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Archive for January, 2009

My dear friend Gospel Gal (a.k.a. LaTonya Taylor) called my attention to a report in today’s Chicago Tribune about an effort to achieve racial reconciliation in the small town of Paris, Texas. Paris, according to the Trib, is a town that has been fraught with racial tension for years–most notably was an incident that made national headlines involving a black teenager who was sentenced to seven years in a youth prison for a minor infraction, while a white teenager who committed a more serious crime a few months earlier only received a slap on the wrist and probation.

At a four-hour meeting between white and black residents of the town on Thursday night, conciliation specialists from the U.S. Justice Department moderated a heated discussion that soon escalated into angry shouting and obstinate stares.

One quote that hit me hard came from the white judge who sentenced that black teenager to that seemingly excessive punishment:

“I think the black community in this town is suffering a great deal from poverty, broken homes, drugs,” Superville said. “Because a larger percentage of the black population is caught up in that, in their anguish they are perceiving they are the victims of discrimination. But white people are not the enemy. Poverty, illiteracy, drugs, absentee fathers—that’s the enemy. That’s not racism. That’s the breakdown of a community.”

There’s a lot of truth in his words, but as this article reveals, there are many systemic issues related to the “race” problem. I wonder how some of you out there are struck by this judge’s comment. Indeed, oftentimes the racial divide is a matter of perception, not racism.

Anyone who has been engaged in the business of real-life reconciliation understands that there must be a clearing of the air, getting all the junk out on the table, before any real progress can be made. And it sounds like these residents of Paris, Texas, are off to a solid start in that regard. Let’s just pray that they’ll be able to persevere through the screaming, the stubbornness, and the bitterness forged by years of unacknowledged pain and injustice. From the story:

“Every city should have a dialogue like this,” said Mayor Jesse James Freelen, whose town of 26,000 is 72 percent white and 22 percent black. “We didn’t like all the negative publicity about our town and we didn’t like how we got here. But if the end result is that our community grows together, then it will all have been worth it.”

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We just posted a new article at UrbanFaith.com about the unique experience of a white mom and her black daughter. It’s a gentle little piece by a great writer named Wendy Bilen. Please check it out and let us know what you think.

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Lots of articles and posts to call your attention to this week. Though one friend recommended I post something on the lighter side, I think I’m still trending heavy with these. Forgive me.

  • A couple week’s ago, I posted about Michael Emerson’s UrbanFaith.com article on “The Redistribution Question.” It generated lots of feedback, mostly negative. Many disagreed with Michael’s perspective on the issue regarding what a Christian vision of economic justice might require of us. Last week, blogger Black Wasp presented a passionate defense of sorts of Michael Emerson’s commentary on redistribution. Needless to say, the topic stirred up a lively conversation over there as well.
  • Denise Wilmer Barreto, a Judson College classmate of mine, also posted a provocative commentary last week.  In it, she wonders about the motives of some Christians who advise “we really need to pray” for President Obama. Denise acknowledges that she’s treading on delicate ground, presuming to know the true intent behind what some folks are saying. But I think her willingness to “go there” can help us get one of the current evangelical “elephants in the room” out there “on the table” for discussion. (How’s that for mixing my metaphors? Sorry.) 
  • Did anyone see this article about the Christian high school in Texas that fired its girls basketball coach for allowing his team to run up the score and defeat their opponent 100 to 0? The story raises some interesting questions about competition, sportsmanship, leadership, and character development. I think the reader comments attached to this one are especially fascinating; you can see the “survival of the fittest” mentality in clear opposition to the “mercy and good will” spirit. 
  • Finally, I can’t resist offering one for Just Meee, who, as I said earlier, suggested I lighten up. Back in November, I did a post about the need for a new Barack Obama impersonator on Saturday Night Live. Well, in case you missed it, here’s one of the follow-up skits to the Obama parody that I highlighted by Jordan Peele from FunnyorDie.com. Be sure to watch it carefully for a subtle dig at one of President Obama’s (hopefully former) habits. 

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FYI – We just posted a new article on UrbanFaith.com about some of the recent racial incidents on Christian college campuses. One of the themes of the article: How will the emergence of an African American president influence matters of race and diversity on Christian college campuses?

Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, Newsweek has a poignant and thought-provoking piece about Doug Paul. A former Wheaton College student, Paul, according to the article, typifies the Joshua Generation — the young white evangelicals who are more progressive in their politics than earlier generations of evangelical Christians. Reaching out to the Joshua Generation, says Newsweek, was one of Barack Obama’s keys to making headway with evangelical voters.

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The inauguration was a deeply emotional event on many levels: the sea of people of all colors and backgrounds, the prayers, the music (from Aretha to Yo-Yo). Oh, and then there’s that little thing about celebrating our nation’s first black president. I was moved by it all, but I was especially affected by Elizabeth Alexander’s inauguration poem, “Praise Song for the Day.” I’m not a poetry scholar, but I was struck by several lines from the poem, as well as Ms. Alexander’s beautiful recitation of her work. “We encounter each other in words,” the poet writes, “words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.” 

EbonyJet.com has a positive reflection on the poem. Ah, but poetry is a very subjective thing, which is why Ms. Alexander got a few negative reviews, too. Critics like this one and this one take Ms. Alexander to task for, among other things, being “too prosy.” This AP review gets in a few jabs while offering a brief history of the inaugural poem. 

If you stuck around long enough to hear it, what did you think? Did you like it, or did it feel like she was trying too hard? Check out the text below and video above, if you missed it yesterday.

Praise Song for the Day

by Elizabeth Alexander 

 

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

 

Each day we go about our business,

walking past each other, catching each other’s

eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

 

All about us is noise. All about us is

noise and bramble, thorn and din, each

one of our ancestors on our tongues.

 

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning

a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,

repairing the things in need of repair.

 

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,

with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,

with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

 

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky.

A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

 

We encounter each other in words, words

spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,

words to consider, reconsider.

 

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark

the will of some one and then others, who said

I need to see what’s on the other side.

 

I know there’s something better down the road.

We need to find a place where we are safe.

We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

 

 

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.

Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,

who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

 

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built

brick by brick the glittering edifices

they would then keep clean and work inside of.

 

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.

Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,

the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

 

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,

others by first do no harm or take no more

than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

 

Love beyond marital, filial, national,

love that casts a widening pool of light,

love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

 

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,

any thing can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

 

praise song for walking forward in that light.

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Today marked the conclusion of NPR’s series of broadcasts on how Obama’s election is affecting issues of race relations in many European nations. Specifically, the series focuses on Germany, Italy, and France. Here’s an overview from NPR.org:

Most Europeans were thrilled when Democrat Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, because he promised to sweep away policies that Europeans found odious. More than that, he represented hope, renewal and proof that the barriers of age, class and race could be transcended.

But Obama’s victory also prompted soul-searching in Europe: Could his success be replicated there? Could a person of color ever become the leader of Germany? Italy? France?

Very revealing stories here. In at least a couple cases, I ignorantly assumed that Europe was more enlightened than the U.S. in some of their views on race. (Of course, this may be a reflection of that fact that I’ve never had a chance to visit Europe.) Turns out that Europe is struggling with many of the same racial dysfunctions as we are — or have — here in the U.S. Makes sense, I guess. After all, human depravity is an international phenomenon.

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Sociologist and Divided by Faith author Michael Emerson has an interesting article posted at UrbanFaith.com regarding the issue of economic redistribution. Barack Obama took a lot of heat from his opponents during the election over this matter, as they labeled him and his policies (raising taxes on the wealthy and giving relief to the poor and middle class) as being socialist in nature. Here, Emerson examines the issue in light of early church practices and the noted work of John Perkins.

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