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What Are We Creating? A Conference Wrap-Up

30 May

It came during one of the last plenary discussions on Saturday.  It was a statement that seemed more like an afterthought, but I would not hesitate to say it prompted a question on the minds of many at the 2010 conference.  A woman made a comment that essentially was asking what comes next in the evolution of ministry across cultures in the Presbyterian Church.  She said, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘we have the words’ and then she added, ‘we also have the numbers.’  to which I wanted to add,

“But what and where is the creation?”

Our denomination and other church bodies that share its concerns have been crafting the words and cultivating the language of both multicultural ministry and racial justice for decades now.  In turn they have been intentional about diversifying the ethnic backgrounds of its leadership.  But what does it all mean in the pews? in the hoods?  in the lives of those who we do not yet know?  In other words, with the changes that are upon us and the changes we are looking to make, are we paying enough attention to what we are actually creating?

The cross-cultural reality we are walking into is like a body, with a will a shape, a character, with a mentality and capabilities all its own.  True, its difficult to control all those factors with something as complicated as cross-cultural relationships.   However, what we do and leave undone, what we encourage and discourage, or as Jesus put it (Matt 16:19, what we bind and loose here during our lives has significance.  Our call and our identity as Christians is to embody the faith we were given in the culture in which we find ourselves.  Sometimes we worry too much about whether we can do it or want to do it, without remembering that even as we talk about it, we are unwittingly living and creating a cross-cultural reality.

What will this cross-cultural thing we are creating look like?  Perhaps it will just look like people occupying the same space, the same land without a common bond.  Or maybe it will just continue old prejudices in new, inventive arrangements?  I had a discussion with a high school age participant at the conference who bemoaned African vs. African American prejudice and bigotry she has witnessed at her school.  Perhaps this is just the tip of the iceberg of the mutant forms of conflict that are brewing.  A Multicultural future is by no means a reconciled one.

When we ask what comes next in determining the character of the new culture, we have to acknowledge these are institutional questions.  They are educational questions.  They are community development questions.  They are artistic questions. Where I feel the conference and the network has a growing edge is in providing the space for these new questions.  Let me break those down alittle… Continue reading

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Top Ten Books I Live By

10 May

Ahead of my summer reading, I thought I’d share a bit more about my reading habits. I’m a bookhound, so its really difficult to tell you what my favorite books are.  It really depends on my mood and what it is I’m looking for.  So an easier task might be to tell you the books that have most influenced me.   These ten tomes (yes that’s a nice round number) have been shaping my politics, my faith and my overall perspective on the world since I was a kid.  I’m going to leave out the Biblical canon because while its influence on me evident, I do not consider it to fall within a particular genre like the rest.  It’s a living story to me.  Anyway, if you’re looking for reading on that deserted isle or maybe a trusty guide in times of trouble,  here’s what I would recommend (in no particular order), they’ve certainly worked for me:

1. The True and Only Heaven by Christopher Lasch

-an epic takedown of the idea of Progress, and not a bad summation of Western social movements either.

2. The Complete Emerson

-I’m alittle past the transcendentalists now, but Emerson, along with Thoreau were among my first companions along the journey to becoming a Christian.  Emerson’s peculiarly American philosophy is full of wisdom and audacity, even if it comes across alittle dated.

3. The Quiet American by Graham Greene

-Greene’s old-school, self-effacing and sarcastic tone has its own charm and he methodically unravels idealistic myths about cross-cultural encounters (specifically Vietnam), replacing them with a realism which humbles, educates and even entertains the willing listener.

4. The Prophets by Abraham Joshua Heschel

-this is the mega of all commentaries on the Hebrew Prophets from the prominent 20th century rabbi.  His understanding of the connection between empathy, emotion and Truth have helped me define like few others, what it means to be Christian.

5. The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder

This book gave me a greater biblical understanding of why and how Christians should be engaged in the public sphere, despite Yoder’s seemingly contrarian and some say sectarian views.  I was particularly moved by his connection between the cross and the healing of ethnic/social strife.

6. Selected Poems by Wendell Berry (includes Mad Farmer Liberation)

-Growing up in the big city, I wasn’t much of a nature/outdoors guy, but Berry’s poetics can convince even this southsider to buy a farm in the country.  What’s more, his wise and witty take on the politics and culture of modern, fast paced America is a great counterbalance against conventional ideas about progress and liberty.

7. Collected Poems of Langston Hughes

-This guy looms large in my own early wrestling with identity, particularly black identity in a complex American culture.  Hughes influenced future generations of poets who I also read, and his lyrical phrasing continues to help me put the ineffable into words.

8. Hamlet by Shakespeare

-There is nothing rotten about the Bard’s take on all of life’s big questions and frustrations wrapped up in iambic pentameter.

9. Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

-If you don’t trip over pronouncing Russian names or its length, this book has some pretty profound takes on human suffering and the nature of redemption.

10. Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence

-I’ve always been fascinated by cultures outside my own, and the famed “Lawrence of Arabia” gives a fascinating outsiders account of early 20th century Arab culture and reveals a good deal about himself if you read between the lines.   His adventures propelled my interest in travel, diplomacy and global affairs.  At the same time his writing illuminates the backdrop of consternation and loneliness which shadows those who dare to cross the culture line.