Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Return to Madison Elementary

Two Saturday nights ago, I was relaxing in my living room, thinking about how nice it was going to be to take my wife to dinner in the Power and Light District, then to KC Symphony and to then to get in a nice jog before worship the next morning.  Until my good friend, Russ Koelzer, who is the founding pastor of LifeStream Christian Church here in Gardner, called me to see if I could fill in for his sick self the next morning.  Since Russ is such a good friend, I was glad to help him out.  So I preceded to spend some time that afternoon and the next morning reworking a sermon I'd preached a couple years ago for Trinity Family during Epiphany.  The sermon was from Matthew's account of the calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John, the main idea being that Jesus calls and uses the unchosen and unqualified to change the world.  It was a powerful message then and I think it made some connections that Sunday, too.  As I was about ready to walk in front of the congregation, I thought of how I'd preached that sermon and many others from that same spot in the Madison Elementary Commons.  It was a bit of a nostalgic moment for me.

While the content was powerful (mostly because of the research I'd done and a story I told) my delivery wasn't too great, I went WAY too fast.  My hyper-speed was likely due to three reasons: 1) I tried to cram too much info into one sermon, as I'd added stuff to the original message 2) I hadn't preached for awhile and was a bit rusty and 3) I was a bit nervous speaking to a group of people I didn't really know.  But even though my delivery wasn't too smooth, it was great to be able to preach again. 

The ability and calling to preach was one of the things that caused me to be hesitant about leaving traditional pastoral ministry.  But after wrestling with and praying about it for long time, I felt God's assurance that he would give me the right opportunities to faithfully live out that particular part of the calling he'd placed on my life.  Basically, I had to come to a place of trusting God with the whole preaching thing.  And I guess that last Sunday is just one example of future opportunities to use and give the gift of preaching. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

"The Root of War is Fear" by Thomas Merton

The following is a powerful excerpt of Thomas Merton's 1962 essay, "The Root of War is Fear."  I first read this article in The Power of Nonviolence but found this abbreviated version here.

The present war crisis is something we have made entirely for and by ourselves. There is in reality not the slightest logical reason for war, and yet the whole world is plunging headlong into frightful destruction, and doing so with the purpose of avoiding war and preserving peace! This is a true war-madness, an illness of the mind and the spirit that is spreading With a furious and subtle contagion all over the world. Of an the countries that are sick, America is perhaps the most grievously afflicted. This is a nation that claims to be fighting for religious truth along with freedom and other values of the spirit. Truly we have entered the "post-Christian era" with a vengeance.

What is the place of the Christian in all this? Is he simply to fold his hands and resign himself to the worst, accepting it as the inescapable will of God and preparing himself to enter heaven with a sigh of relief? Should he open up the Apocalypse and run out into the street to give everyone his idea of what is happening? Or worse still, join in the madness of the war makers, calculating how by a "first strike," the glorious Christian West can eliminate atheistic Communism for an time and usher in the millennium?

What are we to do? The duty of the Christian in this crisis is to strive with all his power and intelligence, with his faith, hope in Christ and love for God and man, to do the one task that God has imposed upon us in the world today. That task is to work for the total abolition of war. There can be no question that unless war is abolished the world will remain constantly in a state of madness and desperation in which, because of the immense destructive power of modern weapons, the danger of catastrophe will be imminent and probably at every moment everywhere. We may never succeed in this campaign but whether we succeed or not the duty is evident. It is the great Christian task of our time. Everything else is secondary, for the survival of the human race itself depends on it. We must at least face this responsibility and do something about it. And the first job of an is to understand the psychological forces at work in ourselves and in society.

At the root of all war is fear, not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another. They do not even trust themselves.... They cannot trust anything because they have ceased to believe in God.

It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above an our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this that makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves....

As if this were not enough, we make the situation much worse by artificially intensifying our sense of evil, and by increasing our propensity to feel guilt even for things that are not in themselves wrong. In all these ways, we build up such an obsession with evil, both in ourselves and in others, that we waste all our mental energy trying to account for this evil, to punish it, to exorcise it, or to get rid of it in any way we can.

We drive ourselves mad with our preoccupation and in the end there is no outlet left but violence. We have to destroy something or someone. By that time, we have created for ourselves a suitable enemy, a scapegoat in whom we have invested all the evil in the world. He is the cause of every wrong. He is the fomenter of an conflict. If he can only be destroyed, conflict will cease, evil will be done with, there will be no more war....

In our refusal to accept the partially good intentions of others and work with them (of course prudently and with resignation to the inevitable imperfection of the result) we are unconsciously proclaiming our own malice, our own intolerance, our own lack of realism, our own ethical and political quackery.

Perhaps in the end the first real step toward peace would be a realistic acceptance of the fact that our political deals are perhaps to a great extent illusions and fictions to which we cling, out of motives that are not always perfectly honest: that because of this we prevent ourselves from seeing any good or any practicability in the political ideas of our enemies--which may of course be in many ways even more illusory and dishonest than our own. We will never get anywhere unless we can accept the fact that politics is an inextricable tangle of good and evil motives in which, perhaps, the evil predominate but where one must continue to hope doggedly in what little good can still be found....

I believe the basis for valid political action can only be the recognition that the true solution to our problems is not accessible to any one isolated party or nation but that all must arrive at it by working together....

We must try to accept ourselves whether individually or collectively, not only as perfectly good or perfectly bad, but in our mysterious, unaccountable mixture of good and evil. We have to stand by the modicum of good that is in us without exaggerating it. We have to defend our real rights, because unless we respect our own rights we will certainly not respect the rights of others. But at the same time we have to recognize that we have willfully or otherwise trespassed on the rights of others. We must be able to admit this not only as the result of self-examination, but when it is pointed out unexpectedly, and perhaps not too gently, by somebody else.
These principles that govern personal moral conduct, that make harmony possible in small social units like the family, also apply in the wider areas of the state and in the whole community of nations. It is however quite absurd, in our present situation or in any other, to expect these principles to be universally accepted as the result of moral exhortations. There is very little hope that the world will be run according to them all of a sudden, as a result of some hypothetical change of heart on the part of politicians. It is useless and even laughable to base political thought on the faint hope of a purely contingent and subjective moral illumination in the hearts of the world's leaders. But outside of political thought and action, in the religious sphere, it is not only permissible to hope for such a mysterious consummation, but it is necessary to pray for it. We can and must believe not so much that the mysterious light of God can "convert" the ones who are mostly responsible for the world's peace, but at least that they may, in spite of their obstinacy and their prejudices, be guarded against fatal error....
For only love--which means humility--can exorcise the fear that is at the root of all war .

What is the use of postmarking our mail with the exhortation to 'pray for peace' and then spending billions of dollars on atomic submarines, thermonuclear weapons, and ballistic missles? This, I would think, would certainly be what the New Testament calls 'mocking God' - and mocking Him far more effectively than what the atheists do.  The culminating horror of the joke is that we are piling up these weapons to protect ourselves against atheists, who, quite frankly, believe there is no God and are convinced that one has to rely on bombs and missles since nothing else offers any real security.  Is it then, because we have so much trust in the power of God that we are intent upon utterly destroying these people before thay can destroy us?  Even at the risk of destroying ourselves at the same time?
If men really wanted peace they would sincerely ask God for it and He would give it to them. But why should He give the world a peace it does not really desire? The peace the world pretends to desire is really no peace at all.
To some men peace merely means the liberty to exploit other people without fear of retaliation or interference. To others peace means the freedom to rob brothers without interruption. To still others it means the leisure to devour the goods of the earth without being compelled to interrupt their pleasures to feed those whom their greed is starving. And to practically everybody, peace simply means the absence of any physical violence that might cast a shadow over lives devoted to the satisfaction of their animal appetites for comfort and pleasure.
Many men like these have asked God for what they thought was "peace" and wondered why their prayer was not answered. They could not understand that it actually was answered. God left them with what they desired, for their idea of peace was only another form of war....
So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed--but hate these things in yourself not in another.

From Passion for Peace, edited by William H. Shannon, 1995. Permission to reprint is granted by Crossroad Publishing Company.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Interview with the founder of Teach For America

For those of you who follow my blog but don't know much about TFA, this is for you. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

War is terrorism, magnified a hundred times.

The late Howard Zinn was a WWII vet who made his post-war career as an historian, author and political activist. Zinn stated that he never intended to write books that went against the mainstream thought of American history, but he wasn’t able to keep to himself the uglier, but often- ignored realities of US history that he uncovered during his masters work. While many people call him “unpatriotic,” Zinn claims that his critiques of American society were done with the intent of bettering the nation he loved. While I don’t agree with all of the political conclusions to which he arrived, I do appreciate his bold naming of our nation’s addiction to war.

Zinn’s most popular book, and therefore most hated by those who want to ignore the ugly side of US history, is A People’s History of the United States. Honestly, that book put me in a negative funk, a foul pessimism from which I wasn’t able to recover until reading Rob Bell’s book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians. Bell took a similarly honest approach to US imperialism, while offering a Christ-centered hope that Zinn wasn’t able to offer.

But Zinn’s perspective does offer some hope in his challenge for the US to spend less money on national defense and more money on social programs. While I don’t agree Zinn’s belief that socialism would cure all ills, he does make some good points. And his position as a veteran, historian and voice for our nation’s powerless does put him in a unique position to call our nation to higher standard in relationship to military oppression and fiscal priorities.
With that said, check out Zinn’s quote from the intro to a book I just started, The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace from 2002.
“The images on television were heartbreaking. People on fire leaping to their deaths from a hundred stories up. People in panic and fear racing from the scene in clouds of dust and smoke. We thought that there must be thousands of human beings buried alive but soon dead under a mountain of debris. We imagined the terror among the passengers of the hijacked planes as they contemplated the crash, the fire, and the end.

Those scenes horrified and sickened me.

Then our political leaders came on television, and I was horrified and sickened again. They spoke of retaliation, of vengeance, of punishment.

‘We are at war,’ they said. And I thought, they have learned nothing, absolutely nothing, from the history of the twentieth century, from a hundred years of retaliation, vengeance, war, a hundred years of terrorism and counter-terrorism, of violence met with violence in an unending cycle of stupidity.

We can all feel a terrible anger at whoever, in their insane idea that this would help their cause, killed thousands of innocent people. But what do we do with that anger? Do we react with panic, strike out violently and blindly just to show how tough we are? ‘We shall make no distinction,’ the President proclaimed, ‘between terrorists and countries that harbor terrorist.’ We bombed Afghanistan, and inevitably killed innocent people, because it is in the nature of bombing to be indiscriminate, to make ‘no distinction.’ Did we commit terrorist acts in order to ‘send a message’ to terrorists?

We have resonded that way before. It is the old way of thinking, the old way of acting, and it has never worked. Reagan bombed Libya, Bush made war on Iraq, and Clinton bombed Afghanistan and also a pharmaceutical plan in the Sudan, to ‘send a message’ to terrorists. And then comes this horror in New York and Washington. Isn’t it clear by now that sending a message to terrorists through violence doesn’t work, it only leads to more terrorism?

Haven’t we learned anything from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Car bombs planted by Palestinians bring tanks and air attacks by the Israeli government. That has been going on for years. It doesn’t work, and innocent people die on both sides.

Yes, it is an old way of thinking, and we need new ways. We need to think about the resentment felt all over the world by people who have been the victims of American military action. In Vietnam, where we carried out terrorizing bombing attacks, using napalm and cluster bombs, on peasant villages. In Latin America, where we supported dictators and death squads in Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and other countries. In Iraq, where a million people have died as a result of our economic sanctions. And perhaps most important for understanding the current situation, in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, where three million Palestinians live under a cruel military occupation, while the United States government supplies Israel with high-tech weapons.

We need to imagine that the awful scenes of death and suffering in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania we witnessed on our television screens have been going on in other parts of the world for generations, and only now can we begin to know what people have gone through, often as a result of our policies. We need to understand how some of those people will go beyond quiet anger to acts of terrorism.

We need new ways of thinking. A $300 billion military budget has not given us security. American military bases all over the world, our warships on every ocean, have not given us security. Land mines and a ‘missile defense shield’ will not give us security. We need to rethink our position in the world. We need to stop sending weapons to countries that oppress other people or their own people. We need to be resolute in our decision that we will not go to war, whatever reason is conjured up by the politicians or the media, because war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children. War is terrorism, magnified a hundred times.

Our security can only come by using our national wealth, not for guns, plans, bombs, but for the health and welfare of our people – for free medical care for everyone, education and housing, guaranteed decent wages, and a clean environment for all. We cannot be secure by limiting our liberties, as some of our political leaders are demanding, but only be expanding them.

We should take our example not from military and political leaders shouting ‘retaliate’ and ‘war’ but from the doctors and nurses and medical students and fireman and policemen who have been saving lives in the midst of mayhem, whose first thoughts are not vengeance but compassion, not violence but healing.”

Great thoughts, but not original with Zinn. It reminds me a lot of a great quote from President Eisenhower, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. ... Is there no other way the world may live?"

Thankfully, God became flesh in the person of Jesus to model, teach, die and resurrect to show us a better way.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

La mort d' Oussama ben Laden (The death of Osama bin Laden)

I just finished my final composition for my French 300 class at KU. Our professor asked us to do some abstract thinking for this composition, to give our thoughts on the killing of bin Laden.  So I shared some of my thoughts and decided to post them here. 

I see on my stats, that a few people from France occasionally find their way to my blog, maybe from the posts I've written in French.  So if you're a french speaker and have stumbled onto my blog, I apologize for the terrible grammar.  I haven't been working on french for very long and each of my composition papers are returned with a bunch of red ink that points out the grammatical errors.  Though I am on pace to get a B or an A in the class.  And I have to use English quotation marks because the French << >> causes the text between the symbols to disappear, some blogger formatting that I don't understand. 

Dimanche soir dernier, ma soeur m’a envoyé un texte qui a lit Regarde la television parce que les États-Unis a fait mourir Osama bin Laden. Aprés avoir entendre cette nouvelle, j’avais de soulagement et des peur. J’avais de soulegement parce que maintenant, il est possible que les États-Unis quitte l’Afghanistan. J’avais peur de le fait que le Taliban encore nous attackions. Je crois que la violence seulement crée plus de la violence.

Bin Laden, ou comme on dit en français Oussama ben Laden est né le 10 mars, 1957. Ben Laden est mort le 2 mai, 2011. Le 6 mai, l’Al Qaeda a admis que ben Laden a fait mourir par les marines des États-Unis.

Il est évident que Osama bin Laden était un mauvais homme. Jusque le dimanche dernier, ben Laden attackait les gens et les bâtiments depuis 1992. Le 29 decembre, il a attacké le hôtel de gold mihor et deux personnes sont mortes. Je repete, il est évident que bin Laden était un mauvais homme. Mais, je crios que les États-Unis auraient dû prendre bin Laden et lui juger. Nous ne sommes pas terrorists. If faut que nous obéissent les règles internationaux.

Chaque année, millierss de personnes font mourir à notre militaire. Bien sûr, chaque des morts sont des accidents, mais les personnes sont meme-morts. Comme Howard Zinn a dit, La guerre est terrorisme se multiplient par un cent.

Je suis Christian, donc je crois de l’importance d’obéir les mots de Jesus. Jesus a dit Aimez tes ennemis. Je ne crios pas qu’il soit l’amour faire mourir tes ennemis. Je pense qu’il n’est pas l’amour bombarder tes ennemis.

Alors, je sait que le government des États-Unis ne doit être ni Christian ni un ature religion. Mais, je pense que nous devons penser à les effets de notres actions militaires.

Quelquefois nous Faison des bonnes choses et quelquefois nous Faison des mauvaises choses. Il faut que nous soient honnête avec nous-mêmes et avec les autres payes.

En fin, la possibilité d’un autre attaque me donne peur. La réalité que la plupart des citoyens americaines pensent que nous sommes justes tous les tmps me donne triste.

Friday, May 13, 2011

What Systemic Sin Looks Like - Part 2

Here is another example and some more thoughts on the topic introduced in this post. 
South LA is historicially black and hispanic. It’s an area that is, at its highest economic level, made up of the poor and working class. The schools are the lowest performing in the state. The Community Coalition of South Los Angeles is a network of charter schools that guarantee that their students will not only graduate, but get into college. The CC works to get their students admitted and to raise the finances necessary to cover the first year of college.

In 2001, the CC ran into a bit of an unsuspected snag with that guarantee. The snag was regarding the school’s saludictorian, Roxanna. The school’s leaders had put off Roxanna’s college application work till the end of the school year, assuming there would be no problem getting the student with the school’s second highest GPA into a college. But they were wrong. As it turned out, Roxanna wasn’t able to apply to even the basic state universities because she was missing a chemistry class required by the collegiate system of California. So the leaders of the Community Coalition began to research this problem.

In their research, they discovered that the main reason black and hispanic kids in CA did not go to college was neither grades nor test scores, but simply because they’re missing one or two required math or science classes. In fact, a higher percentage of black and hispanic students take the SAT’s (meaning they intended to go to college) than their white and asian peers. No matter their test scores, however, these black and hispanic high school graduates are not allowed into state universities because they lack one or two of those required classes.
Further research uncovered an epidemic of low income schools not having enough offerings of these required classes to meet the demand in the schools. There were too many prospective students but not enough teachers. In response to this inequity, the Community Coalition started a campaign to inform the community that their high school students could make all A’s through high school but still not get into college.

The Community Coalition eventually introduced legislation to the school board and state legislature to open up more class offerings in the lower income schools. The response from the state legislature blew the minds of these educational reformers, uncovering a massive prejudice and the presence of systemic evil. In response to the proposed legislation to change class offerings, Liberal and Democratic state senators asked these education reformers, “if these kids all get a college education, who will fix my car when it breaks?” Seriously. Elected officials made those types of statements.
In addition to the pushback from the elected state congress, the Community Coalition also faced opposition from lobbying groups. Who were the lobbyists? The organizations that typically employ low income blacks and hispanics; agricultural, textile, garmet, construction trade lobbyists. After two years of fighting the attitude of “those kids in your neighborhoods have plenty of job options – all these low paying service jobs,” the Community Coalition gave up on the proposed legislation.

They didn’t, however, give up on their proposed equality-creating changes. With the surprising help of a local construction company that realized their employees at least needed basic algebra, they were able to start classes at the local level, helping these low-income students gain access to the college education easily accessible to their high-income peers.

In working to name, unmask and overcome systemic sin and oppression, we must avoid the extremes of the current political debate.  If we're too conservative, we'll say "the individual is to blame - the individual must make better choices."  If we're too liberal, we'll say, "the individual has no culpability - the individual is a victim of the system and had no individual choice." 

Both views have some truth but both views also have a lot of mistruth. 

In the New Testament, we see that individuals are culpable, accountable, forgiveable and redeemable.  And if we'd simply take off the blinders of our North American individualism, we'd see that in the New Testament that systems are also culpable, accountable, forgiveable and redeemable. 

The greek word from which we get the english word "world" is the word "cosmos."  Cosmos implies not only the created world but also the systems and powers of the world's governments.  Keep that in mind each time you read "world." 

John 3:16:  "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Romans 12:2: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Ephesians 6:12 "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

James 1:27: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

James 2:5:  "Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?"

Colossians 2:15 "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Is God to Blame? Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering

I just finished (less than 3 minutes ago) Greg Boyd's book of the same title as this blog post.
So much good stuff in this book, done with Boyd's typical thorough attention to biblical and philosophical detail, that any attempt to summarize would end with me reproducing the entire book.  But if I were forced to summarize the book, I'd do so with this statement:  "Our all-powerful and all-loving God chose to create a universe in which physical and spiritual beings had the freedom to choose for or against good.  While God does seem to occasionally supernaturally override the laws of this universe he created, God's desire that his creation freely choose to love him means that beings will often choose evil, leaving creation to deal with the fall-out of that evil.  While God may bring good out of evil, God is not the author of evil."

Just for kicks, here's a quote from chapter 7:
"One of the reasons why we like simplistic answers to difficult questions is that we don't like ambiguity.  As Job insightfully saw, much of the abusive theology his friends were hurling at him was motivated by their own fear (Job 6:21).  They hated the way Job's suffering called into question their God-in-box theology and they feared that what happened to Job might happen to them.  Hence, despite all appearances they insisted that the universe was a fair place, that fortune and misfortune are God's just rewards and punishments, and that Job's suffering must be his own fault.
A central point of the book of Job is to denounce this theology.  But this means that the universe is not a fair place.  It means that we ultimately can't know why a righteous person like Job suffers.  And it therefore means coming to terms with our fear of living in a sea of ambiguity."

People want simple answers because they're afraid of ambiguity.  So they will say simple, dumb and hurtful things and hold onto those misguided beliefs.  We learned this first-hand during the whole struggle to become parents.  If we heard "God has a reason" one more time, we were going to punch the person who dared say it.  While the failed attemps at pregnancy and the failed adoptions are almost distant memories compared the joy of being Dawson's mommy and daddy, a wholistic interpretation of scripture reveals that God was not the author, nor the one to blame, for those terrible events.  But he is to be praised for bringing an incredible blessing out of those painful events.  In choosing to create a world with open possibilities inhabited by free moral agents, God has allowed for the possibility of evil such as infertility while at the same time, bringing good out of even the worst circumstances.

In addition to Boyd's great answer (or attempt to answer to the best of the ability of a smart, but non-omniscient dude) to the question "why do bad things happen," Boyd also gives a great rebuttal to the Calvinistic "blueprint" view of the world and to the unfortunate view of Divine Election that comes from a misinterpretation of Romans 9.  You can buy this book cheap on Amazon and it's worth the money just for the last two Calvinist-refuting chapters.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What Systemic Sin Looks Like - Part 1

In response to this post on The Whole Gospel, I want to give two examples of the systemic (corporate) sin that Jesus gospel overcomes.
The first comes from Kansas City's history.  I'm about halfway done with a book entitled Race, Real Estate and Uneven Development:  The Kansas City Experience, 1900-2000.   

The population of Kansas City, like most Midwestern and northern cities, was racially integrated and centralized up through 1910.  The invention of the car lead to the creation of the suburbs, the creation of the suburbs lead to the dividing of the city along racial lines - i.e. - Jews and Blacks were not allowed into the same neighborhoods as whites.  Now there was racial tension in these racially mixed neighborhoods, but the neighborhoods were still racially integrated. 

From 1915 until 1930, there was a large immigration of black families from southern cities to Midwestern and northern cities.  "In many cities, increased competition for housing and consequent racial conflicts including intimidation, harassment, cross burnings and violent race riots... The National Association of Real Estate Boards disseminated and amplified this ideology through its many textbooks, pamphlets, and periodicals that warned real estate firms that racial minorities threatened property values and that neighborhoods should be racially homogeneous to maintain their desirability." 

"As housing activist Charles Abrams noted, 'Buyers liked the idea of being accepted into an exclusive neighborhood.  To be discriminating, they were told, you must be discriminatory.  The dream of the warm fireside, of the security and pride of ownership would be enlarged to include a whole community of neighbors, friendly, similar, socially acceptable, interesting and white.'  In essence the production of the FHA and the entire real estate and banking industries after the 1930's.  Later, various euphemisms such as 'protecting property values,' maintaining 'security,' 'stability,' or 'integrity' of community space became the dominant language used to reinforce social homogeneity without referring explicitly to race." 

Unfortunately, this idea of "protecting property value" through the establishment of racially and economically homogeneous neighborhoods seemed to almost be common sense to me - at least that's what I've always been told.  This book explains how developers like JC Nichols and government agencies like Federal Housing Agency as well as real estate firms created, disseminate, perpetuated and cemented that way of thinking. 

JC Nichols helped develop the idea of a "housing covenant"; a promise to the builders and residents that no minorities would be allowed to buy a home in the newly developed neighborhood and that if a house was sold to a black person, the individual or company selling that house would face serious consequences.  Check out this quote from JC Nichols himself who advertised his subdivisions ad "the most protected and highest class region in or near Kansas City" and his property deeds always warned prospective buyers that "none of the lots hereby restricted may be convened to, used, owned, nor occupied by negroes as owners or tenants."  This was of thinking worked, as the stats given in this book reveal.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that less than a handful of black families (2 families in Prairie Village) could be found living in the new Johnson County suburbs. 

I now flinch whenever I see a JC Nichols sign around town.

Eventually, the laws supporting these housing covenants were declared unconstitutional at the federal level.  There are examples, however, of these covenants still being enforced in KC in the late 60's, 20 years after federal courts ruled against them. 

After the repeal of these housing covenants, however other methods for keeping the black people in the ever-deteriorating city arose.  The FHA developed new mortgage laws allowing for a smaller down payment for first-time home buyers, yet records show that blacks rarely were approved for FHA loans.  "As a result, the agency's mortgage insurance system and home ownership subsidies established a racially dual home financing system market by refusing to insure mortgages in areas not covered with a racially restrictive covenant, thus denying mortgages to Black families, and channeling capital into suburban housing construction."

 Occasionally, black people were able to push through the lines of racial demarcation (ie. 27th St for several decades), ignore the threats and move into the nicer white neighborhoods.  But the real estate agency had methods for fighting back and reestablishing the white status-quo.  Real Estate appraisers, a practice still largely unregulated, would drop the appraisal value of houses in racially mixed neighborhoods, prompting the decay of these neighborhoods and the commencement of "white flight."  To quote the book, "Once the real estate industry encoded racial discrimination into the structure and operation of the FHA, the racialization of metropolitan space was set in motion." 

The all-black neighborhoods suffered from the withdrawal of resources such as jobs, rising equity for homeowners and quality schools.  As the neighborhoods deteriorated, the white powers-that-be as well along with the average white homeowner patted themselves on the back for the foresight to protect their slice of the "American Dream" and continued to expand the gap between the majority of whites and the majority of blacks. 

I'm only halfway through the book, but I've just started a chapter on the redevelopment of slum areas and the fighting of "urban blight."  A process of reinvesting in the city and pushing poor families even further to the margins, a process that would eventually come to be known as "gentrification."

This exaclty the type of systemic sin we see being addressed often in Luke's Gospel.  Mary fired the first shot in her Magnificat from Luke Chapter 2:
46 Mary responded,

"Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.

47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,

and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

49 For the Mighty One is holy,

and he has done great things for me.

50 He shows mercy from generation to generation

to all who fear him.

51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!

He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.

52 He has brought down princes from their thrones

and exalted the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things

and sent the rich away with empty hands.

Jesus followed it up with the commencement of his public ministry at his hometown synagogue, in quoting the Prophet Isaiah:

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
18 "The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,

for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,

that the blind will see,

that the oppressed will be set free,

19 and that the time of the LORD's favor has come.*"

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently.21 Then he began to speak to them. "The Scripture you've just heard has been fulfilled this very day!"

Not surprisingly, there was an attempt on Jesus' life immediately after his reading from Isaiah.  But no matter the pressure we face from those trying to hold onto their power and privilege through the perpetuation of the status-quo, we must honor Jesus by working on behalf of the poor.  Not just charity, but system-changing work. 

An important part of the gospel is working to overturn systemic sin and oppression. 

For part two of this discussion of systemic sin, click here. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

My thoughts on Osama's killing and our nation's response

Actually, I think the thoughts of Walter Wink are best suited to this event and to our nation's reaction.

And check out David Brush's post. 

The quote below if from Engaging the Powers. 

"Violence is the ethos of our times. It is the spirituality of the modern world. It has been accorded the status of a religion, demanding from its devotees an absolute obedience to death. Its followers are not aware, however, that the devotion they pay to violence is a form of religious piety. Violence is so successful as a myth precisely because it does not seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It is what works. It is inevitable, the last, and often, the first resort in conflicts. It is embraced with equal alacrity by people on the left and on the right, by religious liberals as well as religious conservatives. The threat of violence, it is believed, is alone able to deter aggressors. It secured us forty-five years of a balance of terror. We learned to trust the Bomb to grant us peace.
The roots of this devotion to violence are deep, and we will be well rewarded if we trace them to their source. When we do, we will discover that the religion of Babylon – one of the world’s oldest, continuously surviving religions – is thriving as never before in every sector of contemporary American life, even in our synagogues and churches. It, and not Christianity, is the real religion of America. I will suggest that this myth of redemptive violence undergirds American popular culture, civil religion, nationalism, and foreign policy, and that it lies coiled like an ancient serpent at the root of the system of domination that has characterized human existence since well before Babylon ruled supreme. In order for us to get our bearings, however, we have to go back to the mythic source."

To continue reading this chapter, click here and start reading on page 12.  But I'm not sure how many pages you'll get to read, though.  Believe me, this book is worth the purchase, one of the best books I've ever read.  I had a "red pill/ blue pill" type of mind change when reading this book.  And it's what eventually lead my down the "rabbit hole" taking me into teaching in the inner-city.