Friday, July 28, 2006
Thursday, July 27, 2006
What was most unexpected for me (besides the lopside vote) was the large number of West Side and South Side aldermen who voted for the ordinance, as well as near unanimity among the aldermen of the Latino caucus. Of the aldermen representing the four wards that make up the most disadvantaged part of Chicago's West Side African-American community, two voted for the ordinance and two did not. It's hard to know how to parse that data, especially in contrast with the Latino caucus's votes on the measure. I would hypothesize that the strength of community organizations in different wards might make the difference: in Emma Mitts 37th ward on the West Side there are no really strong community organizations. In Walter Burnett's 27th ward, there are.
The local media (and our friend Mike Doyle at chicagocarless.com) consistently spun this as an issue that pitted poor South and West side blacks who just looking for jobs against somewhat misguided liberals. I'm not so sure. I'm not sure that Mitts' opposition was due to her concern for jobs in her ward or the $6,000 she's received in campaign contributions from Wal-Mart in the last year. I'm very suspicious of why my alderman (Arenda Troutman) was finally able to get the street lines painted on local streets in our neighborhood 2 hours after she voted against the ordinance. Very suspicious. Grateful, but suspicious.
Some lessons from this debate:
1. El Potentate, Wal-Mart and the so-called liberal media are not strong enough to defeat a movement that does its homework by working from the grassroots up to create momentum for change.
2. Not every black leader speaks for every black person. Ald. Burnett, Ald. Smith and others believed that they were representing their mainly black constituents well when they voted for the ordinance. Others believed differently. Some pastors were for it. Some were not. Here's a tip: BLACK PEOPLE DO NOT ALL THINK ALIKE.
3. Somehow we've got to get people to realize that the black parts of Chicago are not endless blocks of misery, poverty, crime, divestment and sadness waiting for just the smallest crumb of anything to make it through another day. There are middle class people, businesses both local and chain, people living the American dream and living in good homes, not in spite of their neighborhood, but because and with it.
Let me close with some bitter satire:
1865: In related news, a group of freed black pastors wrote a letter to the Republican leaders in Congress asking them not to vote for the 13th Amendment. Slavery provides a good job for so many of our people said one. You get 3 square meals a day, living quarters and some clothes. Our people need that. Only the cotton industry is willing to invest in black areas and take on black employees.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Jonathan Kincaid, whose blather I listen to in the showers on Sunday mornings before church usually is just annoying. This Sunday, though, the Philly native was bashing us Northeast sports fans. Sure, we're passionate, he said. But are we really intellligent? How many emotionally fragile yet supremely talented athletes do we run out of town to the detriment of our teams? He put up Ron Jaworski as an example and A-Rod to come.
A-Rod will never be David Ortiz and nor will he hit 1.000 with 250 home runs and 900 RBIs. It is not A-Rod's fault that the Yankees choked in 2004, everybody and everything got foosed. Rivera got rattled by Dave Roberts. It rained. Kevin Brown sucked at pitching. Curt Schilling faked an injury and somehow escaped karmatic retribution.
Do you really want the Yankees to trade A-Rod and be forced to rely on Melky Cabrera's bat?
Sunday, July 23, 2006
This is where the current crisis fits, I think. I in no way condone Hamas or Hezbollah. If anything, both play right into the hands of the Zionist narrative. But Israel bears at least some complicity for the situation. Democratic, thriving Arab states on Israel’s borders are not in there interests. It is in Israel’s interests to have failed states on its borders that it can demonize as terrorist regimes. I find it disingenuous to imagine that no one in the best intelligence service in the world (Mossad) could have Israel’s campaign against Fatah would cause the more extremist Hamas to win. (remember Fatah and Arafat had made moves to recognize Israel’s right to exist as early as the late 1960s). This current war has completely destroyed the possibility of creating a moderate, democratic Palestinian state, at least for the foreseeable future. Depopulating southern Lebanon and destroying the fragile infrastructure of a nation that had just begun to turn the corner after almost 20 years of civil war seems to be the wrong strategy to engender moderate, pro-Israel feeling in Lebanon.
The moment Hezbollah puts down its arms and fully joins the democratic process in Lebanon or the Palestinians work out their differences and create some sort of stable government in Gaza is the moment that Israel has to deal with both as equal partners. Dealing with the Palestinians as equal negotiating partners is an anathema to most Israelis in power. It goes against the fundamental founding myth of the state of Israel.
Let me draw a perhaps poor analogy. Numerous federal agents have been killed and kidnapped by Mexican drug gangs operating along the southern US-Mexico border. Many along that border feel threatened by worsening security. As a result, the US and Mexico have stepped up partnership on cross-border security issues (for the most part). The US does not invade northern Mexico or bomb Valladolid in the south to root out the criminals. That is how two sovereign states handle issues of common concern. Some may say that Israel is more threatened by Hezbollah or Hamas. As I recall, the massive cross border bombings by Hezbollah were in response to Israel’s bombings (not to excuse the kidnapping of the soldiers) and that Israel held multiple Palestinian citizens it accused of terrorism (both moderate and radical) before Hamas stupidly kidnapped their soldier.
Another analogy: Say someone takes over the first two floors of your home and the attic, relegating you to the unfinished basement. Some of your family members do not fit in the basement, so they must flee to neighboring homes. Those neighbors do not really want you around, so they force your family to squat on the parkway between the sidewalk and the street. To go upstairs to get food from the fridge or to leave the house to go to work, you must pass through checkpoints set up by the new occupants of your home. Sometimes they let you through, sometimes they refuse. After repeated attempts to do so, you realize that you cannot throw out the new residents, and, pressured by your neighbors who never like you anyway, you grudgingly admit that the new residents belong there and can not be moved. You attempt many strategies, violent and non-violent to gain more of the house or to loosen restrictions on your movement in and out of your basement. Finally, compromises are reached. You get overexcited and claim more than you should and immediately are denounced by your neighbors and the local housing authority for not taking the basement and one exit. The head of your family is demonized and trapped in the utility closet by the new residents. Finally, he dies and in the scramble to find a new leader, the new residents and the neighbors denounce your choice.
So that’s a brief sketch of how I approach Israel-Arab conflict in the Middle East. There a raft of “multiplexities” (to quote Grandpa from the Boondocks) and I’m sure the comments section (if anyone choses to read and comment) will be filled with invective and rebuttal.
If there ever was a time to pray for peace in the Middle East and cooler heads to prevail, it is now.
Now more than ever:Peace. To all. Right now, no matter what color, creed, or nationality
This whole blog thing consistently strikes me as a bit narcissistic and sometimes futile: i.e who is really reading this and why should they care about what I have to say. So when someone actually asks me to write about something, it makes me somewhat excited and somewhat fearful. Excited because it means someone actually cares about my opinion and fearful because of the specific question they’ve asked me to write about: the Middle East.
The current crisis in the Middle East is a subject I’ve tried to avoid because I’m no expert on Middle East affairs and because it brings a whole shopping cart full of emotions with it. I’ve posted some links to Juan Cole’s essays on Salon.com which I find especially illuminating. With that said, let me dive into my “meta-narrative” (to use the fashionably dense academic term) for the Israeli-Arab conflict. True to my contrarian self, it is not the mainstream media’s meta-narrative of a democratic Israel beset by crazy Muslims, a narrative I have slowly dropped. I recommend the work of Edward Said as a counterpoint to the pro-Israel American media and a more complete exposition of what I’m about to say.
Here’s how I see things in the Levant:
1. In 1948 the State of Israel was created in an area that had a large population of Arabs (who later became known as Palestinians) that had lived there for a fairly long period of time (at least 2 generations). Through a variety of extra-legal means, the original Zionist forces expelled the vast majority of this population. There is documented evidence from the files of the British that this was the case, and that the land that became Israel was not uninhabited or barren as the Zionist narrative would have us believe. These communities were well-established agriculture and trade communities.
2. The divisions between Arab and Jew in the Middle East are not necessarily the results of deep rooted historical enmity, but rather a direct result of the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948. (There’s an Arab word for it that I don’t recall, but in English it means the Catastrophe).
3. The Palestinians are the most forgotten and oppressed people this side of the Jews during the Holocaust. There is no major or minor power that looks out for their interests. They are homeless and ally-less.
4. Up until the 1967 war, the vast majority of Arab states and the Palestinians had the goal of eradicating the state of Israel. After that war and especially after the 1973 war, most Arab states and the PLO recognized the right of Israel to exist (at least implicitly) and began to make overtures to Israel to work out a solution to the crisis. (If you don’t believe me, check out this book: Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question. by Edward W. Said (Editor), Christopher Hitchens (Editor).
5. The policy of the Israelis has consistently been to view the Palestinians as Arabs who could live anywhere. From Begin to Meir, the Palestinians have been called Arabs who could as easily be citizens of Jordan as of Saudi Arabia.
6. For whatever reason, whether it is guilt over turning a blind eye to the Holocaust (a shameful episode in American foreign policy history), gratuitous wish-fulfillment on the part of the military industrial complex in the US that sees Israel as a model for a militarized quasi-democratic state (Noam Chomsky’s theory), the strength of the Israel lobby (John Mearshimer’s argument) or the cultural familiarity of Israeli Jews and the otherness of the Palestinians (Edward Said’s theory) Israel is essentially a client state of the United States. The United States has played the key role in the survival of Israel as a Jewish state. Only once in my memory has the US attempted to change Israel’s behavior: George H.W Bush threatened to withhold aid money if Israel did not attend the post Gulf War I peace conference in Madrid. Israel promptly sent a representative. Said claims that by the early 1980s, each Israel received something on the order of 6-7,000 dollars from American tax payers.
7. The 1982 war in Lebanon and the first intifada were both shocking and frightening for the Israelis. No longer could Israel depend on its overwhelming conventional military strength to maintain the status quo and expand its territory to the full Zionist mandate. Israel has since adopted a more flexible policy, similar to the South African apartheid regime. This policy includes:
- Maintaining Israel as a Jewish state by moving non Jews to the occupied territories or a rump Palestinian “state” that is neither economically, politically, or militarily viable (somewhat like the Bantustans in South Africa). This is not conspiracy theory; it comes straight from the mouth of the late Ariel Sharon.
- Maintaining friendly or at least neutered regimes on its borders that it can easily demonize as terrorist or non-democratic.
Friday, July 21, 2006
The idea that singling out big box retailers is somehow discriminatory or unique in the history of urban politics is inaccurate. Municipalities, states, and other levels of governments routinely provide special tax incentives for individual firms (Boeing in Chicago is one example) or for specific industries in order to attract or keep big ticket firms to a locality or to create what economists call agglomeration economies. The flip side, regulating specific firms or industry sub sectors at the local level is also not unprecedented. Blue laws and smoking bans with exceptions are two examples.
2. All levels of government have a compelling interest to regulate firms that are causing what economists call “negative externalities.” Negative externalities are social and economic costs not reflected in the price of the goods and services offered. Wal-Mart, as a recent article in Harpers brilliantly elucidates, is an example of a monopsony, a consumer version of a monopoly. Neoliberal economics has poisoned the conversation around what is a monopoly, leading us all to believe that if you can shop someplace else or buy someone else’s product it’s not a monopoly. Wal-Mart, by virtue of its extreme market power is able to dictate the behavior of suppliers, even large ones like Proctor and Gamble. The question then is how much negative externalities Wal-Mart injects into the market. The article in Harpers indicates there a quite a few. In other words, Wal-Mart especially, does not occupy a “niche” in the retail market. It is a monopsony that is skewing the natural functioning of many productive sectors of the consumer product market.
3. To push this off on the Alberto Gonzales Justice Department, the State of Illinois or the Republican Congress or some other non-municipal level is disingenuous. There is no momentum there for any anti-trust or pro-worker legislation. As Rage against the Machine says “it has to start somewhere, it has to start now. What better place than here, what better time than now?”
4. The question of employment versus living wage employment and your somewhat cynical playing of the race/South Side card are complex and most troubling for advocates of the measure. South Side neighborhoods are notoriously underserved by retail business, not necessarily because of economic reality. The buying power of South Side residents is comparable to other regions of the city, but is just ignored. It is great that Wal-Mart wishes to work outside of outmoded racist thinking, but there are a number of cautions. As Nickled and Dimed and the work of Susan Lambert and her associates at the School of Social Service Administration show, it’s not just the wages that are problematic at Target and Wal-Mart. The whole nature of low-wage labor is high turnover, poor working condition jobs that do not allow people to get ahead. It is well documented that it is in low wage labor employers’ interest to maintain a pool of workers who cycle in and out of their jobs and do not “move up the ladder.” Hence the appeal of Chinese manufacturers. I’m glad Devyn was able to move from minimum wage work to success. His story is an exception, I’m afraid. Current economic patterns have turned low wage workers like those quoted in your story into beggars who just want any job. The long boom in the American economy was facilitated by jobs that not only paid decent wages, but allowed for longer term employment, on the job training that led to possibilities of advancement and an unwritten contract between workers and management. Short term bottom line thinking and the ascendancy of the middle class consumer as the most important actor in the economy have destroyed this. Can’t we do better than a “let them eat the cake of crappy Wal-Mart jobs?”I think so.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
This stain is not just the emotional and physical effects on the individuals directly affected by the torture. The details of these cases were long taken as fact in the African-American community and have contributed to a deep mistrust of the police and public officials in the community. I can’t tell you how many times my African-American former gang member co-workers have told groups or individuals that the gang life is just an extension of the corrupt politics of the city of Chicago. The difference is that they have the veneer of legality and don’t get their hands dirty.
But it goes deeper than that. Underneath it all is a disturbing answer to the question, why haven’t African-Americans “made it” in American society and why is the ‘hood so bad? Neighborhoods like the Woodlawn, Washington Park and Englewood communities that surround my home were once middle class white neighborhoods. African-Americans “moved in” and the neighborhoods “went downhill.” There exist a multiplicity of historical reasons for why this happened, but the general answers in the body politic today are welfare dependency and “culture.” A variant of this question, why is the Latino community in Chicago so organized, mobilized, active and led by strong leaders while the African American community is not has preoccupied us in the McCormick Tribune Fellows Program.
Answers like culture, welfare dependency, or “sell-out leaders” are ultimately dissatisfying because they do not pass the “Archie Bunker test.” A plausible answer would look to African American communities in the early 1970s before the scourge of crack hit the streets. These communities (including those in CHA housing projects) were organized, mobilized, active and led by strong leaders. One by one those leaders (like Fred Hampton) were killed, marginalized, or co-opted by the machine. Efforts to organize and create change were resisted strongly by the powers that be in City Hall. White politicians did everything they could to steer city funds to their wards at the expense of black ones. And the police were brutalizing young black men. Top it off with Harold Washington’s untimely death in office and you have the recipe for disillusionment and nihilism.
You can’t analyze the current situation of the inner city or propose solutions without dealing with this reality. It’s not something people can just “get over.” Little about how Chicago or America has treated its ex-slaves engenders hope or trust.
Links to some of the coverage:
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
This is a photo of Israeli girls writing messages on shells destined for Southern Lebanon. I'm incredibly curious to know what they're writing. I also am hard pressed to imagine an image so devoid of blood, gore, death and destruction and yet so powerfully evocative of the evils of war and revenge and violence.
It’s been a long way down for Mr. Pinochet, aka Henry Kissinger’s favorite right wing dictator. I remember in classes as late as 1998, we were talking about how the “economic miracle” that happened in Chile under Pinochet was a counter example to the idea that democracy and economic progress go hand in hand, much like the Chinese economic explosion. In other words, despite human rights abuses, mass killings, and suppression of dissent, it seems that strong hands that those of Pinochet could make people’s quality of life better.
What the latest accusations against Pinochet and his cronies reveal is the moral bankruptcy of those arguments. The cost of dictatorship is lives lost and a lack of transparency that hampers economic development. Vibrant democracies have “efficiency” problems when it comes to achieving maximum economic growth when measured in terms of GDP per capita and trade balances. But what takes longer ultimately grows deeper and avoids (for the most part) the abuses of power that lead to Southeast Asian financial crises, indictments, and torture-based economic growth.
It seems to be an informed, reasonable treatment of the situation that respects the complexity of the situation and goes beyond the “Israel is defending itself from crazy Islamic terrorists” soundbite.
Monday, July 17, 2006
The heat index in Chicago today is predicted to be 105 degrees or so. That’s not a disaster for those who have air conditioning or live right by the water. But for those who live on the third (top) floor of a brick building with no A/C whose front windows face west to the afternoon sun, it’s a bit of a crisis. Last night I slept on my couch with my feet in buckets of cold water. Felt very Cannery Row or The Jungle-esque. I actually look forward to the doors of the Green Line train opening and letting out their blast of Freon-cooled air.
We spent the weekend in Peoria and the south suburbs. Let me say that green space makes a difference. Even the Midway was cooler as I was walking down it than the area around our apartment. I can understand now why earlier generations high tailed it out of their blazing, yet beautiful vintage apartments, row houses, and bungalows for air conditioned ranch homes in the burbs.
Not that I plan to do that, but since we can no longer sleep in the parks or at the lake front (like earlier generations of Chicagoans did) and since Al Gore says it’s only going to get hotter… it’s a tempting escape.
I’ll just have to sleep in the bathtub next time.
I’m also noticing, perhaps for the first time on my own, how Israel routinely destroys the Palestinians and other Arab states in the propaganda war. Consistently, pictures out of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip are off things blowing up: bridges, roads or airports. Pictures out of Israel, where the human and infrastructure toll is much lower, routinely are of people injured or emergency workers. This gives pro-Israel forces a people-less, faceless template on which to protect “terrorist” or militant onto, while at the same time lamenting the woes of the Israeli public. The contrast between Israeli soldier being kidnapped and Hamas “militants” being “arrested” by Israel (even though many were/are cabinet members, bureaucrats, or parliamentarians is another example of Israel’s ability to win the message war.
But thank God our President is on it.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Desde la citada estructura gubernamental se entretejió un plan tendente a
minimizar la etnia maya. Esa violencia se materializó en plurales asesinatos,
torturas, violaciones de mujeres etcétera, haciendo del terror un modus
vivendi”, imputa el juez.
My sister brought this article in the Prensa Libre of Guatemala to my attention. http://www.prensalibre.com/pl/2006/julio/08/146335.html. A Spanish judge has ordered the “big dogs” of the Guatemalan genocide to undergo trial for ethnic cleaning again the Mayan majority of Guatemala and the attack on the Spanish Embassy in 1980 (I think that’s the year). While it’s unlikely that Efraín Ríos Montt, Óscar Humberto Mejía Víctores, Ángel Aníbal Guevara Rodríguez, Germán Chupina Barahona, Pedro García Arredondo, Benedicto Lucas García, Donaldo Álvarez or Fernando Lucas García will ever stand trial in Spain (as the article indicates), it’s still a symbolic blow to the military dicatorship’s mythology of protecting the nation from foreign terrorists. No, really, you were trying to destroy anyone and anything that didn’t fit your definition of a “good Indian” or traditional Guatemalan slave labor economy.
There is at least a little justice in this world
Monday, July 10, 2006
I could not have hit on a better time to check out what is known as concious hip hop. 1998 and 1999 were the zenith of concious hip hop. In those two years Black Star put out their album, Mos Def put out Black on Both Sides, the Roots dropped Things Fall Apart and Common put out Like Water For Chocolate. All amazing albums that had something to say. Can you imagine Young Dro or Cam'ron saying things like: "you stopping us is preposterous like an androgynous misogynist?" Or DMX coming up with Mathematics (or a different title for his albums for that matter)? The beats were banging, the flow tight, and the lyrics had meaning.
Block Party is a reunion of sorts of the 1998 generation, plus Mr. It, Kanye West, and a reminder of what hip hop could be if it wasn't so exploited by the big media companies. Fred Hampton Jr. takes the stage to plea for action on political prisoners. Dead Prez, clearly the most dangerous duo in the business rap about turning off the radio. Jill Scott and Erykah Badu bring down the house. There are more postive images of black women at the show than within 50 miles of a Nate Dogg or Eminem show. Chappelle's own comments throughout the show, combined with some searing commentary from ?uestlove and others is dead on and really dangerous, not "studio gangster" (to quote Huey Freeman of the Boondocks) dangerous.
I realize the fundamental inappropriateness of a white man to comment on how a predominantly African-American art form should be. But please, don't tell me that hip hop is not manipulated for its mainly white audience. Do we really need 7,000 crunkers degrading black women and reinforcing thug life stereotypes? Biggie was real. Tupac was real. They were legitimate expressions of what their lives were like, not prepackaged exploitation of a not-so-postive life. People like me and my co-workers have to deal with the consequences of media packaged stereotypes of black life everyday. Chappelle's Block Party is a reminder that it doesn't have to be that way, that hip hop can be a vehicle for making folks feel proud of being who they are and incite them to something else besides wear a platinum chain around their neck.
1. Check out Greg Muhttp://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=30107309&postID=115222576385474123tch's comments on my Mars Hill post. He adds some corrections and fills in some gaps.
2. Interesting article in the New York Times about Rob Bell (Wheaton Graduate, Mars Hill pastor) and his Everything is Spiritual Tour which touched down in Logan Square here in Chi-City. I was surprised by how much the article focused on political Christianity: gay marriage, abortion, etc. Some may see liberal, athestic bias. I hear Malcolm X saying: The chickens have come home to roost. If Christians want to be taken seriously as something other than anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage activists, then they should act that way. Mr. Bell is unfortunately swimming upstream
3. Sorry for the random Jose Reyes picture post. I'm still figuring things out. He's a good baseball player, though, right?
4. Went to Summerfest to see the GooGoo Dolls. Fantastic show, ridicously rainy. I had always heard that the boys from Buffalo had punk roots, but when I heard "Slide" I scoffed. But, no, seriously, they can really rock. Especially the scary bass player.
5. Viva Italia! How about that game? Is Cannavaro the Charles Oakely of international soccer or what? I've never imagined tough, physical defense and any Italian sport or branch of the armed forces being mentioned in the same breath. And how bizarre was it to see Jean-Luc Picard losing his cool?
6. Check out the fantastic post at Chichttp://chicagocarless.comago Carless. It's everything I've felt about NY and home, written plainly, excellently and to the point. I'm working on a continuation post of that.
7. And finally, tommorrow is the day when concious hip-hop may be relevant again. (and no, I don't count Kanye "Chicago's version of P-Diddy puff daddy" as concious. Chicago's own Rhymefest drops his debut album.
Peace to you all.
Friday, July 07, 2006
But I have just one (well multiple actually) beef with CTA buses. It's what I like to call the CTA layer cake. Say for example you're waiting for a bus at oh, Pulaski and Lake or Chicago and Keeler for a bus that's set to pass at 3:15. The CTA Layer cake is when instead of a bus passing at 3:15, 3:30 and 3:45, all three buses pass by at about 3:40.
I've often wondered what is the recipe for the layer cake. Is it drivers drag racing? Can't be traffic, because one bus is early and one is extremely late and the other just kinda late. Is it some sort of traffic management strategy?
All I know is that it's dandy. It becomes almost central american style bus riding as all three drivers are trying to pass one another, to pick up fares, to get back on schedule. All you need are some chickens and M-18 gang members robbing people to make it totally like riding the tomates in Guatemala.
So here's my plea to the CTA. We're an obese enough city. Cut out the cake.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
The church is a daughter church of another large, established church in Grand Rapids. It’s in a converted strip mall. The “sanctuary” is stripped of most Christian icons and the music was contemporary and rockin’. The church was originally founded for younger people (and older people who felt this way) to experience a totally different concept of church and worship. For seven years, it was mainly that: a stereotypical mega-church catering to the felt needs of the po-mo generation.
But this post is about optimism, right? Mars Hill is currently embarking on moving its 3,000 some attendees and members to project their faith in a holistic way out into the community of Grand Rapids. Two days before July 4th, the high holy day of civic religion and patriotism, the young, energetic preacher talked about the US-sponsored, directed, encouraged coup in Chile in 1973 that overthrew the democratically elected Salvador Allende and ushered in 20 years of brutal repression in the Southern Cone. Granted, he didn’t delve into specific details of US involvement (check out Christopher Hitchen’s The Trial of Henry Kissenger for some shocking revelations) but the point is is that this church chose, whether consciously or unconsciously (I’m guessing the first) to not wave the flags and sing God Bless America on July 2nd. Rather, they talked about the God of the oppressed. The preacher held up a sign that said “Donde” or where in Spanish, the sign that the mothers of the disappeared held up in Chile and Argentina during the 1980s and 1990s. He pointed the where at the church and at the people in attendance. “Where are the friends of God when injustice happens?”
Wow. I don’t know if I can fully express the revolutionary implications of what’s happening at Mars Hills. I confess that I’ve become highly burned out on evangelical culture: first from immature contrarianism in college and then, more deeply, from my experience in Guatemala. The sense of the evangelical church fiddling while the world burned was never so strong for me as it was in Guatemala. I kept coming back to passages in Isaiah where God expresses His hate for empty ritual devoid of concern for justice and the oppressed. I saw a movement co-opted by the messengers of hate and oppression and dominated by a cheap grace piety that had no relevance for the poor and downtrodden.
Even in the depths of my cynicism, there were inklings of hope that I should have, and sometimes did recognize. There exists and has existed (Mars Hill being the prime example) an undercurrent of dissatisfaction among younger evangelicals with the church. It was frustrating to see that dissatisfaction express itself mainly in worship styles and coffeeshops, which made me quite leery of the much touted “emerging church movement.” But huge numbers of my graduating class at Wheaton went on to charity, relief or missions work. That made me optimistic because as Howard Zinn so famously claimed, it’s hard to stay neutral on a moving train. Some decry the focus of evangelical groups on charity and their lack of sociological and political analysis. True. But I say, wait and watch and see.
True commitment to radical social change and the God of the oppressed comes through the fire of experience. I went to Guatemala a wishy washy liberal. I came back a committed pacifist and believer in the necessity of grassroots action for empowerment of the poor. While I do not claim that everyone involved in charity, relief, and poverty relief work will become an anarchist, people with good intentions, with open hearts and minds can not help but be changed when confronted with the reality of the world outside our enclaves of wealth and comfort.
So good lookin’ out to Mars Hill. We can only pray that the commitment to being a friend of the God of the oppressed will continue to grow in all of us who have chosen to be part of the task of building God’s Kingdom.