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nextevangelicalismIf you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly encourage you to check out my friend Soong-Chan Rah’s provocative new book, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. Today, African, Asian, and Latin American Christians make up 60 percent of the world’s Christian population. The United States and Europe will soon no longer be the center of evangelical activity in the world. With this in mind, the book calls the North American church to break free of its cultural captivity to a Western/Eurocentric/White American mindset and to embrace a new evangelicalism that is diverse and multiethnic. You can find out more here at the IVP site. 

For those of you who don’t know him, Soong-Chan is a brilliant theologian and pastor who for years led Cambridge Community Fellowship Church, a multiethnic, urban, post-modern congregation in the Central Square neighborhood of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Now a professor at North Park Theological Seminary here in Chicago, Soong-Chan has rattled a lot of cages over the years by calling attention to issues of racism and cultural insensitivity in the evangelical church and community. I included a story about the Rickshaw Rally fiasco in my book, Reconciliation Blues, and I blogged about Soong-Chan’s role in the Zondevan/Youth Specialities controversy a couple years ago. In addition, when I was the editor of Today’s Christian, I published an insightful interview with Soong-Chan about the Youth Specialities episode and his ministry of activism. Though he may have gained a reputation as a rabble-rouser in some quarters, I know him as a kind-hearted, passionate man of God who loves the church and lost people.

We’re planning to do an interview with Soong-Chan about his book for that other little blog that I’m involved with, UrbanFaith.com. If you have any questions you’d like to hear Soong-Chan address about the book or his ministry in general, please leave them in the comments area below, or send them to me directly through my website. We’ll publish the interview in the next couple weeks, so send your questions soon. Thanks!

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I knew actor/director Tim Reid from his roles as Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinnati and Ray Campbell on Sister, Sister. I knew Tom Dreesen from his frequent guest spots on The Late Show with David Letterman. What I didn’t know is that the two of them once comprised “the nation’s first black and white comedy team.” That is, until I saw this article in today’s Chicago Tribune and learned about a new book, Tim & Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White, that traces their unique history.

From 1969 to 1974 (several years before Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder teamed up for their first film together), Reid and Dreesen performed at black, white, and sometimes mixed nightclubs across the country. In an era when racial humor was still too hot to handle for most folks, the duo did satirical bits such as “Superspade and the Courageous Caucasian.” Unfortunately, their act was considered too dangerous and controversial for the socially turbulent climate of the early seventies, so the pair eventually broke up. Though they each went on to achieve individual fame, they were never able to break into the top ranks of show business as a tandem.

Still, for a brief, heady period in pop culture, Reid and Dreesen were out there using comedy to defuse and illuminate the volatile subject of race in America. In their own way, they were pioneers in racial reconciliation.

Update, Sept. 20: NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday featured a nice interview with Reid and Tom this morning.

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Over at his A Man from Issachar blog, Rev. Eric Redmond calls our attention to the release of an eagerly anticipated book from Duke Divinity School professor J. Kameron Carter. The book, Race: A Theological Account (Oxford, 2008), presents a fresh perspective on the social and theological construct of race in our world. Here’s an excerpt from the book’s product description at Amazon.com:

In Race: A Theological Account, J. Kameron Carter meditates on the multiple legacies implicated in the production of a racialized world and that still mark how we function in it and think about ourselves. These are the legacies of colonialism and empire, political theories of the state, anthropological theories of the human, and philosophy itself, from the eighteenth-century Enlightenment to the present.

Carter’s claim is that Christian theology, and the signal transformation it (along with Christianity) underwent, is at the heart of these legacies. In that transformation, Christian anti-Judaism biologized itself so as to racialize itself. As a result, and with the legitimation of Christian theology, Christianity became the cultural property of the West, the religious ground of white supremacy and global hegemony. In short, Christianity became white. The racial imagination is thus a particular kind of theological problem.

Sounds like a challenging—and likely controversial—thesis. Perhaps if we were more willing to confront race as a theological issue, it would change the cultural conversation for the better. What do you think? If you get a chance to read the book any time soon, please let me hear your thoughts.

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On Sunday I returned from the Calvin College Festival of Faith & Writing. What a great event! If you love books, writing, poetry, theology, the arts, intellectual engagement, etc., you’ll dig this biennial conference. I had the privilege of doing one solo presentation about my book, and I took part in two panel discussions–“Writing Toward Social Justice,” with Charles Marsh and Helena Maria Viramontes, and “To Tell the Truth,” with Cathleen Falsani, Dorina Lazo Gilmore, and Bruce Umpstead. I felt out of my league at moments, but God gave me sufficient grace to speak (or at least enough to not look like a Book TV wannabe).

I’m thankful for the gracious response of the folks who came to my sessions. Someone sent me this humbling review (though it sort of scares me now to realize that folks actually write reviews of conference sessions 🙂 ). Plus, I had the opportunity to meet or reconnect with several friends—L. L. Barkat, Llama Momma, Ragamuffin Diva, Dr. Joseph Daniels, Nikki Grimes, Hugh Cook, Victoria Johnson, Richard Kauffman.

I also enjoyed sessions and talks featuring authors like Rob Bell, Krista Tippett, Edward P. Jones, Haven Kimmel, Carole Weatherford, Carlos Eire, and many others. Too many to mention, really. This festival is like an overdose of inspiration for word addicts.

I returned home with a renewed appreciation for the artistic endeavor—and a desperate need to finish a big project that will soon be due. Which means I probably shouldn’t be blogging right now. In fact, noting that I’ve been blogging more often than usual lately, Llama Momma wondered whether I was avoiding finishing that “big project.” Busted! (If you read Llama Momma’s blog, it’s no surprise to you that she’s so keenly perceptive.)

Anyway, here’s something else I discovered while at the Calvin Festival. During a trip to a nearby Barnes and Noble, an enchanting combination of violin and voice wafted from the store speakers. The sound led me to the music section. “Are you wondering who that artist is?” the young woman behind the service desk asked; I suppose I wear my curiosity rather prominently. “Yeah, who is that?” I said. Turns out it’s an artist named Lili Haydn, a singer/songwriter whom P-Funk maestro George Clinton once called “the Jimi Hendrix of the violin.” I picked up a copy of her new CD, Place Between Places, and resisted my usual practice of never buying new music until I’ve thoroughly researched the artist. Every now and then, however, I’ll take a risk and try a new CD on a whim. It paid off with Norah Jones, whose first album I picked up and purchased months before she became a sudden superstar. I also got into Amy Winehouse before I knew how terribly lost she is (ah, but she’s enormously talented when sober). I don’t think Lili Haydn will rocket to fame like Jones or Winehouse; her music is a bit too eccentric and hard to categorize—it’s classical, pop, jazz, funk, with dashes of folk. Still, I’m drawn to the uniqueness of her sound and her diversity of influences.

So that’s what I discovered at Calvin: God’s sufficiency, warm fellowship, creative inspiration, and Lili Haydn.

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Prison Fellowship president Mark Earley delivered a generous commentary about my book yesterday on the ministry’s BreakPoint radio program. You can read and listen to it here. I’m grateful to Mark and PFM for the shout-out, and hopeful that the message of Reconciliation Blues will reach an even wider audience as a result.

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One of the drawbacks of not working at Christianity Today any longer is that I’m not keeping up with all the new and forthcoming books. One that I totally missed until yesterday is Shelby Steele’s A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win, which came out late last year. Provocative title, for sure. Here’s the book description from Amazon.com:

Steele writes of how Obama is caught between the two classic postures that blacks have always used to make their way in the white American mainstream: bargaining and challenging. Bargainers strike a “bargain” with white America in which they say, I will not rub America’s ugly history of racism in your face if you will not hold my race against me. Challengers do the opposite of bargainers. They charge whites with inherent racism and then demand that they prove themselves innocent by supporting black-friendly policies like affirmative action and diversity.

Steele maintains that Senator Obama is too constrained by these elaborate politics to find his own true political voice. Obama has the temperament, intelligence, and background — an interracial family, a sterling education — to guide America beyond the exhausted racial politics that now prevail. And yet he is a Promethean figure, a bound man.

The book weighs in at a whopping 160 pages. Sounds a little thin, but I’m sure Steele makes every page count. Has anyone had the chance to read it yet? If so, I’d love to hear your take.

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Okay, I’m busted. We’re now in the early days of autumn, and I never did follow up with part 2 of my “Late Summer Reading List” post. Ah, the perils of part-time blogging.

One of the books I had planned to mention is Gracism: The Art of Inclusion by David A. Anderson. I did an interview with Dr. Anderson for the Sept./Oct. issue of Today’s Christian. You can check it out here.

Update: A nice appeal for gracism can be found in Clarence Page’s Chicago Tribune column about the recent Bill O’Reilly “racism” flap (Trib registeration may be required). I think Page makes some excellent points. One good line: “How else will O’Reilly, I or anybody else learn anything if we dont’ make a few boneheaded mistakes once in a while?” Another important line:

My greater fear than hearing O’Reilly talk himself into a politically incorrect hole is the silence of those afraid to say anything about race for fear of offending someone. We need more candid talk about race and class, not less.

Is Page letting O’Reilly off the hook? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this concept of “gracism.”

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When you have a moment, check out my interview with NPR and Fox News journalist Juan Williams regarding his provocative book, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America—and What We Can Do About It.

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Late Summer Reading List, Part 1

Hello, hello. Is anybody out there? I’m hoping that everyone else has been as busy and preoccupied with summer stuff as I have. That way, you won’t be bothered by the fact that I haven’t blogged in nearly a month. Anyway, I figured I better post something, lest my blog host shut me down for lack of activity.

One of the side benefits of having a book out is the opportunity it provides you to connect with other authors who are writing on similar topics and themes. I’m currently making my way through several books by folks I’ve had the privilege of meeting, via email or in person, over the last seven months or so since Reconciliation Blues was released. I thought I’d take a moment (and a couple of posts) to share a few of those books. So, if you’re looking for additional reading material as the summer winds up, here are two highly recommended titles. (I’ll offer a couple of additional recommendations in a forthcoming post.)

1. Blessed Are the Uncool: Living Authentically in a World of Show by Paul Grant. Paul, an editor for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, is an occasional commenter on this blog. And he’s a very thoughtful and provocative young man, as you will discover by visiting his blog. I finally met him in person at the Cornerstone Festival in late June. In his fascinating book, Paul examines the cultural concept of “cool.” What is it? And why do we (often unconsciously) continue to worship at its altar? A life spent chasing after cool, says Paul, is ultimately exposed for its emptiness and inauthenticity. Better to pursue the fruits of the Spirit and God’s “beloved community.” Quick Excerpts:

You don’t wear shades because the future’s so bright. You wear shades because your eyes betray you.

God’s kingdom inverts our expectations because our expectations are wrong.

2. A Thousand Resurrections: An Urban Spiritual Journey by Maria Garriott. I think Maria was among the first readers I received an email from following the release of my book. We corresponded briefly, and I discovered that she was an author as well. Her book chronicles her experiences as a white Presbyterian woman “postured to achieve her place in the American dream,” but who instead chooses to move into a rough Baltimore neighborhood to live among the poor and share the love of Christ. Her story is full of the joy, heartbreak, and miracles of incarnational ministry in the city. Quick Excerpts:

The book of Galatians urges us not to grow weary in well-doing, and promises that, at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up. But at what point do you say, “Enough”? Should [her husband] Craig resign? Should we join the continuing exodus of white and black middle-class residents fleeing Baltimore city? Should we provide a safer, less stressful environment for our family, or stand with a community in need, working with others to bring restoration? …

God did not abandon us. Day after day, He sustained us in a thousand resurrections as we prayed, and wrote in journals….

Again, if you’re looking for some thought-provoking and inspiring reading, you’ll do well to check out Paul’s and Maria’s books. I’ll stop here, for now. Check back later for more.

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Hi there. Just wanted to let you know about a guest spot I did on Moody Radio’s Open Line last Friday. I’ve done a slew of radio interviews since the release of Reconciliation Blues, but I think I felt most comfortable during this one. Still, I’ve chosen not to listen or watch anything I’ve done after the fact, so (who knows?) I very well could’ve been stinking up the place.

At any rate, you can find a link to the interview here. You’ll hear that I had some problems understanding the argument of one of the early callers. Upon reflection, I think he was trying to make a point about the social construct of race and how we’ve, more or less, invented the exalted notion of “whiteness” in our society. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sharp enough on my feet to make sense of his crayon analogy. I’d love to hear your feedback regarding that caller’s comments and any other issues that were raised during the broadcast.

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