Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Deadly Viper Controversy

In recent days a controversy has arisen around the reckless co-opting of Asian culture within the curriculum, videos and books published by Zondervan publishing house in a series called Deadly Viper.

A guy I consider a friend and mentor by the name of Dr. Soong-Chan Rah has been in contact with the authors of the material as well as the publisher. The event is yet another opportunity to grow as a body. I have written a letter to the authors (posted within the comments of Soong-Chan's blog) and directly to Zondervan. I am positng my letter below.


I am writing to express my concern for the published materials within the Deadly Viper books, videos, website etc..

As an Christian of Caucasian decent, living in an African American context, I have spent the past decade or so trying to navigate the complexities of how we as Christians ought to understand and approach the issues of race and culture. I have listened, reflected, read, learned and taught extensively around these issues during most of these years.

I have learned much about white privilege over these years and have anguished about the way that this is often entrenched within our evangelical institutions. Ours is a faith of great diversity and, in the words on 1 Cor 12, one part of the body must not say to the other: “I have no need of you”. When editorial board, writers, leaders, reviewers, and decision makers within an institution do not accurately reflect the diversity of the church, they not infer their lack of need for others, but they inevitably make bad mistakes, as is clearly the case with the manner in which Asian culture (mixed up, and randomly co-opted) was done in the case of Deadly Viper.

As has been said by everyone in the conversation among the blogs, the content is not the issue. The packaging and offensive use of another culture is.

I will express my concerns along two lines: Incidental and Institutional.

As to the DV incident, I urge you to take seriously the recommendations made to you by our Asian American brothers as reflected in the open letter written to you by Dr. Soong Chan Rah.

As to the Institution: I cannot say strongly enough that institutional changes must be made at Zondervon (as with most of our Evangelical institutions). I have had the opportunity to express my concerns with leadership at a number of Christian colleges and universities, let me share with you my own reflections for change:

  1. Institutional Leadership. The Zondervan leadership, reviewers, editors and others must reflect the broader church (not just your readership).
  2. Institutional Knowledge. You must think about how Zondervan learns as an institution, and communicates that knowledge to all the divisions, partners, staff and other aspects of the organization. Specifically to this point, you must think about how you learn and transmit this information about race and ethnicity (this is different that individual learning). This will require ongoing learning and that ongoing pattern needs to be a part of the fabric of the organization.
  3. A posture of humility and learning. Please, I urge you, that you communicate to the church, readers, Asian American community, authors and others a posture a humility and learning.
  4. Cultural Interpreters. This process of learning about and understanding what has happened with the DV books will require internal and external cultural interpreters. This means that some of your staff will need to be “white people who get it” and others will need to be non-whites who can articulate (as Dr. Rah and others have done) what you need to hear in an ongoing ways. These voices must be invited to the table, with patience, both INSIDE and OUTSIDE the institution. Those inside will often, if not always be more reticent to speak clearly on these topics (its human nature, their ability to feed their families may be on the line). Those outside may sometimes overstate the case because they don’t have “skin in the game”. So this balance of cultural interpreters for you is critical.

I will tell you that if you learn well from this episode, it could be among the most amazing ways in which God is at work through and in you in a long time. Don’t learn from it and it could easily be your undoing. Please. . . Learn well, listen well.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The church caused (and could undo) big government.

This is a developing thought process for me. It does seem inevitable to me that the government will continue to grow. I don't think there is an example of a democracy that has un-done growth. The conservatives say it as "doomsday coming" and proof of societal decline, the liberals as "it ought to be". Here is another take:

The unabated growth of the United States government has corresponded directly to the disengagement from society of the American church. The removal of the active role of the church among the poor, the broken, the illiterate, the oppressed has also paralleled the astronomical increase of wealth among middle class Christians in America. This increase in accumulated personal and institutional wealth, along with the absence of engagement with the poor in our country, has been a critical factor in the growth of the government.

And the only way back, that I can see, from immense and inevitably larger government, is for the Church in America to change. The average Christian tithes about 3%, and has no sense of “cap” on one’s personal wealth or lifestyle. I have only met one Christian who has made it clear that they tithe on all income: capital gains, salaries, even student loans/grants.

Before you assume I am a communist, let me be clear. I believe that limited regulation within free-market economies is the best way for individuals created in the image of God to appropriately live out what they were designed to be. Regulation is always necessary in some forms because of the fallenness of man. Yet all regulation has unintended consequences and always impinges on human freedoms.

But markets allow people to work, and working is clearly the fastest way out of poverty. A massive number of people in so-called 3rd world countries have risen out of the depths of poverty, largely due to a growth in the economies of India and China. People have been put to work productively and poverty has decreased.

Entrepreneurialism, allows individuals to work, freely and creatively. These are each key parts of the imago dei.

I also assume that there are, as the Dutch theologians would like to say, appropriate spheres of sovereignty. . . family, church/local organizations, markets, governments. Each has appropriate roles to play. When one abdicates its appropriate role, we should expect to see others (a) pick it up and (b) not do as good of a job as the appropriate entity/sphere would have done.

“If you talk and act as a Christian should, the world will love you for what you do, and hate you for what your say”. Tim Keller (my paraphrase).

In the early 1900s the conservative, largely white church in America stopped doing what Christians should do. She removed herself from engaging with society and being an active part of addressing issues such as caring for the sick, the illiterate, the destitute, and those experiencing injustice.

During a period known as the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, virtually all of the fundamentalist churches and leaders, the heritage to what is now called the evangelical church, engaged in a theological battle over the meaning of the gospel. Out of a fear in what had become known as the social gospel, the church removed itself from actively engaging with society and took on a separatist, individualistic, and culture-war posture.
The church created her own schools, magazines, radio stations, art (sort of), literature (sort of) and more. She continued to proclaim a gospel of Jesus and Him crucified, (saying the things she should say) but became virtually irrelevant to the larger society in terms of mercy, justice and cultural engagement (thus not doing the things she is called to do).

This removal from society and the active disengagement with those on the margins of society coincided with the years leading up to the great depression, during which the government grew by leaps and bounds. Who would feed the hungry, retrain workers, fill them with dignity and purpose, educate them, speak up for those unjustly kept out of the economy? The answer became the government.

We have continued on this path for a century. The government continues to fill in roles that ought to be cared for, in my estimation, by small local organizations who are able to work with much greater accountability, efficiency, effectiveness, and sustainability.

But, I hear the objections now, “the government is taxing us to death!” “We can’t afford to do this until the government stops competing with the church.” “We can’t stand it when the government wades into issues like unemployment, education, health care and more. Stop the socialism!”

But I am increasingly convinced this is backwards. The church has the moral responsibility, through its manifold small organizational representations, to be the hands and feet of Jesus. To love the unlovable, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, speak up against injustice and of course, preach the gospel. Yet the church has ceded this responsibility away. . . and the federal government will inevitably continue to grow until we “do the things we should do”.

“But we can’t. we don’t have the money” . . . we say. What if every Christian in American gave 20% of our income? What if Christians who are well off capped their net worth at say $2,000,000? What sort of revolution would unfold? We would not only have enough to pay for our (ridiculously) large church buildings, we could fund (Christian) schools that would revolutionize our inner-cities.

We could transform our health care system. We could easily address our homelessness and housing issues. It would allow us to do approach the development of economic systems in urban communities through micro-enterprise, entrepreneurialism, job training and more. All of this would allow us to do it with the kind of close to home accountability, efficiency and effectiveness that cannot be accomplished through large bureaucracies.

I am not suggesting that this would replace the federal government, but I propose that this is what it will take to undo the growth of the federal government in America. I believe that if we did this, that is if we lived sacrificially and loved our neighbor as ourselves, along with proclaiming an unapologetic gospel, we would have immense credibility. In other words we could more effectively “say what we should say while we do what we should do”.

It is our materialism and individualism that has caused the government to grow. Rather than rail against our government, which will inevitably continue to grow unless something radical is done, we would do something radical. Should we wait for the government that most of us don’t trust to somehow do the right thing? No, we should stop it by doing what we ought to do.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

When Helping Hurts, a review

Of the few books I've read recently, one of the most important ones is "When Helping Hurts, How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor . . . and yourself" by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. ref=sib_dp_pt.jpg
Corbett and Fikkert are scholars based at the Chalmers Insitute at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, GA. These guys know their stuff about international economic development and have been at it a while. I was interested to see that the book was published by Moody Press.

The premise of the book is that much of what Christians do in the way of ministry among the poor (they call it poverty alleviation) is actually harmful to both parties (those "reached", those "reaching"). I agree.

As a practitioner myself, and a teacher, this book resonated strongly with me. The challenges that we have in our desire to "serve" others, purportedly under the desire to be like Jesus (who came to serve) is too often done out of an unrecognized desire to keep ourselves in the superior place. The sensibility that develops is a truth that ultimately wounds us: It is better to give than to receive, so we (only) want to give. But we are not Jesus. . . we need to receive too.

Out of this sensibility (appropriately called paternalism by Corbett and Fikkert) we think it's not only best for us always to give/serve, but we think we are the only ones who have something to offer. Acting on this (even when well intended) injures both us by adding to our pride, and others, by affirming them as fundamentally "lacking".

Here are some other highlights for the book:

As westerners we generally understand poverty in material terms. Logically, we then assume that work among the poor is primarily about leveraging resources or skills. Yet they demonstrate that poverty as defined by those in poverty is often primarily understood in fundamentally psychological terms. Terms like "powerless", "shameful", worthless" and others are self-applied.

Poverty must be understood in Creation-Fall-Redemption terms. Poverty is fundamentally the absence of Shalom. Shalom is all about relationships, therefore poverty is fundamentally about the broken relationships (with God, self, others, the creation) and NOT fundamentally about lack of something. Addressing poverty then MUST be part of our understanding of the work of Christ, the gospel, the calling of the church and the Kingdom of God.

All poverty is NOT created equal. Differing levels of distress and poverty require differing levels of response. The 3 levels of response are: relief, rehabilitation, development. Most of the work of the church is in the area of relief, whereas most of the need is for development. As Abraham Kuyper said 100+ years ago, Christians just don't understand economics and so our work and $ is put in the wrong place.

The section detailing a definition of multiple kinds of paternalism was great! It was bold to publish this on Moody Press since MBI is one of the leading senders of missionaries around the world. Yet it is clearly a topic that is important and generally unspoken about (same thing with the STM discussion below).

1/3 of all missionary giving is towards Short Term Missions (STM). Most STMs do more harm than good. I was both challenged and affirmed in reading this (we run a STM program). We have thought very carefully about this and have sought to do things very differently than most STM programs. I was about 90% affirmed in reading this chapter but was still challenged to think about sharpening some aspects of what we do.

My critique of the book is that it is too short and too wide to be a helpful tool practically. The reality is that this is an entry level book that is critical to get people started. I just wish it had more follow up tools.

The section on relief-rehabilitation-development was also so introductory that it lacked any real meat about what each of these three things are. Relief is only appropriate where there is such a crisis that "the bleeding needs to be stopped". I don't know what "bleeding" is in contexts of entrenched poverty. I also came away with NO idea what rehabilitation is in thier model. People around my church aren't getting quality food, are dealing with high rates of violence, are in schools that are a catastrophe. I assume that since it is generational poverty and crime that is at issue that the most appropriate connection is development, yet using this book I didn't know how to actually draw those lines or really define the 3 categories well (especially the first 2).

The connection between Shalom and Poverty was the richest contribution for me personally. I teach on these topics in depth every time we have an STM team here and so think about them alot. Clearly the book is a great help on the whole!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Why we need one more rule.

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, 2 guys from the Chalmers Center at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain GA have really got me thinking.

At Sunshine we have 3 rules for the kids:

Respect God
Respect Others
Respect the Building

We try to keep it simple and build discernment with the kids rather than a long list of do's and dont's. I was listening to Pastor Pete (or is that "The Father"?) explain our rules for Summer Blast (50 kids in the building for summer VBS type programming all summer). The BB students help run the program. . . anyway, he was explaining this and other concepts for our working with the youth and doing a great job talking about how we share the gospel, love the kids, encourage/challenge them in these 3 areas.

The ironic thing was that I had just finished teaching about "Shalom" and on a dry erase board near the sign with the 3 R's listed above, I had written out that Shalom entails 3 things:

Joy in Relationship to:
our Environment.

As I sat back listening to Pete I realized that these rules are anchored in a much deeper set of truths than "tell 'em about Jesus and keep 'em in line". Of course I already knew this but sitting back with fresh review of "Shalom" and then hearing The Father speak, it just clicked: even our rules with our kids are anchored in this pursuit of what we as Image Bearers were designed for, the Shalom of God.

Back to Steve and Brian: I am reading their new book "When Helping Hurts" which is a serious critique and overall very insightful book about "alleviating poverty" aka. ministry among the poor.

They made this connection between what poverty is and what Shalom is that got me thinking. As westerners we tend to define poverty in material and financial terms, whereas most of those who are actually poor tend to define poverty in relational and psychological terms of brokkeness.

"Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings." p15, quoting B Myers.

This is a rich and complicated statement but goes to the heart of alleviating poverty that we all suffer under, just in differing ways. The narrative of scripture is Creation, Fall, Redemption. Everything is broken. . . all relationships. . . for poverty to be addressed and shalom to be attained, we need healing in all areas and to add to our list above. When it says Jesus was about restoring "All things" (Col 1) is is consistent with his announcement of his public ministry that was equally all encompassing (Luke 4).

To consider our "rules" we have to recognized that part of our poverty is about the broken relationship we have with ourselves. We tend either toward "God complexes" (the rich) or toward "shame" (the poor).

So let's add one important aspect of shalom ruling:
Respect yourself (its part of shalom!)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Friday Night Lights. . . do it on the corner!

Pastor Meeks had a prayer ministry some time ago called "Do it on the corner".  At Sunshine we have been motivated to take specific active steps into areas in which violence, commotion and chaos have ruled the day.  

Together, as a part of The Chicago Peace Campaign (look it up on facebook) we are working for peace in our community.  We've integrated this into our normal youth work and Bridge Builders programs, along with just life in community. 

After going to other "Friday Night Lights" events, we launched ours last week.  We take a corner that normally has a lot of unhealthy interaction, sometimes shooting, usually drug dealing, and we set up shop!  BBQ, Bright Lights, Gospel and Holy Hip Hop on the sound system, kids playing. . . all on the corner from 9pm to 1am.  We gather together for prayer on the hour.  

Mrs. Woods, a neighbor who has rarely made it out of the house this year due to health reasons was the first to arrive.  She set up her lawn chair and talked with me about what "usually" happens outside her window.   She was the first to say, "It is time to pray yet?! I'm not missing that prayer out here!".  The kids played. . . . CW got on the mic and  shared the gospel in song. . . the hot dogs and drinks were a hit.  Dozens of people hung out, heard the gospel, laughed together, tossed the frisbee.  

On one night, on one corner, it was peaceful.  We didn't have to confront anyone selling drugs or fend off anyone carrying guns.  We just "showed up, showed out, and shared Jesus".  

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Shalom: a caring, sharing community where there is none to fear.

The words that serve as a title to this post are from Walter Brueggemann, early in his book entitled "Peace".  

It's no small irony that I walked into my home carrying this book tonight.  As I left my car I passed a young african american man who was cutting through the empty lot next to my house.  He walked through the grass, stopped next to the trailer parked in front of the house with the words "Sunshine Gospel Ministries" on it, bent over, placed a metal object on the tire that clanked as it hit the wheel well, and moved on without saying anything to me. 

I knew what it was.  I knew he'd stashed a gun.  

I went in the house, let Jessie, our dog, into the yard, and grabbed a glove.  I recovered the gun and called the cops.  

Soon, another young man (not the first one) came and looked. Seeing me on my porch he said "I just dropped my wallet here. . . .did you see it?"

"No", I said.  Caleb had come out and joined me on the porch.  He saw the gun, retrieved his camera and took a couple photos.  

Shortly later, both the guys came back, looking carefully under the wheel well, this time no without pretense. "Hey, you know what we are looking for. . . let me get my stuff back".   

"look, I'm a pastor"  (the nuance of ministry leader vs. pastor seemed inane to describe at the moment). . . "I can't do it".    "Be safe. . . " they said, and walked away.  

Caleb had gone in the house and come back.  I gave him my phone, told him to call the police again and tell them to get here quickly.  

5 mins later (30 mins gone by from the 911 call, no police) the second guy returned.  

"look, can I talk to you?"  I approached the fence.  

"hey, this is a grown man. . . just like you are a grown man. . . and he needs his gun" #2 says to me.  "well, I'm a pastor" I said, repeating my well intentioned partial obfuscation, "I can't" . 

"there's no need to get the police involved. .. and you don't have to give it to me. .  just put it back where you found it . . . and there doesn't have to be any trouble. . . "

"Look, I am a minister, and there is too much violence out here. .  I just can't. I can tell you about Jesus, but I can't give you the gun back.  The police are on the way."  He tried one more time. .. . "Look, there is no reason for you to remember me or me to remember you.  I just don't want anyone to get hurt. .  just put it back where you found it. . . "

I told him no again and he left.  About 3 or 4 mins later the TAC team arrived (cops in unmarked cars).  The retrieved the 380 out of the flower pot where I had put it.  I'd met these guys before at the site of a shooting a block from here.  "we know you" they told me. . . and then after shining their flashlights on my front door (the 100+ year old glass one) the coughed with some disgust. . . "still haven't changed out that door huh?!"  They took basic descriptions and headed out, the gun in tow.  

I returned to my book. "where there is no one to fear". . . I prayed.  

Our Father, who art in heaven. . . thy kingdom come. . . on earth as it is in heaven. . . where there is no one to fear.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Exploring urban entrepreneurialism

As Christians we must hold to fundamental economic principles.  Work is good, we were made for it.  Freedom is crucial, it allows us our ability to conduct the work we were intended to do.  Creativity is a must. . . it is an essential part of our expression of the "imago Dei" stored within us from the creation.  

As an urban ministry we've begun looking carefully at what it means to support, encourage and teach entrepreneurialism and the creation of free, creative work as an element of what it means to bring renewal. . . shalom. . . well-being. . . redemption. . .  to the urban environment. 

Today I had the privilege of listening in as one of our students, Brittany Fisher, competed in a semi-finals business plan competition.  It was great.  Brittany did a classy job of writing and presenting a plan to start her own resume consulting business.  We were and are really proud of her. 

As an organization we are considering plans for a coffee shop, a T-shirt production company, and 3 other businesses.  So this meant that hearing the plans thought through was actually really encouraging.  I mean, what types of businesses would thrive here?  What sort of work in the city would express freedom and creativity?

We got to hear some other ideas as urban kids expressed their visions for businesses.  One was an online music magazine fusing R&B and Funk.  Another was an organic coffee shop.  Then there was the urban clothing line for pregnant teens. . . and the company that creates organic pouches that fit into "any standard sized bra" for those who prefer not to carry a purse.  

These were some true urban perspectives~!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why we need Caris Pregnancy Centers.

I had a chance to listen to a presentation by the Executive Director of Caris Pregnancy Centers today.  As someone who is strongly pro-life, yet feel like my view of pro-life has widened beyond the normal view held within the evangelical community, I was wondering how I would react.  

My personal tension has been in hearing the discussion about the subject of abortion become one in which a sense of panicked yelling about unborn children is the primary means of communicating about it.  The woman doing the presentation started by saying that our normal discourse in the past few decades has been "if you love the woman your are pro-choice, and if you love the child you are pro-life."  Perhaps an oversimplification yet it did ring true to me.

So she suggested that we start by realizing the God loves them both and so should we.   Our rhetoric, our discourse and our demeanor has often not communicated this in the Christian community public discourse.  (Remember the standard Paul sets up for an elder?  that he is viewed as respectable in the eyes of unbelievers? I think this is an apt comparison for considering how we are viewed as believers on the whole as we interact on this issue.  Does the pregnant teen think we love her, while she is considering ending her pregnancy?)  

She suggested that they worked with about 2500 women last year and 2/3 of them carried their children to term.  There were about 20,000 abortions in cook county last year.    She also indicated that as the economy worsens, abortions tick upward. Their vision is to work with 10,000 women annually by 2011.

Most women who find Caris do so through the internet . . .  people search the internet in response to traumatic news such as unplanned pregnancy.  So normal things like billboards don't really work.  Yet among the highest rates of abortion are lower income communities and they have the least access to technology.  (I suggested they optimize their internet pages for mobile searches).  They indicated they are increasingly counseling via text messages!

Planned parenthood reports that the reasons given for abortion are most often a lack of emotional/social support and lack of practical resources. . . this happens to be exactly what Caris focuses on.  

Their 3 core mission aspects are: Commitment to the woman and her child, Counseling, and Connection to resources.  

One of the most amazing things she said was that virtually every women at some point says "I'd like to keep the child if. . . . ".  that presents great hope for working with women, supporting them and their children. 

Only 1% consider adoption nationally so while we like to talk about that, the reality is that it is almost a non-starter for women considering abortion.  Most women consider abortion in the 8-10 week window, most women opting for adoption don't consider it seriously until the 3rd trimester.  

She framed this as a justice issue which really resonated for me.  Justice for the child, but also for the mother.  I would add that we must frame it as a grace issue.  If we as believers don't love and fully understand the grace of God in our lives we will not be able to tolerate all that it takes to actually love women by providing them the emotional support and practical resources they need.  It is far easier to rant on facebook about our government policies than it is to provide all of the emotional support and practical resources needed to an actual woman and child.

I think we have an interesting crisis of conscience when we agonize over the number of abortions yet have no sense of concern for the mothers.  And that concern means loving sexually promiscuous mothers who are sometimes irresponsible, have other children, have had other abortions and such. In other words grace to the mother is very messy business that I fear we don't want to get caught up with.  

Here is the interesting thing:  the church thinks that Caris needs the churches money to go out and reach out to girls and women of all ages who are in crisis (remember when they were called crisis pregnancy clinics?).  As I listened I couldn't help thinking that it is we the church who need Caris!  We need them to teach us to love the unlovely, the broken and those whose unrighteousness is just like ours. . . except theirs is exposed. (What would I look like if my sin hung on my like a 9 month pregnancy?)

I think we have no business suggesting that we love the child and must speak up on their behalf if we can't love the mother. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Twitter and Facebook

Well I just updated to actually use twitter. . . we will see how that works. . . 

or should I say:  wl c how tht wrks. . . ?

I have to learn this new language.  I also began looking at how we use facebook at an organizational level for both Sunshine and Bridge Builders.  I sense that short (twitterish) messages via facebook will be a good way to connect for missions teams as youth leaders are in that next generational communication trend.  

you can follow me (that sounds weird but maybe that makes me old?!) www.twitter.com/joeladamsh


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Homeschoolers, Hitler and Obama

We are a homeschool family.  We've had at least one of our kids in homeschool for the past decade.  We are not a die-hard homeschool family, but we do see and have experienced the benefits.  We've tried to overcome some of the obvious short-comings and argued with those who sometimes suggest that homeschooler are inherently socially inept, short-changed and culturally unawares.  These criticisms are normally overblown hyperbole from folks who have either been exposed to a few extremists, or are not plugged into the homeschool community and speak from prejudicial ignorance.  

So I've been a homeschool defender, until now.  I'm shaken.  

This week I was at a speech and debate regional tournament in which my wife and I had several experiences listening to a line of reasoning that says we as a nation, having fallen in love with a Hitlerish figure who has no substance but is a seductive soothsayer full of promises of a brighter future and willfully lulled an apathetic nation under his spell.  Just as the apathy of the Germans allowed them to blindly fall in love with and under the spell of a charismatic leader only to suffer the consequences, so too the United states is headed for a genocidal future. 

The assumption here, which is uniquely white, republican (and includes almost all self described evangelicals) is that the election of President Obama signals God's abandonment of our country into moral decline and debauchery.  Of course this was the same thing people felt about the election of JFK and Clinton and in the intervening years Reagan and the Bushes amounted to a reversing of courses.  

There is a clear association for many of my fellow-evangelicals of defacto equality between Christian virtue and Republican ethics. Yet literally 90% of our fellow members of the body of Christ around the world, and a similar % of our non-white brothers and sisters in the US, do NOT see it this way.  They spoke out almost universally against the war against Iraq, they developed deep distrust of our last President and welcomed with tears of Joy the present administration.

So the general view of US evangelicals rejects the outlook of the body of Christ around the world.  Now, within one of the most culturally isolated (yep, I said it) sub-cultures of US evangelicalism a new line of reasoning, a new line of rhetoric, a new line of hysteria, is developing as Obama is directly identified as a 21st century Hitler.  

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I was recently at the National Association of Black Evangelicals annual conference.  Let me just say for the record that these folks did not vote in lock-step for Obama, but these fellow believers would likely consider this race-baiting dialogue that I witnessed as a return to overt, explicit racism.  You can disagree with him but do it in substance on issues rather than in racially based fear-mongering.  To do that is to foment racist overtones to supplement the already ubiquitous "racialization".  

I have personally both admired and been dismayed by our new President.  My goal is is not to argue for his public virtue, but as I said a year ago, the current election cycle and administration is virtually guaranteed to create further, deeper divisions within the body of Christ. . . that for Christians should be a paramount concern.  

My question is:  Is this a homeschool (white-republican-evangelical) phenomena?  Or is this a larger Evangelical theme building upon the "socialist" labels being applied to the administration?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mobile blogging from my blackberry?

Mobile Blogging from the NBEA

I've been blessed to attend the National Conference for the National Black Evangelical Association here in Chicago (Oak Lawn) yesterday and today.  

The conference is the beginning of rejuvenating a movement within the black church. I've been really blown away by the sessions I've attended so far and really blessed to be introduced to some new teachers/thinkers as well as reacquainted with some folks I've already been familiar with.  

Carl Ellis is an amazing thinker and teacher.  He's the author of Free at Last (highly recommended) which helps enormously to understand the story of the descendants of Africans within the US who have trusted Christ.  He taught yesterday through a cultural analysis of the black community and its subcultures as well as the role of the black church in this time period.  (the role of the black church in the Age of Obama). . .  he team taught it with theologian/teacher  Mr. Potter.  Very powerful.  Both of these guys are in the PCA which adds a layer of interest for me!

I was also really blessed by the workshop that Dr. Trulear presented yesterday on prison ministry.  He has worked with the Annie E. Casey foundation to develop a program that includes churches engaging before and after those that have been incarcerated return from prison.  It was a really enlightening thought process in which the church is encouraged to consider this type of ministry beyond what is normally just an evangelistic service.  They've developed a set of materials, available for free, that can empower literally ANY church to be involved in this highly important work.  Click here for information on working with children whose parents are incarcerated as well as a larger prisoner outreach ministry.  well researched, great, great info!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Next Evangelicalism, a review

I have listened to Prof. Soong Chan Rah of North Park College and Seminary for about two years.  He has spoken most often on the topic of this new book, published by IVP.  The first time I got a recording from my young staff, it created a sensation of sorts.  

He had asserted that "If you plan to be a missionary and you enter another culture to carry the gospel but you have not ever had a non-white mentor or spiritual leader you will not be a missionary but rather a colonialist"  (my approximation).  Strong stuff!

This new book builds on themes that are in my estimation undeniable.  First, that the growth within Evangelicalism in the present and future is largely within minority, poor and immigrant communities.  Citing statistics based in the Boston area, I think this assessment has proven to be quite accurate.  

If the overall argument of the book is that (a) the US evang. church is changing demographically and (b) that the leadership and primary influence of the church is held tightly in the grasp of white evangelicals, then I think it is hard to dispute.  Next, Rah critiques the central weaknesses of the cultural realities of a white/western dominated evangelicalism; namely materialism, individualism and racism. Finally, the author asserts that those who make up the future of this church have exceptionally important perspective and value to add but are too often marginalized.  

The central value to this book is in its description of the coming reality of the future of Evangelicalism and the cogent articulation of the unique weaknesses of the church especially as explored through the immigrant/non-white perspective.  These twin ideas that the future of the church is non-white, and from a non-white perspective the evident weaknesses in our church are strategically and relationally insightful.

A perhaps secondary but I think great contribution to literature available to white churches and church leaders is the description of the role of the ethnic minority or immigrant church. Rah's telling of his own story and lacing in the role the church played in his life and that of his friends was captivating.  It's almost like I knew my brothers in the Korean church played a unique role within US society but I couldn't tell the story (of course!).  This is just a beautiful chapter and made me want to more closely identify with the role of the outsider to US culture that our immigrant believer brothers and sisters play.  

As someone that lives as a minority in my community and church, this really resonated with me.  For about 10 years I was in a denomination that had a huge Korean presence (PCA).  My current reality has changed the way I reflect on the reality of my former denomination.  I hope my brothers in the white church that seem to "humor" the Korean presbyterians will read this and gain a new admiration for our korean brothers!  

The weakness in the book, in my mind is the too often repeated phrase "white western captivity of the evangelical church".   As I read the book I realized that Rah regards himself in the role of a prophet rather that "bridge builder" per se.  In other words he's not concerned with those who may be offended.  That's what prophets do.  The downside to prophets, however, is that they don't make very good teachers, which is where I think Rah is actually strongest.  I think he wants to be both but can that work?  Will he actually persuade someone who doesn't basically agree with him already?  I'm not sure.  

One last point:  Rah partially unfolded an expansion of his thinking (which builds on the work of Walter Bruggeman in Peace) about the differing perspectives on the culture of "suffering" vs. the culture of "celebration".  This too needed further development. .  needs. . . I should say.  I hope he writes more about it in the future.  

All in all, a strongly recommended book. . .  but with my own bent toward bridge building vs. prophesying  I would just caution the reader, don't let the use of the phrase "white western captivity" distract you from hearing the substance behind the provocative wording. 

Who is Joel Hamernick?

I had the privilege of sharing my story at a downtown men's bible study recently.  If you've wondered how a suburban white kid ended up serving Christ and living in the city. . . here it is:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Getting the Blues

The experience of Adam:

"cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life. . . 
by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, 
till you return to the ground. . . "

The experience of John Milton as expressed in Paradise Lost:

"O miserable of happy! Is this the end 
Of this new glorious world, and me so late
The glory of the glory, who now, become 
Accursed of blessed.

What Can I increase, 
Or multiply but curses on my head?"

The experience of Muddy Waters: 

"Well if I feel like tomorrow, like I feel today
I'm gonna pack my suitcase, and make my getaway.
I be troubled, I'm all worried in mind, 
And I never be satisfied, And I just can't keep from cryin'."

"[The]Exile [we find in scripture] points us to our lostness, wandering. . .  We want to rush on in the biblical story. We want to rush on in our lives.  We want Easter Sunday, when the sun rises and the morning returns the light.  The blues makes us wait in darkness."

Adapted from Stephen Nichols "Getting the Blues, what blues music teaches us about suffering and salvation" Brazos Press, 2008.  

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Guitar Hero

I have a new guitar hero. I've been reading Stephen Nichols book called "Getting the Blues; what blues music teaches us about suffering and salvation".  

There are several very compelling themes that he unfolds but among the best is a short discussion about a song Blind Gary Davis sings called "Crucifixion".  If you have a rhapsody account you can find it and listen to the song.  

I started there and couldn't help but listen to a series of songs and just come away with this sense that (a) this man loves the salvation the Christ brings from the brokenness of this world and (b) man this brother can play a guitar the way its supposed to be played!

I can't seem to post any of the you tube videos at the moment but search for blind gary davis and you'll find some cools stuff (unfortunately youtube doesn't seem to have crucifixion).

Great Songs:  Death don't have no mercy; Trying to get home; I belong to the band

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What I'm really reading. . .

It's been so long since I updated my reading list that I can't remember how to do it!!

So I guess I'll delete it and start over.  I find that so often I get only part way through books and that so many of them are on my shelf unfinished.  I have to read based on my mood.  When I'm tired I find I can only read history.  I've been tired a lot lately.  

So the Sweet Land of Liberty, a history of civil rights in the north; The Forgotten Many, a re-reading of the depression and FDR New Deal era; and Pillar of Fire by Taylor Branch (2nd of 3 part trilogy about America in the King years).  I usually get about 20 pages read in a sitting.  

Then when I'm feeling reflective I continue to wrestle with tougher short theologies such  as Bruggeman's Prophetic Imagination and Wolterstorff's Until Justice and Peace Embrace. 

I've also gotten through Reconciling All Things (Rice and Katongole) which was really helpful discussion and purchased another book in the series called Living Gently in a Violent World by Hauerwas and Vanier.  Also started but haven't gotten too far in Race, a Theological Account (J. Kameron Carter) which will clearly be the most difficult book I read this year.  

Lastly I am reading a small book from the Acton institute on Justice and a great little book by Stephen Nicols called "Getting the Blues".   Wonderful stuff.  hope I can finish them all in the next couple of months!! 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

End of a great Bridge Builders week

After my rant last  month about short term missions (STM) not always being a good thing. . . I need to share about our projects and approach this past week.  

First let me say that probably all STM projects have some really cool, redeeming aspects and that ours clearly is not perfect.  But I will say we have gone out of our way to work really hard to make it biblically based, wise, effective and community oriented. 

We hosted about 80 folks from 5 different schools:

Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids MI
Judson University, Elgin, IL

Furman, Greenville, SC
Kennesaw State University,  Atlanta, GA 
Emory University, Atlanta, GA 

The 3 southern schools came as a part of Reformed University Fellowship groups. . . 

Here is what we did:

We spent nearly 20 hours in large and small group settings learning, talking, praying, thinking about themes related to our community. The history of the community.  The cycle of poverty. Issues surrounding race and ethnicity.  Understanding causes of and responses to the poor.  

We spent a similar amount of time in various work projects.  We built a fence (and rebuilt it as the neighbor kids tore some of the posts out the first night!) We hired a local artist to create 3 mural designs and the students did the painting.  We nearly finished one, and got started on a second.  They are awesome,  beautiful, community affirming projects that will be mounted very publicly in our community.   We made significant efforts to support Christ Bible Church in repairs in the food pantry, cleaning in the church and other things that the church helped identify as needed projects. 

We continued work on a community mapping project in which we are using google maps to document the foreclosed buildings in our area. . . something that will allows us to work with local neighbors to stay on top of the huge numbers of buildings that are threatening the stability of various blocks.  We started an ebay store! 

We sent the students into different parts of the city, connecting with about a dozen different ways God is at work in the city.  In short we cast vision for what it means to effectively understand, love and join God at work in the communities of the city. 

Praise God for a great week.  Thanks ya'll!!!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Short Term Missions: A waste?

Ok, I'm going on the record, most short term missions trips are a waste.  

I am tiring of explaining to short term missions agencies and groups that when they say "we want to serve you" what they mean is "we are coming on our terms, our time schedule, our choice of age (often too young) and spiritual maturity (never a consideration -- evidently ministry in our community is viewed as something anyone can do. . . ).  I have spoken to at least one group each week over the past 2 months that want to come and "serve".  They have money, they have people, they have time. .  .  but they haven't a clue about how they come off or about our community. 

The average group wants to come and save our neighborhood (they say "serve" but I know better). Yet, they have no intention of long term relationship.  They have no cultural understanding of the community.  At the first sign of trouble they run out of patience because ministry here isn't "efficient".  Meanwhile at home their church is vigorously praying for their safety (and NOT for the community they are coming to save, evidenced by the fact that as soon as the students leave, the prayers and concern stop).  They appear to think they are better than the residents of our community.  They give the impression they think Jesus shows up with them and leaves with them. 

They think they are needed to give and have no clue how to receive, nor that they need anything from Christians in our community.   They seem to have no clue how much work it is on our end to host them.  

Think about this reverse portrait:  how about your group stays home and sends us the money you were going to spend coming here?  We'll pack up a van and show up with our kids and serve you!  We'll run a program for the kids in your church and tell them about Jesus and assume that they've never heard about him before.  We'll just ask that you let us go around your neighborhood drawing kids from random homes, we'll use the name of your church to get kids to come out.  We will use cultural expressions of music, language, communications style, social mores and others that are from our neighborhood -- making the assumption that to be effective we'll just do what is natural in our neighborhood.  And if you have time to tell us a little bit about the people who live in your community before we serve them, that would be great, but we don't really need to know. .  we'll just work off of our (mostly negative, patronizing) assumptions.  

The amazing thing to me is this:  virtually every missionary I have ever spoken to who is honest about short termers feels this way, but for fear of alienating home churches they don't say it out loud.  

Another element of the scandal:  many short term missions groups MAKE TONS of MONEY off the groups and don't give that money to the communities they are serving!  It's gross.  

So can short term missions be effective?  Yes.  First, find a permanent fixture ministry in a specific community and get to know them.  Second ask them if they have the time/capacity to teach you about the community.  Third, listen a lot (including reading books, watching movies, eating the food, listening to the music).  Fourth, through #3, learn!  Fifth, fall in love with the community.  Six, enter into along term relationship with the community THROUGH the permanent fixture ministry.  

Ask them HOW you can serve and WHEN they could use you.  And be patient, if they are any good at what they do it will be difficult for them to get you involved!!   Only a process like this will work out a way of being effective in service.  It is way too easy to serve badly, self-righteously, ignorantly.  Those who remain in the community need you, but you need them too -- especially to minister effectively.  

I know this probably sounds a bit tough, but as my pastors says, "It's tight, but its right!"

Retaining "Minority" Students

Each year as I speak at colleges (usually white evangelical institutions) about things related to urban ministry, the topic of racial diversity, or the lack of it, comes up.  

Occasionally -- often in fact -- school administrators tell me how hard they are trying to recruit and retain students.  Usually this means that a couple of people on the staff with a passion for it, sometimes under the direction of a school president who shares this passion, are working with recruitment and student retention.  

The numbers are staggering about how few minority students make it through.  The Urban Educational Institute says that only 2.5% of Hispanic and African American boys in Chicago will complete a 4 year college degree by the age of 25.  When you consider that this includes a VAST majority of such graduates making it through state schools and HBCUs, private evangelical institutions are failing abysmally at successfully providing education to about 25% of our country - most of whom come from higher than national average religiously committed communities.  

These schools are often in close proximity to an urban area that has much higher percentage of Hispanic and Black residents. Yet they are very white institutions graduating even whiter graduating classes. 

Next week I will be speaking with a faculty group about this issue.  Because it has funding implications for these schools it is a high priority.  I'll share some thoughts and invite your comments.

At the heart of the issue are a series of things all of which come back to what the institution understands and values.  

  1. Culture-blindness.  The institutions neither understand, nor value Black or Hispanic culture.  They might even dress up some of the worship or school's art exhibits but beyond this they rarely go out of the way to learn, value, appreciate or celebrate the culture.  Students often feel not just "not valued" but often devalued.  The institutions often think they are culture or color neutral, which demonstrate the collective blindness and lack of understanding. 
  2. Sense of Safety.  In my experience when one crosses cultural boundaries it leads to feeling unsafe until one begins to understand the culture -- truly speak the language so to speak -- or perhaps when a truly trustworthy person acts as an ambassador in a highly personal way.  "Where should we go on vacation?" for a white family is a very different question for that of a black family.  Whites, as the dominant culture assume the whole country is fair game, safe, approachable. .  . except for urban neighborhoods possibly.  But students from minority communities are likely to feel unsafe in a cornfield, where many of these institutions exist.  The cornfield example is just one of many I could highlight. . . but this gets back to the lack of understanding that most white institutions exhibit.  Good intentions don't overcome this.  Inside the institution there are many, many other things that are prone to create a lack of sense of safety, a discomfort, a distrust.  This discomfort or fear makes staying focused on school a huge challenge. How long would you stay in a place where you fear you will be treated unfairly, you feel discomfort, or sense there are lots of unwritten rules no one is sharing with you?
  3. The lack of cultural interpreters.  These institutions usually have precious few people who are around (classrooms, athletic fields, lunch rooms, hallways, dorms, etc..) who can help Black/Hispanic students understand, laugh about, negotiate, and express healthy anger about the context they find themselves in.    This has to do with economics as much as race.  The cultural jump from a low income household to a middle class or upper middle class school environment is as tough as the racial span. 
  4. Lack of retention of minority faculty.  
  5. Lack of minority leadership.
  6. Lack of sacrificing sacred cows. 
  7. The donor base. 
  8. Racial and Cultural isolation of faculty.
  9. Theological and Sociological arrogance. 
I would love to ask those of you who have braved this territory a few questions:

1.   If you as a minority made it through, what was the thing that helped you most? 
2. If you didn't, what was the biggest factor(s)?
3. What is the thing you find most troublesome about your experience?
4.  Want to share a crazy story?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Love for corrupt politicians?

I sat in a Starbucks yesterday working on our budget. . . . way too many numbers on a computer screen makes my head spin. 

Next to me sat George W.  (not bush!).  George is a man about 70 I would guess.  We struck up a conversation and I found out that he is a working man, now retired.  Maintenance mostly which I took to mean cleaning with small repairs now and again.  George was dressed respectfully in the way you can with clothes closet charm.  the suit coat and slacks don't quite match, both a dark green and nice material but not often washed and not quite the same. 

The white cotton dress shirt was likely a size or 3 too big, as the sleeves hung out from the coat, but that made room for the 2 layers of white long-johns underneath for warmth.  This was a man of respect and simple means and probably a great backstory. 

As we spoke he shared that he was behind in the rent and looking for odd jobs to try to make it right.  His landlord has taken him to court twice and hit him with the court costs, but the landlord hasn't shown up.  So he still has his place but went from being behind by $400 to now $800 with court costs.  

his rent is $605.  his income is $635 per month.

As we spoke George pulled a bus card from his wallet and told me how the card gave him free access to public transportation.  This was a blessing because he has had cancer a few years ago and while it is in remission, he had gone 2 years without a doctors visit -- because he never had money to ride the bus and get around town for appointments, check-ups, medication and other things.  Rod Blagojevich, who negotiated free public transportation fare for all seniors in IL, is his hero.  probably saved his life literally.  

As we spoke I remembered that my wife reminded me that our kids have health care only because Blagojevich used an executive order to provide the medical care program for children in IL that we are under.  That's why she voted for him last time.  I did too come to think of it.  

So while the whole world is casting aspersions (and rightly so) we should remember that like all of us, Rod Blago is not all bad. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

local history: 3 black US Senators

Since Reconstruction there have only been 4 black senators elected to the US senate.  

3 of the 4 live within about a mile and a half of our home.  I've met our
 current senator (Burris) and think highly of him and his wife, who taught in the Moody Grad School for
 several years. 

Obama's live (or did until this week!) at 51st
 and Greenwood (you can google map their address and see the big brick home!) and I've run into Carol Moseley Braun at the Valois cafe.  

Wild stuff!

More Trouble with "Success"

I sat quietly as a well intentioned student dutifully read aloud my bio to a roomful of listeners, ready for my workshop.  It spoke about my position, work experience and even a bit about my interests and family.  

Earlier in the day I had listened as the bio of another speaker (a really good one too!) was carefully reviewed. . . all the great things he's done for God.  

Call me cynical. . . but I just keep retreating, shrinking, pulling back internally from "great things" done for God.  I was physically ill late last year upon visiting a new church and freshly remodeled portion of an evangelical school. . . clearly millions upon millions had been spent in both cases.  A close friend recently recounted for me how "X" dollars would be spent by his church in a missions project of great efficiency and great effect.  the kind of thing where if you spend these dollars a clear prediction of how many churches will be established can be certain.  

This is exactly the kind of "winning" presentation that I am urged, pushed, influenced, and encouraged to use to portray our work at Sunshine. . . but I just don't buy it.   Don't get me wrong, we are working on our marketing and I know its important.  I just don't know if the "image" is true.  At the very least its an incomplete picture and in that sense, its not true.  

What kind of person or church always grows, always wins, always triumphs, always experiences efficiency and decorum, always impresses, always reflects strengths? No true church or person does.  So if that's all that is presented. . . if that is what is put forward as "success". . . our honesty, and integrity, and understanding are in jeopardy. 

Yet the true church perseveres through adversity, the true Christian loves without concern for accomplishment, fame, reciprocation or adulation.  The true Christian fails, even in this unrequited love of neighbor.  

I don't think God's work is efficient.  I don't think it is predictable in a scientific, expedient, rational way.  There are few Christian leaders I've known who lead out of weakness and suffering, and what Paul calls his resume of garbage.  

How do we want to be introduced?  Whose list of deeds do we want read aloud on our account? 
How's this:  imperfect dad, faulty husband, inefficient minister, lowly neighbor, slow learner, one growing only by God's grace, doing small things for a Great God.  Hungry for another round of communion. . . one of sovereignly propped up faith.