Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Eccumenicity – and the color Green

I’m sitting in the midst of the woods as I write, and writing is difficult because I can’t take my eyes of the color green. Perhaps colors green would be more accurate: here the green of the vine maple leaves, there the green of the blue-spruce, or hemlock, or fir, or sword fern, or cedar. Here the green lit by the sun, there the green muted by the shade. . Here the moss on the tree, there the groundcover. Count, if you can, how many shades of green are there; or don’t count. Either way, you know there are hundreds of shades, just among the trees alone, never mind the ground cover.

Rich Mullins sings of how God has provided ‘the color green’ to fill these fields with praise. The stunning, lavish diversity of it all reminds of God’s intention for the global church. I’m impressed by malleability of the gospel. Go to Nepal and see the prayer flags strung in the courtyard of the church building, with men and women sitting on ground opposite sides of the sanctuary. Try South America, with the unabashedly open expressions of emotion that are so characteristic of Latin American peoples. Let’s visit a home Bible study in England where you’ll find people sipping merlot as they consider the implications of Isaiah and God’s kingdom claims on their lives. Few Christians drink wine in Nepal. In England or France it’s almost a given. In Germany? Beer. In Seattle? Coffee. In Southern California? - I’m still trying to figure that out.

High Church. Low Church. Rock Music. Chant. Taize. Smoke machines. Incense. Prayer flags. Prayer beads. Hey – if the Spirit is in it, it’s all the colors green – all tree.

Ecology, it seems, has some important lessons to teach us about church life. Fir trees belong in the soggy Northwest, and Palm trees in the California desert because the convergence of climate and soil have created a culture hospitable to certain trees, but not others. Likewise, the soil of culture (social mores and taboos, economic matters, and even physical geography) become nutrients for some forms of church, but are utterly hostile to others. It’s this capacity of the church to take shape in diverse environments that is one of the reasons for its global appeal. You don’t need to learn Hebrew, build a building with certain size windows, and sing songs at certain times of the day. Instead, the church morphs to fit the culture. Yet, when Christ is still in the midst, it remains the church; just a different shade of green.

Of course this malleability has it’s own danger. If we’re not careful to ‘guard the good news’, the culture forms that contain it may so torture and mutate the message that the gospel gets lost entirely. We need to work hard at preserving the essence which is this.

When the church fails to understand this, her mission endeavors impose the same shade of green everywhere. Such activity is better called colonialism than mission, for God’s intention has always been the redeeming of various cultures, rather than their destruction. So let’s stop insisting that our color green is the greenest of them all – the diversity is a testimony to the incredible beauty and freedom that Christ’s body has, and I’d argue that a body that is beautiful, creative, adaptable, and free, is healthy.


At 4/10/06 21:00, Blogger The Goos Family said...

Maybe I'm taking us on a rabbit trail with what I'm about to say. It seems there is alot of mentioning of "diversity" of green in regards to other cultures and countries but what about in our own backyard of Bethany in Seattle, WA. I find it really difficult to engage people at Bethany for the need for diversity and appreciation and acknowledgement of the "other" greens that are present within Bethany (what I'm particularily talking about is race). I have felt at times that the only shade of green that is acceptable to be acknowledged is the green that the "white" majority has acknowledged and if I try to bring up that other shades of green are out there I'm either looked at as crazy or dismissed. So the diversity you're talking about, I guess I'm having a really difficult time seeing in the form of race at Bethany. Finding it even more increasingly difficult to be engaged when I feel like I'm coming up against not just an individual or group of people but more of a huge corporate blind spot to not seeing or wanting to see the other shades of green.
Just to accentuate this example, one Sunday night about 2 months ago I was walking out of church heading back to my car. A man in his late 20s or early 30s had just stepped out of the evening church service. He talks with a thick British accent and says out loud, "I have never been in such a white church I can't stand it, I will not be coming back to visit this church again". It made me wonder how many visitors have come and gone because of the lack of racial diversity at Bethany. It's sad to think about because I really love Bethany and the relationships that I have developed.

At 5/10/06 07:11, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erica, can you help we who are white understand what needs to change in order for this diversity to occur? And you can explain why African Americans and Asian Americans start their own churches, just as homogeneous as ours (or more so)and that seems to be OK? I think I speak for many in asking... help us understand these things.

At 5/10/06 09:52, Blogger The Goos Family said...

I want to comment right now about your whether or not it's OK for African Americans or Asian Americans to start their own churches and that being homogenous. This is my personal view, I'm not totally for homogenous churches but a diversity and appreciation and acknowledgement of diversity but I understand why people would be attracted to the homogenous churches. I'll use the example of if you are a "white American" person have you ever experienced what it feels like to be the only "white American" person for an extended time (at least 3 months or so)in a country living and working (not just being a tourist)among a people group that is not. For a non-white person, these feelings are a part of the daily existence and then when the person tries to engage or comment or call out the "ethnocentricity", they are either made to feel crazy or making a big deal out of nothing. So thus, why non-whites tend to stick together because they get an understanding and empathy from those who are more like them. I guess my question back to you is why is it OK for "whites" to have had homogenous churches throughout history and not OK for Asian American or African Americans to have now? Like I said, I don't advocate for homogenity whatever the ethnicity or culture.
I'll comment about what needs to change in order for diversity to occur at some other time.

At 5/10/06 15:30, Blogger The Goos Family said...

I have a couple of minutes to answer what needs to change to foster diversity. This is a huge question and not simple to answer but will give you my opinion. I will get philosophical for a moment and then practical.
Education and exposure to diversity and experience with other races and people can be a solution to racism and prejudice but I think ultimately we have to deal with our human nature to be "selfish": to want to live life the way we want to see and live life and not be made uncomfortable or challenged by another's view or experience of life. Because ultimately that is what is asked of me, when I encounter my own prejudice or racism against a particular race or people, to view life from another's perspective which might make living my life uncomfortable or challenge my own assumptions of what I value in life. I think until I as an individual question my own assumptions on race and prejudice then effect change by asking my "community" to also examine their assumptions as well, racism and prejudice will continue to exist.
Obviously this is not an exhaustive but thinking from the top of my head about what the church can do to foster diversity:
1) Begin the dialogue about racism and prejudice within the church, I'm making the assumption that the leadership of the church values diversity and will strive to make changes.
2) Partnering with an ethnically diverse church as a sister/brother church. Trade pastors for a Sunday, have events together, etc.
3) I am not for affirmation action but I am for being intentional about putting people of color in our congregation in the forefront (i.e. encourage to make the announcements, to lead worship, etc). Hiring people of color on staff.
4)Having some kind of "multicultural Sunday" where differen flags from different cultures/countries can be displayed and have testimonials, etc.

At 6/10/06 10:28, Anonymous Lisa Page said...

I'm glad you brought up this issue. I have often sat in church and felt strangely dirty about just how white our congregation is. I notice the people of non-white backgrounds and give them the biggest smile I can muster, hoping to send the message that I'm glad that they are part of our congregation. Thank you for offering such practical, real world ideas for how to make our congregation more diverse, I think all of the things you mentioned would be time well spent and should be a priority for possibly a new team at our church. I know that Bethany includes people from all over the political and ideological spectrum, which I value, and I think we should embrace our own diversity (it's there whether we can tell or not) and work intentionally to build greater diversity and understanding amongst all different types of people. I believe Richard would be excited to consider the idea of partnering with a more ethnically diverse church to share ideas and create more bonds of relationship in our big city.

All that to say, you aren't the only one thinking this. I would be excited to participate in any conversations and activities that deal with this issue.



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