January 7, 2023

Context is King: Why I stopped blogging

A lot of the articles I read about agile don't describe the context in which their advice applies. The authors don't take the time. Many authors aren't even aware of their context. They haven't seen enough different kinds of agile implementations to understand that their advice doesn't apply outside of their context.

Writing was easy for me when I worked for Leading Agile because we had a well documented and limited context. Grossly oversimplified, companies who wanted predictability in their software development efforts were attracted to our offering. We had one message, one services offering, and one target market.

Everything on our blog and everything on our website and every talk given at a conference adhered to this single context. That context was explained so much that it didn't have to be explained every time. Yet every blog post pointed back to that context in some way. It all dovetailed together.

Every aspect of agile, of teams, of org structure, of metrics, of forecasting, of planning, of funding, of portfolio management, of roadmapping, of prioritization, and on and on needed to be explained in terms of that context, so there was lots of fodder.

I stopped blogging when I left Leading Agile because of this need for the applicable context to be explained. When I left the firm I left the context. I've seen agile done many different (valid and effective) ways before my time at the firm and in many ways after. For which context should I write? How should I explain the applicability of my opinions? 

I don't run my agile programs now the way we did at Leading Agile. It's not because I didn't believe in that approach, didn't find value in it, or can't do it. In fact, I like that approach a great deal. But it doesn't apply to my context now. Predictability isn't my driver. 

This isn't anything new. People have been arguing over agile since the 90s, with much disagreement stemming from the unique and unstated context in the mind of each author and consultant.

What triggered me to write this was some things John Cutler wrote. "…the key to putting bets in motion is to tailor your working approach to the bet." How you develop the idea of the bet and how you implement the bet should vary based on the nature of the bet, the uncertainty of the opportunity, the uncertainty of the solution, urgency, size, allowance for failure, level of collaboration needed, and etc. There's no single agile prescription that's best for every kind of bet. John explains the anti-pattern of when companies "lack any sense that the things they are doing have different characteristics. They try to use a mono-process for everything." "Impact: picking less-than-optimal ways of working." And "Mono-process kills companies." 

Don't bother trying to do agile "right" and don't fret over other people's advice when it doesn't match your context.

May 12, 2021

What I got out of Woke Church

As Christians, we are to love other people in the same way that the Good Samaritan loved the injured stranger. We are to love other people like Christ loved us, to the point that he died for us. We are to minister to their needs and also share the Good News with them. This includes all peoples: Immigrants, Foreigners, Blacks, Aliens, the undocumented, and those who don't look or dress or talk like you. To be effective at this, we need to be aware. We need to be aware of what is going on in our city, in our country, and in our world. We need to have empathy. We need to show love. We need to be steadfast in our commitment to fulfill the Great Commandments. (p22.)

I believe all of those things are Fruit of the Spirit. That doesn't come naturally to a fallen human. The Spirit can bear such fruit in us if we allow it. And we should allow it. We should ask for it. Don't extinguish the Sprit, the Bible says.

To be blunt, the Holy Spirit allows certain Christians to see things in our society that other Christians do not. The Spirit allows some Christians to have empathy, understanding, and love for others that some Christians still lack. The Spirit helps some Christians understand gospel truths that other Christians are still blind to. 

In my last post I asked "if there is any group of people that believes they are mistreated, disadvantaged, shouldn't we as Christians endeavor to heal their hearts, their fears, and at least understand their point of view, their problems? To listen?" Blacks are saying that they are suffering. Why don't we Christians care enough to hear and understand? In Woke Church, Eric Mason claimed that "God's intent is for us to hurt with one another, to care about the suffering of one another." (p24.) The Church should be the group that society turns to when hurting. The Church should be leading reconciliation. (A recurring theme in the book, but particularly addressed in p107-108.)

Why do we have to keep talking about race? "The question is evidence of a level of disconnectedness that is either willful or based on a lack of knowledge. This is what apathy looks and sounds like." (p150.)

Has the gospel given you a new heart? Does the Holy Spirit compel you to actively "seek what is good and right for [your] fellow man" (p40)? If not, then something isn't as it should be.

"He expects us to be active in good works for His glory as a response and proof that we have been transformed. As Jesus stated to His disciples in John 15:8: 'My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples.'" (p47.) 

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35.)

And, we Christians are to be peacemakers. (p55.) Many of us need to consider whether our posts on social media make peace, or stir up strife and provoke. The underlying emotion behind so many posts seems to be not love but hate. (p134-135.)

Jesus said, "as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40)

The Review

I don't call what I wrote above a "summary" of Woke Church. Likewise, I didn't want to call this a book review. I don't think it is a fair or complete review. Now that I have read a few books on racism, I'm not noticing the stuff I already know. If I had read Woke Church a few books ago, I would have pointed out more great stuff. My notes here are just the things that stood out to me given where I am in my own personal journey. 

Nevertheless, I do have a few thoughts of a review nature. In Woke Church, the author makes great use of scripture, backing up his points in a Biblically sound way. I appreciate the amount of scripture used and the care with which it is used. 

I don't remember if the author gave any evidence about things like structures and systems that tend to disadvantage certain groups, or about things like privilege. If he did, he didn't give much. If you don't already believe that these things exist, I'm not sure that this book will open your eyes to that. Read one of the other books I've reviewed first. This book should convict you if you are lacking love, and should help you see the need to open your eyes.

Eric Mason addresses many other topics that a good Christian should be interested in, but I think his main point, or the main thing I got out of this book, is that we "must be clear on the issues of our day. We have to do our homework. In order to appropriately engage the issues, we must know them. There are many glaring issues that need a prophetic voice: classism, sexism, elitism, poverty, ignorance, wealth, greed, etc. … I'm not saying that we have to jump at every issue that comes up in the world. However, we should know when an issue reaches a boiling point. It is our job to be in the Word and to soberly assess the world around us." (p121 - 122.)  

The author dedicates a chapter to practical actions we can take. Many good suggestions.

I definitely recommend Woke Church to any Christian who has begun their journey of awakening, especially anyone who is any kind of leader.

May 5, 2021

what does the Lord require of you but to do justice

Today I'm thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan, how Christians are to love their neighbor, help the oppressed, to love one another.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? ~ Micah 6:8 (ESV)

To do justice.

To be kind.

If a Christian brother or sister is hurting, we should minister to them.

This applies to people groups as well as to individuals. 

All of us Christians are ministers now. Romans 15:14. The priesthood of all believers. 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ~ 1 Peter 2:9

I'm thinking about Ezekiel 34. In the 1st half of the chapter the LORD is lambasting the priests, leadership, ministers and wealthy for not caring for the sheep, for abusing them. Stop and re-read that with the thought that you and I, us Christians, are ministers, priests. Ask how this passage might apply to us today.

We clothe ourselves, but do not help the weak or injured, or seek the lost, but treat others with force and harshness. I don't mean that we have not helped others at all. Many will counter this thought will all the good things they have done. All the good their church has done. But we, us WASPs, have we done all we should? Is there anyone neglected? Anyone mistreated? Any poor? Any that have trouble getting education? You may think not. Or you may think about you paying your fair share of taxes and about certain legalities, or illegalities. But if there is any group of people that believes they are mistreated, disadvantaged, shouldn't we as Christians endeavor to heal their hearts, their fears, and at least understand their point of view, their problems? To listen?

Around verse 10-11 the LORD says He will withhold blessings from those ministers (us Christians) and He will care for his sheep, all of his sheep, and in particular, those sheep who were neglected. 

17 “‘As for you, my sheep, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look, I am about to judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must trample the rest of your pastures with your feet? When you drink clean water, must you muddy the rest of the water by trampling it with your feet? 19 As for my sheep, they must eat what you trampled with your feet and drink what you have muddied with your feet!

20 “‘Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: Look, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with your side and your shoulder, and thrust your horns at all the weak sheep until you scatter them abroad, 22 I will save my sheep; they will no longer be prey. I will judge between one sheep and another.

23 “‘I will set one shepherd over them, and he will feed them—namely, my servant David. He will feed them and will be their shepherd. 24 I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken!
    ~ Ezekiel 34 (NET)

Without being particular, in my lifetime, much damage has been done against certain people groups. I can't read that without thinking of groups that have been trampled in my lifetime. "We" muddied the waters. Those groups that some of us would like to scatter, don't want to deal with, don't want around here using our government benefits and consuming our tax dollars.

Here I quote from Matthew Henry's commentary on this passage:

Conviction spoken to those of the flock that were fat and strong, the rams and the he-goats (v. 17), those that, though they had not power, as shepherds and rulers, to oppress with, yet, being rich and wealthy, made use of the opportunity which this gave them to bear hard upon their poor neighbours. Those that have much would have more, and, if they set to it, will have more, so many ways have they of encroaching upon their poor neighbours, and forcing from them the one ewe-lamb, 2 Sa. 12:4. Do not the rich oppress the poor merely with the help of their riches, and draw them before the judgment-seats? Jam. 2:6. Poor servants and tenants are hardly used by their rich lords and masters. The rams and the he-goats not only kept all the good pasture to themselves, ate the fat and drank the sweet, but they would not let the poor of the flock have any comfortable enjoyment of the little that was left them; they trod down the residue of the pastures and fouled the residue of the waters, so that the flock was obliged to eat that which they had trodden into the dirt, and drink that which they had muddied, v. 18, 19. This intimates that the great men not only by extortion and oppression made and kept their neighbours poor, and scarcely left them enough to subsist on, but were so vexatious to them that what little coarse fare they had was embittered to them. And this seemed a small thing to them; they thought there was no harm in it, as if it were the privilege of their quality to be injurious to all their neighbours. Note, Many that live in pomp and at ease themselves care not what straits those about them are reduced to, so they may but have every thing to their mind. Those that are at ease, and the proud, grudge that any body should live by them with any comfort. But this as not all; they not only robbed the poor, to make them poorer, but were troublesome to the sick and weak of the flock (v. 21): ...

they did what they could to rid the country of, and so scattered them abroad, as if the poor, whom, Christ says, we must have always with us, were public nuisances, not to be relieved, but sent far away from us. Note, It is a barbarous thing to add affliction to the afflicted. Perhaps these rams and he-goats are designed to represent the scribes and Pharisees, for they are such troublers of the church as Christ himself must come to deliver it from, v. 23. 

I was once and even recently very callous to the plight of other groups. I was ignorant and cared not to listen. I repent of my old opinions.

April 6, 2021

Reading While Black -- a book review

"Are those who disdain the church correct that the Bible isn't up to the challenge of speaking to the issues of the day? Put simply, is the Bible a friend or foe in the Black quest for justice?" Esau McCaulley, p 73.

In Reading While Black, Esau McCaulley takes a look at well-known but overlooked, underinterpreted, and misinterpreted passages. This book opened my eyes to a wealth of scripture with depth of meaning that I had been missing. Esau explains how Blacks in America do and should interpret scripture. But Whites should interpret the same way, so this is an important book for pigment challenged people to read. 

I LOVE this book! It explains and stresses the importance of "naming and protesting evil, expressing anger, and pursuing freedom and justice, but also promoting reconciliation, practicing forgiveness, and living in hope -- all aspects of proclaiming the gospel of God revealed in Jesus", as it's put in one of the reviews in the front of the book. All things that I longed to understand, expressed in a very accessible way: It's written to the Black Christian in a way that I, a White Christian, never felt offended or attacked. 

Esau walks the reader through his own struggle with common (Caucasian-European-American) Biblical interpretation, especially in light of the injustices done to Black folk over the centuries by supposed Christians. Esau observes that there is a good connection between Evangelical belief and the Black church (p 9):

• Emphasis on Scripture and the Bible as the ultimate authority.

• The belief that all people need to be born-again, the Gospel of Christ. 

• The importance of Discipleship, the lifelong process of becoming more like Christ.

"God is fundamentally a liberator." (p 17.) Through and through you can see that He liberates His people, whoever His people are. Notice all the times God liberated the Jews. Notice how Jesus liberated believers from their sins. Notice the passages on setting captives free. Notice the apostles freed from prison. Notice those freed from illness, possession, and even death. We should emphasize "God as the liberator and humankind as one family united under the rule of Christ" (p 19). "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28 ESV)

Esau addresses the fact that White Americans, in their culture, hear different messages from scripture than do Black Americans, Asian Americans, and etc. He makes the point this isn't necessarily bad unless each group keeps that message to themselves. "but if we all read the biblical text assuming that God is able to speak a coherent word to us through it, then we can discuss the meanings our varied cultures have a gleaned from the Scriptures. What I have in mind then is a unified mission in which our varied cultures turn the text in dialogue with one another to discern the mind of Christ." (p 23.) I like that. We need each other to more clearly understand the truth, and enjoy the richness of the message. "The job of the scholar is to probe and press and challenge simplistic readings. It is also important to challenge simplistic readings using our own experiences that might provide insights that others who do not share those experiences might have missed." (p. 181)

An "ah-ha!" moment I had reading chapter 2 is that Romans 13 is about submission to the laws, to the state. It doesn't say what to do with corrupt or evil or mistaken or errant individual officers or officials. Submit to the office, not the wicked office holder. The authority is the governing institution, not the individual. In fact, implied in the passage is an expectation for the good behavior of the individuals in the government. I.E., don't be a terror to good works. See Luke 3 for examples pointed to tax collectors and police ("soldiers"). 

Biblical evidence does show that we are to resist evil and immorality. (Good examples are given in chapters 2 and 3.) We Christians are indeed to work for positive change. We are to strive for peace, even if to achieve it requires some unrest. But it's a fallen world and we will suffer the consequences of challenging the systems or the individuals. That doesn't mean don't challenge. We have an inability to discern God's timing and God's means of righting wrongs. The author picks up this point again in chapter 3: "this does not mean that a Christian cannot protest injustice, it means that we cannot claim God's justification for violent revolution. Submission and acquiescence are two different things."

Pointedly, "Paul says that the government should not be a source of fear for the innocent. This problem of innocent fearfulness continues to plague encounters between Black persons and law enforcement." (p 35.) As Christians, white or black, we should work towards a country where Black citizens do not fear interactions with our police. They should not have to live in fear, though they still do. Nevertheless, "the Roman Christian's interaction with the power of the state bears some striking similarities to the potential encounters African Americans might have with the police in our day." (p 38.)

A lasting problem is that the laws we have today were written over more than just decades, but over centuries during a time in which Black disenfranchisement was a common and accepted practice. Many of those laws are still on the books and many of them still tend to disenfranchise Blacks. Esau calls this institutional corporate sin. (p 39.) Christians should endeavor to ensure that the laws reflect Christian values. We should shape public opinion and hold elected officials accountable for the just treatment of all. As stated above, we need insight from multiple Christian cultures to identify bad laws and proper solutions -- we Whites can't discern that on our own.

Chapter 3 reminds us of numerous passages in which Israel is criticized for its injustice and oppression of the poor. All the prophets and Jesus and the apostles spoke truth to power.

There are 2 interpretations of scripture made in this book that I disagree with, but I don't disagree with the author's ultimate point, so my disagreements are perhaps immaterial. First, on page 61, the author suggests that Galatians 3 is about more than spiritual enslavement. I don't see it. (But again, I refer to the point above about needing each other to understand the truth.) Galatians 1 thru 3 is about the Law and the circumcision party, Jews vs Greeks. I don't think Paul was calling for the equal political or social treatment of women, slaves, Greeks, and non-citizens. But I concur with Esau's point, which he goes on to back up with passages from Colossians. 

Secondly, on pages 65-66, Esau changes the word 'righteousness' in Matthew 5 to 'justice'. He acknowledges that he is giving his own translation, but of all the translations I use, only the NLT uses the word Justice. Look at the rest of Matthew 5 -- righteousness is meant throughout that passage, not justice. 

"Justice is making things right that are unfair in society; righteousness is doing right by people, especially the vulnerable. Justice is more about legal and systemic problems; righteousness is more about good deeds, acts of generosity toward those in need." https://www.blockislandtimes.com/affiliate-post/let-justice-and-righteousness-flow-making-things-right-and-doing-right/45390

Sure, the terms are close. Amos 5:24 and Psalm 103:6 and over three dozen other places use both of those terms together, and synonyms and parallelism are often used in Hebrew poetry to reinforce a single point. (Right?) But changing one term to the other in a chapter that only uses one of those terms consistently, and that is not Hebrew poetry, seems wrong. Nevertheless, I agree with Esau's ultimate conclusion, which he backs up with other Scripture. 

Chapter 5 is a fun read. In it, Esau destroys the lie that the Europeans and slavery brought the Gospel to the Africans. Christianity was known by black and brown people at the very beginning of Christianity. It also persisted there through history. In fact, Joseph's sons born in Egypt, Ephraim and Manasseh, were multi-ethnic, namely, African and Hebrew. There are no biologically "pure" Hebrews. They too were a mixed "race". And in Exodus 12:38, a "mixed crowd" went up with them, meaning non-Israelites. Esau shows us over and over how God intends to bless all nations; all people groups. There are many many examples in this chapter that I had NEVER noticed before. Esau goes on to explain that the promotion of "colorblindness" is sub-biblical. Colors and ethnicities will exist in eternity! What a fantastic book!

Chapter six covers the rage of the Black American and rage in the Bible. Cry out to God about injustice. Cry out for vengeance. "Sometimes we need to lament injustice and call for God to right wrongs." (p 127.) Yet, there is also forgiveness, but "excepting abuse is inappropriate for Christians. … it is appropriate for those suffering unjustly to forgive their enemies from a distance if necessary. We do not have to stay. …  the New Testament also calls on believers to help those who are suffering. … James does not say, 'Tell the orphans and the widows to put up with suffering.' He says to the Christian, 'Help them!'" (p 133.) Christians should not allow suffering to continue when we have the resources to do something about it. I got a lot out of this chapter.

I got a lot out of this book. What I appreciated the most is that the author dug into numerous passages. It wasn't a light treatment of Scripture. When logic was called for, he used it with a sound theological underpinning and correct Biblical exegesis. The Bonus Track at the end of the book puts forward his thoughts on correct Biblical interpretation. 

Skipping ahead to the conclusion of the book, the author states that he didn't set out to exhaustively and conclusively answer questions of import today to Black Christians. Rather, his aim was to answer whether the Bible is reliable and useful to Black Christians. Returning to the question presented at the top: "Are those who disdain the church correct that the Bible isn't up to the challenge of speaking to the issues of the day? Put simply, is the Bible a friend or foe in the black quest for justice?"  He answers "that the very process of engaging these Scriptures and expecting an answer is an exercise in hope. It is an act of faith that has carried Black people through unimaginable despair toward a brighter future. The Bible has been a source of comfort, but it has also been more. It has inspired action to transform circumstances. It has liberated Black bodies and souls." (p 166.) In his book, Esau McCaulley answers through an examination of the Scriptures that Black Christians definitely have reason to hope! The One True God is the God of Liberation. He is the God of Justice.

February 7, 2021

White Awake - a book review

Subtitled "an honest look at what it means to be white", White Awake by Daniel Hill is indeed a pretty good look at what it feels like to be a white Christian in America going through a cultural or racial awakening. It's written to that white Christian to help them understand and process these new feelings.

This is not a hard-hitting book. I found it much more gentle than the other books on this topic that I've reviewed previously

White Awake has a similar approach as White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo. They both instruct the white person who is just beginning a racial awakening about the feelings they are about to experience, and how to navigate those. Indeed, White Awake often quotes White Fragility.  

Whites who haven't had some initial shock, revelation, eye-opening, or disorienting experience just might not get much out of White Awake. I don't think you need to read White Fragility first, but reading that or How to be An Antiracist or Dispossession or something more hard-hitting first would be helpful for many whites. 

Would this make a good Bible study? In the back of the book are a set of discussion questions for each chapter. Those certainly would be helpful for conversation starters, but there's really not a lot of scripture in this book. It's written to discuss what white Christians will be going through as they have their awakening, and it will help them as a guide through that journey. The book includes examples from scripture to illustrate many points. The author takes a culturally-aware biblical worldview throughout. I suppose you could say that the author uses scripture as the foundation for everything he has to say. But it's just not a Bible study, and that's okay. Maybe you don't need a lot of scripture to back up a very simple truth. We all need to read the Bible, but we need to read lots of other stuff as well.

There are good, sound theological points made in the book, and a significant one is in chapter 6. That one goes like this: Scripture is full of good advice, but if whites are blind to the plight of the black American, they'll probably also miss the point made in much of scripture, or at least underemphasize actions they should be taking, and overemphasize other stuff. 

Don't let this ho-hum overview turn you off. I did get value out of reading this book. For example, I spotted my own behavior as "the annoying, self-righteous white guy [who had] finally seen the light,  and [was] determined to make everyone around me see it." (pg 11.) Daniel explains that this is bound to happen, but that we should strive to avoid it by being self-aware. Something I've heard in some of the books I've read, including this one, is a warning about coming across as a paternalistic rich white guy, coming to save the poor brown people (pg 15). I need to hear that over and over.

One point in this book not in any of the others is this: given the racial history in most of America, very few black people will attend a church with a white pastor, so there is no point in making integration the #1 goal or 1st step (p16). We enlightened whites immediately want to go into action, but that action is almost always misguided (p19, 105-106). Rather, our vision is likely still blurry. Let's just focus on making sure we can see (p21, 153-155, 162-165). Keep doing that. Never stop. Not only are do we whites not have the right answers, but we also don't even know how to ask the right questions yet, generally speaking of course (p23). 

There are some really great stories in White Awake. There were at least two that really woke me up. They were about how whites respond to blacks when their racial hackles are raised, and I could see myself giving the wrong kind of response.

Chapter 3 gives a great explanation of why trying to be "color-blind", or color neutral, seeing everyone in the same way, is a very bad strategy, and un-biblical. 

The author's recommendation for us whites is to engage in self-reflection and expose ourselves to perspectives outside our comfort level (p45). Among other recommendations is to get close to suffering (p165-172) and put yourself under the leadership of people of color (p172-173).

There were a couple things in this book I didn't agree with, but they are of no consequence. The author pretty much goes on to say that even if you disagree with that point, it's just one example of many and you can't deny the preponderance of the evidence.

In one place (p61) the author states that "assigning value to human beings… is a sin of the highest order." I don't know what he means by "highest order". Aren't all sins (except denying Christ) the same in God's eyes? The sin of the highest order is denying Christ. Perhaps this was a slip. The author, apparently protestant with a Pentecostal upbringing (p134), seems to have quite a bit of Catholic influence, so that remark gave me pause. I didn't notice any other issues with his theology, and even that one isn't a big deal. 

1. Does the author handle scripture accurately? Yes

2. Does their teaching lead to a greater understanding of reconciliation, unity, and witness in the church? Yes

3. Does it spark greater love for Christ and others in me? Yes

4. Is it consistent with the gospel by pointing to Christ? Yes

5. Does a study or discussion guide accompany the book? Yes

In conclusion, I recommend White Awake to white Christians everywhere but note that White Awake would make a better book study than Bible study.

December 27, 2020

Red Dirt, Blue Blood -- Book Review

Red Dirt, Blue Blood, The Story of the Nances of Lower Alabama (Rahkia Nance, 2020) is exactly that, a human-interest story of a family, descended from slaves, who at one time settled in the area that is now Fort Rucker, and surrounding counties. In this book are many interesting stories of young mayors, philanthropists, teachers, farmers, soldiers, and mill and factory workers. 

This book isn't about racism, and there are very few mentions of racism in the book. This book was interesting to me since my family came from a near-by part of the state, and because some of the Nance's have stuff named after them in my hometown of Union Springs.

Red Dirt is a quick read, only containing about 60 pages of text and another 50 pages of interesting photos. Unfortunately, some of the photos aren't clear.

In many ways, Red Dirt, Blue Blood is much like Poppa Didn't Play That, by Mildred Burrell (2020).

Poppa Didn't Play That is a quick and delightful read. There are only a few mentions of racism and discrimination in this book. The book isn't about that. This book is about one particular family. It's about their family life. It's a human-interest story. I was glad to read this after reading Dispossession; I needed something lighter.

December 24, 2020

White Guilt - book synopsis

White Guilt, by Shelby Steel, puts forth quite a Conservative point of view on racism, moral relativism, welfare, civil rights, affirmative action, individual responsibility, the new white liberal, and what we should do about those. These messages resonated with me. I suspect they would not resonate at all with a Liberal. I didn't fact check anything in White Guilt, and I can't say how much of the text is opinion versus factual. In fact, there aren't a lot of facts, at all, in this book. This isn't to say that it is nonfactual, just that it's subjective, opinionated. It uses logical arguments. It isn't backed up by facts and figures and science, but it is about social issues and psychology, so there is no science or numbers to back up this nor a contrary point of view. But to be fair, the same can be said by all the other books in my prior post, with the exception of Dispossession.

The Vacuum of Moral Authority

Shelby does not defend or excuse white supremacy. In fact, he says that it has undermined the moral authority (legitimacy) of America and its institutions. "Segregation was... an institutionalized infidelity to democratic principles." 

White guilt, then, come out of "...the vacuum of moral authority that comes from simply knowing that one's race is associated with racism. Whites (and American institutions) must acknowledge historical racism to show themselves redeemed of it, but once they acknowledge it, they lose moral authority over everything having to do with race, equality, social justice, poverty, and so on. ...  The authority they lose transfers to the 'victims' of historical racism and becomes their great power in society. This is why white guilt is quite literally the same thing as black power." 

To take that a bit further, "[w]hites know on some level that they are stigmatized by their skin color alone, that the black people they meet may suspect them of being racist simply because they are white." Whites have this fear of being called a racist, and so take actions so as to be seen as not racist. "...racism was also evidence of white wrongdoing and, therefore, evidence of white obligation to blacks. King had argued that whites were obligated to morality and democratic principles. But white guilt meant they were obligated to black people because they needed the moral authority only black people could bestow."

Riots Out of Proportion

Thankfully, this shift in attitudes away from racism brought on beneficial civil rights advancements, and some helpful policies and programs. But it also drove most remaining overt racism underground and made it harder to sustain black power and civil rights momentum. Therefore, the focus shifted to "systemic", "structural", and "institutional" racism. 

Such makes "every racist event the tip of an iceberg so that redress will be to the measure of the iceberg rather than to the measure of its tip." "...the smallest racial incident proved the 'global truth' of systemic racism. This is why one black man being beaten by police in Los Angeles could trigger a massive riot in which some 60 people were killed. ... A riot to the scale of systemic racism rather than to the scale of the [single] racist event." [According to Wikipedia, "63 deaths, 2,383 injuries, more than 7,000 fires, damage to 3,100 businesses, and nearly $1 billion in financial losses", and that's just in LA.] We now have a "riot paradigm in which the scale of the violence was always far out of proportion to the triggering event, usually [an] ... instance of police brutality." Some part of white America now sees them "as authentic expressions of black rage and would respond to them with understanding rather than disregard and withering suppression."

Shelby says these riots are a manipulation of white guilt, evidenced by the fact that whites are rarely the targets. The damage was always to fellow blacks and within black neighborhoods. 

Blacks as Victims

Shelby gives multiple chapters to make a point that this all makes blacks perpetually victims, doesn't encourage personal responsibility, and encourages support of black identity (group identity) as being more important than individual identity. Black leaders say they can't uplift themselves, that they have no power, thus feeding white guilt. Making others responsible for its advancement ultimately harms blacks, keeping "black America underdeveloped".

This is where Shelby turns on white liberals and "corrupt black leadership". "Thus we got remedies pitched at injustices rather than at black academic excellence -- school busing, black role models as teachers, black history courses, "diverse" reading lists, "Ebonics," multiculturalism, culturally "inclusive" classes, standard tests corrected for racial bias, and so on. All this but no demand for parental responsibility, for hard to work on reading, writing, and arithmetic." Asking a black child to study harder is interpreted as racism.

Liberal Grasp for Moral Authority

Then, "poverty came to be seen as a condition unrelated to the dysfunctions of those who suffer it, and always treatable by the 'interventions' of government and other institutions." This gives the liberal party the moral authority and legitimacy it seeks. This "brings real power to whites to embrace it. ... This has been the essential power of the political left in America since the 60s -- this promise to restore legitimacy by taking responsibility for inequality and poverty..."   Their "social morality is nothing more than dissociation." 

Throughout his book, Shelby gives a few logical arguments to the absurdity of some policies and programs that have come from this situation. For example, in chapter 19 Shelby gives an argument to how Justice O'Connor in the Michigan affirmative action case, because of white guilt, "applies a remedy to something that is not a problem -- diversity. ... So O'Connor is saying that it is perfectly constitutional to have a remedy that remediates nothing, a race-based remedy that does not remediate racial discrimination; and that this is so even when that remedy is literally executed through programmatic racial discrimination."  "Worse, implied in her decision is a view of blacks as inferiors who simply cannot compete without 25 more years of white paternalism." Chapter 22 gives an interesting treatment about Justice Clarence Thomas' dissenting opinion on the case.

It is as if it doesn't matter what policies or programs are put in place, as long as they are seen as an effort to make amends for past wrongs, and to not hold "victims" of historical racism accountable for their own uplifting. 

"Institutions are not interested in the reasons for minority non-competitiveness; they are interested only in the fact that this persistent weakness means they must use preferences ..." Institutions only have to appear to dissociate from America's racist past, not actually do anything meaningful about it. Minority recruitment and lower standards for minorities don't solve the real problem.

It's theatre. "... hoping that money thrown at blameless poverty would win moral authority."

Liberal White Supremacy

"This points to the sad irony at the core of black-white relations in America. The price blacks pay for the mere illusion of recompense for past injustice always requires them ... to be merchandised to whites as inferiors in victims."

"...the great internal contradiction of white liberalism: that its paternalism, its focus on whites rather than on blacks as the agents of change, allows white supremacy to slip in the back door and once again to find a fundamental relationship between whites and blacks. So the very structure of the liberal faith – that whites and "society" must facilitate black uplift – locks white liberals into an unexamined white supremacy."

This Liberalism is all about dissociation and is inherently elitist. Such a person asserts they are better than any Conservative "because he is conspicuously dissociated from the litany of American sins." Worthy of moral authority. 

Black Responsibility

Throughout the book, Shelby repeats his point of view that blacks need to take more "responsibility for themselves and their children." "A 70% illegitimacy rate among all blacks ... pretty much makes the point that there is a responsibility problem. To know this, as all blacks do, and to have to pretend that it is not strictly true or that certain "systemic" forces are more responsible than blacks themselves is knowingly to lie to oneself."


I don't claim that this synopsis is free from bias. On the contrary, there is surely bias in how I arranged the points, in what text I selected to include, and in what I chose to exclude. Nevertheless, I tried to be fair to Shelby's thesis, to not misrepresent.

In a December 2020 discussion on Facebook, Curtis Stuehrenberg said "Shelby Steele has made himself famous and wealthy being one of the Black men who tell White people they aren’t racist." Shelby does indeed state that "Unreconstructed whites in America are not so unreconstructed anymore. Racism and imperial ambition no longer characterize the attitudes of most Americans." 

However, Shelby's book isn't written to tell white people they aren't racist. In fact, Shelby does indeed give examples of ongoing white racism. He acknowledges that it still exists. He also lambasts the white liberal as the new racist. But, it seems to me, his point isn't to let whites off the hook. His point is to get blacks to accept responsibility.

As I stated in my prior post, I have been intentionally seeking out voices I previously wouldn't have listened to, and reading stuff I normally wouldn't have read. This isn't something I normally would have read, but I'm glad that I did. I don't see the core message of White Guilt at being at odds with the core messages of those other books. It's "yes and". Yes there is systemic racism and whites should take responsibility for eliminating racists policies. Yes individual responsibility is important. Every family and individual should take responsibility for their own education, health, morality, civic duty, and contribution to society. Yes, everyone has some racist thoughts or actions, in various ways, at various times. We are all brought up in this system that none of us created. Whites do not have a monopoly on racism. Let's learn how to not be defensive, but to have positive conversations on how to move forward.

December 3, 2020

Dispossession, White Fragility, Antiracism: Book Reviews

I am ignorant of a great many things. The interests and concerns of minorities in America are among them. I've spent my whole life, thus far, in a largely white male environment. Interactions with the few black friends in high school, college, at church, and at work were always civil, professional, and superficial. No one ever talked of the black struggle. Most people don't bring those things up in "polite company". Like religion and politics, such topics aren't always well received. That's too bad.

Anyway, over the last couple of years I have been intentionally seeking out voices I previously wouldn't have listened to, and reading stuff I normally wouldn't have read. I've begun researching, learning, and employing critical thinking and introspection over all that. I'm on a journey to understand racism and racist policies, how they are seen by and affect those impacted, how to not perpetuate it, and how to eliminate it. I invite you to join me on a similar journey of your own.

I recommend "Black in 2020", a webinar series from Duke University's Black Alumni Association, which you can find on youtube. It's an excellent series. I've also started watching movies and documentaries on this theme. Unfortunately, I didn't keep track of all that I've watched or my thoughts on them. 

I did make notes on some of the books I've read. Here are some of those notes. I highly recommend all of these books.

Dispossession: Discrimination against African American farmers in the age of civil rights. Pete Daniel. 2013.

Dispossession is a weighty tome, full of evidence of discrimination on the part of our own government, particularly the USDA, Farmers Home Administration (FmHA), and Farm Service Agency. I had no idea. Sure, I knew discrimination was all around, but I had no idea the extent to which it infiltrated our government or how it persisted into the 2000s. This book is backed up by evidence. It's almost nothing but documented case after documented case. 

It would have helped me to understand the cases better if I had first read a short history on those agencies, when they came into being, and what their purposes were supposed to be.

I originally named this blog post after this book because it was so impactful to me. Then I read some other books that were equally impactful.

Poppa Didn't Play That. Mildred Burrell. 2020.

Poppa Didn't Play That is a quick and delightful read. There are only a few mentions of racism and discrimination in this book. The book isn't about that. This book is about one particular family. It's about their family life. It's a human-interest story. I was glad to read this after reading Dispossession; I needed something lighter.

Black Farmers in America. Ficara & Williams. 2006.

Black Farmers is mostly a book of photographs of black farmers. I've enjoyed studying the photos, the people, what I can see on their faces and in the background. There is one long well-written essay included in the book that's well worth reading. 

White Fragility. Robin Diangelo. 2018.

Diangelo supports "the fashionable argument that blacks cannot be racist because they lack power". More on that when I discuss Antiracist below. Diangelo says that people of color may "hold prejudices and discriminate... but they lack the ... power that transforms that prejudice and discrimination into racism." (pg 22.) Therefore, she says, that only whites can be racist. I don't take offense at that. Most authors do well to carefully define their terms, and it helps to frame the topic.

Diangelo's point seems to be that White people don't need to get bent out of shape by discussions of race and racism. She says if "I understand racism as a system into which I was socialized, I can receive feedback on my problematic racial patterns as a helpful way to support my learning and growth." (pg 4.) "All humans have prejudice; we cannot avoid it." The problem is that we are taught that prejudice is bad and that only bad people are racist, that it's binary, either one is a racist or they are not. (ch 5.) We want to think of ourselves as good, moral people. Therefore, we won't admit to having prejudice, or any racist opinions or thoughts. Therefore, we shut down our self-awareness, don't reflect, and therefore can't entertain any thoughts of change -- we can't see or remove any bias or prejudice we have. "[A] simplistic definition of racism -- as intentional acts of racial discrimination committed by immoral individuals -- engenders a confidence that we are not part of the problem and that our learning is thus complete."

Diangelo then defines discrimination as action based on prejudice. She says that turns into racism when backed up by social or institutional power. "Racism is a structure; not an event." Racism goes beyond individuals and individual actions. "Racism is a system." "Ideology is reinforced across society..." (pg 20-21.) "Constantly reinforced."

"A racism-free upbringing is not possible, because racism is a social system embedded in the culture and its institutions. We are born into this system and have no say in whether we will be affected by it."  (pg 83.) So, don't feel guilty about the existence of this system. But do accept responsibility for our role in it. (pg 149.)

Diangelo doesn't try to solve the problem of systemic racism. She does try to get white people involved, to get us to see it, to learn how to think about it and talk about it, and how to not think and talk about it. This book has given me a great deal of appreciation for what black people go through daily. (I say that realizing that this book is written by a white person.) I would have gotten much less out of this next book, Antiracist, if I hadn't read White Fragility first.

How to be an Antiracist. Ibam X. Kendi. 2019.

Kendi takes "a refreshingly strong stand against anti-white racism in the book, rejecting the fashionable argument that blacks cannot be racist because they lack power", a quote from Coleman Hughes taken from the Wikipedia article on Kendi. I couldn't have said it better myself, other than to add that he takes on all kinds of racism beyond just black/white/color/ethnicity. In his book, Kendi walks us through his own journey of racism toward anti-racism.

Kendi defines antiracist as "one who is expressing the idea that racial groups are equals and none needs developing, and is supporting policy that reduces racial inequity." Antiracist ideas are better than segregation, integration, and assimilation.

But Kendi's main point seems to be that it's best to focus on racist policies because racist policies are the cause of societal problems. Policies create the culture. Racist policies support and perpetuate racism. Change the policies and you'll change the culture. Our upbringing here in the culture in the US makes us racist, all of us, regardless of gender or color. Kendi defines racist as "someone who is supporting racist policies or expressing racist ideas". We all do that in various ways at various times. We don't need to get defensive. Rather, let's admit it, confess it, acknowledge the source, and struggle to support antiracist ideas. "...racial inequity is a problem of bad policy, not bad people."

I had the most trouble with Kendi's chapters on gender-racism and queer-racism. "To truly be antiracist is to be feminist." I had to look up feminism: advocacy of women's rights on the basis of equality of the sexes. Ok. I can go along with that.

Kendi: "We cannot be antiracist if we are homophobic or transphobic." I had to look up homophobic, which in my mind is an unfortunate and unhelpful term because it's not really about a phobia, a fear. Rather, it's simply "dislike of or prejudice against gay people". The point is that whether queer or straight we're all human. 

My purpose in writing this blog post is to encourage everyone to read these books, particularly other white, evangelical Christian, males like myself. Therefore, let me editorialize for a bit. Hopefully, this will help you see that you can maintain your Christian beliefs and still get lots out of this book. This book is not anti-Christian. 

A Christian should be able to see any LGBTQIA individual as a human and love them. A heterosexual Christian should not see themselves as better than or superior to a homosexual. Christians see many things as sins and know that they themselves have committed most of them. Like Paul, a humble Christian might seem themselves as the "chiefest of sinners". There is so much that can be said on this difficult topic, but that's not the point of this post. Since I am writing to the white heterosexual evangelical, I think I can stop there. 

I support the liberty of religious organizations and certain small businesses. They should not be compelled to do things against their conscience, beliefs, and faith. The refusal to make a same-sex wedding cake lawsuits come to mind. Likewise, churches shouldn't be required to allow same-sex couples to rent their facilities. But I also believe that it's reasonable to allow same-sex couples to have the same health-care protections and allowances as heterosexual couples. What comes to mind is that if a hospital allows a heterosexual spouse into the ICU, then they should allow a same-sex partner into the ICU. Then comes the tax codes. This gets tricky. Maybe if Christians don't want benefits to be afforded to same-sex partners, then perhaps heterosexuals shouldn't get those benefits either. Just eliminate the benefit.  In any event, Christians demand allowances for religious beliefs. Individual Christians and their religous organizations don't have to support same-sex unions, and shouldn't feel bad about their convictions. In such a case, that would be an instance of not holding or supporting queer-antiracist ideas. But that's no reason for a Christian to not like this book or to avoid it. This concept isn't binary. No human can be completely anti-racist, in every instance, in every situation, and I believe the author agrees with that statement. Every Christian should read this book, and they'll get much goodness out of it. An intelligent person can hold multiple conflicting ideas in their head at the same time. 

In Conclusion

What surprised me the most about these books is that none of them made me mad. At no point did I get defensive. (Well, that's not true. I did get slightly defensive in a few cases, but I did what the books suggest, which is to self-examine why I got defensive. That helped me either acknowledge or even change a couple of unhealthy beliefs, attitudes. Then the defensiveness went away.) At no point did any of these books say I was a bad person. They each opened my eyes to some things that I was previously blind to, and for that I am grateful. I highly recommend all of these books.

Update 12/8/20

UNFORTUNATELY, whereas I was previously quite content in my ignorance, those books awakened and aroused in me white guilt. I have begun reading a book by that title, White Guilt, and I am now disturbed by how disturbed I've become beyond the level of which I was disturbed from reading those prior books. Bummer. Once I'm done reading that and perhaps Shelby's other book and possibly also a book entitled racism without racists, I'll post another update or another whole blog post.

October 20, 2018

Lessons learned as a Juror, For the Young Woman

As I mentioned in my prior post, I served on a jury earlier this month and it was a real eye-opener. The prosecuting attorney talked about the consequences of getting drunk, the symptoms of the hangover. The consequences are rightly a headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, shakiness, and the like. The consequences are not rape. They are not sexual assault. Alas, crime should not exist, but it does. Don't get me wrong: putting yourself at risk does not excuse the person who would commit a crime. We should all be able to get drunk and go wherever we wish. Perpetrators should all be caught and convicted. Nevertheless, it is prudent to take precautions.
  • Being drunk makes you an easier target for crime.
  • Having another person there with you will not guarantee your safety. There is safety in numbers, but a person can easily be separated from one or even two others. And with more than two others, attention is divided such that one person can be put in danger.
    • Further, your friend may be unable to convince the police that you were kidnapped.
    • If your friend can convince the police that you were kidnapped, an additional crime against you will be over before the police can use things like pinging your phone to find your location.
  • Drunk people are terrible at providing protection, and even worse at coming to your defense.
  • The perpetrator's defense attorney will try to discredit or defeat DNA evidence, and they can be successful.
  • When there is DNA from 3 or more persons (the victim + 2 or more, or when there is sperm from 2 individuals), DNA testing cannot separate the DNA from the various individuals in order to make a match to any individual.
    • And even if they could, you'll find that a conviction is unsatisfactory.
  • Cell phone location records are kept for only 18 months. It may be impossible to use such records for proof since…
  • It can take months for DNA evidence to be tested. Your perpetrator's DNA profile may not yet be in the crime database. It can take months for DNA from another victim to be tested. It can take time to find the defendant, to get his DNA, and months for his DNA to be tested. By then, certain other evidence is no longer available.
  • Although there are cameras everywhere, they are never where the victim needs them to be, or they aren't turned on, or they aren't recording, or the technology isn't working, or the video or audio isn't clear, or it's been so long since the event that the recording has been lost.
    • Even the police's car cam audio may be ineffective because the car isn't pointed in an ideal direction, or because of glare from other lights, or because of the radio being on. Police officers rightly use music to keep them alert during the night shift. They might not turn it off before they get out of their car.
  • Although there are eye witnesses everywhere, eye witnesses are terribly unreliable, and the police will testify to that in court. Eye witnesses don't pay attention until it's too late. Once the witness realizes something is going wrong they will have missed the opportunity to make a rational observation and to commit important details to memory. That can work to your disadvantage, rarely to your advantage.
    • Example: "We took a ride with someone. We were in the car with him for half an hour. Maybe more. But I generally trusted and ignored him. Then, suddenly, after I was out of the vehicle, I realized something was going wrong. After the driver was gone, with my friend still in the car, I realized that I never really looked at him. I can't describe him at all. DAMN IT! And I couldn't get the license plate."
  • The GBI specifically, and the state and district DAs have a large backlog of work and limited time and funds. They will not do everything possible for your case. They will do what they think is just sufficient, and efficient.

I don't believe young women understand how easily they can be abducted; nor do they realize how hard it is to catch the perpetrator; nor how little satisfaction would come from a conviction. The victim will live with and relive the pain the rest of her life.

The same goes for parents. I live in a safe, upscale neighborhood, more safe than most, but perhaps not the safest since it's not a gated and guarded community. Nevertheless, I feel safe. My family feels safe. Yet, in the case in question, there was a point in time in which this newly convicted felon lived within two miles of my house. One of his crimes was committed within three miles of my house.

I don't suggest living in fear. I do suggest living one's life with aplomb and gusto, to the fullest. But also with prudence.

Lessons Learned as a Juror, For the Young Man

I served on a jury earlier this month. It was an eye-opener to me. So many decisions are made as one grows up, the odds of making a wrong turn are great. Each bad turn can lead to another; or to repentance and a better direction. "There, but for the grace of God go I." Given this experience, I thought I'd write down some of my thoughts, first for the young man. Later for the young woman.
  • Having sex with someone who is inebriated is rape (assuming no prior valid informed consent for the sake of this article). An inebriated person cannot give informed consent. If a female's judgment is impaired in any way, she cannot give informed consent. If you think she gave consent, you better think again.
    • The penalty for rape can be life imprisonment.
  • If a male has sex with someone who is inebriated or who can claim to be so, she can claim she didn't give consent to the sex.
    • In fact, that person can claim rape even if she wasn't inebriated. Unless there is testimony or video that the jury believes, you can be (justly or unjustly) convicted of rape.
  • You don't realize how much DNA and other evidence you leave behind.
    • A condom will not conceal all evidence, particularly not even all DNA evidence.
  • If you run from the cops, you will get caught. Perhaps later.
    • Running from the cops makes you look guilty of more than you may be guilty of.
  • Being inebriated can cause you to make mistakes and get caught doing stuff that you would not get caught doing if sober.
  • You are more likely to get noticed by cops and pulled over after dark.
  • Certain evidence for your defense such as cell phone records are only kept by the phone companies for 18 months.
    • You may need those records for your defense for longer than that.
    • Evidence for your conviction, however, is kept around for what would seem like a sufficiently long time.
    • This will not work out in your favor.
  • There are cameras everywhere. There are eye witnesses everywhere.
    • Witnesses are unreliable, but that will not work to your advantage.
  • The jury will not believe your explanation. It will sound fantastical to them. Imagine the people in the jury. Do you think any of them have ever been in your situation? Not likely.
  • Public Defenders (state provided attorneys) can be surprisingly bad at their job. While they can also be surprisingly good, and they can be better than private attorneys due to the number of cases they handle (lots of experience) and their knowledge of the juries, of the local law enforcement, of the prosecutors, and of the judges, the big problem is their backlog of work. Their heavy caseload limits the time they can spend on your case.
  • The GBI (or your state bureau of investigation), prosecuting attorneys, law enforcement and DAs have limited funds and will therefore not do every test and collect everything possible. Nevertheless, they will try to win their case.
    • “About 90 percent of the cases end with a plea bargain, and of those cases going to trial, about 90 percent end in a guilty verdict,” (Something I found on the internet -- sorry, I'm quoting this without attribution.)
    • "In the United States, the federal court system, the conviction rose from approximately 75 percent to approximately 85% between 1972 and 1992. For 2012, the US Department of Justice reported a 93% conviction rate. The conviction rate is also high in U.S. state courts. Coughlan writes, "In recent years, the conviction rate has averaged approximately 84% in Texas, 82% in California, 72% in New York, 67% in North Carolina, and 59% in Florida." Wikipedia

If you are a defendant in a criminal case, don't think you'll fare well with a jury. Don't make up a story. Plead guilty, repent, beg for forgiveness, and throw yourself on the mercy of the court.

I don't believe young men realize what constitutes rape; nor do they realize how severe the penalty is. Likewise for any list of crimes. Perhaps that should be taught in school: crime and punishment.

For a biblical perspective on this, consider how this comes about and grows: "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." (James 1:14-15, ESV)

Yet, even if one were to make some big mistakes, he can still have forgiveness from God, salvation and eternal life.

  • For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
  • For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
  • But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NKJV)
  • If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10)
  • For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13 NKJV)
  • So then faith [comes] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17 NKJV)
Yes, it's that simple. You can feel hope once again. You can feel love once again.