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.

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When White People Should Call a Time Out, Part 1

Time Outs are crucial in sports. And in the past few decades, parenting has picked up on the “Time Out” trend. Time Outs can calm things down. For both the parent and the child.

Time Outs can also transform a confusing cross-cultural mess into a transformational, healing conversation, where God moves deeper in the lives of everyone participating.

Here is a recent one for me. I was hosting a multiethnic gathering of Christian leaders, so we all could learn about multiethnic complexity and Christian witness.


For a discussion topic, I presented them with a tension-filled case study of a ministry conflict of multiethnic confusion. In the case study, there are 8 Latino leaders who want to proceed with their plans for a multiethnic outreach, featuring Jesus the Reconciler, from Mark 11:15-18. They also wanted to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts during the outreach, to show solidarity with their African-American sisters and brothers. But the 15 African-American leaders on the team felt uncomfortable with this idea because they as a community had never discussed what it means to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts. It is hard to do an outreach on a theme that had not been worked through among the leadership team themselves.

A white woman in the case study team took a risk, confessing out loud, “I feel ignorant.” An African American woman immediately pointed at her and declared, “THAT is why we are not doing this outreach next week. See…she IS ignorant!”


What would you do, if you were leading this meeting?

A good case study gets your blood pumping. It helps you feel the moment. It drops you in the midst of real-life tensions, and makes you find a wise way forward, navigating the difficulties. I invited all of the Christians I was hosting to “enter” this story and try to find a way forward.

So I offered, “If I had been leading in this scenario, I would have called a ‘Time Out.’ I would have slowed things down. I would have declared, ‘In Christian community, we speak the truth in love to each other…’”

A Latino leader piped in. “When multiethnic conversations start getting a little crazy, that is my time to jump in and preach a little bit. I would have said, ‘Because of Jesus’ cross and resurrection, we are a new family in Christ. It is not according to our old definitions, our old lines of insider/outsider. Despite this current mess created by White Supremacy, Jesus is stronger.’”

I liked what he said. I listened and nodded.

Another white person said, “Um…I don’t know how to say this…I feel really awkward….[voice quivering] but I can’t just sit here when you blame me for not just being racist, but being a supremacist.”

The tension in the room was palpable. So I took my own advice. I formed a “T” with my hands, and I said, “Time Out.”

“We’re having a moment. It’s awkward. Let’s name the tension we’re having.”

I took a deep breath. I said, “There are two totally different definitions of white supremacy being used in the room right now. Ironically, my friend Paula Harris and I had this very same conversation just last month. We went to Wikipedia and looked up this term. In the first two paragraphs, we find a definition that is more typical of hate groups. But in the third paragraph, there is a very different definition. It is an academic term, a whole field of academic study, called Critical Race Theory. The professors who teach on this all over the country are not skin heads, but run-of-the-mill professors who use this terminology as a synonym for ‘white privilege.’ I believe one of you is using the definition from the third paragraph, and the other is feeling accused of being in a hate group.” They both nodded. A good conversation followed, with good understanding on many sides.

It was late at night, and the meeting had already gone long. So I wrapped us up. But I returned to this conversation the next day. I wanted to create a little more space to learn about ourselves, to process our reactions, and to redeem this tense interaction. More on that next week.

When was the last time you were in a complex or tense multiethnic conversation…could you have called a Time Out? Would it have helped? Think through different settings or interactions or friendships where this might be helpful in the future.

Book Review: Living in the Tension

I have to admit, I’m one of “those modern ministers who knows something about psychology” (to quote Ed Friedman). I found it insightful when Richard Rohr said “religion is for those who believe in hell; spirituality is for those who have been there.” I obviously read Jewish and Roman Catholic writers, talk theology with Evangelicals and pray with mainline Protestants. In that broad spirit, I offer you my thoughts on a resource which went on sale at the White Privilege conference this week.

Have you ever found yourself asking, but how does racism (or white supremacy) affect white people’s mental and spiritual health? Once we are courageous enough to face the extent of white privilege, what can help us heal our shame, guilt, and grief? How do we heal from our own racial trauma? A new resource addresses these tensions. IMG_3071In Living in the Tension: the Quest for a Spiritualized Racial Justice, Shelly Tochluk weaves together her insights from spiritual practice, psychological study and a long investment in racial justice. Her book is thick with practical strategies and theories. It’s worth reading over time and pondering. Shelly is wise, gentle and clearly invested in profound change in our souls and society.

Shelly’s book holds together a series of insightful tensions. How do white people seek our own healing without either disengaging from racial justice, or expecting people of color to comfort us. How can we cultivate empathy toward ourselves and others and work towards systemic change? In other words, is it truly possible to hold together a need for personal wholeness with the urgent and unchanging need to work towards racial justice?

 

I appreciated the fact that Shelly’s commitment to change is organic – the way we approach racial justice and our spiritual practices and psychological health grow over time and are interconnected in an organic whole. I personally appreciated the thoughtfulness she brought to my own need for prayer, reflection and relationship as well as urgent work towards changing organizations and society. I found others resonated with her insights about increasing our empathy for racial pain by moving from being a bystander to becoming a witness.

Her book and praxis is post-Christian. If that bothers you, don’t read it. But if you are open to learning from wisdom and trusting “the Spirit of truth” to “guide you into all the truth” (Jesus in John 16) you will find encouragement, wisdom and practical strategies on the journey towards shalom.

Living in the Tension: The Quest for a Spiritualized Racial Justice by Shelly Tochluk (Roselle, NJ: Crandall, Dottie & Douglass Books, Inc., 2016). You can now order it directly from the publisher.

 

Top 10 characteristics of white students

[Continued from last post… used with permission from Joe Ho, who works with students of every race and many cultures.]

Characteristic #1. To be White is to have choices. Everyone has choices, but the number of available choices, and being the focus of most marketing in America, makes choice perhaps the fundamental reality in White student experience. White students are used to people competing for them. So, if you want White students to come to your Large Group or chapter retreat, it must offer something that is better (in value, quality, “customer service,” etc.) than any other option available. We may resent this, but we cannot ignore it.

Characteristic #2. Grown-ups make decisions for themselves. In White culture, self-determination is a key standard of maturity, perhaps the standard of maturity. To be given independence is to be treated as an adult. Mature White students respond when they can “opt in” for themselves, and learn/decide for themselves. This is one attraction to inductive Bible study. If you are working with White leaders, you need give them some autonomy. The critical flip side is that you also hold them fully accountable to their commitments and to the outcome of their autonomous choices. If you coddle students, you will get the immature ones. This reality (and the one that follows) might stretch you if you come from a culture that defers to authority.

Characteristic #3. I call my pastor by her first name. White culture places relatively low value on positional authority. In more technical language, this is called “low power distance,” or “non-hierarchical.” In social settings like retreat free time or NSO, it can build trust to act as a peer and downplay the “authority” aspect of your role. You will even have to downplay your positional spiritual authority in those setting, even in discipling settings. (This is the opposite of what you’d do in most other ethnic settings.) With leaders, you must tolerate and even affirming dissent, debate, and give-and-take. It does not mean they must have their way, but they must have their say.

Characteristic #4. Newer is better, bigger is better. In the White western worldview, there is always a place beyond the horizon that promises more than the status quo. You can appeal to this expansionist spirit in White culture by casting entrepreneurial vision, and by showing how InterVarsity is doing things that are unique, innovative, and/or breaking new ground. Many of the best missional Christians or pre-missional Christians will opt out if you lack this ethos. White people can be your best friends when planting – even if the plant is non-White!

Characteristic #5. “What works” equals “what’s right.” Being pragmatic and solution-focused is valued in White culture. When discussing controversial issues, be sure to ground your perspective in the bottom line and how things actually apply in real life. When making difficult or unpopular decisions, say, to stay on mission, pragmatism can be your best friend if you create short term wins. Warning: An appeal to pragmatism can backfire if you say it will work and do not show that it works.

Characteristic #6. I think therefore I am. All good communication appeals to both head and heart, intellect and passion. But you can get away with lower passion with White students if your conceptual content is strong. As in many “low context” cultures, be sure that in communication you make good use of both good quality and quantity of thought. Quote books and experts. Use logical outlines. Things you say should be just as good if it were written and read.

Charactertic #7. Fair is fair. This is another “low context culture” characteristic. White students have a strong belief in absolute rules that should apply equally to everyone.  When making decisions, say, in leadership selection or scholarship allocation, be careful to strive for consistency and limit exceptions based on circumstance. This means you will have to think through allocation of power and resources very carefully to be sure they apply to as many possible situations as possible.

Characteristic #8. Waste not, want not. In White culture, wasting time, energy or resources is considered near to sin (or actual sin). Meetings and communication need to be brief and straightforward – often painfully brief and straightforward to people from other cultures. Even worship needs to be time bounded and move along briskly. When you ask students to spend money, it must be seen as returning value. (This doesn’t mean that things need to be cheap. They need to be “worth it,” which in some cases costs more. See characteristic #1.)

Characteristic #9. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it. Another near moral imperative is that life should be fun. Levity needs to be sprinkled in generously in all venues, especially in new environments like NSO. This can reach levels that can appear silly or even irreverent from other cultural perspectives, but it is very important. A gifted White female staff once trained freshmen male SG leaders by saying, “Freshman guys are stupid. So to reach them you have to do stupid things.”

Characteristic #10. Competition. Competition is a key way of building community and fostering engagement. But for White men in particular, you have to balance their love for competition with the potential shame of appearing incompetent. Play sports and games, but be sure to include invented or obscure forms of competition where everyone is a novice. Also, if there’s no prize or penalty, it’s not a competition.

(These are posted with permission, from Joe Ho, Asian American cross-cultural minister to white students.  He writes, “As our region’s first Asian American campus staff, I had worked at ways to attract and develop Asian American students, and we had built a multiethnic chapter with no majority ethnic group in the heart of the American South. But it seemed to cost our ability to reach White students. When I took the ministry director position in rural Virginia, I knew I was going as a cross-cultural missionary.

I am NOT saying “all White students are like this.” As a matter of fact, almost no individual White student will have all ten characteristics.  I‘m also not saying that other cultures have these characteristics too. Many of them do.  I AM saying that these characteristics derive from deeply held values in White culture, and cannot consistently be ignored without presenting a barrier to reaching White students, especially high-identity White students.”

Joe is a busy guy, who grew his student group 804, 825, 930, 1076, 1096, 1184, 1265 during seven years in Virginia.

We think we should listen and learn from his observations about white culture.

Having an affair with white supremacy?

In some countries of the world, it is considered normal for a married man to have an ongoing extramarital affair, one that everyone knows about but just doesn’t discuss, and hardly even notices. When I learned this I was appalled. For those on the inside of that cultural dynamic, it’s normal; for me on the outside, it’s clearly wrong.

At Urbana 2015, African-American pastor and activist, Michelle Higgins, told the American church the same thing:

“We’ve had a historic, ongoing ‘extramarital affair’ with the idolatry of white supremacy”, and it’s appalling and wrong.

Is she right? And if she is, are we appalled? Or as white people are we so “on the inside” of a cultural evil that it just feels normal, and so we don’t even notice? I think she’s right, and I want to share my journey of coming to terms with my participation in white supremacy.

I have spent the past year regularly failing in cross-cultural leadership. I consider myself a very cross-cultural person. I was an African-American studies major in college, and then moved into a all Black and Latino neighborhood for the next 17 years of my life. But as I was thrust into leading empowered leaders of color in the fall of 2014, I was failing right and left. While my failures were numerous, the one I’ll focus on is when I was a part of leading an ethnically diverse group of staff, and our leadership team ended up featuring only White male leaders and their perspective on urban ministry. It took the leaders of color approaching me and my colleagues, asking for space to vocalize their frustration, for us to address the issue and take responsibility for our failure.

What? “C’mon, Scott,” you may be saying, “that’s just not that big a deal.” Articles have been written recently, in fact, suggesting that millennials of color are too sensitive to “micro-aggressions.” After all, they’re “micro”, right? They just need to get over it. “Slavery ended 150 years ago…get over it.” If you haven’t thought it, you’ve heard it.

White supremacy is an intense phrase. For most of my life, growing up in California, in a very diverse community, it has conjured images of unintelligent, poor, white rednecks pulling bed sheets over their heads and burning crosses on black folks’ lawns. But the term has been evolving in recent years to a more comprehensive understanding. Today, when activists use the term, I take them to mean that white supremacy is any way that white people or culture are made to be supreme or ideal. That could mean overt racial violence, but it usually means something far less obvious. I believe there were many things wrong with my leadership in this instance: here are two.

First, by being a member of a team that chose only white male speakers, and going along without saying anything, I passively participated in perpetuating the assumption that the white male voice is the ideal, normative one. This was true during slavery…I was letting it continue as an unquestioned assumption. Second, by not addressing the issue until the staff of color spoke up, I was leaving those under my charge to have to push back against authority in order to advocate for themselves. As a Christian with a value for servant leadership, this is horrifying to me. Yet there I was doing just that. Why? Because as a white person, it worked for me, and the ethnic homogeneity didn’t bother me that much. I was one more white leader forcing leaders of color to come my cultural direction, with no explanation or apology, just an assumption. Based on these two issues alone, it is not unfair to describe my leadership as sending the message that the white voice is the best one—the central one, the normative one—and if you’re not white, you’re on your own to find your place somewhere on the periphery of God’s story. In other words: white people and culture are the ideal and the center around which all others should relate. That’s a message of white supremacy.

Here’s what makes it more insidious. We tried to get speakers of color. Not just token folks to diversify the stage, but real leaders with real things to offer. But they weren’t available. And at the end of the day, our leadership team ran out of energy to keep picking up the phone, and we settled for the same-old-same-old. We didn’t go out and try to perpetuate white supremacy…we fell into it by settling for the speakers we could get. The idolatrous “affair” gave us pause…but didn’t bother us enough to break up with what we were used to.

This is one personal example of my participation in white supremacy. But if we scale it out to the reality of white Christian leadership in America, doesn’t this story happen all the time? The “good intentions” are often there to learn from leaders of color. But in the details, in the failed efforts, in the shallow lip-service to God’s multi-ethnic kingdom, we end up going with the status quo—whiteness replacing God as the center of our leadership—and it doesn’t bother us enough to dig deeper and do something about it. This is still true when we bring in the token leader of color without letting them change us in any deep way.

And here we come to the center of the issue as I see it: while racial justice literally means life and death to people of color in America in 2016, we white people can afford to have it remain in the realm of good intentions that we rarely have the energy to follow through with all the way. So we keep on keeping on. If 1 Corinthians 12:26 is true—that when one member of the body suffers, all suffer—then this isn’t a minor oversight, but evil neglect and self-protection.

That was me. I think that’s the white American church. I think Michelle Higgins is right—we’re caught up in the affair—and most the time it doesn’t seem like it bothers us very much.

Honoring Martin Luther King’s legacy

I went down to our state Capitol today, for the festivities honoring Unknown
Rev. Dr. King. Our Republican Governor announced that we have the longest running state celebration of Dr. King, 36 years, and he sat there carefully listening to the African American preachers and political leaders.

What moved me most… apart from the Black church music from Dr. Overby and the Illinois University choir… was hearing from a young leader, Mayor Aja Brown, “we all deserve to achieve purpose. For a person without purpose is hopeless. And a person without hope is dangerous.” Her city, Compton (LA, CA) has achieved a 50% reduction in gang violence, cut unemployment in half, and vastly improved the eduction rates.  Compton is the city described so graphically by NWA in Straight Outta Compton.  Mayor Brown started the transformation by talking with gang members, asking, what do you need to start a better life?

Mayor Brown had something to say today to every age group, and most of the races present. She inspired us to do our part to achieve a more inclusive and just society.  College kids, vote.  When you see injustice, do something.

You know what she told middle aged pastors, like me?

“Who are you mentoring? What is your succession plan? Do you have people in line, to receive the baton, or will you die with it, or will they take it from your hands. Who are you mentoring? How are you sharing power?”

Well said. Dr. King was in his late thirties at his martyrdom, and remember what he achieved. Mayor Brown is in her early thirties and look what she has already done.

I think her advice, really could be applied to white people in general… how are we sharing access, privilege and power. Because power is just the ability to get things done. The chance to be in the room when decisions are made. The chance for our voices to be heard.

How are we sharing power?

Who are you mentoring? Amen, Sister Brown.

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Disqualified? White Reactions to a Black Lives Matter preacher

“I feel disqualified from participating in Urbana.” This white woman approached me to ask for prayer. Her experience at Urbana confused her, discouraged her, and made her feel like she did not belong. How did this happen, and how would you respond to her?

Urbana happens once every 3 years. In December, 2015, we had 16,000 college students gathered to learn about God’s purposes here and around the world. Maybe the most talked-about part of Urbana ‘15 has been Michelle Higgins’ preaching about racial dynamics in the US, and Black Lives Matter. In the wake of her talk, my friend Larry Thiel and I were asked to quickly put together a seminar, a safe place for white folks to process their Urbana experience. About 140 white folks showed up, including the woman quoted above. At one point in the seminar, Larry asked for people to share how they had been feeling. They first shared their thoughts. Larry had to nicely remind them to share feelings. They said they felt confused, discouraged, guilty, ashamed, angry, stuck, resentful, humbled, and more. We were all over the map emotionally.

At the end, John Hanna brought a team of prayer ministers to help those present go deeper with God. It is one thing to talk about your feelings. It is quite a different thing to invite God into those feelings, to create space for the Holy Spirit to heal and release and transform our emotions. The above woman sought me out for prayer. She told me that she has been missionary in South America for about a year. During Michelle Higgins’ sermon, she felt accused, demeaned, and disqualified. Like Urbana was not for her anymore. Michelle had spoken on Dec 28. This was now Dec 31, the final day of Urbana.

How would you have responded to this sincere and stuck white missionary?
My friend, Larry Thiel, might say, “When they say that there is a system of racism, they are not blaming you for it. You did not create this whole system. You inherited. You don’t need to be defensive.”
My friend, Scott Hall, might say, “Let’s learn to listen better to our brothers and sisters of color. Let’s work on empathy.”

When I prayed with her, I helped her invite God into these feelings of being disqualified. Then I exhorted her, “The enemy wants you to feel disqualified. Jesus calls him the “father of lies” (John 8:44). Don’t let him lie to you. You belong here. You belong in the body of Christ. Reclaim your rightful place in this community. You have one last shot tonight during closing-worship. Let tonight be the redemption of Urbana for you!”

I have forgotten her name, but her struggle is emblazoned on my mind and heart. She heard a powerful African-American preacher speak honestly with her. She got confused by some of the content and tone. Instead of processing well with the content and with her jumbled emotions, she disengaged from Urbana. She believed the lie that Urbana was now for someone else.

Part of why her story sticks with me is because I have lived that story. I have felt disqualified and paralyzed by a “passionate” and honest conversation with an African-American friend. And I have had to work very hard to not be controlled by these feelings of defeat. By God’s grace, I have learned to name that sinking feeling in my stomach. I have learned to read scripture, like the book of Nehemiah, and remember to mourn our broken world (Neh 1). To pray and ask God how I might be part of a team effort to rebuild the walls of justice and community (Neh 2-6). To see how I might have access to the king, and how God might be inviting me to use my privilege (Neh 1-2). To invite God to continue to redeem me personally as a white man, even as I get to be part of his redemptive work in the world around me. To pray for revival (Neh 8), and to reach out in love to engage other white people with the love and invitation of Jesus to us.

We have created this blog for people like her. For a place to process. To hear some other stories that might help you name some of the dynamics in your own journey. We white people are complex. We may not be used to an African-American preacher being honest and blunt. Or who uses terms we have to unpack and translate for ourselves. We need space to process such “displacement” experiences. (See Being White p. 57-94) But my friends, Larry and Scott, are right. It is good to sit at her feet and see the world through her eyes. She sees things differently than I do; as I listen to sisters like Michelle, God grows my empathy and my life of faithful obedience.

To watch the 30-minute sermon: https://urbana.org/message/michelle-higgins

Here is the InterVarsity stance on the BLM movement and racial reconciliation: http://intervarsity.org/news/intervarsity-and-blacklivesmatter