Questions, cause I’ve been thinking

I have a lot of questions right now because I’ve been  thinking.  And when I start thinking I find I end up with more questions.

diversity @ church.

One of my favorite writers, Philip Yancey, recently scoured his hometown churches to see what he might find.   His comment about diversity in a church stood out to me.

As I read accounts of the New Testament church, no characteristic stands out more sharply than this one. Beginning with Pentecost, the Christian church dismantled the barriers of gender, race, and social class that had marked Jewish congregations. Paul, who as a rabbi had given thanks daily that he was not born a woman, slave, or Gentile, marveled over the radical change: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Huh, diversity is Biblical.  ‘Nuf said.

MLK day was it ignored or forgotten? does it matter which.

Can I just say I love my church.  I have never grown in my spiritual life the way I have at this church.  It is amazing.

That said, yesterday I realized a stunning thing.   I attend one of those “mainly white mega-churches that don’t mention commemorating Martin Luther King Day.”   That made me sad.  They likely bumped it because of praying for Haiti and there are many challenges managing program time.  Still, I think it is important for a church to communicate from the platform that remembering and celebrating with our friends of color is significant to us all and valuable.   It’s a national holiday?  How are people going to spend it? Just made me wonder.

I’ve been writing on multi-ethnicity.

A friend asked me to reflect on Ecclesiastes 4:1-3, after reading these thoughts I wrote about my experience of going to a white church and my question of whether I should consider attending a multi-ethnic or even Black church.

Again, I observed all the oppression that takes place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. ‘The oppressors have great power, and their victims are helpless.  So I concluded that the dead are better off than the living.  But most fortunate of all are those who are not yet born. For they have not seen all the evil that is done under the sun.  (New Living Translation)

From my post:

To live our lives based on that simple truth means our lives are built on self-sacrifice.  Every time we respond in love to someone else, we are laying down our lives for them.  “This is my commandment,that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.” Strange how Jesus did not say to us, “these are my commandments.”  He said is as if it were one commandment.

To believe and love is one idea.

Believing in Christ means that we love one another.  Looking at it that way, there is a lot that I can do as a person with my affluence & power &  a voice for the cause of reconciliation in my city.  Things that have nothing to do with where I worship on Sunday.

What my friend Jimmy was gently saying (I think) is that people are living with oppression in our nation my city, in my kid’s schools.  And no one white people don’t seem to genuinely offer care and comfort.

I will do further study on the word: COMFORT.  And that will sooth my intellect.  But can I DO something.  What can I do?

That takes me back to my Advent Lament and prayer. Oh God, Tell me what you want me to do.

And from someone I am coming to read often, a cautionary quote to white people.

I can only speak anecdotally on this, but there seems to be a growing movement of white people—including Christians—who feel so victimized by political correctness (and how it’s robbing them of their rights) that they’ve hardened their hearts to any suggestion that racial injustice is a factor in our society today. And they’ve become cold to how their privileged words and actions might affect others. That defensive mindset and callousness could be the biggest obstacles to true reconciliation in our churches and nation. Ed Gilbreath, emphasis mine.

I believe God speaks and it is not random.

I believe that God challenges and moves people from within by breaking our hearts over injustice around us.  He is not random about this.  He leads us toward things.  And away from things.  Problematically I have been told  and I can affirm that I have the gift of mercy.   I pop open my laptop and the needs and issues all over the world, and in my community, flood toward me and it all hurts.   If I open myself up to it it’s crushing.  It makes me sad, and mad, and sometimes depressed.  Hopeless and sometimes despondent.  And I slam my laptop shut, but that’s just an excuse for doing nothing.

I challenge  myself to pray every day asking God to tell me how to respond to the OPPRESSED in my life and community.  Who are they?  How can I comfort?  Help me to know what it means to comfort the oppressed?

This means that I cannot be free until all men are free. And if in some distant future I am no longer oppressed because of blackness, then I must take upon myself whatever form of human oppression exists in the society, affirming my identity with the victims. The identity must be made with the victims not because of sympathy, but because my own humanity is involved in my brother’s degradation.  The Christian Century (15 September 1971)

what should I do with myself?

I continue to pray that I would know what God wants me to do with my time, work, contribution, opinions (*smirk*), and talents.

I’m still mulling on a conversation I had with one of my girlfriends (Someone I would trust with my life.)  We discussed what I am doing now.  I found myself saying this,

“I need a job.  I’m feeling like a kept woman.”

Why she asked? Laughing at me, if can you believe it.

“I need to make a contribution. I feel guilty that I don’t have a ‘job.’ The feminist in me is screaming that I should be carrying my weight… I was never going to be a stay-at-home mom..  And look at me, my kids are in elementary school.”

After leaving full-time work in 2001, I had no idea as it was happening that was beginning a long journey of “recovery” from being totally addicted to work — the rush, the sense of purpose, the affirmation (Oh, how I miss the affirmation!)  I came out of that detox a better person.  A stronger person.  Much better understanding that I am not what I do.  And I’m glad (mostly) that I have been able to be at home with my children for the last eight or is it nine years.  I feel okay about it, some days even good.  I can see every day why I am home when it comes to my kids.  Jacob’s need for an advocate for his learning disabilities is just one example.  On one level, I think I started Imagine Photography to dispel that feeling of being ‘a kept woman.’  Bring in a little income myself, but still have the at-home life.  But I haven’t taken off with that even though with my marketing background I know how to promote myself.  Something has held me back.

But I digress.

What Carol did was confront those ideas head on (yes, the voices in my head) that say I should be ‘making money.’  It freed me to consider any job or volunteer situation because  I was thinking about it only in terms of money not in terms of values and interests and calling and heart’s desires.

I just feel freed.  It was inconceivable to me at first that someone who manages to work and be a mom (my friend who I really respect and need) would not look down on me for not working.  She actually said, you do work.  Every day.  Well, we don’t need to have a debate about what I do all day and whether it’s work.  Her blessing (not that she represents all women) and her opinion is one of the more important to me.

But now,  I can pray and wait.  Listen.  Try things.  Explore.  I can give of myself without thinking about “earnings.”

Haiti

When it comes to Haiti I have more questions than answers.  This poem is a part of that conundrum.  Also, a post.

This week’s message @ church

I wanted to respond to the message this Sunday at my church.  But I don’t have the time or energy today.  But something new I am going to add to this blog, is a personal reflection on the talk.  I think it will force me to take it to the next level of integration into my life.

Be well.

Race, ethnicity & culture

UPDATE:  Zondervan has pulled all the material from their shelves and has an official apology here.  I am surprised and in awe of their willingness to do this.

 

I will be the first to admit that I know so very little about race and ethnicity.  And being white, I think my admitting that point right away is the most important way to start (more important than saying what  little I may know.)

My parents (Dan & Shelby Harrison of Wycliffe & InterVarsity) genuinely loved many people from varied cultures and who were in our home some as friends and others as honored guests from all over the world.  I have shared meals with everyone from Chinese international students to high level Russian educators and everyone in between.  I enjoyed listening to their stories and sharing in laughter and good food.  It was an extremely good way to grow up.  It taught me culture is more than simply to food and conversation.

Sometimes I wonder if I truly learned something meaningful from those people and their life experiences.

I have always felt comfortable within other cultures, but  have never felt a part of them.  My dad always said we (Harrison Family) were Heinz 57 or mutts; not really from anywhere.  Now I’m labeled Caucasian and I have no ‘culture’ to speak of, except for the mix of traditions that my parents brought to our family.  My mother is Texan.  My father culturally Chinese.  (Yes, stories for another day.)  In third grade my best friend was Sarah Wakabayashi.  And over the years, with a few exceptions, my friends were diverse.  Because of my experiences as a missionary kid, even though my skin was white, I have always gravitated toward minority culture kids and I found these friends were more accepting.  Majority culture kids just wanted me to become homogenized.

Today, my best friends here in Madison are a first generation Japanese woman and a Malaysian/Scottish woman.  My dearest lifetime, soul mate and friend is African-American and Japanese.  I feel understood by them, accepted.  But sometimes I think about and wonder why I don’t know more about their experiences of race and racism. We have had some conversations but they were hard to say the least.

This week I followed a conversation over the web between some leaders of the Asian American Christian community and the authors of  Deadly Viper published by Zondervan.  [Deadly Viper is leadership book whose art and concepts use Kung fu and Asian-looking graphics, but the book wasn’t written by Asians nor is it about anything Asian.]  I have no way of knowing if I would have been offended by this book seeing it on the shelf without this context, because my first exposure was through the lens of Asians.  But just looking at it from a marketing perspective (which I know something about because of my job with Urbana & InterVarsity) it used Asian stereotypes and it was just plain stupid sounding. (Seriously, sometimes I wonder about the artists at these conservative Christian organizations.  They need a crash course in cultural sensitivity.)  But as I read (as a voyeur that the web strangely allows for) I realized how offensive it would be, & painful, for Asians, as they saw their culture caricatured and used to sell a book.

Some of their leaders called the issue to light including Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, who was one of the first and has received the most flack.  I was especially moved by Prof. Rah’s personal reflections and impressed by the good and gracious hearts of the Asian leaders.  Sadly, until organizations reflect the diversity of the kingdom of God, these blunders will continue. (more later).  “From a distance [it was] a great statement of how we can move positively in the direction of “authentic” reconciliation and journey towards multi-ethnicity.” (a friend Jimmy McGee on Facebook responding to Dr. Rah.)  I’d urge those of you who want to learn more about this, to read Dr. Rah’s blog, which seems to be a place where he helps people like me understand things from an Asian perpective.

All of this has gotten me thinking.

It got me thinking about my friendships over the years.

How well have I listened?  Have I asked the right questions? Or have I been so afraid of offending  and so fearful that I don’t know how to ask.  I am fearful of hurting my friends have I therefore committed the sin of omission?  I do know that acting casual about race wasn’t better than always talking about our differences.  It’s certainly easier (for me) but no, I do not think it is ever better.  I need to do more.

It got me reading.

There are billions of blogs (http://www.racialicious.com/ is a great one) out there where folk talk about their experiences of racism and being from a minority culture.  They are trying to help us majority folk to understand.  It’s out there.  I spent a few hours on Friday night, just following links.  I will post some of that in the future.

It got me feeling.

My sister Paula has written a book on being white in a multi-ethnic world and I haven’t read it.  I’m sorry Paula but it’s now on my bedstand!  See below for a description of the book.  And I personally own many books which speak to the topic, after working at IV.  I should read them.  Two that jumped from the shelf: Living in Color by Randy Woodley and A Beginner’s Guide to Crossing Cultures: making friends in a multi-cultural world, Patty Lane.  I have dozens more.  [guilt]  I guess I’ve always thought that having friends was good (enough.)

It got me listening.

It is important to listen to the painful experiences of minority culture folk, especially in this instance the Asian, and remembering some of the mistakes I made with Urbana communications trying to speak to many different audiences.

I feel profound sadness for the courage of these beautiful people and I don’t even know them.  I’d like to figure out how to ask my own friends about their experiences of race and racism, because I love them and I should know.

It got me remembering.

Nine years ago I wanted (and felt called in many ways) to attend a multi-racial church here in Madison.  It was hard to find one!  How difficult it was to find what “fit” our family.  Mostly my discomfort was my culture rubbing up against others’ and knowing I wasn’t ready to change.

[The only multi-racial church in Madison that I was aware of was Fountain of Life and for me it was very African-American and pentecostal and not as multi-cultural.  (Nothing being bad about African-American or pentecostal, just very different from my life experience.) It was so different from what we were used to, that my family wasn’t ready to sacrifice what was comfortable and known.]

I compromised, on both multi-ethnicity and the issue of women, by attending the church that I do.  I still need to think about this some more but it is a sad and startling realization.

And as for what happened with Zondervan Publishing (a major Christian publisher) .

Well, when will organizations learn that we offend by our ignorance. And we re-offend by our pride and unwillingness to change or admit our ignorance. We must be willing to say “I don’t know” and “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry.”  And even then, our dear friends are so gracious and so tired of saying ‘it’s okay.”  Because it is not okay.

And we can’t stop there.  I can’t stop here.  One week of being worked up about pain caused by whites is not going to change anything.  The Church needs to figure this out.  There’s too much pain here.  It was almost physical for me as I read these comments from dear, dear people.  My friend Noriko says I have a deeply compassionate heart.  She is so good at reminding your of the good qualities.  It’s a double sided blessing Noriko.

My heart is breaking.  The wrong people are at the tables of power. The wrong people are in charge.  What can be done?

I have to leave it here for today.  Dinner to cook.  Homework to supervise.  But before I go, if you are white and just beginning to think about what it means to be white, please read about Paula’s book below.

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Have you ever thought about what it means to be white?  For me, I am often ashamed of being white.  Or to a lesser degree, I never know what to bring to school for the International Potluck, where you’re supposed to represent your culture.  Well, my own sister has written a book on the topic and below is a description.  — Melody

Are you white? Do you know what this means? Are you aware of racial inequality but have wondered, So what do I do?. Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp present a Christian model of what it means to be white, wrestling with issues of history, power, identity, culture, reconciliation, relationship and community

Being White, by Paula Harris & Doug Schaupp, InterVarsity Press.

What does it mean to be white?

When you encounter people from other races or ethnicities, you may become suddenly aware that being white means something. Those from other backgrounds may respond to you differently or suspiciously. You may feel ambivalence about your identity as a white person. Or you may feel frustrated when a friend of another ethnicity shakes his head and says, “You just don’t get it because you’re white.

  • How can you overcome the mistakes of the past?
  • How can you build authentic relationships with people from other races and ethnicities?

Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp present a Christian model of what it means to be white. They wrestle through the history of how those in the majority have oppressed minority cultures, but they also show that whites also have a cultural and ethnic identity with its own distinctive traits and contributions. They demonstrate that white people have a key role to play in the work of racial reconciliation and the forging of a more just society.

Filled with real-life stories, life-transforming insights and practical guidance, this book is for you if you are aware of racial inequality but have wondered, So what do I do? Discover here a vision for just communities where whites can partner with and empower those of other ethnicities.