Tuesday, June 28, 2016

On the Road with Dismantling Whiteousness

As part of our move from Los Angeles to Detroit, we are taking a cross-country road trip retracing our steps that led us to LA 14 years ago.  Part of that will include a Video Blog to include voices: yours, and others. We want to create dialogue around the very important notion, which is Biblical, just, and beautiful, that diversity truly matters but that we don't do a great job appreciating it.  Here are just some of the questions I'd like to ask people in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Ohio.

If your state isn't along our route, feel free to upload a video and send it to me through YouTube by messaging me here:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC201ZCdP7oAHYxoVdQGNGZw  Videos should be 90-120 seconds in format, and should answer any of the following questions:

1. What are some of the ways we can define or determine who our neighbors are? How should service, volunteering and public service, work into this?

2. What are some of the cultural, racial, ethnic, and generational differences in your community?

3. How do we love each other through these, or make space for our differences?

4. Who are modern day Samaritans, or “those people” on the “other side of the tracks?”

5. What questions would you ask someone outside of your race if you weren’t afraid of asking the question “wrong,” weren’t worried that the question itself might offend?

6. What might the difference between “Color-Blind” and “Color-Brave” be?

7. Do you think the over-criminalization of black and brown people hurts everyone in the US? If so, how?

8. Have you ever been hurt by someone from another race?  Have you ever been blessed by someone from another race, especially in a way that surprised you?

9. Is active anti-racism a vital part of following Jesus if you consider yourself a Christian?

10. Is there anything you feel is often misunderstood about the culture group you stem from?  Is there one thing you wish you didn't always need to explain to people?  Is there one thing you wish people just understood?

11. Is there anything you’d like to share about modern race relations?

Also, Marvin Wadlow and I are gearing up to come lead workshops in a town near you, so if you're interested in bringing us to your school, your church, or your business, please send inquiries here: The Table Setters.

peace by peace,

The Love of Black Culture, but not of Black People

So much history at these last BET awards.....without any further ado from me, I implore you to watch both of these clips with this in mind: are you, like I know I have been, also guilty of loving black culture more than you love black bodies, black human beings?

First: please listen to this entire speech by Jesse Williams: (hard to get the video because of Viacom issues, but if listening is not enough (and you really need to see the responses), click here where you can also see the problematic tweets from Justin Timberlake)

Second: please watch this entire performance by Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar:

Lastly, as a Christian, when Jesse says "the hereafter is a hustle," I am not worried for his soul.   For centuries, Christians have misused the Bible to justify their own gain at the expense of others. We do it today, we did it during the Jim Crow era, we did it during this country's founding and building. And moreover, it was happening in the days of Jesus walking the earth. The Pharisees were misusing sacred texts to hold onto their own power and status. The hereafter, when it is used to placate and manipulate peoples who are taken advantage of, is not Heaven. It is a distortion of the Kingdom of God.

Here, here, Jesse, Kendrick, and Beyonce.  We will play these for the girls when they get up.

peace by peace by peace....

Sunday, June 26, 2016

grace. finally.

My music name is mathyu djän, pronounced like my real name, broken into the roots of how to say it.  when I was seven, I learned how to pray through improvisational piano playing at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Michigan.  that's when I first felt the Spirit of Christ moving.

today, we said goodbye to our church family at Hollywood Presbyterian Church.  this piece was my prayer-filled thanksgiving, today.

at root of #DismantlingWhiteousness is a deep, deep, soul that is much deeper than any veneer.  It's getting back to the grace of who we all, actually, are.  God's.

Be well, Hollywood.  Until we come back,

peace by peace

Saturday, June 25, 2016


See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the desert

and streams in the wasteland.”

Isaiah 43:18-19

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, June 24, 2016

White Privilege, by Glenn Balzer

Glenn Balzer is my friend and former boss.  He is an Anglo-Canadian who leads Discover Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection (DOOR), and blogs regularly at www.glennbalzer.com.

One of my job responsibilities is to have regular check-ins with our City Directors. These calls are usually filled with laughter, frustration, anger, and occasionally the unexpected. This past week the unexpected happened.

We were about 30 minutes into our conversation, when all of a sudden the person on the other end when into a minor panic moment. Like me she was multi-tasking. The call started with her working from home, then she packed up and headed to her car to go to a meeting. In the process she went from talking on her headphones to switching to her car’s Bluetooth system. The crisis happened about 5 minutes into her drive. At first I was worried she had gotten into an accident. This was not the case.

She had forgotten to take out her wallet and put it on the dashboard. Her panic seemed a little unwarranted to me. So in a silly attempt to say “no big deal” I started laughing. For her it was a big deal. In a moment of grace, on her part, she proceeded to explained things to me. It went something like this:

“Glenn, I am a black woman driving a car, if the police decide to stop me I don’t want them to think that when I reach for my wallet that I am reaching for a gun.”

This staff person is close to my age. Both of us have been driving for 30 plus years. In all of that time I have never worried about where my ID is. To be honest I don’t even panic if I forget my ID at home. Getting a ticket would suck, but I wouldn’t be afraid of the encounter.

For more than 30 years my friend and co-worker has had to think about where her ID is every time she gets into a car. This grows out of a very real concern for her life.

Privilege, particularly white straight male privilege, means that I get to go about my day-to-day life without worry. For the most part I do not need safe places, mostly because the world is my safe place. I don’t always know what to do about my privilege. I didn’t earn it, it simply is. One thing I am slowly learning is to listen to the concerns of my friends of color and those in the GLBTQI community. Their fears are not “boogeyman-ish;” they are real. All you have to do is turn on the news. Somehow I want to find a way to be part of the solution. This is my hope and dream.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Make America White Again?

In case you missed this, this was a top story today.  They say a picture speaks 1,000 words.  I say this one says one: racism.

From here, I'm just going to let it speak for itself, and ask you to continue to support us in Dismantling this kind of Whiteousness, day by day.

If you want to read the full story: Rick Tyler's campaign

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, June 17, 2016

Conciliation before Reconciliation

Mission statement changed! I have spent the entire week visiting and listening to pastors and community members of downtown Detroit, the most racially segregated city in our nation. One pastor told me, "this word you say, reconciliation, implies that there was once racial harmony in this nation. But you and I know that there was not."

Point taken, deeply. His church had a sign that says "Analyze Less, Cry Out More."

I cry out for the day when we realize how serious Jesus is about loving our neighbors, every single one of them.

New mission statement:

I aim to celebrate how being loved on by people of color has literally saved my life, time and time again. Lamenting Anglo-America's fragility or aggressive avoidance of racial injustice, I write, and compile, from a Jesus-following perspective towards ongoing Conciliation between races (no lasting harmony, yet, so we can't re-concile). This is not anti-white people, but anti-Whiteousness: against the concept that white ideas, norms, and people are superior.

Peace by peace,


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Friday, June 10, 2016

Fight Whitewashing: The Truth in the Narratives

Exactly one year ago today, I had the honor of having one of my blogposts featured on both the Fuller Theological Seminary's online student blog page as well as their printed quarterly magazine.  It is a piece about how three young men, one African-American, one Native American, and one European American (myself), helped an unconscious woman late at night on the subway in downtown LA.

This is only for the setting to this story about the pressures of "white-washing."  

In no way am I throwing Fuller under the bus here, as I truly have grown to love the education I'm receiving and the community I've been welcomed into.  And, to be fair, Fuller did publish the full content of my writing on their student blog site, meant to attract prospective students.  But, and I mean the big Biblical but here, the blog site audience is far more limited than the Fuller Magazine, which goes out to all students, alumni, and supportive congregations across the country.

I'm sharing this to illustrate a very important point: journalism and history, in this country, has an obsession with removing race from our narratives as much as possible.  What was explained to me was that the Fuller Magazine could not print the entire blog because of spacing, so they were making a choice to focus on the gender angle, the "men helping a hurt woman" angle, arguably valid and worthy.  The problem with this, especially here, was that if you removed race from my story, it completely whitewashed the narrative.  

Dominant and subconscious fears about Brown and Black men raping woman are completely skewed, intentionally.  History shows us that if we could convince the majority of people that Brown and Black men were dangerous, we could justify treating them like animals needing to be caged.  Richard Wright's Native Son is one of many examples of the terrible destruction this mindset caused, and still causes today.  If you don't believe me: look at how soft the sentencing of Brock Turner is, the White Stanford swimmer who was convicted of raping a young unconscious woman.  Ask yourself, if that young man was a person of color, named Brock Peters perhaps, do you think he would only be serving 6 months?

So when I got the phone call asking me to rewrite my original blogpost to remove all the elements of race from the story, and instead, just focus on the help offered to the woman, I said no.  What touched me the most was that it was such a beautiful story that bucked the narrative telling women they ought to always fear young black and brown men.   A lengthy back-and-forth dialogue went on between the editor and I, and thankfully, this editor conceded that I had a strong point to make, though we had to still pare it down some.  Fuller would allow me to keep most of the elements of race (and now I wonder if the winning of that argument could be attributed, in some way, to my own white privilege....)

Nonetheless, it was a fight worth having.  To help illustrate this, I am sharing both posts now.  I will highlight, in red, the section from the Fuller Magazine that was originally on the chopping block.

The Harmonics of Praise and Lament (printed in the Fuller Magazine, June 10, 2015)
 (click here to find the official article on Fuller's site)
Photo by Eric Tai [MAICS student
8:30 p.m.: Our student vocation and formation team learns the Prayer of Examen—an Ignatian practice involving both celebrating our gratitude towards God and crying out in complaint: the harmonics of praise and lament.

9:45 p.m.: Stepping onto the Red Line subway at Union Station to head home, and while everyone riding eastward exits the train, a young woman is not moving at all. One breast is slightly hanging out of her shirt, her purse is about to spill out its contents, she is slumped strangely in her seat.  She is oblivious to the sounds and activity around her.

A Native American young man notices as he is about to exit and tries to wake her. She does not respond, does not even move. He leans in to see if she’s breathing, and nods to me that she is alive. “Call for help,” he instructs.

An even younger African American teenager boards as I’m pushing an on-train emergency alarm that seems to get no response. He and the first responder delicately pick the woman up, explaining, “We can’t leave her like this—anything could happen.” She comes to slightly and clings to them. I realize the call button doesn’t work, and wave down a Metro employee coming down the platform instead.

Remembering this, the tender care of those two young men still moves me. They carefully adjusted her shirt so that she was no longer exposed. They secured all of her belongings and gingerly laid her down on the platform bench. They saw her in all of her vulnerability, and stopped what they were doing to ensure her safety. Then, we stood sentinel as the Metro employee went for more help.

10:00 p.m.: I pray my Examen for the ride home: God, I lament whatever happened that led to the woman’s situation, and I am thankful I was able to witness and participate in such a committed, harmonic act of kindness, one that pulled three strangers from very different backgrounds together for the benefit of a woman who will never even know.


And now, the original post, with a section notated in green that was key to me, but I had to say goodbye to for the Fuller Magazine printing:

A Night of Examen, published on Fuller's Prospective Student blogsite on March 3, 2015

8:30pm: Our Vocation and Formation team practiced the prayer of Examen, an Ignatian practice that involves both celebrating our gratitude towards God and crying out in complaint: the harmonics of praise and lament. 

9:45pm -Stepping onto the Red Line subway at Union Station to head home. A young woman, maybe Latina, maybe Armenian, is completely not moving while everyone riding eastward exits the train. One breast is slightly hanging out of her shirt, and her purse is about to spill everywhere. 

A native American male notices as he is about to exit and tries to wake her. She does not move, does not even respond. He leans in close to see if she’s breathing, and he nods to me that she is. “Call for help,” he instructs me, and I start to push the on-train emergency button. 

A young African American teenage male boards the train. As I’m pushing a button that is getting no response, he and the first responder delicately pick her up, saying, “we can’t leave her like this, anything could happen.” She comes to, slightly, and clings to them. By now, I’m realizing the call button doesn’t work, and I wave down a Metro employee walking down the platform 

Even typing this, the tender care of those two young men still moves me. They carefully adjusted her shirt so that she is no longer exposed. They picked up all of her belongings and gingerly placed her down on the platform bench. They noticed her vulnerability, and stopped their lives to ensure her safety. 

The native American man had to press on, leaving the two of us to stand sentinel near the woman as the Metro employee went to get help. 

Help arrived, and immediately the first employee thanked only me, then he asked the African American guy, “how long has your friend been unconscious?” All at the same time, I said, “don’t just thank me, he actually carried her!” while our leader said, “I don’t know her, we just found her passed out on the train.” 

10:00pm: My Examen for the ride home: God, I am thankful I was able to witness such a concerted and committed act of kindness, and to play a small role in changing the situation. God, I lament that I was assumed to deserve the credit, and I pray for blessings upon the nameless strangers who initiated and commanded the care. 

Never believe the lie that "it's just a story," or, "these are just entertaining movies, why do you have to  get so bent out of shape about #OscarsSoWhite?"  

Stories have always been the quintessential element of being human.  Stories are the bedrock of culture and societal values.  Stories, more often than direct commandments, are how God decided to teach us through the prophets and through Jesus.   It matters who the cast of characters are.   Jesus is The Word.  Stories matter.  

Please stand with us in demanding that a white man is not always deemed the hero.  In this story, I am just the eyewitnessing storyteller.  Those two young brown-skinned men saved that woman's day, and very possibly, her life.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

#FreeJasmine: Interfaith Prayer is a Powerful Thing

My first course at Fuller Theological Seminary was Interfaith Dialogue.  I made this choice because I was genuinely interested in the concept, (and because it fell on a Wednesday evening which was the only space I had with my work schedule at DOOR).  I remember thinking it was, perhaps, a "fringe" class.  How wrong I was.  Interfaith dialogue is what is, and has always been, about.  And dialogue can only happen if both parties are willing to listen respectfully, even amidst what may or may not arise as disagreements.  And dialogue is enhanced when we work together.

So: how powerful it was to witness a historic moment of Interfaith Dialogue and prayer today, organized by the local chapter of BlackLivesMatter, as Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and Christians came together (probably with other groups, but I only heard prayers from these folks) to pray for the immediate release of Jasmine Abdullah.  A group of about 30 students from Fuller walked over from campus to the courthouse early this morning, which was also a huge day in California with our primaries!  Jasmine had been charged with "felony lynching," and, from what I've learned, is the only black person to ever have this conviction.  Originally, the law was designed to protect African-Americans when they were arrested from angry White mobs who were known to yank them out of the back of police cars and take them out to the back woods for a hanging.  How preposterous, then, that Pasadena charged Jasmine with this, when she was attempting to stop the police from arresting her friend during a #BlackLivesMatter demonstration.  In other words, she was charged with the attempt to take her friend from police custody so that she might go and kill her, I guess, in the mountains north of Pasadena?! Ridiculous, and I don't mean that in the "cool," or "sick," way.  Read more about this historic case here.

Meanwhile, in matters reeking of Whiteousness, Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer convicted of raping an unconscious 23 year old woman, has only been sentenced with 6 months (though he could have been given 14 years.)  Here is a letter written by the woman he raped.  

Okay, so catch it.  A young man who actually caused deep physical, emotional, and spiritual harm to one of his peers is given far more leniency and grace than a woman who was trying to protect a friend of hers while standing up for the rights of marginalized individuals.  Yes.

This Is The Insidious Injustice Of White Supremacy.  

An entire family in support of Jasmine.  Photo by Marvin Wadlow
We, Christians, need to stand up to this.  Christians need to hold hands with Muslims, Jews, and everyone else who knows this, deep in their soul, to be completely unfair.  So grateful I was blessed enough to be there today.  It was a peaceful, but not silent, rush of the Holy Spirit on that sidewalk outside the Pasadena Courthouse, two blocks from Fuller.

And prayer was powerful, when it came alongside the deep and committed work of Jasmine's attorney, Nana Gyamfi.  Jasmine faced 4 years in prison, and her sentence was dropped to 90 days.  Amen.  Of course, we were protesting and demonstrating, peacefully, that she might have zero days, or, only the days she'd already been detained.  But this was deemed, by most of us standing there, as a victory.  Watch this video of Nana explaining the situation, punctuated by Jasmine herself calling in!

Jasmine!  She Matters Here!  

Amen.  Scroll down to watch the long videos of the prayer and poetry that the gathering sang up to Heaven while we waited for the hearing to let out.   Give yourself the blessing of seeing what happens when people come together in the Spirit of Christ (and their own sense of who God is) to fight injustice.  This is what Love looks like, one protester said.  May it continue to be so.

JUNE 8, 2016 UPDATE: Next step in the fight to #FreeJasmine, to drop the days and the 3 years of probation.  There is a petition growing momentum to ask Governor Jerry Brown to pardon Jasmine.  Here is the letter they are asking people to sign off on:

Dear Governor Brown:

I am writing you to ask that you pardon Black Lives Matter activist, Jasmine 'Abdullah' Richards.

On Tuesday, Judge Elaine Lu sentenced Jasmine “Abdullah” Richards to 90 days in jail and 3 years probation following her prosecution by L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey and the Pasadena Police Department on attempted lynching charges. L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey and the Pasadena Police Department have trivialized an anti-lynching law meant to protect Black communities and, now, Judge Lu validated that persecution by allowing them to use her courtroom as a tool to silence Richards and intimidate other Black activists.

You have the executive power to right Judge Lu and District Attorney Lacey's wrongdoing. We are asking that put justice ahead of politics and pardon Jasmine “Abdullah” Richards.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Fear of a Mocha Latte Planet

Good Morning 2016.

A few days ago, my speaking and writing partner, Marvin, sent me a clip of the video below.  It's Dr. Frances Cress Welsing discussing her theories about white supremacy on the Donahue show (arguably the whitest hair to ever be seen on talk-show TV!)  Dr. Welsing passed away at the beginning of this year.

If you're unfamiliar with her work, like I was until Marvin sent me the video, I suggest watching it.  I mean, I knew her work in part through Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet, but I didn't know it directly.  The basic idea is this: pink skin is the result of a recessive gene that produces far less melanin than most of the skin on this planet.  (Interestingly, some of her work wonders if "white people" were kicked out of Africa because of fear of the odd and different...)  Pink-skinned people became very powerful in Europe, culturally dominant, for better or for worse (and I think most of this blog focuses on how the idolization of "white" ideas has hurt our country, if not the entire world.)  Enough asides: whether you subscribe to her ideas or not, the question is still valid: why are white people afraid of people of color?  We seem only slightly afraid of Asians, somewhat more afraid of Latinos, and most afraid of Arabs and Africans.  Welsing's ideas suggest that we are sub-consciously afraid of "dying out," of disappearing, and since we know that interracial relationships often produce people who are "less pink," the scale of fear makes sense: black people threaten white skin the most.

And: there's a disturbing double-mindedness.  White people, at least in the US, hate when their skin is pale.  Why else would we spend $3,000,000,000 on tanning salons each year, even though we understand the risk of skin cancer?  Growing up as a pink-skinned person in Michigan, I can personally attest to this: our spring-breaks most often involved driving down I-75 for the coasts of the Carolinas or Florida.  Sorry Mom, throwing you under the bus a bit here, but you always did tell us to "get outside and get some color on your skin!"  It's bizarre when you think about it logically, but so definitely true. 

There are so many "hates" involved in being under the veil of white supremacist thinking: we hate dark skin because it threatens our "purity;" we hate our own skin because it's too "pale;" and we hate when anyone points out this duality to us because it makes us feel crazy.   Are we going crazy, have we already gone crazy?  The Bible has a wide range of verses that have been attributed to interracial/inter-tribal marriages, but it's most important to note, when combating white supremacy, that God is not "against" them in terms of skin tones.  To the exiles in a land not their own:  

Build houses and make yourselves at home.  Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country.  Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away.  Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare.  - Jeremiah 29: 5-7, Msg.

So the Donahue clip comes from a few decades back, and God's reassurance comes from a few millennia back.  But I know we are still in this fearful duality, and it fuels systemic racism, has real impact on real lives right around us, has real impact on our own lives.  This is a true story from 2016:

I had the honor of working closely with two mothers, each with a child in our local public school system.  One of the children has light brown skin, comes from parents with mostly African ancestry.  His friend has pink skin, comes from parents with mostly European ancestry.  They are in elementary school, in the same class, and both of them are very intelligent.   In fact, the parents decided to informally measure their cognitive levels using a test that the school district employs to determine gifted and talented education placements.  Each child is reading and comprehending 5-6 grade levels beyond where they are currently in school.  Each child is 1-2 grade levels ahead in math.  So both parents asked school leaders to have their student formally evaluated. 

The pink mother was contacted by the school and was told, in a straightforward way, that there is an eight month wait list to have her daughter tested.  The parent explained that she is not trying to get her child labeled, or that she sees her child is any more special than any other kid, but that she's concerned because her daughter has been saying that school is boring.  The school representative told her, "no, I'm sure you know your daughter is advanced, and of course, you want what's best for her."

The brown mother was also contacted by the school, but several days later.  While the school representative told her the same information, the rep also asked, "but why do you want to pursue this for your son, what are your intentions?"  So, this mother explained the same concerns as the pink parent, that he was getting bored in school and she wants what's best for him.  The rep said, "well, we all want to believe our children are gifted, but that doesn't mean they actually are..." 

Why the difference in responses to, essentially, the same capabilities?  Fear of a black planet.  Why would a white girl's parent be encouraged to support her academic trajectory but a brown boy's parent have her judgment questioned?  Aren't the schools supposed to support academic growth equitably?  It doesn't make sense at all, unless you consider that somewhere, subconsciously, our nation is afraid of black people coming to power.   This is not justice.  Schools are the most direct arena for this fear to create our own spin on Apartheid.

Look at the backlash against our current biracial President right now.  Has the world ended?  Some would say yes, and why would they say this?  Even amidst economic/employment indicators that show Obama outperforming Reagan, we are inundated with a campaign to "Make America Great Again."

But: what if we looked at this from God's point of view?  We are meant to find Shalom in our cities, together.  Not in creating and perpetuating divisions.  Not in doling out positive attitudes and open-doors to some and keeping others shut out with skepticism, judgment, and pointed, accusatory questions.

And: mocha is a beautiful color.   All of the shades and tones. 

May we work harder to shine light on these fears, and how they are still inflicting pain and destruction: both internally and upon our neighbors.  May we admit our fears, confess our sins, and move forward towards the Kingdom, now.