UPDATE 01.22: Thoughtful response from, Bob Franquiz, I’m Still Learning. I’m Still Growing.
I can also see how this particular idea came to be. I have been there. Folks are gathered in a room brainstorming ideas for a theme. Some ideas are way off, other are far too cheesy and still others . . . no one even know what they mean. And then someone suggests one that everyone in the room says, “Yes! Awesome!” For example, the free online church growth conference, that is using an Easter Bunny Ninja logo. What is more ironic, amusing and hipster than a bunny-eared ninja mascot for a conference? Seriously, I have been part of many a conversations where an idea or theme starts gaining some traction and before you know it, it’s a done deal.
But in the end, not all ideas are good ones or even worth it.
So yeah, there has been an issue raised by some about the use of the culturally hip ninja as part of this event. While Ninja’s may be “in” and may be perceived as a harmless cultural reference, the question that I have is this, “Why use an ethnically based icon at all?”
For me, I am not really that pissed off about it, but being made aware of this yesterday by Carol Howard Merritt, was a somber reminder of the insidious ways in which racial insensitivities abound still in our society. Honestly, I am more disappointed that, at some point, someone who was part of the planning or was in that room during the brainstorming didn’t hear a whisper saying, “Psst, maybe the Ninja thing is not such a good idea. Say something now.”
To be clear, I probably would not have participated in this event and I have not contacted the organizers. With a limited amount of time, just looking at the leadership and focus, there are other events that will better help me grow in my faith and leadership. Heck, I have never even heard of any of the places they serve, but it seems they have some clout in some part of the Christian world. Basically, these folks are not really my people in terms of church culture and we live and minister in very different contexts.
So to be clear, I am not going after them as much as lifting this up as a reminder that we each have the potential to mis-use, co-opt or commoditize a culture. Like the recent return of the Atlanta Braves Screaming Savages logo and the Deadly Vipers controversy of a few years ago, this tells me that people – you, me, us – who have cultural, institutional and economic power must always be deliberate in the words, images and gatherings that are put forth. While intentions may be good and faithful, when we continue to use culturally based images and imagery without attempting to delve into the complexities of that particular culture then we relegate a population to the role of mascot and position of window-dressing.
Again, I don’t know these folks and am not calling the villagers grab their pitchforks and torches. For none of us – None. Of. Us. - is immune from finding ourselves in this very same position. I am grateful for Soong-Chan Rah who is in dialogue with the conference leadership. It seems that the conversations have been filled with grace and respect. You can read Professor Rah’s blog or Follow @ProfRah on twitter to keep up with developments.