Tag Archives: multi-ethnic

Quick Review: The Fire Next Time

I read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time over the weekend and found it really powerful. I had wanted to read it for a while and have heard many people compare Te-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, which I found really powerful a few months ago. That increased my drive to prioritize this book and I’m really glad I did, despite being late to the party as it were.

As a book that was written in 1963 in the heart of the civil rights struggle, it struck me just how many of the themes are similar. As I was reading the book I saw the recent news that home ownership for African-Americans was assessed as having made no progress in the past 50 years, since the time The Fire Next Time was written. That bit of info powerfully shaped my reading and experience of what was written in 1963 with such power, art, and conviction.

One of the fascinating dimensions of the book was Baldwin’s critique of the nation of Islam’s approach to peace and justice as he found them to be ideologically on the same ground as white supremacists. But he provides a first-hand account of conversations and interactions I could never experience or observe in person and I found myself riveted in hearing the raw passion and anger and desire for justice. I was also disturbed by the unfiltered hate for whites by some. At this point in my own journey, such realities do not generate as much fear in me as they once may have. Instead, they generate deep sadness and anger of my own. It is true that much has changed for the better in the last 50 years, but it’s also uncomfortable just how much continues to reflect the same patterns of sin and injustice.  It’s these realities that make this book important for today as well.

Baldwin gives a strong critique of religion in this book through the lenses of oppression, corruption, and hypocrisy. He offers helpful perspective on how the church – both the black and white churches of the time contributed to the cycles of hatred, violence, and systemic injustice of the time. He clearly turns away from the church as a result, but there’s a lot about his experiences and insights that merit self-reflection for the modern church – especially the way religion and religious institutions can get enslaved by culture and the ideology of the time.

At the core of it, I heard through Baldwin’s anger and contempt for some of these institutions a deep longing for the church to truly be what it should be in the context of such blatant hatred, evil, and injustice. It’s a reality that when the church fails to have anything to say or do that engages meaningfully in matters of injustice and that fails to point to a tangibly different possibility instead of pie in the sky theology, the Church loses its credibility. And Baldwin, stirred with passion and anger, still resists the temptation of ethnic hatred and retaliation in favor of love and sacrifice.

This won’t be the last time I read this book because there’s so much in here that you just can’t absorb or take in one time through.

 

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.

 

Quick Review: The Myth of Equality

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been able to go through Ken Wytsma’s The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege and want to pass on highest recommendation if you are in the Northern American context.

Last year I read Wytsma’s book Pursuing Justice and it was a good complement to this book. But The Myth of Equality is a needed book that seeks to lay out theological, historical, sociological context for both historical racism as well as contemporary racism in its various forms. I won’t give a comprehensive summary but will hit the highlights.

First, he did good Biblical and theological work, building on some of his work in Pursuing Justice. It informs the reader, especially if there’s not much Biblical or theological background, on the spiritual backdrop of the discussion.  He’s working to give the average lay church member, especially white lay church member, a context for the discussion outside of attacks and emotions. Most important to this is the question of who God is and what does God care about.

Second, he does a great job unpacking a “history of racism” that is very insightful and informative in terms of political and social develops several hundred years ago.  However, the unpacking and analysis of racism in the U.S. including slavery and then through the various post-Civil War legislation and government efforts through the 20th century is downright piercing. Even for someone who has read or studied much of what was covered in other places, to go through this history is deeply disturbing and generates a flood of emotions. But the reader is brought into the sacred space of just how much suffering has been driven by the systematic oppression and marginalization of ethnic minority groups in the U.S.

My heart started pumping midway through in an excited way because Wytsma goes into Walter Brueggeman’s work in The Prophetic Imagination to discuss the dynamics of power, leadership, change, and theology.  This book was one of the fundamental influences on me in terms of how I view leadership overall and the church’s role in the world.  To get a chapter about the “royal consciousness” was a delight. However, to do a deep analysis today on themes of racism and privilege through that lens continues to be sobering.

One of my big takeaways related to the discussion on privilege was a section where he discussed “creation stories” as a metaphor for each person’s story. Many are “birthed” into stories where they only know possibilities and freedom. Others are birthed into stories that have origins in shame, invisibility, closed doors, and a host of other atrocities. While it’s true that God can redeem every story, this was a helpful new window into understanding how people come at these discussions from very different lenses and perspectives. It’s simply very hard to connect and form relationships of equality and dignity without an awareness into how these starting points in a society impact identity.

I personally liked Wytsma’s approach to the language.  I think there is more to write on terms like privilege and white supremacy and other core terms of the modern discussion. I think Wytsma handled them well without resorting to a single story approach.  My struggles with these words over the years have primarily involved a pragmatic struggle with how hard it is to explain them to people prior to being able to have a meaningful conversation when there are so many landmines of meaning and interpretation around them that escalate emotion in often unhelpful ways. But Wytsma I think does a really good job explaining how these terms fit in the contemporary discussion and why they are appropriate even though there are all sorts of semantic and meaning issues connected to them in the journey of common understanding.

This is an important book for the church because more and more in the church want to be a part of a different story, but so many do not know the history and the reality that is often hidden from them if they’ve not leaned into cross-cultural relationships and issues of social injustice.

This is a 2017 book so it might be new to you, but I’d encourage you to go through it with some people you do life with.

 

Triumphalism: The Lost Art of Honesty

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.