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Monthly Archives: November 2006

marvin-gaye.jpgIn the late 1970s, R&B singer Marvin Gaye recorded the song, “What’s going on?”  With “What’s Going On”, Gaye meditated on what had happened to the American dream of the past — as it related to urban decay, environmental woes, military turbulence, police brutality, unemployment, and poverty.   (For more see www.xs4all.nl/~fsgroen/Albums-G/MarvinGayeWhatsGoinOn.htm). 

Gaye’s reflection on police brutality is still a reality with many African American males.  I think of Rodney King.  I remember one man (who was commenting on an article I wrote on hip hop) said essentially that King deserved this savage beating because of his past track record.  I think of two young men of a very prominent former St. Louis Cardinal baseball player who are constantly pulled over by police in Town & Country (Missouri) where they live with their mother.  (Could it be because Town & Country is a very affluent area?) I think of my godson who is a freshman at one of the premiere engineering schools in the United States – Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.  My godson – one of the finest young men you would ever meet – went to New York City alone at night.   I know that my godson is fallen and broken however he was stopped not one time but three times because police thought he was someone who fit the description of a criminal (except my godson was wearing red; the offender was wearing black).  All three times he was told to spread them and searched with a bright search light illuminated on him.  This bizarre shooting in New York City of Bell and two of his friends has again prompted me to ask, “What’s going on?”  According to USA Today (November 27), police thought the men had guns; but investigators found none.  What’s going on?  Incidents like this just fuel my anger and cynicism.  Incidents like this make me want to scream from my housetop, “Injustice!”

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At the urging of my wife and two students, I finally read The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell.  (I knew this book would be good because when my wife read it she could hardly not put it down.)  The Tipping Point explains why social epidemics occur.  For instance, Gladwell explained why the crime rate dropped in New York City in the 1990s.  It was due to some small insignificant changes: cleaning graffiti off buildings and posting guards at the subway ticket machines.  Doesn’t make sense?  That is Gladwell’s point in what he calls the “Law of the Few.”  A few small modifications altered the crime rate in New York.  A few young people resurrected a dying market for Hush Puppy Shoes.  Gladwell explains why the children’s show Blues Clues was so successful.  In Gladwell’s words, Blues Clues was ‘sticky.’  Marketers seek to make their ads ‘sticky’ or memorable.  Also little known fact is that Paul Revere was not the only one who announced that the ‘British were coming!’  Actually, two men in history alerted townspeople that the British were coming.  The reason we don’t know about the other guy was because he was not a ‘connector.’  Paul Revere was a ‘connector.’  Gladwell argues that there are three kinds of people who are behind social epidemics: connectors, mavens, and salesman.  Gladwell uses many human interest accounts or short stories to prove his arguments.  This book is a great read!

Today I almost had a meltdown.  I wanted so much to scream and weep uncontrollably.  Scream and cry because of all the glaring injustices in our world.  These injustices are so obvious aren’t they?  The majority race continues to enjoy privileges; the minority races don’t.  The majority continues to occupy most positions/offices of authority/power; minority races have made progress in this area but lag so far behind.  The rich have access to colleges; the poor don’t.  Wealthy, powerful spouses have the upper hand on less powerful, less wealthy spouses.  What kept me from an actual meltdown?  Knowing that Jesus will right every wrong.  Lord Jesus come soon!

Tonight I attended an opera at Covenant Theological Seminary.  This opera entitled “A Window to The Soul” is one that I partly helped plan.  Needless to say, I was a bit anxious about giving my opening remarks because of several reasons.  One reason is that I always associated opera with the ‘high brow’ or elitist crowd.  A crowd that did not welcome people like me.  Another reason is I know absolutely nothing of opera; I was not exposed to opera as a kid or otherwise.  My wife and I did see the Phantom of the Opera in NY in summer 2006 (that was cool).  But seeing one opera does not make an expert.

Fortunately one of the opera singers helped me with my opening remarks.  As I sat there hearing arias and other operatic pieces in Russian, Italian, French, and German I was just captivated by the voices and the body language.  It is obvious that you don’t necessarily need to know the language because the message is communicated; the message could be passionate love, fear, despair, or hope.  The use of the voice and body movement work in concert to communicate the message.  Tonight, I heard music by Mozart, Paisiello, Mahler, and Bizet.  Bravo!

At the urging of a colleague, here are few “how tos” for doing race relations using ‘rev’:

  1. Read about other races (their culture, customs, sensitivities, history, etc.); read books/works by people of other races and discuss appropriate material with kids.  Oftentimes our fear or hesitancy is rooted in ignorance or not knowing.  I’ve learned that all white people are not evil (this was indirectly taught to me); and white people have learned that I don’t carry a knife (a white person at the University of Kansas thought that all black people carry a knife.  Absurd!)
  2. Engagepeople of other races.  This is getting easier I think because people of other cultures, ethnicities and races are moving right next door.  Find common interests as a ‘door way’ into their lives.  For example, my neighbor is from India.  Our common interest is our lawns.  We both are vigilant to keep weeds away.  This common interest allows us to talk on occasion.  One day I hope to invite my neighbor and his family for dinner.  Other ways to find common interests is to go where ‘they are’ (festivals, art exhibits, plays, etc.).  For example, the Black Repertory Theater of St. Louis has a regular line up of plays featuring black actors/actresses.
  3. View films and/or TV programming that portray people of other races together with your kids or other couples and discuss.  What is true about the portrayal?  What is false?  What sterotypes am I guilty of?  How was I challenged by what I viewed?  Show I write a letter to the producer to commend the work and/or to express my displeasure?

By giving these 3 ideas does not suggest that this is easy as 1-2-3.  Most things that are difficult will take awhile.  Race relations certainly fits in this category.  There is much awful history to overcome in this area; but I am hopeful!

Mention the word race and you will get mixed reactions and responses.  Personally, as a Christian who is African American, I am weary of talking about racial reconciliation.  Let me be more direct: talking about race relations makes me want to scream!  To me it is clear in Scripture that what formerly separated us is no longer there.  Christ demolished ‘it’ by His death on the cross.  I’ve told a group of seminarians this before: God is from the ‘Show Me’ State; He wants us to show Him that we believe His authoritative words that He carefully recorded for us.  Will it be awkward to reach across racial and class lines?  Yes.  Will it be uncomfortable? Yes.  Will it take a while? Yes.  Will we make mistakes? Yes.  Yet, I am called to look beyond the awkward-ness, uncomfortable-ness, mistakes, and time commitment and just do it.

Along I-70 West in Missouri you will notice several signs and billboards with the word ‘historic.’  Knowing or studying ancient, personal, American, or World history is indeed important.  History is invaluable.  It is because of my grandfather’s medical history that I was proactive to get a colonoscopy.  He died early of colon cancer.  A genogram is a pictorial topology of a person’s family.  It is often used to detect predispositions like alcoholism, depression, etc.  Again, history proves valuable.  Studying history frequently reviews that there is really nothing new under the sun.   For instance, our culture’s obsession with youthfulness finds its origin with alchemists from ancient Egypt.  Studying history helps us to enter the world of yester-year.  Studying history helps us to avoid mistakes made by people of yester-year.  Studying history gives us insight into some key people and events.  However, history oftentimes is difficult to read about.  For example, it is hard to stomach the murders by Al Capone and other gangsters and US slavery.  History helps us to interpret the present.  In history we find wisdom.  In history we find both truth, error, and ‘not the whole truth.’  Historicity often proves truthfulness.  I am sad that many young people are disconnected from history.  I think it is wise for families to share their history with their kids, grandkids, etc.