The Stories of (an)Other: Unfolding Narratives

•July 7, 2011 • 7 Comments

The Integration of Stories

Over the last ten days, I wrote of our personal experience in a church where gun violence had been a tragically accepted part of life. The tragedy of lost loved ones -mostly youth- was a sobering listen to the door opening on an others story. Only two days after I posted a reflection on the church’s effort towards mission, this story penetrated our families reality. It is the story of people we know. Sean was a the father of an unborn child, a child who lost his young dad to the violence of the streets.

Courtesy of CBS Pittsburgh

Sean Thompson, Father to Be

PITTSBURGH — Channel 11 News has learned a 34-year-old man who was killed after being shot in

Lawrenceville early Thursday morning was a father-to-be.Police said Sean Thompson was shot along Keystone Street shortly after 1 a.m.

He was taken to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, where he later died.Channel 11 News learned Thompson’s fiancee lives in the neighborhood and is pregnant with the couple’s first child.“It’s sad. No one deserves this,” one neighbor said.

Nearby residents said they heard the shots fired and ran outside to see what happened.”I’ve never been around violence like this before,” one neighbor said. “Maybe 12 to 16 shots were fired. We came outside and the guy was lying on the ground. He was still bleeding.

“Thompson was an employee at a car dealership on McKnight Road. His co-workers said he was a good man and a hard worker.

Stories Sittin’ on the Front Porch

Where is this world we live, when problems are solved with hand-held power of life and death, triggered by emotion? Continue reading ‘The Stories of (an)Other: Unfolding Narratives’


Postlogue to The Story of (an)Other: Urban Faith and An Education

•July 1, 2011 • 1 Comment

The (White) Church, Systemic Racism (?) and Mission

As a brief shift of focus from this story, it became apparent to me that in some of our church conversations mission is a topic of dialogue is rooted very much in our own story. The white, evangelical (or formerly so, perhaps) conversations fueled by the emerging/emergent conversation push for “missional” foci for churches. However for a church like Valley View, the missional part of their participation in God’s work of reconciliation to creation, others, and self is always before them: they are in mission, or they do not survive. Literally, in this case. Could it be that the comfort of some of us in the missional conversation from an Anglo background are missing the places of work alongside YHWH? The search goes on, and yet for some the missio Dei carries a gun, taking lives of a group of people. Where are we looking for participation?

I don’t mean to make a poster child out of this church community we’ve become attached to, nor paint a picture for furthering our “white wo/man’s burden” phenomenon. I wish to offer, for dialogue, how the white church -those in systemic power- talk about mission, how we struggle at times with it, and how it seems we know little of the “other’s” story enough to see where God desires freedom from the oppression of Smith and Wesson, poverty and systemic racism. We discuss from/within a position of power. My friend, Drew, wrote eloquently of this. I don’t have it all figured out, for sure. My ignorance about life from my suburban upbringing and that of my urban peers, I hope, reveals this. I desire fodder for the conversation; hence, my thoughts found here.

What does it mean for the church to love the other? How does it shape mission? How do we live outside of ourselves, learn someone else’s story, if we continue to only talk amongst ourselves? How do we begin to give up power, especially if we continue living and pursuing YHWH in homogenous communities?

The Story of (an)Other: Urban Faith and An Education

•June 30, 2011 • 3 Comments

Suburban Beginnings

I grew up in a suburban community in South Central PA where I attended school in a township with one of the highest tax brackets in the state. My dad was an avid hunter and fisherman, and he invited us into his joy of the dance with nature, the hunter and hunted. Likewise, my socio-demographic background was made up of folk very much like myself: German, Austrian (often culturally Mennonite) or Anglo; diversity was limited to infrequent trips to the closest urban geography. Harrisburg is not that big, but culturally, was nearly 100% more diverse than my home town: African descent, Latin descent, Asian descent, etc., whereas less than 1% of my suburban home-town was non-white.

Urban Life With Others, 101

About 2 months ago, we attended church at Valley View Presbyterian Church in Garfield, Pittsburgh. Our family just moved into the East Liberty neighborhood, and had begun the search for a community to commit to. (Since this story, we’ve begun attending regularly.) A friend of ours is pastor there, while another has just finished interning here for his Masters of Divinity at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (PTS). It was one of about four churches we attended. We happened to be there during a month long conversation about gun violence, gun control, and its effects on the neighborhood, residents, and parishioners of the East End. The church, when regular attenders are all there at the same time, is a beautiful picture of diversity of mostly Black and White folk. Our new commitment has yet to give us the opportunity to enjoy this, but we look forward to seeing it.

During the service, our friend Pastor Chad invited those present to share the names of those affected by gun violence. That is, to honor and remember those who had been killed by a gun. It was a hotter Sunday morning, and there were about 50 people in the sanctuary. At Chad’s invitation, one by one people began to share of sons, cousins, close friends, popular or respected members of local neighborhoods, etc. Quietly, but with firmness, they shared: To be remembered. Some were sad, but most spoke with a matter of fact-ness that I found hard to process. These fallen ones were almost all youth, and many were the innocent victims of cross fire. Unintended victims of others use of firearms. Out of those 50 present, about 12 people spoke in memory of around 15 loved ones lost.

Continue reading ‘The Story of (an)Other: Urban Faith and An Education’

Metanarratives and Faith: Is America Islam? Christian? A Critique of Acts 17 Apologetics on YouTube… (Part 2)

•June 24, 2011 • 3 Comments

In part 1, I offered some critique to David Wood’s allegiance to story. Having embraced the metanarratives  of America, he proposes that the laws of America somehow fit into the the story of the Bible. Within this argumentation is the assumption that the U.S. is Christian, and that the American Government is somehow unfaithful to its own story for its sociopolitical actions.  It must also be restated here that I find Davids message spun with the fear as we find in big media, while sowing seeds of discord. Although I haven’t stated it yet, the message of this video (and what seems that of his other online content, further evidenced by some of his fans/followers comments) and its tone, context, etc. are not offered in the way that I understand following Jesus would look like. In fact, this conversation itself would have never happened this way. The whole practice and method is abrasive at best. I would not myself be posting this, had it not been fodder for a public foil for another who shares an orientation towards Jesus with David, but with a completely different understanding of what living that out means.

The Koran in Context

At around the 8.00 mark, David begins reading from the Koran. It describes the supremacy of Allah, and that Islam will be made the religion over religions to the disgust of infidel’s. To be sure that we don’t miss out on the true meaning of the line he reads, he summarizes verses following this reading which instruct fighting/killing of the unfaithful, the sub-human quality of the unfaithful, judgement to unbelievers, etc.

Perhaps David is quite good with his Koran, understanding it in context and all of its complexity, theology, etc. Perhaps again, some of the contributors at their blog Answering Muslims are from Muslim background themselves. However, I would offer that its problematic to “read this in context” without first telling us what context is mean being referred to by this. Literary context? Historical context? Cultural context? Literary structural context (as in what verses are around the key text read to inform understanding)?

Continue reading ‘Metanarratives and Faith: Is America Islam? Christian? A Critique of Acts 17 Apologetics on YouTube… (Part 2)’

Metanarratives and Faith: Is America Islam? Christian? A Critique of Acts 17 Apologetics on YouTube… (Part 1)

•June 22, 2011 • 1 Comment

I got an email from my mom late last week, with a request to view this video by David Wood and friends, and offer some perspective. Because David and I both share a faith in following Jesus, and my mom does not, she wanted some other point of view from someone who shared an orientation with David’s. Having never heard of David and his ministry before, I briefly perused his site, his work and posts, video titles, and blog followers comments. Because of this, I hold my brief reserach in context with the video that I watched. What I found online about the Acts 17 Apologetics organization he’s connected to was interesting, but at times at odds with my understanding of what following Jesus is about.

America and Culture: Christian Nation vs. Nation of Islam

I must share that his video is very compelling, and put together well. He follows a rational argument that pokes holes at the policies with which the U.S. Government has mandated for interacting with holy texts. I found myself becoming drawn into the claims he made, the seamless arguments that offered that illuminated the lack of consistency with the decisions of President Obama, General Petraus, and the US military on its response to managing the Koran and the Bible.

However, there was also a splinter in my mind. While I was taken by his argument, the discontent grew within me. At first I had trouble naming it, but it became more clear what I was struggling with over time: This video reveals what seems to be a conflation of following Jesus (& perhaps Allah) and of being an American. He goes back and forth, describing the sociopolitical landscape as it pertains to the metanarratives of both the Bible and the Koran, and decides/demonstrates that America is already practicing Sharia Law. Using what I percieve to be the spin of fear, sowing discontent with any potential viewers, he describes a U.S. politik that is no longer Christian, but Islam. It also, in my opinion, breeds stereotypes and discord between peoples.

The Story of Nations; the Story of Jesus of Nazareth

I can’t speak for Muslims, but my first critique of his argument is rooted in this: Whose story are we to follow? As people of Jesus, its his story. He was Hebrew, but he was not a Hebrew “national”. In fact, most of his public life was contra to both systems he was subject to: Jewish and Roman. He often spent time in outlying towns on the margins of his home territory, because he incensed those he challenged. He was culturally Hebrew, but in no way tied to either his ancestral metanarratives or those of the Roman sociopolitical occupancy.

Continue reading ‘Metanarratives and Faith: Is America Islam? Christian? A Critique of Acts 17 Apologetics on YouTube… (Part 1)’

Religious Faith Communities: Subject to Review on Amazon.

•June 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Web 2.0 Is Dialogue

There is an incredible shift going on in culture. Perhaps this is a tired statement, perhaps it rings true. To add some external statistical, err, rational thought to this statement, here are some numbers to elucidate this: As far back as eleven years ago the internet had reached 50 million domestic viewers, outpacing radio (40 years) and television (14 years) in only four years. (Leonard Sweet, Soul Tsunami 1999: 32)

Web 2.0 has empowered people to talk across to each other. Where we individuals used to depend on corporations and organizations for granting authority for influence in decision making, we now have the capacity to engage each other for advice, opinions, direction. How many of us read the user reviews on, say Amazon, for the “real story” on the product?

Spirituality: Reviewed

What is also emerging in this -at least in regards to organized religions’ awareness- is that cultural individuals have thoughts, opinions, beliefs, etc., that are not necessarily connected to organized religions. Where in some faiths’, like in Christianity, there is already some pushback about how an experience within the institutional faith system is received. Check out this YouTube post.

What’s more significant than the post is the comments found below. The video has some affective and moving bits to it, and espouses some of the Christian tenets of faith, including a “Christian” welcome, hospitable atmosphere. However, the day that I posted this were these statements, amidst commenter’s who found positive meaning in the message:

What does religion have to do with it? They use that to control theirs and other people’s lives while at the same time, we turn to them to help leads us to Jesus Christ. It’s how they were raised as children and how they’ve been brainwashed as adults. I tend to avoid people and churches like that.

Reasons (why people don’t come to church)—for the same reasons they don’t go to mosques, temples and synagog services—because they don’t believe bronze age mythology.

Or this comment, found at this video satire of Starbucks marketed like a mega church:

You don’t have to beleive in an invisible man in the sky to live a good life, or to feel motivated or happy. If you would have been born in India, or Iran, or Africa, etc. you would probably have different relgious beliefs. Why anyone would want to go to church and listen to someone else tell them what ‘god’ thinks or wants, or what jesus wants? Think for yourself….read books…make your own thoughts and beleifs, and sleep in on Sunday. [spelling sic]

The Culture, or the Troll Under the Bridge?

Perhaps at this point two arguments come to mind: the first is that people have been saying these sorts of things for a long time. And secondly, how do we know that the comments are accurately reflective of the cultural milieu and not the just the 7 angry folks that troll these vids?

Continue reading ‘Religious Faith Communities: Subject to Review on Amazon.’

A Humble Obituary for Osama bin Laden; Part III

•May 3, 2011 • Leave a Comment

John’s closing for bin Laden, which began here and here

On 9-1-1, the Western media showed video footage of street celebration in Palestine.  We were disgusted.  (It is a wonder that we repeated their actions last night.)

The day after 9-1-1, Hillary Clinton got on CNN and told America that they hate us because of our freedoms.  Ask any Arab why we are hated by so many.  They will tell you that we are hated for our foreign policy in the Islamic world.

I wish to this day that I could bring Hillary to Al-Khalil to meet the little boy that sought to lovingly convert me to Islam, to see what the war of Israeli imperialism has brought to his family and community, and for her to tell him that the United States, under the direction of her husband as well as her current boss, donates two billion dollars a year, mostly in weapons, to the Israeli government.  Hillary forever lost my vote that day, as she became a self-appointed leader in the disinformation campaign, just like Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.  Why do people like Ron Paul and Ralph Nader get this while Rudolf Giuliani and the rest of us remain, along with Hillary, ignorant and in denial?

So today, we remember Osama bin Laden, born into a broken and dysfunctional home.  Born into a wealth created by the bottom line of a free market economy.  Born into a region crying out for self-determination and common decency.  Born into a time when those in his own religion were providing simple answers to complex situations, solutions that included anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance.  Born into a world that, in many ways, denies the face of God in the poor, the dispossessed, and the abused.  We pray for his wives and his children.

We also remember the victims of the 9-1-1- bombings, and for their spouses and their children.

We remember all of us born into corrupted wealth and broken homes.

We pray for those of us who rejoice when our enemies fall.

And we pray for a world where there is authentic self-determination, where all live in both peace and prosperity, according to the desire of God our Creator.  We pray for a miracle of God that can make all things right.