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Archive for April, 2007

My friend Llama Momma posted an interesting piece late last week regarding a Chicago-area high-school student who was arrested on disorderly conduct charges for writing a stream-of-consciousness essay packed with violent and disturbing content. On top of being arrested, the honor student was forced to finish up the semester at a different school and was informed by the U.S. Marine Corps that his contract to join that military branch was being dropped.

In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, it’s understandable that folks are more sensitive to these types of things. But is this an extreme reaction? And does the fact that the student, Allen Lee, is Asian have something to do with this response? Check out Llama Momma’s post and let her know what you think.

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The Virginia Tech community, our nation, and many around the world continue to grieve the senseless loss of so many precious lives on Monday morning. May the families and friends of those killed feel the peace and strength of Christ during this impossibly difficult time. And may we all take it as yet another reminder of how fragile this life is, and how much we all need the Lord. 

Beyond the immediate story, the Virginia tragedy has inspired many compelling national discussions. For instance, should NBC have aired Cho Seung-Hui’s disturbing video manifesto? The event also is threatening to re-ignite America’s ongoing gun-control debate. It has brought to the fore the important role of social networking sites like MySpace in connecting communities during a crisis and helping people mourn. And it has raised questions about an educational institution’s responsibilities in protecting a campus community from mentally unstable students. 

I hesitate to throw my voice into the cacophony of media addressing this horrific event. But I’m tempted to think out loud a bit about one sobering side note in this catastrophe—the role of race and ethnicity. I’m not for a moment suggesting that race played some part in Cho Seung-Hui’s twisted plot or that he had any regard for the cultural backgrounds of any of the people he murdered. In fact, as we begin to learn more about the 32 women and men who were slain, it’s clear that Cho did not discriminate–there were Caucasian Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Jewish Holocaust survivors, French Canadians, people of Middle Eastern descent, and many others. One is reminded how wonderfully multicultural a university campus often is. 

What I’m thinking about, however, are the repercussions Cho’s evil act has had for the Asian community in America, particularly our brothers and sisters from South Korea, from which Cho’s family emigrated in the early ’90s. This New York Times story explains how South Koreans take great pride in Koreans who have found success in the U.S. and, thus, why many are stunned and ashamed that the man behind the largest murder spree in U.S. history was Korean. South Koreans are concerned about how it might affect their country’s relations with the United States, not to mention the possibility that it might trigger racial prejudice or violence against Koreans in the U.S. 

This piece reports on how apologetic South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has been: 

“I and our people cannot contain our feelings of huge shock and grief,” said Roh during a news conference [on Wednesday]. “I pray for the souls of those killed and offer words of comfort from my heart for those injured, the bereaved families and the U.S. people.”  

It was apparently the third time he has publicly apologized. This kind of humility from a national leader is quite amazing these days, isn’t it? In fact, the entire nation’s collective sense of remorse suggests a cultural mindset quite different from the one in the U.S.

Then there was this: 

A South Korean also launched an online campaign Tuesday to offer condolences to the victims, setting up a Web page where users left more than 8,500 messages by Wednesday. 

“I feel distressed to learn that it was a South Korean that threw the world into shock,” said the site’s operator, identified only by the ID Hangukin, which means South Korean. “I pray for the souls of all those killed and let’s say to them that we, as South Koreans, regret” the tragedy. 

I suspect many of us who are ethnic minorities in the United States have also had that sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs when we discover that the person behind some violent or malicious act happens to come from our racial group. We all know that unpleasant attitudes can follow. Anyone remember the internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II? Or how about the racial profiling of Muslims and, really, anyone of Middle Eastern descent after Sept. 11, 2001? When it was revealed that the Washington, D.C., snipers of 2002 were African Americans, I said to myself, Indiana Jones-style, Black. Why’d they have to be black?! It made an already tragic episode all the more maddening. I’m sure you can think of moments like these from your own experience.

History has shown that race can put people’s safety and freedom at risk during times of national panic or indignation. But more than that, one simply feels a sense of communal disappointment that one or two crazy individuals could tarnish the image of an entire race of people. Yes, I know this may sound irrational to some, that most reasonable folks outside the racial group in question probably don’t harbor ill will against that group because of the actions of one person. But some folks do. And therein lies the psychological tension that many experience during times like these. Witness this reaction among Koreans in Chicago.

My prayer is that there will not be a backlash against the Korean community—or the Asian community in general—and that our Korean brothers and sisters will feel loved and accepted in this country during these unsettling days.

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Why race relations in America sometimes feels like Groundhog Dog. Check out my commentary on the Imus controversy at ChristianityToday.com.

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Today’s Christian, the magazine I edit, just posted an online interview with Soong-Chan Rah, who helped call attention to a controversial skit in a book published by Zondervan and Youth Specialties. (For background on the story, check out my March 14 post.) As usual, Soong-Chan has some very insightful things to say about the importance of reconciliation in the church. Please spread the word about the interview, and let me know what you think.

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Listening to Public Radio International’s business journal Marketplace last week, I heard a brief commentary that challenged me on a seemingly harmless practice that many of us have adopted as a normal part of our daily lives–drinking bottled water. The commentator, Benjamin Barber, says capitalism is fine and good when it effectively combines altruistic service to others with self-interested entrepreneurialism (i.e., meeting a real need and making a buck while doing it). But in recent times, he suggests, our capitalism has become more about creating new markets by manufacturing artificial needs. And one of these “manufactured needs,” he contends, is the $10 billion bottled water industry. Sadly, hardly any of that money makes its way to Third World countries that don’t have the luxury of unpolluted water out of a faucet. He uses Starbucks’s Ethos water (sold at $2 per bottle) as a sobering example of how backward things have gotten. I encourage you to check out his commentary.

Barber got me to thinking about the ways we have allowed our consumerist culture to lure us into unnecessary purchases by convincing us that they’re an essential part of our lives today. In his new book, Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, he argues that consumer culture has turned adult citizens into children by catering to our narcissistic desires and conditioning us to passionately embrace certain brands and products as a necessary part of our lifestyles.

The consumerization of the church has been talked about ad nauseam, but Barber’s thesis challenged me to think about it from a fresh angle. I wonder, what kinds of unnecessary products and practices in our contemporary Christian culture have we embraced as a necessary part of our spiritual lives? And how might these things be hindering us from seeing—and then responding to—the more urgent needs around us? What’s more, how might these things be blocking us from pursuing true reconciliation in the body of Christ?

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Last weekend, I had the honor and privilege of speaking at a Saturday-morning workshop for Breakthrough Urban Ministries of Chicago. The group was very gracious to this fledgling public speaker, and I had a wonderful time interacting with brothers and sisters who are passionate about racial reconciliation and incarnational ministry. So many of us are at a place where we’re wondering, Where do we go from here? or How can I keep going when it’s the same stuff over and over? or Is this racial diversity thing really worth all the grief? We didn’t come up with any definitive answers, but it was encouraging to hear folks express their hearts and to know that others are sharing the journey. I also was blessed to spend some time with Arloa Sutter, Breakthrough’s founder and executive director. Please pray for the important work she and her ministry are doing in Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood.

In the March/April issue of Today’s Christian, the magazine I edit, we published a Holy Week meditation titled “The Spilled Blood.” I share it here with you in remembrance of our Savior’s sacrifice as we celebrate his death and resurrection. Perhaps Christ’s example best answers some of those questions we’re grappling with. Is it really worth all the grief? Because of what happened on the Cross, yes … yes it is. 

May God bless you and your family on this holy weekend. 

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