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...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Same Team --

This summer we'll be doing a mid-week series at Bethany called "Meet the P.R.E.S.S." - It's acronym for five topics around which we will dialog: Personhood - Racism - Environment - Social Divisions - Sexuality. In each case the idea will be to caste the vision of what is supposed to be true for those who are in Christ - then to consider the realities in that realm - and finally have a panel based conversation with an eye towards taking steps to move closer to God's ethic.

The Racism topic is occupying me this days, in part because I'm reading a book loaned to me by a new friend for whom this subject is very important. It's called Reconciliation Blues, and I'd recommend it for any white person seeking to understand what it's like to grow up as an evangelical AND a minority. It, along with conversations with a few people, is helping shed light on this issue, and though I'm slow to understand, some of the clouds are certainly beginning to part.

Yesterday my friend and I had a discussion about this and I said, "why is it that sports teams, at least on the court, don't seem to have any of the race issues that plague the church?" He pointed out that, for those two hours, everyone has the same uniform and the same objectives. Thus the distinctions of privilege and oppression are set aside as the only thing that matters becomes getting the ball through the hoop, or across the goal line, or the runner home.

It seems that this too is the calling of the church, and yet somehow we miss it. The church, like a team, is also called to 'put on' new clothing by virtue of her calling. Of course, nobody disputes this, but perhaps the reality is that we're not quite wearing the same uniform yet. We've reduced our notions of Christian maturity to being nice people who don't commit adultery, get drunk, or cheat on their taxes. But perhaps the clothing of Christ is more profound then that; perhaps it includes working towards reconciliation with those who are different than us; perhaps it includes letting go of our previous ambitions towards upwards mobility, instead favoring a pursuit of a world that looks as it will when Jesus reigns - a world where everyone has enough, and children are no longer being sold into slavery or co-opted into tribal wars - a world where those with means are utterly devoted to the empowerment of those on the margins, that they might have enough to live with hope and dignity.

A commitment to this kind of world brings previous strangers together because this kind of world is neither white nor black, but the creation of a whole new thing. Rather than white evangelicals saying, "of course we're not racist - anyone is perfectly free to come be a part of our white world", there would be a commitment, on both sides of the racial divide, to the creation of something completely new, something that draws on the rich heritages of all parties to create a foretaste of Christ reign. After all, the picture we use all the time to describe the future is that of nations streaming together, joining hands in peace because they are collectively submitting to the reign of a new King.

It's this commitment to making Christ's reign visible that becomes, to use the sports analogy, our common cause. If the commitment is high enough, we'll set aside our differences, no longer caring who carries the ball, as long as we're moving forward, as long as mercy, justice, reconciliation, and peace, are moving out from our life together into our hurting world. That's a team worth playing for - a uniform worth wearing.

Your thoughts?


At 22/5/07 12:53, Blogger david said...

sounds like an interesting book. i'd also recommend michael emerson's "divided by faith"- that book, along with beverly tatum's "why are all the black kids sitting together..." have served us well in our annual faith & race depth class at quest. glad to hear you're working through it as a church...

At 22/5/07 16:19, Anonymous donte said...

Thanks Richard,

I’m pondering the important role that practice plays in preparation for games. All athletes understand that practice is essential, but very few would say that they truly enjoy practice. The reason—practice is often more grueling, tiring, painful, and frustrating than the actual game. Similarly, most Christians would say that racial reconciliation is important to our faith, but very few want to have conversations or engage in cultural or racial encounters that may be mentally and emotionally exhausting, painful, and frustrating.

The great juxtaposition here of course is that as evangelicals we are often reluctant to confront conflict (both personally and corporately) therefore our internal conversations remain polite, courteous, and PC; yet, we will never fully understand reconciliation if we do not have honest and sincere discourse.

Often times we want to skip practice and just play the game. We want to see diversity in our churches and we want all cultures to “just get along”, but the hard reality is that we must first be willing to confront what divides us.

At 22/5/07 19:48, Anonymous Kristi said...

Amen and Amen! Thank you, Richard for your entry and for bringing the conversation of reconciliation to the forefront at Bethany. It is much needed! And thank you, Donte, for your comments- I totally agree with your comparisons.

In fact, I recently had the privilege of attending a "collaboration" run by Drs. Brenda Salter-McNeil and Derek McNeil on cross-cultural conflict resolution. One of the models they presented was one by M. Scott Peck which goes through the four stages of community development: 1)Pseudo-community, 2)Chaos, 3)Emptying, and 4)Community. Going back to Donte's comments, I believe that often as evangelicals (and probably not limited to us) we want to skip out on all of the other steps and go straight to community (or we assume that we are already there without having visited the other steps.) Unfortunately, this often means that we remain in psuedo-community, where people are afraid to say what they really think, and are more concerned with being PC than being authentic and vulnerable to one another.

It is only in doing the hard work of moving beyond the pseudo, into the chaos of conflict that emerges when we are honest with one another, on to the emptying of our needs to try and change each other or force one another to see things the same way we do, that we are finally able to arrive at community (which in itself is not a static state, but may continually cycle through the stages.)

All that to say, I'm sure that this will be uncomfortable for some folks, but I'm also certain that it can bring about some great fruits and I hope that we can hang in there through the chaos to reap the benefits of living in authentic community.

At 22/5/07 23:09, Blogger Ryan said...

Richard... thanks for the post. At this point I have few thoughts on the racism topic specifically. Lately, however, I've been plowing through "Adventures in missing the point" (McLaren and Campolo) and just starting to have my spritual perspective broadened to encompass these sorts of issues (PRESS, etc.). Missing from McLaren and Campolo's book though is an attitude of submission to Christ to seek His heart on our course of action as His children. I really appreciate how that is your heart in these things. You do not rush out to rescue the world and the church for God; you remind me to seek His face first. Even in an overwhelming mess like evangelical racism God is at work and He alone knows how to bring His kingdom to come on this earth. Thanks for that reminder.

At 25/5/07 18:52, Blogger serendipityhappens said...

As a community organizer working in a Seattle neighborhood reflecting a cross section of the world, with all its racial/ethnic/income/class divides, I have come to believe that people process "Us" and "Them" as a kind of default setting. Categorizing the world by comparing everything to what is comfortable and familiar helps protect us from the unknown, and from potential threats to our security. It's how our brain processes and sorts out information from the time we first begin to take in the world.

The key is finding ways to move beyond our comfort zones, then actually being willing to share opportunities, power and resources on a personal, community and larger level with those who - perhaps unjustly - may not have had the same opportunities or advantages as we may have had. It means sharing our lives with people who do things differently and think about things in an unfamiliar way, people whose default settings may seem strange and even illogical to us.

What does that mean for me? I find myself constantly finding hidden biases. When I drive East Yesler Way (usually several times a day), I often fight the urge to check my door locks when a dark-skinned youth walks near the car. What if he were white? Would I even think of it? I have to ask myself these questions, and calculate the damage to him if I can't help myself and lock the door just as I pass him, our eyes locking, and he knows why I did it. How many times a day does the same scenario play out for him? How would I feel if he were my son? What would I tell him about how to respond or how to process that repeated experience? How many times in his lifetime has he heard the locks click as someone has driven by?

What is your Yesler Way?

At 28/5/07 21:02, Blogger Trusting said...

The "us" and "them" mentality seems to be the norm more often than not. That has spilled over in to the mission field over the years. I recently finished a great 15-week course, (Perspectives on the World Christian Movement). This really helped me to see how my own perspective was not lined up with the heart of God in this regard. The "us" mentality implies that our culture has the "better" way of doing everything. The only "better" way is for Christ to be resident in the hearts of all. Thanks for the blog.

At 30/5/07 23:15, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Going on seven years now I have been working in an office that is not white or even predominantly English speaking. I am the solitary Caucasian. It’s taught me many things and I definitely believe that God had a hand in bringing me there. Seattle is a very racially divided place as far as I can see—the most that that I have lived in.

I think that Richard hit it on the head by pointing out that it’s not about allowing them to join us. We are long past the day, if there ever was such day, that people of color wanted to become like white people. Everywhere on earth people are striving to celebrate themselves and white people, even the best Christians in every other way, seem to be the last ones to notice this.

Really living diversity is a very hard thing to do. I am exposed to a lot of diversity type programs through my job, and it’s almost always about “bringing those people into our midst.” Big deal. Can you really share power? Can you really listen to people’s stories who aren’t like you? Can you give up the view you hold of yourself and the other, who ever they may be?

I like what donte said too. It is about practicing. Just having ideas or believing you’re a good person is nice but it does not offer the possibility of real change. I speak from experience. Really working side by side with others who are not ethnically the same as you is not always easy nor is it always fun. I often have felt that I have two jobs—the one I am paid for and the job of getting along with my fellow human beings in a whole new way.

I am not sure what the P.R.E.S.S. is but I would strongly urge the possibility of an action component. Maybe working out some kind of program with one of the local churches with ethnic congregations or social justice organizations like the Urban League or the Organization of Chinese Americans would be a possibility? There are plenty of opportunities without going to Thailand or Africa to experience a whole different world than the one found at Bethany, just a few miles away.

At 15/6/07 20:21, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen and Amen.


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