Paris. Again.

I remember the days following September 11, 2001 more vividly than I do the infamous day itself. Or that’s how it seems to me now, a couple of days after the terrorist attacks in Paris. I read the columns and the memories and emotions of that other fall day come rushing back. I hear President François call the attacks an act of war, I hear him promise a merciless fight, and I can hear my own president then describing the attacks in Manhattan with similarly confident adjectives.

Photo credit: The Apex Archive
Photo credit: The Apex Archive

Tonight, waiting to board my flight just 48 hours after the Paris attacks, I read the first reports of the French warplanes that are now bombing Syrian villages. I remember watching the televised reports about my country’s similar retaliation in Afghanistan and wondering what I was supposed to feel as this ravaged country became the target of our collective wrath. I’m sitting on this plane, flying east over darkness broken regularly by small midwestern towns and I’m thinking about those warplanes, raining down fire on a similarly darkened landscape.

Right now. It’s happening right now.

In Lebanon families and friends are grieving their murdered loved ones, victims of a massive suicide attack the day before the attacks in Paris. There were not, as far as I can tell, any American skyscrapers or public monuments lit up in the colors of Lebanon’s flag in the days following the attack. Yet the French red, white, and blue were everywhere, a global response appropriate to our president’s assessment that the tragedy in Paris was an attack on the civilized world.  Lebanon, it would seem, is not civilized enough to warrant our sympathetic outpouring. Or, more likely, we don’t see the Lebanese women and men who now grieve as being like us; we believe them to be different enough that our emotional response is categorically different. We ignore them.

This too feels eerily familiar. Almost 15 years ago we began preparing for two wars -wars that have never really ceased – because the victims of the September attacks warranted an unequivocal and ruthless response. We may not have initially known it, but it became clear as time passed that we were willing for tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis to die. For what? This has never been adequately explained to me.

Today, as in 2011, there are loud, powerful voices who demand vengeance. We are told that the only appropriate and honorable response is to make our enemies suffer. But can this be right? I’ve been to some funerals lately for young men in our city who were gunned down. At these funerals there are calls for justice and for peace, but there is something else too. There is grief, mourning, even wailing. There is lament and repentance for whatever role our own selfish apathy played in these horrible deaths.

A funeral deserve a dirge but it would appear that, once again, we’re opting for the drumbeat of war.

“A deeply segregated church does not appear without history.”

Self-absorbed Christians who are apathetic toward injustice do not emerge from a vacuum. A deeply segregated church does not appear without history. In the United States, grief and pain related to race are often suppressed, and the stories of suffering are often untold. Our history is incomplete. The painful stories of the suffering of the African American community, in particular, remain hidden. Often, American Christians may even deny the narrative of suffering, claiming that things weren’t so bad for the slaves or that at least the African Americans had the chance to convert to Christianity. The story of suffering is often swept under the rug in order not to create discomfort or bad feelings. Lament is denied because the dead body in front of us is being denied. But the funeral dirge genre of Lamentations 1 requires the telling of the full story of death – the cause of that death, the history surrounding that death and the historical effects of that death – because a dead body cannot be ignored.

In this section of his essay-like commentary on Lamentations, Dr Soong-Chan Rah is reflecting on the imagery of the funeral dirge that is found at the beginning of the book. While the tendency to downplay our country’s historic racist underpinnings may be an understandable American practice, it is a distinctly unBiblical one. For Christians to overlook or deny our ugly history requires ignoring entire sections of the Bible that make practices like lament and repentance normal for those who worship the God of Scripture.

Can I love you without knowing your Myers-Briggs type?

Apparently it’s been common knowledge for a while, but I’m just hearing about the relative uselessness of the Myers-Briggs test. This is great news as someone who has taken the test many times (as required by different jobs) yet struggles to remember my profile and why it matters, much less how my profile is supposed to interact with other profiles. This is what these things are meant to do, right?

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

Beyond my own incompetence about the Myers-Briggs, there’s always been something a bit unsettling about how important one’s profile can become. The supposed predictive capacity of the test (and others like it, perhaps) take on a talisman-like quality, a necessary item to thrive in enlightened society. I’ve worked in a few settings where not having a quick enough response to What’s your Myers-Briggs profile? is met with concern or surprise, as though my ignorance in this regard could do real damage to my coworkers.

Now, to hedge just a bit, I’ve found some of the language around these profile tests to be helpful. As a generally more introverted person who’s married to a generally more extroverted person, it’s been helpful to have language to describe how we experience the social world. It allows us a level of empathy we might otherwise struggle to experience. I’m not sure personality profiles are necessary for this though, a hunch my great-grandparents would likely affirm.

Maybe at the most basic level, my concern has to do with the idea that we require professionals to facilitate the kind of human interaction and love that was possible long before such professionals existed. The professionals seem to assume that if we just have enough knowledge – about ourselves and others – we can experience flourishing relationships. But is that right?

Eugene Peterson mentions the Myers-Briggs in a couple of his books. In Take and Read he writes about where a Christian’s identity is found.

The reality, of course, is that God is sovereign and Christ is savior. The reality is that prayer is my mother tongue and the eucharist my basic food. The reality is that baptism, not Myers-Briggs, defines who I am.

And in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places he writes about the act of sacrifice that all healthy, loving relationships require.

In the jargon of the day, we pray: “sacrifice is not one of my gifts – I want to serve God with my strength, with my giftedness.” It’s a strange thing, but sacrifice never seems to show up on anyone’s Myers-Briggs profile.

The Myers-Briggs promises us that if we know enough we can interact better with those we care about. What Peterson points out is that knowledge alone, especially from professionals who require no in-person interaction with their clients, is not enough. And I know my Christian friends who like the Myers-Briggs would agree with Peterson in principle. But as I listen to us talk, I sometimes hear more about INTJ (that’s me!) and ESFP (that’s my wife!) and other personality types as the key to healthy relationships than I do about loving sacrifice and identities rooted in Christ.

Or maybe that’s just my personality type talking.

Police, Violence, and the Idolatry of Data

This morning NPR featured a story from Chicago about police becoming more cautious as a result of increased public scrutiny. The idea here is that post-Ferguson, when it has become common for police misconduct to be captured on video, police are less likely to get involved in situations that could turn ugly. Our mayor has recently advanced this same theory to explain the rise in gun violence our city is experiencing.

Photo credit: John W. Iwanski.
Photo credit: John W. Iwanski.

In other words, the reason certain communities are suffering increased violence is because those same communities are looking for ways to protect themselves from violence. This, as best I can tell, is the logic.

About halfway through the story a former Chicago police officer is interviewed. This officer remembers a time when community policing was a priority, when neighbors knew and respected their beat cop. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard similar things from neighbors and community leaders. But community policing programs are no longer a priority, ostensibly because they cost too much and our city is too broke. In place of officer-community relationships that were built over time, Chicago, like so many cities, now relies on big data to fight crime. Our mayor and police superintendent praise the ability of data to predict crime and stop it preemptively. Stop-and-frisk is viewed as a reasonable and even necessary tactic within the logic of big data, despite its inherently discriminatory nature.

Old-school community policing is never mentioned by our city leaders as a realistic response to violence despite the benefits to those who suffer the most from our city’s violence. Why? Because our city, like most of us, have believed the lies promised by technology. Technology, in the form of data-driven policing strategies, promises to save us money because software and a few number-crunchers are cheaper than employing trusted women and men to police specific neighborhoods. Technology has also promised to do the hard work of policing better with machines than can be done by people.

But these are lies and we’ve believed them because technology is our beloved idol. The data does save the city money, but the cost is passed on exponentially to the communities that are suffering violence. And data does allow the police department to operate efficiently on paper, but this efficiency is unjust and harmful to those who are sliced, diced, and generalized, to those whose experience of the data is not efficient but discriminatory.

It’s not surprising that the communities suffering violence are being blamed for this year’s increased shootings and murder. It’s not surprising but neither is it true. And only by worshipping at technology’s altar could we believe that those suffering our city’s violence can also be blamed for it.

Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys

Rescuing the Gospel from the CowboysI learned a lot while reading Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys, but finding a succinct way to describe the book and what I learned is proving difficult. Though it wasn’t his first book, in some ways this one feels like the opening salvo from an author who had a lot more to say. Sadly, Richard Twiss died before this book was published. I suspect his legacy and teachings will be represented well by his friends, but many readers will finish this book with a peaked interest that cannot be met by the author. This is our loss, though from the little I know about Twiss – I heard him teach twice – I suspect he wouldn’t be too concerned.

In some ways Rescuing the Gospel reads like a summary of a lifetime of academic and personal research. The book is this and more. Readers like me, who have little background with Native American expressions of Christianity, need to be prepared to step into this world with little handholding. At times the book can feel a bit “inside baseball” but Twiss offers enough context to keep us novices from getting lost. At its heart this is a book about the myriad of ways Native American peoples have suffered the short-sighted and ethnocentric evangelism efforts of the dominant American culture. Twiss compellingly includes first-hand accounts along with his research to show how ugly these approaches can be.

These stories were entrusted to me to take care of as gifts. They are accounts of personal pain, oppression, faith and spiritual growth representing the parallel journeys of thousands of Native/Indigenous people in North American and around the world. Their pain is the direct result of the colonialism, paternalism, and ethnocentric theology…

In contrast to what can only be called colonialism, Twiss articulates a “Decolonizing Contextualization Movement.” It would be a mistake to understand this movement as simple window-dressing on the previous Christian mission strategies among Native Americans. Though this movement prioritizes tribal practices and customs like native dance and the pow wow, these are reflections of theological convictions, namely that God was at work among the indigenous people of North America long before anyone called it North America. For Twiss and others like him, the gospel requires a continuity with the past that honors culture and history.

There is, of course, a history of doing theology this way. The early Christians were fond of looking back at their favorite Greek philosophers for resonance with their Jewish savior. It is evidence of a Christianity that was captive to race and empire that kept (and still keeps!) missionaries from expecting similar resonance from Native American people. It is also evidence of the need for a profound and ongoing repentance that must exist within those of us in the dominant culture.