Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Illogical Ontology - How We Misunderstand Ourselves

In the 1970’s, I visited a picturesque Philadelphia neighborhood of well-kept row-homes owned by middle-class Black folk.  Noticing a forest of “for sale” signs littering the front lawns, had I not known better, I would have assumed the proliferation of signs was due to “White flight” – but these were Black homeowners.  When I inquired about the reasons for this “Black flight,” the residents pointed to the rumor that underclass people were moving in – those displaced by the gentrification of downtown’s South Street.  I had heard the exact same arguments articulated by their White counterparts in other neighborhoods: “Our property values will decline,” “Our schools will go downhill,” etc.  This observation shook me to my foundation; I never dreamed that “Black flight” was possible.  It was then that I realized that I had imbibed the intoxicant of ontological Blackness – believing that we were immune to certain behaviors I had always associated with Whites.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What Drives Poverty – Fire in the 'Whole'?

As a seven year old boy, I sat at the kitchen table anticipating the taste of my grandmother’s fried chicken.  Suddenly, I was traumatized by the eruption of a grease fire.  As my grandfather tried to douse the flames with water the fire flared up, nearly igniting the cabinets above before it could be smothered.  If this had been a wood fire, water would have killed the flames instantly; however, a grease fire poses a danger of a completely different nature.

Poverty can be compared to this – sometimes a fire of wood, at other times, one of grease.  The traditional means of dousing a wood fire will only exacerbate a grease fire.  This might be helpful in explaining the perplexing explosion of poverty despite government’s massive attempts to quell it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Freedom From a One-Dimensional Identity

I see myself as a walking paradox.  There are many manifestations of the human condition that I find repugnant, yet that I also find present in me.  Some would say that this makes me conflicted at best, hypocritical and self-loathing at worst.  Yet and still, I know I’m not alone, as many similarly struggle with this paradox.  While society is uncomfortable with the tension, the Bible tells us it is common.

As a follower of Jesus, knowing that I am being conformed to the image of Someone greater than myself empowers me to have peace with this tension.  This external conformation is what differentiates my struggle from other attempts, such as Confucianism’s ‘yin yang,’ to reconcile this dichotomy.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Who You Callin' Oreo? The Devouring of Black Folk

In my last post, I spoke out against America's trend toward political polarization. Today, I want to refocus onto matters cultural.  It appears that African American culture itself is also being swept up into a socio/political vortex - a great tragedy in light of the current African American cultural crisis.

It seems the cultural ground has shifted under our feet.  Memories of the Civil Rights and Black Consciousness Movements remain, but they have morphed into something alien to these movements’ pioneers.  The Civil Rights Movement has degenerated into a civil rights industry, and Black consciousness has degenerated into non-achiever consciousness.  Our sense of momentum has eroded, our moral clarity has evaporated, and moral confusion is the order of the day.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Children of ‘Mama Nem’ and the Pharaoh Who Knew Them Not

When the children of Israel arrived in Egypt, they rode in on Joseph’s political coattails.  His God-given skills of dream interpretation (oneiromancy) had saved Egypt from a global disaster and increased Pharaoh’s power and prestige; as far as Pharaoh was concerned, any friend of Joseph’s was a friend of his.  Politically well-connected with their own “man inside,” the children of Israel soon made a fundamental blunder: they put all their eggs into the basket of the existing Pharaonic administration.  

Once the campaigning was over, with convention confetti littering the floors amidst deflated hopes and balloons, “a new Pharaoh came to the throne who knew not Joseph,” and a bitter lesson was learned.

It seems that we, the children of ‘Mama nem’ (African Americans), have not learned this lesson.   In the last few decades, African Americans have overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates to such an extent that our vote has become a foregone conclusion.  We are dangerously close to being taken for granted by Democrats and being written off by Republicans; this is a recipe for marginalization.

Monday, May 14, 2012

“Marriage Equality” - An Irony

A casual observer of today’s Western culture would be hard-pressed to miss the prevailing trends toward marriage devaluation.  As increasing numbers of heterosexual couples are opting to do ‘married people things’ absent the marriage commitment (e.g., cohabitate, have and raise children, etc.), marriage itself is viewed with considerably less favor than a generation ago.

In the midst of all this comes the push for “marriage equality” in same-sex unions.  Why is this community swimming against the prevailing marriage devaluation stream?  They seem to appreciate what we no longer value – a legal, long term commitment to one person.  Do they know something that our society has forgotten?  Are they wiser than those who see marriage and the nuclear family as “obsolete institutions?”  If so, this is a just indictment against our civilization.  While I cannot biblically justify same-sex unions, "marriage equality" advocates are to be commended for valuing a form of this gift toward which our society has become cavalier.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Social Justice: A Foot Race Paradigm

There was no way I could anticipate the appalling reaction I received from the college students when I returned their assignments. Some of the papers were cogent and informative, while others were illogical and full of grammatical errors. The well-written papers received an “A”, while the poorly written ones received a “C.” The “C” students erupted in outrage and demanded an “A” “for the sake of justice”, yet it was obvious to me that they did not understand the nature of “A” work.

As I contemplated the incident, I realized that these students grew up in a generation where everyone received a trophy just for showing up to the soccer game. I also realized why the term “social justice” has become controversial today.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Checkmate: Same-Sex Marriage Advocates Now in the Game

Many are debating the moral and social obligations of the Black church in the wake of President Obama’s recent endorsement of same-sex marriage.  The details of what should be the appropriate reaction of the media-crafted monolithic “Black-church vote” are being hotly debated, and well they should be; this is good political discourse.  However the limited focus of these debates seems to ignore a much larger picture.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Neither and Both: Conservative vs. Liberal

As I address current social issues in a variety of venues, I'm often intrigued by the responses to my analyses.  They are remarkably similar, regardless of whether they come from folks who self-identify as “liberal” or “conservative.”

On the other hand, I find it difficult to label my own social ideology.  While I have agreements with both liberals and conservatives on several fronts, the intersections with my own philosophy aren’t significant enough to allow me to identify with either.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Difference Between "Broke", "Poor" and "Po' "

I was recently asked to write this article to briefly explore poverty, the history of achieverism and non-achieverism, and the nihilism that pervades the 'hood today.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Discipling Urban Men

In October 2011, I was honored to deliver this lecture on Discipling Urban Men at Epiphany Fellowship's Thriving Conference, with Dr. Eric Mason hosting. The basic thought in this lecture is that God makes converts, and we make disciples - that's the Great Commission. Too often, we try to make the converts and expect God to make the disciples. With this reversal, we're left not with the Great Commission, but rather a great debacle.

Key point: True discipleship happens both before and after conversion. 

Dr. Carl Ellis, Jr. is a theological anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, TX.  Follow Dr. Ellis on Twitter: @CarlEllisJr

The Spiritual Dimension of Fatherhood

With my son’s twenty-ninth birthday looming and Father’s Day following close on its heels, I can’t help but reflect of the spiritual dimension of fatherhood. 

While doing a Prison Fellowship seminar in LaGrange Kentucky, I heard news that would forever change my life.  I was going to be a father. Speechless, I stayed on the phone, but lost track of the details.  The news was exciting but frightening. I was visibly shaken by the gravity of the situation.  Others who had heard this news seemed so casual about it. Did they know something I didn’t know?