Tag Archives: obama

flesh-colored glasses

“If President Barack Obama wins, he will be the popular choice of Hispanics, African-Americans, single women and highly educated urban whites. That’s what the polling has consistently shown in the final days of the campaign. It looks more likely than not that he will lose independents, and it’s possible he will get a lower percentage of white voters than George W. Bush got of Hispanic voters in 2000.
A broad mandate this is not.”  
-from: politico news

It was in college that I first learned about the ‘scandal’ of Crayola crayons – something, prior to that, I associated with happy, innocent, playful childhood. I mean, crayons are like puppies, right? Who can not like crayons?

self-portrait, Seoul Korea
© 2012 erin dunigan

The incident was around a particular crayola in the box – the one with the name ‘flesh.’ I remember looking at the particular crayon in question and being confused. What was all the fuss about? Why the drama? What was wrong with the name? The crayon was called flesh, and when I looked at my own white skin, I could confirm that, though this particular color was a bit peachier than mine, more or less it looked basically the same.

That is, of course, the problem, isn’t it?

That my being born, through no act of my own obviously, into the dominant group of my particular country at this particular point in time, completely blinded me from being able to see the world through the eyes of someone not just like me, whose ‘flesh’ might happen to be a somewhat deeper hue than the color on that particular peachy crayon.

There are those, I’m sure, who would be quick to point out – it is just a crayon. Why are you getting so worked up about a crayon? What’s the big deal? Isn’t this a bit of an overreaction?

But, of course, as the article from today’s politico news points out – it is not just a crayon.

That one small crayon is a microcosm of a much larger, more pervasive, more pernicious and ugly secret that threatens the very fabric of this ‘great nation’ that we claim is based upon the equality of all people, that welcomes the tired, the poor, the weary, the… It is the fact that, when it comes to issues of race, as Slate Magazine recently put it,

The defining part of being white in America is the assumption that, as a white person, you are a regular, individual human being. Other demographic groups set themselves apart, to pursue their distinctive identities and interests and agendas. Whiteness, to white people, is the American default.

It is precisely that belief that can lead Politico’s Vandehei and Allen to claim in an article that President Barack Obama has support from “Hispanics, African Americans, single women and highly educated urban whites” and yet claim, as though it is plain to see, that there is no ‘mandate’ in that – thus, apparently insinuating that for there to be a ‘mandate’ it must also include, presumably, white men, married (white?) women, and white people of, apparently, ‘average’ education.

I am not saying that if you are voting for Mitt Romney that makes you a racist.

I’m not claiming that those voting for Obama are morally superior, somehow.

But what is troubling is the assumption that multiple people groups, in their entirety, do not ‘count’ simply because they are not the ‘dominant’ group. That some ‘Americans’ are more ‘American’ than others.

Only a few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to see a phenomenal musical called Allegiance. Set during WWII, it is the story of the Japanese Internment camps, as told through one Japanese American family from Salinas, California. As musical theater does so well, it is troubling, funny, insightful, educational and deeply disturbing all at the same time. It’s a must see.

After the musical was over, as I allowed myself to ponder it, what came to the surface was the only memory I have of learning about the Japanese Internment camps at home. The comment came from my father, now deceased.

I don’t remember what he said word for word, but it was basically that, as a teenager during WWII, his family had some Japanese (American) neighbors – and no one was ever sure whether or not they might have had a ham radio in the basement… Meaning, I realized, in its not so veiled reference, that the internment was a necessary precaution for the safety of ‘Americans.’ The fact that the US was also at war with Germany and Italy seemed to go unnoticed, somehow. Or, in the words of one character in Allegiance, as the Japanese Americans are being evicted from their homes forced to leave most everything behind: “What about Joe DiMaggio? He’s Italian…”

It is easy to point fingers when we see racism rear its ugly head in others – other groups than my own, other people than myself, other religions than the one I cling to – but it is less eager a pointing when the finger pointed is at one’s own self.

Recently I visited the Chinese embassy in Los Angeles to obtain a visa for a brief stopover I will have soon in Beijing. After finding a parking place, putting my belongings through the X-ray machine, and taking a number, I waited along with a roomful of others for my opportunity to present my paperwork and hope that my request would be granted.

A few days later, recounting the details to my mom as we sat together at her kitchen table, she asked, “Were they all Americans waiting there?” to which I, without thinking, replied, “No.”

As soon as the word was out of my mouth, I realized, and tried to take it back. But it was too late. Not that my mom cared – she didn’t realize what I had just revealed, with my answer, as she was not there at the embassy to know. I am not sure what she meant, asking if they were all Americans waiting at the embassy that day.

But I do know what I meant, when I answered. I meant that they were not all white.

Not all with blond hair and green eyes, like me. Granted, I assumed that the two black men in charge of security as we entered were Americans. But the waiting room itself? It was full of ‘Asian’ people – people whose citizenship, other than the man next to me whose US passport I saw, was completely unknown to me.

As I tried to recover from my revealing misstatement I began to think, logically, through the likelihood – of course they were, most likely, all American, or mostly. What else would they be doing at the Chinese embassy in Los Angeles?

But, unfortunately, the logic was not what was troubling. It was the gut level answer of no – the realization that, as much as I’ve done in my life to try to learn from those different from me, to listen, to examine my own privilege of growing up white in a society that still values whiteness as the ‘norm’ and anything else as an aberration, in a moment of candor I showed my flesh-colored bias for what it was – that answer of no left me reeling.

It’s easy to point the finger at others. It’s easy to see the fault in them. Our culture is full of name calling of all sorts.

What’s the most shocking, though, is when the name you call turns out to be your own.

feliz cinco de mayo

I happened upon this video of statements by President Obama and Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan in honor of Cinco de Mayo. I’ve heard from friends that the news has given the most play to  Obama’s awkward “Cuatro de Cinco” comment. It was definitely an ooops unscripted moment. However, what followed in the comments by both been was, I believe, a fantastic commentary on our two nations, what it means for us to be neighbors, and our shared culture and heritage. 

Day 25: Hemingway, Obama pizza, lost items, and the Sacre Coeur

Today was a full day of touring–and it’s after midnight, so we’ll see how coherent this post is!

Walking tour of Hemingway's Paris

Walking tour of Hemingway's Paris

We began the day with a walking tour of Hemingway’s Paris, in the Latin Quarter, where, in addition to seeing places Hemingway worked, drank and lived, we also heard a gruesome tale that was the basis of Sweeney Todd, which I didn’t realize was a true story…

Apparently there were these priests who really liked these meat pies from a particular vendor, who was good friends with a particular barber, who seemed to ‘lose’ his clients quite regularly. Well, even though the priests did not know that they were eating meat pies that were a bit too realistically the body and blood, they were excommunicated for having eaten human flesh.

Having no other income, they became beggars but one day a bishop came long their street, heard the story, and allowed them to open a market to earn a living. This street is still a market street today. Rather than take our chances, we decided on some delicious looking but definitely vegetarian pizza. 

The guy who gave us our pizza asked, “Where are you from?” When I said, America, California, his first response was, “What do you think about your president?” In every place I’ve been along my trip people have asked me that–one guy, a Frenchman sitting next to me on the plane from Bangkok to Cairo, even shook my had to congratulate me for helping to elect Obama. Well, when the pizza guy asked us, I said I was very glad, but admitted that my mom is less than enthusiastic. He proceeded to tell us his opinions on the subject, which I happened to agree with, but which were entirely unprompted. It’s fascinating how willing, and how eager people are to talk about subjects that might be shied away from at home. 

After our visit to the lost and found, we stopped for a rest at this cafe where the man next to me, 83 and with a heart transplant (at least that's what I think he said, in French) befriended us.

After our visit to the lost and found, we stopped for a rest at this cafe where the man next to me, 83 and with a heart transplant (at least that's what I think he said, in French) befriended us.

After the pizza and a nutella crepe for lunch, we headed to the Service des Objets Trouves, Paris’ lost and found. Apparently stuff actually does make its way there, as did we after a few metro transfers, only to find out that if my camera had been found on the bus, and turned in, it would take them a week to get it. Argh. I’m not overly optimistic that it will be found, but I figured I should at least check. So, looks like we’ll be back to the Service des Objets Trouves again on Wednesday before leaving town…

We finished off the day with a Rick Steve’s recommended bus tour, and dinner in Montmartre after an evening view of Paris and a walk through the Sacré-Cœur–a quick one, since we were hungry after so much walking, touring, and only a bit of pizza at lunch! 

The walk back to the metro from the Sacré-Cœur was thru the Pigalle area, including the Moulin Rouge as well as many establishments that my mom and I were not going to visit!

Day 7: man does not live by slogans alone?

Ironically, after making reference to Rush Limbaugh in yesterday’s reflections, I had a related conversation today.

I overheard one of the conference participants, a man from the US, talking about Obama and how terrible he has been for the United States. My dad used to be a big eavesdropper, and the joke was that once he almost fell out of his chair, he was leaning so far to overhear.

I couldn’t help but chime in, even though to do so would admit my own eavesdropping. I asked the man about his statement, and admitted that I actually have been quite supportive of Obama (in the interest of disclosure, I figured he should know why I was asking). 

His responses were fascinating to me. “He was the most liberal member of congress,” “he is making America into a socialist country,” “his campaign was deceptive” were a few of the reasons he gave.

It reminded me of a conversation I had during the primaries, with friends who supported Hillary Clinton. What struck me at that time, and again in this conversation, was that they seemed to be slogans that were simply repeated. These slogans were all things I had already heard in the media, both from those who were supporting Hilary Clinton, and those who were opposed.  There was no new content in them, and, for the most part, they were not explained or defined. They were just launched, like a grenade whose rhetorical impact could then be lobbed over to the ‘other side.’

I’m not claiming to be immune from this. I don’t mean to say it is only done by Republicans, or only done by Hilary Clinton supporters, or not done by me or people like me.

What fascinates me is that it seems to, thus, actually prevent any sort of real communication from happening.

The ‘meat’ of this conference is something called ‘manuscript study.’ I am in a group that is looking at the second half of the book of Mark. We take turns reading a passage to ourselves, discussing it at our tables in small groups, and then discussing it as a larger group. The question we are to keep before us, at all times, is ‘what did you see’ and then, ‘where did you see it?’

The point is to keep us rooted in the text. But even in these first few days I have seen how easy it is to ‘sloganize.’ In that sloganizing, I wonder, does it keep us from real communication? 

Day 6: perspectives

Sunday was our first full conference day. Our days are spent doing ‘manuscript study’ and our evenings are spent hearing stories from around the world as well as discussions around different issues of missiology. The people who are here come from many places around the world.

When I came four years ago it was one of the most interesting, richest, and fascinating weeks of my life. I’ve been trying to figure out why.

I think one piece is that I love meeting people from other places–people who are different from me, and have a different view of the world–and hearing their stories.

I talked with one man of Asian background (specific details are intentionally ommitted to protect privacy) who had lived in the US but a number of years ago moved back to his home country.

He asked me what I thought about Obama, then I asked him back. “Obama has given hope to minorities all over the world. They too might be president or prime minister someday in their own countries (Asian) where they now have little voice.”

I asked him about the economic downturn, and the perspective of people where he lives. “We hope that the policies of the US do not fail. If the US fails, we all fail.”

I wonder if Rush Limbaugh, and those who follow him–many of whom also follow Jesus–have considered that consequence?

What Now?

What Now?     It’s a question, that, over the past week, I haven’t been able to get out of my mind.

I had the incredible fortune on Tuesday of attending the inauguration of our 44th President in Washington DC.  Not only did I attend the inauguration, I had a ticket. Not only did I have a ticket, but I actually was able to make it, through security, to my seat. That’s right, not only did I have a ticket, but it was a ticket to a seat!

Being amongst some two million people extending from the Capitol Building toward the Lincoln Memorial was an awe inspiring and humbling experience. Have you ever heard the stillness of two million people as they draw in a collective breath of expectant anticipation? It was both eerie in its quiet, and at the same time, sacred.

Wednesday I had quite a long journey back to California, first driving four and a half hours from Washington DC to New York’s La Guardia airport, then a flight to Houston, and finally from Houston to Orange County where I arrived some 15 hours after the journey began.  And what kept going through my head was the thought, the question really, “What Now?”

Our text comes from the book of Jonah, the third chapter. But before we read it, I need to give you a bit of background.

Odds are, no matter who you are, you’ve heard about Jonah before.  You know, the guy who gets swallowed up by a large fish.  Jonah, son of Amittai, literally meaning “son of faithfulness,” which, it seems, is a bit of a pun that the narrator shares with us, right at the beginning of the story, because Jonah is not exactly the most faithful of prophets.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah and said “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before me.”

And Jonah, son of faithfulness, goes in the opposite direction…

Instead of going up to Nineveh Jonah goes down toward Joppa and buys a ticket on a ship sailing down to Tarshish to flee the presence of the Lord. The image of an ostrich with its head in the sand comes to mind…

Everything is going fine with Jonah’s plan, he’s even napping through a mighty storm that the Lord sent upon the sea, a storm so intense that the sailors have begun to throw cargo overboard.  The sailors cast lots and determine that Jonah is the cause of the storm.  Jonah confirms that yes, this is true, he is the cause, for he is fleeing from the Lord. Terrified, they ask what needs to be done to quiet the sea. “Throw me overboard,” says Jonah, which they end up doing, reluctantly, only to have the sea calmed instantly.  Now, instead of fearing the sea, the sailors feared the Lord, and were in awe.

Jonah, meanwhile, wound up in the belly of a large fish, where he stayed for three days until the Lord commanded it to literally vomit him up on dry land, which is where our texts picks up.  “Jonah, Go to Nineveh, take 2…”

Listen to the Word of God, found in Jonah, chapter 3:

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.

Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

The story of Jonah is one that has been the subject of much debate. Is it true? Did Jonah really exist, and if he did, did he really get swallowed up by a fish? Was it a whale? How in the world could someone live for three days in the belly of a fish? I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for you. But I do have a suggestion. The most shocking, unbelievable, and even scandalous part of this story has nothing to do with the fish.

Jonah, the reluctant prophet, utters what is in Hebrew five words. He says them once. From those five words an entire city, one of the most powerful and most notoriously vicious in the Biblical record, Nineveh, repented. Nineveh, within the Assyrian Empire, believed the word that Jonah spoke.  It was a five-word sermon and it inspired total conversion, not even the animals were left out. Everyone, great and small, fasted and put on sackcloth as a symbol of their repentance.

The estimate is that something in the range of 2 million people converged on the mall in Washington DC to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama.  Steven Spielberg is said to have looked out onto the flag-waving crowd on the mall, amazed, saying, “Look at all the people. They are real. They are not even computer generated!”

Many have been quoting the fact that in spite of the massive crowd and the difficulties in moving amongst so many people, there was not a single inauguration related arrest.  But the most shocking and unbelievable, and even scandalous part of this story has nothing to do with the law-abiding nature of the crowds.

People gathered from near and far. They were from all walks of life, rich and poor, white, black, brown and everything in between, Democrats, Republicans and Independents.   It was a coming together across those borders which normally keep us walled off from one another and isolated. People stopped to let others pass, said excuse me, and smiled. My friend Erica and I shared our honey-roasted peanuts with the man in front of us, who shared a bottle of water with us. We found out later that man was Bill Bradley, retired basketball player and US Senator who ran for president in 2000 and who happens to have also been a Sunday school teacher at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey.  There was a spirit of open friendliness amongst strangers, a spirit that seems to be so often absent in our world today.

If only the book of Jonah ended with chapter 3.  It really would make a great movie.  Sweeping vistas of repentant Nineveh—120,000 people, plus animals, is no small number back in Jonah’s time.  Even the king bowing down, in ashes, covered in sackcloth, humbled, and seeking to help the nation turn from its wicked ways.  A humble king? It seems almost absurd, doesn’t it?  Cue the epic song for the soundtrack, maybe something along the lines of Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, or the Lord of the Rings… slowly fade to black and roll the credits…it’s a great ending.

Except for the slightly inconvenient fact that the book of Jonah has a fourth chapter, a chapter that opens with the words, “But this all was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became furious, lost his temper, and yelled at God.” Why in the world would Jonah be angry? He was a success. In fact, he was much more successful than the big time prophets of old…Moses, for one. No other prophet in the history of the people of Israel had tried so little and yet accomplished so much as Jonah, son of faithfulness.

The name Jonah, most often is taken to mean ‘dove.’ But, it can also be translated as ‘complainer.’  Jonah the complainer lashes out at God: “You see?! This is why I did not want to leave home in the first place! I knew that you are a gracious God, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and ready to relent from punishing.” Weird, somehow I have always thought those were good things…

Why in the world would Jonah be angry with God for being gracious? Why would Jonah stand against God being merciful? The text does not say it in so many words, but we can only assume that Jonah did not want Nineveh to be saved.  Nineveh did not deserve to be saved. Nineveh, because of its wickedness, deserved to be punished. Nineveh deserved to pay for its evil ways. Nineveh did not deserve grace. And yet, there was Nineveh, repentant, listening to God, and obedient…better at listening to the word of God and more obedient, actually, than the prophet Jonah.

The question is, what now?  It is a question being asked of us as a nation, and of us as individuals. What now? The word repentance literally means a turning, to turn around. And we seem, at this particular point in time, to be in the midst of what can only be described as a sort of national turning, a turning toward service, a turning toward something larger than ourselves.  Have you seen it? Have you noticed?

•    Starbucks is offering a free tall coffee to those who would pledge to donate 5 hours of service to their community.

•    Oprah Winfrey on a recent show, promoted a campaign called “I pledge” which asks all Americans to make a pledge for how they will, in the words of Gandhi, be the change that we wish to see in the world.

•    A glance at the covers that line the magazine racks conveys this sense of opportunity and responsibility being presented to us as a nation.

The now President Barack Obama, in his campaign and since the election has repeatedly said that this turning must come from all of us, it is not something that can happen simply by coming from the top down.

So, I think it is appropriate for us as individuals, for us as a nation, but also for us as the church, people who are striving to follow Jesus, to ask ourselves, what now?

The Starbucks offer of a free cup of coffee for pledging 5 hours of community service ends today. Why not stop by after church and pledge your five hours? There are over 100 different opportunities available, just in the Placentia area. If you go to the Starbucks website you can see the list which includes everything from working with children, landscaping assistance, office support, or leading a Habitat for Humanity work crew. As of earlier this morning, over 1,240,640 hours had been pledged.

I am a part of the presbytery’s Odyssey Group. Eight of us have been meeting together for the past year to help discern what it means for us as churches within the Los Ranchos Presbytery, to be the church in our changing world.  The mission statement that we’ve been working on for the Presbytery begins like this…

The Mission of Los Ranchos Presbytery is

to further the Kingdom of God

by serving our congregations through

cultivating partnerships,

brokering resources, and

securing and nurturing effective missional leadership,

This is just one way that our presbytery is seeking to discern, how can we best further the Kingdom of God, through service? Just a plug, if you’re interested in this you can come to Refresh and Renew on February 7th at Trinity Presbytery Church to hear more.

MTV is hosting a campaign called “I pledge” asking every American to pledge what each of us will do. If you watch the video (you can search for it on google or on YouTube) the pledges are as simple as “I pledge to turn off the lights when I leave the room” to as complex and profound as “I pledge to help end human trafficking.” “I pledge to help end hunger by volunteering at a food back” and “I pledge to be a great mother, to be a great father.”

So, I think it is appropriate for us as individuals, for us as a nation, but also for us as the church, people who are striving to follow Jesus, to ask ourselves, what now?

For this message of service, of a calling beyond ourselves, to something more, this is not a new message for the church, is it?  Isn’t this the message that we have been based upon? Isn’t this the message that we have been called to proclaim from the beginning?  That we are all equal.

That we are all loved by God and called by God. That we gain something in the giving of ourselves, rather than the storing up for ourselves.

That God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love?

That no matter who we are, whether a disobedient prophet, repentant evil doers, a nation in crisis, or someone who is  cynical of what might seem to be an empty promise of change, conservative, liberal or apathetic, formerly enslaved or formerly the enslaver…that God’s grace is for us all, unmerited, undeserved, and unconditional.

We don’t know how things turned out for Jonah. Or for Nineveh, for that matter. The story doesn’t tell us. Instead of the epic ending we were left with at the close of chapter 3, at the end of chapter 4, the end of the book of Jonah we are left with a sort of disjointed  ambiguity.

Will Jonah be angry forever?

Will Nineveh’s repentance stick?

What’s next?

The text gives us no assurances.

The question we are left to ask ourselves, each other, our church and our nation is,

What Now?

inauguration, the video