Monthly Archives: January 2014

Privilege Revisited

A few weeks back (!) I posted on my struggles with privilege. There were many helpful replies and suggestions. You can see the various comments on the original post, at The Episcopal Cafe, and in the thoughtful blog post by my former student, Travis Meier. I had many insights shared by my friends on Twitter. Thanks especially to Kelly Baker, Maggi Dawn, and Greg Hillis (psst… follow them!). In this post I want to tackle two issues around power and privilege that are particularly difficult for me. Again, I welcome your insights.

The first has to do with a common theme of using power and privilege in small things. Greg tweeted at me a quote from Dorothy Day that captures this sentiment well:

Young people say, ‘What can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we can only lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize & transform these actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves & fishes.

Others gave me concrete suggestions places of where I have power. Like treating others kindly, listening to stories of those who do not have power, managing the classroom in such a way that those who are marginalized are given space to share, and so on.

I really like this advice. I know it is true. The bible is full of stories of small acts and marginalized people doing great good (the Christ event, anyone?). And yet my struggle with a suggestion like this is that it feels so small, so insignificant. (As a side note, I really don’t like Mother Theresa quotes.) I blame my dad for my insufferable idealism, but if it is not gonna get at the root of the problem I struggle to expend the extra effort. Privilege strikes again. One of the things I want to work on is doing the small things (and there are so many!).

What about you? How do you deal with seemingly insignificant choices? What strategies for motivation do you have? What small areas of power or privilege are you aware of that would be good for me to remember?

This reluctance to act where I do have power brings up the second issue. I am so quick to give up what power I have. Lauren commented,

Most importantly, you have to fight the feeling of powerlessness. It is the trick of the mind in a racist, classist system. It tricks us all into thinking we have no power to change anything, especially those who have the most power to do so. Amazingly, I find that it is a white men who feel the most powerless. So it convinces me all the more that this is simply a delusion from the master narrative that we have swallowed.

I would add that for a long time I used power unintentionally and I know that I hurt people as a result. It has made me leery of power in general. I am not sure if this is simply a justification to avoid action but I am honestly nervous about unintentional harm. There are so many variables, so many ways that my perspective will be limited (we all know how annoying well-intentioned people with privilege can be–speaking when they should listen, acting when they should empower, etc.). Again, I am curious about how you deal with this tension. If you are in a position of privilege, how do you use your power constructively? Do you have questions you ask before deciding on an action? Do you have checks on your power? If you are a person who has been marginalized in any way, what advice do you have for a person with power? Am I asking the right questions? Is the tone appropriate?

As always I welcome the conversation.

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Rock and Roll Jesus

Last week I took to teh Twitterz to crowdsource popular songs about Jesus. I compiled the songs into the following list. I will be adding hyperlinks to the YouTube songs and videos for easier access over time. For now, here is the list (another fabulous list can be found at Pop Culture Christ). Glaring omission? Let me know in the comments! Thanks to all who helped!

Bartender (Dave Matthews Band)
Christmas Song (Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds)
Crucify (Tori Amos)
Down by the River to Pray (Oh Brother Where Art Thou)
Gloria (Patti Smith)
God (Tori Amos)
Godspell
Human of the Year (Regina Spektor)
In the Name of Love (U2)
Jesus (Velvet Underground)
Jesus Came to Tennessee (Will Hoge)
Jesus Christ (Big Star)
Jesus Christ Superstar
Jesus Christ Was an Only Child (Modest Mouse)
Jesus Is Just Alright (Doobie Brothers)
Jesus of Suburbia (Green Day)
Jesus Take the Wheel (Carrie Underwood)
Jesus Walks (Kanye West)
Jesus Was an Only Son (Bruce Springsteen)
Mrs. Jesus (Tori Amos)
My Hero (Foo Fighters)
One of Us (Joan Osborne)
Opiate (Tool)
Personal Jesus (Depeche Mode, Johnny Cash)
Picture of Jesus (Ben Harper)
Power of Gospel (Ben Harper)
Rebel Jesus (Jackson Browne)
Sober (Tool)
Spirit in the Sky (Norman Greenbaum)
Suzanne (Leonard Cohen)
The Man – Modern Jesus (Portugal)
The Transfiguration (Sufjan Stevens)
The Troublemaker (Willie Nelson)
When the Man Comes Around (Johnny Cash)
When You Were Young (The Killers)

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5 Minute Post: Would a Poor Person Ever Say That?

This morning on Twitter @Hope Jahren cleverly tweeted, “‘The poor will always be with us’ — said no poor person evar [sic].” I quickly dashed off a considerably less clever (though is seemed more so at the time), “‘Cept Jesus.” But then I got to thinking…

As I expressed earlier, I am not so confident that the Gospels always give us a reliable picture of Jesus. This particular saying, one that if I had my way would not be in our sacred text, is recorded in three of the Gospels: Mark 14:7, Matthew 26:11, and John 12:8 (Luke, as perhaps would be expected, omits the saying). I get that the conclusion of the saying is an exhortation to give when one “wishes” (a wholly unsatisfying suggestion). I also understand that this can be read as an allusion to Deuteronomy 15:4-11 which clearly states that there shall be no poor among the Israelites and gives specific commands about taking care of those who are. There is also the happy liberation read of the text, which I blogged about in my former life when I was an anti-hunger educator: the verse is best understood as a command to always be with those who are poor, i.e., walking alongside and working with them as they seek justice.

All this said, I am still unsatisfied with the thrust of the text and Hope is right to ask if a poor person would ever say such a thing. Are our Gospels so removed from Jesus’ experience as a poor person on the margins that they could imagine him saying something no poor person would ever say?

 

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Filed under bible, early Christianity, justice, poverty

5 Minute Post: Wrestling with Privilege

I’ve been grappling with my privilege a lot lately. I find that in nearly all my circles I have a leg up without having really done anything. I am a white (though I am well aware of the many sacrifices my Mexican grandfather endured to give my mom her future), male, straight, educated, Protestant (broadly defined). I live in the most powerful country in the world. In my chosen career I am one of the few (roughly one in four) who landed a tenure track gig (at a place I like, to boot!). All of these give me immense advantages to others and I cannot say without significant qualifications (sometimes at all) that I am responsible for any of them.

At the same time I am very sympathetic to those who are marginalized and disenfranchised. I spent four years thinking hard about the issues that keep people from flourishing. Often, those who are privileged are active participants in a system that keeps people marginalized, and in the worst cases poor and hungry. I hate the injustice of it all and I want to see it change.

And yet, because I too participate in the system, I am complicit. But I sure don’t know how I ought to respond. Ostensibly I am in a position that can help change an unjust system. But I feel so powerless against the marginalizing forces that I participate in. I often try to listen and amplify voices from the margins. Sometimes I chime in. Other than that I am mostly a passive (and sometimes active) participant. 

What about you? How do you respond to structural inequality? How do you respond to your privilege or lack thereof? What power do you and I have?

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5 Minute Post: The Gospels and Jesus

Jesus the JewI am preparing the syllabus for my Spring course, “Jesus the Jew, Jesus the Christ.” The title and course description (which were assigned to me but I like) provide a direction for the course that suggests an exploration of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. The tricky part for me is that I question our ability to say much about Jesus historically. The Gospels are proclamation (John 20:30-31 is clearest about this). Even Luke, with his claims to history (see e.g., Luke 1:1-4), is writing a very different type of history than we write today. In short, I am not sure if we can recover a historical Jesus that is anything more than either a personal projection (Schweitzer’s famous well that all historians look down) or an affirmation of communal claims. I am not satisfied calling either of these historical; both are Christs of faith (or in some cases, unfaith).

Here’s the rub: The Gospels are documents of a faith community and reflect well the interests and needs of later communities. I can only access Mark’s and Matthew’s and Luke’s and John’s Christ. Since the Gospels are not historically reliable for me, how then shall I teach the “Jesus the Jew” portion of the course? What suggestions do you, wise reader, have to offer? I look forward to the conversation!

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Filed under bible, early Christianity, methods