Tag Archives: ethics

Quick Review: Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures

I’ve read sections of Jayson Georges’ Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures since it came out about a year ago but didn’t finish it in its entirety until last week. This is a book I highly recommend even if you don’t serve or work in an honor-shame context and I’ll explain why.

First – this was a great primer on life and ministry in honor-shame contexts. This is the context I have been in especially the last five years in Manila, but even the five years prior in Asian-American ministry this was the primary cultural framework in which ministry took place. This simply should be required reading for anyone going to do any kind of ministry in the majority world, especially Asia. It would have been immensely helpful my first year in Asia.

The book covers theological and Biblical foundations through an honor and shame lens as well as really helpful discussions on how honor and shame impact areas like relationships, community, ethics, conversion, leadership, and other areas.  The chapter on relationships I believe is still free as a download on his website honorshame.com and was one of the resources I used for a recent seminar I did on honor, shame, and conflict. There may be some follow-up posts here as I’ve been reflecting a lot on his sections on community and ethics.

But here is why I think all people should read this – it simply is a fantastic way to help people expand their minds to understand the limits of their own theological and cultural systems. Part of why there is so much polarization theologically and otherwise is a lack of understanding and imagination as to how big the world is and how culture impacts everything and impacts deeply.

This book would add some humility to people, but I think in general most would be surprised at how much an honor-shame lens of areas like evangelism and ethics would really help people in the West as well.  This isn’t a book “for Asia” or the East. This is a book to help everybody expand their knowledge of Scripture, the Gospel, Community and Church, and Mission.

There’s no doubt this will be one of my top 5 books of 2018 so I’d highly encourage you to read it no matter where you are if you are a follower of Jesus.

 

Quick Review – Re-Centering: Culture & Knowledge in Conflict Resolution Practice

This month I’ve worked through the book Re-Centering: Culture and Knowledge in Conflict Resolution Practice by several editors and contributors.

This is a book written from an ethnic minority perspective on contemporary negotiation and mediation scholarship and practices. It’s a collection of 22 essays and papers covering a wide range of perspectives and cultural perspectives.

There’ are only a couple essays that I thought had marginal value, but by and large, this is an awesome resource for people working in a multi-ethnic context – especially related to theory and practice in dealing with conflict and reconciliation between cultures.

There are a few themes that stand out in this collection that are not often represented in a lot of the classic literature. One of these themes is that of power and neutrality. Majority culture driven practices often assume that neutrality is possible and approach conflict and mediation with a “blank slate” perspective.  This volume addressed that in multiple papers and from multiple angles and it really is helpful. There are some excellent perspectives.

Another theme is that of ethnic identity and how that impacts the arena of conflict and how the approach to a conflict can impact identity. Identity is a theme showing up more and more in the conflict and negotiation literature, though it’s more representative in peace and reconciliation literature. But here, those are woven together with a helpful cross-cultural perspective that illustrates why identity needs to be at the heart of any approach to conflict.

There are essays from a native Hawaiian, Chicano,  Latino, African-American and other perspectives that I thought were really insightful and add a lot of value.  There are some worldviews and elements to some essays I do not agree with and share, but the majority are quite insightful and powerful to read and reflect on.

If you do conflict work in multi-ethnic contexts or even broader cross-cultural contexts, I think this would be a much-needed resource to read for reflection and discussion.  It offers a framework for tensions between white leaders and structures and processes related to conflict and mediation and ethnic minority leaders who find themselves often further marginalized by the processes that others assume will help them.  I’ve already gone back to several of these essays/journal article style contributions to reflect more deeply on some of the themes.

 

God Is First On the Scene

The last month has been a challenging one to say the least.  Some of it circumstantial, but really it’s been a challenging month internally.  I aim to share more of some of that, but a small ebook I found has really been ministering to me over the last few weeks.  It’s called Deepening the Soul for Justice by Bethany Hoang.

This has been a season where I believe I’ve been entering a new place of sensitivity and awareness to the depths of just how broken we are, how marred and wounded we are, and how corrupt and dehumanizing many of our worldly systems and structures are. Frankly, it’s been crushing me as I reflect on life for many who are vulnerable and powerless (especially so many women)in the world, my community, and even in my own organizational ministry.

It’s been a specific season of being shown more of what truly is the reality despite what I would want to or choose to believe.  And you know what – I have never been more aware of the fact that my character and soul is totally unable and unprepared to take in the degree of pain, struggle, and even evil that is around me every day. I believe God has shown me more to show me what is required to truly live in this world as a servant without letting the darkness overwhelm, crush, and stomp out a life of hope and abundance that is part of truly following Christ. And he’s showing me I have to let Him do a lot more in me if I’m going to be a part of serving in greater ways and being part of His world to bring justice and reconciliation to the oppressed and alienated.

Here’s a perspective that has been a great reminder and encouragement as I seek to allow God to build my spiritual capacity, to deepen my soul to handle the reality of the world I live in and the places I do life in.

    “Put simply, we are never first on the scene of anything in our world today, be it our personal lives or the lives of people across the globe.  When we encounter injustice, whether in story or face to face, we are encountering a reality that God knows to its deepest depths. And when God invites us to act in the face of injustice, God is inviting us to join the work he is already doing.

Our God is always first on the scene, but he chooses to draw us in and use us as his vessels. We serve a God who has already seen, already heard; God who is ready to send us. Above all, we serve a God whose glory cannot be quenched. Hope in our God, hope in God’s glory will never disappoint (Romans 5:1-5).” (pg 27)

God is first on the scene – every scene.  That’s something that helps me hope and keep going, keep serving without feeling the immense weight and burden of aloneness that injustice inspires in us.

God is there. And He was there first.

—–

*This only about a 40-45 page ebook that you can get for a dollar or two. It’s not a resource to motivate you towards justice ministries, but rather one designed to help encourage you to anchor yourselves spiritually in the Lord and allow him to build the capacity needed as you are facing the overwhelming realities of trying to serve in an unjust world without burning out or other psychological affects of serving in these realities.

 

 

Paternalism and When Helping Hurts

Not too long ago I finished When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert.  If you aren’t familiar – it’s an exploration of how various missions or relief efforts done by wealthy or more powerful countries can actually do more long term damage than good – particularly when there is significant material poverty involved.  The book shows the way various assumptions or common attitudes ultimately end up to be more self serving as opposed to truly making a difference for a community that may be in need.

I chose to read this book because it was recommended highly and because I was told it expounds on the dynamic of paternalism in a number of ways.  And instead of doing an overall review here, I wanted to highlight some of the categories of paternalism that they identify and illustrate through many case studies and accounts.  The book or something like it is needed reading for anyone who is involved in short-term missions especially  (primarily if those trips are focused on service in poorer locations domestically or internationally).

In a section the authors highlight as “The Poison of Paternalism” they boil it down to a simple truth – don’t do things for people that they can do for themselves. You likely are doing damage to them, yourself, or both if you do. But here’s ways you can possibly identify the poison of paternalism at work.  These are all clues that we need to take a step back and repent of our assumptions and seek a renewed perspective.

Resource Paternalism

When wealthy entities or organizations with large resources view the solutions as requiring merely the addition of new financial or material resources while the real solutions require helping a community steward their own resources.

Spiritual Paternalism

When missionaries aim to go “do” missions “to” people, assuming that they are the experts and failing to recognize that people in poverty often have great spiritual depth.  There’s much to listen to and learn from.

Knowledge Paternalism

When we think we have all the best ideas about how to do things.  We assume we know best.  It never occurs to us to ask people who are likely the best experts of their own communities what we can learn from them. Brief note – this is rampant everywhere in the missions and business world.

Labor Paternalism

Doing work that people could and should do for themselves. Doing work for people that they should be doing themselves robs them of ownership, participation, dignity, and other important things important to development and healthy community.

Managerial Paternalism

Basically when entities or organizations of power enter into a different context or community with less power and take over.  Integrated with some of the above elements, it’s when people of power just take over, control, and end up being in charge of various works or decisions or projects that affect another community as if they are the experts.

The book is primarily targeted towards international relief missions.  However, there’s substantial content also about affluent majority culture churches partnering with urban poorer churches.  So there’s helpful challenges about how to think about a variety of ministry partnering.

When I look at the above five types of paternalism, I’ve seen all of them in church contexts. I’ve seen all of them in my own organization. I’ve seen them in a variety of ministries.  And you know what – I’ve exhibited every one of the five at one point or another!  So this is an important book about how to partner with people and serve without hijacking dignity and doing damage long-term for the sake of short-term good feelings.

My last thought is that in the last chapter they highlight what maybe the most important ingredient to “healthy helping” that contributes to dignity. That ingredient is “repentance.” Paternalism continues in different forms because of blind spots as well as a failure to learn and especially to repent of the ways that our best of intentions are hurting others or doing damage.  We have to repent when we learn we are doing damage to people, otherwise a new future is not possible.  I thought that was an important point of the book because I don’t see many leaders who are faced with the feedback of paternalism respond with repentance. I think many choose to shoot the messenger instead.  But paternalism is something we have to aggressively look for as we seek to empower others because it probably is the number one reason why efforts may fail over the long haul.

 

 

On Special Knowledge

How people respond to what would qualify as “special knowledge” really reveals a lot about their character.

There are people in this world that have special knowledge.  By “special knowledge” I mean knowledge or insight into reality that is not generally accessible by the average member of the community. That is a truth. It’s a truth that other people get really bothered by and react to more often than not.  Leaders can especially react when said special knowledge doesn’t serve them and undermines their control.

In an honest moment, everyone would have to recognize that there are a lot of forms of “special knowledge” out there that can be drawn on or sought out that may exceed our own intellectual, emotional, or spiritual capacity.  Christians celebrate the spiritual gifts. Several of those gifts are essentially the expression of God uniquely blessing individuals with the ability to access some knowledge or aspects of reality that others are not able to see or at least not as quick to see.  People with gifts of prophecy, wisdom, or even intercession to name a few sometimes (not all the time) have special knowledge that puts the leaders of a community in an interesting position.

How do you lead when you are not the sole authority on what is true and what is real for a community?  For God never designed you to be.

But special knowledge isn’t just spiritual gifts.  It’s sometimes in the area of culture or cross-cultural wisdom or reality.  Some people have special knowledge because they belong to a different community than you.  Some have special knowledge sometimes because they have lived between two communities.  Some have special knowledge because they have experienced specific trauma or pain that has been transformed into wisdom over time.  When you think about it – many different folks at different points and for different reasons have been blessed or entrusted with “special knowledge.”

It doesn’t mean they are more awesome. It doesn’t mean they are always right.

It does mean that if we want to be ethical and serving leaders we should not deny such a common sense reality and truth.

It does mean that if we’re being humble and honest – at any given time there are likely several people in our world that see reality more clearly than us in one or more respects.  

So what is a leader to do?

Well – the common sense approach would be to learn who has different types of special knowledge and stay connected in humility with those folks so that you as a leader are getting the broadest possible perspectives from trustworthy sources as you can prior to decision making and strategic efforts.

But this doesn’t happen usually.

Frequently those with special knowledge are ignored or silenced while that knowledge is an inconvenience to the leader or the current agenda.  But when there’s desperation to get yourself out of a jam and there’s no other solution, those with special knowledge are all of a sudden seen and utilized to solve a problem. And then they get to go back to being ignored.

Some leaders don’t recognize those in their world who have the knowledge they don’t because they are too busy too stop, recognize, and involve gifted people in what they are doing. Just too busy checking boxes or executing one’s agenda.  This is self-centered and pragmatic leadership, but not wise.

Some leaders don’t recognize those in their world who have the knowledge because they deep down believe that they, by nature of their mighty title and position, must have the only special knowledge that counts – the special knowledge of spiritual authority to lead.  These are leaders who believe they are more important and have a better handle on reality than others in the community by nature of their title.  This is arrogant and prideful leadership that is self-serving and controlling.

Leaders are often threatened by special knowledge. It’s why leadership is no place for insecure and overly fearful or paranoid people.  It’s a reminder that in God’s economy, love is more important than power. It’s a reminder that we are a body – that people were blessed with different contributions and gifts and that these have been bestowed with great honor by the Creator and the head of that body, Jesus Christ.

Leaders who silence special knowledge rob other members of that body of the honor assigned to them and they seek to hijack the glory due God for how he wants His people to function.

Leaders who ironically judge people with special knowledge, whether it be wisdom, words of truth, or discernment, as being arrogant for claiming to offer God-given gifts and perspectives in humility are essentially boldly proclaiming to all who experience them that they in fact are the only ones allowed to have special knowledge by virtue of the power they hold.  And that’s demonic.

Special knowledge is around us by virtue of our relationships. We all have probably some contribution of special knowledge that in God’s wisdom He’s given us to humbly contribute to the leadership of our communities.  Yet out of power, envy, and contempt, some leaders are tempted to preserve their own power, status, and privilege.  They are jealous when other people may be able to provide insight that for good reason moves a community a direction in which they are fearful to go or that might reduce their level of control and power.

Toxic cultures are easy to spot.  They have a few people who claim special knowledge and act like they know what’s best and there’s no mechanism to serve as a check against them.  They punish those that have special knowledge that would bring words of truth, warning, or admonishment to the present abuses.  There’s always an abuse of the concept of spiritual authority believing it somehow gives the leader the final and authoritative perception of reality.  These are people and cultures to avoid if you have any interest in being faithful to a higher power and higher calling without great and unnecessary cost.

So if there are people around you that have special knowledge in terms of matters of ethnicity and culture, listen to them and build trust with them.   If there are people around you that have special knowledge as it relates to relationships and interpersonal heart issues – same thing.  Same goes for people who have special knowledge as it relates to the ethical ramifications of the status quo or proposed changes – listen to them.

I believe God puts around leaders gifted people – to either serve as wise counsel or prophetic voices.  The heart and character of the leader will dictate which ministry they get to experience from these voices.

What a leader should not do – is just “follow your heart” as a leader.  Because you’re just following your own claim to special knowledge in isolation and rejecting the wisdom of the community.  This is how leaders indict themselves as self-serving and power-oriented.  There are times when you have to trust yourself, but that is balanced by trusting the right people in community as well.

Many leaders don’t have to pay attention to special knowledge because they have the power to do what they want no matter what, no matter the counsel or resistance.  Those are the leaders I don’t particularly enjoy relating to.  This is the difference between power and servant leadership.  Are you using your power to execute your agendas out of your own self-confidence or are you accessing the broader reality by serving and empowering the gifts and voices of your community, teams, or organizations?

Leaders typically do not need to worry about silencing special knowledge because they often already are. Leaders need to be in the business of freeing the Spirit-given special knowledge that only the community at large has been entrusted as individuals live out their unique callings in community.

I don’t ever want to cause leadership damage because I was too self-absorbed or arrogant to recognize those that could have contributed to a more redemptive solution. I don’t ever want to withhold the honor due to specific people that God meant for many of these gifts and contributions.

“Special knowledge” is not to be written off as a wild claim by back alley crack-pot prophets. The Lord uses the body to pull back the veil on what is true and what is wise and what is just.  

Are we leading in ways that let the body do its work in these important ways?

Capacity Building Decisions and Empowerment

Have you ever seen an example of a group of people or an organization succeeding in something that everyone else is struggling with?  People usually want to find out “the secret” so they can jump on the success train too.

I was talking with a friend not too long ago about an example of an organization that has really taken major jumps in its success empowering ethnic minority leaders and creating a culture that fosters and honors diversity and rich cross-cultural engagement.  We were talking about why this one organization and event was seeing such fruit while others that were at least in theory working towards the same thing not seeing anything close to the same ethos being produced.

What was clear to us was that the “secret” was not in what took place at the event itself or in the immediate months prior to it.  What was evident is that the fruit that was experienced in terms of diversity and ethnic minority leadership out of an originally Caucasian environment was a product of years of right, healthy, and serving decisions. Those decisions did not immediately produce glaring fruit, but over time those decisions shaped culture.

This is my takeaway from our conversation:

Ethical, serving, and healthy decisions over time increase the capacity of a community or organization to be ethical, serving, and healthy. Places that are failing to serve or failing to empower leaders are failing not just because of the moment, but because they are bearing the fruit of years of decision making that hasn’t served or empowered to the degree that was needed.”

Decisions are capacity building opportunities.  One decision by itself to move towards something different or new or needed may not have a radical impact on a culture’s ability to embody those values.  That decision may not even be successful or fruitful.  But it may fail because the community’s capacity isn’t ready to live out those values yet.  Pragmatic or success driven institutions panic in such a moment and begin to backtrack to alleviate the anxiety of change.  Serving institutions committed to creating new realities continues to stay the course in making these value driven decisions.

These decisions are like weight lifting.  One decision may not produce much and it may meet a lot of resistance.  But over time, decision making that is anchored in a clear commitment to culture change and serving others, especially those who are different, starts to bear the fruit of an increased number of people who have the capacity to live out the values of the desired future as opposed to the comfortable past or present.

But like weight lifting, decision making is hard when your goal is increasing capacity.  There is resistance. There are temptations to quit.  There are temptations to take short cuts to capacity and growth that undermine the health and integrity of the long term objectives.

The scriptures speak to the dynamics of sowing and reaping.  These dynamics are readily embraced when it comes to some elements of leadership and in my world of ministry it is readily applied to evangelism.  Yet when it comes to multi-ethnic empowerment and unity, the empowerment of ethnic minority leaders, and issues of power and voice in community and organizations we often fail to remember the phenomenon of sowing and reaping.

Today there are many places that want to reap health, reap justice, and reap ethical serving cultures without understanding how they must sow to those areas over time.  Most of us would agree that it can be pretty discouraging when there is talk about what people want for the future, but the decision day to day and month to month or year to year don’t reflect a core commitment or understanding of how to build the capacity to see such a new reality come to pass.

When it comes to ethical, healthy, and serving environments, there is no “secret sauce.”  But there is a secret – it’s that you are embodying and reproducing what you have sowed over time.  If we want an environment that is more healthy, just, serving, and empowering then we must be willing to pay the price over time.   There are no short cuts, no steroids to serving and empowering leaders from all backgrounds.  Every decision matters – it’s building our capacity to live out what we want or it’s tempting to live out what always has been.

How are you seeing your capacity strengthened or weakened by your choices and decisions?

Stats Lie Pt 13: True Image of Man’s Existence

This entry is part 13 of 14 in the series Stats Lie

In my recent reading of the book The Prophets by Abraham Heschel I came across a nugget that is appropriate to the stats lie series. The classic work has been a dense, but incredible source of reflection and conviction. I highly recommend it.  In his chapter, “What Manner of Man Is the Prophet?” Heschel writes,

“In terms of statistics the prophets’ statements are grossly inaccurate. Yet their concern is not with facts, but with the meaning of facts. The significance of human deeds, the true image of man’s existence, cannot be expressed by statistics. The rabbis were not guilty of exaggeration in asserting, “Whoever destroys a single soul should be considered the same as one who has destroyed a whole world. And whoever saves a single soul is to be considered the same as one who has saved the whole world.”

“….What seems to be exaggeration is often only a deeper penetration, for the prophets see the world from the point of view of God, as transcendent, not immanent truth.””

The broader context of these words includes much more of depth and value.  But it’s here where Heschel identifies one of the fundamental challenges of statistics for both non-profits and especially non-profit churches and ministries.  It is quite difficult to stay grounded in an honest and divine-aided awareness of “the true image of man’s existence” and “the significance of human deeds.”

Heschel writes in view of both prophets past and present. His subject is the prophets of Scripture, yet acknowledges the role men and women must play at every moment in history to lead communities and society to a humble awareness of how God “feels”(what Heschel calls God’s Pathos) towards his people when souls are being destroyed – or even just one.

As we seek to measure growth and fruitfulness in influence and numbers, which are worthy objectives for measurements, we can’t forget there is always more to our success, more to our fruitfulness from the divine perspective than mere increase. Is the true and intended image of mankind’s existence being reflected and honored, or do we tear it down in the name of progress and influence?

Do we sacrifice the whole for the parts?  Very often we do. This is why statistics and measurements are not merely pragmatic tools, but often ethical reflections and indicators as well.

“For what does it profit a person to gain the whole world if he loses his or her soul?”

Usually this is only applied to money and materialism in our day and age. Yet the measurements of materialism abound even in clerical, spiritual, and missionary endeavors.  We should be leading, partnering, and measuring with such great clarity about what we are expressing about our collective image of existence that we can identify with great precision and humility the tragic or wondrous truths of our deeds.

Without that clarity we are left to the measurements of materialism, to self-gratifying rationalizations, and to an optimism and self-confidence that can only thrive while vision is cloudy and delusions of grandeur can run wild.  But we like fog. We like the fog because more often than not, facing the true significance of our deeds as they build up or tear down the soul of our community would undo us in ways we are not prepared for. So we keep our sights on what’s right in front of us with a measure of blind faith that it will result in a greater good. By serving a part we think the whole is automatically served too – but it doesn’t work that way.

Let us not settle for the fog and it’s comfortable delusions. Let it be rolled back and let us be courageous to not settle for the lies and false promises that some statistics offer. May we always keep in view what fundamentally is of greatest importance – the meaning of what is taking place in community (at multiple levels including the greater society) before God.  Measurements and statistics can lead us away from the soul or towards it. But the only way they move towards the soul is through leadership that is leading towards it with a commitment to the whole, with what that means for the significance of our deeds and the image of our existence.

Do you see ways that you or those around you assume that by focusing on the parts that the whole will follow?

What clues might there be to an awareness that one is functioning in the fog of smallness and particularity?  How does one stay connected to honest assessments of our deeds?

Reflections on the LA Riots Pt 3 – Getting Along

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Reflections on the LA Riots

“Can’t we all just get along?”

This is one of those soundbites that I can always recall.  I can hear it like it was yesterday.  Maybe I can because this line was repeated perhaps more than any other from that time.  I remember sketch comedy shows, I think it was In Living Color, doing parodies with this iconic phrase. It was part of the common vernacular for quite a long while, continuing through today even.

Twenty years ago, in the aftermath of death, fire, and looting, this was a plea for the end of anarchy, hate crimes, and community destruction. I’ve often wondered looking back what “voice” was behind Rodney King during that famous press conference.  Was it the voice of the average person in these communities – that was being harmed through the lawlessness of a criminal element?  Was it just Rodney King – as the lightning rod of this whole thing who had to deal with the weight of serving as a catalyst for such destruction?  Or was it the message of the establishment, those who put King up to the task, who above all probably just wanted the violence to stop as fast as possible so that these could go back to normal (from a safety standpoint).

I’ve asked these questions not out of deep cynicism, but over time I’ve noticed that similar pleas are made all the time in the face of tension and conflict between those with power and those on the margins. I’ve wondered what “getting along” means, when in reality it means very different things to different people.  Normally, “can’t we all just get along” is the sentiment of those who don’t want anything to change and they just want to be rid of conflict, danger, and anxiety (which I understand).

A little over three years after the LA Riots, I spent over eight weeks serving and ministering in different locations throughout Los Angeles.  Spent a couple weeks downtown at homeless shelters, spent a couple weeks in South Central LA, Compton, and a couple other locations. I didn’t make the link at the time, but one of the factors that drew me to this was going through the riots.  I remember wanting to make sure at some point I visited the intersection of Florance and Normandy (which Denny was beaten and much of the initial activity took place.  I did visit that intersection and it had a strange historical feeling to it.

That summer, serving with Here’s Life Inner City Los Angeles and its various local church and ministry partners, was my introduction to both the concept of racial reconciliation as well as the nature of justice – not as an idea, but as a concrete longing and vision of hope and dignity.  It was the beginning of more intentional thinking about these issues – what does it mean to “get along” and especially when there are unpleasant or even maybe inappropriate expressions of pain and struggle sparked by the presence of injustice or oppression? It was a very significant summer for me on a few levels, but I find it remarkable that I still am recognizing some of the impact of that summer on me almost 17 years later.

Vocationally, I frequently find myself in between worlds.  No – that does mean I’m saying I’m bicultural. Not even close. I just frequently am having to see realities, decisions, and situations through both the majority culture lens as well as the ethnic minority lens. Obviously the white lens comes most naturally – because it’s mine. But I’ve grown in being able to recognize and see from the other vantage point as well, though I still routinely miss quite a lot.

What I’ve observed is that when tension breaks out, whether it’s at a local or national level and if it’s in a ministry or church or even secular contexts, and where there is systemic marginalization (or racism or oppression), there are versions of “can’t we all just get along?” that seem to pop up in the course of trying to work things out.  Now obviously, when buildings are burning and people are dying, there is a need to call for humane and constructive solutions, but King’s soundbite has a kind of typology to it and I’ll venture to offer a couple interpretations for this specific type which I’ll label as a “call to unity.”

First, “Can’t we all just get along?” (be unified) = “Can’t you just go along?”

It’s “Can’t all of you who don’t like what is happening in the grand scheme of things just go along with things and stop causing trouble?” This is where my suspicion of who was behind King’s press conference does come to play.   But the instinct for those in the majority is to keep things clean and efficient.  There’s a path of least resistance mentality that is often at work and the focus is usually given to eliminating the source of discomfort or minimizing tension as opposed to figuring out what a better future would look like (from the vantage point of those on the outside).

Second, “Can’t we all just get along?” = “Can’t we just go back to the way things were?”

This is a continuation of the above thought.  Wanting people to get along amidst various ethnic or socioeconomic driven tensions rarely involves the kind of reflection and conviction that results in a vision of a new future.  That would require such a tenacity and integrity of leadership that is rare.  It’s far more common to want to keep doing more of the same and just try to do it in a way that doesn’t set people over the edge.

There’s a heart check when it comes to majority – minority power tensions.  Do we try to keep things the same and just try to get everyone to cooperate and fall in line? (An obvious ethnocentric approach)  Or do we invest our energies into creating legitimate partnerships and sharing of power for the sake of a different future – the one we usually say we want, but often lack the resolve, awareness, and commitment to pursue.

All this to say, there’s still things to learn from the LA Riots and I’m still learning.  When people are not getting along, there are questions to ask first, before we start wanting to make them get along.  We need to be men and women who can ask those questions, those questions that get to the heart of what is wrong or unacceptable – for if we don’t there surely aren’t many that will.

This is the end of my series reflecting on the LA Riots.  Feel free to share your own reflections or share your own response to what the “Can’t we all get along?” call to unity means. Thanks for reading!

 

Stats Lie Pt 4: Story & Stats

This entry is part 4 of 14 in the series Stats Lie

Did you ever see the Double Rainbow you-tube video?

One of the greatest things ever and a reason I’m thankful for the internet.  I’ll post it below for you if you haven’t seen it.

But it’s basically a dude in the outdoors who witnesses a double rainbow in nature and he’s beside himself and overcome.  He’s left to ponder the meaning of what he’s witnessing.  So the phrases “Double Rainbow” and “What does it mean?” are repeated often amidst weeping. There may be other influences at work influencing his mood and mindset, but that’s another story. 🙂

“Double Rainbow” is really a metaphor for interpretation and hermeneutics and the often subjective quest to understand the significance and truth of something, especially when the “meaning” is hard to squeeze into a quantifiable box.

A senior ministry leader who has been around the block said to me a few months back, “You know, I just can’t trust statistics if I don’t know what they mean.” Seems like an obvious statement, but most of us probably have tons of examples of ourselves or others being quick to react to a statistic without really understanding what it might mean…..really.

So what do they mean?  As mentioned in the previous post, sometimes the meaning can be obvious to all and close to self-evident. But there are dangers sometimes.

What about when we assume we know what it means, but we’re wrong or have too limited of a perspective to have a meaningful and realistic perspective?

What if we look at a stat and it just seems incredible and we start trying to interpret significance into something that might not be there?   Double Rainbow!

I wrote a section in “Five Majority Culture Postures Towards Ethnic Minority Ministry” that included the line, “Statistics without story usually create guilt and pressure.”  That was in the context of motivating people to action – trying to get people to do things without the relational connections or underlying heart adjustments.  But statistics without story also leave us in the “Double Rainbow” position because we can lack the contextual clues to draw out the meaning and significance of them.

Statistics need story to be meaningful measurements in ministry (and elsewhere as well). Without understanding story in and behind a situation, the way we use our measurements can become ethnocentric and maybe can even sabotage progress because of how we can try to squeeze others into our own structures and expectations.  Without story, we actually can judge or even dehumanize those in the reality we’re looking at because numbers tend to take on a life of their own. When we think we know what something means, but fail to recognize what those things mean to those living other stories we do damage.

A general example would be when we measure specific and tangible results but fail to take into account power dynamics and the everpresent forces that create hardships, challenges, and barriers that others on the “right” side of power don’t face.  Should you assess both situations equally? The stories are different and success will look different as a result.

Statistics can be used as a tool of power or they can be used to empower.  Oftentimes the difference is the commitment to understand story.  This means a grounding of our interpretation and our use of such measurements and results in a broader understanding of culture and context.  That means learning, humility, relationships, and intentionality.

We have to do the work to understand the whole – and not just measure the parts.   Otherwise, we might be left like the double rainbow guy to make up half-baked (in his case literally perhaps!) interpretations. Or worse – we’re left to make ignorant, biased, ethnocentric, or unethical interpretations or applications (See Pt 2: Tunnel Vision).

So let’s not get mesmerized by a statistic itself (Double Rainbow!), but let’s work to understand the whole so that our interpretations are informed by both the statistics AND the story.

How do you see story being important in measuring results and what does it look like practically to use both statistics and story to draw conclusions?

For the uninitiated:

And go here for a version that was turned into a song with production.