The Antidote To Ignorance

By Charles Fick

I keep coming back to this sentence from ­Humilitas by John Dickson.  He says, “Expertise could legitimately be described as uncovering the depths of my ignorance.” (p. 54)

In my ethnic journey as a privileged white male I’ve come to realize that I’m not very good at admitting my own ignorance.  I want to project strength, competence, and intelligence.  My arrogance and pride often convince me that I know much more than I do.  Some have even gone so far as to applaud their ignorance.  Arrogance of ignorance is a thing now.  Ignorance is bliss, right?

Arrogance of ignorance

is a thing now. 

Ignorance is bliss, right?

 

On the contrary, ignorance is dangerous; and ignorance of your own ignorance is very dangerous.  Ignorance of others’ ignorance can also be dangerous, especially when combined with a semi-anonymous social media communication method.  I see this daily in my Facebook feed.  Ignorance combined with arrogance has led to…quite a mess.  It’s gotten pretty ugly out there on the interwebs.

It’s much easier to point out ignorance in others, especially if you consider yourself a “woke” white person like me.  Moral superiority is a powerful drug for the ego.  The election of such a morally flawed President as Donald Trump only adds fuel to the fire.  This is a recipe for relational disasters, and I’ve had a few.

But lately I’ve been weighed down by how much I don’t know and how hard it is to grasp the truth of things that are happening.  It’s really difficult to sort through the piles of biased propaganda and biased news left and right to ascertain what is actually going on.

The possibility of believing lies, repeating them and basing our actions on them is very real.  The miscommunications keep piling up and anger begins to boil inside me.  Arrogance of ignorance is exhausting.  I lament the ignorance in me.  I lament the ignorance of white supremacy.  I lament the ignorance of history.  I’m so so tired of ignorance.  Tired of my own, and especially tired of others’ ignorance.

So how do we invite our “un-woke” brothers and sisters to join us on this journey that we are on?  How do we fight this ignorance?  I’d like to suggest these three action steps that I hope to make myself in the days and weeks ahead:

  1. Fight ignorance with relationships.  Get to know them deeply.  Ask lots of questions.  Learn from them.  Have them introduce you to their friends and introduce them to your friends.  They need to know you and you need to know them.  We all need to know more people who are not like us who can begin to fill in the blank spaces is our knowledge, correct some misconceptions and just maybe open our eyes to our blind spots and prejudices.
  2. Fight ignorance by telling your story.  Tell the stories of your journey face to face.  Politics is contentious.  Ideologies conflict.  But stories?  No one can argue with your story.  My own ethnic journey was blissfully ignorant until I moved to Atlanta in 2001 for Mission Year.  My whole purpose for being there was to love my neighbors and I quickly figured out that meant listening to their stories.  Their stories changed me.  Your story can change others too.
  3. Fight ignorance with the truth, gently.  Read and discuss a book on the history of racism, white supremacy, oppression, inequality, injustice, slavery, poverty, civil rights, reconciliation…  Or take a class with them on one of these topics.  I thought slavery wasn’t that bad until I read The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass for an Africana Studies class at Cornell.  I’ve been reading books like it ever since.

Ignorance is not bliss.  Ignorance is darkness.  Every time I connect with a person who is different from me I see a flicker of hope.  Every time I share a story from my ethnic journey with a friend the world seems a bit brighter.  Every time I share the truth in love, the light shines forth.  The antidote to ignorance is the light of the truth.

Gone to Waukesha

I need to say goodbye for a season; I’m not sure how long. I was praying and searching for a new church call, and have become an Intentional Interim Pastor…. this is the person who serves a church between settled pastors to help the community be intentional about their transition, and future mission. I wanted to do this kind of ministry partly because the Church (in it’s largest sense, of everybody following Jesus in community) is changing in history-making ways. I believe that Christian communities between settled ministries, are more open to thinking about change, and discerning what God is doing. Then recently, God opened the door for me to serve a very large and lovely Lutheran church in Waukesha county. Wisconsin is a swing state.

Unless you’re from Wisconsin, you may not know this: Dane County (where I live) is the most liberal county in the state. My new church is in Waukesha County – the home of Paul Ryan, Scott Walker and perhaps the most conservative county in the state. Madison (where I live) is multicultural, has enormous race-class divides and rapidly increasing religious diversity… four mosques (two mostly African), several kinds of Hindu temples, a Sikh temple, dozens of Buddhist groups, and six Jewish communities. Waukesha county is 93.3% white, more in the area surrounding my new church. So I’m driving from one world into another. Yet I’m clear that God took me there, to serve these mostly upper middle class white folks, as their temporary Senior Pastor. Which does mean, learning to love more.

What’s also clear, is that there are good kind and gracious people following Jesus, in my new church, and they voted in a variety of ways. (This is not what my Madison friends think.) But we pray, together, for God’s mission, for justice, for social concerns, as well as for the usual ways we humans suffer – sickness, death, unemployment, need. We pray, together, and we sing, together… both historical hymns from northern Europe (I am really growing in my grasp of Scandinavian hymnody) but also contemporary multicultural worship music, accompanied by drums or jazz piano. One parishioner told me she felt uncomfortable – I asked “cultural appropriation?” and she said, maybe. Another told me, he loved the movie shown about the poorest zip code in Wisconsin, in Milwaukee… and he wondered, “why it is, that liberals think conservatives don’t care about poor people?” My new church gives away a lot of money to poor people, in Waukesha county, Milwaukee, El Salvador and Tanzania, among other places.
So I need to take a break, mostly because I’m working very long hours, and commuting two hours a day. But also, because I believe when God puts us in new places, as Christians, and as missionaries, it’s good to learn, and pray, and reflect, before writing and speaking. I wish you all well, and I know that the Holy Spirit is inexorably at work. Look me up on FB if you want to connect.

Direct or Indirect, Part 2: What is the best way to resolve conflict?

Growing up, my parents developed the “I don’t like it” conflict-resolution style for our family of five. When anyone in the family said these 4 magic words, you had to stop the offending behavior. “I don’t like you poking me.” Boom! You had to cease and desist immediately, or face much worse consequences. “I don’t like it” was direct, clear, and left very little room for confusion about what you meant. This worked well for all types of overt, irritating behaviors: unwanted kicking, wrestling, stealing each other’s stuff, entering one another’s rooms uninvited, etc. However, it did not help with interpersonal pain or disappointments. “I don’t like you ignoring me?” “I don’t like you being aloof?” “I don’t like how you break trust with me?” These words never came out of our mouths.

Then I got to college. In InterVarsity, we had direct ways of resolving conflict. We loved to teach Matthew 18: 15-20. There is a proper way and order to go about conflict resolution, and it is directly from Jesus’ mouth after all. This was not one way to resolve conflict, but rather it was THE “biblical model.” Go directly to them first. Be direct. Then involve others second if one-on-one doesn’t work. Go public third. This became my conflict resolution grid, my mandate. The only way to resolve things. Except I was not good at it. In this grid, if you are articulate about your feelings and quick on your feet, you would always win. You could always get me to feel guilty and admit that it was all my fault. (I was ill-equipped to articulate my feelings of pain, confusion, disappointment, regret, shame, anger, etc.) Our “Direct InterVarsity” way of resolving conflict favored certain personality types and was very awkward for others. Don’t worry…I intentionally applied myself and I got better at these difficult, direct conversations. But it took years of hard work.

There are many styles of conflict resolution. Some people freely express lots of emotion, others show almost no emotion at all. Some express anger, others think that expressing anger is a sin. Some are succinct, others want to keep talking for hours. Geography certainly shapes your approach, as you’re your family of origin, and Meyers-Briggs (and other) personality types. And culture shapes how we do conflict, often more than we think. I think of these as different ends of a spectrum. We have preferences as to where sit on the direct/indirect spectrum, for example, but we also can learn to slide up and down depending on your context, audience, etc. I prefer to say “direct/indirect” rather than Asian/white because I have some white friends who are very indirect, and I have some Asian friends who are super direct. I also have had uncomfortably direct conflict resolution with African American friends. I thought I was direct until those experiences. I had to learn to go their direction. That story will wait for another time.

Indirect conflict resolution is also in the Bible, it turns out. Think about Esau and Jacob in Genesis 32. Jacob had previously stolen Esau’s inheritance, which is a pretty wicked thing to do. If anyone needed the Matthew 18 step-by-step process of conflict resolution, these brothers did. But that is not how they reconciled. Jacob sends gifts, God seems to work, they embrace. They are reconciled, more or less, and they did not even mention the earlier egregious sin.

Some of my indirect friends prefer the approach of “I just stop talking and see if you notice.” If you care, you will ask about it. You will draw me out. I have tried using this approach in complicated team settings or with really angry people. It helps me avoid feeling like I have to win the verbal game. I just get quiet. It is a powerful new teaching for me.

I was talking to my new friend, Audrey Chan. She helped me understand “volume” in conflict. She might say to a white friend, “That interaction was a little awkward.” On a scale of 1 to 10, that sounds to my ears like volume level 2 in terms of how much she is bothered. But she means it at a 9. She does not want me to feel embarrassed about what I have done to her, so she understates the impact. I have to learn to turn that volume up for myself. “Doug, she is saying that was a little awkward. That probably means it was VERY awkward for her. Pay attention!”

She also explained there is apologizing for one’s intentions, and then there is apologizing for one’s impact upon another. We white people are much better at apologizing for my intentions, but we are very slow to apologize for our unintended impact upon others. If I didn’t mean to do that to you, then I played no role in it and there is nothing to apologize for.

Wrong! Like Audrey said, I need to pay attention to my intentions and also to my unintended impact on others. And sometimes gift-giving can replace words. Audrey said, “If someone leaves me bag of oranges by my front door, I know they have apologized.”

You and I have a style of resolving conflict. You may never have considered some important questions about that style:
What are the ways that I think that my way of resolving conflict is “normal?”

How do I expect that others will bring up issues with me if I have hurt them? How do I expect that the burden is on them if they have been hurt, versus the onus is on me to ask first?

When was the last time you apologized simply for your impact on someone (even though you had no intention of making them feel that way)?

Do you agree with my assertion that we white people tend to prefer to apologize for our intentions rather than for our unintended impact on people?

Christmas 2016: family discussion guide

Doug and I heard an extremely painful story from a friend about conflict in a white family over Thanksgiving.   In order to keep working at loving across differences, we want to share this from the Wisconsin Council of Churches:

“If your family is like most families, tensions can run high around the holidays with new stress, old arguments that still haven’t been resolved, and a few characters just to mix things up. This Christmas, those tensions might run even higher as people discuss the recent election. Rather than taking the bait and getting into arguments, why not try a different approach?

Discussion Questions and/or Responses:

If you were to design the perfect society, what would you want everyone to be able to experience?

Politics is about making our society livable and orderly. What things do you care most about that might make our society better?

It seems like this election really got under your skin. What are the most troubling aspects of the outcome in your opinion?

Some might argue that our politicians do best when we as communities are united in giving them clear directions about what we want. Those same people might argue that politicians are ineffective because they are getting such conflicting messages from their constituents. How might we try to build relationships to send more unified messages about what we need to our elected officials?

Even though people in our family might disagree about how to get to the goals, what goals for our family (society) do we all share?
How could we as a family build bridges with a broader network of people?

Imagine what life would be like if we made it our responsibility (and not politicians) to make our communities the way we want them to be. What would that look like?”

Going home for Thanksgiving after This Election?

It’s an understatement to say white folks were divided this election. So if your family is anything like mine, you’re going to face somebody at your table who voted for our President-elect, maybe because of abortion, or maybe because of their own bank accounts, or they like some things he said, or perhaps, they just ignored other things he said.

And you’re probably steamed, if you are a white person who wants to be in healthy mutually-respectful relationships with the rest of humanity. How do you get ready to go home for the holiday?

I heard some wisdom from an African prayer partner, and then the same story, from a Black preacher-activist I watch online. One time in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible), Samuel came to God and was praying his heart out. He was in a lot of pain because he felt that his values were being violated and he felt rejected. I feel my values are being violated, this election cycle. The prophet Samuel was leading God’s people in a certain direction, and the people of God said no, they didn’t want a prophet, they wanted a King. And what God told Samuel was, these people haven’t rejected you, Samuel, they have rejected me. And they will pay the price of having a king – a king will tax them, and send their sons to war, and generally take advantage of them. Then God continued to be at work, with His or Her infinite creativity.

My prayer partner, and the preacher I follow both said, America wanted a king. And so God has given us a king, we’ll learn what it means to have a king…. what a king will cost us.

My thought for you, as you gather with your family for Thanksgiving is this. If you have white family and friends who voted for this political leader – they can’t vote away your values. God is still infinitely creative; still in charge, still redeeming and saving us all. You and I can walk into our dinner conversations with the decision to practice – and speak about – our value of respecting all races, respecting and including immigrants, finding some common ground with people who practice other faiths, and even, perhaps, some compassion for our family members who just voted for the winning candidate.

Direct or Indirect: Which communication style is better?

Growing up, I was not at all aware of my family’s directness in communicating about our needs and desires. It wasn’t until I made friends of other ethnicities, especially Asian friends, that my eyes began to open. Take that up 100 notches once I married Sandy, a Korean American.

Direct communication can be very helpful, given the context. And indirect communication can be equally helpful, given a different context. Let’s learn to assess the context, and then pick the kind of communication that serves those around us.

FOOD.
When we are eating with Sandy’s family, it is important to look around the table and see whose plate is getting empty. Others should offer seconds. In my family, if I want seconds and there is a little left on the serving dish, it is fine for me to take some.

Direct mindset: “I am still a little hungry. There is still some food left on the serving dish. I am going to help myself to some more.”
Indirect mindset: “Let me look around the table at other people’s plates. Whose plate is getting empty? I am going to offer them seconds. Someone will notice that my plate is getting empty, and they will offer me seconds.”

Direct mindset: “I’m going to grab a burger with my friend. I will announce this to my wife. If she wants a burger, she will ask me to get her one also.”
Indirect mindset: “Doug knows me and is aware of my needs and desires, just like I am aware of his. He knows that food is one of my love languages. Of course he will bring me home a burger. I don’t need to ask.”

ARTICULATING MY PREFERENCES
Direct mindset: “I know what I would like to do today. It is up to me to tell others what my needs are.”
Indirect mindset: “I want to listen to my friends’ needs so that my desires do not overshadow theirs. Then together we can figure out what the best option is for lunch.”

TEAM MEETINGS
Direct mindset: “It is important that I tell my team exactly where I stand on the issues we are discussing. I owe it to them to be clear about how on board I am.”
Indirect mindset: “I have some concerns about the things we are discussing, but I will wait to be called upon because I do not want to be disrespectful to our leader.”

I used to be confused by indirect communication. Instead of seeking to understand and empathize, I would use therapeutic language to explain why I was right and they were wrong. I would say, “I cannot be expected to read people’s minds. If they don’t say what they want, that is not my problem. Everyone is responsible to articulate their own needs.”

Jesus has humbled me since then. Love is more important to me than being right, on my good days.

Today I am grateful for the choice to be direct or indirect about my feelings, my needs, or my opinions, depending with whom I’m talking. I enjoy being able to be understated if I wish, or ask questions instead of just offering my opinion. And yet there are times when I am served by being direct and clear. I value both.

DISCLAIMER
Within different ethnic groups, there are varying levels of direct and indirect communication. There are always individual exceptions to these trends. You can probably think of many. Also, within different regions of the U.S., the amount of directness (or what topics we are direct about) varies. The East Coast is different from the Midwest which is different from the South, etc.

END NOTE
When I  was growing up, I was encouraged to be direct about stating my needs, my preferences, and my desires. We practiced this regularly at the dinner table and in family meetings. But we were not direct about some of our deeper feelings. We did not talk about our sadness, our regrets, our loneliness, nor any sense of depression. (How about for you? What are you comfortable being direct about? And which topics do you prefer indirect or silent communication?)

 

(Thanks to Pat Li-Barbour, my collaborator for this post.)

Standing up to post-election bullies

Jesus taught us “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27-8, 31).

Both of Doug and I have heard personal stories of intensely racist and anti faith incidents after the election. We are preparing ourselves to intervene, to stand up for black and brown folks and those practicing other religions, who are being bullied. But in order to help calm the fear, and take such a radical counter-cultural stance following Jesus, we need to prepare ourselves and be calm ourselves…

Now that the election is over: here are some positive steps you can take if you are overwhelmed or feel afraid yourself:

-Self-Care – practice things that bring you sense of control of your life (cleaning, taking your dog for a walk, jogging, biking, cooking or baking or just being alone… you name it.) Be gentle, kind and forgiving to yourself. Offer yourself loving kindness. I find meditation helpful and if you need guidance and a companion to practice it let me know.

– Volunteer- there are many social justice organizations and groups healing society that need you and your time. Spend a minute looking around in your city or town.

– Give/Donate to a justice organization-this will give you the concrete sense of making changes you wish to see. Many organizations will be happy to receive it.

– Most of all live your values. Trust God. Prepare yourself to intervene and stand up for someone

 

A moral revival? for Election day

I had a faith renewal experience during this election cycle. I realize that sounds hard to believe. But what happened is, a Rabbi friend of mine invited me to Milwaukee recently, for a “Moral Revival.” I have to admit, the title left me chagrined – I haven’t been to a revival since I left Texas. But as it turned out, it was a “Moral Revival of Values” and the speaker was Rev. Dr. William Barber (who preached at the DNC, seriously… a sermon, at a political convention). Dr. Barber somehow touched on the heart of my faith. First we were inspired by a vision of the common good that God promises in scripture – wellbeing for the poor, healing for the sick, an end to unjust incarceration, and justice (all Jesus’ concerns… a person might be quoting his first sermon in Luke 4.)

We sang songs from the civil rights movements. We heard stories from the suffering community in Milwaukee – a place with the worst incarceration rate in the country for Black men, a place with deep inequity in the education system between suburban white folk and black and brown neighbors in the city. In Wisconsin we know a lot about the “school to prison pipeline”… if a kid can’t read by the second or third grade, they start building another prison cell here. In Wisconsin our prisons have lead in the water, and our (working) prisoners don’t get paid enough to buy a bottle of clean water/week. In Wisconsin the white/black incomes ($50,000/$25,000) parallel the white/black graduation gap (50%). We’re mostly “midwest nice” but it’s a racist place.

My Rabbi friend quoted the Hebrew Bible on these themes. A Muslim woman leader quoted the Quran on these same themes. It moved me to hear these primary concerns of Jesus reflected by our sisters from the Abrahamic religions.

And then Dr. Barber, who is an African American preacher, asked us why… if these are God’s concerns… there are no prophets in the faith community who are calling our communities and our politicians to account for what they talk about and work on.

Why are we Christians letting ourselves be divided:
-into Evangelical, and Pentecostal, and Mainline,
-into Left/Right?
-Conservative/Liberal and Progressive?
-Democrat/Republican?
-Why are we Christians letting ourselves be divided from Muslims, Jews, and other people of faith? When they suffer for their faith, why aren’t we suffering?

He concluded we have a heart problem – meaning, we lack compassion for the folks suffering these real injuries. He picked up the theme of our heart problem in Ezekiel, when his community was crumbling and no prophet was found, God promised “a new heart… and a new spirit [saying] I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

Dr Barber is the leader, in South Carolina, of a coalition of 93 social justice and faith based organizations who come together on “Moral Mondays” for actions around these simple concerns – care for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the unjustly incarcerated, the environment, immigrant neighbors, racial gaps, etc. He persuaded me that “why” is because we don’t have enough compassion.

I went home, and the next day heard on NPR a story about the working class white folks who support one candidate, at least in part because of the losses in their lives. And I feel broken-hearted today, that we would allow ourselves to be so divided as to lose our compassion for them. Jesus certainly wouldn’t. Remember he frequently “looked with compassion” when he challenged folks he encountered? I look at the news from my hometown Madison, a college town, and a white football fan came to the game wearing alternately a mask of President Obama (and Secretary Clinton) with a noose around his neck held by another white football fan wearing a Trump mask. In all the horrible black/white controversy that followed, no white leaders have seriously confronted this. Very few white leaders have simply grieved what students at our local university must be thinking and feeling as they process the horrible heritage of lynching and the current reality of white silence in the face of such racism, or male silence in the face of such sexism. “We have a heart problem,” said Dr. Barber. The wise Quaker writer Parker Palmer said something very like this, in his recent book, “Healing the Heart of Democracy.”

We have a serious heart problem. We need more love…. for our entire community, and particularly for the poor. So I’m going to vote, today. I hope you will to, if you haven’t already. I’m going to work the polls, and treat voters (and maybe some protestors) with respect and compassion. But I’m also going to start praying that God takes away the hearts of stone among people following Jesus, and gives us his heart, his eyes, and his commitment to challenging unjust people and systems.

I guess the Moral Revival of Values is working.

 

(You can learn more about Dr. Barber’s multi-state project here: http://www.moralrevival.org)

Beyond Colorblind: Seeing People Clearly

Being colorblind is a “virtue” that many people say they aspire toward today. They compare it to how America used to be “flat-out-racist.” Today we are colorblind and enlightened. Indeed it is a major improvement over slavery and Jim Crow. The problem with being colorblind is that while it is a good starting point, it is a poor destination. On the one hand, it is crucial as followers of Jesus that we examine the biases of our hearts, as we pointed out in our “Barnacles” post. But being colorblind will not get us to where God is trying to take us, to become God’s cross-cultural people, full of compassion, humility, courage, and actually seeing people for who they are.

When my wife, Sandy, was a freshman in college, it was a white friend who first asked her about her experience of being Korean-American. This white friend, Alison Siewert, was not trying to just accept Sandy and be colorblind. Instead she looked deeper into Sandy’s life, to see who she was under the surface, to discover more fully what God was doing in her. Who was Sandy going to become in Christ as a redeemed Korean-American woman?

It reminds me of a story in the Gospel of Mark of a man learning to see clearly. In Mark 8:23, Jesus heals a blind man, but only partly. After the first round of healing, the man says, “I see people, but they are like trees walking.” Jesus goes another round with him, and then the man “looks intently.” Jesus’ power, combined with the man “looking intently” does open his eyes. He sees the world clearly for the first time. In my opinion, aiming to be colorblind is like seeing people vaguely, like trees walking. Being colorblind means you see, but you see vaguely, not clearly. It is not really looking deeply who they are created to be. Alison did not just accept Sandy, but she looked intently into her life, asking great questions about who she is and how her family raised her. Sandy was not some diversity project…Alison was a good friend, practicing compassion, fascinated with Sandy and her story, which God used as a turning point in Sandy’s growth.

What is beneath the surface in this person’s life, their family, their culture. What is the beauty and the pain they carry within. How are they made in the image of God, and what is God doing in their life today?

I’m a better friend when I am asking these questions. This week I was talking with Megan Krischke,

Doug and Megan
Doug and Megan

a multiracial friend of mine, partly Native-American. She told me the story of when she took a tour of a Native-American college, Haskell Indian Nations University. At the end of the tour, she stopped to pray and ask God what he was doing on campus. She saw an image of a 6 year-old Native boy. That little boy stayed with her for weeks…every time she prayed, he was there at her side. Megan asked me if I thought he was a ghost. I do not have any personal experience with a vision like this. Do you? (Sometimes we white people can keep stories like this at arm’s distance because it is not part of our experience, but if we choose to engage with them, such stories can be used by God to change us.) Because I am friends with Megan, I am learning to share her heart for Haskell Indian Nations University. I am learning to look intently into Megan’s life, to care about her story and her people, and to wonder out loud with her about why God might have allowed her to see an enduring vision of a young Native boy. If I am not friends with Megan, and if I am not looking intently into her life (moving beyond colorblind), I just live in my little comfort bubble. I want to blink and see the world through her eyes. Jesus is teaching me learning to pay attention to my Native-American friends and their world. God is using these friends to make my life richer.

How about as a parent…how can I help my family move beyond being colorblind? Last week my daughter, Stephanie, brought over 4 friends who happened to all be Korean-American. Striking up a conversation, I said, “There are some differences between Korean culture and white culture. Do you notice any?” They shook their heads. Stephanie and four friends“When you want my attention, you say, ‘Hey Stephanie’s Dad.’ In my culture, you would say, ‘Hey Mr. Schaupp’ or ‘Mr. Doug’ or just ‘Doug.’ No one else around me says, ‘Hey Stephanie’s Dad’ except Stephanie’s Korean-American friends.” They all giggled. I continued, “When you want to talk about an event coming up in a few weeks, you say, ‘The party will be next-next Friday.’ We say, ‘The party will be two Friday’s from now.’ We white people don’t use the phrase, ‘next-next Friday.’” Again they giggled. One girl said, “We did not even know we say those things. But now we see it.” This is a simple example, but these girls are made in the image of God. They, like all of us, have distinct cultural values woven into the fabric of their lives. It is good for me to look deeper into their lives and how God has wired them.

How practically can we grow into people who look intently?
Be like Alison. Be a good friend. Make it a priority to have friends with different backgrounds from yourself. In some parts of the U.S., this requires a lot more effort and intentionality. Spend time with your friend in different contexts. Get into their world.
Ask good questions. Be curious. Be a learner. Not because they are your diversity project. Not because they will explain to you why so many Black people are angry today. Look beneath the surface.
Read. I love to read well-written books about Korean history. It is such a rich and fascinating journey through the centuries. That helps me understand who my kids are becoming.

Values series: love and money

I turned on the car radio the other day and heard this electrifying refrain…
“think about love
(think about money)
think about justice
(think about money)
think about children
(think about money)”
(Life would really be better if you paused and turn the excellent soundtrack on, so you can enjoy the Afro-funk soundtrack while you read on.)

That juxtaposition of love and money struck me deeply. I felt so surprised.  White people don’t sing songs about love and money.  Why is that? Come to think of it, polite white people mostly don’t even like to talk about money. It’s one of those really personal topics we avoid, like politics, religion and sex.

The song goes on…
“better think about your future, and don’t forget your past
think about unity
(think about money)
think about you and me
(think about money)
think about righteousness
 (think about money)
think about positive vibes
(think about money)
think about togetherness
(think about money)”
I love those leading values: unity, togetherness, righteousness, children thriving, love.  They’re a lot of the values that we want, as white people, in interracial relationships. The point (and the title) of the song is “2000 blacks have the right to be free” and it was produced in 1980. And today, aren’t those still the values we want, as white people? Fela Kuti was saying, basically, the obstacle to achieving those precious values is money.

Loving children… and money. Of course, it’s out of my deep love for my own young adult children that I want to help them pay for college. I want them to have a chance to choose jobs without worrying about student loan repayment. And when I really pause to think about it, I want this for every child. There are a lot of children in my city that don’t have enough to eat… because of their parents’ income.

I went to a meeting the other day with a Rabbi I know, and I learned that the MacArther foundation (the folks who give away the “genius grant”) have a new competition going to fund $100 million for a game-changing social healing proposal.  It was reported to me, that one of the front line folk working with the poor in my own city said simply, “most of the poor folk I know, just need money. Let’s give them grants.” [In my city, the poor people are mostly black and brown folk.]

I lost my own job not too long ago, and when beloved spouse [white, European] and I [white, American] redid our household budget, we discovered that on half our former income, we can still pay our mortgage, buy food, and even… give away some money. Talk about white privilege. It’s different, sure, and as I pray and think about the future, my biggest concerns are helping our last young adult child with college and how can I myself avoid being poor in my old age. I’m not worried about regular bills. Talk about white privilege. So I declined a job working with rich and middle class people (because it did no social good). I’m still unemployed and I’m trying to figure out what all this means, spiritually, ethically, and economically, in my family’s life.

I’ve been rereading a book Dr. Martin Luther King Jr wrote, Strength to Love, copyright 1963. In one of the essays, he takes the role and tone of Paul writing an epistle to America. “Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but you have failed to employ your moral and spiritual genius to make of it a brotherhood (138).” And he didn’t even have social media. He goes on… “America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses and given luxuries to the classes… God never intended one people to live in superfluous and inordinate wealth, while others know only deadening poverty. God wants all of his children to have the basics necessities of life, and he has left in this universe ‘enough and to spare’ for that purpose (139).” The reason that essay is in a book about love, is that it takes strength, to think about money.

However, if we truly love, we will think about money… who has it, how do we share it, what do we do with our own money. A mentor of mine once told me, whenever somebody comes for spiritual guidance, she asks to see their checkbook or bank statement. Because – that document, with their calendar, tells the most about a person’s actual values. Her point was that personal budgets are moral documents. They reveal how much we love, as well as who we love.

Dr. William Barber is making the point right now that state and federal government budgets are moral documents. Among other things, Dr. Barber is picking up on Dr. King’s heritage with his call for a revolution of moral values. His charge is to “reframe the moral conversation in our local communities. Economic justice, criminal justice reform, equality in education, healthcare access for all, equal protection under the law – these are the moral issues of our time!” Did you notice he starts with money?

Jesus said once, that we can’t love both God and money (Luke 16:13).  Perhaps, we can’t love our neighbors deeply either, unless we are free from the love of money. Perhaps, polite white people don’t usually talk about money because we don’t have to. We have plenty of it, so we rarely have to think about what would happen if our income were cut in half, or if our spiritual mentor asked to dig into our finances. What would it be like, if you and I let our deepest spiritual values shape our daily financial choices? I’m asking, as white people, what is our economic role in humanity’s shared destiny?  What is yours, personally?  What if we all thought… about love, and about money.