Posts Tagged ‘culture’

This post is dedicated to two Steves: Steven Hamilton and Steve Schenk. You can check out Steven Hamilton on his blog Verve and Verse writing about theology, church, and his future plans to start a faith community in Pittsburgh and you can check out Steve Schenk writing on his blog Damascus 9 about his adventures as a church pastor in Buffalo here.

In recent years I have become aware of the issue of race more so as the pastor of a multiethnic church and through my studies at Fuller and this has caused me to explore not only the social issue of race but where I stand in regards to race and ethnicity. It has caused me to ask serious and honest questions about what I believe in regards to God’s perspective and viewpoint on race, culture, and ethnicity. Questions like

“Should there be a multiethnic church this side of heaven and is this a mandate for every church?”

“As an African American who has been robbed of culture should I place myself in a congregation where my culture is not dominant or at least valued?”

“Is there a place for a Christian black nationalist/separatist or is this going against God’s purpose for his church?”

“How can I be true to my culture and ethnicity while at the same time being a blessing to the different people around me?”

Many of these questions have been answered and many of them have not. The one thing that has emerged is that I do not want to be boxed in by race. Race is a social construct created to justify oppression. By being categorized in this way and operating within that construct I only give power to false notions of who I am as a person. To put it simply:  I am more than my skin color and physical features and these do not determine who I am. I am a human being who is capable of doing and achieving many things and experiencing the range and variety of human emotions and feelings.

With that being said.

Here is my MANIFESTO OF A RACE TRANSCENDING PROPHET

I refuse to be boxed in. categorized. labeled. Stuck in what others have thought of me and planned for me. I refuse to be prejudged and placed in a fabricated construction of someone else’s reality. I am more than my skin color. nose size. hair texture. I am more than my history and my background. I am that but so much more. I refuse to be barred from anything life has to offer. I refuse to be excluded from all of the experience of humanity. I refuse to let my identity be dictated by others who do not know me. I refuse to grab at the small amount of options that society has opened for me.

Instead I choose to be different. unique. African. American. Loving myself. Loving my culture. I choose to be someone who lives and loves the thought that black is beautiful. I choose to contribute and give these gifts to the rest of the world. I choose to have an identity that embraces these things and goes beyond them. I choose to love others who are different. unique. European. Korean. Mexican. Chinese. Argentinian. Human. These are my people. They are me. For we are all human. I choose to speak life giving and affirming words that transcend language. transcend accents. transcend culture. transcend hatred. I choose to follow in the tradition of Martin and Malcolm. Mother Teresa and Cesar Chaves. Jesus and Buddha. I choose to speak the truth that transcends race. I choose to a be race transcending prophet.

One of the big differences that I have seen between the black church and the white church involves preaching. It boils down to this: the stated goal of preaching is different therefore the delivery and content are different. The black preacher preaches in order to lift up. He knows he is talking to people who have been down and who face huge obstacles. The white preacher preaches in order to inform and educate. He knows he is talking to people who want to increase their knowledge.

This influences the delivery and the content of the preaching. The delivery of the black preacher is circular and high context. Most people think that black preaching is too emotional and not logical. This is due to not understanding the context of black culture that is sourced in Africa. It is not enough to have a logical argument. There is logic in black preaching but The black preacher knows that it takes more than logic to drive the argument home. This is done through stating the point. Talking about something related to the point and then stating the point again. Repeat and end with a climactic conclusion and you have a typical black sermon. It is very non linear. This is due to black culture being a high context culture. In a high context culture words are not the primary vehicles of communication. Facial expressions, music, hand gestures etc. are also taken into consideration when weighing whether a message will be received. So the black preacher states the point over and over again and this immerses her in the message and what God is saying and the congregation sees that this message must be important and begins to feedback with Amen! Preach preacher! It is the truth and it is conveyed in a non linear fashion.

On the other hand in the white church logic reigns supreme and linear forms of thought and speech hold sway. This is due to the legacy of the Enlightenment and even Greek culture. There must be a beginning and an end point and it must be clear how we got from the beginning to the end. This is due to a low context culture. In a low context culture the message is primarily in the words and the words only. It is enough to state what you want to say. Everything else that comes along with your message is frivolous and unnecessary. Emotion is shunned because it may interfere with the delivery of the truth. In the white church you will not hear feedback from the audience or Amens! from the choir. The true test of whether the message is heard is whether people actually get up and do it.

Most people usually critique black preaching or white preaching based on what it lacks. Growing up as a black pentecostal and then being part of a multiethnic church and a predominantly white movement I have had the privilege of seeing both styles in action. This has led to some soul searching in my own ministry on how to deliver God’s message. Doing both in different contexts I can honestly say that there is no better style but I wrestle with how both of these styles can be combined in order to be a greater benefit to the body of Christ.

  • What do you think? Do you prefer one over the other?
  • Could it ever happen? Has anyone seen it happen?
  • Can you give any examples of preaching that is a mixture of both styles?

We have been going through a series at church on the Life of David: Living a Dangerously Passionate Life. Last week’s sermon was on the topic of David the worshipper and worshipping without limits. The question asked was when it comes to worship how far is too far? Does God place a limit to our worship? I mean after being a Christian for 14 years I have seen it all from crazy sock worship to the holy ghost hokey pokey. There are many things that have made me cringe when it comes to Christian worship but I would have to say that when it is true and genuine worship there are no limits to its expression because we serve a limitless God.

That being said I would like to draw attention to the Vineyard emphasis on worship minus hype. From my perspective as an African American I struggle with the perspective and practice of worship minus hype. God deserves hype. In other words if we cannot hype God up and get crazy about God then he does not deserve to be called God. One of the tendencies I see is that because the Vineyard emerged in white suburbia Jesus is seen more as a friend. Intimacy and friendship with God prized and consequently we do not hype up our friends. It seems like empty flattery and disingenuous. It also leads to a comfort and inactivity because after all, our friends will always be there. In other words God can become in danger of being taken for granted

On the other end of the spectrum I think the African American church see Jesus more as king. The one who deserves to be made much of. So we dance and sing and shout because the King has given us victory. It is natural to look to Jesus as king when you are on the edge of poverty and despair. It means that God is someone to be reckoned with and deserves all that we have. It means that sometimes God deserves a praise break At the same time it can turn God into a cosmic vending machine and put the focus on what he gives and does versus who he is. It also can lead to worship that is just mindless activity and no intimacy.

No doubt none of these different traditions would deny the perspective of Jesus as king or as a friend but I do believe that in each one perspective on Jesus is usually overemphasized over the other. And although we may affirm all of who Christ is what we say is very different from what we do and our theology is usually expressed in our praxis.

What do you think? Can God be worshipped without hype? What is the Vineyard missing out on by not celebrating Jesus as king? What is the African American church missing out on by not focusing on Jesus as friend? Do you think this is a fair representation of the two traditions? Is it possible to blend the two traditions together?

While there is controversy going on over the Arizona immigration bill I want to ask the question: What is the Christian response to immigration?

It is definitely a huge issue and touches on economics, language, culture, national identity and history. Some would actually say that they are followers of Christ and promote some of the views expressed here

Eugene Cho has a great video of Alabama governor candidate Tim James and his platform of english only driving tests. Check it out here

For me no matter how logical or rational it seems. It definitely just sounds mean and vicious. It sounds like the same crap that had my people in chains picking cotton. But that’s just my opinion 🙂

One of the things that we are trying to navigate as a community is how to effectively represent the different styles and ways that we express spirituality since we come from so many different cultures. It has not been easy as there are so many to choose from across the spectrum of the different races and ethnicities. Some are from a more pentecostal background. Others are from a more high church background. While still others are rooted in an evangelical heritage. Last night we had a prayer meeting and it was an experience of God weaving the unique spiritualities of our different cultures together into something more beautiful than they would be alone.

In that small space of time we got a glimpse of Revelation 5:9,10 as we prayed Korean style with everyone crying out to God in unison for the needs of our church. One of our leaders who is 1st generation Korean bowed down on the floor and prayed in korean. Several of our leaders exemplified a familiarity with God and the plain language that characterizes many protestant evangelical churches today. Finally I close out and shouted prayers to the top of my lungs pentecostal style while people exclaimed “Amen!” and “Yes Lord!” It truly was an amazing experience and I was grateful to be a part of it. God is doing something awesome among us and I know that he was pleased.

Yes I said it. I am still a part of the black church. But first I want to clarify what that means. I do not mean the black church in a local church sense but the black church in a philosophical/ideological sense. The black church was started as a way to affirm the culture and dignity of African Americans. It was a sign and an expression of freedom at a time where although politics, economics, and even sports were controlled by whites the one thing that was still the ownership of African Americans was worship! This is my culture and I have not left all of it in a particular locality. I take it with me into my small group interaction, my sermons, my mentoring times, my prayers. I cannot deny who I am especially as I am involved with a group of people seeking to create a third culture. My contribution is important.

Whenever you enter a cross cultural situation you cannot leave behind who you are. Most think that you have to become 100% Nigerian, Filipino, Chinese etc. to relate to people within that ethnicity and culture. The real fact of the matter is that is impossible to be 100% incarnated into a different culture. You would have to be born into the culture. I believe many are afraid to truly relate to others on a deep level because they fear their identity will be left behind. The truth is as Sherwood Lingenfelter says in his book Ministering Cross Culturally “the goal of every missionary and possibly every Christian should be to become a 150% person.” It means not to deny who you are but to become more than who you are by the give and take that you experience as you relate to others incarnationally.

So I am still part of the black church. What does that mean? It means that I still am in solidarity with all those who are oppressed and want the justice that God brings. It means that I release others to worship in the form that they want to worship in. At the same time it means that in whatever context my intonations of speech, circular method of preaching, crowd participation etc. etc. betray me like Peter’s Galilean accent betrayed him in Jerusalem. Yes I am still part of the black church.