Jesus for Revolutionaries: A Blog About Race, Social Justice, and Christianity

Monday, December 31, 2012

Kwanzaa and Christianity

“Joyous Kwanzaa.” Holidays reveal our deepest cultural values.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Kwanzaa, all reveal the deep underlying values of their celebrants.  In past blogs, I’ve tried to reclaim the biblical roots of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays( reflection.html)

I’ve tried to disentangle the western cultural bias from these important holidays in a way that is biblical, and in a manner which is faithful to my conscience as a follower of Jesus.  I hope that I have been able to do this.  If I have fallen short in any of these respects, I take full credit for the mistakes and pray that God will help me to see things with greater clarity. 

Kwanzaa reveals the deep cultural values of its 2 million adherents. It was established in 1966 by California State University, Long Beach professor, Dr. Maulana Karenga.

According to the website “African Holocaust”:

“Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, celebrated from December 26 to January 1, which is profound because it reclaims what was lost during the African Holocaust—that sense of an African connection. It replies to the ongoing mental slavery experienced from the Diaspora being culturally orphaned in the West.

Kwanzaa is an authentic African Holiday created in the African Diaspora. It is becoming part of traditional African American, and African diaspora cultural heritage. All holidays have the roots somewhere, and Kwanzaa is an indigenous African American creation… “

The seven principles of Kwanzaa, or “Nguzo Saba,” include:
“Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves stand up.
   Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.
    Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
    Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.”
    Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
    Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

At the center of Kwanzaa is a deeply admirable sense of African cultural pride, and an abiding interest in social justice for the African diasporic community.  Kwanzaa rightly recognizes that African Americans possess an important and distinct cultural heritage flowing from Africa.  It also provides a meaningful philosophy of socio-economic and political empowerment for the African American community which continues to experience the detrimental effects of historical and contemporary racism in the United States. 

As an “Asian-Latino,” I can closely identify with Kwanzaa because of the ways in which my Asian and Latino cultures are often belittled in the media and mainstream culture. Kwanzaa also resonates with me because my Asian and Latino communities also continue to experience the lingering effects of historical and contemporary racism in the United States.

As a follower of Jesus, however, what saddens me about Kwanzaa is the fact that it is a reaction to 500 years of historical misrepresentation of Christianity. Western imperialism and colonization destroyed the global witness of Christianity.  Starting with Columbus in 1492, and well into the 20th century, numerous European nations, together with the United States, went around and ravaged the globe. They used their superior military power to conquer almost every nation in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas.  As part of this colonial rampage, tragically, more than 12 million Africans were enslaved as part of the African Holocaust. To make matters worse, most, if not all of these western nations claimed to be “Christian.”  This historical misrepresentation of Christianity is what Kwanzaa rebels against. 

The destruction caused by colonialism was not limited to some time in the distant past.  We still feel the terrible consequences of imperialism in the United States and in most nations of the developing world.  African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans continue to experience extraordinary levels of poverty in the United States and to live in communities that are even more segregated than 50 years ago.  Our families and children continue to suffer from unequal public education systems, lack of affordable housing and healthcare, police brutality, unequal justice in the courts, and pervasive racist stereotypes.  Racist socio-economic, legal, and political institutions persist in Latin America, and harmful legacies of colonialism are alive throughout Africa.  Even  HIV/AIDS, the most deadly pandemic of our time is said to have gotten its start during the British colonization of Africa.  

As a result of the religious arrogance and social devastation associated with imperialism, millions of people of color throughout the globe have condemned Christianity over the past five centuries as a “white man’s, colonizer’s religion.”  “If this is what Christianity is all about,” they say, “then why would I ever want to be a Christian?”  “Why would I want to celebrate Christmas?”

This devastates me.  It devastates me because I know that western imperialism was a complete misrepresentation of Jesus and all that Christianity, and Christmas, represent.  As clearly articulated in more than 2,000 verses of the Bible, God is the author of Justice, and He cares for the poor and marginalized and oppressed more than we could ever hope for or imagine.  Jesus came, “to bring Good News to the poor…to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18).   This is what I celebrate this Christmas.  Joyous Christmas.  

Robert Chao Romero

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Shalom: The Revolutionary Hope of Christmas

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been brought up hearing a very limited view of what Christianity is all about.  Many of us have been taught what USC philosophy professor Dallas Willard calls the “gospel of sin management.”  It goes something like this:   “Jesus came to save me from my sins so that I won’t go to hell when I die.”  

Presented in this narrow fashion, Christianity is little more than eternal “fire insurance” which leaves most of life untouched by God’s love and redemption.  We believe in Jesus so that we can be forgiven and so that we can go to Heaven after we die.  Now, forgiveness is an amazing thing.  So is Heaven.  But the Good News of Jesus, and of Christmas, is about so much more.  It is “bigger and better” than what you’ve probably been told.

Jesus came to save, redeem, and transform every aspect of our lives and the world.

His salvation extends over all of God’s good creation which has become twisted and corrupted as a consequence of sin.  This includes everything messed up and broken in our world--whether personal, familial, social, or global.  It includes our personal emotional brokenness and dysfunctional family relationships, poverty, slavery, human trafficking, oppression of immigrants, warfare, lack of clean water, AIDS, gang violence, and lack of educational opportunity.  No aspect of life is untouched by the love and redemption of Jesus!

This is what we celebrate this Christmas and every Christmas.  As Christine and Tom Sine state in their wonderful book, Living on Purpose:  “Jesus Christ is interested in seeing the gospel transform every part of our lives and every dimension of God’s world.”

This comprehensive nature of Christianity is summed up in something called “shalom.”  The word “shalom” is used more than 350 times in the Bible, and it refers to “God’s desire to restore all things to the wholeness and harmony of relationship in which they were originally created” (Christine and Tom Sine, Living on Purpose).   “[Shalom] covers a wide range of meaning:  wholeness, without injury, undivided, well-being, a satisfactory condition, bodily health…If a person or a nation has [shalom], no lack exists in any direction, whether personal or national”  (Arthur Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom). 

“Shalom” is the revolutionary hope of Christmas.  Jesus is the Prince of Shalom.  This is what the world has celebrated for 2,000 years in commemoration of Jesus’ birth, and this is what we celebrate this Christmas.  In the famous words of Isaiah:

            ``The people who walked in darkness
            have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—
            light! sunbursts of light…

The joy of a great celebration,
             sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.

The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants—
             all their whips and cudgels and curses—
 Is gone, done away with…

The boots of all those invading troops,
             along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood,
 Will be piled in a heap and burned,
              a fire that will burn for days!

 For a child has been born—for us!
             he gift of a son—for us!
 He’ll take over
             the running of the world.

 His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
             Strong God,
 Eternal Father,
             Prince of Wholeness [Shalom]

 His ruling authority will grow,
             and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.
             Isaiah 9: 2-7 (The Message). 

            May you, and all who are dear to you, know the amazing Shalom of Jesus this
Christmas.  This is my sincerest prayer for you, and this is what this blog is all about.

            With much love,



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Chinese-Mexican-Midwestern Christmas: Biblical Reflections On Cultural Diversity

Greetings from Indiana.  My wife, two children, and I, have made our annual pilgrimage to the land of the Hoosiers. Each winter we travel the reverse course of the birds to visit my wife's family in small-town Indiana. Ironically, my wife's hometown is also a Latino immigrant hub, so it kind of works out.

Unlike many, I enjoy spending time with my in-laws.  They treat me well, and we've always had a great relationship. My kids love spending time with their Hoosier cousins, too.  I asked my two-year old daughter what she liked most about our time so far, and she said, "my friend [her cousin] Natalie."  There's also a part of me that identifies with small town life--the slower pace, friendly folks, and much more considerate drivers.  Every once in a while I'll get a look in public from someone that I'm not sure how to interpret. I think to myself: "Was that general rudeness, is someone just having a bad day, or is it because of my brown skin?" It's usually impossible to know, so I just give people the benefit of the doubt and move on.  It's not too often, so it's not too big of a deal.  Overall, my experience is pretty pleasant.

Without a doubt, though, my yearly trips to the Midwest remind me of my "Chinese-Mexican-ness." I was born in East Los Angeles (Boyle Heights to be exact), but raised in the suburbs of Hacienda Heights, CA.  My father's family are immigrants from Chihuahua, Chihuahua, in Northern Mexico.  Ironically, despite the association of the name with a certain breed of small dog, people from Chihuahua are known for being tall.  My Mexican grandfather was 6 foot 4, and I stand 6 foot 2.  The Romeros lost their fortune during the Mexican Revolution because they sided with the famous revolutionary Pancho Villa. It is said that my great-grandfather died of a broken heart while staring at an empty chest of worthless Revolutionary paper money.  The Romeros eventually made their way to East Los Angeles in the 1950's via El Paso, Texas (a common Mexican migratory path of the time).  My dad, and several uncles and aunts, are graduates of Roosevelt High.

My mother's family comes from Hubei in central China.  They came as religious/political refugees to Los Angeles in the 1950's.  My Chinese grandfather was a pastor and evangelist, and he started Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in China.  He was known as the "Billy Graham" of China, and Christianity Today magazine even did a story about him many decades ago.  My "Gung-Gung," together with my "Po-Po" and 8 kids, fled to the U.S. because he was on the communist "hit list."  As an interesting side note, my Chinese family descends directly from the founding emperor of the Song Dynasty--one General Chao.  We've actually got the documentation to prove it.

When I come to Indiana I become keenly aware of my distinct cultural heritage not only because I stand out like a sore thumb (a 6 foot 2, 220 lb. brown man with pierced ears and a shaved head), but also because, in a positive way, I get the chance to experience a culture that is very different from my own.  I joke with my wife that I'm familiar with about 80% of her culture by virtue of being American.  About 20% of her culture, however, is totally foreign to me.  Not in a bad way, but in a way like,"wow, what did they say? What was that? What was that word?  They didn't teach that word to my family in ESL class."  Sometimes I lean over to my wife and just say, "that's part of the 20%."

My Chinese-Mexican-Midwestern Christmases always make me think about God's plan for diversity, and a particular passage of Scripture found in Revelation 21:22-27:

"I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp...The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life."

In this passage, the Apostle John describes what it will be like when God restores all things back to the way He originally intended.  This final restoration culminates in the City of God,or, the New Jerusalem.  According to John, the "glory and honor of the nations" will be brought into the New Jerusalem.  The Greek word translated as "glory" in this text can also be translated into English as "treasure" or "wealth."  The Greek word translated as "nations" means the "ethnic groups" of the world. So, this passage could be read as, the "treasure and wealth" of the different ethnic groups of the world will be brought into the City of God.

But what is the "treasure" and "wealth" of which John speaks?  Surely it is not literal currency, or commodities traded on the stock market, or paper money. I believe that John is speaking of the cultural treasure and wealth of the various ethnic groups of the world.  By God's design, every ethnic group of the world possesses distinct cultural treasure:  food, music, art, architecture, song, dance, sports, poetry, jokes, humor, etc., and even unique cultural personalities (more on this in a later blog).  Every nation on earth is on an equal playing field in this regard.  Every ethnic group has its own unique and distinct cultural treasure, and no one's cultural treasure is more valuable than any other's.  It's all good.

This is why racism is wrong.  Racism says "my cultural treasure is better than yours." This passage from the book of Revelation corrects such racist thinking.  It teaches that the cultural treasure and wealth of every nation is so important to God that it will all find its way into the New Jerusalem for us to enjoy--forever.

It's important to note that just as every nation has its own distinct cultural treasure, each nation also has its own distinct cultural "impurities" as well.  This is directly implied by John when he says that "[N]othing impure will ever enter [the City of God]."  Every ethnic group of the world has its unique sinful cultural practices which will not enter the New Jerusalem and which will be banished from eternity.  We're all on equal footing in this regard as well.  No nation can afford to be self-righteous.  This is why "American exceptionalism" is so sickening.  American exceptionalism seeks to propagate the unbiblical notion that the United States has cultural "treasure and wealth," but no cultural "impurities."  Gag.  This is simply untrue and unbiblical.  The U.S. has distinct cultural treasure to be sure, but like every other nation it is not immune to sin.

With this theological foundation laid, now back to my travel diary.  Every time I visit the Midwest for Christmas, I literally get a taste of the "glory and honor" of Indiana.  Through food, music, art, architecture, swim meets, choir performances--and every person I meet--I experience this cultural treasure.  It's a wonderful thing. Some of it is so enjoyable that it even adds a few inches to the waistline!

Although every ethnic group has its own distinct cultural treasure and wealth, and is therefore equal in God's sight, I wonder if it's still o.k. for us to have our favorites?  I'm sure it probably is.  I'm sure God doesn't mind.  Me personally, I'm looking forward to heading back to Cali in a few days and enjoying the "glory and honor" of my Chinese and Mexican cultures once again  :)

Thankful for God's diversity,
Robert Chao Romero
FB:  "Jesus for Revolutionaries"

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"The Parable of the Good Undocumented Immigrant": The Good Samaritan Revisited

A central teaching of Scripture is that we are called to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and also that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.  In the parable of the “Good Samaritan,” Jesus teaches that our “neighbors” include those who are culturally different from ourselves and those who are looked down upon by dominant society.  This story is told in Luke 10: 25-37:

What if Jesus were to have told this parable in 21st century America?  Who would be the unloving religious leaders in the story and who would be the “Samaritan”?   Imagine with me that Jesus is telling this parable, today, in Arizona

25 On one occasion a seminary professor stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus,And who is my neighbor?

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Phoenix to Tucson, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

31 A pastor of a “mega church” happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.

32 So too, a church elder, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

33 But an undocumented immigrant, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.

34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on hydrogen peroxide and neosporin. Then he put the man in his own gardening truck, brought him to a motel and took care of him. 

35 The next day he took out $128 (two days worth of day laborer wages) and gave them to the hotel manager. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The seminary professor replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

May we go and do likewise.  May we fall in love with Jesus more and more each day.  May we learn from the parable of the Good Samaritan, and grow in loving those we believe to be most unlike ourselves. 

Growing in loving,

Robert Chao Romero

P.S., please stay tuned in January for a 40-day series on the topic of undocumented immigration.  Join me then for the 40-Day “I Was A Stranger Challenge”:
Spread the word to your friends and networks!

Also, this contemporary version of the Parable of the Good Samaritan was inspired by “The Cotton Patch Gospel.”  In case you’d like to check out this “colloquial translation of the New Testament with a Southern accent”:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

WWDJ: What Would You Do To Jesus?

In my opinion, the most powerful testimony to God’s love and concern for the poor is found in Matthew 25: 31-46:
“When the Son of Man [Jesus] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

These words of Jesus present a stunning truth:  Jesus loves and cares about immigrants and the poor so much that when we love them we are actually loving him! 
Jesus identifies so closely with the struggles of the poor that he teaches that the barometer of a sincere relationship with him is whether or not we love the poor.  If we love him, then we will love the poor.  When we love the poor we are loving him.  
St. Augustine put it this way, Jesus is present “in the person of the poor.”  "Christ is needy when a poor person is in need" and "is hungry when the poor are hungry." "To come to the aid of the poor…is to come to the aid of Christ the Head who is present and in need in the poor.”  I love Mother Theresa’s summation of Matthew 25, too:  “Jesus appears in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
I like to describe these verses in Matthew as the “WWDJ,” or, “What Would You Do For Jesus” passage.  It’s common to see people wearing bracelets which say, “WWJD,” or “What Would Jesus Do.”   The sentiment behind these catchy bracelets is a good one.  The idea is that, when confronted with a difficult situation, the wearer of the bracelet will stop him or herself and ask, “What would Jesus do in this situation?”   “WWDJ” stands for a related, but different proposition drawn from the logic of Matthew 25:  If Jesus is really present in immigrants, the homeless, and the poor, then we should think long and hard about the way we respond in our daily lives to immigrants, homeless individuals, or the poor.  Would you ever call Jesus a racist name like “beaner,” “spic,” or “wet back”?  Would you ever spit upon Jesus and call him “lazy” and a “bum” if He asked you for money outside of your local grocery store?  Would you ever call Him a “welfare mom who needs to stop having babies and get a job”?
The fact of the matter is that if we really take the Bible seriously, then Jesus is present in the homeless person wandering our local neighborhood in search of food and a dry and safe place to lay her head;  he is present in the undocumented male immigrant cutting our lawn, cooking our meal and cleaning our dishes in the backroom of Denny’s;  he is present in the undocumented mujer who cleans our home and raises our children, and, as Cesar Chavez understood, in the farm worker who picks our fruit at minimum wage so that we can buy strawberries on sale for $3.99 at Trader Joe’s.  Jesus is also present in the “AB-540 student” who works 30- 40 hours a week, commutes 100 miles a day by public transportation, and who sacrifices food for books in order to attend UCLA.  He is present in the Mexicana who is deported and ripped apart from her young U.S.-citizen children and deported to Mexico because mainstream U.S. society is content to benefit from her cheap labor and at the same time blame her for all of it’s social ills; Jesus is present in the female Asian immigrant who was tricked into prostitution and who now lives as a sex slave in Monterey Park and in her relatives who labor away in sweatshops of Downtown L.A. so that a sixteen year old suburban teen can buy her trendy jeans on sale at Forever 21;  He is also present in the African-American and Latino youth of South L.A. who are denied equal access to quality public education, medical care, safe parks, and so many other things; He is present in all of the  inner city residents of the United States who suffer from the increased risk of a multitude of health problems because they live in “food deserts”; Jesus is present in the many African-American women who experience an increased risk of pre-term pregnancy and infant mortality because of the many expressions of racism which they continue to endure in white America. 
Jesus is present in all of the poor, disenfranchised, and “least of society.”  If we love him, we will love them.  WWDJ?