Friday, July 31, 2009

"i am not a racist..."

[for those who check this space to get updates on my family and our ministry, feel free to skip this one. on occasion, i try to comment (or raise questions about) the news of the day from a (not the) christian perspective. i have come to believe that some of us in the church (myself included) have tended to downplay some issues that are close to God's heart, including the sin and injustice in our history, and corporate repentance and reconciliation (racial and otherwise). as always, i welcome your gracious, constructive input and interaction, even if we disagree.]

to those who think racism is no longer a problem in the u.s., take a look at this e-mail from boston police officer justin barrett in response to an editorial by boston globe columnist yvonne abraham (re: the gates arrest). i post it here for you to read and draw your own conclusions. if you were a black person stopped by this guy on a rural road, would you expect to get a fair shake? would you even feel safe?


That was by far the worst article I've ever read. I am a former English teacher, writer, current police officer, father, husband and military veteran. You need to be corrected and I certainly hope others have attempted, for your written messages and material is so 4th grade level, I am embarrassed I paid 1.50 for the paper [rest assured, it is my aim to tell as many readers The Boston Globe and your biased reporting is both sub standard and strictly one sided].

For you are not professional and basically, your writing is ridiculous. A reader may assume, per your article, that criminals are never well-dressed with a tucked in polo [2nd paragraph]. Your defense [4th paragraph] of Gates while he is on the phone while being confronted [INDEED] with a police officer is assuming he has rights when considered a suspect. He is a suspect and will always be a suspect.

His first priority of effort should be to get off the phone and comply with the police, for if I was the officer he verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC [oleoresin caseinate aka pepper gas] deserving of his belligerent non-compliance.

Further [5th paragraph], a reader may assume that crimes only happen in back alleys at 0300?! You're kidding me, right? Are you still in the 5th Grade, Catholic School?

That paragraph was as pathetic as jungle monkey gibberish -- I might as well ax [sic] you the question, Is this your first test at reporting?"

You do not understand roles, tactics, and dangers police officers face, as apparently you think no one wearing a polo might possess a firearm of knife on his/her person. Might you fathom a woman could be a criminal? Or are criminals all hairy, dirty, stinky, mean ugly looking men?

You are a hot little bird with minimal experience in a harsh field. You are a fool. An infidel. You have no business writing for a US newspaper nevermind [sic] detailing and analyzing half truths. You should serve me coffee and donuts on Sunday morning.

My last point counters your final 2 paragraphs, in which you state Gates is, "this immensely famous expert on race" -- you really have to be kidding me? Famous for what? Expert why and says who?

What has he done for the law enforcement community or military veterans or to secure freedoms and our borders in this country? What has he done to limit and reduce my income tax?

He has proven to work to get himself attention and become a wealthy lecturer. He lectures students on the subject of racial ethics and profiling. Jee whiz. I must attend that lecture lest I lose my identity and right to free speech and the right to celebrate God and beliefs as I see fit.

I am not a racist, but I am prejudice [sic] towards people whop [sic] are stupid and pretend to stand up and preach for something they claim is freedom when it is merely attention because you do not receive enough of it in your little fear-dwelling circle of on-the-bandwagon followers.

You mention gates' charges were dropped but that it was too late to stop the damage? Damage? Still kidding? You need to serve a day with the infantry and get swarmed by black gnats while manning your sector. Or you just need to get slapped, look in the mirror and admit, "Wow, I am a failure. I am a follower. Who am I kidding?"

Again I like a warm cruller and hot Panamanian, black. No sugar.

Your final statement reads, Gates, whose great success has allowed him to transcend the racial divide" to which I ask, when did he transcend?

He indeed has transcended back to a bumbling jungle monkey, thus he forever tremains [sic] amid this nation's great social/racial divide that makes it a free and great nation mixed with crazy awkward differences.

Go ahead, ax [sic] me what I think? Gates is a goddamned [sic] fool and you the article writer simply a poor follower and maybe worse, a poor writer.



o Lord, the great and awesome God,
who keeps his covenant and lovingkindness

for those who love him and keep his commandments,

we have sinned,
committed iniquity,

acted wickedly and rebelled,

even turning aside from your commandments and ordinances.

moreover, we have not listened to your servants the prophets…

righteousness belongs to you, o Lord,

but to us open shame…

open shame belongs to us, o Lord,

to our kings, our princes and our fathers,

because we have sinned against you.
daniel 9: 4-8

Thursday, July 30, 2009

race relations in the news

earlier this month, i wrote for the first time in a while about race and race relations in the u.s. shortly after that, race stories were seemingly all over the news:

the cambridge police arrest of harvard professor henry louis gates
. imo, gates unnecessarily escalated the situation. but was it really necessary to arrest him, especially after it became clear that he was lawfully in his own home? shouldn't the officer walk away in that situation?

president obama stirred the pot with off-the-cuff comments on the subject
. i had mixed feelings on this. i'm glad that he was willing to address directly the issue of race and race relations, but publicly 'taking a side' before investigating the episode seemed an uncharacteristic (and unfortunate) misstep. likewise, the fact that he was surprised by the swift, intense reaction was... well, surprising. he's the president of the united states, and he said that the police acted stupidly - he didn't think anyone would have a reaction to that?

conversely, i was grieved at the tone of some of the critics of gates and obama. is it really possible that we don't understand how a black man could get angry about being confronted by a police demanding proof that he belonged in his own home, or that someone might come to the conclusion that the police also overreacted by arresting a senior citizen whom they had confirmed was the homeowner? should we not hear gates' and obama's responses in the historical-sociological context of how blacks have been treated in this country?

of course, the gates episode was a single (if paradigmatic) incident. but the cnn story citing studies that reveal how a person's race could affect the medical treatment they receive took into account a broader data set. the results are both sobering and provocative. where is our outrage over this as a nation -- or as the people of God?

on a different note, i was pleasantly surprised to learn that california has apologized to its chinese american community for racist laws dating back to the gold rush of the mid-1800s. some of these were in force for nearly 100 years, prohibiting the chinese from owning property (including land), marrying whites, working in the public sector, and testifying against whites in court. the time magazine article on the subject points out that this is only the latest government act of contrition with regard to race relations, as there seems to be an outpouring of official remorse from governments around the globe.

yes, the acts are largely symbolic. but symbols mean things. acknowledging the injustices of the past may not fix everything, but that could be said of any apology. an apology, in and of itself, is not 'doing justice' -- but it is often an important step in restoring a broken relationship. and if recent events reveal anything, it's that even accounting for the progress that's been made in the u.s., the relationship between the races could use some more restoring.

the LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain;
a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow,
and refined, aged wine.
and on this mountain he will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples,
even the veil which is stretched over all nations.
he will swallow up death for all time,
and the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces,
and he will remove the reproach of his people from all the earth;
for the LORD has spoken.
isaiah 25:6-8

Friday, July 24, 2009

running the race

one of the ways that i've tried to connect with renton and to get to know people there is by joining toastmasters, a club dedicated to helping people work on their public speaking. this seemed like a natural two-fer -- a chance to hone an important skill, as well as to connect with people who don't yet know Jesus. i joined the club that meets at paccar, a company that designs and manufacturers trucks and truck parts, and one of the largest businesses in renton. these have been tough days at paccar, with lots of mysterious and sudden layoffs keeping people on edge as the company tries to stay afloat in these difficult economic times.

i like having the opportunity to get to know people in their work environment, to learn a bit about their lives and problems, and to have a chance to build relationship in the hope of introducing them to Jesus. but honestly, i didn't think the speaking aspect of the club would present a huge challenge; i was already speaking publicly 50+ times a year when i joined, and have been up front preaching the gospel for over 25 years. it's safe to say that i'm comfortable in front of a group.

at least, i'm comfortable in front of a group when i have a bible in my hands and i'm talking about God. i've been surprised at how nervous i can feel before a seven-minute message on some relatively trivial topic. thankfully, the club is both constructive and very kind in giving feedback, and i've found that i still have lots to learn as a speaker -- starting with (but not limited to) finishing on time (!).

this week, i did project 4 (how to say it), a speech in which the emphasis is on word selection, sentence structure, and the use of rhetorical devices to communicate clearly, accurately, and vividly. the feedback? people liked the speech, but noted that i looked down at my notes way too much, especially for a personal story like this one. always more to is the speech, entitled 'running the race:'

in 1980, i ran in my first and only 10k – a ‘race’ i’ll never forget.

i had been scheduled to go on a ski trip that weekend. it was my dad who was supposed to run in the san jose mercury 10k – more of a recreational event than an actual race. but when the ski trip needed another chaperone and a math competition got scheduled that same weekend, it made sense that we would switch places. he would chaperone the ski trip, and i would join the 10k with a couple of friends who had already signed up to run. in retrospect, maybe that wasn’t such a bright idea.

the switch happened late enough that i didn’t have time to train. but being 17 and in what i thought of as relatively good shape, i figured a short run wouldn’t pose any major difficulty. i imagined enjoying the sun, running and talking with my friends, laughing together along the way, and sprinting at the end to see which of us would cross the finish line first.

the day of the race, i put on my running shorts and shoes, and wore my sj mercury 10k t-shirt. i even had an official number, so that they could log my time and so that they could mail me the photo of my crossing the finish line. i looked the part. i was ready to go – like a lamb to the slaughter.

my friends came and picked me up, and we grabbed a box of donuts along the way. in retrospect, maybe that wasn’t such a bright idea, but at the time, it made sense. we needed energy, and i had read about long distance runners who would load up on carbs before a big race. the aroma of the fried dough and the sticky sweetness of the donuts made it a happy thing to be up so early. i was glad i had decided to run.

when we got out to the starting area, there was a huge crowd – thousands of people. it was one of those spaces where you couldn’t turn around without bumping into someone – or having someone bumping into you. i was glad that i wasn’t claustrophobic. some people were stretching; a lot of people were talking with friends and new acquaintances, and everyone seemed quite relaxed and ready for a fun time. i was surprised to feel a bit of anxiety rising in my heart as we got closer to the start of the race, but i was reassured to see people of every age and shape and size in the crowd.

somehow, i lost track of my friends, but i wasn’t too worried, as i figured we’d catch up to one another at the finish line. i noticed for the first time that there were signs that helped people to organize themselves by how fast they expected to run. it made sense for the faster runners to be at the front, the slower ones near the rear. i figured i’d be conservative and found the sign for 9 minutes per mile but i looked around and realized i was surrounded by people who were 80 years old or over 350 pounds. i knew that i hadn’t been training, but i figured i should be able to run a little faster than this group. so i decided to move forward. at the 8:30 sign, the crowd was like 70 years old and over 300 pounds. i kept moving forward past people with walkers, people in wheelchairs and some with very small children who were apparently going to run with them, looking for people who looked more like me – 8 minutes, 7.5 minutes.

i finally stopped at the 7 minute sign. in retrospect, maybe that wasn’t such a bright idea. i wasn’t much of a runner, and a typical mile for me might be 7 minutes. having to run more than 6 miles, it only made sense that i’d be a bit slower. but i figured everyone must be exaggerating how fast they expected to run. i decided to stick with this group.

the gun went off, and the race was on. i wasn’t pushing too hard, going at a nice, easy pace, and staying with my group – until we ran by the sorority houses over by san jose state. i don’t even remember making a decision to speed up. there were just a bunch of cute college girls, waving signs and cheering, and i found myself involuntarily moving into a higher gear. in retrospect, maybe that wasn’t such a bright idea. i motored past a number of folks in my group, some 3-4 times my age, and felt the rush of adrenaline as i soaked in the cheers of the adoring crowd. afterward, i was spent – and only 1 mile into the race.

i wasn’t sure how i was going to finish. truthfully, i was not in very good shape – remember, i had stayed behind for a math competition, not a track meet! i was getting passed by nearly everyone for the next few miles – senior citizens, people who were way overweight, the guys in the wheelchairs. the sun was baking me, and i wasn’t carrying any water. by the time i reached mile 4 – the place where they had the gatorade stand – i was so late that they were out of cups! i was so tired that i wasn’t even sure where i was or how to get back to the car. i figured the only way was to finish and find my friends (there were no cell phones back then). so i kept plugging along.

i ended up running with a guy who had brought his two young sons, probably 7 and 5 years old. they were running out of gas – tired, hot, and ready to quit. dad was urging them on in a positive way, encouraging them, exhorting them, explaining to them how great they were going to feel when they finished. i was running along behind them listening and trying to hold on to every word.

i managed to complete the race in just over 54 minutes – about 9 minutes a mile. am i glad i ran? in retrospect, maybe that wasn’t such a bright idea. at the finish, i was completely spent and probably suffering from heat exhaustion. i did find my friends, who had finished much earlier, and managed to stumble back to the car where i ate a couple of donuts and passed out in the back seat.

but thankfully, there’s something to learn in even the most ridiculous situations, and this one was no exception.
  • it’s a dangerous thing to judge a book by its cover – others or yourself. i knew that i was not much of a runner and that i was not in great shape, but i fooled myself into starting the race with the wrong group because i couldn’t get over how people looked. so be wary of judging by appearances.
  • training beats gifting. a 10k is not a long run, and if i had trained for even a month, i think i would have had a much better experience. the 80 year old guys that finished ahead of me weren’t more athletic than i was; they were just more prepared. the time you spend training is time well-spent.
  • keep moving forward, even if the going is slow. the old children’s story about the tortoise and the hare reminds us that a fast start is less important than the stamina to finish. and when circumstances aren’t ideal and even when you’ve made some bad choices along the way, sometimes you just have to keep moving forward toward the goal.
hard not to wonder if there's a lesson or two in there for my current situation...

let us run with endurance
the race that is set before us
fixing our eyes on Jesus
(hebrews 12:1-2)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

ruminations on reparations and racial justice

i read with interest professor allen guelzo's opinion piece in today's christian science monitor, entitled "should blacks get reparations?" while i concede the difficulty of making reparations, i question significant aspects of his argument, as i outlined in a letter to him, which i am appending below.

for those who are willing to read his article and reply, i'm curious: how do you view the question of reparations to african americans -- or japanese americans or native americans, for that matter? would you advocate a formal apology from the government(state or federal?), a check, or perhaps some other form of compensation or corrective for the injustices of that past whose effects are, at least arguably, still with us to some degree? or is it enough to simply acknowledge the past and try to make things as fair as possible today?

race matters. we can confront these issues head-on or try to ignore them, but they won't just go away. the recent high profile case of the new haven firemen and the nationally-reported incident at a swim club pool in huntington valley, pa demonstrate that. do we believe that God has anything to say about these things -- and if so, will our voice be heard in this generation?


dear dr. guelzo,

thank you for addressing the significant and too-often ignored subject of racial justice.

for the record, i have never been in favor of ‘reparations’ in the form of direct payments to african americans. however, i think your reasoning is peculiar in places and thought it worth addressing the questions you raised, at least briefly:

1. who was legally responsible for slavery? i’m not sure this is even the right question. are you trying to limit the responsibility for reparations only to those who held slaves or overtly sanctioned it? slavery was perpetrated by individuals, but legally sanctioned by many states and allowed to continue without interference by the federal government for generations. even individuals who did not own slaves or commit acts of violence against black people benefited socially and monetarily from the systemic injustice. there is enough responsibility to go around. also, are we limiting reparations only to slavery or are we willing to consider the ongoing systemic (and in many cases, legal) injustices that followed for at least 100 years?

2. who should be paid? you raise a couple of points here – one about the mixed racial heritage of african americans, the other about whether or not blacks whose ancestors were not slaves have any right to reparations. the first case, from which you draw the conclusion that paying reparations would be paying money to the descendants of slave owners, seems ridiculous. as you point out, the original mixing generally happened as a result of the rape of slave women. you apparently reason from this that the descendants of such ‘unions’ are to be identified with the oppressors – a dubious conclusion. do you also think that the children resulting from modern day rapes should be identified with their rapist fathers? i’m guessing not.

on the second point, i would reply that racial injustice did not end with the legal demise of slavery. many blacks who came to this country after that time still suffered violence, threats, jim crow, and disenfranchisement, and the effects of that legally-sanctioned oppression are arguably still with us today – financially, educationally, socially. things aren’t nearly as bad as they once were – we have a black president among other things – but even today, the playing field is hardly level. i will concede that what should be done to address that is a separate question; for instance, whether checks from the federal government to americans of african descent would be more harmful than helpful is at least debatable.

3. what about the civil war? in this section, you seem to say that since a lot of people died in the civil war, that should pay (or at least greatly reduce) the debt resulting for slavery. perhaps that is at least partially true, to the degree that those from free states fought and died to help free the slaves. but while every drop of blood drawn with the lash may have been paid for with blood drawn by the sword, that hardly amounts to reparations to the slaves and their descendants. how much of a ‘payment’ is it to get back the freedom that never should have been taken in the first place? what about the productivity and years that were stolen? the high casualty rate among southern white males is tragic, but hardly payment to those who were kidnapped, raped, beaten, threatened, and killed for so many generations. if i kidnap, rob, and abuse your family for decades, then lose a leg in a battle with the police who finally apprehend me, can we call it reparations?

your point near the end of the article is key: many americans are not big on seeing their present reality as growing out of their past. we tend to underestimate how much our current success is built on what came before, both good and ill. and we hate taking responsibility for addressing the actions of our ancestors. but if a baseball game is played for 7 innings with rules that clearly favor one team, and consequently, that team ends up 20 runs ahead, is it enough to notice the discrepancy during the 7th inning stretch, decide that the rules have been unfair, and determine to play the rest of the game treating everyone equally, without acknowledging the major advantage that’s been ‘given’ to one side?

you advocate that we seek racial justice directly in our generation. sounds good. what, precisely, do you have in mind?

thy kingdom come
thy will be done
on earth
as it is in heaven
(matthew 6:10)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

and now, for something completely different...

and just for fun -- a proposal for star trek christian church.

a quick google of the name reveals that it is still available, at least as far as the internet is concerned. i'm still in the early stages of my thinking about this, but there are already some obvious pieces:
  • our continuing mission - to boldly go where no one has gone before with the good news of Jesus (i.e. to preach the gospel in the regions beyond, 2 corinthians 10:16)
  • an identifiable, largely unreached target people group - trekkers and trekkies. if you don't make a distinction between those terms, you're probably neither. but you could always take the test if you want to check.
  • we'll need a core group of people who know and love Jesus and trek fans. (it might help if some of them were attractive, single women, but that's another story...).
  • we'll be looking for core people with an ability to speak the language. this is not just a question of vocabulary (katra, sto-vo-kor, gre'thor, pah-wraiths, q, sha ka ree), but also of a facility with the narrative world of star trek and a knack for communicating the gospel using trek metaphors. here's a quick self-test: name a scene or idea from any star trek series (animated counts, novels don't) or movie that can be used in communicating the good news about Jesus.
  • benediction: live long and prosper in Jesus (a sort of trek paraphrase of 3 john 2).
obviously, there's a lot more work to be done here, but that's the initial skeleton. maybe some of you trek folks (any of the other six fans out there) can help me...