Archive for June, 2008

I’ve Been Hit!

My friend Caryn Rivadeneira, who’s currently the managing editor for Christianity Today’s GiftedforLeadership.com, recently tagged me. I usually try to avoid the whole meme thing, but Caryn is such a nice person—and she was memed/tagged (see, I don’t even know what to call it) by another great guy, Al Hsu from over at IVP—so I’ll give this one a shot. 🙂

Sooo, here are the rules:

  • Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
  • Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
  • Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Okay, here are my random and weird facts. I’ll make it quick:

  1. God spoke to me about getting serious with him as I stood in the front row at a David Lee Roth concert in 1986.
  2. I went through a Jheri curl phase around that same time. I think God also spoke to me about getting rid of it.
  3. I am not a twin.
  4. I won a Project Author young writers award when I was in fourth grade; first thing I ever really won. (Oh, the name of the book was The Knights of the Star Table—part Star Wars, part King Arthur’s Tales.)
  5. Growing up in the late seventies, I used to love a soft drink called Rondo—“the Thirst Crusher.” Anyone remember Rondo?
  6. My first automobile purchase was a used, Green 1974 AMC Hornet. Ah, good memories with that car. Bought it for $450.
  7. Thanks to my kids, I can sing most of the songs from Disney’s High School Musical. My favorites: “Stick to the Status Quo” and “Breaking Free.”

There you go. Now I’m obligated to nag, er, tag seven other folks. Sorry about this, friends:

Judy Bright

Stan Guthrie

A Musing Mom

Joshua Canada

Wendy Murray

Margaret Feinberg

Jason Oliver


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Have any of you seen RiseUp in your local newspaper yet? This groundbreaking weekly newspaper insert and online magazine is designed to stir our thinking on issues of race, ethnicity, and culture. It launches this weekend with a circulation of more than 4 million. In her note to readers, the publication’s founder and publisher, Janice Ellis, writes:

The mission of RiseUp is to engage all races and ethnicities in an ongoing conversation about how we can better understand each other, and build stronger communities, cities, nations and a better world.

RiseUp will strive for balance and inclusiveness in all its content. Our staff and writers come from all all races and ethnic groups. This is a magazine about us—all of us—and our need to better understand each other…

We are not approaching the subject with rose-colored glasses. We are taking it on with an unswerving commitment to make things better.

Ellis also tackles the elephant in the room, observing that the publication was not conceived in response to the current presidential election. But she acknowledges that the hot campaign season has certainly added to the sense of necessity for such a project.

The premiere issue of RiseUp features articles on “Closing the Racial Divide,” ethnic wedding traditions, and Baltimore’s Seton Hill neighborhood. It’s an interesting collection of pieces.

In a year when Barack Obama’s historic candidacy for president has sparked all kinds of new questions about race and culture in America, the time may be ripe for such a publication as this. If you’ve had a chance to check out the print or online edition, I’d love to hear your reactions.

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Two interesting articles from the Associated Press on Barack Obama and identity politics appeared this weekend. Of course, it’s become pretty difficult to find an article about Obama that isn’t also about identity politics.

Anyhow, the first is a piece about the dilemma Obama’s presidential bid presents for black Republicans (including J.C. Watts, Colin Powell, and Armstrong Williams), many of whom are seriously contemplating casting their ballot for a Democrat. Says Williams:

“I don’t necessarily like his policies; I don’t like much that he advocates, but for the first time in my life, history thrusts me to really seriously think about it. I can honestly say I have no idea who I’m going to pull that lever for in November. And to me, that’s incredible.”

The second article, by AP writer Sonya Ross, examines the precarious position Obama finds himself in as a biracial candidate for president—wedged between black and white America. She writes:

Every time Obama takes a step toward November, blacks and whites pull on him as if he were a wishbone, expecting him to build up or water down his blackness as evidence that, if he becomes president, he won’t drag them out of their separate silos to confront America’s race problem; he’ll just join them where they are.

Are you a Republican (of any hue) who’s seriously thinking about voting for Obama? What about the wishbone question? Do you find yourself wanting to pull him one way or the other?

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Today, June 12, is celebrated by many interracial couples and families as “Loving Day.” I must confess I was not aware of this special day until I read reports last month about Mildred Loving’s death.

On this day in 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the laws banning interracial marriage. (Think about that—1967!) Richard and Mildred Loving were the interracial couple whose “illegal” marriage brought the case before the court. The Washington Post features a thought-provoking story on the subject, along with reprints of its editorials from the sixties decrying anti-interracial marriage laws. 

Also read or listen to an interesting NPR commentary by John Ridley and an in-depth report from Voice of America. Finally, this April article from the Burnside Writers Collective asks us to consider interracial and cross-cultural marriage as a model of Christian reconciliation. 

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Last month, a few dozen Christian leaders gathered at Duke University to discuss issues of racial and ethnic reconciliation. The meeting was called by Chris Rice, coauthor of the landmark book More Than Equals and director of Duke Divinity’s Center for Reconciliation. I was invited to attend the event, but unfortunately I could not (I hope to be there next year). However, my friend Michael Emerson, coauthor of another landmark book, Divided by Faith, was able to attend. I asked him if he would do a guest-blog post about the meeting, and he graciously complied. (Thanks, Mike.)   


Reconciliation Leaders Gather at Duke—and Some Sparks Fly

By Michael Emerson


Last summer my family and I left North America for the first time. We went to see the hometown of my grandparents in Sicily. While there, we went to Mount Etna, an impressively high, beautiful volcano on the east coast of Sicily, not far from the hometown of my relatives. The lands surrounding Mount Etna are some of the world’s most fertile for growing olives, grapes, and citrus, enriched by “the Etna’s” many historical eruptions. 


We were struck by its calm beauty, but we were also reminded by our tour guide that we were standing on the most active volcano in Europe. Just a few months after we left, Mount Etna erupted with such force that it could be seen from outer space. It has erupted several times since. Appearances can often be deceiving.


Race relations in the United States are like this. Often, on the surface, this nation’s mosaic of racial and ethnic diversity can seem beautiful and even awe-inspiring. People of every conceivable background working hard to achieve their goals in this free land.


But this nation is a racial volcano. We know we have had major eruptions in the past, killing and scarring many. But like tourists to Mount Etna, we often assume that such eruptions are only in the past, that below the surface is calmness, not a boiling cauldron that must erupt periodically to release pressure.


The United States has never gone very long between eruptions. Yet, not long after each one, many tend to think that should do it. The last vestiges of hot lava have flowed. 


We completely misunderstand race relations when we take this view.


The presidential primaries provided occasion for some significant eruptions, exposing the divides between racial groups, and especially the divides between Christians of different racial groups.


We can deal with each eruption as it occurs, and leave it at that. Or we can work to reduce the boilers below the surface that lead to the eruptions.


From May 12 to May 15, about 70 hand-picked reconciliation leaders were gathered by the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School. Paying their own way, the leaders came to learn, to renew, and to rededicate. Leaders were selected from grassroots organizations, from among the clergy, and from the academy.


The time was first and foremost one of worship, focusing on the Power that enables change, justice, and righteousness. The conference opened with worship and concluded with a tear-filled time of commissioning, in which the most experienced leaders laid hands on the younger generation, praying for them to lead the justice and reconciliation movement further down the road, despite the costs.


In between was a time of intense networking and what all agreed were incredible sessions of knowledge sharing, including talks from many of the nation’s reconciliation leaders and even a discussion with a Sudanese Catholic Bishop.


Let me give you one specific example that encompasses learning, networking, planning, and doing. It produced sparks that could have led to an eruption, but in a gathering of dedicated reconcilers, it instead led to understanding and action.


The overarching goal of the conference was to determine some of the main below-the-surface boilers that threaten true reconciliation, and create networks to begin dismantling them. The meeting was punctuated by some serious challenges. Rev. Walter Contreras, director of Mission Mobilization and Connection in the Department of World Mission of the Evangelical Covenant Church, passionately challenged the participants to see the immigration issue as a moral issue, one that is separating families, denying the opportunity to survive economically, and reeking havoc on human communities. Can a person be an illegal human being? Or is it rather that they do or do not have official permission from authorities to be where they are?    


This topic came to be perhaps the dominant theme of the conference. Where, he asked, are our black, white, and Asian brothers and sisters on this issue? Why does the evangelical church sit silently, or worse, support laws and practices that hurt fellow Christians. Are we Americans first, Christians second?


He was challenged by some in the room, and the discussion intensified. But through the initial conflict, eyes were opened and new understandings reached.


Many in the gathering were so moved that a make-shift meeting was called during a lunch hour. The group prayed, discussed the issues, came up with a plan, and prayed again for guidance and strength.


In Houston, where I live, conference attendee Rev. Harvey Clemons, pastor of Pleasant Hills Baptist Church and president of the Fifth Ward Community Development Association, called a meeting of Latino leaders and immigration lawyers, as well as a few others (such the guy writing this guest blog). From that meeting, we saw the need to create a citywide, interracial steering committee made up of the movers and shakers in the Houston region—the heads of organizations working on immigration justice issues and other influential people. That committee is currently being formed, and our goals will include ministering to families suffering from family separation and economic and educational dislocation; helping provide education on the issues; and ultimately getting laws changed on the local, state, and national levels. We are hoping to connect to such groups in other cities.


The justice and reconciliation movement continues forward. The Duke Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity has committed to hosting yearly conferences.  Undoubtedly, who attends will broaden. If you have passion for seeing God’s people treated as God’s people, consider the conference next year. Check out the Center’s website at www.divinity.duke.edu/reconciliation.


I’d be remiss if I ended this guest-blog post without first inviting a dialogue. What do you think are the most pressing issues in race and ethnic relations today? Why? We would love to hear from you.


Michael Emerson is the Allyn and Gladys Cline Professor of Sociology and founding director of the Center on Race, Religion, and Urban Life at Rice University in Houston.



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As you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t been blogging that much lately—too busy! And I probably shouldn’t be blogging now, but I wanted to call your attention to a few items of interest I’ve run across recently. Some of them are slightly aged but still worthwhile.

  • “Racial Shift in a Progressive City Spurs Talks.” A case study of the pros and cons of diversity in Portland, Oregon. City leaders are encouraging black and white residents to talk about gentrification and race.
  • Chicago Sun-Times Coverage of Father Pfleger. Religion columnist Cathleen Falsani, the journalist with the most access to Father Michael Pfleger, has written a revealing collection of pieces on the Chicago priest’s latest controversy. (This is the latest story, but check out the “Complete Coverage” list left of the article for several others.) Falsani has also posted all of her articles on her blog; here’s the first one.
  • Archbishop Tutu Weighs in on U.S. Presidential Race. My friend Linda Leigh Hargrove posted a great clip about South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s comments during a recent trip to Chicago. The link to the Tribune article in Linda’s post seems to have expired, but you should be able to get it here. Tutu offered some provocative thoughts about Barack Obama, Jeremiah Wright, and America’s need for reconciliation.
  • Things Not to Say. My friend and colleague LaTonya Taylor passed this one along to me. It’s a collection of articles from DiversityInc magazine listing insensitive remarks one should avoid saying to members of various racial and cultural groups in the workplace. For example, never say to a Native American coworker: “How Indian are you?” Or try to steer clear of saying this to a white coworker: “There’s no way you, as a white person, could understand.” It might be risky to post about this one, but I’m curious to hear your reactions. Is this just more PC babble, or actually a helpful tool for navigating differences in society? 


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Anyone watch the NBC reality show Last Comic Standing? I don’t, but I was checking out the blog Racialicious yesterday and ran across this post about a Chicago comedian named Esther Ku who recently appeared on the show. The post’s headline suggests that Ku is the Korean-American Sarah Silverman. (Silverman, for those who don’t know, is a white comedian who traffics in an offensive brand of humor that tries to squeeze irony out of common racial, ethnic, gender, and religious stereotypes. Her jokes come across as more cruel than insightful, and I think she likes it that way.)

Like Silverman, Ku’s comedy usually causes audiences to squirm in discomfort: Did she really say that? Is it okay to laugh? Is this social commentary, or is she making fun of Asian people? It’s a risky style of satire, for sure.

In addition to a YouTube video of Ku, the Racialicious post excerpts a telling passage from a Boston Globe article about her act:

The Korean-American comedian started with the words, “I don’t really like being Asian, but I’m kind of stuck with it.” That, at least, received a few titters. But when she continues, “The only good thing about being Asian, really, is it helps you get into college,” the crowd stays silent. It goes downhill from there as she mines the subject of Caucasians adopting Asian babies.

“Nigerian babies cost like 25 cents a day,” says Ku. “Asian babies cost a lot more because they pay off.”

As the crowd erupts in pained groans and a smattering of uncomfortable laughs, Ku innocently asks, “Did I go too far?”

Later on, the Globe article allows the comedian to explain what she’s attempting to do with her humor:

The underlying message of the [Nigerian vs. Asian babies] joke is a cultural commentary about white people who adopt Asian babies, says Ku. “How unfair it is that people purchase Asian babies like it’s an investment. I don’t mean to degrade Nigerian babies.”

But, as the article observes, Ku’s audiences often miss her point. And many leave her shows feeling she’s a self-hating racist.

The Racialicious post on Ku reminded me of the discussion we were having here a few weeks ago about the blog Stuff White People Like. The questions posed then arise once again:

  • How far should we go in joking about race and ethnicity?
  • Does it do more harm than good?
  • Is there a place in the work of reconciliation for biting social satire that indirectly challenges us to examine our stereotypes and prejudices?

Ku’s comedy offers yet another angle for considering these issues.


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