Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Why Is One Of The Wise Men Depicted As Being Black?

Photo Credit: kinikkin reims

 From Root.com:
"Matthew states only that “wise men from the East” brought the Christ Child presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Over time, biblical commentary certified their number as three, interpreted the Magi as both astrologers and kings and provided names for them: Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior. 
In addition they came to signify broader attributes, expressed in triadic fashion. Considered to exemplify the three known continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, they also encompass the progression of human life from youth, middle then to old age. In a manner unique to the subject of the Adoration of the Magi, they stand as a microcosm of the medieval conception of the world and its inhabitants. 
The inclusion of a black man as one of the kings had undergone a long and tenuous process that evolved along with the European engagement with people of other parts of the world, and just as significantly, with the symbolic concept of blackness itself. As early as the eighth century, Balthasar was described as “fuscus,” that is, dark, perhaps even black. Only in the second half of the 14th century, however, does this designation more clearly occur, when John of Hildesheim wrote his influential Historia Trium Regum, or History of the Three Kings. Shortly after this, the black king began to be depicted in works of art. We have no way of knowing the name of the black king in Bosch’s painting here, but the other important aspects of his identity are clear: his youthful age, his African origin and his gift of myrrh. 
This particular treatment of the Magi theme is unusually rich in symbolism. During the medieval scholastic movement, a large body of scriptural interpretation had developed. As a whole, the Adoration of the Magi is presented here as the prefiguration of the Mass, the principal church ceremony that celebrates the sacrifice of Christ for the expiation of the original sin of Adam and Eve. In its details, the imagery associates the birth of Jesus with foreshadowing events of the Old Testament. The cloak of the middle king, for example, bears a representation of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon, king of Israel. She symbolizes the Gentiles, or pagan peoples, who voluntarily search for holy wisdom. According to the exegetical strategy of Christian typology, she stands for the response of the world to the message of Jesus and thus prefigures the Adoration of the Magi. That she is also shown as black here adds the further dimension of race to the usual context of faith and conversion. 
The extremely sympathetic, nuanced character of the black Magus in Bosch’s Adoration of the Magi has his counterparts in several other examples produced by primarily Northern European artists during the same period. The noble bearing imparted to the black king by Bosch’s contemporaries Albrecht Durer and Hans Baldung Grien manifests the same sense of gravitas and measured grace as the white-robed king in the Prado altarpiece. In this period, the representation of the black king reached an apogee of probity and self-composed magnificence rarely equaled in later treatments of his presence at the Adoration of the Magi. The role played by style in this assumption of the essential humanity of the black man may also have been affected by the position of the real African in the European consciousness at this time. 
Like many Europeans, Bosch quite likely had seen an actual black person. The notion of blackness at this time was largely associated with the exotic qualities of a still largely unexplored African subcontinent. Whatever the actual condition in life of blacks living in Europe may have been, their living image was capable of conjuring faraway tropes of African authority such as Prester John and the young Magus."
To read the rest of the article please click here

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Is The NFL Defining Black Masculinity For Society?

Photo Credit: Keith Allison
One of the most intriguing storylines from the current NFL season is that of the Miami Dolphins and the alleged bullying that took place by Richie Incognito towards teammate Jonathan Martin. After Martin unexpectedly left the team at the end of October, many wondered what prompted his departure.

In the days and weeks ahead, it was alleged that what caused Martin's abrupt leaving of the team was the severe bullying that he had endured, most notably by Incognito. The story ignited a national discussion on race, hazing and what is acceptable behavior in the locker room (and beyond).

In another angle on the story, ESPN The Mag writer Howard Bryant explores what it means to be considered a masculine African American man in today's society:
"Here was a case in which a white man used racial slurs to a Stanford-educated teammate who comes from a two-parent, Harvard-educated home. And more than anything else, the root issue was the eternal difficulty this country has in allowing black men to live in full dimension. Martin didn't look the part. He didn't conform to the accepted code of black masculinity, exposing the fault line that has always run underneath the American soil, transformative president or not. 
On the Dolphins, Martin wasn't seen as a real man. Uncomfortable with the strip clubs, he wasn't trusted as one of the boys. And because he represented the images of scholarship and manners, of dignity and higher education -- reputable qualities generally associated with white mainstream America -- he was inauthentic in the eyes of black players, but no more authentic in the eyes of whites. His teammates preyed on Martin's economic class and demeanor, viewing each as weakness, his education as a mimicry of whiteness. (It's telling that John Elway and Andrew Luck, also Stanford grads, have never been accused of being soft.) 
Meanwhile, Incognito became "honorary black" not for any great contribution to African-American history or society but by personifying the negative attributes that American culture usually assigns to black men: the thug, the sex-club swagger, the tough-guy bravado. The images shifted, twisted and flipped, and the person embodying the stereotypical N-word was actually the white man, to the point where Incognito's black teammates saw themselves in his behavior more than Martin's. 
Martin and his family may be what politicians and teachers say is the American ideal, but the actual rewards -- the acting jobs, the record deals, the social acceptance, the money -- largely go to the African-Americans who exemplify the N-word, who embrace the suffocating, limiting image of male blackness. The decision to perpetuate this image isn't made solely by the black community but by the white suits who decided long ago how the part is supposed to look and what black behavior they will compensate; think of that LeBron cover again. Corporations seem to doubt the authenticity and marketability of black men who live outside the primal construct. 
This represents the ultimate victory of racism: the belief that exists among both whites and blacks that being educated, being articulate, having manners, is the sole province of being white."
To read the rest of Bryant's article please click here.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Honoring God By Honoring Immigrants

Photo Credit: Boss Tweed
One of my favorite bloggers of late is Christena Cleveland. Christena does a great job of bringing a biblically-based perspective to issues that affect the Church such as culture, racial reconciliation and multi-ethnicity. She is currently doing an enlightening series that's named "Beyond Multiethnic" where she is "talking about ways that we can honor the image of God in diverse people."

Matthew Soerens recently offered a guest post on Christena's blog entitled Crossing Borders in the Church: On Embracing Undocumented Immigrants that I think is worth a read.

A highlight:
"Several months ago, I was invited to speak at a large, conservative Southern Baptist church that is, in some ways, a microcosm of American evangelicalism as a whole.  The crowd of several thousand at the first Sunday service was distinctly older and almost entirely white, but at the morning’s second service, the senior pastor removed his tie and delivered exactly the same sermon to an audience that was much more ethnically diverse.  Later that day, under the same roof, the church hosted worship services and Bible studies in Creole, Russian, Spanish, and Portuguese.  Within that one local church—as is true of the Church as a whole in the United States—coexist native-born U.S. citizens, naturalized citizens, lawfully-present immigrants, and undocumented immigrants, and with them a broad range of views on immigration policy. 
One of the church’s pastors related to me that, the previous week, a young Hispanic man had come forward at the end of the service seeking prayer. He shared, hesitantly, that he was facing deportation. He’d talked to lawyers and tried everything he could to resolve his situation, but it seemed inevitable that he would be separated from his family.  The pastor prayed for God’s provision and, then, as the man turned to leave, added, “We just want you to know how welcome you are at our church.” 
With all due respect,” the man replied, “if people at this church knew I was ‘illegal,’ they would hate me.” 
The pastor assured him that their church—which, to their credit, had done far more than the average congregation to embrace immigrant communities—loved him.  But he went home, he told me, shaken by the man’s comment: what was it about his church that had conveyed to this man that people would despise him if they knew he lacked legal status? 
However, if we consider the rhetoric that some in our society, including some Christians, have used to discuss the topic of illegal immigration, the young immigrant’s conclusion that many of his native-born Christian brothers and sisters might hate him seems quite logical.  When presidential primary candidates compete to see who can be harsher on undocumented immigrants and the TV pundits say they’re doing so to win the “evangelical vote” in the Iowa Caucus, the undocumented within our churches notice. When the church’s parking lot is marked with bumper stickers for a candidate who proposes—to wild applause—the construction of an electrified fence that would kill those who attempt to unlawfully enter the United States, the unintentional message is: “I’d rather you’d be dead than sitting next to me at church.” 
Whenever those associated with Christianity blame the undocumented for the country’s economic trouble (despite nearly unanimous economic data to the contrary), imply that most are criminals or terrorists, or compare them to rats, cockroaches, or any other animal, the message conveyed to the undocumented within our congregations—even if very few would convey such a message directly—is that “God loves you…but we loathe you.” 
Some sobering thoughts to consider.

To read the rest of Matthew's post please click here.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

An Important Life Lesson From Inigo Montoya

You may be familiar with the 1987 cult classic film, "The Princess Bride." Loved as the charming tale of the romantic journey of Westley and Princess Buttercup, the movie is also known for its cast of interesting characters and number of one-liners.

One of the film's most memorable characters, Inigo Montoya (played by actor Mandy Patinkin), delivers perhaps the movie's most famous line: "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Patinkin was recently asked about his favorite line of the movie and although he shares the well-known "prepare to die" line, he also offers another more obscure quote that provides insight to an important life lesson. You can watch the clip here.

There you have it from Inigo Montoya himself. Seeking revenge is not what life is all about.

Monday, November 04, 2013

How Do Blind People See Race?

Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks
If I person is visually impaired, does that mean they are automatically colorblind? Not necessarily, says law professor Osagie Obasogie.

In an article on NPR.org, Kate Chow writes about what Obasogie discovered after interviewing over 100 individuals that have been blind since birth. His findings challenge some of our assumptions about race being only skin deep and that colorblindness might not be as easy to achieve as it seems.

Chow writes:
"It's easy to understand that the notion of how blind people see race could prompt all sorts of interesting questions about what race means. 
Consider Dave Chappelle's "Blind Supremacy" skit from 2003, in which the comic plays Clayton Bigsby, a blind white supremacist who doesn't know he's black. Bigsby indulges in all sorts of gratuitous hate speech, bashing Latinos, Asians and blacks. He even goes to a KKK meeting dressed in a white robe and hood. Bigsby clearly doesn't know he's black. The joke, of course, is that Bigsby is in fact a member of the very group he so viciously hates. 
"While I think most people find [the Chappelle skit] funny because it seems utterly absurd, there's actually a lot more to it than most people realize in terms of portraying how race can be a polarizing issue in the blind community," says Obasogie. "Blind people aren't any more or less racist than anyone else. Indeed, part of the point of this project is that vision has very little to do with it. What matters are the social practices that train us to see and experience race in certain ways, regardless of whether we are sighted or not." 
Obasogie emphasizes that blind people use a combination of cues to infer someone's race. Together, he believes these cues add up to a kind of visual description, a form of seeing. Put simply, when the color or someone's skin isn't easily detectable, some blind people rely on other cues that help create a visual; cues such as the texture of someone's hair. 
Bruce Sexton, who has been blind since birth, says it's natural for everybody — including the blind — to distinguish a person based on race. "I think that we do categorize and group based on the information that we have ... I come from a very diverse place and I still do group people based on their race, their ethnicity, their religion — anything, everything, really. Their education," Sexton says. "Maybe, as a disabled person, I think of it even more and I try to break free of the stereotypes that come with that grouping.
Obasogie emphasizes "blind people are not uniquely preoccupied with race. Rather, the findings simply draw attention to the fact that race affects everyone's lives and that blind people are not exempt simply because they cannot see. Seeing and experiencing race is a social rather than merely visual phenomenon."
To read the rest of Chow's article please click here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How A Small Step Of Faith Started My Journey Into Ethnic Minority Ministry

2002 - Our family in South Africa
"Truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you." ~ Jesus, Matthew 17:20

As a white man that has had a vocational ministry focus of working with ethnic minorities (mostly African Americans college students) for most of my adult life, I'm often asked how God has led me on this journey. Here's my story...

One of the most pivotal experiences of my life took place when I was 23 years old. It was one of those times that as I look back on it, I can see how the trajectory of my life changed because of a simple, yet profound decision that was made.

It was February of 1997 and I was at a small regional Impact gathering in Detroit that was designed as a follow-up to Impact '96, a national conference primarily geared towards African American college students. I, along with another white Cru staff member, took a handful of African American students from Kent State University to join with like-minded people and discuss what it would look like to have an Impact movement on our campuses.

There was much I appreciated about the weekend. I loved the vibrant praise & worship that we experienced. I was blown away by the vulnerability that students demonstrated as they shared about the ways that God had moved in their lives and the places He had brought them from. I valued the rousing preaching that I heard and the deep concern for college students to live out their faith in the context of their community resonated deep within me. However, there was one little problem. I was white! I silently asked myself, "What difference can I really make? I agree with everything that is being talked about but I'm not black. What can I do?"

And then during a time of concentrated prayer, I felt like God was speaking to me. It was as if he was saying, "You can start by making a difference in your daily life. You hear jokes and comments that you know to be racially insensitive and you do nothing. Start by addressing those things among your friends and family." At that moment, I committed to address the injustices that I saw in my circle of friends and would leave the results to God.

Within days of having returned from this weekend conference, I was put to the test about whether I had truly meant what I had committed to. While watching a television program together, a friend made the following comment about an actress: "She's not bad looking for a black woman." As my heart raced, I knew I needed to say something. But a number of questions bounced around in my head: How would my friend respond? Was I overreacting? I mean, he didn't really mean anything hurtful by that, did he?"

I decided to to take a step of faith and say something. I explained that while he didn't probably mean anything negative by it, his comment could be interpreted as racist. His comment implied that most African American women were not attractive and he was a bit surprised that here was someone that he considered beautiful. I was bothered by his perspective and explained why.

We ended up having a really good conversation and I was even able to bring up some other things that he had said in my presence about African Americans that I was troubled by but had not said anything. It was what could be considered a "teachable moment." Both for my friend and for me.

He was forced to do a heart examination and come to a realization that he harbored some attitudes and prejudices towards African Americans that he wasn't even aware were present.

I learned that when I confronted injustices that I saw in a spirit of grace and truth that God could work through that to make a difference in black/white relations. Amazingly, God had used me to make a small difference about these issues that were so important to me!

From there, I sought to take small steps of faith to make a difference right where I was located. I helped to be a part of the birth of Impact at Kent State, a movement that is still in existence to this day, and eventually other campuses in northeastern Ohio.

I staffed a missions trip that summer of '97 in Virginia Beach in which ethnic minority ministry and racial reconciliation were part of the focus. (I met my wife, Lori, that summer and I've been so thankful that we've been on this journey together all these years.) In addition, I began to see God use me in the lives of other Cru staff members and students to increase awareness of issues of race and culture and to be an instrument of racial reconciliation.

And I've been seeking to take those small steps of faith for the past 16+ years. This journey has led me to places and people I would have never imagined. I now have the privilege of leading in a respected national organization that, while improving, has much to learn when it comes to these same matters of race, culture and justice. As part of my responsibilities, I get the opportunity to invest in ethnic minorities leaders so that they can be all that God has created them to me and to help majority culture missionaries become better equipped to minister cross-culturally.

While there has been much joy in my ministry experiences, there has also been pain. I've made mistakes along the way and have unintentionally hurt others by the things I've said and done. People of my own culture have made judgments about me because I don't fit the box they sometimes want to place me in. And since I'm regularly in cultural settings that are not my own, I experience heightened fears of accidentally doing or saying something offensive.

I wouldn't say that my ministry calling has been easy or comfortable. In fact, it has stretched me in ways that I haven't even considered. It has often been a very lonely existence where I frequently feel out of place and never fully at home. But the privilege that I've had to learn from friends of other cultural backgrounds, to taste some of their life experiences and to hear their stories? I wouldn't trade that for anything.

God has worked in my life as a white person to be involved in the lives of ethnic minorities in ways that I didn't think would be possible back when I was 23. And I truly believe that I'm a better Christian and a better person because of it.

And it all started with a small step of faith.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

U.S. To Be Most Popular Destination for Foreign Students

Photo Credit: Easten Law
From Karin Fischer of The Chronicle of Higher Education:
"The United States is projected to be the largest and fastest-growing destination for foreign students over the next decade, according to a report released on Tuesday by the British Council's Education Intelligence global-research service. 
But American universities' heavy reliance on students from China and India could make them vulnerable if an economic slowdown in those and other emerging countries put a college degree—particularly a costly foreign diploma—out of the reach of many families. India and China are predicted to account for fully two-thirds of the growth in international students at American institutions from 2011 to 2024, the research shows. 
Worldwide, the two countries are expected to contribute 35 percent of total foreign-student growth during the forecast period. 
The report, "The Future of the World's Mobile Students to 2024," examines the demographic and economic drivers of higher-education enrollments in 56 countries. Its authors project that overall enrollments will climb by 32 million, or 1.4 percent per year, to 196 million globally. 
By 2024, nearly 3.9 million students will study outside their home countries, up from about three million in 2011, according to forecasts by the council, the British government's educational and cultural arm. (Because of data availability, that figure may include students who are not citizens of the country in which they are studying even if they already were living there.) 
One-third of those globally mobile students will hail from either India or China. 
While the number of Chinese students going overseas will continue to grow, the report suggests, the rate of increase is likely to slow compared with recent years. From 2009 to 2011, the number of outbound Chinese students shot up by 150,000, although an earlier British Council study had forecast a far-smaller increase, of just 13,000. 
In the next decade, the number of Chinese students pursuing an international degree is expected to climb by a more modest 132,000, to 855,000."
To read the rest of the article please click here.

(HT: Trae Vacek)

Monday, October 07, 2013

Why Aren't More American Churches Ethnically Diverse?

Photo Credit: Ministerios Cash Luna
If you asked the average American evangelical Christian if they wished their church was more ethnically diverse, my guess is that many would respond in the positive. However, few of us attend churches that could truly be considered diverse.

Because of the type of ministry that I'm involved with in reaching out to ethnic minority college students, I often find myself in discussions about why churches aren't more diverse and what can be done to change those realities.

Writer Christena Cleveland has offered a helpful summary of a recently published article in the Annual Review of Sociology from sociologists Korie Edwards, Brad Christerson and Michael Emerson entitled "Race, Religious Organizations, and Integration."

In her summary, Christena describes the authors' findings of the factors that exist for churches that are most likely to be diverse:

Which types of churches are most likely to be diverse?
Internal factors:
  • Statistically, the most important predictor of racial diversity is religious tradition. Non-Christian churches (27%) and Catholic churches (15%) are far more diverse than Protestant churches (5%).
  • The second most important predictor – at least for Christian denominations – is the historical position on race relations. Christian denominations with a long history of fighting for racial justice are more likely to have diverse congregations today. The best example of this is the Catholic Church, which has a long history of racial justice as well as a centralized government that organizes and communicates a unified stance on issues of race.
  • The third most important factor is whether congregations have leaders who intentionally and routinely promote diversity. These congregations utilize several strategies to promote diversity:
1. Diversify pastoral and lay leadership and empower these leaders to lead in ways that are true to their cultural tradition. (This is the most important strategy.)
2. Create a small group culture within the congregation (including some racially homogeneous ones).
3. Integrate diverse music genres in the worship service.
4. Create and carry out special programs that specifically address racial and ethnic issues.
5. Encourage different racial groups to share their unique experiences, cultural elements and perspectives with the whole church.
6. Diversify the “upfront” leadership – those who are on stage during the worship service or lead in other conspicuous ways.
  • Other important predictors of diversity are:
1. Congregations with a charismatic/Pentecostal worship style are more likely to be diverse — presumably because it creates an inclusive and participatory environment.
2. Size – larger congregations tend to be more diverse.
3. Economic status – churches with higher income and well-educated congregants are more likely to be diverse.
External factors: 
  • Congregations in urban areas are more likely to be diverse
  • Congregations situated in diverse neighborhoods are more likely to be diverse
  • Congregations that draw from a large geographic area are more likely to be diverse
Ultimately, ethnically diverse congregations can only happen when Christians who are empowered by the Holy Spirit carry with them a loving, humble and sacrificial spirit that puts others before themselves. This kind of willingness to learn from others and step out of our comfort zone helps to create an environment in which a healthy, diverse community can thrive.

To read more of Christena's summary please click here.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How A Chinese-American Church Became Multi-Ethnic

Photo Credit: Enoch Lai
Vox Veniae, a church in East Austin, Texas whose name means "voice of forgiveness" in Latin, has taken a unique approach in becoming a multi-ethnic congregation. Mark Oppenheimer of The New York Times comments:
"But what’s really unexpected about Vox, to anyone who knows American Protestantism, is that what began as a church for Chinese-Americans quickly became multiracial. Last Sunday morning, whites were in the majority, and in addition to Asian-Americans, there were Latinos and African-Americans in the pews — or, rather, the metal folding chairs around the small stage where a six-piece band played before the pastor, the Rev. Gideon Tsang, delivered his sermon. 
In a country that is growing more racially diverse, and in an evangelical movement that is becoming more politically diverse, Vox Veniae, which is Latin for “voice of forgiveness,” may be, as Jesus said, a sign of the times. 
Racially diverse churches are often led by white pastors who recruit in minority communities, usually by hiring nonwhite assistant pastors. It is less common to see an ethnic church attract whites. It may be that white people avoid churches where at first they will be outnumbered. Or perhaps the ethnic churches’ worship styles feel alien (especially if prayers and sermons are in a foreign language). Whatever the reason, white churches sometimes succeed in drawing minority worshipers, but minority churches rarely attract white people. 
Mr. Tsang sports arm tattoos and the modish, buzzed-on-the-sides, long-on-top haircut that many young men who request it call “the Hitler Youth.” He was raised in Toronto, the son of a Chinese-Canadian pastor of an ethnic church. In 2006, he started Vox Veniae as an independent planting of the Austin Chinese Church, a larger church that wanted a mission to young people, especially University of Texas students. In 2007, the church opened Space 12, and in 2009, it moved its worship services there. Along the way, it began to draw older people. And whiter people. 
“The average age when we started was 22,” Mr. Tsang said. “Today, the average age is 27, 28.” Last Sunday, I sat behind a woman who must have been in her 60s. When she had trouble reading the passage from I Corinthians on the monitor above, her neighbor, about 40 years younger, whispered the words in her ear."
To read the complete article please click here.

(HT: DJ Chuang for the link.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

2013 Demographics for U.S. College Students

Photo Credit: CollegeDegrees360
The nation's college students are growing in number and our campuses continue to become more diverse. Taken from the most recent edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac and the Open Doors Report, the following statistics from the 2011-2012 school year contain some interesting facts concerning the current make-up of college students in the United States:
  • There are now nearly 22 million college students studying within the United States.
  • Of those 22 million students, 4 out of 10 are American ethnic minorities and international students studying in the U.S. 
  • Within the state of California alone, there are over 2.8 million students. This is an amazing 13% of the country's total! Of these students, over 1.7 million are American ethnic minorities and international students. 
  • Texas has over 1.6 million students in the state, including over half a million Hispanic students. 
  • Primarily due to the presence of New York City, close to 1.3 million students attend college in the state of New York. Over 500,000 of them are American ethnic minorities and international students. 
  • The number of Native American students across the country is close to 200,000. 
  • Asian Americans now number over 1.2 million students. 
  • There are nearly 3 million African Americans on our campuses, close to 14% of all students. 
  • Hispanics and Latinos are rapidly growing in number and influence and now comprise over 13% of all students, totaling over 2.8 million students. 
  • There are well over 800,000 international students currently studying in the U.S., many of whom will return to their country of origin. 
  • In demonstration of the country's increasing cultural diversity, over 400,000 of America's college students define themselves as being multi-ethnic.
  • Another 1.4 million students do not self-identify as belonging to any particular ethnic group nor do they define themselves as being multi-ethnic.
  • Students of European descent are still in the overall majority with 11.8 million. If current trends hold true, however, there will be no ethnic majority by the time we reach 2020.
    What does this all mean? The college campuses of the United States are becoming more diverse, the coasts are rapidly growing and our cities are home to many of the nation's students. In order to reach these students, campus ministries like those that I work with need to adopt new approaches that will effectively reach: 1) students of color; 2) those that speak a primary language other than English; and 3) those in our major cities. The world is here. How will we respond?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Julie Chen, Ethnic Identity & America's Ideal of Beauty

Photo Credit: David Shankbone
I'm guessing that most of us have likely sought to improve our physical appearance in some form or fashion in order to enhance our job prospects. Whether it be updating our wardrobe or changing our hairstyle, it is not uncommon for people to seek to maximize how they look so that it will benefit them in the workplace.

But is undergoing plastic surgery in order to please an employer going too far? Or to take it another step, is it wrong to alter aspects of our appearance which are tied to our ethnic identity so that we can move up the corporate ladder?

Television personality Julie Chen recently revealed that she underwent plastic surgery early in her career in order to minimize her Asian features. Chen, probably most well-known as the host of CBS's "Big Brother", shared on a recent episode of "The Talk" that she underwent surgery in order to become more identifiable with mainstream America.

Chen offers background on her revelation:
"My secret dates back to — my heart is racing — it dates back to when I was 25 years old and I was working as a local news reporter in Dayton, Ohio," Julie began. She then set the scene by showing a clip of what a young Julie Chen looked like as a reporter at one of her first jobs and explaining how it was her dream to be a network news anchor some day. 
"So, I asked my news director … over the holidays if anchors want to take vacations, could I fill in? And he said, 'You will never be on this anchor desk, because you're Chinese.' He said 'Let's face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we have in Dayton? On top of that because of your Asian eyes, I've noticed that when you're on camera, you look disinterested and bored.' 
"So, what am I supposed to say to my boss? I wanted to cry right then and there. It felt like a dagger in my heart, because all of my life I wanted to be a network anchor," she continued.
She then went on to explain how the situation took her back to her childhood growing up in Queens, New York, experiencing racism, and how the kids on the bus would make "ching chong" comment on the bus. "It was racism," she said. 
"So I started recording my newscasts every day and all I could see was my eyes, and I'd ask myself, 'Does he have a point?' I'd always ask myself, 'Do I look bored?' "So I started meeting with agents for career advice, and this one big-time agent basically told me the same thing. He had the biggest names in the business. And he told me the same thing. He said, 'I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look better.' He then whips out a list of plastic surgeons who have done this procedure."
Julie then explained to the studio audience and her fellow co-hosts how half of all Asians are born with a double eyelid, and that the excess skin hangs down. "But the agent said, 'You're good at what you do. And if you get this plastic surgery done, you're going straight to the top.'
"So, I consulted with my mother, and [she greeted me with] silence. She said, 'This is a deeper conversation that we have to have with your father.' We talked about if this was denying my heritage, and whether or not I should have this done. 
"And this agent — he represented the most famous Asian broadcaster out there at the time — you know who I'm talking about and I'm not going to say names. "So, this divided my family. Eventually, my mom said, 'You wouldn't have brought this up to me unless this was something that you wanted to do.' And they told me that they'd support me, and they'd pay for it, and that they'd be there for me." 
Julie then showed the audience side-by-side photos of what she looked like before and after her procedure. "And after I had it done, the ball did roll for me," she confessed. "And I wondered, did I give into the man?"
Unfortunately, Chen's dilemma is an all-too-common predicament that women in Hollywood face, but also in our society at large. Rather than being judged for their intelligence or aptitude, women are often limited by men based on their physical appearance. In Julie Chen's case, it was her "Chinese look" that was holding her back. So she changed how she looked.

As a white man, I can only begin to imagine the internal struggles that Chen (and so many others like her that find themselves in similar situations) went through in deciding to have plastic surgery that would alter her appearance. I do not judge her. I feel sorry that a talented broadcaster felt that she had to go under the knife to fit the definition of beauty that others had established for her. And when you add the ethnic component to it, there are all sorts of questions that are raised about what lengths we should go to in order to achieve professional success.

Because the standard of beauty within America has traditionally been that of the skinny, blonde-haired, blue-eyed model, women that don't fit this stereotype are often left questioning not only their own beauty, but also their self-worth. In thinking about this story, my mind was drawn back to an interview that I watched earlier this year when actor Dustin Hoffman comments on the profound impact that playing a woman in the movie "Tootsie" had on him. Here is the video:

Hoffman's point is well-taken. Too many men throughout history have not paid attention to certain women simply because of how they looked. Whether it be in the marketplace, in romantic relationships, in ministry settings or simply in friendships, we often fail to look below the surface. The psalmist writes in Psalm 139:14, "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well." Because each of us are made in the image of God, our physical attributes represent only a small part of our humanity We are each beautiful because God made us. It is too bad that we often don't see that.

You can read the rest of the article about Julie Chen's confession here.

(HT: Melissa Dyo for the link.)

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Is In Vitro Fertilization A Moral Issue?

Photo Credit: Torsten Mangner
With the increasing availability of reproductive technology, a growing number of Christian families that have struggled with infertility have chosen to utilize in vitro fertilization (IVF) and even surrogacy.

However, according to a recent Pew Forum report, a large number of Americans (46%) do not view IVF as being a moral issue. In comparison, only 23% view abortion as not being a moral issue. In contrast, 49% of Americans view abortion as being morally wrong, whereas only 12% of Americans are opposed to IVF on moral grounds.

In an article on the Hermeneutics blog entitled "The Overlooked Ethics of Reproduction", Jennifer Lahl raises some thought-provoking questions about whether the creation of life should be viewed in moral terms in a similar fashion to how we view the taking of life. In other words, the question at hand is whether God, as the author of life, cares about the circumstances in which life is created?

Lahl offers this:
"While grieving with those who struggle with infertility, Christians still need to look more carefully at today's reproductive technologies such as IVF in light of our beliefs about God, life, our bodies, and our children. 
Since the time of the Old Testament, infertility has been part of the human experience. Many of us know someone who has struggled desperately to have a child or have experienced that difficulty ourselves. In the 21st century, though, infertility is met with "options," "solutions," and countless technologies offering hope to those in our midst struggling with fertility issues. Rather than rushing to embrace any procedure that might bring us a child—IVF, sperm or egg donors, surrogacy—we should consider the appropriate use and limits of technology. 
The fact that so many people fail to consider the moral implications of IVF suggests that in the age of fertility treatments, surrogates, and modern family-building via parenting partnerships, a woman's womb has come to be seen as a somewhat arbitrary location. NBC's The New Normal quips that women are "Easy-Bake Ovens" and children are "cupcakes." 
In Scripture, God affirms that what happens in utero matters and cannot be casually or disrespectfully dismissed. The womb, where God first knits us together (Ps. 139:13-14), is not an arbitrary place for a child to grow and develop. In fact, modern science has proven just how important those 9 months are—for both mother and child. 
Renowned marriage and family therapist Nancy Verrier, in her book The Primal Wound, writes about how mothers are biologically, hormonally, and emotionally programmed to bond with their babies in utero as well as at birth. A baby knows his or her mother at birth, and both the mother and the baby will experience grief at any separation at the time of birth. This primal wound is forever present. 
In other words, it's nowhere as easy as the Easy-Bake metaphor. In the case of surrogacy, we can interrupt the natural rhythm for mother and child and risk negative effects. (It is worth noting that surrogacy differs from adoption in that surrogacy intentionally establishes a situation that demands that a woman not bond with the child she is carrying.)
These are some important issues to consider and each Christian family should prayefully consider the ethics involved in utilizing modern technology in creating new life.

You can read the rest of Lahl's article here.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Movement To Rediscover Native American Cuisine

Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine
Newsweek's Paul Wachter writes about Apache-Navajo chef Nephi Craig and his mission to introduce traditional Native American cuisine to a broader audience. He writes:
"Nephi Craig graduated from culinary school in 2000 and began a promising career. In a few years, he was working his way up the stations at Mary Elaine’s, Arizona’s only five-star French restaurant, led by James Beard Award–winning chef Bradford Thompson. “I was getting a great French, classical training, but something was missing,” says Craig, who is 33. “The French tradition isn’t my tradition, and I wanted to cook in the tradition of my people: Apaches and Navajos.” 
It’s an early Tuesday morning in late July, and Craig is driving his 10-year-old son, Ari, and me around the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, which is nestled in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona. Craig, whose mother is Apache and whose late father was Navajo, likes punk rock and skateboarding and is quick to laugh. Though he was born in Whiteriver (the reservation’s largest community) and spent most of his youth there—he also lived for several years on a Navajo reservation—he never thought he’d spend his adulthood here. He went to culinary school in Scottsdale and then spent three years cooking at an affluent country club in the northern part of the city before joining Mary Elaine’s. 
“The French tradition isn’t my tradition,” he says, “and I wanted to cook in the tradition of my people: Apaches and Navajos. At Mary Elaine’s, we’d use a lot of local ingredients—rabbit, venison, squash, and corn—that I recognized as part of indigenous culinary history but were prepared in the French style,” he says. “And as I got better as a chef, I began to think about using my skills to showcase my own peoples’ culinary ways.” 
But he had a lot of learning to do. “Even growing up on the reservation, I got the same two-page social-studies version of our indigenous history,” he says. “You know, the pilgrims and stuff.” After leaving Mary Elaine’s, he began to devote himself to rediscovering indigenous food. He traveled widely, hosting private dinners and conferences, and seeking out other Native American chefs as well as academics who had researched the cuisine of his ancestors. And when, in 2009, he learned of an opening at the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s Sunrise Park Resort, “it was,” he says, “the right time to bring my ideas back home.” 
Craig was eventually appointed executive chef at the resort. His restaurant serves mostly standard American fare. But guests can also book seats at his chef’s table—and it’s there, as well as through a group he founded called the Native American Culinary Association, that Craig is acting on his dream: to restore and reinvent the largely forgotten cuisine of his forebearers.
A Search on the Zagat website for New York City lists 554 Italian restaurants, 191 French establishments, and 179 Japanese restaurants. There are 10 Ethiopian restaurants. But there isn’t a single Native American restaurant listed. There’s no culinary nod to the Lenape Indians who inhabited Manhattan long before Daniel Boulud and Mario Batali. 
“American dining is based on our immigrant population, not our Native population,” says Lois Ellen Frank, a half–Kiowa Indian chef-scholar who wrote Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations. Ask an American today for his or her conception of Native American cuisine, and you’ll likely be met with some mumbling about Thanksgiving. 
Before the Colonial era, Apaches relied for food on a “triptych of hunting, gathering, and raiding,” explained Thomas Mails in The People Called Apache. Mails was writing specifically about the Mescalero Apaches of New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, but the same can be said of White Mountain Apaches. Acorns, seeds, and nuts were staple foods in their largely plant-based diet, which also included rabbits, birds, raccoons, fish, and other native animals. Food was local. 
“If you lived in the Pacific Northwest, you would know the six types of salmon and know how to harvest them, but if you were a Navajo Indian on the Midwestern plains, you never would have seen one,” Frank says. Early European contact and trade introduced new foods, which many Native American chefs today also consider part of their peoples’ authentic culinary tradition. “It’s fair to talk about Navajo sheep even though sheep were imported to the Americas, just as we now consider the tomato to be an authentic and indispensable part of Italian cuisine even though it came from Mexico,” Frank says.
To read the rest of the article please click here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Remembering The March On Washington 50 Years Later

It was fifty years ago today that one of the most pivotal events in the history of the United States took place. "The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" occurred on August 28, 1963 and gathered approximately 250,000 people together who believed in the inherent equality and dignity of all human beings. The reverberations from this event are still being felt today.

Although a number of speakers and musicians were present at the March on Washington, history has shown that the most memorable aspect was the "I Have a Dream" speech delivered by a 34-year-old Baptist preacher by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King's speech paints a picture of what it might look like for Americans to live together no longer divided by racial hatred but to gather at the table of brotherhood. It is generally regarded as one of the greatest speeches in American history and it still sends chills down my spine whenever I hear it.

I've posted the entire "I Have a Dream" speech below for your viewing. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What Is True For The College Freshmen Of 2013?

Photo Credit: Sterling College
Each year at the start of the new school year, Beloit College releases what they call the Mindset List -- a list of important facts and events which influence the worldview and perspective that this year's college freshmen class brings with them.

This year's list, which is made up for the graduating class of 2017, represents those students who were born in 1995.

You can read the complete list here but I've included some entries below that I found particularly interesting:
  • As they started to crawl, so did the news across the bottom of the television screen.
  • As their parents held them as infants, they may have wondered whether it was the baby or Windows 95 that had them more excited.
  • As kids they may well have seen Chicken Run but probably never got chicken pox.
  • Having a chat has seldom involved talking.
  • Gaga has never been baby talk.
  • They could always get rid of their outdated toys on eBay.
  • They have known only two presidents.
  • Their TV screens keep getting smaller as their parents’ screens grow ever larger.
  • PayPal has replaced a pen pal as a best friend on line.
  • Rites of passage have more to do with having their own cell phone and Skype accounts than with getting a driver’s license and car.
  • A tablet is no longer something you take in the morning.
  • Thanks to Megan's Law and Amber Alerts, parents have always had community support in keeping children safe.
  • With GPS, they have never needed directions to get someplace, just an address.
  • Java has never been just a cup of coffee.
  • Olympic fever has always erupted every two years.
  • In their first 18 years, they have watched the rise and fall of Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriquez.
  • As they slept safely in their cribs, the Oklahoma City bomber and the Unabomber were doing their deadly work.
  • There has never been a national maximum speed on U.S. highways.
  • Their favorite feature films have always been largely, if not totally, computer generated.
  • They have never really needed to go to their friend’s house so they could study together.
  • Kevin Bacon has always maintained six degrees of separation in the cinematic universe.
  • A Wiki has always been a cooperative web application rather than a shuttle bus in Hawaii.
  • Their parents’ car CD player is soooooo ancient and embarrassing.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

40 Maps That Explain The World

Photo Credit: WashingtonPost.com
Max Fisher of The Washington Post has created a sampling of forty different maps that demonstrate the differences in our world. The maps examine such things as religion, racial tolerance, economic realities, views on sexuality, population and languages spoken. Take a few moments to view the maps here and see the ways that people across the world are similar and which ways we are different.

(HT: Cody Lorance for the link.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Current Insights Into The Values Of U.S. Hispanics

Photo Credit: Bread for the World
From Barna:Hispanics:
"After significantly influencing the 2012 presidential election, Hispanics captured the attention of the nation’s leaders and media. Now, as the debate over the future of immigration continues, political liberals and conservatives alike may be surprised to learn about the values and priorities of today’s Hispanics in the U.S. 
Research from Barna: Hispanics, in partnership with the American Bible Society, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and OneHope, reveals that the faith and social values of Latinos may be more conservative than many cultural observers realize. As America’s fastest growing demographic segment, Hispanics demonstrate high commitments to the Christian faith and to traditional concepts of family. 
In fact, foreign-born Hispanics who currently reside in the U.S. are often more socially, spiritually, and politically conservative than are those Hispanics who are citizens. The implication is that the longer the Hispanic community experiences U.S. cultural norms, the less socially conservative its members become. In the broadest sense, this creates a fascinating paradox for policymakers and politicians: social conservatives stand to gain more allies by pushing for aggressive immigration reform, while liberals who advocate for reform are likely to find fewer allies on social and moral issues among foreign-born Hispanics who are given a path to citizenship. 
Given their relationship-driven culture, it is perhaps not surprising that Hispanics in the U.S. place high value on the traditional family. Three-quarters of all Latinos in the U.S. say that the traditional family is the main building block of a healthy community (78%). Seven out of 10 believe it is best for children to be raised by parents who are married to each other (69%). In addition, Latinos remain markedly committed to preserving the traditional family structure. Half say they are “very concerned” about the breakdown of Hispanic families. 
When it comes to typically hot-button social issues, homosexuality and abortion, most Hispanics embrace conservative points of view. On the issue of same-sex marriage, considered an important voting issue to many evangelical Christians, two-thirds of Hispanics say marriage should be defined as a relationship between one man and one woman (66%). And the majority of Hispanics in the U.S. (73%) believe that adoption or parenting are better choices than abortion for a woman who is not ready to be a mom."
To read the rest of the Barna report please click here.

Monday, August 19, 2013

1 Out of 5 Non-Christian North Americans Do Not Know Any Followers Of Christ

Photo Credit: Demo
A recent study from Gordon-Conwell's Center for the Study of Global Christianity has found that a surprising 20% of all non-Christians in North America do not personally know anyone that identifies as a Christian.

Abby Stocker of Christianity Today reports on the study:
"The biggest factor in explaining why so many North American non-Christians don't know Christians is immigration, [Missiologist Todd M.] Johnson said. The U.S. attracts more Buddhist, atheist, and agnostic immigrants than any other country in the world. It ranks second for Hindu and Jewish immigrants, and seventh for Muslim immigrants. 
But immigrants are also keeping the percentage of those who don't know a Christian from going higher. That's because the U.S. also attracts more Christian immigrants than any other country. And the region that sends the most immigrants to the U.S. is (by far) Latin America, where 90 percent of non-Christians know Christians. (In the CSGC study, Mexico was categorized as Latin America, not North America. As per U.N. categorization, North American countries included Greenland, Bermuda, Saint Pierre & Miquelon, Canada, and the U.S.) 
Migrants move into enclaves and don't venture out. But even Christians who live close to Chinatowns and Little Italys don't often venture in, Johnson said. 
Separation between religious groups isn't limited to the United States and Canada. But North America has a unique opportunity to connect across religious lines, he said. 
"The United States is a very strategic place for people to interact," he said. "It's ironic in a place with all the freedoms to interact that people don't do it. In light of the deficit of contact, what better thing could happen than to have a bunch of people move into your neighborhood and build houses of worship?"
To read more of Stocker's article please click here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Some Evangelicals In The 'Messy Middle' When It Comes To Gay Marriage

Photo Credit: Chris Freeland
From Jeff Kunerth of The Orlando Sentinel:
"A new Baylor University study has found a growing segment of evangelicals who, while opposing homosexuality, are no longer strongly against gay rights. 
Dubbed the "Messy Middle," these evangelicals may have a voice in the gay marriage debate, the Baylor researchers said. 
"As a moral issue, we predict that the opposition to gay civil rights will not have the same staying power as the abortion debate," said study co-author Brandon Martinez, a sociology researcher in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences. 
The recent apology to the gay community by Exodus International -- an evangelical parachurch ministry that had long championed the "gay cure" movement -- and its disbanding shortly after that are evidence of the shift within the evangelical community, says Lydia Bean, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sociology at Baylor. Exodus International's leader stated that the group's previous worldview was "neither honoring our fellow human beings, nor biblical." 
In their study -- "How the Messy Middle Finds a Voice: Evangelicals and Structured Ambivalence toward Gays and Lesbians" -- researchers found that 24 percent of evangelicals fit into the ambivalent category, supporting gay civil unions even though they are morally opposed to homosexuality. 
"We've known that moderate and ambivalent evangelicals are there, but now they are actually starting to have a voice and beginning to be more political," Martinez said. 
The "Messy Middle" -- which researchers refer to as "Ambivalent Evangelicals" -- has differing views from evangelical "Gay Right Opponents," who oppose civil unions, and also from "Cultural Progressives," who support homosexual behavior and civil unions. 
But when it comes to religion, "The Ambivalents have the same level of belief, church attendance, prayer life, Bible reading and friends in church as Gay Rights Opponents do," Bean said. "They're enmeshed, not peripheral. You have these people in the pews and serving as Sunday School teachers who are supportive of civil unions."
For more information on the Baylor University study please click here.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

40% of White Americans, 25% of Ethnic Minorities Have No Cross-Racial Friendships

Photo Credit: Mike Baird
From Lindsay Dunsmuir of Reuters:
"About 40 percent of white Americans and about 25 percent of non-white Americans are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race, according to an ongoing Reuters/Ipsos poll. 
The figures highlight how segregated the United States remains in the wake of a debate on race sparked by last month's acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of unarmed black Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. President Barack Obama weighed in after the verdict, calling for Americans to do some "soul searching" on whether they harbor racial prejudice. 
There are regions and groups where mixing with people of other races is more common, especially in the Hispanic community where only a tenth do not have friends of a different race. About half of Hispanics who have a spouse or partner are in a relationship with non-Hispanics, compared to one tenth of whites and blacks in relationships. 
Looking at a broader circle of acquaintances to include coworkers as well as friends and relatives, 30 percent of Americans are not mixing with others of a different race, the poll showed. 
Respondent Kevin Shaw, 49, has experienced both integration and racial homogeny. He grew up in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, and attended a mixed high school where he was one of only two white teenagers on the mostly black football team. His wife, Bobbi, is Hispanic. They met in high school and have been married for 27 years. 
Eleven years ago, they moved to a predominantly white neighborhood in the suburb of Liberty. "Soon after we moved in, my mother-in-law came to visit and a neighbor asked if she was my maid. It was just a matter of ignorance," he said. In the time he has lived there the neighborhood has become less blinkered, helped by the arrival of younger families. He also puts prevailing attitudes down to environment. "A lot of it comes down to where you grow up," he said. 
As a group, Pacific states - including California, the most populous in the nation - are the most diverse when it comes to love and friendship. By contrast, the South has the lowest percentage of people with more than five acquaintances from races that don't reflect their own.
Some of this is down to precedent. "This country has a pretty long history of restriction on inter-racial contact and for whites and blacks, even though it's in the past, there are still echoes of this," said Ann Morning, an associate professor in the department of sociology at New York University. "Hispanics and Asian Americans have traditionally had less strict lines about integrating."
In his comments two weeks ago, President Obama expressed optimism about the future, saying his daughters' experiences show younger generations have fewer issues with race. "It doesn't mean we're in a post-racial society. It doesn't mean that racism is eliminated. But...they're better than we are, they're better than we were, on these issues," he said."
To see the rest of this report please click here.

Monday, August 12, 2013

What Majority Culture People Need To Ask When Involved in Social Justice Activism

Photo Credit: Ted Eytan
For those of us from the majority culture that are involved in issues of social justice, it is important that we examine our motivations for why we seek to advocate for the marginalized and oppressed. Without even realizing it, we can possibly do the right things for the wrong reasons.

Over on the Ethnic Space blog, Daniel Fan offers three questions for us to consider in our social justice involvement. He says this:
"Justice is a potentially simple concept, but the transition from theory to practice can be extremely complicated and fraught with danger. It is entirely possible to enact injustice or oppression while attempting to do justice
Here are three simple questions you can ask in order to quickly analyze any social justice pitch:
  • Whose story is being told?
  • Who is telling the story?
  • If they are different people or parties, why is one telling the other’s story? 
The first question is used to determine the propriety of story. We are narratives: humanity was spoken into existence. There is no more innate resource to us than our own stories. 
The second question is employed to determine the identity of the story teller. Who is getting the most airtime? Who’s doing the talking? Whose voice are we hearing most of the time? Is the narrative autobiographical or someone interpreting the story for the audience? 
I ask the final question because this is where imperialism, theft, co-option, paternalism, and condescension tend to be revealed. “Being a voice for the voiceless” is a common theme within the American social justice meta-narrative. But as Brittany Ouchida succinctly summarizes: “The oppressed do not need voice; they need an audience.” No one is inherently voiceless, but the first act of oppressions like colonialism is usually to silence their subjects. 
Speaking for someone, particularly without their permission, frequently and easily becomes its own form of oppression. There are laws that protect against the misuse of a famous person’s image or likeness for commercial endorsement. Unfortunately, the impoverished rarely have the monetary resources to sue for life-rights-&-likeness violations in US courts.  Use Johnny Depp’s face to sell your lemonade? Get sued. Use an “anonymous” third-world toddler’s face to pimp your charity? Get funded. All people are made in Creator’s image. To put our image before and over someone else’s is equal parts blasphemy and idolatry. 
It’s true that we in the West have the technology and infrastructure to project messages to the rest of the world. But do we have to be that message at the same time? Power can be and often is accumulated. It can be, but is rarely given away. Does it really take a white man to travel to Africa to voice an African’s story? Why can’t the people of Africa tell their own stories? We can be camera operators and post-production, but do we have to be screenwriter, star and director as well? And whose narrative does it become when the camera spends most of its time on the white man who is making the film?"
As a white man seeking to make a positive difference in the lives of those on the margins of our world, Fan's questions are a sobering and needed reminder for me.

You can read the rest of his challenging post here.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Joni Eareckson Tada & Needing A Battlefield Jesus

Photo Credit: Rachel James
I am currently reading  A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty by Joni Eareckson Tada. In case you are not familiar with her, Joni became a quadriplegic in her late teens as a result of a diving accident in 1967. A committed follower of Jesus, she has become a noted artist, author and speaker and has been a tireless advocate for those with disabilities through her Joni and Friends ministry.

In A Place of Healing, she invites readers into her struggles that she has experienced late in life as a result of her physical challenges. Although I'm just a few chapters into the book, I'm finding her vulnerability refreshing. She is a living testament of how God can use suffering in the life of a believer to positively impact the lives of others.

In the first chapter, Joni shares how dealing with her disability all of these years has affected how she views Jesus. She says this:
"Here at our ministry we refuse to present a picture of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” a portrait that tugs at your sentiments or pulls at your heartstrings. That’s because we deal with so many people who suffer, and when you’re hurting hard, you’re neither helped nor inspired by a syrupy picture of the Lord, like those sugary, sentimental images many of us grew up with. 
You know what I mean? Jesus with His hair parted down the middle, surrounded by cherubic children and bluebirds. Come on. Admit it: When your heart is being wrung out like a sponge, when you feel like Morton’s salt is being poured into your wounded soul, you don’t want a thin, pale, emotional Jesus who relates only to lambs and birds and babies. You want a warrior Jesus. You want a battlefield Jesus. You want His rigorous and robust gospel to command your sensibilities to stand at attention. 
To be honest, many of the sentimental hymns and gospel songs of our heritage don’t do much to hone that image. One of the favorite words of hymn writers in days gone by was sweet. It’s a term that doesn’t have the edge on it that it once did. When you’re in a dark place, when lions surround you, when you need strong help to rescue you from impossibility, you don’t want “sweet.” You don’t want faded pastels and honeyed softness. You want mighty. You want the strong arm and unshakable grip of God who will not let you go—no matter what. 
For instance, I absolutely love that beautiful old hymn (a great favorite of my parents) “I Come to the Garden Alone.” Remember the verse that says, “He speaks and the sound of His voice is so sweet, the birds hush their singing”? It’s a nice sentiment, and I’m aware that a thought like that can provide comfort. But it’s really just a reinforcement of a romanticized nineteenth-century image. We have gilded the real Jesus with so much “dew on the roses” that many people have lost touch with Him—or simply turned away. 
Why do some people gravitate to a sentimental picture? Well, think about it: A sugar-coated Christ requires nothing from us—neither conviction nor commitment. Why? Because it’s an image that lacks truth and power. We have to try to change that picture. And the only way to do it is to think about the resurrection. Sure, romanticists try to color the resurrection with lilies and songbirds, but lay aside the emotions and think of the facts for a moment: A man, stone-cold dead—a cadaver of gray, cold flesh, really—rose up from His slab and walked out of His grave. Friend, that’s almost frightening. There’s nothing sugar-coated about it. And the powerful thing is that it accurately describes what Jesus did. That reality has power; it’s truth that grips you. 
Some people believe Jesus came to do sweet, pleasant things, like turning bad people into nice people. Not so. As someone once said, our Lord and Savior came to turn dead people into living ones—and there’s nothing sentimental about that. At different times in my life I’ve enjoyed the old pictures of Jesus cradling cute lambs or walking around with blow-dried hair, clad in a white robe looking like it just arrived from the dry cleaner. But these days, these warfare days, those old images just don’t cut it for me. I need a battlefield Jesus at my side down here in the dangerous, often messy trenches of daily life. I need Jesus the rescuer, ready to wade through pain, death, and hell itself to find me, grasp my hand, and bring me safely through. 
There will be a time very soon, I hope, when I will once again enjoy the casual stroll through the garden with Him, admiring the dew drops on the roses. But for right now, if I am to “endure hardship … like a good soldier” as 2 Timothy 2:3 mandates, I need a comrade in arms, a strong commander to take charge of my private war. And that is exactly who He is, and what He has done."
As one who has suffered in ways that few of us can relate with, Joni offers a compelling picture of a Savior that can withstand any attacks that may come our way. That's the kind of Jesus that I would like to know.

(A Place of Healing is currently available on Kindle for only $2.51. You may want to snatch it up while the price is still low.)

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

1 In 5 U.S. Residents Speak A Language Other Than English At Home

Photo Credit: Ryan Ozawa
A report recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau provides insight to the growing number of U.S. families that speak a language other than English while at home. Interestingly, the report shows "that more than half (58 percent) of U.S. residents 5 and older who speak a language other than English at home also speak English "very well."

Other findings from the report:
"The report shows that the percent speaking English "less than very well" grew from 8.1 percent in 2000 to 8.7 percent in 2007, but stayed at 8.7 percent in 2011. The percent speaking a language other than English at home went from 17.9 percent in 2000 to 19.7 percent in 2007, while continuing upward to 20.8 percent in 2011. 
"This study provides evidence of the growing role of languages other than English in the national fabric," said Camille Ryan, a statistician in the Census Bureau's Education and Social Stratification Branch and the report's author. "Yet, at the same time that more people are speaking languages other than English at home, the percentage of people speaking English proficiently has remained steady." 
Of the 60.6 million people who spoke a language other than English at home in 2011, almost two-thirds (37.6 million) spoke Spanish. Reflecting the overall trend, the percentage speaking Spanish at home grew from 12.0 percent in 2005 to 12.9 percent in 2011. In contrast to the overall trend, however, the percent who spoke Spanish at home but spoke English "less than very well" declined from 5.7 percent to 5.6 percent over the period. 
The recent increase in non-English speakers continues a trend dating back three decades. Between 1980 and 2010, the number of people speaking a language other than English climbed 158 percent, compared with 38 percent for the overall population 5 and older. The seven-fold increase in Vietnamese speakers was the highest percentage jump among 17 of the most common languages, while Spanish speakers posted the largest numerical gain (25.9 million). In contrast, the number speaking Italian, German, Polish, Yiddish and Greek declined over the period. 
Other highlights: 
  • In addition to English and Spanish, there were six languages in 2011 spoken at home by at least 1 million people: Chinese (2.9 million), Tagalog (1.6 million), Vietnamese (1.4 million), French (1.3 million), German (1.1 million) and Korean (1.1 million).
  • The prevalence of people speaking non-English languages at home varied widely across states, from 44 percent of the population in California to 2 percent in West Virginia.
  • Laredo, Texas, led all metro areas with 92 percent of residents age 5 and older speaking a language other than English at home.
  • Metro and micro areas in the West, South and Northeast tended to have higher levels of people speaking non-English languages at home. Those in the Midwest tended to have lower levels, with the exception of Illinois.
  • Of Spanish speakers, 45 percent of foreign-born naturalized citizens spoke English "very well" compared with 23 percent of foreign-born non-citizens. Those who were native-born, had at least a bachelor's degree or were not in poverty were more likely to speak English "very well."
  • Eighty percent or more of French and German speakers spoke English "very well." In contrast, less than 50 percent of those who spoke Korean, Chinese or Vietnamese spoke English "very well". The rate for Spanish speakers was 56 percent."
To look at the complete report, including visual maps illustrating which languages are spoken throughout the United States, please click here.

(HT: Buzzfeed)

Monday, August 05, 2013

In Love’s Service, Only Wounded Soldiers Can Serve

Photo Credit: Wally Gobetz
From Brennan Manning's Abba's Child:
"God not only forgives and forgets our shameful deeds but even turns their darkness into light. All things work together for those who love God, “even,” Augustine of Hippo added, “our sins.” 
Thornton Wilder’s one-act play “The Angel That Troubled the Waters,” based on John 5:1-4, dramatizes the power of the pool of Bethesda to heal whenever an angel stirred its waters. 
A physician comes periodically to the pool hoping to be the first in line and longing to be healed of his melancholy. The angel finally appears but blocks the physician just as he is ready to step into the water. The angel tells the physician to draw back, for this moment is not for him. The physician pleads for help in a broken voice, but the angel insists that healing is not intended for him. 
The dialogue continues — and then comes the prophetic word from the angel: “Without your wounds where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve. Physician, draw back.” 
Later, the man who enters the pool first and is healed rejoices in his good fortune and turning to the physician says: “Please come with me. It is only an hour to my home. My son is lost in dark thoughts. I do not understand him and only you have ever lifted his mood. Only an hour.... There is also my daughter: since her child died, she sits in the shadow. She will not listen to us but she will listen to you.” 
Christians who remain in hiding continue to live the lie. We deny the reality of our sin. In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others. We cling to our bad feelings and beat ourselves with the past when what we should do is let go. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, guilt is an idol. But when we dare to live as forgiven men and women, we join the wounded healers and draw closer to Jesus."