Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cheeseburgers and Ministry

I would be remiss if I did not bear witness to what is perhaps the best burger in existence (with all due respect to Mrs. Penny).
Last week on our way to the beach, the family and I stopped in at Johnson’s Hamburgers in Siler City. I had long heard rumors of Old Man Johnson’s unyielding dedication to his craft. I felt compelled to taste for myself. Two words.....as advertised. As moved as I was by the dining experience at Johnson’s, it is the not-so-secret secret to his success that I find most worth sharing. Turns out, Old Man Johnson takes in the same amount of fresh, grain-fed beef every day. It’s the very same amount he has been unloading for the past forty-plus years. In spite of growing demand, this blue-collar businessman refuses to up his order. He cooks what meat he has. Then he shuts it down. Some days the burgers are gone in three hours. They never last more than four. He likewise refuses to increase the size of his restaurant. Twelve stools and a hand full of booths are his max. Patrons who want a burger and a seat will have to get there early and wait. Ornery? Perhaps. Meticulous? Without doubt. But here we find more of an artist than an entrepreneur. A man I picture weeping over his burgers as he patties them to perfection. In the end though, it’s not so much that he despises growth, or refuses to evolve. Mr. Johnson is simply unwilling to compromise the product for the sake of increasing production. He understands that in his efforts to get more people to come, he may make his eatery no longer worth coming to.
I’m asked pretty often where I see the Bridge Project going. How will we expand? How will we facilitate growth? In answer to these questions, I will stand beside the old man and say....we may not go anywhere, we have no plans of expanding, and we refuse to grow if it means watering down the recipe. In burgers and in ministry, it is never wise to sacrifice quality on the altar of success.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Defining Racism

From day one, a defining characteristic of The Bridge Project has been our calling to stand as a witness against racism. That calling continues as a driving force behind what we do. That part has not changed. What has changed, or I should say is changing, is how exactly we define racism. For the longest time, I viewed and spoke of racism in terms of individual bias. Racism happened when one person judged another strictly on the basis of his race. I’ve noticed that my non-white friends have a distinctly different take on the constitution of racism.
Whereas I often speak of an individual harboring a racist grudge against another, my non-white cohorts seem to speak more of institutions which chronically favor one race over another. Their view of racism is more in line with the classic definition of the word. According to this definition, racism is not just prejudice. It is prejudice plus power. I think of it this way......if someone calls me a name it hurts my feelings. It hurts my feelings a lot worse though if the government agrees with him.
Opening myself to this definition of racism forces me to face-up to an ugly truth. That truth is that I have benefited greatly from the color of my skin, and that my privilege has been to the detriment of others. America was made for white people. For the first four-hundred years of existence, America legally documented black people as “sub-human.” Although we may have publicly repented of our sin, the deep root of white-supremacy remains intact. We don’t notice, but minorities do. They notice because they remain on the business end of the lie that one man can stand over another.
Our work has been aimed at stopping the bleeding in the black community. It’s good to stop the bleeding, but it’s ultimately futile if the wound is not healed. The Black Panthers had a saying for white folks who were sympathetic to their cause. They would say, “Go home and save your own people.” Maybe they were right.