When you pray, move your feet

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John Lewis marching in Selma prior to being attacked by state troopers

They say it’s an African proverb (who knows if it actually is):

When you pray, move your feet.

The reason I know this phrase is not because I grew up in South Africa, but because it is a favorite saying of John Lewis, one of the key leaders of the USA Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Lewis was responsible for helping to lead a lot of the grassroots college protests in the 60’s– the Freedom Rides, lunch-counter sit-ins, and also led the famous march in Selma for voting rights.

In other news, we just finished a small group study of the book Generous Justice with some people from our church. The book systematically goes through the Bible and shows how justice is central to God’s character, and to the way he expects his people to live. One of the most interesting things Keller brings up is the term righteousness in the Bible doesn’t mainly refer to private personal morality, but rather refers to the individual’s role in bringing social justice. Throughout scripture (but especially in the book of Job), we see the definition of an unrighteous person is one who advantages himself at the expense of the community, while the righteous man disadvantages himself for the sake of his neighbour. Whether that is clothes, food, legal counsel, or paying a fair wage–righteous people actively seek justice for their neighbours, even at cost to themselves.

I’ve been thinking about prayer, and justice, and what it means to pray while moving your feet this week, because South Africa just had possibly its largest ever prayer meeting. Thousands of people gathered to pray for our country, and for just leadership in our nation. I believe the work of justice is spiritual work, and so I was encouraged to see so many people willing to travel for hours in order to pray for just leadership. Continue reading

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I get it. So now what?

so-now

Some people read my first post and were confused or hurt. I tried to address that in this post. Others of you read it and were like- “Yeah, I get this! But what can I do about it?”

I’ve tried to gather together some resources and some things I’ve learned about racial reconciliation into one post. This is especially targeted at white people. Most of these are things I’ve learned from other smarter, more seasoned people of color. Hopefully you’ll click on links and read their words yourself! 🙂 And please share ideas below of things you are doing (or wish could be done!)

Continue reading

On having conversations when you disagree

You may remember the giant Chick-Fil-A “buy-cott” that happened back in uh, I guess 2013.

Or, you may be confused about what a buy-cott even is. A buy-cott happens when some group says they’re going to boycott something. Then all the people who support that thing come together and buy that thing to try and cancel out the boycott.

This is what happened with Chick-Fil-A, (a chicken sandwich chain, for you South Africans). Depending on who your friends group is on Facebook, you probably either saw everyone saying, “Don’t buy Chick-Fil-A!!!” or “Everyone go buy Chick-Fil-A!!”

And what was the cause of this hoopla? The owner of Chick-Fil-A had made a statement that he wasn’t in support of gay marriage, and had also funded organizations that were attempting to stop the Supreme Court ruling for legalizing gay marriage. So LGBT activists called a boycott, and Christians responded with a buycott. Continue reading

On the danger of standing ovations

<< If you haven’t read Go Set A Watchman this post is full of spoilers.>>

My introduction to To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee was sitting in a hot tenth-grade English class, in South Africa, while deep South dialect was read slowly, out loud, in English-South-African accents. We were doing The Cambridge System, which, if anything, is thorough. That means that instead of reading five books on your own and talking about the big ideas all together, you read one book, out loud, in class, and pick it apart line by line. I digress. Continue reading

Listening. Really, really listening.

The historic AME Church in Charleston where the shooting took place, (courtesy of CNN.com)

The historic AME Church in Charleston where the shooting took place, (courtesy of CNN.com)

I had an English teacher in high school who made us do listening exercises and not just speeches in English class. “We’re training kids to talk,” he would say, “and there’s too many people talking in the world, and very few people who are trained how to listen.”

I’ve heard that in the Isreali-Palestine negotiations, before anyone actually comes together to sit down at the table, the negotiating team first has to so thoroughly understand their opponent’s position that they’d be able to convincingly present their case. “We can only start talking once we really understand each other,” they say.

And so this is what I’m asking my white friends, especially my white friends who follow Jesus. I’m asking that we listen.

When headlines happen that involve the deaths of black Americans, before we speak (or before we don’t speak) can we listen to what our black friends are saying? Can we first see what this means to the black community? Followers of Jesus are encouraged to put into practice Paul’s words, “Do good to everyone, especially those who are your brothers in Christ.” When a black man dies, and it’s splashed all over the news, can we listen to what our black brothers in Christ are saying about it, and let that be the lens through which we view the situation, before we add on our political interpretations and agendas? (Check out rapper Lecrae’s op-ed on perspective here).

When a  white guy kills a bunch of black people at a historically black church, can we listen to the meaning that our black pastors are ascribing to this event? When they talk about how this reminds them of the Civil Rights era, and how that terror is still very real today, can we listen? Can we listen when they say they feel angry at how the white church was silent about the Ferguson shooting? Can we try to understand why they would feel that way? Before we jump in and talk about how our constitutional rights are being trampled by gun-control laws, can we at least hear where the plea for gun-control laws are coming from? Can we understand that history shows pretty clearly that if the federal government hadn’t stepped in, it might have been 1995 before black people could vote safely in many Southern states, and that for many black people, the federal government is an ally, not an enemy– all because they can’t trust the people in their own neighbourhoods and districts to vote in ways that lead to black lives flourishing? I’m not asking you to agree, I’m asking you to listen. And to listen in order to understand.

I’m asking us white Christians, who are really good at giving talks to girls about dressing modestly and inconveniencing ourselves out of love for our brothers with the clothes that we wear, to start giving talks about issues that matter to our black brothers. Taking down the Confederate Flag is exactly the same argument as the modesty argument. It might not be a big deal to you, as a Southerner, it might be your right to fly it, but as someone who cares for your black brothers and sisters, will you inconvenience yourself and take it down out of love for them?

In South Africa, can we find ways to listen to the black people in our lives—and make a space that is comfortable for them enough to share? Too often when interact with black people, we do so in a way that does not afford them the power to really say what they think. When we tell a race-based joke, are our black friends laughing because it’s funny, OR because they know if they told you it makes them uncomfortable you wouldn’t listen but would tell them to get a sense of humour and stop being so sensitive? When we ask a black collegue’s opinion, have we created an environment where they can really share and be heard, or do they need to tow our party-line? Can we listen to our black friend’s interpretations of the news before we jump in with our own agendas? Can we invite their criticism? Can we ask them to let us know when we’re being offensive, or pushy, or insensitive? In our churches, our workplaces and our dinner parties, are we listening to black voices?

And because I hate reading things like this that don’t have any practical applications, here are a few concrete ideas:

In the USA: 

  • Watch this series of 8 TED talks on race and racism in the USA. If you only watch two, make sure it’s this one about 3 things we can do to get over our internal bias (it’s super funny, too!) or this one, that discusses the criminal justice system.
  • Here’s a reading list that was put together to help people understand the context around the Charleston shooting.
  • Join a church or civic organization that is not predominantly white, and get involved. Join a choir, or a prayer meeting. Put yourself in places where you can have black leaders in positions of authority over you so you can listen and learn.
  • Change your neighborhood.
  • Get a different newspaper, or magazine subscription.
  • Take a course on African American history.
  • Take a course on African American literature.
  • Ask your black friends about what they think and really listen.

In South Africa;

  • This TED talk about bias is American, but the concept still applies in a South African context.
  • Join a church or organization that is not predominantly white, or seek out leaders in your denomination who are not white and be mentored by them.
  • Change your neighbourhood.
  • Take a course on black South African history and literature.
  • Read this series of blogs on race and South Africa by Brettfish – he gets some great guest posters of all races to weigh in, and as a white South African male, hearing his perspective and his journey of wrestling with race and privilege is super helpful.

Black friends, both in South African and the US, what are some things that you wish white people would do to listen better? 

On Imagination

I don't know if he really said this. Pintrest might be lying.

I don’t know if he really said this. Pintrest might be lying.

Imagination is one of my core values in life. It comes from being a book nerd, and dreaming about being different characters, or pretending I had super-powers, or my years of conversing with invisible friends (and a menagerie of invisible pets). And while giving your best friend an imaginary kitten for her birthday is not a great idea (trust me on this one), having a powerful imagination and cultivating imagination is central to being human. So read books, imagine things, write stories, delve into other worlds! Create art! It’s part of being human! Make Beauty! Which is good and worthy and enough. But there’s more.

It’s also part of being humane. 

To be humane means to treat others with compassion. To see other people as human, to imagine what it is like to be them, and to empathize with their suffering and act to end it. This is also a basic part of being human, and ever since Jesus, our Western moral code has run on that principle of empathy- doing to other people what we wish they would do for us. (Previously, the basis for Western moral codes was honor/shame. Turns out the empathy thing is a powerful motivator).

And this is where conversations on race in academia get a little weird. We’ve seen that the social world shapes us in ways that we are unaware of, ways that limit our ability to truly see things from another’s perspective. Along with that, in an intention to honor those whose voices have not been heard, there is a big push towards letting previously silenced voices have preference. I think those are really good things. We should do them more.

But I think some people take this a step too far. They claim that because of someone’s social situation (being a man) they cannot ever understand what it is like to be a woman and therefore their research/writing is called into question (it doesn’t matter what conclusions the author comes to, it doesn’t matter how they analyzed their data, how they put bias checks and balances in place, they are 100% trapped in this male-centred worldview, so you can’t really accept anything they say). Or in is a conversation on what it’s like to be a single person working in social justice issues, so a married person’s insight must automatically be excluded as irrelevant. Or a white writer can never tell the story of African Americans in the 1930’s.

On the one hand- I completely understand that sometimes we need spaces where our particular experiences and issues are focused on by other people who share them. Sometimes we need safe spaces where we don’t have to explain ourselves. I’m a TCK, I get this. But sometimes gathering around these social identities becomes exclusionary to the point of ridiculousness. Maxey, in his article on reflexivity in research points out that our critiques should be on content (is the research good research?) and not on the social identity of the researcher.

 [this argument ]is that we cannot understand people unless we have experienced what they have. That is, we cannot know people unless we are like them. This is an odd argument for a cultural anthropologist, but it is an old and well-worn, and disreputable, argument (Merton 1972): Christians and Jews, blacks and whites, men and women, French and Germans can never understand one another; white women and black women cannot understand one another; black working-class women and black middle-class women can never understand one another; young black working-class women can never understand old black working-class women; young rural black working-class women can never understand young urban black working-class women; and so on to logical absurdity,until no one can understand oneself from moment to moment…

I have to believe that we have the ability to imagine. I can’t know exactly what it’s like to be you, but I can imagine. And it takes work. We won’t imagine very well at all at first, but we’ve got to keep at it. We can only exist by imagining other people, and by letting people imagine us, and by communicating with them how they get things wrong, and what parts they got right, and listening. Really, really listening. Having good imaginations means we don’t have to ignore or wash away differences between people. Differences are no longer scary insurmountable barriers to human connection, because I don’t have to be you to connect with you, I just have to imagine what it might be like to be you. 

Many of the participants in my study expressed a discomfort with a focus on difference, and people who accentuate differences (whether it’s racial, or cultural). Most participants preferred to focus on what they had in common with others. This is true, people are people, not matter what color their skin or what they eat for breakfast.  But I think we have huge problems when people assume sameness, assume that there are no differences, or assume that difference is bad. Because that makes it possible for certain injustices (like white privilege, for example) to keep going unchecked. And I think a lot of this “assumed sameness” is because of a fear of difference. A fear that if we start looking at differences we’ll become so alien to each other that we won’t be able to exist.

One of my participants had a different view on diversity. This participant said when people move away from racism:

We see more individual diversity more clearly. I think it is the nature of humans to be very, very diverse. Extremely diverse. So it’s not as if we’d all have the same identity if we got rid of all the racism, we’d actually be more diverse, and, and people would feel much freer about being very different. Um, I think what these, the rigidity of social identity does, is to make–is to  narrow human expression. So there’s just very, very much more diversity that becomes possible once we get rid of these, these hang ups…my interest in human diversity is related to my interest in biodiversity.  This nature reserve [in South Africa] here has about 110 locally indigenous tree species. If you were, if you look at Europe. The British Isles has thirty-three indigenous tree species. Thirty-three. We have 110 in this tiny area and two of them are very rare. Very rare. And this is in a city…[an American paleoanthropologist] says, that it is it’s under conditions of extreme diversity that humans  originated.

Interesting, huh?? Not less diversity, but more diversity. And more diversity doesn’t lead to us all killing each other– in this view it’s what lead to be beginning of human life in the first place. So then what is keeping us all from killing each other?

Imagination, people.

So go read a book.b0045195ab22290fafd0df3fc9eb7d7d

 

New Years Resolution #1 Actually Listen

new years resThis will probably be my New Years Resolution for every single year of my life! Listening is really hard for people like me who feel like they will explode if they can’t share with the world whatever they are thinking (hey, maybe that’s why I write a blog! It’s the exact opposite of listening!) But here is a specific aspect of listening I want to work on this year when I disagree with the position that someone else holds:

Let them tell you what they mean.  

Don’t assume, self, that you know what someone means because they’ve said a certain phrase, or hold to a specific ideology, or follow a certain person on twitter.

Let me give you an example to explain how you can go so wrong when you don’t do this:

Some crazy journalist decides to read the Bible and reads Joshua. There is an article that comes out in the newspaper in which the journalist repeatedly says, “Christians believe…” and then a crazy statement like…”that they should go slay all their enemies.” As a Christian, this feels unfair to me. My response to this situation would be,

“ARG!”

And if I used words it would be, “Don’t interpret the Bible yourself Ms Journalist! Please leave the Biblical interpretation to people who have been studying this for years, and if you took a poll of actual Christians about 0% would agree wi what you think the Bible means, and just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean we literally are supposed to copy these people. It’s a dynamic story, a history, not a rule book.” I don’t think I’m illogical or hypocritical for not following Joshua’s literal example. I just think I understand the Bible, and the purpose of the Bible better than a random journalist. As a community of Christians, we have a nuanced understanding of what the Bible is and how to interpret it that an outsider doesn’t have.

However, here are some statements I have heard in the past few weeks:

“Atheists are just atheists so they can justify their immoral behavior.”

“Catholics worship Mary and believe that hard work gets you into heaven.”

“Black people assume everything is about race when it’s not.”

“Rob Bell’s books are all heresy.”

All of these statements might be true. But my questions are:

– Are those statements based on your interpretation (or a bunch of other people’s interpretations) or are they based on what the people who are mentioned actually believe? If you only read Protestant websites explaining Catholicism, you might think that Catholics believe that you should worship Mary and you get into heaven by being a good person. But what if you spoke to (gasp!) actual Catholics and tried to understand how it is that they see their faith? What if you read Rob Bell’s books, not just irate reviews of them? What if you made friends with someone who was black and actually listened to their experiences with racism?

It’s so much easier to make statements like this when you are dealing with abstract ideologies. But no one actually subscribes point for point to such ideologies. People are dynamic and contradictory. Especially if you want to win someone over to your point of view, you have to engage with what they actually believe, not just with what you think they believe. Let them tell you what they mean.

Statements like, “Rob Bells books are all heresy” are not really aimed at anyone who likes Rob Bell. It’s not a call to bring wayward sheep back from the uncharted terrains of heresy. It is a statement made to other people who agree with my position already. If we really care about having conversations with people who hold different views than us, we have to learn how to listen, and how to hear what the other people are actually saying, not just what we think they’re saying. We don’t have to agree. We just have to listen before we disagree.

Also. I have yet to learn how to apply this in my life, especially towards all those people who always make blanket statements everything, (which I never do). 🙂

 

Listening

The Hewitt family who lived in the township of Mamelodi for a month, on the same wages as those in the township.

Here is a really good article to read about how to listen from a position of privilege, from Christena Cleveland’s blog. I challenge you to read it and think about how you are privileged either because you belong to the dominant culture, race, religion, or gender in society, and how you can be a better listener.  I was really challenged by her advice on listening well before jumping in to fix things. I’d say that advice applies to me in most contexts–marriage, the work-place–but most especially when I’m in a position of privilege.

Here’s an excerpt:

“In the two years that I’ve lived in my predominantly black, low income neighborhood in Minneapolis, I’ve seen dozens of teams of privileged folks come in and try to fix a glaring problem without taking the time to build solidarity with the great people in my neighborhood.  Typically, within months the good-intentioned privileged folks retreat back to their privileged spaces, leaving behind a devastating trail of benevolent classism and racism.[i] Last summer, a few kids on my block told me that they don’t trust the white people who come into our neighborhood because they “don’t understand us and they always leave soon anyway.”

If Christian privileged people aren’t careful, their problem-solving heroics can easily dishonor the image of God in oppressed people. Most obviously, this occurs when privileged people bypass the crucial stage of “weep with those who weep” listening. This type of listening requires the privileged people to stand in paradigm-shifting, time-consuming and uncomfortable solidarity with oppressed people. Instead, they go straight to the “Let me solve your problem for you” type of non-listening.

For the rest of the article, click here.

Recently I read an article about a white family here in South Africa who visited the township where their “domestic worker” lived. They stayed there (with their two children, under the age of 5)  for a month, living in a small one-room house in her neighborhood. Many people criticized what they did, saying it was just poverty tourism. But others (including many in the community) expressed appreciation that a white person  was coming to understand how they lived, and to live with them. Apparently one day when visiting a tavern to watch a soccer match, one man started quoting Nelson Mandela’s “from the dock” speech (“ I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”)

I still don’t know what I think about it. On the one hand, their actions increased their empathy, their sense of solidarity and their understanding of the kind of life their domestic worker (and many, many other South Africans) live. And they were there for a whole month, which isn’t just a vacation. But on the other hand, after a month they went back to their nice house with a swimming pool, and their domestic worker stayed in the township. It reminds me of all the pros and cons of short-term missions, but on a local scale.

But I think it was a good thing. I think it was a good thing because unlike short-term missions (which are glamorous, and international and cost lots of money) this family was going somewhere where they had an established relationship already, and they were going with the intention to listen and learn. Most white people here have the privilege of living in places where they are in the majority (weird, huh, when we are only 10% of the population in this country??)–but our money and our social networks mean that this slice of the “rainbow nation” can live separately. Some people have never even set foot in a township. And while some may have driven through, not very many have spent any significant amount of time there. And if they have, it’s usually been in the “let’s fix and save everything” capacity, not the listen and learn capacity. I think especially in our country, we need more people doing this kind of thing–really learning, really listening–from people who are privileged.

I would go further and say, though, that after listening well, action does need to be taken. Not necessarily action that is a quick fix for superficial problems that let us go back to our comfy lives  (as mentioned in the Cleveland article). But hopefully action that is birthed out of solidarity and understanding and that means our lives are changing and getting uncomfortable, too. Hopefully after listening in solidarity, privileged people’s actions will result in choices that can change systems of injustice, even if it comes at personal cost. (Like this family who pay their domestic worker a living wage, even though it means they are cutting back on their spending to do so). The cool thing is that the Hewitts don’t seem like they are just going to go back and live their lives the same way. And I think that’s why they’ve received so much back-lash from others…because people don’t want to really listen because they are afraid of what they might learn.

In what contexts can you listen better in this week?

  • Praise God for a wonderful and productive time with Rachel and David. They were both so encouraging, and produce great work!
  • Pray for our holiday club– training day for our 9 Hilton highschoolers who are helping is on Saturday, and the club is next Weds to Friday.