Monday, March 31, 2008

In the city and in the Word: But did Anything Change?

During the past 3 weeks we've hosted more than 120 college students from around the country here in Chicago.  My M.O. is to get pretty wrapped up in issues that connect a Biblically informed vision of what life should look like and then connect that to the issues facing urban America.   We discuss and explore these topics experientially together in the city and in the Word. 

(What does God's call to uphold justice have to do with the fact that we have a drop out rate in Woodlawn that exceeds 50%?  What does God's call for us to love mercy have to do with those homeless folks who put us in awkward moments on the el? What does discipleship have to do with our resources beyond our money?  What does an ambassador of Christ have to do with infant mortality, the working poor, or predatory lending?)  

This week I am wrestling with how our work to raise funds connects with this overall vision of seeing  Christians live out Micah 6:8 in relation to the inner-city.   It is critical that those in relationship with Sunshine see the connection as a commitment to the cause of the Kingdom rather than an emotional (short lived) response.  

So for those who have been with us in the past or were here this month,  I just want to ask two questions here and invite you to respond. 

1.  Is it likely that anything actually changed in your life as a result of your week with us?

2.  Our desire is not to lead you to partner with us through pity or emotion but by leading through our values.  Did this happen with you and if so, what values did you perceive we hold most dear?

Monday, March 24, 2008

How just is that coffee?

What's a fair price for a pound of coffee?

  1. $6.95
  2. $3.45
  3. $1.26

A fair price for coffee isn't what you pay in the grocery store, it's what the coffee farmer is paid. Available in Europe for more than a decade and recently in the United States, "fair-trade" coffee has been purchased directly from coffee farmers for $1.26 per pound, instead of less than 50 cents.

According to Transfair USA (, an agency that certifies fair-trade practices, coffee is the second largest trade commodity in the world, next to oil. An estimated 80 percent of Americans drink coffee.

Ten years ago, the world coffee economy was worth $30 billion, of which producers received $12 billion. Today, it is worth $50 billion, with producers receiving just $8 billion, according to the Fair Trade Coffee Campaign of Global Exchange.

Last year, Starbucks became the first U.S. company to agree to a "code of conduct," promising it would tell its suppliers that in order to sell to Starbucks, they must pay workers a decent wage and respect their rights. Many gourmet coffee companies now offer fair-trade products, too, says Deborah James, fair trade director for Global Exchange, including the Bucks County Coffee Co. in Langhorne (800-523-6163). More are listed on the Global Exchange Web site (

This entry taken from a social justice quiz.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The most important book white Christians will read this summer.

Not to go out on a limb or anything. . . but can I suggest that the most important book a white Christian can read or re-read this summer is Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith?
Watching the whole episodes surrounding Barack Obama and his pastor and his speech, and then following the commentary about it, I remember just how isolated from the black community, its concerns, its burdens and its perspective are most of my white friends, families and the wider evangelical community. 

I have gotten to the point where I can predict white answers to black questions and vice versa and watch for the predictable facial expression across the table.  I see this on CNN, Fox and in the community.  Here is an example:  Several months ago I was listening to Moody Radio as a well known black leader was being interviewed by a well known white christian talk radio host.  The white interviewer clearly had very high affirmation for his guest and was talking about how dymanically God was working through his black brother in a poor community.  Then the minister referred to Dr. King in passing.  

Then the interviewer asked this question:  On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you say we are doing in improving race relations in America since Dr. King's life.  I knew in that split second that the interviewer was looking for a much higher number than he was going to get.  He was eagerly anticipating it.  Was it 9?  Maybe 8?  

"5.  Maybe 6 on the whole."  came the answer.  Radio silence is always awkward.  

The reason for the silence?  The reason for the different expectation is simple.  White Christians are on the whole isolated by unrecognized privilege from the ongoing struggles of black America.  It is strictly optional for whites to enter the discussion and since it quickly (usually) becomes uncomfortable -- we don't.  Or we do and then leave as soon as we get our toes stepped on.  

My experience has been that my white friends feel unappreciated very quickly. . . .and my black friends feel used and cheated.  That black minister could easily have interpreted the white guys lack of responsiveness about the plight of black America as indication that he didn't actually care and that the point of the radio show was just that -- its just a show (and his black "friend" will make for a great show).  

The reality is that in that example the white guy asked the question not knowing what answer he was going to get and (I would guess) the black minister provided the answer knowing full well the discomfort that the answer would recieve.  

Why am I saying all of this?  With Obama running for president -- and let's assume he gets the Democratic nod -- the insensitive comments, the unresponsiveness to Obama's explicit Christianity (over against Bush's) will leave our Black brother and sisters even more frustrated with the white church than before -- even if they have no intention of voting for him.  

This will be a record year for the following (offensive) words in the white churches across America which foment division between Black and White Christians:

"I'm not a racist but. . . "
"It's not because he is black. . . "
"I have a black friend . . . and he/she isn't voting for Obama"
"I don't see a race problem in America. .  . it's only because they keep talking about it. .  ." 
"He says he's a Christian but how can any Christian be unapologetically black?  If we had an unapologetically white church they would call us racist!"

If you are a white Christian and have any sense that racial reconciliation is important, please read Divided by Faith.  Read it slowly and thoughtfully.  .  .  

(I have added a summary of this book to my other blog.  Click here). 

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Is Colorblindness a virtue or a vice?

There are a number of subjects, dozens actually, that come up during the course of our Bridge Builders weeks at Sunshine, that inevitably deserve extended thought and discussion. One of those subjects is the issue of "colorblindness".  
For anyone interested in seriously addressing racism or racial reconciliation, colorblindness is one of those subjects that is incredibly important to consider. It is a topic that is understood entirely differently within the black and white communities.  

For Whites, Colorblindness is viewed as a virtue.  

For many of us in the white community the term colorblindness was defined and experienced in our growing up as a concept that stood in contrast to racism.  It was the movement of a generation (our parents) away from their parents (our grandparents) in which racist jokes and terminology was done away with.  The assumption was that without explicit racist terminology, racism was done away with and colorblindness was its (virtuous) replacement.

For Blacks, Colorblindness is viewed as racism.  

For most within the black (and other non-anglo) community the term colorblindness is a term that whites use to excuse racism.  To suggest that ones race is not seen in the US when one is Black (or other minority) is preposterous  (unless you are literally blind, and even then awareness is VERY apparent to most).  Further, to suggest that one is not treated differently because of one's race is also absurd.  Finally, to not allow the value of one's identity and culture to be an open discussion or expression is to devalue what is different and to lay claim to the idea that that which is dominant is normative and therefore "best".   So colorblindness is not only not a virtue, but is a nice way of holding onto white privilege, racism, vice.  (Did anyone seriously look at the picture of Jesus above and NOT notice race? or did you not realize it was Jesus because of your attribution of what Jesus' race "really" is? and if you are "taken aback" by a black Jesus are you equally offended by a white Jesus?)

"Double Vision" is the only way to continue the discussion.  In Miroslov Volf's book, The End of Memory, the author describes what he says is "double vision"; imaginatively entering the the experience of another before claiming to understand.  While I believe this is crucial for those committed to learning in general, it is also key for anyone committed to reconciliation.  On the topic of colorblindness it is key for blacks to do this to create space for patience for their white brothers and sisters, giving us time in the dialogue to learn.  For whites, this double vision is important because in it they will find out that black folks are right.  

In my personal experience, the importance of my African-American friends giving me space to understand this has been indescribably important.  I have been blessed by these friends in that they have allowed me this benefit of the doubt:  I was genuinely attempting to move away from racism of earlier family members and oblivious to white privilege (this is another entire topic and something that my black friends have helped me to see).   Many, if not most, blacks (in my experience) believe that any white person claiming to be unaware of the racism of colorblindness and the reality of white privilege is disingenuous at best, and -- more likely--  simply lying.  Those who have chosen to enter in to conversation are often worn out by this process of allowing whites this space and even trying to help us.  Ed Gilbreath's book Reconciliation Blues will help with insight on this topic. 

The reality is that this posting shouldn't waste time trying to make the argument to blacks to give us space.  The primary argument that I need to present is this:  Blacks are right, colorblindness is tantamount to ignoring discrimination, racism, prejudice and white privilege.  

So to understand the topic, whites need an entire education.  They need an entire experiential set of lessons that are far removed from daily life.  Race is strictly an optional topic for whites.  Racial privilege is not understood.  

Racism is understood in white community as something that is what one person does to another person.  Since they haven't seen their parents enslave someone, or use the N word, or crack jokes, they assume racism doesn't exist. 

In the white evangelical community this is exacerbated by our understanding of sin in the same way:  we understand sin primarily as something one person does to another (or against God).  We basically ignore the biblical concept that groups of people sin against other groups.  Our individualistic notion of sin makes it all the harder to understand racism as experienced regularly by our non-white brothers and sisters.  

The black (and other "minority") experience is totally unfamiliar to most whites.  We either don't know anyone who personally deals with this regularly, or those we know don't talk about it (often because we don't believe it and are therefore unwilling to really listen).  

As W.E.B. Dubois and others have noted, blacks have almost no need to be educated about the white experience.  But whites know almost nothing of the black experience.  So when coming to the topic of colorblindness I can only ask my black brothers and sisters for patience.  I have to ask my white brothers and sisters to become students.  

For all of us interested in reconciliation be have to apply the wisdom of James in being "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger".  

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What does Purdue, Judson, Southern Indiana and Montana have in common?

We are now just over half way through our Bridge Builders week here at Sunshine.  I have been enjoying one of our larger groups (46 folks) spending time learning, listening, experiencing and serving here in the city.  We have colleges from 3 campuses listed above, plus a church from Montana here.

I've been doing most of the teaching but at the moment had to take a night out with a cold that I'm fighting that has been getting worse all week.  For those of you who read this regularly please pray for the health of the group and of my family.  Between colds going around and days that last sometimes from 7am until 1am, the days get a little long!

I am continually amazed at the way I learn each a week a bit more about God's love and patience for us.  I was reminded today about Romans 2:4 which says that it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Am I a saint or a communist?

When I feed the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why the poor are poor, they call me a communist"

Martyred Nicaraguan church Bishop, Oscar Romero as quoted in "Deep Justice in a Broken World".  p17.