BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Cesar Chavez Day

Cartoon of Cesar Chavez and the Eagle symbol of the UFW
This week marks the 90th anniversary of the birth of worker's rights hero, Cesar Chavez. In the United States, March 31st is celebrated as Cesar Chavez Day, in honor of his birthday. Cesar Estrada Chavez was born on March 31, 1927 in Arizona. At 35 years old, he founded the National Farm Workers Association (later known as the United Farm Workers; UFW), shortly thereafter joined by Dolores Huerta in the movement.

In a speech entitled Jesus's Friendship Chavez asserts that "the love for justice that is in us is not only the best part of our being but it is also the most true to our nature." In that same speech he goes on to say "I have met many, many farm workers and friends who love justice and who are willing to sacrifice for what is right. They have a quality about them that reminds me of the beatitudes. They are living examples that Jesus' promise is true: they have been hungry and thirsty for righteousness and they have been satisfied."

Dolores Huerta holding a sign that says "huelga" (strike). Quote: "Walk the street with us into history. Get off the sidewalk"Chavez led many fasts over the course of his work. He said  "a fast is first and foremost personal. It is a fast for the purification of my own body, mind, and soul. The fast is also a heartfelt prayer for purification and strengthening for all those who work beside me in the farm worker movement. The fast is also an act of penance for those in positions of moral authority and for all men and women activists who know what is right and just, who know that they could and should do more. The fast is finally a declaration of non-cooperation with supermarkets who promote and sell and profit from California table grapes...I pray to God that this fast will be a preparation for a multitude of simple deeds for justice."

Chavez encourages us in this work saying "it is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity."

Today, the work continues and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is leading the charge. Though McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King and Taco Bell have all committed to higher wages for farm workers, Wendy's refuses to pay the penny more per pound of tomatoes that would make such a significant difference in lives of those picking them. The White House-recognized social responsibility program calls not only for the important wage increase, but also for a series of commitments to ensuring that workers’ and their rights are respected.

In honor of Chavez's birthday this week, consider fasting from Wendy's food to join the national boycott demanding the fair treatment of farmworkers. Then, check out this collection of litanies and worship resources from the National Farm Worker Ministry and see how you might honor the work of Cesar Chavez through prayer and service this week, and through the year.


"Free me to pray for others for You are present in every person.
Help me take responsibility for my life so that I can be free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others for in service there is true life.
Let the Spirit flourish and grow, so that we will never tire of the struggle.
Help us love even those who hate us so we can change the world. Amen."
-Cesar Chavez


Picture of Cesar Chavez with quote "Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Friday Fruit (03/24/17)

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...


Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Community Development *is* Congregational Development: #AllPeoplePractices

Image result for love thy neighbor billboardThere seems to be a belief that 'loving thy neighbor' is something to do in the Church's spare time, after we have 'sealed the deal' for the soul in the afterlife.

But in scripture, we see that Jesus consistently forms his ministry around the pairing of service and witness. We follow a Christ that was very concerned with personal salvation, and yet did not trivialize the suffering he encountered on earth.

That is why UM Church for All People and its sister nonprofit Community Development for All People are inextricably linked. Neither can exist without the other. Community development is congregational development.

It's not uncommon to hear someone identify C4AP as "that church that sells houses." While it's technically the nonprofit organization that does the affordable housing work, our community understands that work of the two organizations are intertwined with together. And it matters to them. Indeed, we are also often identified as "that church that does what a church is supposed to do"

As we serve in partnership with our community, we are tangibly demonstrating God's love in practical and meaningful ways. We build trust by forming relationships of mutuality and accompaniment. We send the message that God cares deeply about who we are, and is intimately involved with our daily struggles and victories. As we deepen our involvement in the community, it's no wonder that the church grows as a result.

Image result for church for all people free store
UM Free Strore
Conversely, to serve our community without giving of our very best would be to short change the people we are there to help. And what better do we have to offer but the Good News of Jesus Christ? Too often we volunteer in a pantry or donate our goods believing that the people we encounter are worthy of our charity, but not of our Jesus.

Even though the Free Store is run through the nonprofit, the church hosts worship each weekday before the store opens. People feel like the church is their home, and we a family in it. Thus, there are individuals who come experience worship up to seven times each week!

In a time when too many churches are closed Monday through Saturday, it matters that Church for All People owns a Free Store that welcomes 600+ people through the church doors each week. People experience God's grace in tangible ways, and learn about a Christ who identifies with the oppressed and marginalized. The community sees that we are a welcoming place that accepts everyone for who they are, and so becomes intrigued with who we are. We have been able to build and maintain a diverse church congregation because every single day we engage in the discipline of bridging cultural divides through radical hospitality in the community development work we do. We are able to attract the full spectrum of of the diversity of our surrounding neighborhood, and then invite them into a deeper journey. People enter our building that otherwise might never have given church a second chance, and never imagined they might be welcomed and loved. We form relationships, and in turn we grow the church.

At the same time, it matters that the nonprofit is connected with our church. It gives meaning and motivation for people to volunteer and donate. It attracts missionally aligned individuals to help do the work. It provides a connectional network and legacy from which to grow. But perhaps most importantly, it helps us see the people we serve as our siblings in Christ. It matters that we worship next to the very same people that shop with us in the Free Store. We are unified in Christ, not divided by serving counters. We are a family, not strangers. We are friends, not charity cases. We grow to know and love each other, intimately understanding each others' hopes, dreams, and aspirations. We understand each other in a way that is impossible when only seeing one another through the lens of a service to be provided. Through our fellowship we are able to gain the interpersonal trust to invite people into the next good thing that God would have for each other and our families. We expand the church, and in turn we build strong communities and change lives.

Too often we divorce service and salvation, as though doing one is at the expense of the other. The reality is quite the opposite. The church needs the nonprofit, and the nonprofit needs the church.
We build relationships, to build the church, to build the Front Porch to the Kingdom of God.

How is your church linking congregational development with community development?
For tips and ideas to get you started view our resources on the Divine Economy of Abundance

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Friday Fruit (03/17/17)

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the many voices leading the way...


Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Review: Allegiance

Please welcome back guest writer, Chris Sunami. Chris is a philosopher and the author of Hero for Christ. Find more of his writings on his blog, Yes and Other Answers. His review of the Broadway musical Allegiance first appeared on his site, Pop Culture Philosopher.

You may not have heard of the recent Broadway musical Allegiance. You might not even have heard of the real, and newly relevant historical event it was based on, the forced internment of Japanese immigrants and American citizens of Japanese descent in what amounted to homegrown, all-American concentration camps during World War II. As a particularly shameful chapter of American history, it’s a story that has often been hidden and suppressed –or is it more accurate to call it overlooked and willfully forgotten?

I know of it largely through a direct personal connection. My grandmother, Suyeko Matsushima Sunami, a natural-born U.S. citizen, was imprisoned in the camps for four years, along with her Japanese-born parents and older siblings (some born here, some born there). It registered in my life more as an absence than a presence.

Image result for heart mountain japanese internment camp
Heart Mountain Internment Camp
Neither my grandmother nor my great-aunts and great-uncles ever spoke about it. I never heard them mention it even once. The only sign of it was little relics –a collection of arrowheads scavenged from the hard Wyoming dirt, a piece of driftwood hand-polished over many dreary hours into a shining work of art. It was also the reason my father gave for why he and his sister had never learned Japanese. After the war, their parents had not wanted them to have any attribute that might single them out from their peers, might make them seem less than American, and more capable of being exiled yet again from American life and citizenship.

It goes without saying that my personal connection to the material shaped my experience of Allegiance, a musical dramatizing the internment. I found it profoundly moving to an extent that shocked me. Perhaps it was because it filled in and made vivid the day-to-day life of a section of my history that had always been almost completely opaque to me –as opaque as I assume it has been for most Americans. I knew better than to take every scene as historically accurate, but taken as a whole, it gave me a living sense of what the experience must have been like for my relatives: What it was to be a young person growing up in an immigrant Japanese family before the war, the suddenness of the transition, the sharp disruption of your journey into independent adulthood, and the stresses, frustrations, and occasional joys of being a prisoner in your own nation for four interminable years.

In addition, with a large part of the story hinging on the controversial loyalty oath demanded from the internees, I finally gained a context for the fact that my Great-Uncle Aki (Akira Matsushima) had been a “No No” boy (someone who refused to sign the oath). It gave me a sense of why he might have made that decision, how much courage it must have taken to do so, and the very real costs to him and to the family for his refusal.
Image result for allegiance musical
So how was it as a musical? The book was strong, weaving a powerful human-interest story from the interactions and divergent reactions and values of two young couples. The first duo is Sammy Kimura, a passionate American patriot who becomes a decorated WWII hero, and Hannah Campbell, the Caucasian nurse who owns his heart. The second couple is Sammy’s anxious older sister Kei Kimura, and Frankie Suzuki, a conscientious objector and civil rights agitator who is as passionate about his values as Sammy is about his.

The score, on the other hand, while never less than tuneful and accomplished, was far from memorable. Despite having an Asian American composer, it had little Asian flavor, and most resembled accomplished facsimiles of era-appropriate music. Similarly, the staging and visuals were strongly conceived and executed exemplars of stagecraft, but only one production number was truly memorable –Suzuki’s satirical ode to internment life, “Paradise.”

Considered as history, the musical has come under criticism for allegedly exaggerating the brutality and violence of the camp and the friction with the soldiers guarding it. It’s worth noting, however, that that while the odd detail may have been fudged, or enhanced for theatrical impact, the bigger picture is a matter of documented historical record, as are incidents such as the deaths of citizen internees at the hands of military personnel.

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Mike Masaoka
Another criticism of the early stagings is that they devalued the service of the Japanese American war veterans and demonized (controversial and polarizing historical figure) Mike Masaoka, who some people view as having saved and shielded the Japanese Americans during the war, but who others view as having cravenly sold them out in exchange for his own security and comfort. Those concerns appear to have been addressed in the filmed staging, with the musical now presenting a very balanced picture that values the choices made by both the patriots and the protestors, and that allows viewers to make up their own minds about Masaoka.

One final note about the musical. I’ll approach it obliquely, with a seemingly unrelated anecdote: When I first started as a professional programmer, the other programmers I worked with were almost exclusively male, and mainly white (with a tiny handful of Asians and Indians thrown in). It was easy to come to the conclusion that white men were the only people who were any good at programming. But when I took my current job (at a large American corporation), I suddenly found myself in an environment where there were nearly as many women programmers as men, and where there were bright and talented programmers of every race and nationality as well –not just a few, but many of them, and succeeding at the same levels as anyone else. Somehow this company had no problem finding an endless supply of something that those other workplaces didn’t even seem to know existed.

Image result for paradise allegianceSimilarly, Allegiance has a largely Asian-American cast, singing, dancing and starring in lead roles, with the handsome hero played by Telly Leung looking every inch the all-American romantic lead, his sister, played by the soulfully beautiful Lea Salonga, bringing real heart to her role as the play’s emotional center, and his nemesis, played by Michael Lee, exuding charisma and attitude. You’ve probably never seen or heard of many of the cast members (probable exceptions include Star Trek star George Takei, a real life former internee who played a crucial role in getting the musical made, and Salonga, who originated the title role in Miss Saigon). Why? Because there aren’t many other shows that give them the chance to shine. But that doesn’t mean talented Asian American actors aren’t out there, and it takes a show like this for them to be able to showcase their talents.

As of now, the show has closed on Broadway, and the theatrical release was a limited engagement, so there isn’t an immediate way to experience Allegiance. But if and when it comes back, I’d urge everyone to see it. It’s an important part of all of our histories.
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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