The-best-ones

The-best-ones-this-fall

the-ones-about-education

As People of Color Formerly Employed by Mizzou, We Demand Change

Excellent article offering a clear summary of the realities faced by many faculty of color.

Taking my parents to college by Jeanne Capo Crucett.

I don’t even remember the moment they drove away. I’m told it’s one of those instances you never forget, that second when you realize you’re finally on your own. But for me, it’s not there — perhaps because, when you’re the first in your family to go to college, you never truly feel like they’ve let you go.

10 Ways well-meaning white teachers bring racism into our schools by Jamie Utt.

Though I know there are actively racist teachers out there, most White teachers mean well and have no intention of being racist. Yet as people who are inscribed with Whiteness, it is possible for us to act in racist ways no matter our intentions. Uprooting racism from our daily actions takes a lifetime of work

the-ones-about-parenting

Mother & Child are linked at the cellular level by Laura Grace Weldon.

“Sometimes science is filled with transcendent meaning more beautiful than any poem.”

Raising a biracial child as a mother of color by Lara Dotson-Renta

I want my sweet girl to understand that she may not always be judged by her character, that so many have and will face unfair challenges for their ethnic background or skin color, and that conversely there may be times where she will be at an advantage vis-a-vis others because of those same perceptions. As her mother I want to save her from pain, to give her the tools I lacked as I encountered prejudice early on. She is noticing the world, and it is my job to teach her to discern between what feels right and wrong, and how to navigate the gray spaces in which she will often dwell.

the-ones-that-made-me-cry

String Bright the Gray by John Blase.

But to shine you must daily,
Jacob-like, grapple with God.
 
Refuse to let go every time.
 

The sanitized stories we tell by Sarah Bessey. 

“If we don’t deal with our trauma, our trauma begins to deal with us. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel our feelings, they have a habit of peeking around the corners of our lives, breaking in at the most inopportune moments.”

Waverly Mae by Shannon McNeil.

My college friends lost their daughter to Sanfilippo syndrome this month. Read this poem, Fermata, about her last breath.

the-ones-about-faith

I like your Christ. I do not like your Christian language by Cindy Brandt.

“The American evangelical subculture has created within itself a Christian lingo that is intelligible only among those who have shared in that culture. Because a top priority of evangelical subculture is to evangelize the gospel, it quite boggles my mind that there hasn’t been more care taken to learn how to communicate said gospel with what actually makes sense to those outside of evangelical culture.”

For you were refugees… by Ben Irwin.

The Bible is the story of refugees. It’s the story of those who were displaced. It’s the story of a family who sought shelter in Egypt when famine decimated their land.

Religious freedom and the common good by Andy Crouch.

the-ones-filled-with-hope

Gate A-4 by Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well— one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her . What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

Wheelchair van for the Begs

While my college friends’ daughter was dying, they started a fundraiser to raise money for another family who has three daughters with the same degenerative, fatal genetic illness. In the midst of their great grief, they live out hope.

Born again again by John Blase

Walk the narrow way of the severely astonished.
Bumble around mouth agape at the sheer gift
of the earth mumbling Wouldja look at that?
 

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British man creates app that filters out all Kardashian news.  My kinda guy!

I’m with Ellen, I love growing older…

over the hill

and am still a fan of this awesomeness called Socal “winter”!!!

Capture

Not mentioning any names, but this sounds a little like someone I know…

Capture

the-ones-about-English

Misspelled signs written by people who love English.

speak english

Did you know?!?!

Capture

the-ones-about-why-elephants-are-awesome

Abused elephant weeps as she begins her new life freed from chains by Stephen Messenger.

For the better part of the last 20 years, this noble elephant named Kabu had been forced to slave away in chains — but now she’s finally free. And just as her body bears the scars of decades of mistreatment, her eyes are now shimmering with signs of hope.

Speaking of… did you catch The wisdom of elephants here on BW?

popular-on-BW

101 Culturally Diverse Christian Voices

If you haven’t seen it yet, this list has been pretty popular!

Beyond selfies: Using Instagram to tell whole-hearted stories.

As a culture that places high value on storytelling, I often wonder how the stories we tell reflect our overarching values. Certainly perfection, glamour, and adventure dominate the vast majority of the motives behind how many present their lives. But what gets lost when we hide mundane moments like when we’re stuck in bed with a cold, mildly depressed, and too worn-out to wash the piling dishes? Where’s the place to remember the late-night conversations about insecurities or worries or dreams? Who do we become when we photoshop blemishes out of our lives?

The problem with over-spiritualizing racism.

Let’s press pause on the “unity” button for just a minute. We need to do some sustained reflection on the causes of the “disunity” first.

 

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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!

Restoration & Reconciliation

The world needs more places like this

If you haven’t heard of Jill’s House, this is a must-watch. I went to college with the couple featured in this video, and their story and the purpose this organization serves is so heartbreakingly beautiful and redemptive that I had to share.

Enjoy, learn, grab some tissues, and consider how to involve yourself in such meaningful work.

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/
Check out her books here.  
Listen to her speak here
 
Helen Lee @HelenLeeAuthor
Author, journalist, speaker, blogger
http://helenleeauthor.com/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
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
http://www.asburyseminary.edu/person/dr-zaida-maldonado-perez/
Check out her books here.
Kentucky
 
Vishal Mangalwadi
Lecturer, philsopher, writer, social reformer, political and cultural columnist
http://www.revelationmovement.com/
Check out his books here.
Watch him speak here.
 
Loida Martell-Otero
Professor of Constructive Theology at Palmer Theological Seminary
http://www.palmerseminary.edu/about/faculty/loida-martell-otero
Read her books here.
Pennsylvania
 
 
Fouad Masri @CrescentProject
Pastor and founder of the Crescent Project
https://www.crescentproject.org/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Indianapolis, Indiana
 
Ramon Mayo @mayotron
Writer, missionary, blogger on diversity, the church, and racial justice
http://ramonmayo.com/
Check out his book here.
Chicago, Illinois 
 
Erwin McManus @erwinmcmanus
Writer, speaker and lead pastor of Mosaic Church
http://www.erwinmcmanus.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Los Angeles, California
 
Idelette McVicker @idelette 
Writer. Activist. African-Canadian. Founder & Editor of SheLovesmagazine.com 
http://www.idelette.com/
Listen to her speak here.
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/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Portland, Oregon
 
 
Osheta Moore @osheta
Urban church planter and blogger
http://oshetablogs.wordpress.com/
Cambridge, Massachusetts
 
Salim Munayer
Instructor at Bethlehem and Galilee Bible College
http://www.bethbc.org/academics/faculty/dr-salim-j-munayer
Check out his books.
Listen to him speak here.
Jerusalem, Israel
 
Samuel Naaman
President of the South Asian Friendship Center in Chicago, professor of World Missions and Evangelism at Moody Bible Institute
http://www.safcbookstore.com/staff/
Chicago, Iliinois
 
Trillia Newbell @trillianewbell
Freelance journalist, Christian writer, author of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity (Moody, 2014)
http://www.trillianewbell.com/
Check out her book here.
Listen to her speak here.
Nashville, Tennessee 
 
Kelly Nikondeha @knikondeha
Writer. Thinker. Lover of Jesus, justice & jubilee. Adopted & adoptive mother of 2. Doing theology in transit. 
http://kelleynikondeha.com/
Listen to her speak here.
Arizona & Burundi
 
Michael Oh @ohfamily
Executive Director / CEO of the Lausanne Movement as well as founder & board chairman of CBI Japan (http://cbijapan.org ).
http://www.lausanne.org/
Listen to him speak here.
Nagoya, Japan
 
Enuma Okoro @TweetEnuma
Writer. Speaker. Consultant.
http://enumaokoro.com/
Check out her books here.
Watch a book trailer here.
Listen to her speak here.
 
Jacqueline Ottmann
Aboriginal scholar at University of Calgary
http://jacquelineottmann.com/
Check out her research here.
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/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
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
http://www.profrah.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Vinoth Ramachandra
Writer, Secretary for Dialogue & Social Engagement for IFES
http://vinothramachandra.wordpress.com/
Check out his books.
Watch him speak here.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
 
Patricia Raybon @PatriciaRaybon
Writer
http://www.patriciaraybon.com/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
Colorado
 
Deidra Riggs @DeidraRiggs
visionary at JumpingTandem, managing editor at TheHighCalling.org, monthly contributor at (in)courage.me
http://www.deidrariggs.com/
Listen to her TedTalk here.
Lincoln, Nebraska
 
Natasha S. Robison @ASISTASJOURNEY 
Speaker, writer
http://www.natashasrobinson.com/
Listen to her speak here.
North Carolina
 
Robert Chao Romero @ProfeChaoRomero 
UCLA Professor. Historian. Lawyer. Pastor. Author
 http://www.jesusforrevolutionaries.org/
Check out his books here.
Los Angeles, California 
 
Gabriel & Jeanette Salguero @NalecNews
President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition
http://www.na-lec.org/
Listen to Gabriel speak here.
New York
 
 
Brenda Salter McNeil @RevDocBrenda
Reconciliation Trailblazer, Associate Professor of Reconciliation Studies & Teaching Pastor at Quest Church
http://saltermcneil.com/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
Seattle, Washington
 
Alexia Salvatierra 
Pastor, writer, advocate, consultant, community organizer
http://www.alexiasalvatierra.com/bio.html
Check out her book here.
Listen to her speak here.
California
 
Arlene Sanchez-Walsh @AmichelSW
Professor of American religious history and Latina/o religion
 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/amsanchezwalsh/
Check out her book here.
Los Angeles, California
 
Tamara Shaya Hoffman @tamarashaya
Media Communications Specialist. Conflict Analyst. Development Advocate. Strategist. Storyteller. Leader.
http://www.linkedin.com/pub/tamara-shaya/6/893/793
Washington, DC
 
Priscilla Shirer @PriscillaShirer
Bible teacher and speaker
http://www.goingbeyond.com/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
Texas
 
Andrea Smith
Intellectual, professor at University of California Riverside, Co-founder of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
http://mcs.ucr.edu/andrea-smith-associate-professor/
Check out her books here.
Listen to her speak here.
Southern California
 
Emfrem Smith @efremsmith
President and CEO of World Impact. Author and speaker with Kingdom Building Ministries.
 http://www.efremsmith.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
San Francisco Bay area, California
 
Matt Soerens @MatthewSoerens
Field Director for the Evangelical Immigration Table. US Church Training Specialist for @WorldRelief, author
http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/
Check out his book here.
Listen to him speak here.
Chicago, Illinois
 
Bryan Stevenson
Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative.  Lawyer defending the poor, imprisoned, and mentally ill
http://www.eji.org/
Listen to his TedTalk.
Montgomery, Alabama
 
Jemar Tisby @JemarTisby
Co-Founder of @RAANetwork, Student at @RTSJackson, Black & Reformed Christian
http://www.jemartisby.com 
Jackson, Mississippi
 
Nikki Toyama-Szeto
Senior Director of Biblical Justice Integration and Mobilization at International Justice Mission
http://www.ijm.org/node/2392
Check out her books.
Watch her speak.
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/
Watch some videos here.
Check out his writing here
 
 
Kathy Tuan-Maclean
Area Director, Boston Graduate/Faculty Ministries, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wordynerdy/
Watch her speak
 
Canon Andrew White @vicarofbaghdad
Vicar of St. George’s Church in Baghdad
http://frrme.org/
Check out his books.
Listen to him speak.
Baghdad, Iraq
 
 
Marcos Witt @MarcosWitt
Christian musical artist
https://www.facebook.com/marcoswitt
Listen to his music here.
Houston, Texas
 
Randy Woodley @randywoodley7
Native American (Keetoowah), Spiritual, farmer, professor, activist, writer, Ph.D. Intercultural Studies
http://www.eagleswingsministry.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
Oregon
 
George Yancey @profyancey
Sociologist, researcher, writer
http://www.georgeyancey.com/
Check out his books here.
Listen to him speak here.
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.
Watch her speak.
 
Naomi Zacharias @Naomi_Zacharias
Author, Speaker, and Director/Vice President of Wellspring International.
http://wellspringinternational.org/ 
Check out her book.
Listen to her speak here.
Atlanta, Georgia
  
 
Culture & Race, Restoration & Reconciliation

Dealing with anger in race relations

As I’ve participated both publicly and privately in the race dialogue over the years, one of the most difficult aspects I’ve navigated is the role of anger in race relations.  It’s not hard to see – the comments section of race-related articles demonstrate well the heated presence of anger in race relations.  For those seeking to walk the path toward deeper cultural understanding, understanding the roots of racial anger is an area that we can’t afford to dismiss.  As a white person, I’ve been surprised to encounter my own battles with anger and race, and I share from that experience here.

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My first teaching job was in an historic black school in a Midwestern city, and it was a crash course in understanding dynamics of urban settings, race, and poverty.  Being brand new to the professional world, it is highly probable that my youthfulness translated into a white-savioresque attitude à la Dangerous Minds, even though I didn’t consciously enter with this perspective.  In spite of my intentions, I encountered two quite contrasting responses to my naïveté.

The first was from an African-American teacher next door who railed angrily into me one day for something I’d done that irked her.  I don’t remember a word of what she actually said to me, but I clearly remember returning to my classroom in tears, feeling crushed by her anger and assumptions regarding my white ignorance.  I’d tried to seek her insight out on previous (failed) attempts, and now she’d shut me down for good.  From that point on, our relationship was one of icy glares and cold shoulders.

The other response was from another African-American teacher who kindly took me under her wing.  She showered me with hugs as she gently taught me the basics of African-American history and urban culture.  She took kids home with her when they needed a mama and brought them breakfast at school when they were hungry.  All the kids knew that you went to her classroom first if you needed some extra love and I followed their lead frequently.

While Loving Teacher’s response felt better than Angry Teacher’s harshness toward me, both reactions taught me vital lessons in the world of race relations.  Nearly fifteen years later, I cringe at my youthful self with a grateful nod to the lesson Angry Teacher taught me.  After I got past the initial sting of the Angry Teacher’s reaction (which, I might sheepishly add, took years), I began to contemplate why she may have responded the way she did.   She’d lived down the street from these kids and their parents and their pastors for longer than I’d been alive, and she knew a reality that I didn’t.

As I’ve reflected on it over the years, I’d guess that her anger spewed on me that day stemmed more from the continued systemic racial injustice that she navigated on a daily basis rather than from my specific actions.  My young white skin and curiosity simply represented the cycle of systemic injustice that had reeked havoc on her home, and it (understandably) made her angry with me.  For all the good I hoped to do in that context, it forced me to acknowledge that she was the one with the lasting influence and that I was simply an observer passing through.

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I have often heard people of color express a similar anger toward the inequitable system that keeps racism alive and kicking, but living with my non-white family in a majority white setting made my experience with anger and race take a new turn.  The longer we lived there, the harder it was for me to assume good-intentions when the bad-actions were so obvious.  Over time, I grew angry with white-people myself.

I was angry that ‘my people’ wouldn’t embrace my family like they did people who fit into their pretty-little-cornfield-box.  I was angry they didn’t care enough about the world-outside to understand people from it.  I was angry they clammed up and smiled when they didn’t understand something rather than just admit it outright.  I was angry they dismissed others’ perspectives with Christian platitudes just to ‘keep the peace’.

Over the years, I’ve asked people I hold in great esteem how they’ve managed to keep going through the anger that inevitably comes with interracial relationships.  I’ve had more than one day year when I’ve shut down on the whole thing.  The last bout nearly did me in completely.  But then, the air came as we surfaced somewhere near Los Angeles gasping for breath.  We sat quietly vibrating in the shadow of the mountains and on the edge of the sea for over a year.  

Little by little, I leaned on the wisdom from people ahead of me on this path to sort out the pieces of my anger over our experience in a land that did not understand its impact on those who were different within its borders.  Since everyone processes these things differently, I’ll recap a few things I’ve been learning about processing racial anger along the way.  

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It’s ok to be angry.  The nice Christian Midwesterner in me would disagree with this statement, but I’ve learned that denying anger only makes it sink deeper.  Bringing it to light it in an appropriate time and place helps to shed light on what’s my responsibility and what’s not. In the process of walking with my anger, I’m also learning to distinguish between a productive anger that produces fruit and a vomiting anger just explodes  ickiness over everyone.

Expressing anger is both cultural and individual.  Personally, I rarely yell and scream when I’m angry. Instead, I grow very quiet.  This happens to work great in my home culture where many shut down and numb out upon screaming-and-yelling.  You can imagine my shock, however, to encounter people who ‘yelled’ at each other only to start a hugfest and productive conversation a few moments later.  Everyone subscribes to unspoken personal and cultural rules regarding the expression of anger, but few of us follow the same exact ones.  Letting go of my need to apply my internal rules to the rest of the world helps me to listen better when I encounter an anger expressed differently from my own.

Jesus is not a band-aid.  It’s human nature to want a quick fix, but also equally human for that fix to be complex and layered.  Sticking Jesus on the massive history of racial and systemic injustice doesn’t heal anything, it only makes Jesus look inadequate and small.  While I’m a firm believer that walking with Jesus in our moments can give us the ability to walk alongside one another’s pain, it’s not the same as understanding others’ stories by listening to them with our ears and our hearts and our lives.  To say that ‘the only solution is Jesus‘ implies that we don’t need to do anything but piously open our bibles and sing hymns and everything will get better.  One only need to read the history books to see that this isn’t true.

Injustice is painful. I’ve occasionally caught myself whining, “Why me?” in response to our difficulties.  But when I live in light of a global reality, I find that the more appropriate question is, “Why not me?”  What better lesson for the middle-class-white-girl-with-an-education to learn?  My privilege sneaks up on me so subtly that I hardly notice it, and coming face-to-face with injustice gives me a stark reality check on what the majority of the world faces every day.  The quicker I accept this pain, the more humbly I learn to walk in it.

Forgiveness takes time.  A former African-American pastor of mine recommended that I walk in the way of Jesus by following His words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – even when “they” likely know what they’re doing because it still shows a better way.  Another guide gave me permission to take time away to be imperfect and angry for awhile.  When people hold those you love at arms’ length, it hurts, and I needed some private time and space to grieve this loss.

Savor the good moments.  While the overarching flavor of our racial and cultural isolation was bitter, there were all sorts of sweet-and-holy moments, and plenty of individual people who, in spite of the prevailing environment, embraced us open-armed in their homes and their hearts. Pausing to sit with these gentle memories softens the anger and refocuses me toward grace and goodness.

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These days, when I sit with a person of color, listening to them express the conflict of being the only one, wonder if they were chosen for their skill or their skin color, or sigh at the incredulous ignorance of a white leader’s words, what I hear first is pain, even when it sounds like anger.  I hear sadness over what hasn’t changed and grief over the white majority’s lack of understanding of their inherent privilege and power.   I hear weariness over walking the same path time and again, wondering if change will ever happen, if the majority will ever really care enough to understand.

I am, however, only one small voice and two small ears.  What I say and hear is only a piece of the story.  Like Loving Teacher and Angry Teacher, everyone processes the brokenness of our racial history differently, and each voice tells a story we need to hear – even the angry ones.

I’d love it if you shared your voice, too. We all have much to learn about this difficult topic. What does your story say?  How do you walk along the path of anger in race relations?  

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Culture & Race, Restoration & Reconciliation

When even Jesus is white

“Mama,” she ran toward me through the sand, “something really funny just happened.”

We were relaxing at the local murky-pond-called-a-lake on a quiet summer day.  “Really?” I grinned at her, eager for the humor of a five-year-old. “What was so funny?”

“Some kid just asked me if I was from China!!!” she sounded shocked.  “Why would anyone think I was from China!?  Isn’t that funny?!?”

“Yeah, honey,” I smiled, covering the ache inside. “That’s just crazy.”

She shrugged her shoulders and skipped back to the beach, oblivious to her mama’s sinking shoulders.  We’d lived as one of the only biracial families in our small-town cornfield for several years at that point, and I was wearing thin on the lack of awareness we ran into around every corner.  My margins to tolerate the monocultural masses were shrinking, and their ignorance had worn me thin.

I know, I know.  But they’re just kids.  They don’t mean any harm, right?

But what about the friend who whispered to me that no one would play with her black son at recess?  What about the teachers who wouldn’t do a damn thing about his isolation, claiming he was just ‘quiet’? Or the time another friend’s daughter was called a ‘burnt hot dog’?  What about the teenagers who had run my brown husband and white self off the road, sticking their heads out of the truck with angry shouts?  Or the time my husband confronted another group of teenagers who were harassing an African American just walking down the street?  What about the threatening phone call that woke us up in the dead of the night?

Maybe they didn’t mean harm, but maybe they did.  All I knew for certain was that I had no ability to tell the difference, and I didn’t much like having to choose.

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My sweet daughter climbed into the van after preschool later that year and dissolved into tears, “Why am I the only brown kid, mama?”

Unwisely, I attempted a rational explanation and she shut me down cold. “No, mama!  Everyone is America is white! Everyone except me.”

It was clear she just needed to vent so I listened for awhile and then reattempted my explanation, “Not everyone is white, sweetie.  Think of your uncle and your cousin and all of Thaatha’s family and-”

Furious, she interrupted me, “NO, mama!  Everyone is white except me.  I’m the only brown kid.  Even Jesus is white!”

She might as well have stuck a knife through my heart.  Those blasted colonialist publishers who had to go and make Jesus look just like them – they were fully responsible for my child feeling on the outs.  I collected myself and told her that actually, Jesus wasn’t white, and that the people who painted the pictures of Him got a little too focused on themselves and didn’t think about how Jesus really looked.  “He probably looked much more like you,” I told her in an attempt to soothe her angst.

Even at five, my intuitive daughter knew what it felt like to live at the margins.  Sometimes she chuckled at it and called it silly; but other times it made her crumble to pieces.

Since we left the cornfields, I’ve had my own moments of chuckling and crumbling before God, asking why we had to endure cultural isolation for so long, why my daughter had to live those hard questions at such a young age, and why we felt so isolated in a place that so many (white) people loved to call home.

For now, there are no clear answers, other than knowing that Jesus lived in the margins, too. And when He asked my husband and I to walk this path of living between worlds, he promised to walk with us through it, threatening phone calls and all.  That doesn’t mean we’ll always know how, or do it flawlessly, or be responsible to fix it; but it does mean that when the bitterness creeps in, we exhale, “Father, forgive them…” and await the slow restoration of our hearts from the breaking days of the cornfields.

What I’m learning from those marginal years is that if we don’t know healing in our own crumbled moments, we won’t ever see the beautiful sights of the healed ones.  For racial healing to run deep in our stubbornly shallow world, it must be led by the wounded healers who love one another fiercely and forgivingly, willing to wade through the murky waters of the margins.

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Restoration & Reconciliation, Spiritual Formation

When the shell cracks

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Sometimes, there are stories without answers, stories that, try as we might, leave us perplexed, longing for resolution but seeing no possible path toward it.  In their shadow, we feel vulnerable, forced to acknowledge the frailty we live with as humans.

Some of us prefer to think we’re strong, so we coat ourselves with shields like perfectionism, control, achievements and agendas.  Others of us are paralyzed with fear, so we drag our feet, hoping that if we don’t move too far no one will notice our sloth (or the hours we waste on Facebook).  Regardless of the disguise, when the answerless stories show themselves, we grasp at straws, shaken out of our own worlds and into another’s.

Some college friends’ children are dying of a incurable genetic disease.  They were born seemingly healthy children, but developmental delays in their toddler years led to the discovery that they had an incurable and fatal genetic order called Sanfilippo syndrome. I catch glimpses on a screen from afar as they share of simple joys of the moment, appreciation of the days they share with their children now, and tears roll down my cheeks when the grief over their devastating life circumstances slips out.  Their situation has rendered them far more vulnerable than most of us will ever be, and one beauty in how they walk through their life is that they share it with others, one small step at a time.

A sister-friend recently battled a relapse of an eating disorder.  I had walked with her through it once before, and let me tell you, it was no spring picnic to stumble through it again, for me or for her.  She’s a fighter, for sure, but there were moments when the disease got the best of her and ripped the days out from beneath her feet.  On those days, I would glance at the sky with my lifelong whisper of ‘why’?  But other days, the desperation of her honesty stopped me in my tracks, reminding me of the power of vulnerability to clean out even the deepest crevices within.

I, too, have known my own moments of devastation, of coming to grips with a different kind of story than those of my friends above, but filled with the same humpty-dumpty crash of breaking and falling to pieces.  In fact, I know many who carry their own such stories, perhaps less tragic than my friends above, but still very real.  Rarely do we share such stories aloud with each other.  Instead, we tuck them away in a little corner deep down inside, leaving them quietly hidden.

In brokenness, there can be great loneliness, for who understands the unique terrain of the rocky paths we each walk?  For this, I listen carefully when my friends risk the vulnerability to share from their broken places.  I don’t understand what it means for children to live in wheelchairs, or to starve myself so that I can feel safe.  My friends’ willingness to share more than just the happy parts of their stories gives me a sensitivity to the parts of others’ paths that I have never navigated myself.

I don’t know if I always respond to such paths ‘right’ or well, but because of their vulnerability, I am compelled to give it a try when I might have otherwise avoided it. We walk only in our own shoes; and we know only the depths of our own stories. Sometimes we are like the king’s men, fumbling because we don’t know how to pick up the fragile who have fallen down and cracked. So we distance ourselves, fearing that we’ll somehow break them into even more pieces when we don’t know how to ‘put them back together’. The question staring everyone in the face is what if they can’t be put together again, or at least, right now?

But what if we’re asking the wrong question?  Instead of putting back each other back together, what if we just walk alongside, listen to, embrace-as-we-are?

Here, there is no easy answer, no triumphant victory, no miraculous intervention.  This brokenness is the daily grind. We wait, longing for healing, not knowing when, or even if, it will ever come. As we wait, walking alongside others or, perhaps even sharing our own broken selves, something more emerges.

It is a beautiful story of hope written by a father for his children.

It is a marker on a white board.

It is a slowly but steadily healing heart, drowned in tears and awakened by the hunger within.

It is the surfacing of the quiet, deep down moments that we share for our own healing, and for others’ to remember they are not alone.

“All his life long, wherever Jesus looked, he saw the world not in terms simply of its brokenness,” wrote Frederick Buechner, “but in terms of the ultimate mystery of God’s presence buried in it like a treasure buried in a field.”

A friend of mine who lost his firstborn son at age one calls them God Fingerprints, the little moments that steal our breath and remind us that we do not walk alone.  Mysterious and buried in the midst of the days of pain, we must keep our eyes peeled lest we miss them, but they are nonetheless there, touching so many little moments around us.

For even if all we feel is broken, we are far more than our brokenness.  Right there smack dab in the middle of our foreheads is a screaming loud fingerprint that shouts, “YOU ARE MINE!  The brokenness is not yet healed, but it is already redeemed.”

It began first with the day of the ashes, and then reached out a hand toward us from an empty tomb.

“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength,” mused Freud.

The God Fingerprint said it something like this, “For when you are weak, then I am strong.”

Immanuel, they called this strong One. God with us.  We wear His ashes on our foreheads proclaiming our hope in the power of Life even when our shoulders sag under its heavy weight.  And when a great fall leaves us feeling cracked beyond repair, Immanuel walks alongside, giving us a strength we never knew we had.

Meet the McNeils

If you’d like to learn more about the friends I mentioned above, you can read more on their blog, Exploring Holland.  Matt, their father has also written an excellent children’s book called The Strange Tale of Ben Beesley to process his grief over his children’s diagnosis.  All proceeds from the book go the MPS Society to search for a cure to Sanfilippo Syndrome.

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Culture & Race, Restoration & Reconciliation

That time when white people talked about being white

So my humble little post When white people don’t know they’re being white apparently hit quite a nerve.  It had roughly 14,000 hits in 24 hours and became a space of rich discussion on a usually very-quiet-blog.  At the publishing of this post, it’s had close to 40,000 views and almost 100 comments.  What hit me by the post’s high response was the need that people have to discuss this issue, and the thirst many have to understand it better.  (Well, there were a few trolls whose comments never saw the light of day who made me question this, but the vast majority of the comments were genuine, thoughtful and honest).

Emotions expressed in the comment section ranged from gratefulness to relief to anger to hopelessness.  In my experience, there aren’t many safe places to discuss race and privilege for white people, especially if we’re in a place of feeling wounded, scared or threatened.  Already in a protection mode, we tend to say things from this space that can be hurtful to others who may or may not have it any more figured out than us.  Regardless of the emotion, what I heard echoing most strongly behind many people’s responses was an unnerving, hesitant question, “Can white people do anything right?”

I hear this, and I know it is a hard question to ask.  We shuffle our collective guilt from blame to anger to defensiveness to silence.  No one likes failure and our collective history of domination is a painful one for everyone – not just the people we have dominated.  But it certainly is not the only picture in history.  Sadly, the stories that often get the most airtime aren’t the ones of what actually works. We are far more intrigued to ooh and ahh as things fall apart than to cheer them on as they are being built.

Whenever I enter a cemetery in a Sri Lankan church, I am struck by how many British people are buried there – missionaries from the turn of the 20th century who gave up everything – even their own lives and the lives of their own families – for a call greater than their own.  My father-in-law, a doctor, speaks gratefully for the many Christians who established hospitals and built schools in South Asia.  Did these very missionaries impart colonial ideas upon the Sri Lankan peoples?  Probably, but this was not their only story.  My husband’s family speaks fondly of Reverend Good (his real name, I promise), an Irishman who pastored their church for many years.  The first word they use to describe him is always humble, the second, appropriately, is good.  They speak of how he listened when there was conflict, how he cared for others, and how he didn’t think more highly of himself than anyone else.

Where are more stories about such good people who come from majority backgrounds?  How do we find them?  How do tell them?  How do we make them our own stories?  Where do we look when we need hope and examples of people who have led the way toward a genuine posture of humility toward and respect for others? 

Given that the focus of my initial post was on what white people do that doesn’t create positive race relations, I thought it may also be helpful to create a space for others to share what does work in race relations – from all sides. The Bible calls us, after all, to be rooted first in the good news of reconciliation, not division.

I urge people of all backgrounds to comment here – the more perspectives that contribute, the more we learn from each other.  Please include descriptions of and/or links to projects you know of, historical role models, suggestions of books or movies, websites, TedTalks or even YouTube videos that offer insight to this conversation.  Perhaps your stories are double edged – one side that worked, one side that failed.  That’s reality too.  I’d love to hear more hard-but-good kind of stories that show how we grow and learn together.

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Comment policy: Ranting, rude, or ridiculous posts will be deleted, so don’t bother wasting your time here.  Please proceed to someone else’s site, or better yet, take some time to think about what you want to express and how to say it in a respectful way.  If you need it spelled out even more plainly, here you go:  Don’t be an ass.  This is a place for thoughtful, productive discussion, not hotheadedness and knee jerk reactions.  While I will not filter out disagreement, I do insist that we offer it with respect for one another’s God-given humanity.  And, please stick to the topic of this post.  If you have general comments about race, feel free to share them on this post instead.

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Families, Children & Marriage, Restoration & Reconciliation

Intercultural Marriage: a Model of Reconciliation

Given the high interest to my last post, I thought it relevant to  repost a slightly updated version of an oldie-but-goodie that I published years ago on Burnside Writers Collective (they *still* have the wrong byline on the post after repeated requests for a correction, grr…) as well as here on my blog.  It explains more specifics of the many things I’ve learned along my path toward cultural humility.  

“Many waters cannot quench love,” I pondered Solomon’s words sitting on a dusty porch in West Africa, the afternoon downpour pounding on the tin roof over my head. “But they certainly do a good job trying to drown it.”

My boyfriend was spending the summer at his parent’s home in Sri Lanka while I was teaching English in Burkina Faso. At that time, there was little access to phone lines or email, so our only form of communication was the relentlessly slow exchange of letters. From the beginning, we had both sensed a unique kinship between us in spite of our cultural backgrounds.  However, we also realized that such a relationship carried many complexities, and that our cross-continental lives would not combine easily. When our respective summers ended, we reunited for the fall semester, somewhat unsure of our future together.

“You remind me of a Sri Lankan girl,” he told me one day, raising his deep eyes to meet mine. I had no idea what a Sri Lankan girl was like, but I was thrilled. Obviously, he connected deeply to something in me, regardless of my cornfield upbringing and blond hair. From the first day we met, I sensed an eerily similar reflection of myself in him. There were moments, of course, when we weren’t sure how to connect – meeting our families, interacting with hometown friends, navigating the chasms between third-world realities and first-world luxuries. While these cultural differences were a significant part of our relationship, our similarities ultimately prevailed. Nearly four years later, we married in a joyful ceremony, surrounded by family and friends from around the world.

Guide me, oh thou great Jehovah. These words sung at our wedding reflect our desire to follow God’s guidance in the steep task of uniting contrasting worlds.  We entered the world of intercultural marriage as pilgrims in a barren land, knowing few role-models who had attained such unity across cultural boundaries. Together over 13 years now, we’ve moved from coast to coast, have two children and love journeying together through life.

While comparatively few are called to such an intimate cross-cultural partnership, all Christians have a responsibility to seek reconciliation across barriers. In an increasingly diverse society, our ability to establish unity across cultural boundaries is rapidly becoming a key factor in the strength of the church.  Because we practice these skills daily, I have found lessons I’ve learned from our relationship to be a microcosm for cross-cultural relations at large.

Here are some skills we find useful in seeking unity across our own cultural differences:

Pay attention, be intentional

Sri Lanka is half way around the world from the U.S.  At times, it feels very far away.  Being so far removed from our lives, it is easy to fall into an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” mentality with this part of my husband’s life.  This has, at times, caused division between us because an essential part of his personhood lies neglected.  Therefore, it is essential to pay close attention to the Sri Lankan part of him, and to seek to incorporate it in our daily lives.  We both read the news and follow current events on a regular basis. Our home is filled with reminders of Sri Lanka, from batik wall hangings to photos of sari-clad relatives.  We visit Sri Lanka as often as we can afford, prioritizing this over other vacation options, even when inconvenient or complicated.  We try to maintain regular contact with my husband’s family through phone calls, email, and pictures.

In the same way, many live in isolated communities and interact little with other cultures. People in these communities can make intentional efforts to consider differing perspectives by reading books or watching films, as well as by traveling to places where they interact across cultures.  Just as I must intentionally seek to pay attention to my husband’s culture, so can people pay attention to cultures outside their own as an effort toward unity.  As current events, dialogue, and perspectives from other cultures are encountered, a broader way of thinking and interacting with others naturally develops.

Share honestly, listen carefully

Romance, while breath-taking, is not particularly characterized by honesty. As the passionate romance of our relationship has settled into a committed, deeper love, we have shared many moments of intense honesty. At times, it is simpler to avoid such conversations, for we each have our own interpretation of “normal” and fear looking ignorant or prejudiced. However, this kind of honesty brings about true compromise, and ultimately, inner change.

Having grown up in a wealthy, stable, and efficient country, I have struggled with certain aspects of Sri Lanka’s developing and conflict-filled environment.  My husband has experienced these aspects as “normal” for much of his life.  Because these perspectives form an integral part of our core-beings, we feel strongly vulnerable when sharing our fears. This fear creates a reluctance to relinquish my expectations of order, cleanliness, and safety, causing me to shut out a cherished part of my husband’s life.

In a similar vain, he has experienced certain “looks”, discomfort, and ignorance when interacting with people from my home. While I hold deep affinity for my home, it is helpful to separate from my personal attachments in order to hear his emotions. In doing this, I listen without defense, letting him process his feelings honestly.

Ultimately, honesty between cultures is not about being right or wrong. It’s about listening and considering another’s experience without defense or justification. In order to create a safe place for trustworthy relationships, people need to feel they will be heard when sharing honestly.

Be salad, not soup

The idea of a “melting pot” denies the individual characteristics that exist within cultures. A mixed salad is a more accurate comparison, as it contains various ingredients that compose one dish, yet retains unique qualities rather than dissolving everything into the majority flavor. Likewise, in our marriage, we attempt to value the individuality of each other’s cultures.

One way we love each other is by knowing about each other’s homes. For example, my husband knows things about my small hometown that only “insiders” know. He knows where the locals eat a hot breakfast, and the names of high school basketball players. Because he pays attention to my cultural background, I sense a deep love for who I am and where I come from. In the same way, I don a shalwar kameez (a traditional Sri Lankan dress) every so often, can cook a mean curry, and enjoy building relationships with his family and friends. Each trip to his home – no matter how many mosquitos involved – increases my understanding of who my husband is.

When the majority culture blindly expects others to follow their lead without knowledge of other perspectives, they subtly send the message, “You are not important to me. Your importance is to make me comfortable.” Loving across cultures means that both sides release their grip on familiarity in order to experience deeper flavors of diversity.

While many waters could not quench our love, their rough waves have certainly smoothed our rough edges. In all of these ways, we embrace our own culture while keeping our arms open to the other. Guided by our great Jehovah each step of the way, we find deep richness in loving across cultural boundaries. Our hope remains that the church will deepen in its ability to love across such boundaries as well.

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Restoration & Reconciliation

When white people don’t know they’re being white

It’s been an interesting week in the realm of race relations, with many Asians Americans challenging Rick Warren on an offensive Facebook post featuring a picture of  the Chinese Red Guard.  (You can read even more detail on Kathy Khang’s blog).  The aftermath of comments reflected confusion from some, wondering how people could be ‘so easily offended’, suggesting they needed thicker skin or more forgiving hearts.

Inside, I ached.

This is no new conversation to me – the ignorant assumptions, the christian-stifling-language-that-really-just-wants-you-to-shut-up-and-let-them-stay-uninformed.   This is nothing new to my ears.  Over the years, I have sat with many hearts aching – even those of my own family – over the ignorantly belittling comments of others.

Something must change.  This ever familiar sentiment sunk to the pit of my stomach as I watched the week’s events unfold.  While I was grateful to hear Rick’s eventual apology, the whole situation highlighted a common occurrence between the majority and minority experience that, in my observation, most white people don’t understand.

In case you’re white and starting to feel defensive, please know that I’m white, too.  I’m hoping this detail lowers defenses, for the concern I’m addressing in this post is to “my people”, more specifically to white Christians in the American church.  I’m concerned because I know firsthand how good-hearted and well-intentioned their actions often are, and how often they do not understand the impact of their intent.  I speak first as someone who has been there, who has made the ignorant comment, asked the stupid question, made the racist assumption and feared offending by opening my mouth.  I speak second as the only white person in my household for well over a decade now who has had the great fortune to see through others’ eyes on a daily basis.

When the Rick Warren news came around, I was already chewing on the power dynamics of both race and gender represented in this video that was making the rounds on my FB feed:

It left me conflicted, for I could clearly see the surface intent of the creators to rightly showcase the beauty of the world God has created, but I was also deeply distraught by what it left unsaid.   This opening shot* can communicate two quite contradictory messages:

chris tomlin with poor kids

God cares for the poor, and so do Christians. 

vs.

Hipster white guys have more going for them than slum dwellers.

This is sometimes called the “white savior” mentality; and it is far too prevalent and accepted in the American evangelical church. Without words, it communicates that the white people are better, smarter, more capable to hold the power strings.  It is one of the tragedies built by the empire of colonialism that none of us want to face.

We didn’t do it, right?  

That’s not our story.  

My family didn’t own slaves.

But we still benefit.  The system is set up for us, and gives us power without us even having to ask for it.  

We can be white without even knowing we’re white.  

To be fair, the church is not alone in it’s message-giving.  Hollywood also loves to tell white savior stories rather than those stories from within cultures that represent strength unattached to the people group in power.  And don’t even get me started on the news media’s portrayal of race…

I could give example after example of ignorant cultural and racial blunders in the church, but for the white hands who hold the historical and institutional power, it basically boils down to this:  We want to say that everything that happens in church is about Jesus, but it’s simply not.  There’s a whole lot of culture and power and history and social structure in there as well.  Until we acknowledge how these realities shape our thinking, we’re going nowhere.

We say we want to be a ‘church of many nations’, and cheer on videos like the ones above, but sometimes our arrogance, ignorance, and unwillingness to listen communicate that we really view ‘the nations’ as our minions, not our partners.  In other words, they exist to make us look good.

  • Put the black guy on stage to read the MLK Day prayer = I care about civil rights.
  • Take pictures of all 6 minorities in our institution to display prominently in our publications = We support diversity, but may or may not support you, especially if you say things contradictory to what we already know we know.
  • Sing white hipster music in Spanish = you, too, can be just like me, even in your language!
  • Host an international event with yummy food and cool ethnic clothing = awesome, but this is only the top layer of who people are.  Do we want to know the complex depths of people’s realities or are we satisfied to simply skim the surface that looks all happy-happy-joy-joy?
  • Send brochures with hungry-looking poor children = Give us your money.  We know you feel guilty.

I know, I know.  It all sounds a little harsh, right?  I’ve been right there with you, defending myself, confident that my intentions are pure.  However, regardless of our intentions in these endeavors, the fact stands that the impact of our actions can be isolating and downright hurtful to people of color. White people – especially the leaders of the church – need to start acknowledging this and listening to it with utmost seriousness.  This conversation cannot be one-way.  If we do not listen to the voices that courageously share their truth with us, we are breaking the very body we so sincerely wish to build.  

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“Cultural competency” is a popular term these days, and while I appreciate the sentiment of the phrase, I’ve been feeling terribly inept culturally.  When it comes to race relations, failure is simply inevitable.  I recently mistook an Iranian student for an Egyptian and suspected immediately that I’d offended him.  I hadn’t meant to – I’d really just confused him with another student – but I couldn’t take my words back either, and didn’t know enough about Middle Eastern culture to know how offensive my assumption truly was.  After stumbling a little trying to retract my words, I fell back not on competence, but humility, “I’m sorry,” I admitted. “I didn’t know. Please forgive my mistake.”

A colleague recently introduced me to the term “Cultural humility” and I instantly connected to it, for even with all my practice being married cross-culturally, earning a degree in multicultural education, speaking several languages, traveling on 4 continents, and spending my days with immigrants from around the world, I often feel culturally incompetent.  I only speak two languages fluently, not six like some of my students.  I grew up in a monocultural cornfield and have had to work to learn anything I know about the rest of the world, which is still not really enough.  I have always lived in my country of birth, and don’t have near the depth of experience or insight about cultural adjustment that the world’s resilient immigrants know.

Culturally, I am far from competent.

But cultural humility?  This makes sense to me.

Instead of “Get over it”, cultural humility responds, “I don’t understand.  Can you help me understand more deeply?”

Instead of some variation of “quit whining”, cultural humility responds, “I’m so sorry this hurts you. How can I walk alongside you in this?”

Instead of reading only the white megachurch types, cultural humility also seeks wisdom from the pages of leaders from a wide variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Instead of “Why do you keep causing problems?”, cultural humility responds, “I’m sorry I keep hurting you. It seems like I’m missing something big.  How would you recommend I start to better understand your experience?”

Instead of keeping quiet because you don’t know, cultural humility clumsily admits, “I’m a little embarrassed I don’t know much about your background. I don’t even know how to ask you questions about it, but I really would love to learn more.” (God bless the dear man who actually said this to my husband.)

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While all of this might sound a lot like an us-vs-them scenario, I want you, my white brothers and sisters, to know that it does not have to be.  While I have never lived in a different skin, I fiercely love those who do – their very DNA runs through my veins.  I share my perspective here from a bridge between worlds, longing to see those on both sides listen to and love each other so much better than we currently do.

When white people don’t recognize how our position of cultural dominance influences us – when we don’t know that we’re being white – we can be like bulls in a china shop, throwing everything in our wake askew without even realizing what we’ve done. For us, this understanding begins with learning a perspective of cultural humility and seeking to understand another’s experience without judgment.  May more of us boldly begin to walk on this long and winding path.

(And just for the record, I kinda like white hipster music.)

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Updates

*10/2 Update:

Some readers have rightfully informed me that the man in screenshot I posted is actually Indian.  I promise I didn’t purposely provide my own example of how to make assumptions and cultural mistakes, but it does allow me to practice what I already preached:  we all make mistakes in this dialogue.  Please forgive me for mine.

I could replace the picture with plenty of others with the same sentiment, but I’ll leave it for a few reasons. First, I think it’s a valuable example of fallibility in this conversation (even if it is at my own expense). In addition, I still maintain that the problem this video highlights is one we need to address at large. I also question other subtle messages in the video and would like to continue dialoging about the messages it communicates to have a white man leading the song of the world, once again.

10/4 Update:

An amended version of this post was published on The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, & Culture this afternoon.  It corrects the erroneous assumption regarding the picture in this post.

Comment Policy

Ranting, rude, or ridiculous posts will be deleted, so don’t bother wasting your time here.  Please proceed to someone else’s site, or better yet, take some time to think about what you want to express and how to say it in a respectful way.  If you need it spelled out even more plainly, here you go:  Don’t be an ass.  This is a place for thoughtful, productive discussion, not hotheadedness and knee jerk reactions.  While I will not filter out disagreement, I do insist that we offer it with respect for one another’s God-given humanity.

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Further Reading