Posts Tagged ‘cross-cultural’

My good friend, Rev. Dr. Alex Gee is the Senior Pastor of Fountain of Life Church in Madison, WI (Dane County).  Alex and I met when we both were plenary speakers at Urbana ’03.  Pastor of a dynamic multi-ethnic church, Alex brings a pastor’s heart and a prophetic voice.

Dane County is an amazing community for African American babies to be born into.  It is a horrible community in which to live if you are an adult African American male.  As an African American who is both a male and a father, I find this stark contrast appalling.

Recently, I was at a Healthy Births Outcome event. We gathered that morning to discuss the fact that Dane County has the absolute best African American infant survival rate in the entire country. In fact, we are the only community in the nation where white and African American infants have the same survival rate.  As the father of child who was a one-pound, eight-ounce baby who was born sixteen weeks too early, I am grateful to live in Madison, Wisconsin.  So the news is good for African American babies. It is not so good for African American adults.

A colleague just showed me a report that states that in Dane County, fifty percent of ALL young African American men are either in prison, on probation or parole, or on extended supervision. That’s one half of ALL our young African American men. What are the implications for African American families? What does this mean for African American women? What does this mean for African American economics? This is scary and this is wrong! Wisconsin needs to be challenged in the way in which our prison system does business.

For example, nearly fifty percent of Wisconsin’s prison population is African American. This is appalling when one considers that African Americans make up only five percent of the state’s population. If you are male and African American in Wisconsin you are thirty times more likely be arrested of drug offenses that your white counterparts.  Our Gov. Jim Doyle and County Executive Kathleen Falk each established a task force to review the racial disparity in the Wisconsin and Dane County criminal justice systems. We need more than startling statistics. We need answers as to how this could happen in our state and we need to find solutions.

Unfortunately, racial profiling contributes to Wisconsin’s bleak reputations for treating its African American males more severely. Sadly, I know that from firsthand experience.  as I was recently pulled over by two Madison police cars in the parking lot of Fountain of Life Church, a well established multiethnic congregation where I am the founding senior pastor. I had not violated a single traffic rule, yet I was asked to show identification and to explain what I was doing there. My white staff member who was parked in the same lot and sitting in his car when I arrived was not asked a single question.  Is this some cruel joke? Is this really happening in my comfortable backyard while I snooze? African American males are not genetically inferior to our white counterparts nor are we predisposed to failure and criminal activity.  So, what is wrong with our corrections systems and why have so many of us just ignored this huge problem?

As a male African American Madisonian, I want to issue a call beyond the various task forces that now exist. I want to invite the entire community to become concerned and involved.  I want to encourage African American pastors to make their voices and concerns known.  I want to invite white clergy to address issues of racial disparity and discrimination from their pulpits.  I want the Urban League and NAACP to keep our political leaders’ feet to the fire for finding doable solutions for eradicating this awful disparity.

How can we celebrate healthy African American babies and not give a damn about their fathers and brothers and uncles?

Dane County leads the way for healthy African American babies; let’s do the same for African American males.

We are still waiting for an official response from Zondervan.  I have heard back from one of the editors that they are researching to get all the facts, followed by appropriate private conversations, before going public with a response.

I think it is very appropriate to let Zondervan know our concerns.  That should be part of the research they are doing.  I think we have the right to be direct and firm in our response to Zondervan.

I am told the appropriate person to contact would be the VP of PR and Communication: Jason.Vines@Zondervan.com

UPDATED (TH – 1:37PM) – Zondervan has scheduled a conference call.

UPDATED (TH – 7PM) We’re scheduled for the conference call tomorrow. Please state in the comments what you feel needs to be conveyed to Zondervan.

Emerging Voices: Vince Campbell

Don’t mean to detract from all the other stuff going on, but this post has been in the works for awhile.

Vince has previously contributed an article to this blog.  Here are three youtube clips of a workshop he and I led at CCDA.  Vince is currently a PhD student at Catholic University, studying the early African church.  I believe he is the only African-American academic studying the early African church.  Watch the clips.

PART I:

PART II:

PART III:

You can see more video clips from CCDA at http://www.youtube.com/profrah

Why can’t Christian publishers get a clue?

Recently, I received my copy of the Zondervan catalog. In one of the circulars, there was an advertisement for a book called Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership.

So the “Kung Fu” part got my attention, as well as the dragon on the cover and the Chinese characters. I guess I was hoping against hope that it was the story of an Asian-American Christian rather than another example of Asian culture being pimped out to sell products.

More to be said, but here are some choice samplings of their work:

At Catalyst 2007, where their session opens with “Kung Fu fighting” music: HERE

A facebook advertisement video: HERE

Some images they use on their website and facebook:

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I’m trying to engage in dialogue with the authors. Not a good response so far, but if given the chance what would you say to them?

Second in a series of blog posts that feature emerging voices.  This week, my friend Jose Morales, pastor, theologian, future PhD, and Disciples of Christ Rock Star (or top DJ/MC), offers his take on immigration and the culture of fear.   The debate over immigration reform has produced a high degree of rancor and contention. But is there more to this debate than mere political wranglings?  Jose helps us to reflect on this issue through another lens.

DJ JoseJose at lakeview

What is at the core of the issue? What is the driving force of the immigration debate? I say: it is fear.

What’s at the core of the debate, in my opinion, is a cultural fear that grows out of cultural hegemony and cultural idolatry. Namely, the fear comes from the “threat” of having large numbers of immigrants who refuse to assimilate easily, in a country where the cultural majority sees assimilation as a moral virtue and as a necessity for socio-political well-being. In other words, immigration is not a threat to national security; it is a threat to national identity. For since the first rounds of Native extermination, the cultural “norm” has been set by the cultural majority, namely, immigrants of Anglo stock.  Which is why I am convinced that “white” is a political designation, not a cultural one.  I am even suspicious of the intention of some white liberals who, by using “diversity” and “multicultural” language, are really attempting to maintain cultural control in the guise of diversity “management”.  This cultural control avoids the real task at hand: de-white-supremafication. As these gatekeepers of Anglo-American culture see it, their power to set and sustain the norm is being challenged by backwater, Spanish-speaking, indigenous, Catholic, pre-modern, brown people who are a drag on the economy. What these immigrants are a drag on is the cultural hegemony of white society. Just as post-bellum white southerners feared a black cultural revolution and thus acted in horrific, dehumanizing ways to squelch any inkling of Afro-cultural insurgency, the cultural majority today fears specifically a Latino-cultural revolution which will rob them of their power to set the “norm.”

The sad tale to this saga for me, as a faithful Christian, is that this cultural hegemony has been, and still is, sanctioned and sustained by religion. God-talk is employed to ignore cultural fear and to maintain cultural hegemony, which consequently leads to cultural idolatry. Below are three ways in which religion is distortedly used to these ends.

  1. The dominant culture makes an appeal to “obedience of the law” as a moral absolute without first determining whether the contents and intents of said law, in and of themselves, are morally right and just.
  2. The nation that concocts these laws is given divine origins and divine purpose. In short, to go against the state is to go against God.
  3. The “white” majority, who have written the history of the nation (so as to soften up things like Native extermination, slavery of African peoples, and subjugation of women), are given divine preference and set the “standard” by which all residents of the republic are judged.

The cultural fear of the cultural majority is fostered by appeals to religion–in this country, by appeals to their Christianity. And I will specify: their Christianity.  Statistics show that the majority of African, Persian, Asian, and Latin American immigrants are Christian; and yet, these forms of imported, un-Americanized Christianity are not good enough for this republic and its religion.  As a Christian, I challenge their cultural-civil form of Christianity because, as I see it, it is not Christianity. The Christian faith is one of liberating power from below, not oppressive power from above. This principal of liberating power is embodied in the Torah, where provisions were made to guard against economic exploitation, political oppression, and religious legitimation. The prophets remind the people of the socio-political mandate of the Law, for they had emptied the Law of its liberating power and had begun to use it for personal gain and exploitive purposes in the name of God–sounds awfully familiar! For Christians, the Christ event is the fullest embodiment of this liberating power. It is in the political execution of Jesus on the Cross where he is ironically yet profoundly crowned king, and where God’s liberating power was demonstrated and the culture’s oppressive power exposed.

Lest I am accused of theological rambling, I wish to point out how this re-appropriation of the faith is applicable to the immigration issue. First of all, the immigration laws of this country are unjust, and should be declared as such by people of faith. Before we are called upon to adhere to these decrees, we should consider and challenge the racist, classist, ideological, and religiously exclusivist demons that inform and shape immigration policy as it now stands. To adhere to an immoral law is, well, immoral. For this reason, I have no problem encouraging churches, synagogues, and mosques to “break the law” and serve as sanctuaries for immigrants. Secondly, a critique of cultural idolatry is in order. While God in the Tanakh is referred to as “the God of Israel,” God is not an Israelite–nor an American, for that matter. Cultural idolatry diminishes the beauty of the whole people of God and does not allow us to see diversity as a gift of God’s Spirit (Acts 2). Providing sanctuary is a bold affirmation of diversity and of diversity’s rightful place in the American cultural milieu. Thirdly, I believe that faith and “values” language–i.e. “God-talk”–has its place in politics, since it is the language of many people who are affected by the political process. Yet, God-talk should be employed only for the common good and not for private or denominational interests. Civil religion used to subjugate workers for personal gains is rebuked by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 58). Lastly, people of faith should be at the forefront in naming the fear, and illegitimizing it. For it is, after all, illegitimate fear. In fact, it is fear of the worst kind: fear of the “other.” And it is only by knowing the “other” and by loving them that fear is replaced by compassion and solidarity, which are core values of the sanctuary movement. As it is written, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

To be clear, love casts out fear, not immigrants.

This article was originally in For You Were Once a Stranger: Immigration in the U.S. through the Lens of Faith, a primer on immigration by the Interfaith Worker Justice of Chicago.  The primer is available online: http://www.iwj.org.

gran-torino-poster

In the past year, I’ve presented on the topic of the Next Evangelicalism and the changing face of Christianity and of American society in various settings. In almost every setting, I’ve been asked whether I’ve seen the movie, Gran Torino. Either this was the greatest movie ever made or there was something in this movie that applied directly to The Next Evangelicalism. So about a month ago I finally capitulated and watched the movie on DVD. I’m assuming that most have already seen this movie, so if I reveal major plot points, you’ve had more than enough time to see this movie.

The story takes place in Detroit, but it could be extrapolated to any Midwestern city or any post-industrial city in the United States: Detroit, Buffalo, Paterson, NJ, or Minneapolis-St. Paul (particularly with its prominent Hmong population). One of the people who strongly recommended the movie to me stated in no uncertain terms that the movie took place in Minneapolis, MN. The story focuses on Clint Eastwood as a curmudgeon war veteran (is there any other kind?) and retired auto worker (hence, the Detroit locale and the movie title) who is adjusting to life in a rapidly changing neighborhood. His neighborhood is being overrun with street gangs and immigrants, like his immediate neighbors (a Hmong family), who practice strange customs like having lots of friends and family over for dinner parties. Eastwood, of course, doesn’t like what’s happening to his old neighborhood and tries to keep his distance from the Hmong family next door – particularly the teenage brother and sister in the family.

Because this is a Hollywood movie, the Hmong teenage boy and his sister gradually win over the crusty old man. He develops a nice rapport with the kids and eventually when the dangers of the neighborhood threaten his new friends, he intervenes. The climax of the movie comes when Eastwood’s character decides to take matters into his own hands. It appears that Eastwood is ready for a shoot ‘em up with the local gang. However, it turns out that he is unarmed when he confronts the gang and he is gunned down on the street, dying with his arms in an outstretched position as if he were on a cross.

The movie had some interesting and unexpected moments; namely, the acknowledgement of an increasingly multi-cultural and diverse urban dynamic. It is interesting how the cross-cultural relationship is with a Hmong family, not a Mexican family or an African-American family. The movie recognizes the complex cultural mosaic that is now America. The relationship that develops between the Eastwood character and the Hmong family was certainly a feel good aspect of the movie — showing that cultural barriers could be overcome when the white person opens his heart to the strangers living next door. And it is genuinely moving that the Eastwood character gives up his life for his newfound friends.

Which actually provides the most problematic element of the movie as well. As Eastwood dies, he stretches out his arms as if on a cross in what was a pretty obvious attempt at portraying the Eastwood character as a Christ figure. He sacrifices his life in order to save the Hmong teenagers. So what’s the problem?

Hmong Eastwood

I try to interpret this movie from the lens of my experience in urban ministry. I greatly appreciate the concept of relocation that is espoused by many who move to urban neighborhoods from places of privilege and affluence. I think a great sacrifice is being made by those who are urban relocaters. However, I worry a bit that this idea of relocation is misunderstood by whites (and others of privilege and wealth) who may have the best of intentions, but end up ultimately harming the community they hope to reach. I found it uncomfortable, that once again, the white male is portrayed as the Savior in Gran Torino — that the immigrant community needs a white Messiah to rescue them. Our Savior is a Jewish Messiah, who ultimately empties himself of the heavenly places in order to save us. However, no human can play that role nor should one aspire to that role. Is Gran Torino glorifying a white Messiah to save those needing help? Instead, could a downtrodden, marginalized community rise up from within? Could the Hmong teenagers figure out a way to work within the community to bring about transformation and renewal? Maybe Eastwood’s character could have worked with them towards that goal rather than doing all the work for them (again, a Messianic reference)? Would it be more powerful if instead of Eastwood being a Christ figure / Messiah for the immigrant community, Eastwood walked Hmong them (okay, now I’m pushing it). But that wouldn’t make for a good Hollywood movie.

Hey folks,
If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check out my friend’s new blog.  Chris Rice is one of the pioneers and prophets of racial reconciliation and multi-ethnicity in our generation.  I met Chris and Spencer Perkins (they co-authored a ground breaking work together called: More Than Equals and were partners in reconciliation ministry for many years before Spencer’s untimely passing.  Spencer is also John Perkins’ son).  Chris is currently working at Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation which has been doing groundbreaking and exciting work on the topic of multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation.  I’m sure you’ll appreciate what Chris has to say on his blog.

I recently did an interview on Crosswalk.com. I thought the interview was fairly balanced and I thought the interviewer asked really good and insightful questions. I’m under the assumption that Crosswalk is geared towards a more, mainstream, evangelical audience. So I was interested in what sort of responses I would receive from the interview. See below for one of the responses to my interview:

“White privilege places white expressions of culture and faith at the center. Privilege is power and the power of privilege is to create a world where one’s one identity, race, and culture rest at the center of the society.”

I really lost you here. I may be wrong, but it seems that you blame the “White Church” for a lot of problems with Evangelism. Your answers suggest that you may align more with minority churchs or basic minority groups. They love to play the victim when in fact most “White churchs” have their arms wide open to new ideas (of course there are exceptions to this). If there is racism in the church, a lot of it is coming from some of the African-American churches that teach Socialist ideas all while blaming white people for most of their challenges. As I said, I may be wrong but I sense this same attitude in your answers.

I am in full support of changing the church for the better but I believe your negative views of white churches is incorrect.

I don’t even know where to begin. How would you respond?

Now that the dust has settled and the beers have been consumed, maybe we can have a less-charged discussion about the arrest of Professor Gates. No, we will not get all the facts straight and the tone and emotions during the interaction between the two men will never be completely clarified; but maybe we can take a look at some of the mistakes and insert commentary about the entire process.

(1) The police came to the home of Prof. Gates to investigate a potential break in. It was perfectly legitimate for Office Crowley to do his job and request ID and to question Prof. Gates. He was doing his job in responding to a neighbor’s phone call. (I suppose one could question the motivation of the neighbor’s phone call, but having been a recent victim of theft from our home, I actually wouldn’t mind if my neighbors had phoned in suspicious behavior. It is interesting to note that the individual who phoned in the “break-in” claims that she did NOT mention the race of the duo she thought was breaking in).

My take on this initial investigation is that if I were a Cambridge police officer working the Harvard beat, I would have recognized one of the most prominent Professors on campus whose face is on PBS almost every other day. But Crowley is not me and I can’t fault the man for not recognizing one of the most prominent African-American scholars in the world and quite possibly the most recognizable face among the Harvard faculty (Quick, what does Drew Faust look like? Is Drew male or female? What about Harvey Cox?). Maybe, if it had been Cornel West, this incident would not have occurred. After all, West has been on The Matrix (albeit the worst of the bunch: Part III).

(2) Whether intentional or not, Prof. Gates felt antagonized by the officer. He has just returned from a long trip, he is suffering from bronchitis, he has trouble getting into his own home (as someone who travels a lot, I am pretty miffed if there’s any sort of delay getting back home after a long trip), and then the police show up at his front door step and accuse him of breaking into his own home. I’m sure that Gates’ temper was short and a whole host of thoughts raced through his mind.

I don’t doubt that Gates was less than courteous to the officer. Some of the comments that Gates have been accused of making, however, seem really uncharacteristic. But let’s assume that those comments were made. Even then, they do not justify arrest. If true, they make Gates look bad, but those actions are not a criminal and arrestable (is that a word?) offense.

(3) “The Cambridge police acted stupidly.” Up until the arrest, I personally can’t find fault with the actions of the Cambridge Police. They were responding to a call. Asking for ID and questioning Gates was a legitimate response. However, as soon as Prof. Gates produced identification, the officer needs to bow out gracefully. Even if he’s hurt or feels verbally abused – he is an officer of the law and his main goal is to keep the peace. The best course of action is to walk away, no matter what the individual is saying. At the point that it is established that this is indeed the person’s home, you leave. Gates is about 5’7” and weighs what? — about 135 pounds, and walks with a cane. Why was there a need for seven or so cops to be in front of Gates’ house? If John Malkovich (a Cambridge resident) had reacted as Gates had reacted, would John Malkovich have been arrested? Prof. Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct IN HIS OWN HOME. There’s something not quite right about that.

Up until this point, my take on this situation has not been focused on the race issue. Even without the issue of race, I think the Cambridge police officer acted stupidly. Keep the peace. Walk away from the man’s home. But I see race as a factor in two main ways. This is speculation on my part, but I don’t think Gates would have been arrested in his own home if he were a prominent white professor. Again, if this had been John Malkovich, the officers would have probably walked away – knowing that he wasn’t going to harm anyone and that there would be a huge firestorm of controversy surrounding the arrest. Was race the only factor? No, but it certainly was one of the factors. Secondly, I see race as a factor in the ensuing controversy that enveloped our President. Why was Obama asked about this incident? In the middle of a heated ongoing debate about health care? If a similar incident had occurred to (again) John Malkovich during the Bush Administration, would Bush have been asked this question during a press conference on the war on terror? Some have posited that Obama’s favorability rating was affected by his response. Huh? I am reminded that when the word race, racism comes up – we all head to our respective corners and we become fearful of having a deeper discussion on the issue of race.

Maybe we really are a nation of cowards when it comes to the issue of race. It feels that anytime a discussion of race needs to happen, we become trapped in trying to prove whether racism exists or not. It feels like when racism is raised as an issue, the one who raises the issue of racism is labeled as a racist. Maybe some genuine progress was made at the beer summit (not that we’re going to find out what was actually said). But it still feels like we have such a long way to go.

A number of blog reviews have popped up in the last few weeks. Here are some links:

A nice review by Peter Scazzero, author of the The Emotionally Healthy Church

A review by Daniel Medina

And in case you missed them:

A review by the Internet Monk

by David Swanson

by Helena Zwarts

by Wayne Park