Posts Tagged ‘media’

It was more than a week ago that four Asian-American leaders engaged in a conference call with executives from Zondervan, regarding their recently published book, Deadly Viper Character Assassin: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership. While the authors of the book have issued a public apology for the offense and harm their material has caused, we have yet to hear officially from Zondervan.  In that conference call, Zondervan promised to act upon the conversations with members of the Asian-American Christian community.  There is no reason to suspect that Zondervan will not act upon their promise. To some extent, it is understandable that they would take some time to deliberate their course of action.  However, we must continue to make our perspective clear to Zondervan.  As they are formulating their response, I would ask that they consider the following:

(1)    A very significant outcry from the Asian-American community (pastors, ministers, academics, lay leaders, etc.) has called for a public apology and the dropping of the entire theme of the book. If there is no or a limited response from Zondervan regarding this material, it would be a slap in the face of the Asian-American Christian community (and many others as well), who spoke in a very clear and unmistakable voice asking for the cessation of this theme.

(2)    Please do not look for the easy compromise. Changing a font here and a photo here would only be cosmetic change to something that was misguided from the onset.  We have already seen the evidence of where this theme leads. Some of the more egregious examples arose from what may have been good intentions at the beginning, but deteriorated into caricature and stereotype by the time many of us encountered this material.  In other words, simply excising the external product minimizes the immediate damage, but does not prevent future damage from occurring.  We have seen the fruit from the poisonous tree.  By allowing the tree to stand, we may see more damaged fruit from this venture.

(3)    Because of the book, there has already been significant damage to the credibility of Christian witness to non-Christian Asian-Americans.  On this blog, I have stopped a number of responses from non-Christian Asian-Americans who expressed through profanity, their perspective on the book.  Their ire was oftentimes directed towards Christians and towards Christianity.  A significant portion of the Asian-American community remains an unreached people group.  This book provides a significant barrier to the gospel for many unreached Asian-Americans. There are some who have asserted that there are many who are connecting to the material and that the martial arts theme is the only way to keep these individuals engaged in this important issue of Christian character.  I would challenge the creativity of the authors to come up with a way to continue to engage their target audience without denigrating and stereotyping the Asian-American community.  I would ask that the authors and Zondervan to consider whether it is justice to alienate and marginalize an unreached population for the purpose of titillating those who are interested in the marketing gimmick more than the issue of integrity and character.

To Mike Foster, Jud Wilhite, and the executives of Zondervan: “Do the RIGHT THING.”  Not the “financially expedient” thing.  Not the “minimizing the damage” thing.  Not the “we have to protect our interests” thing.  But as Christian leaders, do the right thing.

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.

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.

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.

One of my favorite TV shows is LOST.  I love almost every facet of the show.  I love that the cast is very multi-cultural (very Next Evangelicalism).  I love that questions are constantly being raised and not always being answered (very post-modern).  I love that the development of the back story and character development is more central than simply moving the plot along (very good story telling).  But most of all, I love that for the last year I have not seen a single episode at its regular time via broadcast television.  Formerly at the whim and mercy of the networks, the advent of web streaming allows me to take back control and assert power over the medium of television.

Many decades ago, there were actually people who were confounded by the new medium known as television – a magic box that showed moving pictures. In recent years, there were many who were confounded by the advent of the internet.  Some were so confounded that they thought they themselves had actually invented the internet.  (I’m looking at you Al Gore).  Any new technology creates uncertainty, but strangely it also creates opportunities for the redistribution of power.

Eric Law has written extensively on the topic of multi-cultural leadership.  In his landmark work, The Wolf Shall Lie Down with the Lamb, Law asserts that one of the major obstacles to healthy cross-cultural leadership is the difference in how power is perceived by different ethno-cultural groups.  These differences lead to an unequal distribution of power when different ethnic groups attempt to live church life together.

For example, Law finds that the high level of exclusively verbal communication that most Western and American cultures employ, leads to an unfair and imbalanced power dynamic.  As Law explains, “most church leaders use verbal communication exclusively to conduct church affairs. . . .Verbal communication alone is a biased means of communication, favoring people who have a strong sense of individual power and verbal ability – the majority of whom are whites.”  I can remember being in a number of multi-ethnic settings where whites dominated the conversation while many ethnic minorities are left out of the conversation.  Verbal communication is assumed to be the most effective means of communication leading to an imbalanced power distribution.

Law continues by stating that: “in order to enable people of a multicultural community to communicate with each other, we must move beyond using verbal communication exclusively.”  Law asserts that multi-media and group media provides a form of two-way communication that levels the playing field for effective cross-cultural communication.  If media is used effectively and judiciously, we have the opportunity to correct imbalanced power distribution created by American evangelicalism’s cultural captivity.

On this website, we explore not only the meaning of justice in various forms but we must also explore the medium we employ to discuss justice.  “Media, both print and electronic, have always been associated with power distribution.”  The use of multi-media, group media, two-way communication, multi-layered conversation, multi-sensory expression, and alternative expressions becomes an important aspect of power redistribution and a more just form of communication.  We can seek restorative justice by seeking the potential redemptive uses of media and alternative means of communication.

Take back the power.  Go ahead express yourself.