Archive for the ‘Removing Blinders’ Category

The Rainbow of Love

February 18th, 2009 by Japanese Lilac

This is exciting!  I have the chance of a lifetime to share with you readers a small but significant part of my life when I was a young foreign student from Japan.  And in the course of this short essay, I will try to spell out my way of overcoming racism in this country, which is hailed as a melting pot of cultures.

The story starts with my arrival in the States in the early 80s to attend college.  That was when I had shiny eyes, no gray hair and no age spots! Actually, the US was not my first choice in terms of destinations for studies abroad.  I decided to come here after receiving rejections from universities in Australia and Canada.  I picked the countries that would give me some elbow room—psychologically more so than physically.  Anyone who has lived among my people in Japan knows what I am talking about. When I look back on those early days here in the States, my thoughts immediately go to some of the very special people I met.  Interestingly, with a few exceptions, those who left the strongest impressions on me were so-called “people of color” (a socially acceptable yet distasteful term).  I come from a culture that tends to look down on people of darker complexion.  As with many Anglos, so too, many Japanese who lack exposure think that they have little to learn from people whose skin is darker than theirs.  Yet, it is my experience which tells me that the abundant life that Jesus talked about doesn’t have anything to do with mingling only with Whites—or Japanese—and copying their ways.

For example, I think of Danielle from Haiti.  The reason why she is so memorable to me is because not only did we go through common struggles together as foreign students, but also because she was a thinker.  She was educated in Paris prior to coming to the States, and she would nostalgically talk about how French students would enjoy engaging in intellectual conversations.  I was also perplexed at the time as to why there was such a gap between conversations in classrooms and those outside.  In short, Danielle and I had a common yearning for an academic environment, which we didn’t find at the time at the college we were attending in St. Louis (I later transferred to a state university, where the intellectual climate was much more appealing to me).  Danielle was someone with whom I could talk about philosophy, society, God, etc., and she so often peppered our talks with laughter.  We also attended a college ministry gathering on Friday evenings, which was led by an Indian couple.  I still remember the delicious Indian curry they served us, which she and I devoured as we gave thanks to our God.

I also have a fond memory of Shade (sha-dee) from Nigeria, whom I met in an anthropology class at the state university, to which I transferred.  She was a cute girl with big, smiley eyes.  I knew she was younger than me, but I didn’t realize how much younger until a few years after graduation.  I saw her picture and story in the university alumni magazine.  Shade was introduced as the youngest student to graduate —16 years old!  Well, we took the anthropology class a couple of years before our graduation, so she was probably 14½ when we sat next to each other in that big lecture hall.  I was studying next to a teenager who had barely reached puberty!  Our friendship was, unfortunately, rather brief due to circumstances typical of student life, but her faith and focused study habits left a lasting impression on me.  One event stands out to me.  I ran into Shade at the university library, where she was busy writing a term paper.  I asked her what she was writing about.  “Terrorism,” was her answer.  What a yucky subject, I thought.  This was the 80s; surely terrorism was around, but it was an issue to which most people hardly paid any serious attention.  As I look back, I wonder if Shade had the foresight to see that terrorism would become one of the biggest global problems in the twenty-first century.  And I also wonder if she had some practical suggestions to make for fighting terrorism at the conclusion of her term paper.  She was the youngest person to graduate from college of whom I know, and arguably one of the smartest people I will ever meet.  And her heart was bent toward peace – I wish I had asked for a copy of her paper. Imagine the magnitude of stupidity to dismiss people based on their color or ethnicity, and think of the possibility of what we might be able to do to help solve the world’s problems by exchanging ideas and eagerly learning from one another from different parts of the world!

The third person I recall is Shirley, a bubbly African American girl with whom I shared an apartment for a semester.  The air was getting colder by the day, and I was still a few semesters away from graduation.  I was very poor at the time, and she was an office worker, who graciously paid a bigger chunk of the rent so that we could live there together.  My bed was a $20 mattress from the Salvation Army (somehow it didn’t occur to me to ask my parents for more money).  I do not remember the reason, but after some time, Shirley had to move out of our apartment to live with her parents several blocks away.  Still, she kept paying her portion of the rent so that I could continue living there.  There was no heat in the apartment.  So my strategy was to put on two pairs of socks as well as a few blankets over me at night in order to fall asleep.  A Midwest winter night can be harsh.  One day, I remember that Shirley came home and offered me a $20 bill.  She said she didn’t need the money, and she thought I could use it for something.  I was able to buy myself a warm pair of gloves without holes in them so that I could drive my worn-out car without getting frostbite.  It was also Shirley who invited me over for Christmas that year because she knew that I had nowhere to go.

The last person I have space to introduce is Amy from Nigeria.  She was also a student in the States, and we attended church together.  I have several pictures of her and me taken on the day of my graduation from university.  In one picture, she is putting her hand on my shoulder as we were in the procession with caps and gowns.  A few other pictures show Amy in a dress and me in the gown smiling at the camera in the middle of the huge university campus.  Yes, just Amy and me.  My other friends were with their families because this was their graduation day as well.  My family couldn’t join me until my wedding day, which was to come a few years later. Amy was my friend and a good neighbor, who walked beside me and congratulated me on my graduation day.  I am very fortunate to have experiences with such special friends, who showed love to me during a very lonely season of life.

It is a privilege to introduce to you these special friends whom God placed in my path.  Each one is unique, each one is a Christ-follower, and each one has left a profound impact on me, shaping me into the person I am today.  When I read, “. . . and we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only (John 1:14),” it is difficult for me to separate my friends from Jesus their Lord, for he has manifested his glory in and through them to me.  Jesus’ glory comes in many colors and hues, and so we miss out when we fail to see the rainbow of his glorious love.  The first step of going beyond racism is to cultivate in our hearts a desire to get to know others of different ethnicities in all of their uniqueness and diversity, and an expectation that we will experience God’s glorious beauty in new and amazing ways through them.

Redeeming Race

June 11th, 2008 by flipster

Last fall I met Mariko in a church membership class. She took a genuine interest in getting to know me, and pretty soon we were talking about my ethnic background, which is a topic that white people that I meet or work with (or even those who are already my friends) don’t usually bring up with me. She then invited me to a “focus group” to discuss racial issues in the church. It had never occurred to me that racial issues are related to my spiritual life, but when Mariko and her husband Paul showed a keen interest in my race-related journey/story, I felt that this was very important and that God had something to do with it.

When I was asked the question, “On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the greatest, to what degree does race affect your daily life?” Honestly, I really didn’t know how to answer that question. But it sure made me think a lot. True, when I look at myself in the bathroom mirror every morning, I see a female with black hair and brown skin, but I don’t regard myself as any different from my friends or co-workers who have lighter or even darker colored hair or skin. But there have been times in my life when I seriously wished I were white, had blond hair and blue eyes, or that I didn’t have this ethnic “baggage” to carry.

I am quite fortunate to not have had blatant experiences of racism. Maybe it was due to the fact that I lived for a while in very diverse California. But there have been plenty of times where I felt like an outsider, like I didn’t belong. I couldn’t really determine whether it was because I looked different or because of my personality, but the way people treated me made me feel that there was something (more…)

Welcome to the Marathon!

June 11th, 2008 by MerkerMatic

Last fall, Paul and Mariko Metzger began a serious discussion about race at Imago Dei Community in which we were asked: Are you a passive racist? The event drew more than 100 people and there was a strong desire in the room to learn more about what passive, invisible forms of racism might exist in our attitudes and practices at Imago Dei. In January, 12 Christ-followers were invited to meet with the Metzgers to continue this journey. I feel very lucky to have been a part of “the twelve.” We prayed, studied the bible, and shared personal stories of how race and racism has shaped our lives. Half of the group was white and half were minorities.

Dr Metzger loves to say “this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.” As Americans, we love to solve problems ASAP. But realistically, prejudice is as old as race itself, and it’s epidemic, yet it’s invisible to the perpetrators (I don’t know many people who claim they’re a racist, do you?). Let’s not declare the “mission accomplished.” Both systemic change and discipleship take time. People from the dominant culture need to take the time to listen, examine their attitudes and habits, listen to the Word, and retrain themselves; their brothers and sisters of color need to participate in this journey with them.

We have been so “stoked” about this journey that we decided to invite others to join. Because it’s a marathon, we’re pacing ourselves and preparing for the long haul. This spring we expanded this discussion into class offered through Imago Dei’s School of Theology. You can view the class syllabus below. If you would like to write your own story, we would welcome that as well. Send it as a comment, up to 1500 words, and I can post it for others to see.


Thoughts from your Yellow Sista…

June 5th, 2008 by Yellow Sista

My story begins with my parents. In 1925 my father, a member of the merchant middle class, emigrated from China at the age of 14 to join his uncle in the Northwest.

During WWII he served in the US Army as a mess Sergeant. I can draw the conclusion that it was a meaningful time in his life just by the numerous photographs in his military garb with his proud stance and glint in his eyes. Many Chinese Americans willingly joined the military to prove they were true Americans. A few years after the end of the war, my father voyages back China to marry my mother. She came from a rural family who made a meager living growing mainly sweet potatoes and collecting and selling firewood. Ten days after marrying my mother, my father returned to America to continue working. The only connection they had were occasional letters and rare visits. Due to economics and The Chinese Exclusion Act, working Chinese men were kept from bringing their families over to the US which created a bachelor society.

Fast forward to 1950, my father returned to China and moved my mother and grandmother to Hong Kong before the Communists rose to complete power. As soon as they settled into a flat he purchased, he left for America again. My mother began living her new life in the bustling big city of Kowloon, eking out a living doing all kinds of manual labor and eventually found her niche as seamstress for a garment factory. Her daily orders can consist, for example, of a dozen tailor quality trousers–and this all done on a machine powered with a manual foot pedal! For 1.50 a day (more…)

Diverse Living Shapes My Racial Beliefs

June 5th, 2008 by Jeremiah

My name is Jeremiah. I am a racist. I harbor hatred for white people, especially Americans, and Germans. They sometimes want to be called Caucasians. Some think they are predestined to be rich and better than all other races. They have had power for hundreds of years in the world for reasons I don’t comprehend. They oppressed many cultures and made other human beings their slaves. They blamed Africans for selling their own. Blamed Natives (mislabeled as Indians) for not inventing firearms and not building Manhattan. Their greatest leaders were often some of the worst offenders, in the church and in the world. I don’t believe white people have any more rights than anyone else in the world.

It is most likely at this point I should share that I am white, or Caucasian. It is also a good time to apologize for the use of the term “white people”. It is a stereotype that I am trying to overcome and yet it a label the world uses to describe me and those of which I am speaking.

I am a standard American, with bloodlines resembling a European soup. But unlike many Americans I have traveled (more…)

My story — and a gentle plea for less vanilla.

April 18th, 2008 by MerkerMatic

As I get to know people, I’ve always loved asking them what they know about their ancestry: What’s your ethnic background? What does your name mean? I’ve found that many European Americans don’t know, and some even brush it aside saying they’re a “mutt” or “who cares?” or “just American” or “just plain vanilla.”

Likening skin color to ice cream flavors does make sense. Most flavors are somewhere between white and brown. But to define Northern Europeans as “vanilla” or “white” implies that they are tasteless and colorless, which is yet another way of defining white as the racially and culturally neutral “background” color of our society.

I long for the day when white Americans realize they aren’t just part of a neutral vanilla background. Here’s an example of what I mean: April 15’s episode of World Have Your Say posed this question to minorities: “Do you feel like you have to leave your culture at the door when you go to work…?” Whites would have a hard time answering (more…)

The Class: Removing the Blinders of Prejudice in the Church

April 6th, 2008 by MerkerMatic

This is the syllabus for the class we held at Imago Dei Community in April and May 2008:

Class Overview:

We all struggle with prejudice—pre-judging people. Even in the church, we distort and minimize those whose stories and experiences are different from our own, as we view them through our limited cultural lenses. We need to see others rightly from God’s global kingdom perspective. This 8 week class hosted by a group of Christ-followers from Imago Dei will develop further the themes addressed during the “Are You a Passive Racist?” forum led by Paul and Mariko Metzger at Evangel Baptist last November. The aim of the class is to share God’s kingdom vision where God invites all of us and incorporates each of our stories into Christ’s story through the Spirit. Building on the biblical story where God invites all of us to participate in his story, we need to invite others whose experiences are different from our own to share their stories so that we can move beyond the pain, victimization, and isolation associated with prejudice toward healing, victory, and hope. As our eyes are opened as we listen in love, we hope to move from racial, ethnic, and cultural prejudice to just forms of perception as we look through God’s eyes as viewed through Christian Scripture.

Ground Rules:

*Stay engaged: Participants should do everything possible to come to all classes as these 8 weeks are a relationship building exercise.*Be prepared to experience discomfort: You may experience guilt, sorrow, conviction, followed (possibly) by repentance, renewal, greater self-awareness, and a heightened appreciation for God and one another.*Speak your truth in love: Truth can be objective and scientific. But it can also be personal and passionate. It can be complex, reflecting pain, anger, disbelief, or even ambiguity as a result of encountering unfamiliar experiences. If all truth is God’s truth, then God’s truth includes crying truth, stuttering truth, expressing truth with uncomfortable pauses, and even angry truth. Make sure to express hard truths, and also to express them in love, seeking to build up one another.Listen well: It’s so easy to write off those whose experiences are different from our own. Listen well to others as they share their experiences. Good listeners are often God’s healing agents.*Expect and accept non-closure: Sometimes offenders have to give time to victims to heal before they can experience full reconciliation and move forward. No one in this class should expect closure for racism on the macro level at the end of the class; if anything, our hope is that we will all come away more sensitized to racism and other forms of prejudice, becoming more effective agents of reconciliation.Sense your own brokenness and need for God: We are all victimizers and victims, depending on the contexts in which we find ourselves. Accept one another, seeking reconciliation with God and with one another.*Four of the points listed above as ground rules were adaptations of points made in the book, Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools, written by Glenn Eric Singleton and Curtis Linton (Corwin Press, 2005)

Select Resources:

Mark DeYmaz, Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church: Mandate, Commitments and Practices of a Diverse Congregation, J-B Leadership Network Series (Jossey-Bass, 2007).Curtiss Paul DeYoung,Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey and Karen Chai Kim, United by Faith: The Multiracial Congregation As an Answer to the Problem of Race (Oxford, 2004).Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (Oxford, 2001).Martin Luther King, Jr., The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. Clayborne Carson (Grand Central, 2001).Charles Marsh, The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today (Perseus, 2006).Paul Louis Metzger, Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church (Eerdmans, 2007).John M. Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down, 30th Anniversary Edition (Regal, 2006).Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice, More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel, Revised and Expanded (IVP, 2000).Glenn Eric Singleton and Curtis Linton, Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools (Corwin Press, 2005).Richard Twiss, One Church, Many Tribes: Following Jesus the Way God Made You, Revised Edition (Regal Books, 2000).Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Free To Be Bound: Church Beyond the Color Line (Navpress, 2008).Other helpful works include significant works of literature, such as the following: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man; Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; and John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Other important sources include the following films: The Color of Fear, Crash, Eyes on the Prize, Race—the Power of Illusion, and Unfulfilled Dreams.Removing the Blinders of Prejudice in the Church©2008, Paul and Mariko Metzger and Imago Friends