Category: Culture and Current Events

It’s This, But It’s Also That

Last weekend, I read a remarkable piece of journalism. It was about an issue that I knew little about and it described a reality with which I have no personal experience. It was about a city I have never visited in a country not my own whose social conditions are difficult for me to personally imagine. It discussed a material reality has very little bearing on my everyday life in a small city on the Canadian prairies. And yet, the article modeled a way of approaching a difficult issue that I think we can (must) all learn from if we are going to inhabit our cultural moment in honest and hopeful ways.
The article was by CNN journalist John Blake and was called “What both the left and the right get wrong about my neighborhood in Baltimore.” The article was a response to Donald Trump’s outrageous comments about the city, describing it as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess where no human being would want to live.” One sometimes wonders about the wisdom of even responding to a figure like Trump—a man so obviously bereft of moral principles, human decency or good sense—but I suppose his position demands it. And as far as responses go, John Blake’s, himself a Baltimore native, is worth paying attention to.
I won’t attempt to summarize the whole piece because, a) it would take too long; and, b) you should read it yourself. Suffice to say, that Blake does his best to tell the truth about the city of Baltimore. He doesn’t pretend that it’s a utopia but acknowledges that it really is a city in crisis. He names the ugly truth that his own black community is disproportionately affected by the violence, poverty, injustice and social unrest in the city. He blames political decisions that hastened the exit of decent jobs that were once “the backbone of the black community.” He points to the “white flight” to the suburbs that happened after the desegregation of schools in the 1960s with the diminishment to the tax base (and social services) that this represented. He condemns political decisions and racial biases that have increasingly left inner-city Baltimore isolated and impoverished. He does not shy away from explicitly identifying the socio-political failures and naked racism that have contributed to Baltimore’s present reality.
But he doesn’t stop there. Blake also wades into the treacherous waters of personal responsibility:

I have known so many young men in my family and my neighborhood who seem like they’ve given up. They’re strung out on drugs, out of school and drifting day to day. They don’t seem to have any enduring relationships, romantic or otherwise. They blame all their problems on others—never on themselves.

Blake asks the difficult question: Why does he see a bitterness and defeatism in this generation that he didn’t see in his father, who was quite frequently the victim of quite explicit racism and physical abuse.  Of his father, Blake says:

Yet he was the most optimistic man I ever knew. He never complained about racism or blamed others for his difficulties. I see none of his strength in many of the young men I now know in West Baltimore. I wonder if any of it is even in me.

This is pretty honest stuff. Blake ends by reflecting on what his father’s generation had that he sees as absent in Baltimore (and beyond) today. Two things: community and a sense that things were improving, however slowly. Both are largely absent today. And, as we are increasingly recognizing, the former is in many ways the cause of the latter. Social isolation and lack of connection breed despair, addiction, desperation, and hopelessness.
By the end of the article, Blake has managed something quite unusual. He has both unsettled and partially legitimated the narratives of both his conservative and liberal readers. He has refused easy either/or explanations for a complex social reality. He has not steered the narrative to either of the noisy bookends of the ideological spectrum to inflame, galvanize, and drive traffic. He has, instead, tried to tell the truth.
This isn’t how we are accustomed to stories being “reacted” to (it’s a fascinating and depressing indictment of the times that “reaction” to the news is increasingly becoming its own category of “news”). We know the drill by now. Someone like Donald Trump says something appallingly stupid and the left and the right dutifully adhere to the script. The right defends (somehow) the president’s comments (Baltimore really is a very bad place full of very bad people because of very bad liberal politicians) and the left attacks those same comments (Baltimore is actually a great place full of hopeful stories, albeit populated by victims of social conditions and structures implemented and maintained by very bad conservative politicians). You line up obediently, you sharpen your knives, you ready yourself for war, and you defend your tribe at all costs. This is how the game is played and we are very well-trained players.
And yet, refreshingly, John Blake departs from the script. He says “It’s this but it’s also that.” The problems of Baltimore are real. They have ideological and social causes, but there are also personal and moral factors that shouldn’t be ignored. This isn’t to say that the truth is always to be found precisely in some golden middle between the socio-political and the personal. This is obviously not true. And, of course, our personal responsibility always takes place within socio-political parameters not of our creation. But Blake’s approach is a skill that we are in desperate need of cultivating or recovering, in my view—the ability to say, “It’s this, but it’s also that.”
We could apply this to almost any hot-button issue that tends to raise our collective temperature. To glance only at the news of last weekend, mass shootings in America are certainly the product of white nationalism and racist ideologies, not to mention an inexplicable and indefensible lack of political will to restrict gun access and the vile, reckless rhetoric modeled and emboldened by the current president. But they are also the product of social breakdown more broadly, an increasing paucity of stable families, the cesspool of violence and hatred made possible (and profitable) by the Internet, the idolatrous replacement of God with the subjective self as the center of all, and the isolation and despair that are being bred by a culture unmoored from narratives of meaning and communities of hope. There are political, social, and ideological causes and there are spiritual, moral, and existential causes. It’s this, but it’s also that.
Both sets of explanations can be true, to varying degrees, without us somehow feeling like our understanding of the world, our preferred set of categories and causes, our team is being threatened. This shouldn’t be a very remarkable thing to state. But in this cultural moment, it feels like it is.


BGWG 11: Political Parties

Ebony and Steve return with a new episode of Black Gal, White Guy in which they discuss political parties. Sub-topics covered in this episode include:

Ebony’s recommendation: Kindred by Octavia Butler (0:59)
Steve’s recommendation: Faces at the Bottom of the Well by Derrick Bell (3:39)
Doug Jones winning the Alabama Senate seat (9:50)
Black women carrying Jones to victory (12:30)
Steve is still cynical about American politics (15:57)
The flaws of a two-party system (24:59)
Churches promoting political partisanship is a problem, but Christians still need to be politically active (29:54)

Questions or comments for Ebony and Steve? Email Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

BGWG 8: Me Too

Ebony and Steve discuss the recent viral #MeToo campaign and the rampant sexual assault and harassment being exposed across multiple industries. Some topics include:

Steve’s recommendation: the podcast Code Switch by NPR (2:06)
Ebony’s recommendation: Evicted by Matthew Desmond (3:55)
The #MeToo campaign going viral and the pervasiveness of sexual assault (8:22)
Defining sexual assault and sexual harassment (16:59)
Sexuality as a partnership, not a right (26:26)
Masturbation: a necessary release or a lack of self-control? (28:09)
Honest conversations about sex in the Church (40:21)
Stop demonizing women  (42:38)
Teach men and boys they don’t have the right to women (44:04)
Talk about rape myths from the pulpit, making it clear they are myths, such as the myth that most reported sexual assaults are false (46:44)
Hear people’s stories, women’s stories when they are ready and also men repenting (48:34)
Hear women’s perspectives on Scripture (50:25)

Ebony later blogged some more thoughts on the masturbation conversation here: Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

BGWG 6: Housing Crisis

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Ebony Adedayo and Steve Kimes return for another episode of Black Gal, White Guy, this time to discuss the housing crisis in the United States. Topics for this episode include:

Steve’s recommendation: Gospel rock and roll artists (1:50)
Ebony’s recommendation: self care practices (5:09)
The housing crisis in Minnesota (11:19)
The housing crisis in Oregon (20:07)
A hospitality problem, not a housing problem (26:16)
Why does this matter? (33:40)

Relevant Links Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Interview: Hannah Eagleson, Emerging Scholars Network

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Hannah Eagleson joins the podcast to talk about her life and her work with the Emerging Scholars Network of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.

Hannah’s church background (0:59)
Why did Hannah get a Ph.D.? (6:34)
How did Hannah get connected with the Emerging Scholars Network? (9:11)
What is ESN? What is it trying to do? (11:52)
What is Scholar’s Compass? (17:44)
What do we do with this idea that we have to protect God from our minds? (22:03)
The relationship between academia and the Church (25:06)
What would you want academia to know about the Church or Christians in academia? (33:52)
What would you want congregations or pastors to understand about academia? (36:57)
What’s next for ESN? (47:20)
How can people get involved with ESN? (53:30)

View the ESN blog at Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

BGWG 2: The Decriminalization of Drugs

Ebony and Steve return for the second episode of Black Gal, White Guy. In this show, they discuss movements to decriminalize drug possession including new legislation in Steve’s state of Oregon. The episode includes further discussion on topics like the racial elements of the war on drugs and the need to treat addicts as somebody in need of help, not somebody to be excessively punished. Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Interview: Katelin Hansen, Neuroscience (Part 2)

Katelin Hansen returns on the guest side of the conversation to discuss neuroscience. After part 1 looked at the relationship between science and faith more generally, this part 2 jumps into more specifics of neuroscience questions.
Katelin’s website: Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Interview: Katelin Hansen, Neuroscience (Part 1)

Katelin Hansen returns to the guest side of the table to talk about neuroscience. In this first part, she and Paul focus more generally on the relationship between science and faith. In part 2, they will dive into more specific neuroscience questions.
Katelin’s blog “By Their Strange Fruit”:
Paul’s sermon “Be Transformed”: Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Interview: Sarah Jackson, Casa de Paz Colorado

Sarah Jackson joins the podcast to discuss her work with Casa de Paz Colorado.
Several years ago, Sarah Jackson went on a trip to the US/Mexico border with a humanitarian aid organization working on immigration issues. She spoke with people who had been deported. She learned about people’s reasons for migrating, and the dangers they face in doing so. She saw first-hand families being separated.
Then she returned to Colorado and couldn’t go return to her normal life after this experience. She decided to do something about it because she believes families should be together.  She opened Casa de Paz, a hospitality home which offers free housing and support for families and individuals affected by immigrant detention.
To keep the doors of the Casa open, Sarah started a volleyball league, Volleyball Internacional. All the profit from the volleyball league is donated to Casa de Paz. They use the money to pay for the rent, utilities, food, transportation, etc.
Sarah’s hope and prayer is to help end the isolating experience of immigrant detention, one simple act of love at a time.
Casa de Paz Colorado Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Vlog 27: Movies and TV

Ryan asks the vloggers about some of their favourite TV shows or movies and why, then talks about a few of his own including Jane the Virgin, Game of Thrones, and pretty much anything involving superheroes. Steve makes a return to the vlog with the only response, talking about his movie Bible. Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Vlog 23: Social Media

In the next round of the vlog, the vloggers talk about the role of social media. Ryan opens the topic by asking the question of how we can use social media responsibly. Deborah follows by discussing how social media can foster insecurity by encouraging us to live a fake perfect life. Micael closes on a positive note, suggesting that social media can be a force for good in terms of mission. Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Vlog 22: Peacemaking in the Time of Trump

In the wake of Donald Trump being elected to be the next President of the United States, the vloggers discuss what it looks like it to be peacemakers in a world that is quickly becoming more hostile to many marginalized groups. After Ryan opens the topic, participants include:

Deborah-Ruth Ferber, who talks about increasing polarization of culture
Micael Grenholm, who talks about what it looks like for Christian communities to live in resistance, with some focus on the need for environmental sustainability
Ebony Adedayo, who challenges us to use whatever voice we have to actively resist hatred wherever we see it

Some more links:

Shalom Book Club #8: Roadmap to Reconciliation (with some extra attention to the election), featuring MennoNerd Osheta Moore
That God Show EP38: Post Election Blues, featuring MennoNerd Benjamin Corey
The Paulcast Special Edition: Paul, Unveiled Faces & The Election, featuring MennoNerd Kurt Willems Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS