Monthly Archives: September 2017

A Good Time for the Truth

Today Sun Yung Shin, author of “A Good Time for the Truth: Race In Minnesota” gave a talk on her book. I honestly had no idea what I was going to, but I knew I was suppose to be there, so I went.

“‘Essays that challenge, discomfort, disorient, galvanize, and inspire all of us to evolve now, for our shared future.’ Who is ready to be inspired?…Who is ready to be challenged?…Now what about discomforted? Disoriented?”

This is how the discussion opened, I was posed these questions which I answered haphazardly in my mind, accompanied with a slight hand raise. These were questions which I didn’t even give a second thought until hours after the talk was over and I had long since moved on with my day.

Sun Yung Shin is an American with South Korean ancestry. She is an artist and an author who wrote the book “A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota” which takes a look at racism in Minnesota and systemic issues that perpetuate the racism that takes place in our society. She sought out stories that have been intentionally and unintentionally suppressed and brought them to light. Her discussion began talking about the origins of Minnesota. We are living on land which is indigenous to the Dakota Native American tribes. She read to us legislation from the 1800s when Minnesota was being established that stated, “The Sioux Indians must be exterminated.” Our government dissolved all treaties between them and indigenous people which causes masses to be forced off the land which was their home and to seek sanctuary in foreign places.

This was shocking to me. It was painful that this state that I love so much has a legacy of oppression and extermination. It was grieving to examine my culture within the context of this past that condoned the belittling of entire people groups. Shin talked about ways that our society cater to white people and favor them. With systemic racism what can we do?

I totally agree that there are issues in our society that perpetuate the problem of racism. As a white, middle class female, I cannot imagine what it is like to live as a POC. I know that it is important to hear what she talked about because I can’t even imagine it. Also, in class we talk about being human and Christian. Both of those identities call us to care for our fellow person. If we consider it from a humanitarian view, each human should be awarded basic human rights and privileges just from the fact that they have breath in their lungs and a complex brain that can make decisions and process emotions. In light of Christianity, our job becomes even more clear — we are to love all people, to help the oppressed, to care for the poor and underprivileged. As Christians, if there is a chance there are people who might be oppressed, it is our job to that we stand with them because people cannot stand alone. If it is other white people that are oppressing and belittling others, maybe it is my job as a white person to stand up, because maybe I am the only one they would listen to. The Dakota struggle is important, people being oppressed is important. As Shin said, “Silence is to engage in the status quo. Truth telling can alleviate the burden of maintaining oppressing systems. Maintaining them are a moral disfigurement.” As humans and Christians we are called to set right that which is wrong, to bring life and liberation to all people. We have a lot of work to do — but it is no more than what we are already called to do as Christians.

Did it inspire me? Yes. Did it challenge me? Yes Now what about discomfort me? Disorient me? Yes and yes. As I was reflecting I realized that that is what happened to me. I was inspired to stand up to oppression. I was challenged to consider the ways in which systemic racism has seeped into my life in ways I have not recognized. I was discomforted and disoriented as I realized she was shining light on things that I did not like to think about — calling a spade a spade. It was a wake up call to recognize the struggles of the people around me and to stand with them in whatever way I can to bring restoration and healing to oppressed people.

Book Review — Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious

Framing:

Life’s Too Short To Pretend You’re Not Religious opens with a provoking list. The author, David Dark, outlines the people his book “goes out to” — a list which every conceivable person falls into. The book is for those who will read it — and though Dark is a professing Christian, the scope was broader than Christianity alone. The book is not about wooing new believers, but about changing the connotations associated with the term “religion” to stimulate conversation and connection among people of diverse backgrounds. It is meant to alter the way that all people view religion — especially those who are hostile to simply the idea alone — so it will not be a semantic stumbling block, but they will begin to view it as an intrinsic part of their story that shapes who they are and what they do.

Summary:

From the start, Dark opens the discussion to all people. He addresses the reaction of nonreligious people to the word “religion”: they label. When people hear the word “religion,” their emotional baggage automatically rises to the surface, leading to judgment. Dark recognizes the necessity of identifying the labeling problem within the introduction: “When I label people, I no longer have to deal with them thoughtfully… they have been taken care of” (Dark 13).

Dark also weaves several central Christian principles into the book: the need for community, the relational aspect of religion, and how it’s for everyone. Dark acknowledges the importance of community, not only within the context of Christianity but also in humanity as a whole. He spends an entire chapter imploring people to recognize the importance that community has in our life. He captures this in the phrase “chother,” a shortening of “each other.” Our chother — our family, our community — is the iron that sharpens iron.

Dark offers a thorough motivation of community as a basic human need, acknowledging that community is a universal necessity, not only for people of faith but for all of humanity. In the words of Dark “everyone needs at least one or two people asking them to tell them specifically how they’re doing in this unfolding tale” (Dark 114). Indeed, this key principle of Christianity is for everyone. Dark recognizes a deep desire for meaning within us and that “the idea that any of us can have our meaning alone…is a death-dealing delusion” (Dark 139).

Analysis:

My primary critique is of the idea that we can be religious about anything. Dark says you can be religious about “your obsession with Game of Thrones” or “your determination to hold onto that plastic bottle till you’ve found a recycling receptacle” (Dark 22). Dark goes to significant lengths to level religious playing field in an attempt to bridge the gap between those who think they’re religious and those who think (or even assert strongly) that they are not. This move is problematic because it cheapens the concept of “religion” itself. Dark defines religion as “the what, the to whom, and the how of our everyday lives” (Dark 115). He defines it this way so that the idea of “being religious” is no longer something that people can separate from themselves. In this way, he strives to make religion a less polarizing topic. However, in doing this, he devalues the very notion of religion in some sense. Religion has historically been held to be sacred because of its relationality — it uniquely describes the tradition of how people relate with God. Dark allows religion to be replaced by a fake replica of relationship with whatever it is that people invest their time in, no matter how trivial. By construing “religion” as something so casual and commonplace, he undermines its relational principle.

People often associate rules with religion, perhaps because they were taught to have that relationship they must follow the rules and jump through the religious hoops. But at its core, religion should always be used to describe a relationship between two beings. In my case, it is me and a triune God. In others, it may be someone and Allah or some unnamed god. But in each case, it is a living human with another perceived being — not with an object. To use religion to describe a relationship with an inanimate object lessens the significance of religion as a relationship with another being.

Conclusion:

I disagreed with Dark’s loose definition of what can be considered a “religion” because it can desensitize people to the word itself. If we hope to draw people into a more comfortable place with Christianity, we must not attempt to convince them they’re already religious. This risks minimizing the notion of religion entirely. We must shift the discussion away from religion and towards the relationship. Relationship is where the gravity and sacredness of religion lies. That is why the Gospel is all about cultivating a relationship with God and knowing Jesus. Forgetting about relationship cheapens religion and misses the point of the Gospel.