Category Archives: Authors A-H

Authors listed by last name A-H

Diversity and Speech #33: Bi-Religious – by Carlos Cortés, Gary Cortés

Brotherly Perspectives on Religious Experiences

A co-authored Interview

Carlos: Last year I wrote a column about the tribulations of Growing up Bi-Religious in our religiously-mixed household in Kansas City, Missouri: Dad a Catholic with a Mexican immigrant father – Mom, a Reform Jew with a Ukrainian immigrant father and an Austrian immigrant mother.  I had to deal with family conflict and I avoided mentioning my religious background to parents when I picked up my dates.  But your experience was so different.
Continue reading Diversity and Speech #33: Bi-Religious – by Carlos Cortés, Gary Cortés

Hey Nancy, got a sec? – by Terry Howard

Here’s my question to the men who are about to read this piece: 

Based on what you know for sure, or have been fed by the media about her, if you were to find yourself seated next to Nancy Pelosi on a five-hour cross country plane ride and initiated the conversation, what would you talk about, avoid talking about and why?

So how about I give you, say, one minute to absorb and craft your answer to that question. Go ahead. No, wait, on second thought hold off on your answer until the end of this narrative.

Continue reading Hey Nancy, got a sec? – by Terry Howard

Diversity and Speech Part 32: Language Tensions of Speech and Social Justice  – by Carlos E. Cortés

Most public surveys about free speech and the First Amendment go something like this.

  • “Do you believe in the idea of free speech?” Overwhelmingly yes.
  • “Should group slurs be allowed?” Overwhelmingly no..
  • “Do you support the First Amendment?” Overwhelmingly yes.
  • “Should hate speech be permitted?” Overwhelmingly no.

What gives? Aren’t these positions inconsistent? Yes, in the abstract or in the arcane world of constitutional interpretation. No, in the walk-around world where most people reside. Turns out most people like the idea of being protected from government interference with their use of speech. But they also like it when governments and private entities step in to mute certain categories of speech, categories that they might consider harmful, divisive, offensive, or misleading. The problem is that people do not agree on which speech categories should be banned. One person’s sense of truth telling is another person’s sense of disinformation.

Continue reading Diversity and Speech Part 32: Language Tensions of Speech and Social Justice  – by Carlos E. Cortés

Cross-generational Adulting – by Tom Bissonette

A Boomer’s plea for unity

I was a bit put off when I first heard the term “adulting”, the traditional noun turned into a verb. It sounded like an excuse young people were using to buy themselves more time to step up to the demands of being a “grownup.” I grew tired of hearing how hard adulting is. I briefly had the same mindset as the other old guy who complained about the “Peter Pan Syndrome” of today’s youth in a TikTok video which set off the viral “OK Boomer” retort on Instagram and other social media. Since I was still somewhat indoctrinated in traditional views of human development, “adulthood” was a landing place after certain basic criteria were met. One’s chronological age plus official legal status as an adult was usually enough to claim it, maybe with a modicum of independence thrown in.

Continue reading Cross-generational Adulting – by Tom Bissonette

The Heartbreak in Hanger Sales – by Samantha Belcher

In early May of 2022, I noticed a couple of protestors yelling at the downtown traffic on my drive home. Ironically, I believe I was on my way home from grabbing boba with some friends to commemorate the end of our junior year of college. I was unable to make out what their signs or chants depicted nor did I have much interest. It wasn’t until a few hours later when my father texted me a link to a news story covering what would be known as the beginning of worldwide heartbreak: the leaked draft of the Supreme Court majority decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022) that would explicitly overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

Continue reading The Heartbreak in Hanger Sales – by Samantha Belcher

Gender Diversity in Social Media – by Ally Bergin

Gender diversity in social media has become a major problem in modern society because social media reinforces the notion of stereotypes. Social media influences user’s perception by not pressing the importance and the need for a resolution of these gender related issues. The problems surrounding gender diversity is that it’s corrupting individual’s minds and perceptions by sending out specific messages to encourage users to think a certain way. This is a current and relevant problem that I see every day on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. 

Continue reading Gender Diversity in Social Media – by Ally Bergin

Beauty in The Eye of The Beholder – by Coniah Davis

If you have not heard of the model Winnie Harlow then you are definitely missing out. Thanks to Harlow’s unique natural beauty she has been an inspiration in the modeling industry and social media. Prior to gracing the runway Harlow’s story began in the Greater Toronto Area. 

Harlow was diagnosed with vitiligo at age 4, a skin condition where the cells that produce melanin are destroyed causing certain areas of the skin to turn pale and stop functioning. When she was younger over time the depigmentation in her skin began to become visible, so when she would go to school she was bullied. 

Continue reading Beauty in The Eye of The Beholder – by Coniah Davis

From Conditional to Equitable Inclusion: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation – by Carlos Cortés

Keynote Address for Unidos:
2022 National Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration of the U.S. Dept. of Energy

Thank you for inviting me to join you for Hispanic Heritage Month.  And thank you for providing me the opportunity to reflect upon a very important idea: inclusivity.
________________________

In 1999, Mayor Ronald Loveridge of my hometown — Riverside, California –- asked me to lead a new city initiative, the Mayor’s Multicultural Forum.  He also asked the Forum to begin by drawing up a position statement on diversity.  We called the document “Building a More Inclusive Riverside Community.”  The City Council adopted the document, making inclusivity a basic city principle.

That was more than two decades ago.  Today you constantly hear variations of that idea.  Take DEI: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.  As a diversity consultant, lecturer, and workshop presenter I often use those terms, sometimes without giving them much thought.  So when you asked me to speak on the topic of inclusivity, I had to make a decision.  Should I give a traditional Hispanic Heritage speech filled with the usual once-a-year truisms about Latino this and Latinx that?  Sort of a Hispanic Groundhog Day?  I decided no.  You deserve something more original.

So I reflected on the connection between the Latino experience and the idea of inclusivity.  This led me to an unexpected revisiting of my personal journey.  Those reflections helped me reconsider the idea of inclusivity.

I began by taking two words of DEI –- Equity and Inclusion — and recombining them into Equitable Inclusion.  Not conditional inclusion, but rather the idea that we all deserve more than just being included.  We deserve being included equitably.  That’s how you foster true belonging, not superficial accommodation.  As I thought about inclusivity, I identified three adjectives that characterize equitable inclusivity, three adjectives that I will explore through a Latino lens, drawing upon my personal journey.

Let’s start with the first word: authentic.  In 1933, my father, Carlos Cortés, a Mexican Catholic immigrant from Guadalajara, married Florence Hoffman, the Jewish American daughter of Ukrainian and Austrian immigrants.  I was born the next year, 1934, and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, a racially segregated, religiously divided community, like much of the United States in those days.  I wrote about that experience in my memoir, Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time, referring to my parents’ unique-for-its-time marital combination.  This made them an odd couple, so I, too, became an oddity.

I later adapted my memoir into a one-person play, which I perform around the United States.  I’m going to present a brief scene from that play.  It takes place in the fall of 1949 at the beginning of my sophomore year, when I shifted to another Kansas City high school.     __________________________

On the first day of my first class the teacher calls the roll but not my name.  I raise my hand.
     “Excuse me, sir, you missed me, Carlos Cortés.”
     He reviews his list.
     “I called your name, Carl.”
     “But, sir, my name isn’t Carl.  It’s Carlos.”
     “That’s not what the school records say.”

So in front of my new classmates I repeat, several times, that my name is Carlos, not Carl.  Of course I didn’t win.  In fact, the teacher kicks me out of class and sends me to the principal’s office.  They call my folks.  Dad storms over to school.

Now Dad didn’t lose his temper often, but when he did…whhh.  I’m afraid he’s going to be furious with me for getting into trouble on my first day at my new school.  But he’s not.  In fact, he’s proud of me for standing up for my name, his name, our Mexican name.

Dad lectures the principal.  “My son’s name is Carlos.  His father’s name is Carlos.  His grandfather’s name was Carlos.  His great-grandfather’s name was Carlos.  And I’ll be damned if you’re going to call him anything but Carlos.”  After that, they didn’t.

Oh, I guess I ought to mention the class where this happened — Spanish.
_________________________

Of course Dad wanted me to be included and to feel included.  But he also demanded that this inclusion be authentic.  He insisted that I be included authentically as Carlos, not as Carl.

I now refer to such events as Carl Moments or Being Carled.  Carl Moments are situations where people encounter obstacles to authentic inclusivity.  When things happen that communicate to you that your inclusivity is conditional.  You’re welcome . . . but . . . or if . . . or sort of.

Unlike conditional inclusivity, equitable inclusivity incorporates the idea of personal authenticity.  But authenticity can create complications.  Sometimes you may be too ethnic; in other cases, not ethnic enough.

In 1968 I became a professor of history at the University of California, Riverside — UCR — and later chair of the Chicano Studies Program.  Along the way I developed a reputation as a public speaker on diversity matters, including the Latino experience.  Nobody called me Carl, but there was something else.

I happened to be a güero: a light-skinned Latino.  Occasionally someone might say: “Oh, you’re trying to pass as white.”  No, I’ve never passed as anything.  I’ve just lumbered through life with the authentic skin my folks gave me.  But sometimes that’s proven to be a problem for others.

Once I was invited to give a luncheon talk at a statewide education conference.  The invitation came from an Anglo who had never met me.  On the day of the conference I introduced myself to him.  His face fell.  Caught off guard, he said something that others may have thought, but suppressed.  “Uh, we were hoping for someone, uh, a little darker.”  With help from Neil Simon’s film, The Goodbye Girl, I had a ready answer.  “This year I’m working on younger.  Next year I’ll work on darker.”

But conditional inclusivity can also go in other directions.  In 1979, my late friend Tomás Rivera became Chancellor of UCR, the first Hispanic chancellor in University of California history.  Tomás was not a güero.  After his first speech to the UCR academic senate, one professor remarked: “You know, I can understand why Governor Brown put a Chicano in as Chancellor at Riverside — for political reasons — but did he have to –- look so much like a Chicano?”  Tomás had been Carled.

Let’s examine these three incidents.  In each case somebody had difficulty dealing with individual Latino authenticity.  A high school Spanish teacher who deemed my first name too odd for inclusion in the classroom.  A conference organizer who considered my skin color too light to fulfill his needs and ethnic stereotypes.  A professor who could accept a Chicano Chancellor, but not one who looked too much like a Chicano.  That is conditional inclusivity.

I’m sure each of you has experienced personal Carl or Tomás moments, when something happened that communicated the idea that the authentic you didn’t quite merit equitable inclusivity.  And being Carled might not involve ethnicity or race.  It might involve sex, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or some disability.

Maybe a Latina whose colleague turns to her and innocently asks, “How do you say that in Spanish?,” forcing her to explain, maybe publicly, that she was not raised speaking Spanish.  62 million Latinos share commonalities, but we aren’t all alike.  Our personal authenticities vary.

So let’s move on to the second adjective: additive.  Equitable inclusivity must not only be authentic.  It should also be additive.  That is, inclusion in a way that “they” — whoever “they” are — become recognized not just as having their own special authenticity, but also having the capacity to add through their authenticity.  Not just accepted or tolerated or exoticized, but respected for what their specialness adds to the community, to the organization, and to our nation.

When I joined the UCR faculty in 1968, the campus had about 4,500 students, but only around one hundred Chicanos.  Many of them did not feel a sense of total belonging on that virtually all-white campus.  To help create their own ethnic space, they formed the United Mexican American Students.  Later it became known as MEChA.

But the MEChA students soon encountered a very new experience. One of the undergraduate students in my Chicano History class was named Woodrow Díaz.  But Woody was not a Chicano; he happened to be Puerto Rican.  This was several years before people began talking much about Latinos and Hispanics. Ethnically alone on campus, Woody asked if he could join MEChA.

The MEChA students embraced Woody. They made him an honorary Chicano, but he also remained supremely proud and forthright about his Puerto Rican identity.  nd MEChA turned out to be better for it, because Woody added a unique richness, dimension, and perspective through his ethnic authenticity. Woody’s inclusion in MEChA was additive, not just authentic.

Twenty-five years later, in the winter of 2000, my book, The Children Are Watching: How the Media Teach about Diversity, was published.  I was asked to give the plenary address about Latinos and the media at a national conference on Latino youth.

After my talk, a man named Chris Gifford and a woman named Dolly Espinal invited me to join them for lunch.  Turns out they were part of the team that was developing a new children’s television series, and they asked me if I would consider joining them as a consultant. I did and ultimately became the Creative/Cultural Advisor of that show, Dora the Explorer, and its sequel, Go, Diego, Go!”  For more than twenty years I have been working with the show’s multi-ethnic creative team that includes Hispanics of multiple backgrounds and national heritages. They all add unique perspectives.

As we developed Dora, the idea of inclusivity was central to our thinking.  The character of Dora had to be inclusive, a Latina inclusivity role model.  So we positioned Dora as an intercultural bridge-builder.  When she encounters challenges, she overcomes them by uniting other characters into a team, sometimes involving both animals and people.

We considered making Dora ethnically specific: Mexican or Cuban or Dominican or Puerto Rican.  But I argued for a different approach: let’s make her pan-Latino.  A proud Latina, but with no specific national-origin identity.  Then let individual Latino pre-schoolers of all backgrounds –- and their families — identify with Dora in their own unique ways.

And that’s what happened.  In fact, not only Latino kids identified with her.  So did kids of other backgrounds.  And not just in the United States, but around the world.  Dora, a Latina, connected with all kids.

And she drew upon her ethnic authenticity to add to their lives.  Consider language.  You don’t have to speak Spanish to be authentically Latino.  But Spanish is a core element of Hispanic culture.  Speaking both Spanish and English is part of Dora’s Latina authenticity.

Because most of the show’s characters are monolingual, either in English or in Spanish, Dora constantly draws on her bilingual skills to build intercultural bridges.  And she reaches out to viewers by adding Spanish words to their vocabularies and encouraging them to use those Spanish words to help Dora and her friends overcome challenges.  In the process Dora continuously demonstrates the additive value of being bilingual and how this can contribute to greater inclusivity.

Sometimes inclusivity became the central theme of an episode.  Take the episode entitled “First Day of School.”  Tico and Boots set off for their first day of school.  But it’s not just any school.  It’s an inclusive dual immersion school using both Spanish and English.  So monolingual English-speaking Boots and monolingual Spanish-speaking Tico become more empowered because they are learning each other’s language.  In the process they also help each other learn language.  Their classroom inclusivity is additive.

Now let’s move on to the third adjective of equitable inclusivity: capacious.  As in capacity or capacidad.  Beyond simply being authentic or even additive, the idea of capacious inclusivity addresses a deeper, richer dimension: a more inclusive sense of we-ness.  Not a we-ness that forces you to surrender your special authenticity in order to be part of it.  Rather a we-ness that highlights its diverse parts while at the same time fostering a broader sense of mutual identification.  A we-ness in which we all become co-participants in the project of equitable inclusivity.  I am both me and a unique part of we.

I am currently engaged in a Latino project that pursues such capacious me-to-we inclusivity.  It’s called The Cheech.  The Cheech Marin Museum of Chicano Art & Culture, which opened in Riverside in June of this year.

Cheech Marin –- actually Richard Anthony Marin — has had an incredible career: stand-up comic; filmmaker; actor; and much moreBut Cheech is also a renowned art collector, specializing in Chicano art.  And he is a visionary.  Cheech, the Riverside Art Museum, and the City of Riverside have collaborated to create this new museum that features Cheech’s extensive personal collection and also mounts exhibits of other Chicano art.

I was honored by being selected as the Consulting Humanist for The Cheech.  In that role I am conducting a series of filmed Conversations at The Cheech.  At this point I’m not sure how these conversations will be disseminated, but they may become part of a documentary film on the history of The Cheech.  We’ll see.

Two weeks ago Cheech and I had an hour-long filmed conversation.  We explored many nooks and crannies of his art collector career and his role in creating The Cheech.  We also talked about the wonderful opening special exhibit, featuring the astonishing work of two brothers, Einar and Jamex de la Torre, especially their jaw-dropping two-story lenticular, which sits prominently in view as you enter the museum.  You can look at it endlessly, because as you move from place to place, the lenticular’s myriad images change to reveal fascinating surprises.

I specifically asked Cheech about his personal vision. Whom does he hope visits the museum?  His response was simple, elegant, and profound: everybody. He wants everybody to embrace Chicano art. He wants The Cheech to be a capaciously inclusive institution, in which people of all backgrounds immerse themselves in the specialness of Chicano art and become enriched because of it.

Cheech wants people to recognize that Chicano art is unique. but also adds to the broader world of Latino art. Symbolic of that vision is a section called Sala José Medina, named in honor of Riverside’s current state legislator. A former graduate student of mine, José has been a major force behind The Cheech as well as authoring the bill by which California became the very first state to establish an ethnic studies requirement for high school graduation. José is a Panamanian American.

But Cheech also wants Chicano and Latino art to be viewed as central to American art, both art of the United States and art of the Americas. Art that is part of an expanding, more capacious vision of our nation. Art that is authentic, adds to the American story, and can bring diverse people together through a capacious reconceptualization of what it means to be an American.

Through capacious inclusivity, Chicano art and Latino art can become everybody’s art.  Not through surface enjoyment or the tawdry process of cultural appropriation, but rather through mutual respect, mutual enrichment, and mutual identification. Art that broadens our understanding of commonalities and differences not as antagonists, but as continuously interacting contributors to a more equitably inclusive United States of America.

So thank you for accompanying me on my personal journey of reflection.  The rest is up to you. All of you. Here’s our common challenge: can we make equitable inclusivity a guiding vision for our nation’s future? You can all play a part.

You can play a part by being proud and forthright about your special authenticities and by supporting the authenticities of others.

You can play a part by treating uniqueness as additive and by providing opportunities for others to draw upon their uniqueness to enrich our workplaces, our communities, and our nation.

You can play a part by expanding your personal capaciousness, by recognizing difference as an essential part of a vibrant whole, and by embracing otherness as part of the we-ness of a more equitably inclusive America.

I’m not suggesting that those things will solve all of the world’s problems.  But maybe, together, we can move the inclusivity needle further away from being conditional and more toward being equitable. Maybe we can reduce the number of Carl and Tomás moments and build upon such models as Woody, Dora, and Cheech. That’s our challenge. That’s my hope.

And I also hope I’ll have the opportunity of meeting some of you in person one of these days. If that happens, feel free to call me whatever: Mr. Cortés, Dr. Cortés, or just plain old Carlos. They all work for me. Just one request. Please don’t call me Carl.

The Ministry of Conversation – by Minister William H. Hicks

“For wherever two or three are gathered (drawn together as My followers) in (into) My Name, there I AM in the midst of them.” [Matthew 18:20AMPC]
(Part of the Series of Practical Instruction for Disciples of Christ)

What is ministry? “A person or thing through which something is accomplished.” [Merriam-Webster Online dictionary]; to serve the needs of others, especially their spiritual needs.

What is conversation? Conversations are discourses, usually between two (2) individuals or, at most (in numbers) small groups of 6 to 9 persons. Conversations are characterized by: intimacy and proximity (although this latter has been redefined by modern communication technology); respect; good listening skills; patience; good intentions; positive energy/passion; no fear; trust/honesty and honest differences of opinion; integrity; hope for a strengthened relationship from having participated in the conversation.

Conversations are usually intentional but may occur spontaneously between two strangers “on a boat, in a car, on a train or on a plane”. One can “strike up” a conversation to “fire up” a relationship. 

Conversations occur at the “intersection of our interactions” (from “Discipleship and Discipline: Second Edition” by William H. Hicks, copyright 2005, 2019). Conversations are the traffic pattern, the thoroughfares of our exchanges, occurring on the social, educational, economic and political freeways of society and culture as well as on the corners of the Main Streets and Maple Avenues of our minds. 

Ever notice how some people are described as skilled, even “brilliant” conversationalists? Debates, even arguments, are conversations (though ‘specialized’). Debates are usually highly structured, with attendant “rules of engagement” and sometimes pre-defined terms that identify the meaning of certain words and may also describe the parameters of the debate in order to identify the winner(s). Arguments are different. Arguments  are almost always subjective, having elements of disagreement based on emotions/feelings vs differences of opinions or competing source materials, aka “facts”.

What then, is the ministry of conversation? It is a special and “specialized” approach to conversation which prioritizes not just the strengthening of the relationship between the apparent participants in the conversation. The highest aim of the ministry of conversation is to strengthen the relationship of the visible participants with the Object and Focus of their conversation, the Lord God, Whose presence is not always ‘apparent’.

This essay will look at five (5) conversations taken from the Bible to examine their characteristics for clues as to how to successfully navigate a relationship (WHAT WE SEE HERE). There are, of course, other conversations that can be reviewed. Further, what the participants bring “to the discourse table” are also important considerations, such as personality, personal history, values, culture, their sense of what makes “community”, their “gender”. The five instances chosen are: The conversation between The Lord God and Moses in Exodus 33:11(AMPC); Paul at Athens on Mars Hill, Acts 17:17-34AMPC; Jesus and Nicodemus, John 3: 1-10AMPC; Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well, John 4: 1-30AMPC; and, Jesus, Cleopas and Cleopas’ companion on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24: 13-35AMPC.

GOD’S FRIEND

Exodus 33:11aAMPC: “And the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” As we arrive at Exodus 33, we see that God and Moses have a history shared between them, a history of conversations that detail the nature and substance of their relationship (burning bush, Mount Horeb/

Sinai). The Hebrew word for “friend” used in this verse, rea, “connotes companion, friend” (Vine’s; Strong’s), but the connotation in the Hebrew regarding the participants to this conversation conveys a superior (God) and subordinate/supplicant (Moses) aspect to their relationship. This is borne out by the nature and substance of their conversation as it follows in Exodus 33: 11-23AMPC. 

Of the many aspects of the conversation, these stand out: Moses says to his Friend, “Yet You said, I know you by name and you have also found favor in My sight. Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You [progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with You, perceiving and recognizing and understanding more strongly and clearly] and that I may find favor in Your sight.” Moses establishes his position vis a vis his relationship with his Friend as based on God’s statement that Moses has “found favor” in God’s sight. Yet Moses beseeches God, based on that assurance, that God show Moses His way, so that Moses “…may know You… and that I may find favor in Your sight.” This seems rather ‘circular’ to the casual observer, but Moses is really moving to strengthen his relationship with his Friend, having found favor with Him, by seeking greater, deeper intimacy. Moses reminds his Friend, “And [Lord, do] consider that this nation (that, in prior conversations, you have commissioned me to lead) is Your people (my italics)”. Moses takes his commission seriously and his friendship with God as essential to his ability to be successful in discharging his responsibility. Moses knows where he stands with his Friend and Moses knows that he must never abrogate that position. Moses seeks greater intimacy with his Friend as the only position from which he can do successfully what he has been called to do.

WHAT WE SEE HERE

These aspects of the conversation between God and His friend, Moses, characterize a healthy relationship between them: intimacy and proximity; respect; good listening skills; patience; good intentions; positive energy/passion; no fear, although on Moses’ account his reverential fear of the Lord is real and tangible; trust/honesty; integrity; hope for a strengthened relationship from having participated in the conversation. This latter is the unspoken, yet core desire of each party to any conversation. As the conversation proceeds, Moses gains confidence and asks his Friend to assure him that his Friend’s Presence will always be with him as he pursues his mission. Emboldened further by his Friend’s assurances (v.17), Moses makes the ultimate petition: “…I beseech You, show me Your glory.” 

The relationship between God and His friend was so strong that the Lord even shared with Moses His intentions to destroy the Israelites out of His righteous anger at their idolatry. I mean, God was “incensed”! The Lord says to His friend, “Now therefore, leave Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and that I may destroy them; but you (My friend- my addition), I will make of you a great nation.”(Exodus 32:10AMPC). God’s friend, Moses, does not “leave God alone.” A friend sticks closer than a brother. A friend knows the value of listening to their Friend’s heart, when to be silent and not being quick to offer “solutions”. God’s friend ‘helped’ Him with managing His righteous anger by interceding on Israel’s behalf, reminding his Friend of His prior promises and commitments outlined in previous conversations between them. Ultimately, God strengthened His and Moses’ relationship throughout its duration. Yes, Moses did disappoint his Friend on subsequent occasions, but Moses’ Friend was always faithful to their relationship.

MISSION TO MARS (HILL)

Acts 17:15-34AMPC recounts the apostle Paul’s visit to Athens, Greece and specifically to the Mars Hill neighborhood of that city. Mars Hill was where the “intellectuals”, the Epicureans and the Stoic philosophers hung out and engaged in discourse among themselves. Two things of import are noted in the passages recounting the ensuing conversation between Paul and the Grecian intellectuals: 1) Paul was ‘angered’ by the presence of all the idols in Athens; 2) Paul’s personality- fiery, confrontational, fueled by his great passion and energy (Acts 9:1-2AMPC; Acts 15:38-40AMPC; https://1drv.ms/w/s!Al4xqC0eZvxWilPY3JKzrY0PiMCJ) was the “accelerant” God used to motivate Paul’s engagement of the Athenian philosophers. Paul was also an intellectual, a linguist and skilled also in the methods of conversational engagement so as to be able to meet the denizens of the Areopagus on their own terms. 

WHAT WE SEE HERE

Paul’s point of entry into engagement with the Areopagans was first to notice something about them that he (Paul) had observed. Paul engaged in competent observation before he made any judgments about the Athenians: ‘I notice your shrine to “the unknown god”’. This is a hallmark of a good conversationalist: “My, what a lovely hat you’re wearing, dear! Wherever did you buy it?” Having established “common ground” upon which they could converse, Paul then moved to engagement. Paul proceeded to present the Gospel as the answer/insight to their curiosity about that which they sensed intuitively but couldn’t quite put a finger on. Some of the Athenian philosophers scoffed; some of them were engaged but not, at first, convinced; a few (Dionysius and “a woman named Damaris”) were convinced and converted. When Paul was confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus and converted from being Christ’s enemy to being Christ’s advocate, the Lord did not change Paul’s personality. Paul was the same “fired up” individual he was when he was called “Saul”; what changed about him, among other things, was the purpose, focus, direction and method of application of his energy. Paul was, essentially the “same guy” from a personality perspective (Type A), but he was changed for the better in order to discharge more effectively the mission upon which he had been sent.

A note about venue: Paul converses with anyone at any time in any place: Acts 17:17AMPC: “So he reasoned and argued in the synagogue with the Jews and those who worshiped there, and in the marketplace [where assemblies are held] day after day with any who chanced to be there.” See prior reference to “planes, trains and automobiles.” The “church” has no walls.

A DISCOURSE ABOUT ANATOMY

In John 3:1-11AMPC, Nicodemus, identified in the translation as a “Pharisee, a ruler/leader (member of the Sanhedrin), an authority among the Jews”, visits Jesus by night to engage Him in conversation. Some might say, to debate Jesus; I don’t agree. Seeking to establish a rapport with Jesus, Nicodemus calls Him “Rabbi”, notes that “we” know and are certain that You have come from God [as] a Teacher;… Thus, I believe that Nicodemus came seeking instruction and not merely validation of his status as an authority, his “position power”. For Nicodemus, the conversation goes in an entirely unexpected direction. Jesus ignores Nicodemus’ attempt to establish a rapport based on  ‘common values’ of  flattery and “position power” recognition, to establish a “common ground” in a hierarchy in which Jesus has absolutely no interest whatsoever.  Jesus starts talking about “anatomy” (or so thinks the learned Nicodemus)! Jesus completely ignores Nicodemus’ attempt to “butter Jesus up” and goes straight to the heart of His concern: Nicodemus’ salvation. Nicodemus, thoroughly disconcerted, defaults to biology until Jesus, the Teacher, begins to educate Nicodemus about “spiritual biology”. Jesus diverts Nicodemus’ attention away from the temporal to the eternal, from the mundane to the magnificent. 

WHAT WE SEE HERE

Once Jesus had created the opening in Nicodemus’ mind to consider spiritual matters vs merely “religious” concerns (“we know…”), Jesus turns the conversation into a teaching opportunity. Jesus goes straight to the heart of the real reason Nicodemus came to him (by night) in the first place: (“we… are certain that You come from God [as] a Teacher;…) Nicodemus is really seeking enlightenment and illumination. Jesus gives Nicodemus what he is truly seeking, that is, insight into the God Whom “we” (the Pharisees) worship. ‘We’ are “certain” that You are acquainted with and know our God. Tell me about God. Jesus obliges Nicodemus’ curiosity by use of metaphors (water and wind), temporal things with which Nicodemus is familiar. Jesus assures Nicodemus of His authority to speak on these matters based on the truth (and fact) that He is speaking from experience, Gr., epignosis, or knowledge based on actual interaction with that about which (and Whom) He is speaking (John 3:11-13AMPC). At this point in the gospel narrative, it’s unclear whether the conversation with Nicodemus continues, but what follows is the Great Declaration: “For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. (John 3:16AMPC)”. 

We know from further reading that this conversation with Jesus was so impacting on Nicodemus that Nicodemus advocated for Jesus before the Sanhedrin (John 7:50-51AMPC).  Further Nicodemus was the one who bought (at his personal expense) the items necessary to the anointing of Jesus’ body (John 19:39-40AMPC) to accord Him a proper burial. In a sense, it could be said of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus that they risked their  lives going to Pilate to seek Jesus’ body, thereby identifying themselves as Jesus’ followers and potential threats to the Roman hegemony. The impact of honest, in-depth conversations where fear is absent and trust abounds, can have lifelong and positive implications. 

THE WELL IS DEEP… AND SO IS THE CONVERSATION 

John’s Gospel Chapter 4 has a lot in it; most of it (vv. 1-42) is devoted to the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman from the village of Sychar. The chapter opens with the observation that first John the Baptist, and now this Jesus, are winning the “popularity contest” with the Pharisees. It’s highly questionable whether John or Jesus was engaged in or interested in a ‘competition’ with the Pharisees to see who could gain the most followers, but it’s noted that Jesus was aware of the Pharisees’ concerns. Jesus and His disciples then leave Judea (the region of Jerusalem, Bethlehem) and head north to Galilee (Nazareth, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, Chorazin). Why is the geographical orientation important here? First, verse 4AMPC reads: “It was necessary for Him to go through Samaria.” The route taken by Jesus and the disciples was the shortest route to their destination (it usually took three days to make the journey). It is important also to note the context in which the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman took place because the route went through the region of Samaria which the Jews of the day avoided like the plague so as to prevent coming into contact with those nasty, half-breed Samaritans. Sychar is on the west side of the Jordan River, near Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. The Jews of the day usually went along the east side of the Jordan, through Perea, in order to avoid contact with the Samaritans whom the Jews considered anathema.

As there was no public transportation system at that time (planes, trains and automobiles), the journey was made on foot. By the time Jesus and the disciples got to Sychar (about noon), they were hot, tired, hungry and… wait for it…thirsty. “And Jacob’s well is there” (v.6), given by Jacob to his son Joseph. Jesus sits down near the well to rest His tired, aching feet and asks a Samaritan woman coming to draw water to give Him a drink. Oh, it’s on, now! Er, I mean, the conversation ensues.

WHAT WE SEE HERE

I encourage you to read this entire chapter 4 of John’s Gospel CLOSELY. As noted earlier, it has A LOT in it.THING ONE: Jesus, by His behavior, condemns racism and misogyny in one fell swoop. He’s thirsty. Jacob’s well is nearby. A person is coming to draw. Jesus is not concerned nor does He take into consideration that the person is a Samaritan AND a woman. Jesus asks for a drink to quench His thirst. Recall the similar encounter between Abraham’s chief servant Eliezer and Rebecca in Genesis 24 (please see “Discipleship and Discipline: Second Edition” by William Hicks, Zondervan Westbow Press for further insight into the significance of that encounter). The woman recognizes that Jesus is a Jewish man; she knows the socio-ethnic-religious paradigm currently in play at that time, so she is curious that this Guy seems to be ignoring the rules (v.9); He might just be a prophet!  Jesus has “set the hook” and He takes over the conversation, steering it in the direction He always intended, towards the woman’s salvation. THING TWO IN THREE PARTS: a) the Spirit/spiritual vs the physical; b) sparkling/living water vs the plain old variety; c) husband vs no husband number 5 (RELATIONSHIP). 

Thing Two Part a: the woman of Samaria has been drawn into a deep spiritual conversation. She enters therein by noting the Samaritans’ history of worshiping on Mt. Gerizim and the schism between the Jews and the Samaritans regarding the PROPER PLACE to worship the Lord (Mt. Zion vs Mt. Gerizim). Jesus takes her DEEPER, stating that “place” has no place for the true worshipers of God. As God is Spirit/a spiritual being, worship is appropriate, née, de riguer at any time in any place (vv.23,24). In JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books, the Hogwarts students play Quidditch, a game in which the “shortest route” to a win is to catch the Snitch; only the seeker can capture the Snitch. Jesus states that salvation is the ultimate objective of God, its no game and God Himself is the Seeker; we are the “snitches” God is pursuing. This is directly in line with the Great Declaration in John 3:16AMPC and Jesus demonstrates and manifests that He is all about that, even for the hated Samaritans and the ill-treated, disrespected women, not just for the “Chosen ones”, the Jews. 

Thing Two Part b: sparkling/living water vs the plain old variety. All water is good… as long as its not polluted! We/our bodies are said to be 55% (women) to 60% (men) water (usgs.gov); water is necessary to life…physical life. You cannot make tea or coffee with it. You cannot “shower” in it, but having been “bathed/washed” in it, you are clean. The water Jesus references is necessary to spiritual life, eternal life. This living water is not H2O. You cannot make it out of anything merely physical, like two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. This living/sparkling water is the Word/word of God itself. It is the Deuteronomy 8:3/Matthew 4:4/Luke 4:4 Word/water that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Note that this Word/water has different qualities and potentialities than the H2O variety. Yes, H2O is necessary for life…physical life, but this living/sparkling Word/water is necessary for eternal life. This Word/water is life itself/has a “life” of its own (Hebrews 4:12AMPC). This living/sparkling Word/water, once ingested, operates ON AND FROM the spirit inside us, changing each of us, our leb (Hebrew), our “heart-mind” fusion from the inside out. 

Thing Two Part c: RELATIONSHIP. It has been noted that we are “spiritual beings having natural experiences.” For most of our lives this reality has been presented as a conundrum, a “confusing and difficult problem or question (Google online dictionary)”. While we are, indeed, physical creatures, we are constantly in pursuit of affirmation/confirmation of our spiritual natures, whether through sex (orgasms), religious experiences (“enlightenment”, “nirvana”, “slain in the spirit”) or interpersonal relationships (marriage, community, culture). The Samaritan woman had been on a quest, a quest to find personal meaning and affirmation. To the point of her encounter with Jesus, her efforts had been futile, fruitless and frustrating. Her culture and community had indoctrinated her to the point that she was convinced that meaning and affirmation could only be achieved only in a certain place (Mt. Gerizim) or in a certain way, i.e.,  in relation to and in relationship with a man/male. Thus, she had sought meaning and fulfillment through five (5) “husband” (v.18) relationships. Note to today: this is the root of misogyny. 

Jesus dismantles the Samaritan woman’s entire paradigm, in favor of a more solid, substantial and eternal foundation. Jesus re-orients her in space and in time: in her “inner” self perception (that space between “her” and “self” is deliberate), spiritually and physically; and in her ethnicity/culture. The Samaritan woman is changed so profoundly that she now becomes the instrumentality through which the reality of her friends and neighbors can be changed. She becomes (instantly?) an evangelist, leaving her “water jar” to become a living/sparkling water “jar”, enabling her compatriots to come into relationship with the Source of her (and their) salvation (vv.27-30, 39-42) through facilitation of a conversation between Jesus and the citizens of Sychar. 

CURRENT EVENTS

Luke 24:13-35AMPC, records a conversation about current events, a topic which, historically and perennially, has formed a foundation for conversations among acquaintances, friends and even strangers since the beginnings of civilization. In this example, two friends are walking along, discussing the most important (to them) events of recent days, commiserating with each other about the implications of these occurrences and the (seeming and assumed) dashing of their hopes, dreams and aspirations as a consequence of these events. The two friends are joined by another Traveler going in the same direction Who, catching up to them, engages them in conversation about their discourse: “Hey, guys! How’s it going? What’s up?” To them, this Person is a stranger; but, they actually stop walking to look at Him. Cleopas is somewhat amazed that this Stranger, coming from the same direction from which they had just come, could be unaware of what has just happened in Jerusalem (current events). Cleopas shares the news (the crucifixion of the Prophet from Nazareth) and its impact on him and his companion (they are sad and downcast and disappointed). Cleopas gives the Stranger the straight up “skinny”, including all the details of who did what, when these events occurred and the astonishing news from “some women of our company” that the Prophet, having been publicly put to death, was yet alive(!). 

WHAT WE SEE HERE

At this point in the conversation and along the journey’s way, the Stranger takes the lead in the conversation and begins to explain the significance and implications of these current events. The Stranger uses a kerygmatic method to share His eschatological world view… wait, what?! He “breaks it down” for them, “beginning with Moses and [throughout] all the Prophets, explaining and interpreting to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning and referring to Himself (Luke 24:27-27AMPC).” The traveling companions are enthralled. As they near their journey’s end and the Stranger signals that He was going further, they “urge and insist” that He stay with them so that they could continue their conversation over a meal. It was at this point, the point of worship, fellowship and the giving of thanks  that the two companions were enabled to recognize Who had been traveling and conversing with them and instantly, He was gone.

Cleopas and his friend realized that they had to share this experience with the other disciples and immediately journeyed back to Jerusalem to tell the Eleven apostles and the other disciples that they had encountered the risen Messiah on their way, only to hear from the disciples the same Good News they were intending to share with them! And then, Jesus Himself appears among them! They see Him. They feel Him. He eats food they had prepared with their own hands. Jesus again employs kerygmatic methods to share His eschatology- OK, He engaged them conversationally in order to translate and transfer to them His biblically-based world view- as the foundation to empower and commission His followers to spread the Good News and to “make disciples” among all the nations (see also Matthew 28:18-20AMPC).  

LESSONS LEARNED (SHOUTOUT TO PASTOR TIMOTHY CAREATHERS)

  1. WE SHOULD TAKE TIME TO MAKE TIME TO TALK TO EACH OTHER. When we are in conversation with each other, it becomes easier to recognize our common humanity. Conversations facilitate our recognition of the God in each other, thereby making it much harder to not “love one another.”
  2. CONVERSATIONS ARE AT THE LEAST RELATIONSHIP “GAME CHANGERS” AND AT THEIR MOST, “LIFE CHANGING” ENCOUNTERS. If our conversations exhibit the characteristics of positive, intentional interactions- “intimacy and proximity; respect; good listening skills; patience; good intentions; positive energy/passion; no fear; trust/honesty and honest differences of opinion; integrity; hope for a strengthened relationship from having participated in the conversation”, it will be well-nigh impossible for those so engaged to walk away unchanged and to not be the “better” for the experience.
  3. LISTENING IS A RELATIONAL ACTIVITY. Some one person talks, another or others listen. Good communications in relationships is built on how well the parties to the relationship LISTEN to one another and not on how smooth one talks or how large the vocabulary of the other. The CHIEF COMPLAINT in most failing relationships- whether they be failing marriages, failing parent-child, teacher-student, employer-employee or Teacher-disciple relationships- is that some one is not listening or some one is being misunderstood. Not allowing your partner the opportunity to express him or herself is the same thing as not listening. Matthew 28:18-20AMPC; Acts 1:8AMPC; Romans 10:14AMPC.
  4. “CLEAR YOUR MIND OF QUESTIONS” (Yoda, Jedi Master). “It’s OK to ask God questions; it’s not OK to ‘question’ God”. Be careful with questions in conversations. Some types of questions are usually the product of a negative attitude and can be a product of prejudice and self-centeredness. The difference is the attitude of our hearts and the position of our minds. Contrast the conversations at Genesis 3:1ffAMPC and John 3:4ffNASB; and see also James 1:5-6AMPC.
  5. THROW OUT THE GARBAGE: We often “hear” through filters. These filters can be:
  • The residue of past experiences;
  • Traditions strongly held;
  • Emotions which echo down through the years.
  1. KNOW YOUR MATH… God gave us two (2) ears and one (1) mouth and we should use them proportionately (Romans 12:3ESV) …AND DON’T LISTEN WITH YOUR EARS FULL. For most of us, we can’t listen well because our ears are full of the sound of our own voices, our own thoughts. We focus on me, myself and I rather than on the one who is speaking to us! Don’t drown out your partner! Allow one who is speaking to you TO BE HEARD BY YOU! Example: “I already know what you are going to say before you say it!” (Jeremiah 6:10NIV; Zechariah 7:11-13NIV; 2Timothy 4:3-4NLT).
  2. CLARIFY, DON’T ASSUME! Often, we assume we are speaking the same language as the person with whom we are exchanging words (Genesis 11:1AMPC). Make sure of this! (John 8:43AMPC). Practice Ardena Hicks’ “Reflection Method”: Reflect, then Respond.
  3. “LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP or PAUSE BEFORE YOU SPEAK”. Hear what YOU are going to say BEFORE you say it (SEE #7, Reflection Method). CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY. Don’t just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. (Proverbs 18:13MSG; Proverbs 29:20NLT). CHOOSE YOUR VOICE CAREFULLY. Be mindful: it’s not so much alone WHAT you say as it is also important HOW you say what you say. (I Corinthians 13:1 MSG/AMPC/KJV/TLB and other translations of this verse.
  4. Finally, Isaiah 50:4-7NASB/AMPC/TLB/KJV/NIV/NLT/MSG.

 

There’s No Place Like Home – Unless You’re Homeless – by Susan Dolan

According to Dan McDonald, ‘there’s no place like home’ and most of us would agree unless you’re homeless, of course. That was the name of his keynote speech in Kansas City highlighting the issues around homelessness and what we can do to end it.

McDonald delivered his speech at the annual National Sheriff’s Association 2022 conference. It was designed to raise awareness of how the police deal with homelessness and people who live on the streets. It also highlighted the fact that jails are becoming the largest homeless shelters in many communities and the cost implications of this for the taxpayer.

McDonald called for better responses to the issue of homelessness and suggested ways in which the authorities and local communities could develop cost-effective, legal and compassionate approaches for dealing with the issue, such as the development of police homeless outreach teams.

Continue reading There’s No Place Like Home – Unless You’re Homeless – by Susan Dolan