On Food and Giving Thanks for Neoliberalism: Taking the Capital out of Thanksgiving by Matt Cumings

Tis the season for turkey, and  I just really want to talk about food!  Mmmmmm, yummy food my favorite of which, like a teenager, is still the turkey leg! Speaking of turkeys, here’s a nice letter from your last local turkey farmer. Or how about pumpkin pie, I really don’t eat it any other time of the year, the same thing with cranberries and persimmons. Persimmons are such a strange fruit, much like the strange fruit the american empire continues to bear:

“Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they?  In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.” – Jesus

As much as we may complain about having to put up with our racist right wing Fox watching uncle during thanksgiving everyone looks forward to the meal time at least. If you do want to learn to learn to engage constructively with the “Christian Right” you should check out Andrea Smith’s Native Americans and the Christian Right: The Gendered Politics of Unlikely Alliances. The table ethic is the liminal space that embodies the idea of shalom in one event. Food, shelter, and community and enough for everyone.  Native Americans approach every meal with the sort of thankfulness we are often intentional about only one day a year. Of course, we have a tendency to commodify holy days and appropriate others’ spirituality, one could make a case that Thanksgiving is an appropriation of not even Indigenous spirituality but that actually embodiment of a people. You can get educated on Native appropriations at Dr. Keene’s blog if you’d like. Or you can read about the eurocentric mindset firsthand from different perspectives!

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America: Imagine Apples and Oranges by Randy Woodley

I recently saw Dinesh D’Souza’s America: Imagine A World Without Her with my 19 year old son. I won’t dignify the sorts of arguments he makes with a counter argument to any of the ridiculous historical inaccuracies given but simply make note of the many manipulative tools I observed that were used. I would rank the level of propaganda used in this film right up there with Joseph Goebbels Nazism and other effective propaganda movements.

Eric Hoffer, in his classic The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements (1951) wrote, “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.” Who is D’Souza’s devil? The American “liberal” who is “re-writing history” and committing national “suicide.” Well, fear is a great motivator but after the truth eventually bears itself out, (and elections are over) people stop being afraid of the devil you made up. I mention elections because to my chagrin, the last 1/3 of the movie was an anti-Obama, and especially anti-Hillary Clinton campaign, which belied the real intention of the movie, namely, “STOP THE DEMOCRATS!”

All the typical propaganda tools were used; playing on people’s fears, inflating and deflating numbers and statistics, exaggerating claims, majoring on the minors, conflating non-related ideas, answering systemic concerns with individual examples, attacks without evidence, using non-experts and making them look like real experts, leading questions, false assumptions, creating only binary choices, etc. All of this in the end, makes D’Souza’s America both good and great, and it makes those who want to use their freedom of speech to represent the oppressed in order to build a better America, look like enemies of the state.

In D’Souza’s America there was no genocide on Native Americans, the land was never stolen, Black chattel slavery was unfortunate but after all, some Blacks held slaves too, Mexico was not stolen, there were no impure motives for Viet Nam, Iraq or Afghanistan. This sort of telling is reminiscent of those who deny the Nazi holocaust against the Jews and theatres should be ashamed to advertise it as a documentary. It’s everything White ultra-conservatives want to hear-but no one in the film ever bothers to asks the truly oppressed person, “how has it been for you?” And no one in the film asked the rest of the world, in which America consumes most of the resources, “America, can you imagine a world without her?”

In the Unsettling of America Wendell Berry writes, “The first principle of the exploitive mind is to divide and conquer.” D’Souza is a divider and an exploiter. He is not trying to make a better America, he is simply an extreme conservative operative behind a thin veil of patriotism who is trying to make a more effective smear campaign in preparation for the 2016 elections. One of the many “best American values” missing from the film was honesty. This is not an attempt at dialogue or even an effective argument between conservatives and progressives; this film was a sham. My son and I agreed, it was a poor use of $23.50 and several hours time.

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Indigenous Young People-Your Future and the Big Picture By Uncle Randy Woodley

As I look at the world that my generation is handing down to you…you, the first of the next seven generations and at your future, I grieve. But, I also see with this great challenge, great hope. I want to give you some advice to consider as you choose your fields of expertise and lifestyle. Our Mother Earth is in trouble…my generation has made it this way. If you don’t do something differently, you will continue the systemic evils that haunt our planet. While I cannot imagine the earth ceasing, I can imagine an earth surviving without humans. This would be tragic since it is our responsibility to maintain life’s harmony, but we have not done a good job of it. (Note: This applies directly to the US but Canada is not far behind).

young Indian boyIn my book, Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision, I set out a simple thesis concerning how the earth is responding to our abuse and neglect. (This is a long quote but please read it):

Americans tend to be pragmatic people except when they are held captive to a false ideology. I wonder what it will take for us to hear the sound of the alarm going off in our world right now. I will leave it to the dozens of other books out there to explain the specifics of our impending disaster and only note that topsoil is disappearing…forest are shrinking…desertification is advancing…coral reefs are dying…plants, fish, insects, birds and animal species are all going extinct… and our fresh water sources are being depleted! Serious concerns exist at every level from local to global. Continue reading

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Revenge of the Rickshaw Rally by Daniel Fan

In the summer of 2004, LifeWay Publishing released “Rickshaw Rally: Racing to the Son,” a vacation bible school curriculum that was saturated with stereotypical images of Asians, mixing of different cultural heritages, and in general, a heaping pile of racism with a little “Jesus” sprinkled on top.  When Asian American community members complained they were told that the offense was not intentional and furthermore: “this curriculum is really about preaching Jesus, and I wouldn’t want you to do anything that would stop Jesus from bring preached.”  Non-Asians Americans also voiced their frustration with Rickshaw Rally, but LifeWay brushed these objections aside.  Nearly ten years later, at the 2013 Mosaix Multi-Ethnic Church Conference LifeWay released this 1-1/2 minute apology for Rickshaw Rally:  http://vimeo.com/78735039

But this apology is not as simple as it sounds, nor is it necessarily a viable entrée into further dialog as some may have hoped… 

“You’re here because you know something…that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” –Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, “The Matrix” (1999)

Life is a story.  And how we tell that story says as much about us as it does about the world we are trying to describe.

Every story has a protagonist.  In our westernized mind set, the protagonist is always an individual, even if that individual is one among many working for the same goal.  However, something about that protagonist will stand out, or be made to stand out.  He may be a wounded soul, or extraordinarily dumb; she may be particularly intelligent or particularly impetuous.

The story of Rickshaw Rally cannot be told in its entirety without recounting the prominent activism of people like Soong-Chan Rah.  This is the story of a small band of Asian American Christians that dared to challenge the juggernaut of Christian publishing, and won: it was their risk-filled ten-year struggle that precipitated the apology delivered on November 7th, 2013, at the Mosaix Conference by LifeWay president Thom Rainer.

Or is it?

Every story has an antagonist.  Sometimes the antagonist is a specific person, but it can also be something less anthropocentric, like a storm, a shark, or a mass of zombies.  LifeWay, at the time, refused to alter or remove the offensive Rickshaw Rally curriculum from circulation.  In fact, some churches within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) were compelled to purchase and used the material even after members of the SBC voiced their own objections to the material.  Nor did any particular LifeWay leader stand out to answer for or defend the decisions which led to Rickshaw Rally’s genesis or publication.

“Relax, you’ve been erased”—US Marshal John Kruger, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Eraser” (1996)

LifeWay’s November 7th apology made no mention of the heroic activism by members of any ethnicity who opposed their original Rickshaw Rally curriculum.  When specific members of the Asian American community, including Soong-Chan Rah and others challenged the curriculum, LifeWay plodded forward as an uncaring, impersonal, unknowable, faceless, amorphous and unaccountable force of nature.  But in LifeWay’s November 7th “apology” Thom Rainer is the focal point, and those who dared act as speed-bumps before the steamroller of evangelistic racial stereotyping that was Rickshaw Rally are reduced to the mere mention of “some.”   Now it is those “many in the Asian American community” that are the faceless mob.  Furthermore Rainer makes no mention of who LifeWay will be accountable to with only a vague reference to future dialogue with “ethnic leaders.”  In fact, the curriculum itself receives more mention in the apology than those who fought against it.

By replacing Asian American activists with a white CEO in the role of protagonist, LifeWay has fundamentally altered the structure of this narrative.  In effect, the tale has gone from David v. Goliath, a story of under-dog protest, activism, suffering, and risk, to one of self-realized/actualized repentance.  Yes, LifeWay apologized, but did they apologize because they suddenly decided they were wrong? or because they truly valued and listened to the concerns that were raised by Asian Americans and other people of color?  Thom Rainer states “LifeWay will continue to train our staff to be aware of and sensitive to ethnic and cultural difference so that our materials continue to respectfully represent all people groups.”  Really?  Where is the continuity?  If LifeWay’s material had respectfully represented all people groups ten years ago, then what were my Asian, African American, and some white brothers and sisters protesting about all this time?  Doesn’t the erasure of Asian American activism from this story form a second offense: further reinforcing Asian invisibility and insignificance?

You see, how we tell the story matters.

“Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view” –Obi Wan Kenobi, played by Sir Alec Guiness, “Return of the Jedi” (1983)

Film schools sometimes use an interesting exercise to teach students about story-telling.  The assignment will be to take a film of a certain genre and cut/splice scenes to fit a completely different genre.  An example might be cutting “Bridge Jones’s Diary” (a 2001 romantic comedy) in such a way as to convince the audience that the film is actually a 007-esque techno-spy thriller.  Within our individualistic culture, protagonists are always individuals.  The individual carries the story.  Therefore, in a story with only two individuals, deleting the protagonist always results in the antagonist becoming the new protagonist.  Like the film school exercise, but with far greater historical implications: LifeWay’s apology conveniently slices up past historical events, and recasts their CEO as the individual, personal, relatable activist/protagonist while Asian Americans become the faceless complainants.  In doing so LifeWay has not simply erased the true hero-activists of this story, but has replaced them with a pretender of its own creation.  A more thorough corruption is difficult to imagine.

“Some of the most successful relationships are based on lies and deceit. Since that’s where they usually end up anyway, it’s a logical place to start.”—Yuri Orlov, played by Nicholas Cage, “Lord of War” (2005)

But is this where we as Christians want to start our dialogues?  What kind of relationship can be built on such a corrupt foundation?  The erasure of my activist uncles and aunties troubles me far more than any race-mixing stereotypes.  I refuse to sacrifice the prophets of my people before the idol of LifeWay’s “apology.”

Now playing: “Revenge of the Rickshaw Rally” where the white supremacist system that spawned such racist curriculum seeks to supplant the very heroes who fought to banish it.  This is one show I won’t be buying tickets to, and neither should you.

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Three Questions to ask of any Social Justice Narrative by Daniel Fan

Do you Do Do Justice?*

Has anyone ever pitched you a social justice initiative, and after the conclusion you thought “Something doesn’t feel right about this, but I don’t know what it is”? Maybe your instincts were right, but you couldn’t articulate exactly what was wrong? Yeah, I’ve been there too.

Justice is a potentially simple concept, but the transition from theory to practice can be extremely complicated and fraught with danger. It is entirely possible to enact injustice or oppression while attempting to do justice.

Here are three simple questions you can ask in order to quickly analyze any social justice pitch:

  • Whose story is being told?
  • Who is telling the story?
  • If they are different people or parties, why is one telling the other’s story? Continue reading
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From the Postcolonial Peanut Gallery: Disney’s The Lone Ranger and the Disappearing Indian by Daniel Fan

A second pillar of white supremacy is the logic of genocide. This logic holds that indigenous peoples must disappear. In fact, they must always be disappearing, in order to allow non-indigenous peoples rightful claim over this land. Through this logic of genocide, non-Native peoples then become the rightful inheritors of all that was indigenous-land, resources, indigenous spirituality, or culture.
–Andrea Smith (“Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy” from The Color of Violence)

The Lone Ranger MovieI had seen enough from the previews to think I wasn’t going to like Disney’s The Lone Ranger, but I wanted to actually view the film before judging it. 

The Lone Ranger opens with a young turn-of-the-century white boy, dressed in a Lone Ranger costume, attending a carnival in San Francisco that includes a quasi-historical display of what can only be described as the conquered west.  The boy passes displays of a buffalo, a grizzly bear, and finally “The Noble Savage,” a wax-like figurine who turns out to be none other than Tonto, or “THE Tonto!?!” as the amazed white boy exclaims.

Tonto expresses himself in the classic incorrect-personal pronoun Indian speak.  There is no way that a Lone Ranger film could have been made without a shout-out to the 1930s radio series that first introduced/fabricated Tonto’s distinct style of speech.  But unlike other iconic and even idiosyncratic speaking styles, e.g. Star War’s Yoda, Tonto actually represents a real ethnicity.  As Randy Woodley, Keetoowah Cherokee (legal descendant) observed, Tonto’s speech demonstrates a paternalistic white view of Native Americans in the same way that “me love you long time” stands in for Asians/Asian Americans.  Disney could have easily dealt with the nostalgic aspects of the series and legitimate native concerns by having the Tonto character address the Lone Ranger directly “You think all Indian talk like this? We don’t and we never have” and continue with normal dialogue (a confrontation that actually happened in the 1980s Lone Ranger comics).  Continue reading

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The Life of the Land is Lost in Translation by Daniel Fan

hawaii-flag2 copyOn January 16, 1893, 162 American sailors and Marines sallied forth from the USS Boston and took up positions around American installations in Honolulu.  Without firing a shot, this intervention changed the history of the Hawaiian people forever. 

In the months prior to the January 16th invasion, monarch Queen Lili’uokolani sought to amend the Hawaiian Constitution in an effort to restore native rights and sovereignty.  Six years earlier, her brother and predecessor, David Kalakaua, was forced by what amounted to a white settler aristocracy into signing the “Bayonet Constitution” which stripped the monarchy of its powers, installed a white-led legislature and disenfranchised natives, Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos and pretty much anyone who wasn’t white.  Queen Lili’uokolani’s proposed reforms had broad public support from the majority of Hawaiian citizens, except for those in the Euro-American landed “Reform Party” (a.k.a. Missionary Party”). 

Alarmed by overwhelming evidence of an imminent coup attempt against the Queen, the Royal Guard assembled, with a final count of slightly less than 500 volunteers and Hawaiian regulars.  They were opposed by 1,500 “Honolulu Rifles,” white militiamen who owed their allegiance to the now insurgent Reform Party.

Sensing the danger of open, armed conflict in the city streets with not only the Honolulu Rifles, but also the US military, Queen Lili’uokolani ordered Hawaiian forces to stand down and voluntarily abdicated her throne:  Continue reading

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