The Common Good

Privilege

Not As Helpless As We Think: 3 Ways to Stand In Solidarity With Ferguson

I’ve been calling it the Summer of Helplessness.

From the conflict in Gaza that has left more than 1,000 civilians dead, to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the skies of Ukraine, to the Ebola breakout getting worse by the day, to the shooting of yet another unarmed black teenager here in the U.S., the news of late is enough to make a person feel paralyzed with helplessness and despair. My prayers these days are of the tired, desperate sort: How long, O Lord? Will you hide your face from us forever?

But when it comes to violence and oppression, we are rarely as helpless as we think, and this is especially true as the events unfolding in Ferguson force Americans to take a long, hard look at the ongoing, systemic racism that inspired so many citizens to protest in cities across the country this week.

I’ve heard from many of my white friends and readers who say they aren’t sure how to respond to the anger and grief they are watching on TV or hearing from their black friends. They want to be part of the solution but don’t know where start. They may even feel a little defensive when they hear people talking about white privilege or inaction on the part of white Christian leaders. I’m in the process of learning too, but as I’ve listened to people of color whose opinions I trust, I’ve heard them issue several calls to action we can all heed.

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Christian Suffering in a World of Suffering

The recent focus on the kidnapped girls in Nigeria shines a light on the suffering of women and girls all around the world.

Perhaps it is due to my ongoing fascination with Jewish and Christian apocalypses that the motif of suffering is constantly on my mind. I am always struck with John the Seer’s words of praise and encouragement in his letters to the seven churches of the Apocalypse that are patiently enduring persecution, affliction, distress, and tribulation.

It seems that from a Christian perspective, suffering is to be expected and just part of the deal of Christian membership — a real scriptural blow to prosperity gospels! Thus it should come as no surprise to us when the letter of 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11 emphasizes the same themes of present suffering as a marker for future reward.

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Open Letter to White People: Why I am Donald Sterling and So Are You

Dear White People,

We need to take a long, painful look in the mirror. The image we see will make us uncomfortable, but, tragically, it is us.

The image staring you back at you is the image of Donald Sterling.

We have found a new sense of self-righteousness by uniting against Sterling for his racist comments. All of us white people can agree that Sterling is a despicable human being and he deserved to be banned from the NBA for life and to be fined.

We are morally outraged. We hate Sterling with a united and perfect hatred.

But make no mistake, we are Donald Sterling.

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#SochiProblems: Hey, Let's Laugh About How Other People Actually Live

Like everyone else, I’m addicted to the Twitter photos, Facebook posts, and litany of other social media feeds that are exposing Sochi’s unappealing shortcomings — but am I being fair?

It’s easy for me to forget that I live in one of the richest and privileged countries in the world, and although I consider myself a blue-collar employee working hard to make a living — I’m a citizen of one of the wealthiest and exclusive populations in existence.

I own a car (and a minivan), I have a house (with heating and central air), I buy a cup of coffee every morning, and spend lots of free time watching Netflix on my TV (a modest flat screen). These are just a few of the “normal” things that are luxuries I continually take for granted.

While much of humanity is engulfed in poverty, famine, war, and struggling to develop their society and better themselves — or just simply trying to survive — I’m complaining about the connection speed on my laptop (I may have to use my tablet instead).

Yes, the Olympics spent A LOT of money to create a party-like atmosphere filled with the comforts of Westernized society, but in many ways I’ve become a victim of my own comfort — accustomed to my ethnocentric American lifestyle.

I’m used to clean bathrooms, functional sewer systems, spectacular hotels, and glitzy restaurants — but much of the world isn’t. Whether we want to admit it or not, we live in a bubble detached from the reality of the rest of the world.

It’s easy to laugh at how others live, especially when we don’t have to face the same struggles. We assume our wealth and standard of living actually make us better — we become elitist and exhibit a superior sense of self-righteousness.

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Fast for Families -- Remembering Our Bodies, the Land, and Community

On Sunday, with lots of turkey, stuffing and pie still in the fridge, I joined the #Fast4families movement, abstaining from food and drink for a day in order to pray for immigration reform. At first, I hesitated because it wasn’t necessarily my ideal time for fasting — besides being Thanksgiving weekend, I was about to enter the last two weeks of my academic semester, the most mentally demanding and sleep-depriving time of my year.

Quickly, however, I realized that all the worries I had going into the fast came from my white, privileged, experience of the world. Because of my privilege, I could believe in the illusion that immigration reform does not affect me.

The more I thought about this, the more I concluded that my reasons for not fasting were pointing to the ugliness of my own privilege and participation in racism, for if we do not actively challenge racism, we affirm it. This is what Jesus was getting at in Matthew 12:30, when he said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus does not call us to merely advocate, but asks us invest our whole lives.

My hesitancy to fast was also a reflection of Western spirituality, which privileges the mind over the body and knowledge over action. Before I knew about the fast, my inclination was to spend my day’s energy on academic work, ignoring the body I live in, as well as those bodies that suffer far more than I ever would under an oppressive immigration system.

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Please Stop Calling Your Relatively Privileged Life 'Crazy' and 'Messy'

A few weeks ago, I asked folks on Twitter, and specifically, my colleague Amy Simpson, who has recently published a book on mental illness and the mission of the church:

What do you think about the way people use words like “bipolar,” “crazy,” and “manic” when they really mean “moody,” “energetic,” “quirky” and even “fun?"

It’s part of a pattern I’ve noticed lately — and maybe you’ve noticed it too.

People with beautiful head shots, flawlessly designed websites, and enviable accomplishments insist that they are really just a ‘mess.’ Or that their families are ‘crazy.’ Or that their homes and lives are every bit as complicated and frustrating as everyone else’s … meanwhile, their Instagram feeds show nothing but beauty; if ‘chaos’ is there, it’s only ever of the picturesque kind.

There are no birdcages sprouting stalagmites and stalactites of bird droppings. There are no snotty-nosed, unwashed, half-dressed, hungry children who’ve never visited a dentist in their lives. There is food in the fridge and on the table, and it isn’t even growing mold or crawling with roaches or undulating with maggots. In fact, it’s from Trader Joe’s and may even be organic! There is no broken glass or police officers showing up because the neighbors heard screaming. There is electricity and running water and indoor toilets.

Yeah, there’s raised voices and tempers and conflicts. But that makes you human. Not crazy. Not dysfunctional. Not “a mess.”

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Pentecost and the Crucifixion of Privilege

While the consequences of social privilege are alarming for numerous reasons, we are reminded that such systematic inequalities are by no means unique to the current day and age. For example, during Jesus’ ministry he encountered a predominant culture that distributed a wide variety of elite benefits based upon gender, class, ethnicity, and other forms of false favoritism. However, one of the primary distinctions of Jesus’ life, which he continually modeled for his disciples, was a prophetic confrontation with unjust structures of social privilege. 

As Jesus accompanied women, tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, and others firmly placed on the underprivileged margins of society, he repeatedly sought the reversal of embedded discrimination and disadvantage. In doing so, not only did Jesus promote Good News of eternal life for after death, but he sought to “let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18) for the fullness of life after birth.

While Jesus continually endorsed the revolution of unjust social privilege, and although he taught his followers to do likewise in his name, the harsh reality is that privilege based on prejudice is profitable, which makes it difficult – if not impossible – for those in power to surrender voluntarily

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