Thursday, February 28, 2008

Where I'm From - Ty Tadano

I am from duct tape and SPAM,
From Air Jordans and a swimming pool

I am from suburban house next to Alamo Canal,
Cattails and crawdads and many lost balls

I am from homemade wood furniture,
Functional masterpieces - yes, works of art - no

I’m from “Happy New Year” hugs and way too much food,
From Tadashi that I don’t remember and Bob that I never met

I’m from good looks and great brains,
From varsity athletes and humble servants

From fat jokes at school and “baka tare” at home

I’m from a liberal activist and a passive conservative;
An AWOL nurse and dedicated administrator

I’m from the Land of 10,000 Lakes and the Land of the Rising Sun,
From vine ripened tomatoes canned in our kitchen, and canned tuna fish

From a lost identity in Japan and a determined swim to Mexico;
His journey to the US could be a movie

I’m from the family crest that is proudly displayed on hats, shirts, walls, and coffee mugs

I am the first born son of the first born son of the first born son.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jill's favorite quotes

I would argue that too much has been made of the virtue of ‘color-blindness.’ I don’t want Americans to be blind to my color as long as color continues to make a profound difference in determining life chances and opportunities.

‘I am not a Euro-American,’ one writer protests. ‘Why do you insist on calling yourself African American?’ objects a caller to a CNN broadcast. ‘Why can’t we all just be American?’

. . . Frankly, I think most African Americans, if given a chance, would have chosen to be ‘just Americans’ ever since the first of us was brought here to Jamestown colony in 1619, a year before the Mayflower landed. But that choice has never been left up to us.

Their real message: ‘Racial identity serves no purpose for me, and I reject whatever purpose it serves for you!’ Their will to color blindness sounds to my black ears uncomfortably like a desire to render black folks invisible.

--Clarence Page in Showing My Color: Impolite Essays on Race and Identity

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jill Van Zanten

“When was the last time you talked about race with someone of a different race? If the answer is never, you’re part of the problem.”

--Senator Bill Bradley, quoted in Restoring Hope by Cornel West

Friday, February 15, 2008

Identity Poem - Will Thomas

I Am From
A vineyard, Stouffers Mac & Cheese and Star Trek.
That house that has been called “Rustic” or “Like Camping”.
Terraces in the hills that cut through the fog line.

I Grew Up With
Cutthroat Monopoly at Christmas.
Those who are long lived, with strong teeth but bad knees.
“Always shoot for an A” but found that “Maui No Ka Oi”.

My Pieces Came From
via Guam in ’65, most of western Europe, one Native American, and those who had the courage to fight for the losing side in the U.S. Civil War.
and Charlotte; smoked fish and pork rinds.
An engineer, a teacher, a diplomat, a winemaker, and a champion of women’s rights.

I Am Always So Confused
Because I can’t “Check only one box for your ethnicity.”
Because the organization of our family heirlooms follows our personalities – very diverse but all over the place.
Because they didn’t think that I was fluent in English, even though it was all I spoke.

I am from all over, but for today, I’m from Davis.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Identity Poem - Juliana Tadano

I am from backyards in the east bay,
From De Cecco and Patsy Cline.
I am from celebratory, exuberant, warm, pudgy hugs.
I am from the oak grassland, the honeysuckle, Nonna's front yard walnut tree -
Thick bark and strong low branches for brave girl's scrambling feet.

I am from long debates and longer dinners,
From Julie, young at heart, and Anna, the wise.
I am from drawing together and running away,
From 'Your best is all we ask' and 'We know you can do better.'
I am from First Communion and 'Peace Be With You' weekly, then
just the Holy Days, and now only for the dead.

I am from Concord and Caserta, beer bread and mortadella.
I am from the seed smuggler who left home for her American soldier,
and from the Oakies we don't talk about for shame.
The photos are legion in mass tupperware graves,
The living room frames tell the stories of strangers.

I am the oldest cousin, the 'Number One Grandchild,' the first-born of the first-born.
I am from somewhere in the middle, I haven't met them all. I don't even know all their names.
I am second generation, I am n(x) generation.
On the forms I check Caucasian.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Terry's favorite quotes from Divided By Faith by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith

A racialized society is a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships. A racialized society can also be said to be a society that allocates differential economic, political, social, and even psychological rewards to groups along racial lines; lines that are socially constructed. (pg7)

Racial practices that reproduce racial division in contemporary America (1) are increasingly covert; (2) are embedded in normal operations of institutions; (3) avoid direct racial terminology; and (4) are invisible to most whites (pg 9)

The median net worth of blacks is just 8% that of whites. (pg 13)

Because “race” is a socially constructed, it is contested and redefined... Light-skinned immigrants, originally classified as distinct racial groups, came over time and through challenge to be reclassified as white, even while maintaining some ethnic distinctives. Among dark-skinned immigrants from Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, the struggles to avoid being labeled “black”. We witness this process on a micro level. An influx of Somalians and
other east African immigrants into the city in whith I [Emerson] live provides occasion for contact, and I see and hear their struggle to avoid categorization as African American. On one occasion, a Somalian—far darker-skinned than the vast majority of African Americans—requested a ride from my friend, saying three times, “I am not black.” The Somalian’s assumption—that he would not get a ride if he was defined as black—was learned quickly. (pg14-15)

Where I'm from...

I am from the windows

From hammers and cookies

I am from the artists place

Working, weeding, and swim caps

I am from the oak tree

Dropping it's leaves and acorns and the fort that we play in

I'm from gatherings and issues not talked about

From Richard and Marcy

From Pauline and Percy

I'm from silence about that which hurts

And large tables with extra seats filled with different nationalities of family

I'm from "never quit"

And "watch out for those who can't do for themselves"

I'm from peace on earth

And can't we all just get along

I'm from Oakland and Iowa, Carmel and Hong Kong

Blond brownies and meat and potatoes

From driving to California with extra tires on the roof

From race sit-ins at high school

From a cat-brother named Sam

From Circle Hill Drive, great grandmother's piano, stocks and bonds and "Days of our Lives"

I am from God, made new with injuries and talents

Monday, February 4, 2008

"Where I'm From" by Cathy Sacks

I am from hamburgers

From French fries and Frosties,

I am from the Central Valley,

Clovis to Norwalk and the Grapevine,

I am from the new home, broken home,

Single-wide trailer to Girl Scout camp,

I am from the Dust Bowl

to the Land of Milk and Honey,

I am from the orange blossom

And cotton boll with cut, bleeding fingers,

I am from the building of houses,

bridges, dams, and hospitals,

I am from kneeling knees and bigotry,

From eeny, meeny, miney, mo and

be afraid of the bogey man”,

I am from Republicans and Communists,

To a Democrat,

I’m from a Fresno adoption,

From Greeks and Italians to French Indians and Swiss Germans,

I’m from loving parents, Jack and Bettie,

Who converted from the love of vices to the love of God,

I’m from socializing in bars

To leading worship in prisons,

I’m from Assembly of God to Southern Baptist

To University Covenant,

I’m from living in Christian community in Australia and Oakland,

To homemaking and mothering in Davis.

Cathy Sacks

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Postmodern Opportunity: Releasing the Power of Being White and Letting God Work

I have been traveling in Ghana and India since this class began and so I have not had a chance to participate. I have prayed for you and taken some quiet time to reflect, again, on issues of white privilege and how it has affected me. Nowhere do I see it more on display than in how I view my role as a follower of Jesus in the world. The following is not a poem but a reflection on releasing my white power and letting God’s Spirit work. It views postmodernism as an opportunity to seize and not a reality to fear. All the best. Robb Davis

Writing in Harpers Magazine (Dec 2007) Curtis White talks about how belief has become so personalized that it has come to mean, essentially, the right to hold tightly to our own personal heresies. Later he sums up how we "postmoderns" view truth noting:

"Shall we turn against pluralism and relativism in the name of obedience to a single authority? I don't think so. The credibility of univocal meta-narratives of a traditional sort, or any sort, is gone. Those tablets are indeed broken. The innocence that allowed us to come as children to a singular faith, to faith as a revealed Truth, was always a dangerous innocence. But a freedom to believe that is nothing more than freedom in an abyss is no less dangerous, as both our domestic and our international antagonisms testify."

While it might appear to followers of Jesus, committed to the uniqueness of him and his message, as a direct frontal assault--indeed a denigration of who we are (as people who DO accept the credibility of a single univocal meta-narrative)--it actually presents us with a wonderful opportunity to escape the modernist paradigm in which we seem to be trapped. It contains a number of important points: 1) propositional truth of any sort (be it the dogma of religion or the promise of scientism) is dead. Statements of truth are bound to deceive and disappoint. However, we are not left adrift in a sea of pure relativism because, despite the loss of "truth statements" we still have our stories (our narratives). Sure they will not be accepted as meta-narratives by anyone outside the story holder him/herself but they are valid because they are someone's story. 2) Relativism is also dangerous and the "freedom" to believe nothing is as potentially devastating as belief in univocal metanarratives.

What does this mean for those of us who--driven by the innocent faith that the author finds dangerous--hold strongly to a narrative that motivates us and guides our daily lives? Modernism pushed us to try to prove that our story was not only rational but of sufficient historical certainty that it could stand up to rationalist inspection. Some even suggested that we could "prove" (in some quasi-scientific way?) that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical fact. Further, modernism "empowered" us to believe that WE could save the world by liberally applying the tools of marketing, sociological analysis and political science. Interpreting our violence assured white power as a sign of God's blessing we went forth and "conquered" conveniently jettisoning historical realities, developing self-serving eschatologies, rejecting a strong ecclesiology and reducing our pneumatology to (if anything at all) mere external displays of "spirituality" (but denying its true power).

Of course the things we did and what we became were all linked and enabled by the "rightness" of our white privilege. We traded participation in God's great program of reconciliation and healing (our birthright and only raison d'ĂȘtre) for a "stew" of nationalistic allegiance and the worship of violence that served our salvific purposes, but not God's. We needed and need liberation from all these failings and postmodernism, despite its own temptations noted above, provides a way. It does so because it forces us to reexamine our ecclesiology and our pneumatology.

We DO have a story and while it is a bizarre and seemingly tribal narrative (in human terms), part of the narrative is that it is really God's story of reconciliation of all things and we, far from being "chosen" for our goodness or some other reason are chosen merely as agents of reconciliation. In other words the story says we are part of the story not because we are heros but because we are normal folks who only exist to show an "open hand" of mercy living and love. Because the story is so bizarre--filled with resurrections, cosmic battles, weakness as strength and poverty as wealth--it can only be heard and adopted by an act of God's mercy. It can only be "believed" and appropriated by an act of God's Spirit. As ambassadors and messengers we tell stories and God works through them. This is a right and strong pneumatology--God's Spirit given free reign to "save".

However (as NT Wright has pointed out) we not only tell the story (or stories all of which are part of THE STORY), we also engage in symbolic acts--acts that not only point to the coming unwinding of the fall but that embody the coming reality in the present. This is where a renewed ecclesiology is critical. Solitary actors may gain their 15 minutes of fame but only a faith community, living in and as community within broader communities can hope to have the staying power required to live humanly and authentically. This is the church's purpose--to be a community of praxis living the reign of Christ in the day to day pain, joy, hope and suffering of our world. Church was never a place to go but a community to be.

In all of this it becomes clear that the church has nothing to prove, no project of our own to advance no salvation to assure. It merely needs to be a community committed to engaging in symbolic acts and telling the stories of THE STORY to a world that can only accept the validity of any narrative to the extent that it touches it where it is. The touching is God's work.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's good to hear everyone's stories

Thank you, everyone who shared your stories and poems last Sunday. It is amazing how little we talk about where we come from.


Dear all,

Thanks for being a part of the Sunday school class. Can't wait to see you this Sunday! I know you're all super committed to a bunch of things, but please take a few minutes to read through the bullet points.

  • What's better than having meaningful conversations and eating homemade soup at the same time? This Sunday you're invited to stay after the class, enjoying some soup & bread and getting to know your classmates. It's optional, but please don't deprive people of the opportunity to hearing from you and your thoughts on the class!
  • Please bring your poems to share with the rest of the class this Sunday! If you're like me who starts speaking gibberish in front of an audience, post your poems on the blog that we specifically set up for you and for this class:

You may also post any reflections, discussions, questions from the class that pop up in your heads. This blog is as much yours as it's mine.

  • Bring some cash or a check to class if you're interested in buying "Being White." The price of the book has gone up a little bit to $7 because of postage.