Tag Archives: Diversity

Quick Review: The Skin You Live In

 

A book that I wanted to offer a brief review of that I’ve read recently is Dr. David D. Ireland’s The Skin You Live In: Building Friendship Across Cultural Lines.

The author hides his own ethnicity until the end of the book to avoid any potential reader bias, which I found interesting. I did not know the author’s background until the end and at many points I found myself wondering.  But that choice does allow one to engage the content of the book without any potential bias against the content and where it’s coming from.

Diversity efforts are occurring everywhere. This is a helpful and somewhat brief treatment on how to take steps from cultural isolation towards cross-race relationships.  There’s a lot of helpful insights throughout the book – particularly related to ethnicity and identity. There are prophetic challenges to both majority culture folks as well as ethnic minority folks who can find their identity in their ethnicity or their political-social situation. From a Christian perspective – both sides of this divide are challenged related to fundamental identity and to live out a God-given identity to reconcile and bridge difference through meaningful relationships.

A part of the purpose of this book is trying to help provide a roadmap to what he calls being “racially attractive.” By that term, he means someone who can form meaningful relationships across racial or ethnic difference.  From the author’s own doctoral research he asked people who were consistently living life with these types of relationships about what makes them “racially attractive.” Here are the responses:

  1. Offer hospitality.
  2. Be free to laugh and joke.
  3. Go on social outings.
  4. Engage in vulnerable conversations.
  5. Have cross-race friends.
  6. Seek mutually rewarding outcomes.
  7. Demonstrate comfort in the friendship.
  8. Practice honesty in the relationship.     (pg. 71)

This list was interesting to me and links to several other models, but noticeably Andy Crouch’s matrix in Strong and Weak.  I’m currently reading and researching a lot related to multi-ethnic negotiation and there are some connection points here as well.

This book is written primarily with the U.S. ethnic context in mind, but it was interesting to read this through the international lens as well as much of the suggestions about building relationships are just as relevant here in Asia as elsewhere, maybe they are even more crucial here because of the weight of relationship and community in collectivist cultures.

Many people today, despite increased political polarization, do want to experience diversity and cross-cultural relationships even if there is systemic racism and hidden personal racism that prevents those desires to be realized. It always starts with identity and relationships and this is a helpful resource for people on the journey. There’s other helpful sections related to cross-cultural forgiveness, advocacy and other aspects of diverse community so it’s definitely worth reading if this is an area of development for you.

Quick Review – Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race

Over the last few days I had a chance to read Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race. Getting Free From the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us.  This book was written by longtime NFL player Benjamin Watson and was released about a year ago, so while not current to the events of the past year and the impact of Trump and the election, it was written right in the middle of a fairly racially charged season in America’s history.

Part of why I wanted to read this book is because it was a recent reflection on the racial divide in the context of the events of Ferguson, Charleston, Trayvon Martin, and several other high-profile moments that have surfaced much hurt, injustice, and gaps in perspective across racial boundaries in general. Most of these events took place after I moved my family out of the country, so I wanted to read some reflection and insight from an African-American as I lacked real opportunities to engage in much conversation on these matters. Tragically I was left at the mercy of some of the chaos on Twitter to process some of these events and what they might signify to the African American community.

I found this book to be really good.  It’s not an academic book in its presentation, but I appreciated how informative it was on recent events and in chronicling key events and experiences in the struggle for civil rights and in African-American history as a whole. The book was strengthened by many helpful personal experiences and anecdotes from the author’s own life and from his father and grandfather.  These issues need this kind of place – both helpful analysis in historical context as well as personal stories.

I loved that each chapter begins with an emotion such as angry, sad, embarrassed, hopeless, encouraged, or hopeful. These are emotionally charged topics because they touch so deeply on our identity. I found it to be really effective and helpful in the structure of the book to walk the read through the range of emotions on this topic. Such a journey avoids pollyanna theology as well as nihilistic darkness.  Tensions abound and Watson helps navigate a reader through these tensions well in a way that should help people connect with their own feelings and personal journey in these matters.

The book is thoroughly evangelical and it offers a clear roadmap to a spiritual solution in Jesus Christ. The whole book echoes the Scriptures, but he unpacks the gospel and its significance for racism and society in the final chapters. Essentially – he affirms over and over that racial conflict and racial segregation are matters of the heart and only Christ can change hearts.

The books origins are blog-like, so there are times where it reads like a blogger’s reflection. That’s not all bad – because they are good reflections.  The focus on this book also is fairly targeted to the divide in black and white racial tensions.  In the context of recent events, that is helpful for a focused coversation. However, there is not much here that specifically tries to incorporate other journeys.  Neither of the above points are bad, they just speak to the genre of the book and chosen focus amidst a pretty huge conversation topic in general.

It was a really enjoyable and helpful read.  It may be something I use to introduce my kids to some of these issues as they get a little older to be able to think more critically about race and relationships. I recommend it especially if you haven’t done much reflection in the aftermath of the explosive and racially charged events of the past few years.

 

Quick Review: Playing God

This month I worked my way through Andy Crouch’s Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power.  Really this year I’ve worked through what is a trilogy essentially from Andy Crouch with three books that all revolve around the central theme of what it means to be human as God intended, as God’s image bearer. The first book in this thematic series is Culture Making, which I reviewed a few months back and I’ll review the third book Strong and Weak, which was released this year, sometime next week.

All three of these books are highly worth reading and I recommend reading them sequentially and together because of the continuity of ideas, language, and frameworks offered.

While Culture Making focused on the themes of creating and cultivating as image bearers, Playing God focuses more specifically on the theme of power and authority – related to its original design and intentions and to its abuse.

In a refreshing statement, Crouch begins the book with a clear thesis that power is a gift. It has purposes for people and communities that glorify God and that are meant to serve and honor other people.  But we all know the world is full of people who use power for their own gains, so the gift of power gets corrupted into something much worse. Actually we all use power for our own gain – that’s the power of sin in our lives. We all need to learn how God wants to redeem power for his purposes.

Crouch makes mention in several books of the importance of developing a theology of image bearing around the whole of Scripture – with special attention to Gen 1-2 and Rev 21-22. He argues that these 4 chapters guard against the dualistic theology prevalent for so many generations – where the only concern is trying to save souls from sin (Gen 3 – Rev).  I think it’s a helpful reminder to really think deeply about the whole Biblical narrative and its implications for all of life.  That’s the power of developing a theology of image bearing, whether it involves creativity or power. A solid theology of image bearing should inform all of life – relationships, power and authority, calling, and community.  This is what I appreciate about what Crouch attempts to do in his books.

Some of the sections that I think Crouch really did a great job with are his treatment of the themes of idolatry related to power. The chapters on idolatry and icons are really helpful and I’ve already gone back to a couple of those chapters.  There are some very helpful sections that help someone evaluate their hearts as the source of their behavior and what they worship in practice.

Another strength of the book is a framing and his effort to articulate the dynamics and even provide some measure of a theology of privilege. Privilege is often used pejoratively as a label. I’ve seen it misused more often than not, which is why Crouch’s efforts are really valuable.  While there are problems and limitations with the word “privilege,” no one can deny that this points to a reality which is very much true. It’s not an American thing either. Privilege exists as a social reality across the world that impacts identity and communities. Crouch offers one of the more balanced efforts to explain the blessings (opportunities) and

Crouch offers one of the more balanced efforts to explain the blessings (opportunities) and the dark side of privilege in its impact on relationships and society. These are realities we must help people understand through a more complete theological lens – not just through the lenses of social activism and social justice. These issues point us back to a more comprehensive vision of shalom, of what human life and community is meant to be.   For much of the last century and beyond, t

For much of the last century and beyond, there has been a theological gap in bias and practice between social justice and evangelistic mission.  There continues to be a divide today, albeit with different influences and forces driving some of those divides and reactions. Crouch attempts to bridge some of this gap through a theology of image bearing and power.  It is not the focus of the book to provide a comprehensive theology of the church as it relates to social action, but nonetheless there are very helpful sections to help inform how we think about the church’s role in society as part of a Great Commission vision.

Much of his work in Playing God gets elaborated on in Strong and Weak, in which he provides a helpful conceptual framework to illustrate how image bearing and power in community goes wrong….and right sometimes.

This book has very wide relevance and application so if you have not read it, I recommend getting all three of these books onto your reading list soon.

 

 

 

Butt Friction

Matako ghawi ghaleka cha ku kwenthana

(Two buttocks cannot avoid friction)

—Malawian Proverb

Niyi Gbade and John Becker start off their article “Buttocks, Bridges, and Kola Nuts”with this Malawian proverb in the most recent Missio Nexus Anthology (Vol 4 No 2 October 2016) on Conflict.

It is now my favorite African proverb.

My first take on this was that the proverb is prophetically or tongue in cheek using the metaphor of butt cheeks to connote how people in conflict can be, pardon my language, asses. But that is not the emphasis of this saying. Gbade and Becker reinforce that this speaks to the dynamics that proximity leads to inevitable conflict. Closeness leads to tension, to friction.

I’ve never thought about this reality through the metaphor of friction producing buttocks, but it’s hard for me to imagine a more memorable metaphor that normalizes conflict in relationships.

The article also includes the following Nigerian proverb as well:

In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges
and the foolish build dams.

In my PhD cohort I have the privilege to study with a couple others from Nigeria and there’s an abundance of storytelling and these types of sayings that provide such a grounded way of thinking about social wisdom.

If you have access to Missio Nexus I recommend checking out the latest Anthology on Conflict as there are great cross-cultural and north-south intercultural insights for conflict resolution and partnership.

But what’s most important now is that as you go about your day taking stride after stride, you now can reflect deeply about conflict through the gentle reminder of your own butt friction.

Quick Review: Blink

In the last week, my quality time in the car battling jeepneys and tricycles on the streets of Manila allowed me to listen to the entirety of Malcom Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Because of the popularity of Gladwell’s books, detailed summaries can be googled and found easily, but here’s a few of my thoughts on the book.

First, again I immensely enjoyed the book because Gladwell’s books are as easily consumed as audiobooks as anything because it is so story driven and there are so many things that are utterly fascinating.  Second, the book popularizes some of the things in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow which I’ll post on at some point because I read it a few months ago.

Gladwell is  unpacking the positives and negatives of rapid cognition, the way the brain “thin slices” decisions in situations.  Thin slicing is when our minds make decisions or draw conclusions based on a small sample of knowledge available. He cites the example of how experts, who get so familiar with their areas of expertise that they can make accurate decisions instinctively even when tons of data or analysis goes the other direction.  It may not always hold true – but it surfaces the limits of objective analysis sometimes.

There’s a great section that he calls the “Warren Harding error” in which he details how one of the worst Presidents ever came to power because other people thin sliced who would make a good President – tall, good looking, and other appealing qualities. There’s a lot that translates to leadership in general – people get thin sliced all the time with negative consequences because they don’t look good enough, aren’t tall enough, or lack certain outward personality characteristics. In fact – Gladwell illustrates how short people get discriminated against for executive positions in the business world just as much as ethnic minorities and women. That’s the Warren Harding error and illustrates how we have some hardwired assumptions that impact our unconscious processing of situations and our feelings about different people or decisions. Thin slicing can help us in some

Thin slicing can help us in some situations but can hurt us in others when we have socialized or subconscious prejudices that affect decisions – even that conflict with our conscious values and beliefs! That’s a big realization – that while we can have clear values and beliefs, we are still impacted by socialization and society at a subconscious level.

Of most interest to me was the content that impacted subconscious racism or prejudice – either in the business world or in other contexts. Looking at the way the brain works is helpful and should inform how we approach training and development in these areas.  Too often when people respond a certain way or make a decision that betrays that there is a bias towards the majority culture, it’s low hanging fruit for many to cry out (or lash out more appropriately) that those people are racists or misogynists. Sometimes they are – but it’s not a generous response when all people are influenced by society in these ways, some of which in key moments that require fast processing and quick decisions that surface conflicts between your clearly held values and beliefs and subtle and subconscious biases. Gladwell is hoping to surface these dimensions to provide hope for training and development so that we do not have to be

Too often when people respond a certain way or make a decision that betrays that there is a bias towards the majority culture, it’s low hanging fruit for many to cry out (or lash out more appropriately) that those people are racists or misogynists. Sometimes they are – but it’s not a generous response when all people are influenced by society in these ways, some of which in key moments that require fast processing and quick decisions that surface conflicts between your clearly held values and beliefs and subtle and subconscious biases. Gladwell is hoping to surface these dimensions to provide hope for training and development so that we do not have to be ruled or dominated by our subconscious biases informed by history and society (even though that will always be the case to some degree).

A case in point applies to one of Gladwell’s case studies, a police shooting of an unarmed black male in New York by 4 white police officers.  Gladwell takes us through the situation. In the wake of Trayvon Martin and recent history, these are volatile and charged situations that are tragic all the way around. There is no doubt that the shooting covered in the book was wrong and unjustified – but today we as a society immediately go the racist label. Gladwell illustrates that it’s not so simple – and again, we need to be more generous before labeling people with such labels. Were the cops racist?

Despite the evidence, maybe they are not. On another level, Gladwell shows that they were influenced by subconscious influences that in the heat of the moment and stress of the situation betrayed them in a critical moment. This is how much of life goes. There are plenty of racists out there intentionally doing harm. But there’s also a lot of people who are not racist, but the stress of a fight or flight situation may surface influences that impact decision making that have racist or discriminatory impact.

Gladwell argues that these thinking patterns can be intentionally developed and trained. In a world where we so quickly want to label people as either bad or good, these are some things that may provide hope for new ways of thinking and new ways of training and development that nurture ethical and just assessments of one another – even under stress. It’s a reminder that when we jump as a society to want to scapegoat, punish, or shame someone that has done wrong doing – we may be missing key parts of the equation and forgetting that different sets of circumstances could expose different areas of subconscious bias in us as well. It’s a reminder we need to cultivate safe spaces for learning and awareness instead of environments of graceless

In a world where we so quickly want to label people as either bad or good, these are some things that may provide hope for new ways of thinking and new ways of training and development that nurture ethical and just assessments of one another – even under stress. It’s a reminder that when we jump as a society to want to scapegoat, punish, or shame someone that has done wrong doing – we may be missing key parts of the equation and forgetting that different sets of circumstances could expose different areas of subconscious bias in us as well. It’s a reminder we need to cultivate safe spaces for learning and awareness instead of environments of graceless judgement and accusation.

So there’s a lot of helpful thinks to think about here. There are sections on marketing involving the soda wars I remember early on and why people freaked out when Coke introduced “new coke” and then had to bring back classic coke. it was fascinating how packaging impacts the perception of experience and preference – all things equal. There’s a lot of different ways in which the dynamics of rapid cognition impacts behavior and decision making, but the applications with the greatest social significance to me is that which applies to the dynamics of racism and discrimination as well as who makes for a good leader.

 

Quick Review: The Global Gospel

Maybe one of the best books I’ve read recently was The Global Gospel: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World by Werner Mischke.  It took me a while to work through it, partly because it generating so many new questions and new thoughts.

There are many books and resources out there that call for deeper and more thoughtful contextualization of theology and ministry methodology.  This is one of the few books I’ve seen really try to take a clear shot at contextualizing evangelism and discipleship for the non-western world.  Half of the book is theory and theology, but the other half is comprised of concrete efforts to take that knowledge and move it to real, useful approaches to evangelism.

The heart of this book really relates to contextualization of ministry in view of the honor/shame paradigms in the Ancient Near East culture and how they are captured in the Scriptures.  The author goes to great lengths to show these different (9 of them) dimensions of honor/shame as they are expressed in Scripture – from encounters that Jesus had with the Pharisees to Paul’s letters.  Then he attempts to use each of those nine dimensions as a means of communicating the gospel in a relevant way to people from contexts where those honor/shame dynamics are part of the cultural landscape.

I personally felt like the book really expanded my perspectives in reading the Scriptures.  So many narratives and exchanges in Scripture were taken to new levels of understanding and some I would go so far as to say that they felt like they were “unlocked” because of the significance of the cultural components.  It really deepened my motivation to study Scripture because my understanding of so many passages was dramatically enriched through a better awareness of honor/shame realities.

But I also appreciated the real and genuine effort in developing connection points for people to connect meaningfully to the Gospel. I loved reading the author’s efforts at contextualized evangelism, but enjoyed just as much feeling challenged to think bigger and more creatively about how to bridge from Scripture to people in meaningful ways.

I highly recommend this for all Christians – it really can enrich your perspective on Scripture and ministry deeply.  It also is a good reminder to think in terms of culture and it is a guard against ethnocentric ministry philosophy and theology.

 

 

 

Triumphalism: The Lost Art of Honesty

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Multi Ethnic Learnings

As I continue posting this series on some of my multi-ethnic learnings, this post focuses on positivity gone wrong.

It took only a year or two in this context to understand that perhaps nothing hinders the empowerment of ethnic minority ministry, ethnic leaders, and movement towards great systemic change like militant positivity and the inability to have and navigate honest communication.

happy-button

In ethnic ministry as well as cross-cultural situations, there are emotional realities and perspectives often kept quiet and silenced because of leadership tendencies to want to keep things orderly, structured, and “clean.” Failure to cultivate honesty, even with all its rawness in cross-cultural contexts, is to assure the preservation of the status quo.

Change cannot happen without the ability to navigate honesty.

Triumphalism I’ll describe here as the over-celebration of what Jesus has done and maybe the overconfidence that comes when we primarily focus on the positive and celebration and to the neglect of seeking out and facing with integrity those things that still need to die, be grieved, or be named as part of reality. This is very subtle but can be very deep. Before redemptive conflict can take place that can move us forward in healthy directions for all, different stories and painful feedback must be allowed into the conversation without it being ignored, silenced, spun, or hi-jacked by majority narratives.

Triumphalistic leadership positivity in this sense usually flows from anxiety.  It could be personal anxiety driven by fear. It could be insecurity or even a sense of inadequacy trying to lead or manage tension or conflict. Whatever it is – unchecked anxiety leads to control behavior and self-preservation.  That posture is a conversation killer, a door closer, a silencer of voice. Positive people are great. What we’re talking about are people I would call “Hopemongers.” They’re so desperate for a happy ending, they subvert the process that can produce redemptive fruit.

The picture above comes from the kids movie, Horton Hears a Who. The Mayor of Whoville speaks the truth to a community fearful of what new knowledge will do and they press “the happy button” for self-preservation.  We’re all tempted to press the happy button, but real conversation requires entering relationships and responding appropriately to pain.

If you’re interested in diving in on this one and you would like a more scholarly or theological resource than Horton Hears a Who 🙂  I would recommend Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination. It does not specifically relate to cross-cultural ministry, but he presents a theology of power and voice that is worth really engaging. I’m very grateful I came across this resource when I was beginning to immerse myself in ethnic minority leadership development and ministry.

The Problem of Paternalism

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Multi Ethnic Learnings

Prior to serving cross-culturally in ethnic minority ministry, I never thought much about paternalism. Now after a decade of ethnic minority and cross-cultural experience, I think about it and talk about it almost daily.

As a student of servant leadership and now a professor who teaches servant leadership, it became clear many years ago that many Christians and ministry leaders often articulate and live out their leadership approach in ways that are actually paternalistic in contrast to truly empowering.  I’ve come across many who seem to think that the main choice in leadership styles is the choice between the authoritarian or dictatorial leader on one hand and the “nice” leader on the other hand – the “nice” and serving leader that in reality better fits paternalism than any notion of empowering leadership.

Paternalism tends to look and feel “good” to those seeking to help or influence, yet it often is not “good” in the ways we are tempted to think it is.  That’s why we need to learn what it is.  Paternalism is a dynamic that demands attention. Ethical leadership requires that we identify it and cultivate awareness of it. Courage is required because paternalism remains one of the greatest barriers to empowering others and raising up leaders in a different context.

Paternalism shows up frequently in partnering scenarios with majority culture as well in majority culture decision making. Well-meaning efforts that are executed outside of deep learning and mutuality usually end up reinforcing dependence on one hand or just a reinforcement of the status quo power dynamics.

Paternalism often involves decisions related to significant resources (money, people) that can put leaders in ethnic communities in hard spots given that resources and money often come with inherent or implicit expectations or “strings” attached.   It’s a frequent occurrence that majority leaders with positions and power will make decisions “for” ethnic minority leaders or strategies without really being in ongoing dialogue with those people or listening to a broad sampling of their voices.

Paternalism also shows up especially within different ethnic communities as it can be more embedded in the relational fabric of leaders and staff members or followers.  Paternalism still resides in cultures that still experience the historical influence of patron-client dynamics and the honor – shame systems that drive them.  But paternalism can flow from individual character dynamics – one example being the “sugar daddy leader” who uses their abundant resources or budget to appease or keep people happy with an unspoken expectation for loyalty (essentially a modern version of patron-client relationship).

It takes great clarity of vision and character organizationally to relate in non-paternalistic, but empowering ways. Likewise, the same type of leadership is needed within multi-ethnic and ethnic minority ministry to empower leaders as well as lead collectively towards a new and different future.

If you’ve ever read the book When Helping Hurts, then you have some framework for some of how good intentions can reinforce dependence rather than empower others. See here some of my overall thoughts on that book that pertain to paternalism.  The authors highlight multiple dimensions of paternalism ranging from resource driven paternalism, to spiritual paternalism, to managerial.  All of these are constant threats to empowering leaders from other ethnic communities and to cultivating an empowering multi-ethnic ministry environment.

Another series here that explores the same themes related to leadership ethics and paternalism jumped off from the book that inspired the movie the Green Zone.  There are several posts that explore the American occupation of Iraq through the lens of resource, knowledge, and managerial paternalism and the resultant failures that such perspectives led to.

What is easier is not always what is better.

There are many today who love to read and talk about ministry leadership with a focus on how to get things done, but fewer who spend time thinking about leadership ethics.  Yet, for every multi-ethnic context or cross-cultural ministry situation there are corresponding ethical tensions that must be wrestled over with humility and integrity for the sake of truly serving and empowering results.

Will we be leaders who demand trust and focus only on our own perceived “good” intentions?  Or will we choose the harder path of working for what is truly good for another community?

In multi-ethnic contexts, I’ve learned that there are often only so many chances to build trust and succeed because of the complexity, history, and pain involved. Paternalism can undermine the precious few chances or only chance you may have to establish a partnering dynamic of mutuality, respect, dignity, and love. 

Nothing May Be Better Than Something

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Multi Ethnic Learnings

 

In a multi-ethnic context,

“Nothing May Be Better Than Something”

In a pragmatic world, this statement is anathema.  But in the absence of knowing how to truly serve a different community, demographic, or group of people, I’ve learned over the last decade that sometimes it is better to wait until you have done your homework before doing something that may do more damage than good.  And by “better” I mean more loving, more honoring, more wise, and more humble.  And sometimes doing nothing requires greater faith than taking action.

By doing nothing I’m not talking about being controlled by fear.  I’m talking about having a healthy capacity of self-control and restraint both personally and organizationally in order to ensure truly serving actions.  The alternative is jumping in blind assuming that something is better than nothing. That’s the justification I’ve heard more than a few times before launching in unprepared to a different type of context and ministry.  I’ve had that justification myself when I’ve anxiously wanted to feel “useful” or want to see things happen.  When this is our defense for our action, we should take a breath and think twice. Maybe something is better than nothing.  Often it is and that’s what pioneering is all about! But sometimes it’s not when attitudes and methodology aren’t appropriate to the situation.

It’s worth making a distinction here between grass roots ministry and organizational functioning.  While humility and learning is necessary in all contexts, failure in grass roots situations is necessary to a risk taking, faith-filled, and innovative growth. This learning point relates primarily to organizational life, functioning, and partnerships. There are times where it would be better if we just listened and learned and didn’t take action – for trying to do something frequently undermines the listening and learning.  “Doing something” needs just as much listening and learning as doing.  If that posture isn’t there, best holster the ambition for impact until it is.

There was a blog I read over a year ago, shortly after I first wrote this, on this general idea that I thought captured exactly what I have learned here and it was called “The Grace to Do Nothing” by David Fitch. It’s worth reading at some point: http://www.reclaimingthemission.com/the-grace-to-do-nothing-on-social-justice-in-the-neighborhood/

Do you have the grace to do nothing sometimes?

How do you resist the temptation to act too fast when it can lead to damaging others and trust building efforts in community?