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:

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  • 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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Culture & Race, Social & Political Issues

5 myths that stop white people from facing race

While much has improved since the days of segregation laws and public lynchings, the struggle of racism has by no means gone away. It feels like there’s a racial battle nearly every week in the news; and I watch the stories unfold with a sense of shock and sorrow. Conservative pundits’ accusations of ‘race baiting’ and ‘playing the race card’ capture headlines, but a less publicized, more complex story I hear from white people around me is a sad confusion over how racism is still causing these kinds of problems. Truth be told, I’ve found myself overwhelmed by this confusion to the point of checking out completely. While self-care is sometimes necessary for those deeply involved in difficult conversations, I’m keenly aware that it’s far too easy for white people to disengage because we don’t have to care; our skin gives us that option.

In her article, White People Facing Race: Uncovering Myths that Keep Racism in PlacePeggy McIntosh (2009) explores five myths that keep white people from understanding the experience of other races. Understanding these assumptions has helped me shift my mindset when I find myself wanting to run away from the on-going racial conflict in our country.

The Myth of Meritocracy

In a majority world, individuals are viewed as the sole component of society. There are no “groups”, only people. As a result, people get what they want and deserve based on their individual choices. The American mantra of ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’ reinforces this sentiment: all you have to do is try and you’ll succeed because “nothing stands in your way”. There is little  acknowledgment of the impact that systems have on individuals.

This myth stands most potent when looking at the stories of African-American families talking to their sons about the realities of race today. In his book, Between the World and I, Ta-Nehisi Coates, a national correspondent for The Atlanticshares this from a letter to his son:

You stayed up till 11 p.m. that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you said, “I’ve got to go,” and you went into your room, and I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.

Having known many young black men who have done nothing to deserve the burden of this reality, I mourn the disconnect in society that makes it possible.

The Myth of Manifest Destiny

Because racism is embedded so deeply in the foundations of our country, it remains difficult for those who have traditionally held the power to recognize. Our childhood history lesson of Manifest Destiny teaches that God gave this land to America, and that we are, as a result, his chosen people. Seeing the US as “a nation found by God” keeps us from acknowledging the long-term impact of the blatantly evil and sinful stories like Native American genocide, African slavery, Japanese internment, and segregation laws.

CaptureWhile we don’t see campaign signs like this anymore (though I wouldn’t put it past Donald Trump), this sentiment still rings true in the hearts of many as issues like racial segregation, urban gentrification & property values, and white-boy-club politics play out.

The Myth of White Racelessness

When discussing race, many white people struggle to identify cultural characteristics they share with other whites. YouTube points out some of these characteristics in some not-so-gentle and painfully accurate ways. Growing up as a member of the majority can foster a “I don’t have a culture. I’m just normal.” perspective that assumes only other people have race. 

Additionally, white people’s participation in racial oppression isn’t seen as racial activity, but simply as “history.” We see it time and again through the merchandising of products like nude pantyhose and flesh colored crayons. We see it in advertisements that only include only white faces and public response to shootings-by-white-people versus shootings-by-brown people. When brown people do something bad, it’s immediately attributed to their race. When white people do something bad, they have no race.

For white people to grasp the racial dynamics, it’s crucial that they first understand the role that our own race plays in society and history. Failing to these face these realities creates a short-sighted and ignorant perspective that will only serve to repeat history, not redeem it.

The Myth of Monoculture

Viewing values through a single lens leads many to operate on the assumption that there is one “American” culture that everyone experiences in similar ways. This is still the myth I catch myself practicing most frequently when I slip up and make comments like, “Christians think…” or “Americans say…” when what I really mean  is “White evangelical Christians in the US think…” or “White middle-class Americans say…” Lumping everyone into one group creates an unspoken expectation that people of color adapt to the “white way”.

Considering others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3) means that it’s essential that we don’t unintentionally demand that others follow cultural norms that we don’t even realize we have. Such differences present themselves through how we view diverse perspectives on theology, worship style, or individual spirituality.

The Myth of White Moral Elevation

Years ago, I chaperoned a very diverse group of high school students on a field trip to the nation’s capital building. I grew quickly ashamed when I saw painting after painting like this:

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Where were the role models that reflected the background of non-anglo students? What possibilities would they imagine for themselves if these were the only people credited with America’s greatness?

The myth of white moral elevation creates a societal bias that fosters a subconscious superiority complex . While it’s never directly stated, this bias strings through the media, education, and society that communicates that it’s natural for white people to be in the limelight but exceptional for people of color. This attitude comes through in statements like, “He’s so articulate” or “She doesn’t act black.” We see it time and again in our church leadership structures, elected political officers, and community leaders. Even in the most diverse regions of the country, the majority of people who pull the power-making strings are white. To truly grapple with how privilege impacts ourselves and society, we need to be regularly asking why this is still our reality in one of the most diverse countries in the world.

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While this is only the beginning of the conversation, it’s a great place to begin. Understanding race is not a one-time-thing to wipe our hands clean from. It is a never-ending process of listening and learning in order to become a safe place to hold the stories of those around us with gentler hands.

Want to learn more?

Culture & Race

Where to start when you’re afraid to talk about race

It’s been another turbulent week for racial headlines in the US: yet another incident of police brutality toward black women at a swimming pool, NAACP President Rachel Dolezal is outed as a white person, and 9 African-Americans were shot and killed at a historic black church in Charleston.

Lord, have mercy. It’s only Thursday.

I’ve followed quite a few conversations on these topics and the general reaction (in addition to some shockingly racist comments) is dismay, shock, and sadness. As I’ve listened, I’ve also heard a sentiment from white people of not knowing exactly what to say or do. Blogger Jamie Wright pins down what I suspect many white folks are feeling right about now in her recent Facebook status:

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So, what’s a caucasian to do once this admission has been made? How do we move from “I care. I won’t ignore this.” to actually being part of lasting change? The internet has no shortage of excellent articles with tips on how to understand and respond to white privilege:

I love these articles – they’re incredibly helpful, practical, and get straight to the point. I need reminded and re-reminded of their truths: listen, learn, respect, challenge. As helpful as these tips are, at times I still find myself wrestling with how to handle the privilege I have, especially in light of the recent Rachel Dolezal coverage. Thoughts like these simmer beneath my surface, leaving me both perplexed and speechless in light of racialized headlines:

I have a degree in Multicultural Education, am multilingual, and have taught in communities of color for years. Do I disregard my experiences, my skills, my knowledge because of my privilege?

As a teacher, I still hold a position of power within the many communities of color I have known. Do I shun any association of power because of its association with privilege?

As a mother, wife, friend, and family member, I walk alongside the daily journey of people of color navigating a world of white power. Are these experiences invalidated in the wider world because of the privilege I carry?

Having grown up in a predominately white community and lived as an adult in many communities of color, I frequently see multiple sides to an issue that highlight misunderstanding from many sides. When do I use my voice and when do I keep quiet?

These are not easy questions;  but they’re real ones that churn deep down, rumbling as I go about my days. I read, talk, and think about race on a fairly regular basis, but there are times when I still feel at a complete loss because of the guilt I carry over my privilege. I know I’m not the only white person who feels this way.

While I agree that lying about her race is a poor choice, I also see the situation as far more complex than this. Truth be told, I identify with Rachel’s desire to don a different skin. I’ve often longed for a different appearance to disassociate myself from the harsh history of my race and to legitimize my passion for reconciling racial brokenness. Sometimes it feels like being white disqualifies me from a seat at the racial table. When I whisper this shame-filled admission to those close to me, they remind me that not having a seat at the table is no new feeling to people of color.

Ah, privilege. It blinds even those who want to see.

This conversation isn’t simple. It’s far – both literally and figuratively – from black and white. So where’s a white-person-on-the-sidelines watching all this pain, caring-but-not-experiencing, horrified-and-heartbroken to start?

As I sit with these questions, I find myself contemplating who I need to be in addition to what I should do to live in a culturally humble way. The lists of how-to’s and to-do’s are undeniably helpful, but they’ll go nowhere without a fundamental shift in our way of being.

In light of this, I ask myself harder questions than the initial ones above that were likely born out of defense.

  • How do I cultivate the type of character that consistently acknowledges my privilege and promotes a good greater than myself?
  • Who do I need to become in order to more deeply understand the lives of those who live and think differently than I do?
  • How do I seek understanding when I simply do not understand? 

The answers that surface are less to-do list, more lifelong goals:

1. Be ok with messy. 

I’ve read a lot of coverage on Rachel Dolezel and the one firm conclusion I’ve drawn is that it’s messy. There are good points on conflicting sides and so many speculations on her intent.

  • Could it be that a person who has been immersed in a culture for years would identify more strongly with that culture than with their own? Sure.
  • Does that make that person actually a part of that culture? Not exactly, but third culture kids have struggled with this balance for years. 
  • Is our society brutal in the way we draw lines between the haves and the have-nots, the ins and the outs? Definitely, especially when we only have 140 characters to do so.
  • Do Rachel’s choices exist in a larger social and historical reality of race and power that cause others to respond harshly to her story? For sure.

Voices from all sides throw ‘truth’ at each other without acknowledging that sometimes the truth-in-the-realm-of-people’s-experience is anything but clear. We operate only within our own skin and this limits our ability to understand others.

Heather Plett explains an idea called “holding space” that could close some gaps between these two gaping cultural realities. She explains holding space for another person as a willingness to be present and available in the difficult moments of life. When part of life carries such pain that it’s difficult to imagine the next step, those who hold space for others don’t judge, try to fix, or make them feel inadequate. Instead, they come alongside and offer warm hearts and open ears.

What if this response had been our measuring stick for Rachel Dolezal, the recent police pool beating of young black women, or the riots in Baltimore and Ferguson? How would the conversation shift if instead of jumping to immediate conclusions to label sides as right/wrong, we looked first to where we need to ‘hold space’ for the brokenness that exists on both sides?

2. Lean toward pain.

One way I’ve grown more comfortable with mess is through the practice of walking through pain – both my own and that of others. While it would often feel easier to just close my eyes and turn the other way, digging into the deeper reasons for what causes pain strengthens our ability to understand it. In our broken places, we experience how insincere gestures like offering platitudes or dismissing pain can hurt far more than they help.

Externally, this might look like actively reading on many sides of the headlines or practicing principles offered in the articles I mentioned at the beginning. Internally, however, it means sitting with a whole lot of uncomfortable. Theresa Latini explains this idea further in her article I am a pastor. Here’s why I don’t want you to pray for me:

Please do not pray for me unless you are willing to walk with me.

Know me. Hear the depths of my fear or anguish or whatever it might be and let it affect you.

Then let us bring our (not just my) most profound needs vulnerably before God. Please do not try to escape that vulnerability. Because if you do, you have left me, and that is not prayer. It is not communion with God through Christ by the spirit.

And if you have no words, that is okay — more than okay, in fact. It’s an invitation to sit with me in the awfulness of my predicament and silently wait upon God together.

I would imagine that a whole host of similar prayers are being breathed from the mouths of many in Charleston today. May it remind us of our need to simply walk alongside and hold space for those in pain today.

3. Seek first to understand, and admit when you don’t.

One of Stephen Covey’s classic principles of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,  this notion definitely needs revisited in our short-tempered and knee-jerk Twitter age. Seeking first to understand means that rather than constantly throwing out my own opinions, I ask questions and listen to the opinions of others. It means I don’t quickly dismiss those with whom I disagree but rather look for ways to understand why they might think that way. It means that I spend time reading, listening to, or seeking out perspectives of those with whom I disagree to understanding the what and why of their reasoning.

The hard part about seeking to understand is that sometimes we simply don’t. When someone’s experience extends beyond our ability to grasp it, we’re apt to throw our hands up in frustration and label them idiots. Sometimes, we feel embarrassed by our ignorance so we don’t say anything at all.

When I run into a racial situation I don’t understand, my first response is usually defensive. I like to play devil’s advocate, so it’s easy to dismiss my defensiveness as just being “who I am”. However, I’ve come to recognize that when I grow defensive in race/privilege conversations, it’s usually a sign that I need to stop, reflect on what triggered my anger, and revisit the conversation to listen some more. The phrase “help me understand” comes in really handy at this point because it focuses my attention on something besides my own (strong) desire to be right and maintain control.

4. Acknowledge both single and collective stories.

Many white Americans are accustomed to practicing an individualist perspective. We think about ourselves over the whole, elevating individuals over communities. One way this shows itself in many white churches is their harsher response to individual sins relating to individual sexuality (abortion, pornography, infidelity) than to communal sins like neglect of the poor, consumerism, or gluttony. In contrast, many cultures cultivate a more communal view where individuals consider how their personal actions impact the community as a whole.

In discussing the Rachel Dolezal situation with others, I’ve learned that I see it through an individual lens – she is one individual with specific details that impact her personal choices. In contrast, others see it through a collective lens that include painful realities of repeated power and race abuse through history. Do we both have valid points? Yes, we’re just processing through different lenses.

5. Create space to listen.

The breakneck speed of our culture robs us from time to consider both our place in the world and our impact on those around us. Throw the smartphones-glued-to-our-eyes in the mix and its a wonder any of us think for ourselves at all. Finding spaces to pause and sort through our thoughts, feelings, and experiences is crucial if we want to incorporate any of the above goals effectively.

Pausing looks different for everyone. Some people listen to podcasts or sermons that inspire. Others retreat to nature and quiet space. Some prefer to write, read, or chat over coffee with a friend. Whatever the method, intentionally creating space to allow ourselves to reflect deeply is key to long term and sustained internal change.

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“Let him that would move the world first move himself.” -Socrates

May these timeless words remind us of the need to act beyond the horror of the headlines by starting with the one thing we all have the power to change: ourselves.

Further Reading

A relevant and timely place to start listening is this post by Osheta Moore: What I Need You to Say in Response to the Shooting in Charleston and this post by Austin Channing: The Only Logical Concluson.

Here are a few other helpful resources for those seeking deeper racial understand to move beyond “I don’t know what to say, but I care.”:

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40 kids who got ridiculous detentions and don’t regret it. (This pretty much sums up my year teaching mostly freshmen…)

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Girl wears wrong shoes to graduation, falls hard. (This struck me as particularly funny since I just sat through a looong graduation with lots of crazy high heels.)

Wonder Woman to Justice League: “If I don’t get pants, nobody gets pants.” by Cynthia Sousa.

by Cynthia Sousa
by Cynthia Sousa

An American girl’s guide to kissing by Sarah Quezada.

Kissing. It’s a relatively simple aspect of Latino cultures. When you say hello or good-bye, it’s customary to include a quick peck on the cheek.  Naturally, this practice sends me into a spiral of what ifs, internal dialogues, and a general state of panic.

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To the One who is Left Behind by Marilyn Gardner. 

I know with each parting, that life will never be quite the same and I’m never quite sure I will be able to handle it. I’m never convinced that this time might be the time where I become undone, where I can no longer pick up the pieces of those left behind — move forward when those I love are gone. But each time I do. Each time I survive, and I smile and laugh again, and though it hurts, somehow it’s okay. 

In my imaginary world, family lives right next door by Marilyn Gardner.

So in my imaginary world, family is right next door. This is one of the things that we who live a mobile life give up. We give up family. To be sure, family arises in different ways, community is born out of need and desperation and it’s good community. It’s necessary. But we give up extended family and that is not easy. We give up grandparents who speak regularly into our children’s lives and teach them what it is to grow old. We give up aunts and uncles who, crazy as they may be, each come with their particular gifts and idiosyncrasies; with a collective wisdom born of good and bad choices. We give up the spiritual dimensions of lives lived well in the realm of faith, we give up family dinners, we give up family fights and the subsequent forgiveness and making up. When we live a mobile life it is really easy to decide we won’t work through the hard, instead choosing to ignore people and not reconcile our differences and our hurts.

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Meth lab found inside Walmart restroom in Indiana by Tribune Media Wire.

This is the Walmart where I used to shop. I was not especially surprised.

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How American parenting is killing the American marriage by Danielle Teller.

In the 21st century, most Americans marry for love. We choose partners who we hope will be our soulmates for life. When children come along, we believe that we can press pause on the soulmate narrative, because parenthood has become our new priority and religion. We raise our children as best we can, and we know that we have succeeded if they leave us, going out into the world to find partners and have children of their own. Once our gods have left us, we try to pick up the pieces of our long neglected marriages and find new purpose.

To the well-intentioned but ignorant parents of teenagers by Kayla Nicole.

You may be thinking “I’m smarter than that. I have a facebook and I watch my kids online.” You might have a Facebook. So do I. And so does my mom and my grandma and all of her friends. But you know who doesn’t have a Facebook? Your kid’s friends. I took an informal poll of my 150 students at the beginning of the year, and 60-80% of my students don’t even have a facebook. They connect with each other onKik, an app that allows users to text each other without exchanging phone numbers. They use Snapchat, an app that allows users to send pictures that supposedly disappear forever after ten seconds. They use Whisper, an app that a user can “anonymously” tell their deepest secrets to a vast community of other secret sharers. They use Yik Yak, Vine, Tumblr, Twitter (do you know about subtweeting? you should.), Instagram, Oovoo, WhatsApp, Meerkat, and sometimes even dating apps, like Tinder.

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I am a pastor. Here’s why I don’t want you to pray for me. by Theresa Latini. 

Please do not pray for me unless you are willing to walk with me.

Know me. Hear the depths of my fear or anguish or whatever it might be and let it affect you.

Then let us bring our (not just my) most profound needs vulnerably before God. Please do not try to escape that vulnerability. Because if you do, you have left me, and that is not prayer. It is not communion with God through Christ by the spirit.

What it means to “hold space” for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well by Heather Plett. 

What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.

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The Right Words to Say: On being read as White by Dahlia Grossman-Heinze.

When you meet me for the first time, you read me as if I were a book. Every idea you have about me and every word I say is part of that book.

When you look at me, you will think I am white. I already know this. When you shake my hand and meet me for the first time, you always already read me as white. You will hear me speak English without an accent and think I am white. You will hear or read my last name and think I am white. You read me wrong.

10 images of the Baltimore riots you won’t see on TV by Natasha Norman. 

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Expanding the ways we experience God by Shauna Niequist.

So many people I talk to are trying to find language for what’s happening inside them, and often the closest they can get is that their faith has stopped working. For many of them, I think possibly what they mean is that the tools they’ve been using to experience a life of faith have stopped working.

Confessions of a high church millenial: Is liturgy a fad? by Erik Parker. 

Christian millennials seem to live in this multi-layered world of reading the bible on their iPhone and tweeting in church, while singing ancient plainsong and praying prayers spoken by saints of centuries past.

Until your pride melts by Kim Hall.

What can we do with all our soul trouble? Where can we take it?

The season of Lent says to God’s people: “Bring it.” Bring your dry bones, your numb hearts, and your wrecked and weary souls. Bring your shame and the sin that you can’t shake. Yes, it is too much for you, but it is not too much for God. Only He can create a clean heart and a renewed spirit within you.

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Note to Self: Finding balance in the digital age by Manoush Zomorodi.

Formerly known as “New Tech City”, I’ve been listening to this podcast a lot and HIGHLY recommend it – one of the best, most thoughtful shows around. Check it out!!!

Look Up. (Spoken word on the importance of using technology thoughtfully)

I forgot my phone.

 

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Lenses of a faithful follower.

I do not often feel full of faith. As a matter of fact, I am far more frequently filled with questions of hows and whys and whens and what ifs. I have known those who walk away from faith in the face of such seeming unbelief. I, too, have had my moments wondering if my lack of belief equated an insurmountable lack of faith. When I reflect on what I have found faith to be, however, I am astounded by how much more there is to being a faithful follower of Christ than merely belief.

The puzzle of many homes.

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.

101 culturally diverse Christian voices.

Check out this list of voices from many backgrounds!

And just for fun…. Meet Dumbledore, my pet tortoise. He really likes dandelions and exploring the back yard. However, he does not-at-all like it when the dog gets ahold of him and tries to bury him.

Dumbledore the Tortoise loves Dandelions

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.

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Books

Must read books for 2014

I quit going to Christian bookstores years ago because the one-sided, narrowly defined perspectives represented on their shelves were more than I could handle.  Surely the Christian faith was larger than the American religious right!  Fortunately, some of my faith in the Christian publishing market has been restored by the voice that the internet has provided to authors who might not have ever made it into the narrow box of Christian bookstores. This post features two of these voices.

As I’ve followed the writing market, one important piece I’ve learned about the industry is the importance of early sales when a book is released. While I don’t always like the realities of the current publishing market, they are what they are. One practice I’ve started as a result of learning more about these realities is purchasing books of writer-voices I value as soon as they are released because it encourages their overall promotion, distribution and sales in a wider market.

Today it’s Eugene Cho’s new book, Overrated.

My husband and I have followed Cho for years, and have grown to deeply appreciate his voice of growing humility, justice, honesty, and grace. His insight has been tremendously helpful to us and offers a unique and much needed voice in the Christian sphere today.  Based on his blog writing alone, I highly recommend this book – it’s message is one we all need to grapple with.

Check it out at http://areyouoverrated.com/.

While I’m at it, I also have to re-recommend Christena Cleveland’s book Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the hidden forces that keep us apart. I’m halfway through it and finding its content incredibly convicting and formational. It’s a message I’ve needed to contemplate for a long time.  Throw it in on your order with Cho’s book – you won’t be disappointed!

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.

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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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Books, Culture & Race

What does it mean to be white? Resources on white identity development

Many white people I know haven’t ever given much thought to how their race has influenced them. When other Americans of color talk about their own cultural backgrounds, white people might sheepishly wonder, “What culture?” about their own backgrounds.

As I looked into what was out there on white identity, I was dismayed to find Jared Taylor’s book White Identity: Racial Consciousness in the 21st Century among the first and most prominent search results. Taylor essentially advocates white supremacy, segregation and racial superiority and completely dismisses the notions of white privilege.  While I generally advocate civility across differences, I found Taylor’s perspectives frightening, damaging, and outright racist.  Consequently, it was understandably disappointing to for Taylor’s work to be the primary search results of “white identity”.

A simple internet search proves that the loudest people talking about white identity are the blatant-racists and people of color. It was disappointingly tough to find any other voices in the mix. No wonder white people have such difficulty understanding ourselves!

In this spirit, I wanted to create a list of resources that speak to developing white identity from a position of cultural humility and value for understanding ourselves in light of both our history of racial oppression and a modern desire to create an equitable society for people of all backgrounds.

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Pondering Privilege: Toward a Deeper Understanding of Whiteness, Race and Faith

Pondering privilege: Toward a deeper understanding of whiteness, race and faith
 

For many white people, race can be a difficult subject to navigate. Some have never discussed the issue at all and may have no idea where to begin. Others, viewing themselves as colorblind, see no need to think about the issue at all. The topic grows even more difficult within the Christian church where it is no secret that Sunday mornings are often more racially divided more than united. Regardless of white people’s ignorance or inability to discuss racial issues, however, they are not going away.

Rooted in the concept of cultural humility, Pondering Privilege provides white people an opportunity to spend time more deeply reflecting on their personal perspective of and communal role in race relations by exploring why white people don’t talk about race, why they need to talk about race, suggestions for productive ways to discuss race, and how to deal with anger in race relations. Each chapter includes discussion and reflection questions and is ideal for personal or group use.

Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships across Race
by Frances Kendall
 

From Amazon: “Racial privilege is hard to see for those who were born with access to power and resources. Yet it is very visible for those to whom it was not granted. Understanding White Privilege is written for individuals and those in organizations who grapple with race every day, as well as for those who believe they don’t need to. It is written for those who have tried to build authentic professional relationships across races but have felt unable to do so. It is written for those who believe strongly in the struggle for racial justice and need additional information to share with their friends and colleagues. Inviting readers to think personally about how race–theirs and others’–frames experiences, relationships, and the way we each see the world, Understanding White Privilege focuses squarely on white privilege and its implications by offering specific suggestions for what we each can do to bridge the racial chasm.”

White privilege: Essential readings on the other side of racism
by Paula S. Rothenberg
 

From Amazon: “Studies of racism often focus on its devastating effects on the victims of prejudice. But no discussion of race is complete without exploring the other side–the ways in which some people or groups actually benefit, deliberately or inadvertently, from racial bias. This is the subject of Paula Rothenberg’s groundbreaking anthology, White Privilege.

The new edition of White Privilege once again challenges readers to explore ideas for using the power and the concept of white privilege to help combat racism in their own lives, and includes key essays and articles by Peggy McIntosh, Richard Dyer, bell hooks, Robert Jensen, Allan G. Johnson, and others. Three additional essays add new levels of complexity to our understanding of the paradoxical nature of white privilege and the politics and economics that lie behind the social construction of whiteness, making this edition an even better choice for educators.

Brief, inexpensive, and easily integrated with other texts, this interdisciplinary collection of commonsense, non-rhetorical readings lets educators incorporate discussions of whiteness and white privilege into a variety of disciplines, including sociology, English composition, psychology, social work, women’s studies, political science, and American studies.”

Being white: Finding our place in a multiethnic world
by Paula Harris and Doug Schapp
 

From Amazon: “What does it mean to be white? When you encounter people from other races or ethnicities, you may become suddenly aware that being white means something. Those from other backgrounds may respond to you differently or suspiciously. You may feel ambivalence about your identity as a white person. Or you may feel frustrated when a friend of another ethnicity shakes his head and says, “You just don’t get it because you’re white.”

  • So, what does it mean to be white?
  • How can you overcome the mistakes of the past?
  • How can you build authentic relationships with people from other races and ethnicities?

In this groundbreaking book, Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp present a Christian model of what it means to be white. They wrestle through the history of how those in the majority have oppressed minority cultures, but they also show that whites also have a cultural and ethnic identity with its own distinctive traits and contributions. They demonstrate that white people have a key role to play in the work of racial reconciliation and the forging of a more just society. Filled with real-life stories, life-transforming insights and practical guidance, this book is for you if you are aware of racial inequality but have wondered, So what do I do? Discover here a vision for just communities where whites can partner with and empower those of other ethnicities.”

Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria and other conversations about race
by Beverly Daniel Tatum
 

From Amazon: “Walk into any racially mixed high school and you will see black youth seated together in the cafeteria. Of course, it’s not just the black kids sitting together-the white, Latino, Asian Pacific, and, in some regions, American Indian youth are clustered in their own groups, too. The same phenomenon can be observed in college dining halls, faculty lounges, and corporate cafeterias. What is going on here? Is this self-segregation a problem we should try to fix, or a coping strategy we should support? How can we get past our reluctance to talk about racial issues to even discuss it? And what about all the other questions we and our children have about race?

Beverly Daniel Tatum, a renowned authority on the psychology of racism, asserts that we do not know how to talk about our racial differences: Whites are afraid of using the wrong words and being perceived as “racist” while parents of color are afraid of exposing their children to painful racial realities too soon. Using real-life examples and the latest research, Tatum presents strong evidence that straight talk about our racial identities-whatever they may be-is essential if we are serious about facilitating communication across racial and ethnic divides. We have waited far too long to begin our conversations about race. This remarkable book, infused with great wisdom and humanity, has already helped hundreds of thousands of readers figure out where to start.”

White like me: Reflections on race from a privileged son
by Tim Wise
 

From Amazon:White Like Me is one-part memoir, one-part polemical essay collection. It is a personal examination of the way in which racial privilege shapes the daily lives of white Americans in every realm: employment, education, housing, criminal justice, and elsewhere.

Using stories from his own life, Tim Wise demonstrates the ways in which racism not only burdens people of color, but also benefits, in relative terms, those who are “white like him.” He discusses how racial privilege can harm whites in the long run and make progressive social change less likely. He explores the ways in which whites can challenge their unjust privileges, and explains in clear and convincing language why it is in the best interest of whites themselves to do so. Using anecdotes instead of stale statistics, Wise weaves a narrative that is at once readable and yet scholarly, analytical and yet accessible.”

for educatorsAs both a parent and a teacher, I have come to view teachers as one of the primary gatekeepers of cultural change and understanding. When teachers understand and present the value of diversity, children learn a new reality that subconsciously shapes their entire worldview.  As a result, I believe that a fundamental skill of teachers of every student at every level is both intercultural and racial understanding. The books below are written specifically to help educators develop this understanding.

Identity Development of Diverse Populations: Implications for Teaching and Administration in Higher Education
by Vasti Torres, Mary F. Howard-Hamilton, and Diane L. Cooper
 

From Amazon: “This monograph is focused on educating faculty and administrators about the developmental issues faced by students from different racial, ethnic, or other social groupings as they attempt to define themselves during the college years and the ways this information can enhance campus classrooms, programs, and policies. Although there is a growing body of work on how various racial, ethnic, gender and other social groups develop their identity, there has been limited synthesis or application of this literature to the practice of professionals in higher education. The authors have higher education administrative backgrounds, so their recommendations are grounded in experience, and each also has a solid record of scholarship in identity development. The combined scholarly and administrative experience of the three authors enhances the contribution of this book.”

Courageous conversations about race 
by Glenn E. Singleton and Curtis Linton
Watch a video about this series here.

“Courageous conversations” has got to me one of my personal favorite sayings, and this book offers great insights on how to begin such dialogs.  The purpose of the book is to help educators work to close the racial achievement gap in public schools and it explores this through examining characteristics, foundations, and keys to anti-racist leadership.  A facilitator’s guide is also available for purchase.

We can’t teach what we don’t know: White teachers, multiracial schools
by Gary Howard

A powerful book on the impact of white teachers in multiracial schools, Gary Howard’s book is a “Racism 101” text for teachers stepping into the racial dialogue. It’s a remarkably powerful book that chronicles Howard’s own journey toward a deeper understanding of race.

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TedxTalk: How studying privilege systems can strengthen compassion
by Peggy McIntosh
 

White privilege, racism, white denial, and the cost of inequality
by Tim Wise
 

Entering conversation about race as a white male 

Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible

This is a great documentary where white people reflect on their racial experience.  The entire film is on YouTube.

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What white people need to learn by Mary-Alice Daniel

Explaining white privilege to a broke white person by Gina Crosley-Corcoran

7 Stages of White Identity by Daniel Hill

White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack by Peggy McIntosh

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Know of other resources on developing a healthy and humble white identity? Leave them in the comments below.

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Culture & Race

Words that changed my world

Bronwyn Lea is hosting a series called, “Words that changed my world” where I’m guest posting today about a small conversation years ago that opened a whole new world to me.  Come read about the words that changed my world at Bronlea.com! Here’s a little glimpse:

“You don’t have to think about the issue of race,” she said to me point-blank.

I was taken aback, “Yes, I do. It’s really important to me to understand,” I tried to half-convince, half-explain.

“But you don’t have to,” she persisted. “I can’t ever take my skin off. It comes with me everywhere I go. You don’t have to think about yours if you don’t want to. I don’t have a choice.”

Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

Speaking with children about race and some tips on how to start

Being biracial in a predominately white environment, my children began noticing race as soon as they could form thoughts more complicated than, “I want my sippy cup” and “I watch a movie?”  Having worked with plenty of biracial college students who were just beginning to discover their dual identity, we’ve intentionally spoken openly with our kids about their biracial identity from the beginning.  Like their bicultural identity, we wanted it to be something that had always been a part of who they are, not something that they suddenly discovered one day.

In an effort to help them embrace all sides of themselves, we’ve had some great chats with our kids about their identity over the years.  A Latina girl in my daughter’s first pre-school class named Rachel did cause some confusion for a bit when our daughter began telling people that she was “bi-rachel.”  We also faced quite the drama attempting to explain to her that Jesus wasn’t actually white.  Yet even in the midst of confusion and drama, we’ve found it essential to talk with our kids about this aspect of themselves and their world regularly.  

Growing up white in a mostly white community, I never talked about race, so it was a steep learning curve for me.  Because I hadn’t spoken or thought about race as a child, I was initially skeptical about the value of the conversation itself. “Aren’t we brainwashing them?” I’d asked my husband. “Why don’t we just let them notice what they notice without bringing it up?”

He’d assure me that it was quite a normal – even healthy – reality to talk about race as a family and I’d acquiesce, acknowledging that my culture’s silence on the matter hadn’t helped race relations much.  We also couldn’t really skirt the conversation easily since even our extended family is made up of a variety of races.  The kids were going to see it, and we needed to give them words to help frame their understanding.

Because of the reality of living in a racialized society (make sure to watch the video above to understand the full impact of this on children), it’s imperative for all families to speak openly about raceespecially white families. As a teacher, I learned that it was helpful to have a few ‘speeches’ prepared for a wide variety of situations, and parenting doesn’t feel that different.  Knowing how to talk about hushed-up topics with our kids like sex and race and disappointment and doubt is important. In that vane, here are a few suggestions for speaking about race to stick in a back-pocket for the day that conversation does arise.

Engage, don’t shush.

Psychological studies show that children notice racial differences as young as 3.  Sometimes, they might say embarrassing things that make parents nervous like “Why is that guy’s skin dirty?” or “You don’t match your mom.”  Psychologist Beverly Tatum suggests that if white parents are uncomfortable talking about race and respond by silencing them that the children learn race is not to be talked about at all, even if they do notice it.  The better way is to engage children on the topic and help them understand.

Speak factually.

Teach your kids the word melanin and explain how it works in human bodies.  It’s a great science lesson!  Just like sex, if we don’t explain the basic facts about how race works, young children are likely to develop their own theories like thinking others turn brown from things like eating too much chocolate or simply being ‘dirty’.

Speak figuratively.

To help our kids understand their biracial identity as young children, we would pour a glass of milk into a clear glass and then add chocolate syrup.  “Mama’s the milk.  Thaatha’s the chocolate,” we’d explain.  Then we’d stir it together.  “And you’re what happens when we mix it all together!”

Beverly Tatum (1997) would explain race to kids by cracking white and brown eggs, talking about how they’re different colors on the outside, but the exact same on the inside.

When our kids were younger, we also talked openly about the inaccuracies of racial classifications.  “Mama’s not really white, I’m more peach, right?”  Then we’d brainstorm what colors we could use for their skin: caramel, butterscotch, tan.  We’d adjust song lyrics and sing together:

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Brown and caramel and peach,
Chocolate and  coffee,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Define race without deficiency

When we speak about differences between people, it’s important to be careful to speak without making someone else seem less than.  Statements like “her skin has too much melanin” suggest that something is wrong rather than just different.  Instead, it’s far more affirming to everyone to say things like, “We all have different colors of skin.  Isn’t it pretty like a rainbow?”

Pay attention to the surroundings you create

In simple things like choosing library books or decorations, be aware of creating a space in the home that represents a wide variety of people.  If children don’t see diversity in their immediate communities, they can at least see it in books they read and movies they watch.  This is especially important for families who live in areas that don’t have a lot of diversity where children are more naturally exposed to people of other races.  See this post for more ideas on how to incorporate diversity more deeply into family life.

Discuss discrepancies

When people of color are portrayed stereotypically or negatively in the media, bring it up. When a nativity scene or Bible shows all white people, talk with children about how this isn’t actually accurate.   We don’t always prevent our kids from seeing such inaccuracies because they’re great conversation starters when we do see them.  We also then make attempts to find other resources that balance out the inaccurate stereotype they’ve been exposed to.  For example, our kids love old sitcoms like I love Lucy and the Brady Bunch.  Many of these shows carry subliminal messages or microagressions about race that were common to their time.  We’ve made sure to also introduce shows (like the Cosby Show) that portray people of color with positive and empowering messages and talk about the how each show portrays the people in it.

When it comes to race, we must remember that our children learn from both what we say and what we don’t say.  Silence doesn’t always mean approval or acceptance.  Sometimes it creates a whole-lot-of-ignorance and breeds significant misunderstanding.  If we ourselves don’t know how to talk about race in productive, healthy, non-stereotyping and respectful ways, we won’t be able to teach them how to talk about it either.

Related Posts

Tatum, B. D. (1997). Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Culture & Race

30 Day Race Challenge

When I saw the 30 Day Mom Challenge, I was inspired to create a similar challenge for people who want to develop a deeper understanding of race.  So, I developed the resource below with links to some thought-provoking resources available on race out there. (Click on the image to open the file and access the links.)  I’d encourage you to spend some time slowly digesting and learning from the resources here.

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You can also download this file here:  30 day race challenge.