February 25, 2006

pasadena, snatch and power...

I'm staying Rudy's place tonight (pictured here with Andrew Jones and myself from back in April at Fuller). He has graciously allowed me to stay the night here. I have a class here in Pasadena tomorrow morning.

In between watching/reading the subtitles/commenting on Snatch we talked about where we come from on issues of race, power and privilege (I swear, Rudy brought it up, not me). Rudy shared some powerful stories from when he was working with John Perkins here at Harambee. Incredible stuff.

The greatest lessons I've been learning in the last two years after moving into the city have primarily been around issues of power, and who has it. Racism is a component to this conversation more often than not. That word throws up an aweful lot of defenses and the end result, often times, is that we don't hear each other due to our preconceived notions of what the other is thinking when that word arises.

I can't emphasize enough how important the art of listening and struggling to understand has become to me on this issue. Our refusal (and I am speaking mostly to those most like me right now: white men) to listen intently is a huge problem. This blog post only confirms an assumption I was hoping I would be wrong about. It seems us younger, dominant Christian voices are not much different than those before us. This is a shame. Our world does not look like those "in charge"... if we are to continue discovering a theology that we can practice, a people's theology than we've got to let others play and on their terms, not ours. It's like when Red Hot Chili Peppers covered Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" (although, Mother's Milk probably was RHCP's best album). You didn't understand Stevie's take by listening to the Pepper's cover it. You have to listen to Stevie's version to get it... am I making sense? It's late. Too much coffee. I've got to get up early... I'll leave you with a lyric ringing in my head right now:

"C'mon stand up!/This system of power and privilege is about to come to an end/Here come the clouds/The first drop is falling down... We've had enough/Is there even anything left to explain?/Am I really someone you need to restrain?/Can't you listen to what we have to say?/We've had enough"

(Taken from "The First Drop" by Rise Against off of their album, The Siren Song of The Counter Culture)


Ryan said...

Thanks for the post.

Out of curiosity, what are you doing in San Diego in your neighborhood to dismantle so to speak this classist system at hand? I would really love to hear how the conversations over the past two years are leading to a more "generous orthropraxy" (to borrow words from the post you linked to above).

I wonder what a community of faith would look like that embraced differences and could truly practice faith despite where we come from, while avoiding the dysfuction of a system that perpetuates white male dominance and control. And I wonder if in the Emergent scene that a model where white guys are in power is being perpetuated. So what do those "in power" do about this?

Jason Evans said...

First off, I haven't figured this out... I struggle with articulating my concerns because it is still very raw, from my heart and not my head. But to answer your question, I try to listen to others. I'm trying to validate voices that should be heard, in our faith community and in our city in general. The truth is that so much of what we do as faith communities is shaped by a particular culture (whether we like to admit this or not) that it is often hard for those that only participate in said culture part of the time (and even then as only an onlooker) to participate wholly in a faith community shaped by this. It will require humility, letting go of things (sacrifice) and faith and hope in the possibility of another reality. My Filipino friend tells me often, "no one else is doing this, we have no model, we have only each other and hope in another way to be human."

I think a lot of our problem stems from the fact that we still put a lot of stock in power as it is understood on human terms as opposed to the kind of power Jesus used and spoke of in his "kingdom" talk. Those people without the kind of power that runs our world, who have no access to it, have a completely different perspective on that power than you do (because you have access to it). So, it is helpful to start by just listening, allowing yourself to get uncomfortable and a little out of control of your situation.

We have yet to see if emergent will figure this out. There are book deals, funding and much else at stake. There is a reason why out of all the Emergent folk you saw only Brian McLaren being escorted away by the police alongside John Perkins and others a few months ago in DC. Have you ever watched Mr. McLaren at an event? I don't know him, I've only spoken to him a couple of times. But I have watched him and he listens to people very well. As you walk the hallway at an event you see other published authors and speakers talking but you often see Brian listening. This is a good starting point. Don't you think so?

Jason Evans said...

A couple other things to add, Ryan. I interviewed Jim Henderson a while back and he talks about some of this. He points out young leaders ability to listen. I know Jim and know is speaking primarily to young white men.

Second, these two posts would be good reading here and here.

And lastly, my friend Jedd wrote a book called the Revolutionary Communicator. The chapter on listening is worth the price of the book.

Ryan said...

Awesome Jason. Thanks for responding in such detail and for the links. I really appreciate it. You are right on about listening, truly listening, and that's what challenges me most right now. I really am not a great listener at this point in life. But to listen is such a great pathway toward relationship with others who may be different.

I like what you said about validating voices that need to be heard. This goes hand in hand with listening as you were saying because it takes a "less of me, more of you" approach in that it refuses to let power dictate the relationship and draws attention away from those in power to others.

The crux of your post sounds like a powerful parable to tell to the church (emergent included). I could just hear Jesus telling us a story, a simple story in fact, and us getting it and struggling over it, and then striving to intentionally do something about it.

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