Posts tagged love
For The Onlies

Recently I went to the movies to watch a horror flick that apparently had great appeal for high school students. They easily filled the first 15 rows of the theater. Since I was in the burbs I was not surprised to see mostly white kids fill the seats.  Just a couple rows in front us sat 8 girls, all white, until a black girl plopped into the last seat in the row. I noticed her because she had the cutest little cut I've seen on a girl her age. And though there was little else that made her stand out, I could not help but think of all the times I was her- the only black girl in the row. So, this is for all the "onlies" at the end of the row. 

 To the only black girl in her school batting away swinging ponytails while combating a limited retelling your her-story choosing to begin with slavery rather than your Motherland. To the only Latina on campus who thinks in another language, constantly making translations in your head. To the only Asian girl always assumed to be from somewhere else, somewhere far. To the only Indian girl whose name reflects her parent's fears of a future of discrimination. To the only Native American girl whose image of self is hidden behind stereotypical mascots of male faces. To the only biracial girl in the neighborhood who is always bracing to hear the question, "What are you?"  May you know that your history is vast, your language beautiful, your home here. May your full name embody your full self. May you know stories of significance, of wonder, of greatness that look just like you. May you know that you are a who.  

To the only Latino boy who must be present at the parent/teacher conference- the constant mediator, translator, teacher and learner. To the only Asian boy who must explain his "funny" eyes. To the only black boy already considered the mean one, the violent one. To the only First Nation boy who is laughed at for his long hair, who is asked to cut it off because it's distracting for others. To the only Middle Eastern boy whose place of worship was threatened last week, last month, last year.To the only multiracial boy in the class who has to explain his parents, his siblings, his family- even to adults.  May you know that your ability is a skill not a tragedy. May you reject the notion that different equals strange. May you create titles that you are comfortable wearing and throw away the rest. May you never apologize for being distracting, for perhaps that's exactly what's needed to break up the monotony. May you worship in peace. May your answers be simple and sarcastic and knowing. 

To the only Indian child whose culture is ignored until the moment it is misunderstood and back again. To the only Hispanic child who must split the world in half- home and everywhere else- whose two worlds reside within you, but often nowhere else. To the only black kid at the mall with your white friends who must resist the urge to explain to passersby that you have black friends, too, that you are not losing yourself, that you do not need to be found.  To the only First Nation kid who carries the weight of the ancestor's pain, the ancestor's tears. To the only two Asian students in the school who are constantly confused with one another, despite the sea of other same race faces.  To the only Asian child whose neighborhood is considered a tourist attraction for the masses. To the only ethnically ambiguous children who will never fit neatly and nicely into the racial boxes America has created, who must dig deep to find reconciliation within themselves.  May you choose when to give voice.  May you find the intersection that works for you. May you lose yourself in the moment feeling no need to explain. May you embody the strength the ancestors displayed, embrace the uniqueness of your face, enjoy the richness of your culture. May you lead the way. 

To all the Onlies of all races, all colors all combinations who are quirky, colorful and constantly changing: may you find that you are not monolithic- that your version of 'us' is nothing short of brilliant. May you know that you are lovable, incredible, fearfully and wonderfully made. May you find special ways, among special people to let your culture breathe.  



A Series on Peter

No Favorites

We started this series with a vision of animals that Peter didn't quite understand. When the vision ends, Peter has a succession of rather uncomfortable situations. He first extends hospitality to Gentiles, and then starts traveling with them! Now in Acts 10:27, we find Peter standing in the middle of a room filled with Gentiles making clear how uncomfortable and unusual this experience is for him, "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile (Acts 10:28)." And yet, Peter recognizes that God has already revealed a portion of the vision to him, "But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean (Acts 10:28)."

So Peter is beginning to get it! But this sounds a lot like tempered tolerance, doesn't it? In the same sentence as declaring how wrong it is for him to hang out with these people, he is also stating that he shouldn't call them unclean or impure! It is tolerance from a distance, right? I promise not to call you unclean, but please don't challenge my practice of treating you like the unclean...   

But Cornelius is not dismayed.  He pushes forward by explaining that he was told to find Peter, and that all his family and friends are eagerly awaiting what God will say through Peter. Something about Cornelius's words strikes a cord within Peter. The first words out of Peters mouth are, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right." Perhaps it's Cornelius's obedience that moves Peter.  Or perhaps it's their courage to bring the Jews into their home. Or it could be that Peter recognizes the visitation that Cornelius describes. Whatever it is Peter is responding to, in this moment he moves beyond tolerance as he proclaims a paradigm shift, "God has no favorites." 

Suddenly all the dots connect. This is deeper than not calling the Gentiles unclean, this is about not believing the Gentiles are unclean. This is a revelation that Peter's cultural preferences suggest that God only loves one nation, when in fact God "accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right."

This is a common attribute of enthocentrism (I describe my own journey with being ethnocentric here), and truth be told, we all have to be careful not to equate our cultural preferences with God's cultural preferences! For surely He delights in the diversity with which we worship Him. While there is great value in analyzing our interpersonal ways of relating to one another, we can also use Peter's revelation to examine our church communities. If you were to look at the cultural practices of your church, would it suggest that God has favorites? Is there anyone who is being left out? Anyone considered unclean? Particularly the "nations" that are already in your congregation- gender, age, certain races, ethnicities or languages... Is there a population of people that God has invited you to fellowship with who is treated like the unclean or impure? 

Wouldn't it be amazing if our churches galvanized around the revelation that God indeed has no favorites! Imagine the creativity of our music and worship, the depth of our sermons, the voices we would value and all we would learn if only we moved beyond "gracing others with our presence" and instead truly believed that God accepts from every nation. What if we had the courage to challenge our own cultural preferences in order to express the depth and width of God's love for all? 


Just Play More Gospel!

In my experience of working with white churches who are interested in attracting (or retaining) black congregation members, one common solution is to play more gospel music. It is sort of an if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach. And the logic makes sense. Gospel music is an incredibly important element of most black churches- whether its old school, contemporary, or a mix of both. So, its possible that playing more gospel music will have a significant chance of encouraging black visitors to become black members. 

I am absolutely supportive of churches making changes to worship services in order to make the service feel like home for those who traditionally have had to adapt and assimilate into the structure of white church. But I think there is a slight misunderstanding about the depth and meaning of these changes. If your church has committed to a formula for playing a certain number of Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams and William McDowell songs by repeating them as best you can from sheet music, you've taken a great first step, but its time to take the second. 



The second step is to recognize the cultural nuances that make gospel music what it is.  Gospel has a lot less to do with mimicking an artist; in fact, that might be a clear giveaway that you're not really playing gospel music. Gospel music is about freedom. It's about allowing the music to move you, to course through you, to feel it from your head to your toes. It's about allowing the lyrics to wash over you, to repeat them as often as necessary, to highlight different verses or even specific lines spontaneously. It's about movement- waving arms, clapping hands, stomping feet. It is freedom of expression, expression without judgment. It is remixing in the moment. It is never playing a song the same way twice but possibly singing it three times. It is an imperfect but elating partnership between worship leader, musicians and choir. Gospel music is not a "what" it is a "how". 

Figure out the "how" and you might find that there is less of a need to meet a quota of gospel songs per month. The real question is, "Are people free here?"   Do people feel free to explore and express the cultural nuances of their own worship style, or is it suggested they should just be happy that their music is being played at all?  

I use gospel music as my primary example, because of my personal background, but if your church is interested in altering worship to represent the culture of Puerto Ricans, Koreans or First Nations, I believe the questions above still have merit.

1. Do you understand the nuances of cultural worship styles?

2. Do people feel free to worship without judgement?  

Answer, "yes" to both of those questions, and you will have created a clear path for your church to enter into multicultural worship!

Just one more piece of advice for churches who are trying to diversify worship: it helps to genuinely fall in love with the culture! I imagine it can be overwhelming for churches to take on new worship styles, songs, potentially new instruments and vocalists. One way to make the transition a little less intimidating is to sincerely enjoy engaging, learning, and exploring the culture. Love gospel music and it will show, even if you don't sing one "traditional" gospel song- the nuances of singing gospel will begin to leak and your congregation will notice. Fall in love and you might find it impossible not to insert another culture into your standard worship!    

Blessings on your music ministry!