Friday, December 04, 2009

Next Up

I drove into and through the city today. Twenty five miles from my door to a room at Ravenswood Covenant Church. The covenant group I’ve met with for the past few years was gathering. We had a special guest Soong-Chan Rah who’s written a book called The Next Evangelicalism …Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.

Rah’s book is an interesting and edgy read. Basically, he says that the church of the future needs to move away from the white captivity of evangelicalism. That's pretty provocative isn't it? Are we guilty of making American Christianity in our image and likeness thus edging out the work of God which is far beyond border or ethicity?

I don’t argue with his assertions. After dialoguing with him today I especially walked away knowing that he has no vendetta against the western church or group of people. He really is offering a prophetic voice to the church in our country. Prophetic voices have a way of rubbing against the grain. We usually don’t like that especially if it causes us pain and/or discomfort.

Let me confess something. I kind of like being a white male. It has carried with it certain privilege and opened doors of opportunity. I have a lot of choices. People who look like me have a lot of power, money and position. That means we’ve gotten to call the shots for a long time. Sometimes we’ve done that well. Not always though. Regardless of success or failure the end doesn’t justify the means. But basically, I can see where being male, white, reasonably well educated, and of course utterly charming has served me well. I’ve been at the front of a lot of lines and for the most part I haven’t minded. (I’m ashamed to admit that by the way. Now, I wonder who’s place I might have taken)

So from the perspective of five decades of living, I know I can’t do anything about the color of my skin but I can recognize that being in the drivers seat can oftentimes exclude and minimize the contributions of others. That bothers me both from a historical perspective and from a life application perspective in the here and now.

I’ve listened to enough stories of people who look differently from me to realize that the kind of power I inherited and yet chosen to use has not always served others well. Sometimes what I believe, how I think, and how we (collectively) think and believe has served to create a culture of faith that serves us well but not the church as a whole.

The truth of the matter is that the melting pot we thought we were is in reality a stew of various flavors, beliefs, people and ideas. And these flavors, beliefs, people, and ideas do not want to be held captive by a faith system that isn’t inclusive and representative of the way God has moved in other places among other people. Nor should they be. And I think it's well beyond making our brand of evangelical Christianity more accessible and diverse. It's more than that. It brings us back to the Scriptures, I think, where we must try to look at what God is saying without the bias of our particular culture and history. That's not easy.

That’s why Rah’s book stung me a bit. I look at our world from a very simplistic perspective some times. And if truth be told I hold a world view that doesn’t necessarily work beyond my comfortable walls of faith and influence. And, despite the lip service given to diversity, the reality is that most of us feel far more comfortable in settings where we know exactly what the next person is thinking and feeling. We like our exclusive clubs where everyone dresses and speaks just like. The problem is that this doesn’t work well when we truly understand the meaning of the notion of the body of Christ.

The world is changing around us. The world that was doesn’t exist any longer. Our country is going to become more diverse not less. Now, comes the hard work of taking a look at our structures and practices and issues. And then we (all of us) have go about the hard journey of recreating many things so that they make sense in a multi-cultural context. And the big question is whether or not we as individual are up to the task? And if we’re not will our churches be able to find a voice in a rapidly changing world?

So, I recommend this book. It will mess with your head. Do me a favor. Read it. Write to me and tell me how many times you threw it against the wall. Then, if you know someone of faith who is Black, Hispanic, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, etc. as them to read it. Then spend a few hours talking about it. Then let me know what you think.

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