Tag Archives: Justice

Quick Review: Between the World and Me

Last week I finished Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  What a powerful book. I did this by audiobook, which was read by the author, and I think that made it even more powerful. The book is part autobiography and part letter to the author’s son, bringing a powerful personal touch to weighty topics.

The author documents his journey growing up African-American in Baltimore and the impact of systemic injustice and iniquity on him and others in his community. He provides the historical background to understand a more robust view of identity as it has been shaped over time. It’s a powerful read or listen even if it’s just out of a desire to understand more one’s experience in communities so shaped by power driven or overtly racist policies. But it’s much more than that.

One of the central metaphors that Coates builds his narrative around reflects a philosophical as well as poetic framing of how systemic injustice and racism impact identity. This metaphor is that of one becoming “disembodied,” where because of injustice or racism and the reality of one’s identity that he feels the shame of someone else having control of his body. That loss of autonomy, safety, and the self-worth that comes with security is an ever-present reminder of how power structures work against him.

This brings the reflection and discussion of racism from beyond abstract arguments or activism to the visceral truth that systemic injustice always has a fleshly impact. It touches the core of the marginalized identity because it is a fundamental reality that someone else can take control of their body and exercise power over them in a myriad of ways.  This way of experiencing and seeing the issues adds further heartbreak for the ways so many are shaped by injustice in deep ways to the core of their being.

Coates uses some new phrases besides the typical language. He refers to majority culture folks who find comfort in the current unjust systems as “people who think themselves white.” White is synonymous with offender or perpetrator.  He uses another word which forces one to wrestle – plunderer. He is using these words of those who find comfort in the benefits of injustice or in various ways perpetuates the system. He is not equating all white people with plunderers or racists. He uses “white” as not just an ethnic designation, but rather as an ideological tribe of sorts that through self-interest perpetuates contemporary injustice. It’s not a rejection of white people, but of an establishment that is benefitting from various forms of violence that continually keeps those outside down through the various forms and threats of disembodiment.

There’s so much here and the whole thing is a skillful and beautiful expression of deep pain and righteous anger. My summary is wholly inadequate. I would have loved more spiritual reflection or engagement. It’s hard to read things like this when there doesn’t seem to be hope or meaning anchored in a larger worldview. But that’s not where the author is coming from and in the meantime, he does convey some form of hope, albeit alongside a strong dose of reality without sugar coating what it means to journey in this world on the other side of institutional power.

I recommend it as a powerful journey into the depths of just how dark the impacts of systemic injustice are in the U.S. from a history of racism and racist policies.  This isn’t my story, but these are stories that need to be heard.  There are parts that are hard to here as one who has lived a more privileged existence in the U.S. from an ethnic standpoint, but it’s important to look, feel, and reflect on how I live and the broader communities and society that I am a part of.


Quick Review: Pursuing Justice

One of the books with the most impact on me this year was Ken Wytsma’s Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger ThingsI read it in the summer, but I re-read it over the past couple of weeks. Wytsma founded Kilns college and started The Justice Conference. I’ve started going through the last couple conferences via what is on the internet and vimeo.

This book is a primer on God’s heart for justice and offers a corrective to both social gospel as well as gnostic, all that matters is the afterlife,  approaches to the gospel. There’s a strong Biblical foundation offered for what the Scriptures really say about justice and where many of us have gone off to one extreme or the other.

There’s a few chapters I loved.  There is a chapter focused on advent, the incarnation, that was exceptional regarding the call to incarnate into people’s lives and realities as fundamental to Christian life and ministry. Given that I re-read it prior to Christmas this year, my second reading of this chapter was even more meaningful. Maybe the chapter I appreciated the most though was the chapter entitled “Empathy” that connects are hard-wired human ability to feel what other people feel and experience as a key to God’s heart for justice. Without empathy, there is no justice.  There is a paradigm offered in this chapter regarding empathy and “the other” which may come in handy in my PhD research.

Wytsma covers a lot of ground. In addition to the above, he tackles briefly the gospel and politics, the history of the evangelical phobia of “social justice,” and the range of response to justice such as apathy. This book is a great introduction to thinking Biblically about justice and it’s a convicting one that all believers would benefit from.

One of my big takeaways, while not a new conviction, is a deeper commitment that Christian ministry along with its methodology reflects what the Scriptures really teach about the gospel and justice. That’s neither the social gospel or the spiritual escapism often present in evangelicalism today. When word and deed go together, it’s a powerful thing and I’m thankful for those who are helping lead the church towards a more integrated and restorative vision of what it means to be the Church.

I will come back to this book because it also cites really great sources and work from many historical and contemporary justice practitioners. While I’ve read a decent amount regarding justice, there was much that was new to me in terms of stories and anecdotes, but the resources referenced were just as much of a blessing.


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.




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.



Why Ethnic Minority Leaders Leave Ministry Organizations

This article/ebook is a specific treatment of a specific context – the organization that I have served with over the past 15 years and that I have been involved with in different ways over twenty years. It is a specific case study, but of dynamics and phenomenon that exist in many places – organizations, churches, and ministries, so the application can be broad.

Depending on your background or context, you may need to adapt it to your context, but the value here I believe is the windows it gives to people’s experiences and what affirms and celebrates culture and identity and on the other hand it gives insight into what tears down or destroys identity and the expression of difference. It’s not my hope to get everyone to agree with me or how I have packaged the stories, research, and content, but I hope it raises questions and launches meaningful and authentic and humble conversation for the sake of serving those that often continue to get pushed to the margins.

Both the 2005 and 2012 editions were put together with a spirit of learning and desire to help move conversations to core issues that will help accelerate authentic change, learning, and servanthood – things my organization, the case study in question, values and desires to embody and live out. Affirming the heart of where my organization wants to go, does not mean that my treatment of this subject does not entail a prophetic dimension to it. I’ve tried to frame it both to speak as part of the organization and to the organization representing  many of those voices that are unintentionally, but routinely silenced due to the differences and dynamics explored here.

It is not a short article. It runs 17 pages so you can print or download it below for later or select the full screen option on the embedded image to read it on your computer. I’ve also included a version for Kindle and an .epub version for other readers.

Direct Download (pdf)

Download for Kindle (mobi)

Download for Other Readers (epub)


Personal Reflections on the LA Riots Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Reflections on the LA Riots

It’s crazy to believe that the LA Riots or “civil unrest” was 20 years ago.  As the media has been starting to take people back to what happened 20 years ago, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my experience that week.  I’d love to share with you some of my reflections and invite you to share yours of what you may remember. This will likely be a 3 part series over the next few days.

It’s a fascinating exercise because looking back I see more and see differently than I did then.  I was 17 years old, a junior in high school.  I went to Long Beach Poly High School, an urban high school not too far from the downtown part of Long Beach, California.  Long Beach Poly is known for a couple things nationally – having sent more pro football players to the NFL than any other high school and also having produced no shortage of rap icons.  Snoop Dogg was there for a couple of my years in high school among others.  It was an extremely ethnically diverse school at the time, and even more so now.

Long Beach, part of LA county, is about 25-30 minutes southwest from South Central LA where the riots broke out.  But the riots didn’t stay contained to South Central Los Angeles and spread to a couple parts of Long Beach including the surrounding area of my high school.  An indicator of the strangeness and perhaps surreal nature of what was taking place is reflected in the fact that I had friends who spend much of that time helping their families protect their stores and I had other friends who did some looting. It was crazy.

I remember Rodney King, the video footage of his beating by white cops, the trial, the acquittal, and the great rage which had been brewing.  As a white person watching, the clearest and most vivid memory was seeing the coverage of the beating of Reginald Denny, a white truck driver who was pulled out of his cab and beaten unconscious.  As a white person, the truth of the matter was pretty evident and powerful – that could have been me.  That wasn’t the first time I had experienced racism directed at me as a white person, but it was the first time where I realized that if I were in the wrong place at the wrong time I could end up like Denny – that I could be harmed because of the color of my skin.

One of more memorable elements of that time was the decision to go to school the next day after the riots broke out in South Central LA.  For background, from fifth grade to twelfth grade I attended public school about 30 minutes across town from where I lived.  Part of the strategy for ethnic diversity and integration was the establishment of various academic programs in the more urban and predominantly ethnic minority communities.  At the time of the riots, while I was in high school, my youngest sister was at the Junior High I went to that was even farther away.  Watching the news, which showed where the rioting was breaking out with little mini fire icons over city maps, generated a lot of anxiety for some. It was a strange feeling for a while to see the fire icons “getting closer” wondering how bad things were going to get.

Many of the white parents chose not to send their kids to school the next day or day after, especially when they were sending their kids across town.  Looking back I find it interesting that my sister and I both didn’t blink and we wanted to go school, never really considering not going. I remember being asked if I thought I should take the day off because of the potential racial conflicts that were breaking out and as a white person I might be an object of racist hate or violence.  I blew that notion off without much thought, but I could tell at the time that there were a lot of nervous parents that day.

I remember vividly driving to school during that time with a couple friends and seeing buildings near the school that had been burnt down and signs of unrest that had spilled over into that part of the city.  Usually I felt very secure at the school and I don’t remember it being that different that day.  There was in fact a significant conflict or “fight” on campus that first day as I remember, but ironically it didn’t involve Caucasians. Life continued to happen while there was still a lot of chaos in the city at large.

When my sister and I got home, I remember my mom asking us how it was and if there ever was any moment where we felt fearful or threatened.  My sister, who was 14 at the time and in 8th grade, had the best response which we’ve laughed about ever since.  She said, “It was fine, no problems. The only thing really that wasn’t normal was a bunch of students yelling ‘We hate white people!’”  We get a kick out of my sister’s nonchalance at the time now, but I’m sure my mom loved hearing that at the time.

Looking back I remember two distinct emotional realities.  First, the great rage felt especially by the black community.  I understand the dynamics much more now than I did then.  Back then it was hard to understand the systemic realities and injustice and even hopelessness for many that true justice could be served.  The rally cry, “No Justice, No Peace” is about a clear a call for those in power to wake up and pay attention to a community as there can be.  Racism and systemic oppression were on display throughout the whole process, maybe most notoriously through the dispatching of many from the police force to “protect” Beverly Hills while there was great need to restore order where the riots had broken out in the inner city.  Power at work preserving itself again.

The second strong emotional reality was that of anxiety and fear among the white community.  I don’t know if I felt it as much because I was young, had grown up amidst great diversity, or what, but I clearly saw it around me.  White people aren’t used to being targeted in such ways and it was unnerving for most.  Part of the anxiety was because I don’t think most white folk then (and even now) were able to understand the underlying dynamics of why such hostility and anger finally boiled over.  So what was in many ways an angry response to real and perceived injustice, many whites interpreted as only racist lashing out by the uneducated poor and criminal.  White people were very fearful and anxious in general during that time from what I remember. They experienced the events primarily through the lens of “Are we safe?” as opposed to trying to understand what had driven people to such action and what this all meant.

The riots brought to the surface much of what had been there all along – and it’s with great confidence I can say that many white men and women missed what was truly at work in that time under the surface, even if much of the expression of anger in the civil unrest was in fact criminal and illegal. The criminal element should not have negated the pain of the community which was being expressed in many ways. This pain had been a ticking time bomb that the acquittals of the police officers set off.

When I look back, it seems surreal.  For a season it was extremely intense, then life went back to normal.  But the experience stuck with me, even though I didn’t have the experience or frame of reference that I do now.

I walked through that experience with an extremely diverse group of friends and the next post will focus on my reflections and memories of how the events and experience of the Riots was processed in that context.

Where were you? How old were you? 

What do you remember and how do you see it differently now than you did then?

Review of What is the Mission of the Church

I’ve been reading What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin Deyoung and Greg Gilbert over the last four months or so and just recently wrapped it up.

Here’s the bottom line of my take.  I think the book raises and important question for the church today and for the future to be worked out in dialogue and community and academia.  I agree with the bottomline arguments for the most part and think that there is a need for the church to be more clear about what the mission of the church is or is not.  But…

I also think there’s so much in this book that I think fell very short of a compelling clarity and vision for the mission of the church – in large part because of at times an uncomfortable tone or edginess to their writing, at other times assumptions being made that to me reflected some narrowness in perspective, and also obvious needs of the authors to take on what seems like many a pet peeve in today’s church.

I rarely have found myself bothered so much by a book that I fundamentally agreed with in terms of the base truths being discussed.  And while I did struggle with the tone and the nature of many of the arguments, I also thought there was work done in this book that was really helpful and important even if I didn’t agree with all the conclusions or assumptions made.

On the plus side, there’s helpful discussions about purpose of the church and what is the church not fundamentally responsible for.  I think for many today the nature of the mission of the church either never crosses the churchgoer’s mind and on the other extreme perhaps to some everything good is the mission of the church.  I think this book is helpful to navigate some of the key points of the discussion as well as related issues – like the role of justice in the Scriptures, the nature of shalom, and other discussions.

On the negative side – I think while doing a good job presenting a cognitively and Biblically “right” argument for what is and is not the mission of the church, there were times where I just felt like they were totally missing the point.  In some ways, the mission of the church was disproportionately discussed to the point where I felt like some foundational discussions about the identity of the church never really got their due.

I think much of the book is structured as a reaction to the demographic of Christians who are throwing themselves into works of justice while disregarding completely the proclamation of the gospel.  The problem is that I think the book failed greatly in my estimation to affirm the many who are doing both and give a compelling vision of how to engage the world in grace and truth.

I struggled that a book on helping believers try to navigate social justice’s right place in the scope of the mission of the church made zero reference to one of the biggest issues of justice in recent history – the Civil Rights Movement and era and what followed.  The references to “justice” always seemed to have a distance to it as if it was something that you had to travel far and wide to be a part of – not much acknowledgment of those “justice” issues that are in our midst.

But in general – after the 30th sentence that had this general structure to it, “It’s really good to work for justice/care for the poor/try to end human trafficking, BUT…..”, I just found myself feeling like there was something fundamentally off about their approach.

But I was glad I read the book because I realized I did need some clarity and some of the Scripture work was very helpful (yet again all the conclusions fit very nicely their own thesis and theological boxes which I don’t always agree with).

I can’t say I would recommend this book because I was just uncomfortable with a large amount of the tone of it, but the discussions it attempts to navigate are important and it could be good as one such resource.  Personally – I think there’s room to keep the proclamation of Jesus front and center, but not make engaging the world in loving, wise, humble, compassionate, just, and strategic ways a second class endeavor.  These things are to be integrated more than this book might reinforce.




Helping vs. Partnering

I’m working on a writing project right now and I’m posting a section of it here that functions as a small “aside” in the article.  I’m leaving the language as is so note that references to “we” are anchored in a different project with multiple authors, but would love your thoughts if you have any.  I’ll post a link to the article I’m working on when we release it in a couple days…..


Questions about postures of helping versus postures of advocacy in partnership exist at several levels in society.  There has been great discussion the last several years related to the role of the west in coming alongside developing nations.  Decades of financial aid have provided limited returns and successes and new discussions are emerging that focus on the need to think differently as to the role of prosperous or world powers.

In a recent article, Anthony Bradley of World Magazine captures the spirit of author Dambisa Moyo’s argument in Dead Aid as follows, “The West needs a new way of thinking. What would it look like for Western nations to treat struggling African countries as friends instead of just recipients of their help?”

Bishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, was asked recently by journalist John Allen how the West could help 

Africa. Here is the first part of Onaiyekan’s response:

“‘The problem is the way you phrased the question,’ [Onaiyekan] said. ‘You asked how the West can “help” Africa. We’re not interested in “help” in that sense, meaning that we are exclusively the receivers of your generosity. We’re interested in a new kind of relationship, in which all of us, as equals, work out the right way forward.’”

We see this as a valuable wisdom for navigating the power disparity between majority and minority cultures today.  Majority culture leaders often pursue an all out cause to help out, but often bypassing the issues of dignity, equality, and empowerment.  If primarily majority culture ministries and organizations are going to be fruitful in mission to and with the Ethnic Minority communities, a proper focus has to be given to posture and being in right relationship across communities.


GHAAC #9 – Mercy&Justice

Growing Healthy Asian American Churches
Ch. 9: Households of Mercy and Justice
By Soon-Chan Rah

The final chapter of GHAAC is dedicated to the AA church becoming a church that is actively representing God’s heart for mercy and justice in today’s world with so much pain and systemic injustice. Rah writes, “Our churches need to be places where God’s justice and mercy are proclaimed and demonstrated. If our churches are to become the household of God, then they must have a public witness and not merely exist for the sake of maintaining their own households.” (185)

While evangelism has often been limited to opportunities for “personal salvation” the author writes, “Evangelism is no longer defined simply as individual salvation but can now be seen as the expression of God’s kingdom values into the world as expressed by the households of God.” (191)

The author writes, “Asians are not only seen as the model minority, we are also seen as a silent minority.” (197) This insight has been interesting for me. I’ve heard much about the dynamics of what it means to AA leaders to be seen as the model minority, but have recently begun to hear from such leaders that there is a tendency for Asian Americans to avoid controversial issues or other social justice kind of opportunities. It’s been interesting hearing about some of the perceived causes of this phenomenon, but Rah argues among others that this trend must be reversed – especially in light of the immigrant background of so many Asian American churches. There is a tremendous opportunity for the AA church.

Another quote from the author: “But striving to become the household of God may mean sacrificing these worldly measures of success. A church that seeks to exhibit justice and compassion may experience more failure than success.”(199)