably, a broken people.

Recently, however, I’ve started reflecting on the ways that I’ve experienced healing and growth in the midst of the deeply broken places. As I ponder, I remember quiet lives of reconciliation lived with a steady faithfulness and unwavering commitment to heal this deeply broken piece of God’s kingdom. In honor of Martin Luther King’s legacy, I’m compelled to share about them today.

I think first of my father-in-law, a humble and unassuming man who surrendered a successful medical career in the US to return to his war-torn home and serve as a government doctor in the rural areas that were suffering greatly from the violence. The war was ethnic, and my father-in-law was often the only ethnic majority person living in areas dominated by the country’s minority group. There were long days with no electricity or water at times and resources were severely lacking. In spite of this, he worked hard to provide the best medical care he could in an area of significant deprivation for years. His work broke down ethnic lines and over time, he became beloved in this community. It wasn’t safe or comfortable or even ‘wise’ at times, but the reconciliation story it tells is striking.

I think next of my brother-in-law, an African-American man currently serving as a public defender in Amish country. A graduate of the East’s most prestigious schools, he could have pursued a far more lucrative path, but instead chooses to work in the broken places and genuinely enjoys his work. Over the course of our lives, we have spent hours in conversation working out life’s details, many of which inevitably include racial issues. While I cringe when I remember questions about race I’ve asked him over the years, he never has. Instead, he’s patiently and kindly shared the reality he has walked for a lifetime. He regularly extends kindness to those with whom he has little in common – mennonite theologians, criminal clients, pig farmers, neighbors in the midst of very difficult lives – and spends hours listening to their stories so that he can learn from them. His consistent honesty and commitment to providing justice in the midst of broken places brings healing to our world one small step at a time.

I think of the white history professor at the small university in the midwestern cornfield, a man fiercely-but-gently committed to educating a predominantly white campus about the history of the civil rights movement. His understanding of racial brokenness ran deep, and he was masterful at helping privileged and often ignorant people engage in realities they had not ever known. When we announced our departure from those very cornfields, he and his wife overflowed with joy for us, for they understood the deep strain the environment had held for our family. We felt the hands of God upholding us through their joy for us in those moments as we hobbled out of town.

I think of another white man of deep kindness in that same small cornfield town. He loved rhododendrons, his wife, and generally everyone around him. His kindness alone created safety for sharing brokenness, and so we spoke quietly at his dining room table about the reality we knew that was so-very-different-than-his. While he may not have fully understood our reality, his willingness to say-so and then to listen and even admit ignorance was a breath of fresh air in a place where so many assumed everyone was just-like-them.

I think of the elderly African-American academic who has mentored my professor-husband in Christian higher ed for most of his adult life. While their relationship is not frequent, it is potent and life-giving, helping my husband navigate the maze of often being-the-only-one with boldness, grace and dignity.

I think of the countless women of color who have modeled such grace and dignity for me. Their lives of fierce honesty and intense pursuit of forgiveness and reconciliation remind me that this path is not always smooth, quiet, or simple. When I pause to remember what is good, their stories of perseverance and wisdom linger long in my story.

I think of the handful of dear-friends who have walked alongside us – celebrating with us when we rejoice and listening to us when we ache. They know our whole-story and still, they remain, sometimes in moments far-too-spaced-out, but ever-present, always steady.

The cacophony of the masses fade when I pause to remember the quiet and steady faithfulness of individual lives pursuing the reconciliation of all things.  They are not merely ‘good people’ but rather quite normal people whose choices and life direction stem deeply from their Christian faith, from their belief in what the church should be and the role they are to play in it regardless of how flawed it actually is. 

They are my “Top-shelf Christians”, these secret, hidden, and unadvertised lives, never to be known widely beyond their own social spheres. Christian magazines will not feature them in headlines nor will they boast of their own initiatives on social media. They don’t wear Christian t-shirts or boast fish bumper stickers; they just do their best to follow Christ’s example of loving the other and tending to brokenness. They are no Barack Obamas, Mother Teresas, or Martin Luther Kings, but their lives of steady faithfulness serve the same purpose. There are so many more just like them, and these well-lived lives offer glimpses of hope into what could be were we all to follow their example.

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If you are so inclined, I’d love to hear stories of the Top-Shelf Christians in your lives who model this same faithfulness. This reconciliation-business is a complicated tasks, and the more examples we have, the better we learn how to go about actually living it out. Share your own stories or links to other examples in the comments below!

Social & Political Issues, Spiritual Formation

Aching thoughts on Ferguson

It is the end of a long week with teenagers. #thankyouJesus

They are precious, those half-baked and hope-filled ones, but they are entirely exhausting. In quiet moments, my heart hangs heavy from hints of broken lives and battered souls. They try to hide it behind apathy or attitude, but still I see it for the deep-aching that it is.

My own soul has been deep-aching again. The current state of the country brings up conflicting sides of my identity: the “super-white” side of me that doesn’t inherently grasp the racial atrocities at hand and the “recovering racist” in me that knows they are very real and raw for many in our country. 

It shakes me that after all these years I still don’t always get it, that I still have to ask someone to explain to me the realities of pain they’ve known. It shakes me that I don’t know what-the-hell-to-say as the two sides shout it out between pain and pride. It shakes me that, in my teenager-induced exhaustion, I am afraid to say anything because I fear offending both sides with my own instability.

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When I returned to the Midwest last summer, I had a haunting dream.

I am waiting on the shore, desperately anxious, torn-apart for my husband and children who I have just learned are on a sinking ship. I am standing on solid ground on the shore, powerless over their fate, watching the horizon for any sign of their lives.

Suddenly, they arrive together in a life boat. They stagger over its edge into my arms and my relief over their safety overwhelms me. I collapse in tears. 

They are alive. 

They didn’t sink with the ship. 

We are safe now, together.

There is no clearer symbol of our move from the rural midwest to Southern California. A few days later, I had another dream:

My family and I are huddled together behind a door, hiding from an angry man in dingy overalls with a sawed-off shotgun who is shouting racial slurs at us. I cower in fear.

Suddenly, my brother and his wife are there, standing firm between the man and the door hiding us, “You cannot go in!” they shout at him as they fight him off. “We won’t let you hurt them.” 

I awaken, shaken again by the depth of protection I felt because someone saw and acknowledged our pain, even if they did not fully understand it.

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The dreams fade away and simmer deep under the layers of daily life. Months later, these headlines shake me back to reality and I cannot help but think of the many families who aren’t rescued from the sinking ships, who are torn apart by the raging waters of racial brokenness. I think of the relief that comes from knowing those who seek deeper understanding, and the pain of navigating those those who assume too much. I think of the weariness that sinks deep when we feel alone in the battle.

Slowly, a gratefulness arises for the shaking that these headlines bring. We’ve needed it for quite some time now, and the time has come for more of us to stand firm with a voice that shouts, “We won’t let them hurt you.” 

There is perhaps nothing we modern people need more than to be genuinely shaken up,” wrote Jesuit priest Alfred Delp in his essay The Shaking of Advent. “Where life is firm we need to sense its firmness; and where it is unstable and uncertain and has no basis, no foundation, we need to know this too and endure it.”

This – both the firm and the unstable – is what the Ferguson headlines, the #blacklivesmatter statements, and yes, even my tiring-teens reveal. Some of us have been living unshaken for far too long. 

The world today needs people who have been shaken by ultimate calamities and emerged from them with the knowledge and awareness that those who look to the Lord will still be preserved by him, even if they are hounded from the earth,” challenged Delp from his cell in a Nazi prison. He was condemned as a traitor for his opposition to Hitler and hanged in 1945.

As the protests, hashtags, debates and dismissals abound, I’m spending my Advent asking the Lord to preserve us all in ways that help us listen to and value each other. I’m praying that this shaking will teach me how to be a defender of other weary souls who need it like my family once did. I’m praying for protection from weariness for those standing firm in the trenches to create something whole from this brokenness. I’m praying for an adolescent nation that needs to grow-up and come to terms with its broken reality. I’m praying we will all pause long enough to remember what is firm and holy and good.

It is this soul-remembering season of Advent that reminds the weary world to rejoice. May the wait for His Coming teach us how to love one another better in a shaking and shattered world.

Further Reading

Alfred Delp Quote from Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, December 5.

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

5 painful realities of white privilege

5 painful realities of white privilegeWe were sitting outside the frozen yogurt shop when my husband interrupted my yogurt-induced-heaven with a passionate “Did you see that!?!”

“What?” I looked around but didn’t see anything unusual. I’d been a little spaced out in a blissful yogurt coma and was, as usual, less-than-aware of my surroundings.

“That Asian lady in the yogurt store! She and her daughter were just standing there, waiting in line for the restroom and this white guy came in and walked right in front of her.”

He paused, shaking his head in angry disbelief, “And she just let him go. She put her head down and let him push his way past her,”

He paused, processing the interaction, “That’s just so privileged. And he probably doesn’t even recognize it. The problem with us is that we get all submissive and let people walk all over us.” 

Confession Time: In my head, I started listing all the reasons why what he just said happened couldn’t have actually happened. Maybe he saw things wrong. Maybe the guy had to puke. Maybe he left his cell phone in the bathroom. Surely what my husband saw wasn’t what actually happened. 

But then I remembered all the things I’ve written about race & privilege. Dismissing perceptions is one of the most unhelpful responses in race conversations.

I should already know this, right? Right.

(Except for the fact that I don’t.)

Privilege runs deep, and as I continue to ponder the ideas of humility, I keep running smack into its gritty realities. They’re not pretty, but ignoring them won’t make them go away either. Here are a few truths I’ve learned along the way:

1. Privilege is hard to see if you have it, but easy to see if you don’t

I often don’t see the privilege my husband or my friends of color see, but not because it doesn’t exist.  I don’t see it because I don’t have to see it. I live in a world where people who look like me are the norm, so the world-at-large adjusts to me, not the other way around. I can walk into a restaurant without heads turning in curiosity. I’ve never encountered a situation where people define my personal qualifications by my physical appearance. People rarely make comments – ignorant or informed – about my race or ethic background.

It’s kind of like the emporer who wasn’t wearing any clothes – everyone but the stubborn king himself sees the truth. If I could get into the mind of that classic fairytale character as he walked naked down the street when the little boy called his bluff, I can almost hear him thinking to himself, “That crazy boy! Who does he think he is?  He doesn’t know anything. I’m the Emporer, after all. What I say goes!”

It’s not so different from the knee jerk reaction that many white people have when white privilege comes up. Who do they think they are? we think about the people of color who suggest perspectives that upturn our understanding of the world.

What do they know? we dismiss the realities they experience. When history is written by the winners, our story is the one with the power, and until we learn other sides of the story, it’s nearly impossible to understand why some might question our interpretation of it.

If I’m brutally honest with myself, I’ve done the same thing as the privileged white guy at the yogurt shop and never even noticed. Privilege just doesn’t feel the same to those who benefit from it like it does to those who get run over by it.

2. Privilege feels great and horrible all at the same time

I’ll be the first to say that being the one with the power feels great. Power is fun, but an equal reality of power is that it corrupts and blinds. The power that privilege carries does this as well. That’s why when the headlines erupt when a Princeton student writes a letter denying the realities of white privilege. It’s a divisive topic, drawing intense criticism and ire from some loud voices who staunchly deny its existence.

When I travel, I am nearly always treated better than my non-white family. I get higher quality service, more attention and courtesy. I get less attention at airport security lines and from police men. Even if I personally benefit from this treatment, the fact that my family faces its fallout sours any positives it holds for me.

If people only knew how much more humble and sacrificial and generous they were than me, I think, my brown family would be the ones given elevated status, not me. But the history of white skin tells a different story, so we walk instead through a broken and unequal reality.

3. Privilege creates guilt which creates shame which creates denial

Brene Brown has shed an immense amount of light on how shame impacts our ability to be vulnerable, and it’s easily applicable when considering privilege. She writes,

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

When I don’t initially understand a situation like the yogurt shop, it can take me weeks to admit it. My guilt kicks in…how many years I have been married interracially? How many conversations have I had and books have I read about race and privilege?

Will I ever learn?

The shame lingers so subtly that I don’t even notice it until my denial eventually slips out and I’m forced to face my privilege once again.

4. Privilege isn’t about individuals, it’s about systems

What lacks acknowledgement in conversations about privilege is that it’s not necessarily applicable to individuals. When racial microagressions play out on an individual level, the reason they trigger reactions is because of the history such interactions carry with them.

In other words, when the white guy marches past the Asian lady in the restroom line, the history of white-dominant/Asian-submissive interaction plops down right in the center of things. As much as we’d like to believe it, the world is not only made up of individuals, it’s also composed of groups who represent ideas and create realities beyond individuals’ control.

5. Privilege isn’t only about race

As I grow in my understanding of privilege, I see how it extends far beyond the context of race. Privilege comes in many packages and shapes how we view and interact with the world.

“I am unlearning the ways I perceive my own areas of privilege as ‘normal’,” writes Austin Channing. “I can smell when patriarchy is leaking all over a man as he interacts with me. But there are plenty of other ways that that I engage in oppression, ignorance, avoidance, and all kinds of crazy.”

I think of all the times I fail to consider other realities and subconsciously operate as though mine is the norm regardless of things like disability, education level, language ability, religious views, or sexual orientation. We saw it happen yet again last week with nationalities when Twitter called the spelling bee ‘Unamerican’ for its lack of white participants. Clearly, there is no end to how we exclude each other when we see ourselves as the ones who belong and everyone else as the other.

As a result, unpacking how we engage with people of different backgrounds than our own is critical to development the model of humility we see in Phillipians 2:

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.” (The Message)

Christ’s example stands in stark contrast to the pundits and pontificators who insist nothing-is-wrong-with-me in response to the racial struggles of our world. It sheds new light on the pushy white guy’s behavior in the yogurt line. It opens the heart’s door of this stubbornly-skeptical wife just a teeny-bit wider.

Our world is sorely in need of people who follow Christ before they follow political figures and tribe leaders.  When we fight against the privilege discussion because it’s too painful to face the reality of the broken history and systems of our world, we end up perpetuating the exact same legacy.

Instead, may our humility grow deep enough that we have the courage to walk through the painful realities privilege carries. May we, like Christ, live selflessly and obediently rather than clinging to privilege and status. If we want to see change the world, truly, it must first begin with ourselves.

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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.

Related Posts

Miscellany

Join the #Weneeddiversebooks social media campaign

When I noticed the hashtag #weneeddiversebooks trending on Twitter tonight, I was completely thrilled and just had to share!  (I also found it happily ironic that it was trending on the day the NBA banned the Clippers owner Donald Sterling for his racist comments…)

Join the social media campaign started by author Ellen Oh, an effort to get the media’s attention to increase diversity in children’s books. Here’s our photo:

weneeddiversebooks_edited-1

To which my son promptly added that we also need stories that just don’t explain interracial families, but just present them as normal people.

Make your own sign and take a picture to post on social media May 1-3 to give the movement some traction, and visit the link above to submit it to the Tumblr site for #weneeddiversebooks.

While you’re at it, check out some other posts about the need for increased diversity in children’s exposure to the world:

 

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!

Related Posts

Culture & Race

Why we can’t just set race aside

Why we can't 'set race aside'“Let’s set race aside for a moment.”

“Taking race out of the conversation…”

Every so often I’ll hear white people pull out suggestions like these in conversations about race. I’ve probably even said such things myself at some point, for it wasn’t until I read Stephen Brookfield’s article Teaching about Race that the impact of such statements fully clicked:

Assume that for students of color race is evident in everything – how we name ourselves, what we consider as respectful behavior, how we think a good discussion goes etc. The freedom to say ‘let’s put race aside’ is something Whites have – they can ‘choose’ when to switch the racial perspective on or off.

A friend had sent me Brookfield’s article and wanted to know my opinion of it. “I’d like to get your take on the post-colonial condescension idea in relationship to the work you are doing and what I am finding/experiencing,” she wrote of her current dissertation research. “You seem to be so FREE from this in your writings and persona.”

Internally, I chuckled. She clearly didn’t live with me. My first reactions are quite frequently just as ‘white’ as the next person. But I also knew there was a slight difference in my life, too.

“It’s love,” I thought, almost without thinking. Being the only white person in my house, it’s next to impossible for any opinion to leave my mouth without also being filtered through three non-majority-race experiences. Because our conversations happen in a place where the undercurrent love, there is an inherent safety for honesty, even when conversations are contentious and hard.

“This is how I perceive the situation,” I’m often known to comment to my husband – even when my perceptions sound so racist I’m embarrassed to admit them, “Help me understand why I think this but feel bad saying it out loud.”

Years of such admissions are slowly helping me understand when my reactions stem from being a cultural majority and when I’m actually allowing more than one perspective to shape my perceptions. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but as my understanding of racial experiences other than my own grows, explanations like Brookfield’s about white perceptions of race make more and more sense inherently.

While marriage is definitely one way toward this understanding, it’s certainly not the only one. I know others who have gained deeper understanding through friends, roommates, churches, neighbors, living abroad and working in cross-cultural contexts. It doesn’t always happen, mind you. There are plenty of patronizing white folks who think they’re helping when their ignorance is actually feeding their own egos and making situations worse. A huge key to authentic understanding is when people take the time to listen and don’t assume their perspective is best, or even ‘normal’.

Another key is that they place themselves under the leadership of people who aren’t white.  As Soong-Chan Rah is known to say, if white people haven’t ever had a non-white mentor, they won’t be true missionaries, they’ll simply be colonialists all over again. Without the presence of a perspective to speak a different story into our own, it’s really tough to consistently consider how others might perceive situations and understand how our ignorance inflicts more harm than help. This is one of the reasons I occasionally post resources like the ones below – to help facilitate access to and highlight the value of these voices.

When we only listen to ourselves, we lose the ability to understand others. When we don’t understand others, we segment and isolate and operate solely out of stereotypes and fear. We assume and second guess and overreact. Life is definitely easier this way – one look at the world tells us so; but it is not the way of Christ when we seek to walk in his commands by loving one another.

In liturgy, we confess our lack each week: We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. The church’s often passive and dismissive response to racial brokenness falls mostly under the category of “those things which we ought to have done”. These things we leave undone – failing to seek understanding, compassion and empathy for others – are perhaps one of the greatest sins of omission in the church today.

Quite frankly, I also find that they’re one of the greatest challenges in my own life. It’s a whole lot easier to ignore something than to actively engage it – especially because I come from a culture that discourages direct confrontation. My own sins of omission often stem from a sense of lostness about knowing how to start. The Greek philosopher Epictetus offers sage advice to reluctant pilgrims like me, “First, learn the meaning of what you say. Then, speak.”

When it comes to race, too many of us are speaking before we understand, and it’s time we more seriously heed Paul’s wisdom to slow our speech down and speed our listening up. Understanding comes only after we take the time to listen, for in listening to others, we learn their stories. When we know another’s story, our ability to love them also expands, both in word AND deed.

In the scheme of things, isn’t love what it’s all about anyway? Not the syrupy, American, Disney type of love, but the deep and wide sacrificial love of Christ for a broken and beautiful world.

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I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the racial conversation is a rocky and winding road, but avoiding it won’t make it go away as some would suggest. The only way out is through, and the way-through requires something we must all practice afresh every day:

It’s love.

My heart knew before my brain even had a chance to kick in.

It covers a multitude of sins.

Further resources

Belief, Culture & Race

101 culturally diverse Christian voices

101 culturally diverse voices sq“I’m just tired of only hearing white, mainstream evangelical voices,” a good friend lamented to me recently. “Why aren’t voices from other backgrounds listened to in the same way as the white voices?” I heard the weariness of consistent exclusion in his question, and frankly, wondered the same thing myself.

When I saw Rachel Held Evans’ list of 101 Christian Women Speakers a few months ago, I was struck most by their lack of representation and recognition in the mainstream white evangelical Christian culture.  Looking at the speakers at so many Christian conferences and gatherings, it would appear that white males are the only people qualified to speak from a place of faith. Rachel’s list showed us that this was not so.

As I researched this list, I was struck by how many great voices from diverse backgrounds are speaking in the public sphere through all sorts of mediums – writing, music, art, speaking.  It is my hope that this list will broaden the conversation even further and be a resource to help distribute the collective voice beyond only one dominant cultural perspective in the public Christian sphere.

A few things to note about this list:

  1. This is not a ‘best of’ list.  It is a list to highlight the vast array of voices from culturally diverse backgrounds speaking actively about faith. My goal is mainly to show that such voices are plentiful and active in order to encourage the white Christian body at large better access to finding and listening to more perspectives as a norm – not an afterthought, exception or token.
  2. This is not a list of conference speakers. I attend professional conferences, but tend to steer clear of Christian ones.  I learned long ago that the group-think/yay-rah environment of Christian conferences wears my soul out quickly.  If I go on a retreat, it’s usually a silent one or at least a very small one without personality-driven agendas. Many of the people on this list do speak, but some of them write or paint or sing as well.  Their perspectives can be listened to through their writings, their creative work, and their voices.
  3. That being said, I value public voices deeply, but I tend to listen to them instead one at a time through books, blogs, and organizations. As a result, I tried to include people from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and perspectives who have this type of public voice.  Sometimes I gave preference to people with a stronger online presence not because they’re ‘better’ voices, simply because they’re easier to follow and hear from in a public context.  I also gave preference to some lesser-known voices over very-established ones like Tony Campolo, Luis Palau, Cornel West, Desmond Tutu, John Perkins, Ravi Zacharias, and Tony Evans.  That being said, I did also include some voices that have been around for quite some time but may not be as widely recognized like Ruth Padilla, Ajith Fernando, Samuel Escobar, Ken Fong, Noel Castellanos, and Michael Oh.
  4. Since I live in the US and the vast majority of my readers are from the US, much (though not all) of this list is also based in the US.  Singular vision and polarized conversation may very well be a problem more unique to the American church, and for this particular weakness we need lists such as these. For practical reasons, I did not include voices who communicate primarily in languages other than English. I am sorely aware of the privilege this reinforces, but also found it the most useful way to create a list like this.
  5. There is no intentional theological bent or classification for this list.  The voices represent a range from conservative to liberal, Catholic to protestant and I made no attempt to include or exclude voices because of their particular theological perspectives. The only qualification I looked at was if the person publicly identified as a Christian. That being said, it is likely ‘imbalanced’ in some fashion or another and is also most probably heavier on evangelicals and/or protestants because this is my own background as well as the protestant perspective running many conferences and powerful publishing companies.
  6. This list, of course, is woefully incomplete, and like Rachel, I encourage others to form their own lists of valuable voices that diverge from the mainstream. Additionally, please feel free to leave others’ information I may have missed (or your own!) in the comment section below. The louder the collective voice, the more clearly it is heard. I’d love to see others create their own lists – global theologians, regional voices (I could have made a similar list of 101 culturally diverse voices in LA alone!), or ethnic group specific voices.
  7. If you are included in this list and I have listed incorrect or incomplete information, please let me know and I’d be happy to correct it.
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Khristi Adams @KhristiLauren
Author, Campus Pastor, Documentary Filmmaker, Youth Advocate
Watch a promo for her book.
Watch her speak.  
Watch “Chivalry is Dead” documentary. 
Southern California
 
Robin Afrik @afrikadvantage
Speaker, national consultant and strategist on issues surrounding reconciliation/diversity, international adoption, multi-cultural families’ and identity formation. 
http://afrikadvantage.com/
Check out her work here.
Holland, Michigan 
 
Dr. David Anderson @AndersonSpeaks
Pastor. Author. Radio Show Host
http://www.andersonspeaks.com/
Check out his books here.
Washington, DC
 
Ramez Atallah @RamezAtallah
General Director, The Bible Society of Egypt 
http://rameza.wordpress.com/
Listen to him speak.
Egypt
 
Sami Awad @Sami_Awad
Founder and Executive Director of Holy Land Trust
http://www.holylandtrust.org/
Listen to him speak here.
Palestine
 
Leroy Barber @LeroyBarber
Executive Director, Word Made Flesh
http://www.wordmadeflesh.org/
Listen to him speak here.  
Check out his book here.
 
Eric D. Barreto @ericbarreto
Theology professor, Luther Seminary
http://www2.luthersem.edu/ebarreto/ebarreto/About.html
Check out his writing here
Listen to him speak here.
Saint Paul, Minnesota
  
Cheryl Bear
First Nations Musician and speaker
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cheryl-Bear/70132140328
Listen to her music here.  
Listen to her speak here.
Check out her book here.
Canada
 
Grace Biskie @gracebiskie
Blogger/author, advocate, community activist 
http://gracebiskie.com/
Read more of her writing here.
Kalamazoo, Michigan
  
Edward J. Blum @edwardjblum
Author, teacher, student of race, religion, culture, politics
http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~histweb/faculty_and_staff/faculty_bios/e_blum.htm
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
San Diego, California
 
 
Amena Brown Owen @amenabee
Writer. Poet. Hip hop head.@spelman woman
http://www.amenabrown.com/
Check out her book here.
Listen to her spoken word here.
Atlanta, Georgia
 
Austin Channing Brown @austinchanning
Learner. Listener. Trainer. Writer. On a mission to make the racial divide smaller.
http://austinchanning.com/
Read more about her here.
Chicago, Illinois
  
Velynn Brown @gospelrainsong
Blogger, Poet
http://velynnbrown.com/
Pacific Northwest
 
J. Kameron Carter @jkameroncarter
Writer, intellectual.  Professor of theology and black church studies at Duke University. 
http://jkameroncarter.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
North Carolina
  
Noel Castellanos @NoelCCDA
CEO of Christian Community Development Association
http://www.ccda.org/about/staff
Check out his books here.  
Watch him speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Elias Chacour
Former Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth. Writer, reconciler between Arabs and Israelis
Check out his books here.  
Watch him speak here.  
Israel 
 
Mark Charles @wirelesshogan
Native American writer
http://wirelesshogan.blogspot.com/
Watch his videos here.
Navajo Nation
 
Peter W. Chin @peterwchin
Pastor of Peace Fellowship in D.C. 
peterwchin.com
Read his writing here.
Listen to him speak here.
Washington, D.C.
  
Eugene Cho @EugeneCho
Christ Follower. Husband. Father. Pastor. Humanitarian. Activist. Founder of One Days Wages, Q Cafe, and Seattle Quest Church
http://eugenecho.com/
Listen to his TedTalk.
Check out his upcoming book.
Seattle, Washington
 
 
 James Choung @jameschoung
author of True Story & Real Life, national director @IVWitness, founder @vineyardU, speaker, professor
http://www.jameschoung.net/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Los Angeles, California
 
Christena Cleveland @CSCleve
Author of DISUNITY IN CHRIST: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart.
http://www.christenacleveland.com/
Check out her book here.
Listen to her speak here.
Minneapolis, Minnesota
 
Rev. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, Ph.D.
Dean of Esperanza College, Eastern University
http://www.eastern.edu/about/university-leadership/rev-elizabeth-conde-frazier-phd
Listen to her speak here.
Check out her books.
Pennsylvania
 
Orlando Crespo
Pastor, theologian, writer
https://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/author.pl/author_id=1407
Check out his book here.
Listen to him speak here
New York
 
Linson Daniel @Linson_Daniel
Area Director for @INTERVARSITYusa. Teacher. Blogger. Podcaster. Musician. 
http://www.linsondaniel.com/
Listen to his podcast.
Dallas, Texas
 
Ruth Padilla Deborst
Theologian and educator
http://www.stjames-cambridge.org/padilla-deborst/
Read an interview here.
Watch her speak here.
 
Miguel De La Torre @DrDeLaTorre
Professor of Social Ethics and Latino/a Studies at Illiff School of Theology, writer, speaker
http://www.drmigueldelatorre.com/
Listen to him speak here.  
Check out his books here.
Denver, Colorado
 
Mark DeYmaz @markdeymaz
Founding Pastor: Mosaic Church (AR); Executive Director: Mosaix Global Network; multi-ethnic church movement leader: author, columnist, consultant.
http://www.mosaix.info/
Listen to him speak here.  
Check out his book here.
Little Rock, Arkansas
 
Joshua Dubois @joshuadubois
Author of bestseller, The President’s Devotional; @thedailybeast columnist; led @whitehouse faith office
http://joshuadubois.com/
Check out his book here.  
Listen to an interview with Joshua here.  
Washington, DC  
 
Dennis Edwards @RevDrDre
Teacher, mentor, pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church.
http://dennisredwards.com/
Listen to him speak here.  
Minneapolis, Minnesota
 
Samuel Escobar
Writer, theologian
Watch him speak here.
Check out his books here.
 
Helen Soosan Fagan @drhelenfagan
Teacher, global leadership scholar, diversity consultant
http://helenfagan.com/
Watch her TedTalk here.
Lincoln, Nebraska
 
Richard Allen Farmer @timsdad
Bible expositor, concert artist, worship leader
http://richardallenfarmer.com/
Watch him speak here
Dallas, Texas
 
Ajith Fernando
Writer, theologian, preacher, former country director of YFC Sri Lanka 
https://www.facebook.com/AjithFernandoYFC
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.  
Sri Lanka
 
Anton Flores @ANTONofALTERNA
co-founder of Alterna, a Christian missional community that offers accompaniment, advocacy, and hospitality to Latin American immigrants
http://www.alternacommunity.com/
Read his blog here.
Listen to him speak here.
LaGrange, Georgia
 
  
Ken Fong @KenUyedaFong
Pastor, Evergreen Baptist Church
http://www.ebcla.org/
Check out his books.
Watch videos from his church here.  
Los Angeles, California
 
Makoto Fujimora @iamfujimura
Artist, writer, creative catalyst
http://www.makotofujimura.com/
Check out his book here.  
Watch him speak here.
New York
  
Nicole Baker Fulgham @nicolebfulgham
public school advocate, faith-motivated justice seeker, founder of The Expectations Project
http://www.theexpectationsproject.org/about-us/leadership/
Check out her book here.  
Listen to her speak here.  
Washington, DC
 
Marilyn Gardner @marilyngard
Writer, blogger on cultural issues and third culture kids
http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/
Cambridge, Massachusetts
 
Ivy George
Academic in Sociology & Social Work at Gordon College, speaker, writer
Ivy is an especially captivating speaker.  Watch her speak here.
Check out her books here.
Massachussetts
  
Edward Gilbreath @EdGilbreath 
 Author of Reconciliation Blues and Birmingham Revolution.
http://www.edgilbreath.com/
Listen to him speak here.
Check out his books here
Chicago, Illinois
 
Justo Gonzalez
Theologian, writer, academic
Check out his renowned theological books here.  
 
  
Derwyn L. Gray @DerwinLGray
Lead Pastor of Transformation Church; Former NFL Player
 http://www.derwinlgray.com/
Listen to him speak here.
Check out his books here.  
Charlotte, North Carolina
 
Jelani Greenidge @jelanigreenidge
Writer, communicator, comedian, thinker, speaker, musician
http://jelanigreenidge.com/
Listen to his music here.  
Check out his comedy here.  
Listen to him speak here.  
Portland, Oregon
   
Gustavo Gutierrez
Peruvian theologian, author, endowed professor at Notre Dame
http://theology.nd.edu/people/faculty/gustavo-gutierrez-o-p/
Check out his books here.
 
 
Erna Hackett @ErnaSings
Songwriter, Blogger, Social Justice leader, Intervarsity staff member
http://feistythoughts.com/
Listen to her music here.  
Los Angeles, California
 
Linda Hargrove @llhargrove
Fiction Writer
http://llhargrove.com/
Check out her books here.
Watch a trailer for her book here.
North Carolina
  
Lisa Sharon Harper @lisasharper
Director of Mobilizing @Sojourners. author, political activist
http://sojo.net/biography/lisa-sharon-harper
Check out her books here.  
Listen to her speak here.  
Washington, DC
 
Gary Haugen @garyhaugen
President & CEO of International Justice Mission
http://www.ijm.org/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Washington, DC
 
Young Lee Hertig
Co-founder and Executive Director of Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity
http://www.isaacweb.org/
Check out her book here.  
Pasadena, California
 
Peter Hong
Pastor of New Community Covenant Church
http://thenewcom.com/who-we-are/our-staff/
His sermons are rich and deep.  Listen here.  
Chicago, Illinois
 
Munther Isaac @MuntherIsaac
Christian Palestinian professor at Bethlehem Bible College
http://muntherisaac.blogspot.com/
Watch him speak here.
Jerusalem, Israel
 
Greg Jao @GregJao
Urbana emcee, IVCF National Field Director, author of Your Mind’s Mission
http://www.intervarsityleads.org/
Check out his book here.  
Listen to him speak here.  
New York
 
Katelyn from By Their Strange Fruit 
Blogger on race and christianity
http://bytheirstrangefruit.blogspot.com/
Columbus, Ohio
  
Skye Jethani @skye_jethani
Christian author, speaker, editor, pastor. 
http://www.skyejethani.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Rachel Pieh Jones @RachelPiehJones
Writer, development worker in Djibouti
http://www.djiboutijones.com/
Djibouti
 
Kathy Khang @mskathykhang 
Reader. Writer. Speaker. Follower of Jesus. Regional multiethnic ministries director @intervarsityusa.
http://morethanservingtea.wordpress.com/
Read an interview with Kathy.
Check out her book here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Grace Ji-Sun Kim @Gracejisunkim
Author, visiting researcher at Georgetown University. 
http://gracejisunkim.wordpress.com/
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Helen Lee @HelenLeeAuthor
Author, journalist, speaker, blogger
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Chicago, Illinois
 
Terry LeBlanc
Director, My People International; Chair, North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies; Indigenous Studies Program Director at Tyndale University College & Seminary
http://www.mypeopleinternational.com/index.html
Watch him speak here.
Canada
 
Grace Hwang Lynch @HapaMamaGrace
Writer, Consultant, Blogger, News Editor at BlogHer @BlogHerNews
http://hapamama.com/
San Francisco Bay area, California
 
Zaida Maldonado Pérez
Professor of church history and theology at Asbury Theological Seminary
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Kentucky
 
Vishal Mangalwadi
Lecturer, philsopher, writer, social reformer, political and cultural columnist
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Loida Martell-Otero
Professor of Constructive Theology at Palmer Theological Seminary
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Pennsylvania
 
 
Fouad Masri @CrescentProject
Pastor and founder of the Crescent Project
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Indianapolis, Indiana
 
Ramon Mayo @mayotron
Writer, missionary, blogger on diversity, the church, and racial justice
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Chicago, Illinois 
 
Erwin McManus @erwinmcmanus
Writer, speaker and lead pastor of Mosaic Church
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Los Angeles, California
 
Idelette McVicker @idelette 
Writer. Activist. African-Canadian. Founder & Editor of SheLovesmagazine.com 
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Vancouver, Canada 
 
Paul Louis Metzger @paulouismetzger
Professor at Multnomah University, Director of the Institute for the Theology of Culture, Author, Speaker
http://new-wineskins.org/
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Portland, Oregon
 
 
Osheta Moore @osheta
Urban church planter and blogger
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Cambridge, Massachusetts
 
Salim Munayer
Instructor at Bethlehem and Galilee Bible College
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Jerusalem, Israel
 
Samuel Naaman
President of the South Asian Friendship Center in Chicago, professor of World Missions and Evangelism at Moody Bible Institute
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Chicago, Iliinois
 
Trillia Newbell @trillianewbell
Freelance journalist, Christian writer, author of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity (Moody, 2014)
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Nashville, Tennessee 
 
Kelly Nikondeha @knikondeha
Writer. Thinker. Lover of Jesus, justice & jubilee. Adopted & adoptive mother of 2. Doing theology in transit. 
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Arizona & Burundi
 
Michael Oh @ohfamily
Executive Director / CEO of the Lausanne Movement as well as founder & board chairman of CBI Japan (http://cbijapan.org ).
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Nagoya, Japan
 
Enuma Okoro @TweetEnuma
Writer. Speaker. Consultant.
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Jacqueline Ottmann
Aboriginal scholar at University of Calgary
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Calgary, Canada
 
Eboo Patel* @EbooPatel
Founder and President, Interfaith Youth Core. *While Eboo is a Muslim, not a Christian, he works frequently with Christians in interfaith dialog.  
http://www.ifyc.org/
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Chicago, Illinois
 
Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 5.42.10 PM
Soong-Chan Rah @profrah
Pastor, author and academic at North Park Theological Seminary
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Chicago, Illinois
 
Vinoth Ramachandra
Writer, Secretary for Dialogue & Social Engagement for IFES
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Colombo, Sri Lanka
 
Patricia Raybon @PatriciaRaybon
Writer
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Colorado
 
Deidra Riggs @DeidraRiggs
visionary at JumpingTandem, managing editor at TheHighCalling.org, monthly contributor at (in)courage.me
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Lincoln, Nebraska
 
Natasha S. Robison @ASISTASJOURNEY 
Speaker, writer
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North Carolina
 
Robert Chao Romero @ProfeChaoRomero 
UCLA Professor. Historian. Lawyer. Pastor. Author
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Los Angeles, California 
 
Gabriel & Jeanette Salguero @NalecNews
President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition
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New York
 
 
Brenda Salter McNeil @RevDocBrenda
Reconciliation Trailblazer, Associate Professor of Reconciliation Studies & Teaching Pastor at Quest Church
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Alexia Salvatierra 
Pastor, writer, advocate, consultant, community organizer
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Arlene Sanchez-Walsh @AmichelSW
Professor of American religious history and Latina/o religion
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Los Angeles, California
 
Tamara Shaya Hoffman @tamarashaya
Media Communications Specialist. Conflict Analyst. Development Advocate. Strategist. Storyteller. Leader.
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Washington, DC
 
Priscilla Shirer @PriscillaShirer
Bible teacher and speaker
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Texas
 
Andrea Smith
Intellectual, professor at University of California Riverside, Co-founder of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
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Southern California
 
Emfrem Smith @efremsmith
President and CEO of World Impact. Author and speaker with Kingdom Building Ministries.
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San Francisco Bay area, California
 
Matt Soerens @MatthewSoerens
Field Director for the Evangelical Immigration Table. US Church Training Specialist for @WorldRelief, author
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Chicago, Illinois
 
Bryan Stevenson
Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative.  Lawyer defending the poor, imprisoned, and mentally ill
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Montgomery, Alabama
 
Jemar Tisby @JemarTisby
Co-Founder of @RAANetwork, Student at @RTSJackson, Black & Reformed Christian
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Jackson, Mississippi
 
Nikki Toyama-Szeto
Senior Director of Biblical Justice Integration and Mobilization at International Justice Mission
http://www.ijm.org/node/2392
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Washington, DC
 
Richard Twiss
Speaker, activist, educator, author on Indigenous communities.  Founder of Wiconi International. 
(Richard passed away earlier this year, but leaves a rich legacy of work with us)
http://www.wiconi.com/
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Kathy Tuan-Maclean
Area Director, Boston Graduate/Faculty Ministries, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
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Canon Andrew White @vicarofbaghdad
Vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad
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Baghdad, Iraq
 
 
Marcos Witt @MarcosWitt
Christian musical artist
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Houston, Texas
 
Randy Woodley @randywoodley7
Native American (Keetoowah), Spiritual, farmer, professor, activist, writer, Ph.D. Intercultural Studies
http://www.eagleswingsministry.com/
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Oregon
 
George Yancey @profyancey
Sociologist, researcher, writer
http://www.georgeyancey.com/
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Denton, Texas
  
 
 
Jenny Yang @JennyYangWR
Vice President of Advocacy and Policy @WorldRelief and co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate.
Read more about Jenny.
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Naomi Zacharias @Naomi_Zacharias
Author, Speaker, and Director/Vice President of Wellspring International.
http://wellspringinternational.org/ 
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Atlanta, Georgia
  
 
Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

Dear Lego: Yellow is not a ‘neutral’ skin color

When my biracial son wrote this letter to the Lego company about the need for more racial diversity among Lego figures, I started thinking more deeply about the issue.  A friend of mine commented on Facebook that her son (now in his 20s) had written the company complaining that there weren’t any dark-skinned figures because he thought his dark-skinned cousin would feel left out.  At that time, Lego responded that they didn’t make different color mini-figures because “yellow was a ‘neutral’ skin color.”

I gasped.

Really, Lego?  

Have you ever given children a crayon and asked them to draw themselves?  White children use peach – OR YELLOW – for their skin and brown children DON’T.  Not ever. (Unless, perhaps, they wish the were a yellow Lego figure.)  Consider this picture my son drew of our beautiful family (I’m the peach one with the yellow hair.  He and his father are the brown ones):

family

I set aside my son’s offense temporarily until I went to the Lego website to submit his letter detailing his desire to organize his school into a strike against Lego because of the aforementioned ‘neutral’ yellow heads and, much to my great surprise, found this:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 10.51.14 AMYes, folks, in 2014.  The centuries old narrative of one color dominating the world’s story needs to change.  Its hurting us all.

We now have a black president, 15% of marriages are interracial, over 20% of our country isn’t white, and that this figure is quickly increasing at a rapid rate.  Perhaps Lego missed the headlines that this is the world’s most typical – or in Lego’s words ‘neutral’ – person:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 6.46.39 PM

Not this:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 6.51.11 PM

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Lego.  I love their creativity and quality and imagination. That’s why it shocks me so greatly that such a genius company dismisses such a significant reality of its consumer market.  Consider with me a few facts about Lego:

  • There are about 62 LEGO bricks for every one of the world’s 6 billion inhabitants.
  • More than 400 million people around the world have played with LEGO bricks.
  • 7 LEGO sets are sold by retailers every second around the world. (Neatorama)

Here’s part of a fascinating infographic by visual.ly that gives specific stats about mini figures themselves:

lego

Let’s think about these stats for a minute:

  • If 400 million people around the world have played with Legos, it’s likely safe to assume that quite a few of these people weren’t yellow – or male for that matter.
  • Lego has corporate Lego offices in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, and Taiwan – none countries which have a sizable ‘yellow’ population (unless, that is, Lego cares to recreate the demeaning slurs of yesteryear).
  • If this many Legos and mini figures are being created and sold around the world at such a rapid rate, surely there’s enough market interest for Lego to create characters of varying skin hues, genders and ethnicities.
  • If one of Lego’s 4 most frequently asked questions posted on their own website is about the color of the mini figures’ skin, I’m clearly not the first person to ask this question. This mama-bear wants to know why the problem is being dismissed and not fixed asap. My son is growing up quickly and there’s no time to waste.

Step up to the plate, Lego.  Surely your unparalleled creativity can come up with a better solution that allows all children to see themselves in your toys given the remarkable history of innovation you have always shown.  Stop the excuses about yellow heads being ‘neutral’ – #werenotbuyingit  even the kids see straight through that one.  

swirl

Sign our petition to ask Lego to make their minifigures more diverse at Change.org.  Be sure to forward it along to your friends on Facebook or Twitter as well.  

Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

Dear Lego: Get your Butts to Work on Equality

Apparently, I’m raising a couple of activists.  My daughter was just complaining yesterday that Lego makes cool toys for boys and boring ones for girls, so there was much rejoicing in our house upon reading this letter that recently went viral:

Immediately after I showed this to my kids, my Lego-loving son son went straight to work on his own letter to the company.  When his older sister suggested that Mama might not approve of the ‘butt’ part, he responded, “Well, Mama says what she thinks, so I’m going to say what I think,” and proceeded to include his own vocabulary choice in his letter even though he knew it meant risking the loss of his precious screen time.  (Upon reading the letter, I thought it captured many children’s frustration with the company’s lack of attention to diversity well, so in this case we applauded his accurate choice of vocabulary and had a good little chuckle ourselves!).

He’s not one for beating around the bush, this kid.  His teacher recently told me that when his class was discussing the history of Native Americans, she made a comment along the lines of, “The Europeans did a few bad things to the Native Americans.” to which my son promptly responded, “Really?!?  Just a few???”

His keen mind sees straight to the core of so many things, and he captured another aspect of Lego’s bias so perfectly in his letter below that I couldn’t resist asking him if he would mind guest-posting on my blog.  He graciously agreed.  So without further adieu, I introduce to you my slightly sassy, ever truth-telling and fabulous 8 year old son, Jehan:

lego letterFor those of you not proficient in reading 8-year-old-handwriting, here’s a transcription:

Dear Lego,

I know you have to make white people in Lego, but I am biracial and I would like (and probably a lot of other people too) for you [to] make more dark skinned and Chinese legos.  I have never seen a Chinese Lego minifigure.  Now, if you don’t make these, I will ask me and my friends to go on a strike on Lego! So I mean now and maybe even my whole class!

So I suggest you get your Lego butts working or I will ask the whole school to do a strike on Lego.  Now my sister thinks I should NOT post this on Facebook, but a girl named [Charolotte] did, so I am!

Now I mostly play with girls.  I think girls aren’t all pink princesses because my friend Arie plays spies with me.  She has bows, guns, you name it.  Now, my other good friend Emma, she would like to have Lego girls too.  Maybe you could have a new form of Legos – Lego Adventure – Lego sales would go haywire.

From, Jehan