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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


Summer Reading = Summer Blogging

9 May

Here’s a look at my summer reading list.  These    things usually turn out more ambitious than I can manage.  But hey, as a wise cliche once said, “shoot for the moon and even if you miss you’ll be amongst the stars!”  Or perhaps you’ll end up suborbital and eventually fall back to earth in pieces, but I digress.

This time around, my reading list is structured to equip my response to what I consider two nagging, but important questions:

1.)  Where does cultural change come from?

Jesuit on the roof of the World by Trent Pomplun

To Change the World by James Davison Hunter

Christianity and Contemporary Politics by Luke Bretherton

2.)  What does it mean to be the child of Southern immigrants? (yes I meant the southern U.S.)

American Slavery, American Freedom by Edmund Morgan

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Capital Men by Philip Dray

Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz

Bridges of Memory Oral History Series by Timuel Black

I’ll be blogging selectively about these books over the next few months.  If you have an interest in them, please feel free to comment as I go along.  And if you have other suggestions on the themes above, please share them as well.  This canon is not closed.

Alie Aded

17 Nov

I jump into cabs once in a while and when it’s in the wee hours of the morning (like this morning) I usually want to just sit there and not talk too much.  However when I got into the cab this morning I was greeting with a warm hello and then got into a conversation with Alie, mostly because Alie did not know how to get out of my neighborhood to head to the airport. So as I was helping him navigate we started talking about Chicago’s cold weather and how it’s foreign for both of us, having grown up in warmer climates.  Alie then began to tell me his story.

Alie is Somalian, who lived in Uganda as a refugee for 6 years. Alie was allowed to go to Kampala, the capital of Uganda with a refugee ID and work permit and he worked and lived there with his wife. One day he was told by some UN staff that he had to return to the refugee camp because they were taking him to the United States. Alie and his wife arrived in Syracuse, NY in dead middle of winter. He says that was the coldest winter of his life- he has been living in the States for 9 years now. Alie and his wife moved to Chicago because there were no job opportunities in Syracuse for him. The U.S. government provided subsidies for the first 6 months after they arrived and then he was supposed to be fluent in English and have a good job to pay all his bills and be completely self-sufficient.  He says working as a cab driver is better than some other jobs he has had but it is rough these days. No matter how much or little money he makes a week, he has to pay the cab company owner $575 a week for renting the cab. He says these days, there are many weeks when he doesn’t even make the $575.

The part of his story that really made me sad was the fact that Alie and his wife were hopeful that when they came to the United States, they would be able find a fertility doctor and finally have children.  No one told Alie and his wife that working 16-18 hour days 7 days a week as a cab driver will not get you health insurance thus will never be able to afford a fertility doctor.

He says he’s gone to a few doctors with his wife but after initial checks up, he cannot afford any further follow up appointments so they have given up.

I think it is so sad that someone who has suffered and survived in a war torn homeland and worked his way over to the United States, that the best he can do is drive a cab for 120 some hours a week that may just get him enough money to pay the $575 to rent his cab that he drives and has no health care for his family.

What an irony is that. Alie has gone from living in one of the poorest countries in the world to the richest country in the world and he still faces the same problems. When I hear stories like Alie’s it makes me sad and angry. It makes me sad because it is such a tragic situation, and then it makes me angry that this country cannot do better but waste millions of dollars prioritizing things only rich and powerful people care about and leave people like Alie in hopelessness. Alie isn’t asking for millions, he just want a chance to raise a family.

shame on you NPR!!

7 Nov

So as I was commuting in yesterday morning, I was doing what I usually, do, driving and listening gto NPR. During the news update I was upset with what I heard. They were giving an update about the Ft Hood shooter and all they could say was “He is a devout Muslim, whose parents were immigrants from Palestine” and” People close to him noticed that he started wearing traditional Arab clothing days before the shooting”.

Okay- I totally expect some other news outlets (who will go unmentioned) to do something like that. But NPR?! Here’s why it made me mad:  The matter at hand is that an INDIVIDUAL committed the acts. Does it have anything to do with the fact that he was a Muslim and an immigrant? Maybe- but we don’t know that.  This country is obsessed with faulting the “outsider” finding something that is not white, or Christian to fault when something like this happens.

Even when the Virginia Tech shootings happened, the shooter was names as a “Korean student”. The kid moved here when he was 6. What he became, and what lead to the unfortunate acts he committed was a product of the United States of America, not because he was Korean, an immigrant.

We see these high profile news stories keep using the word “immigrant” as well as other words to describe the perpetrator that can lead people to make conclusions that whatever they did was because they were not American.  What upsets me most is that when white people do such things, rarely do their religious back ground or their ethnic heritage get mentioned.  For example, Steven Kazmierczak, the shooter at Northern Illinois University. When that incident happened, no one was talking about his ethnic heritage or religious background; even if he didn’t believe in anything- they could’ve said, Steve, who is devout atheists… I even googled his name and ethnic background and I checked the first 5 pages of Google search and nothing comes up.

As someone who is working to advocate on behalf of immigrants, and being an immigrant myself, I find these news clips to be damaging and hurtful to our communities.  The news is constantly feeding people this idea that when something so terrible and unthinkable happens, its because they were outsiders, they came from somewhere else. This just feeds into hostile anti-immigrant sentiments when MOST of us are here working hard and living as responsible residents. It is because of news clips like the one on I heard on NPR that makes people say “Immigrants are criminals” and “Immigrant make our country unsafe”.

And shame on you NPR because I though I pay to get unbiased, honest, ethically, independent reporting but you did just want the mainstream media did about this story.

Ft Hood…

6 Nov

Yes, it seems very cliché to respond/write about news items. But this brought back some memories… First, of let’s all remember to pray for the community in Ft. Hood and family members of those who have been killed and wounded. It is a horrific, tragic event that hurt and killed innocent people.

Having said that, Joe has been sitting in our living room the last few hours reading various blog post and comments about the tragic event. We cannot believe how reactionary people are, and how fear driven our society still is.  Yes, it’s a tragedy, let’s not forget, but let’s not jump to conclusions about Muslims and Arabs etc.  I think it’s unfortunately that various Muslim communities and Imams feel the need to speak publicly and condemn the event. I think all religious leaders should condemn the event, but I think the fact that so many Muslim leaders are publicly condemning the event says something- they feel like they have to- they don’t respond when there are other random, tragic shootings but because the shooter has an Arab name- they HAVE to respond, least they be accused of being one of “them”.

There were blog comments that alluded to sending “these” people to concentration camps etc. That took me back to right after September 11, 2001 where on my college campus I overheard a conversation… “We should’ve just killed off all the Arabs- this wouldn’t have happened- hey we should still just get rid of them.” Serious or not, I wasn’t about to ask. But that was one moment when I realized how ignorant people were. Well, mostly white people.

You see, the privilege of being white in this country is that when you are white, you’re not just a white person. You are your own person. You are an individual. You never hear white people talk about “oh those white people” (well most white people don’t say that), while it’s more common to say “oh those Asians” or “oh those Arabs” “oh those Blacks” or “oh those____”. 

This incident reminded me, and I wanted to share with you all- that, when a tragedy happens, it’s not “oh those ____ people”.  Sometimes it’s an individual with some serious issues, and let me remind you, they come in all colors- lots of white ones too.  Some times it’s a group of people lead to believe lies, believe in false illusions- that’s not just the Muslim extremist. There are other religious extremist that do the same.

So, I just wanted to drop a note and say, let’s pray for folks who are affected by the tragedy, let’s not be so quick to jump to conclusions about committing genocides or locking away a whole race of people when such unfortunate events occur.