Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The more things change...

Disclaimer: This will be a long post! But believe me, it's worth the read.
My blogging buddy, Kamsin, recently tagged me in a meme. Exactly! I asked myself the same question. What in tarnation is a meme? So I checked it up in the Cambridge English Dictionary. I can only hope that this is the implied meaning as used in the following "meme" she tagged me in. Whatever the case, I will do my level best to articulate my 'soap-box' position as succinctly as possible (while adding a new word to my lexicon) :)

When asked why he did not rebuke the sinfulness of the people around him, St. Francis of Assisi responded:

"The life of the Christian should be burning with such a light of holiness that by their very example and conduct, their life will be a rebuke to the wicked."

In an era where Christians are largely known for the sin they oppose, this wisdom could not be more timely. Francis calls us to face the compromises of our culture by becoming living alternatives with how we live. As sin is defined, not by what it is, but by what it fails to be (thus its meaning "to miss the mark"), so to our approach to facing the systemic sin in our world should be battled by becoming that which it fails to be. For example, in the face of rampant individualism, we must embrace radical community, not simply condemn it as wrong.

Along this line, I am starting this meme to challenge your creativity:

1. Consider aspects of our culture where we have too easily compromised, issues that you passionately oppose.
2. Then ask yourself what it would mean for you, both as an individual and as a part of a community, to be a living alternative. Write about it.
3. Link back here to this post.
4. Tag others to participate.

The following is my response to the tag:
Understand that this meme has taken on a life of its own as it has been tagged across the globe, as different people attempt to express their sentiments regarding a cultural compromise that we have so readily embraced as Christians. For those of you who are unfamiliar with my background, I'm a Nigerian, raised in England, living in America and pastoring a multi-cultural church in a suburb of Orlando, Florida. It would seem apparent then that a clear passion of mine is the fight against racial stereotyping. As Christians, not only have we compromised in our willingness to 'turn a blind eye' to this culturally acceptable 'elephant-in-the-room' but it would appear that we have wholeheartedly embraced it, sighting various hollow reasons for why it is so.

It's been said that the most segregated hour in America is the eleven O' clock hour on Sunday. The implication being that churches congregate under such clearly, racially divided lines, that we might as well be praying to different gods. Because people largely fear what they don't understand (especially if they perceive it as posing a threat to the familiar and comfortable), they tend to respond with a measure of hostility that immediately eliminates the potential for civil conversation. We have experienced this first hand living in the "South." I will relate two different instances that will illustrate my point a little more clearly. Years ago, when I lived in London, I was looking for a flat to rent in the swanky up and coming neighborhood of the Docklands. I spoke to the Estate agent who arranged for me to meet with the landlord to view the property. It was a typical January morning in London. Cold, overcast, drab, dreary... you get the picture. It looked as if the city had been painted in grey.

When I got to the flat, I waited for more than an hour and the only vehicle that drove by me, immediately turned back and left. When I finally managed to drag my near hypothermic body and frozen limbs to a nearby pub, I called the Estate agent. With great embarrasment he explained that the guy who had driven by me was the landlord, and when he saw that I was black, he promptly called the agent and told him that he wasn't renting his flat to "no niggers." I had two choices. I could become bitter and label every white person a racist, or I could shrug my shoulders and accept the fact that not everyone will respond to me with a positive attitude. I chose the latter. A month later, a beautiful house in the Coulsdon area of Surrey came available at a great price, and someone gave us the money needed to pay a downpayment towards purchasing it. Had we successfully entered into a lease contract on the flat, we would have been unable to buy the house. I refused to allow this experience to color or taint my impression of people, by generalizing.

I determined that as a Christian, it is my fundamental, and indeed quintessential calling to love people irrespective of how they respond to me. I am persuaded that both as an individual and as a group of Christians called to live as part of a community called The Well, it is incumbent on us to live out Christ loud. A few months ago we had the perfect opportunity to model this fact, and so my second illustration follows. I performed the wedding ceremony of my youth pastor last year. He is a white midwesterner from Iowa, while she is a fiesty black beauty from Haiti. She had a brides maid in her wedding party that had grown up never having interacted with a black person. My youth pastor's wife (Odile) was the first black person she had befriended, and when Odile visited her in her family home, her brother had literally insulted Odile and walked out of the house, refusing to be in the same room with a black person. My wife and I offerred our home to Odile and her brides maids to dress for the wedding and we had the opportunity to spend 20 minutes with this precious lady, who was admittedly overwhelmed by being in the home of a black person, yet confused that we seemed so nice and not at all like she was led to believe black people should be.

Unknown to us at the time, our 20 minute interaction had a profound impact on her life, and a few days after returning home, she sent this e-mail to my wife. I have intentionally left out her name to protect her privacy.

"I just wanted to say that you and your husband left quite an impression on me. I'm amazed at how our 20 minute conversation has impacted my life. On the flight home I noticed I had a different "tolerance" for the vast array of ethnicity around me. I have the utmost respect for your family and wish I had access to a similar church closer to my area. Thank you very much..."

I guess it's true that love is the greatest 'force' in the world. In a 20 minute conversation, all we wanted to convey to this precious lady was how much she was loved by God and by us. We wanted her to know that we were not remotely interested in judging her for having lived a life of bigotry, and that we were profoundly impacted by how much our lives intersect with people whose destiny is hinged upon how we relate to them. In concluding this 'thesis' I would suggest that, though our culture accepts the idea of racism, bigotry and stereotyping as the norm, it is of the utmost importance that the Church takes the right approach to this as described by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Now I tag Hope, Hope C., Ashley, Thea and Scott. What do you guys have to say about this meme?


Anonymous said...

I've a feeling meme in blogging circles has a different meaning than it does in the real world, but anyway, always glad to teach new language!!

Anyway, I had a couple of friends who had a similar problem to the one you had in London, trying to rent flats here in Japan. Both British, one white, one (I think) half Malay who joked himself that he looked like a terrorist in his passport photo (which he kind of did, beard, dark skin, scowl on his face). But more often than not here in Japan being a white foreigner and an English speaker means you are instantly "cooler", in a weird sort of reverse racism.

But when I get frustrated with people in Japan who stare or don't quite know how to react to foreigners I remember I grew up in a pretty small semi-rural area where there weren't many non-whites. I used to look twice when I saw other ethnicities in my hometown. Anyway, my first real multi-cultural experience was at uni. (in Leicester) when I shared a flat with a British Pakistani, a Nigerian/ Iranian (if memory serves) and a Spanish girl. I used to hang out with a pretty ethnically diverse bunch my first year, and it took me quite a long time to even notice that it was weird for a white girl to hang out with non-whites, and it was kind of weird, and apparently unsustainable. My second year I got more involved with church activities, and didn't see many of those friends again and my friendship group became much less diverse.

But anyway, great post. It is so sad that churches aren't more integrated. I personally can't wait to get to heaven and mix with people from many different races and tongues and live together in harmony! And I admire your attitude not to be bitter when you have negative experiences with people and not to stereotype when you yourself have been stereotyped.

Thanks for playing along!

Hope said...

You might win in the word count. I think that's the longest post I've read on your blog. :) Mine will be posted tomorrow at 6am.

Hope Clark said...

I just posted my response Joseph. This is a hot topic for me too. I coulda gone on for ever.

Ash said...

So....I'm not sure about all this "meme" link stuff...Is it supposed to be in my blog? mmm, well...for now, I will simply give my response here, and hopefully open discussion.

- you said at the end-and it was the most important statement, in the piece...for me: "our culture accepts the idea of racism, bigotry and stereotyping as the norm." But I ask you, are they REALLY the norm? You see, from my personal observation- things such as racism and bigotry- besides being atrocious atributes, are loudly bull-horned against!

For example: in dealing with racism...while I agree, that yes, it exists and is a problem - there are too many loud voices screaming about it when it is unncesessary, such as Rev. Al Sharpton or Rev. Jesse Jackson who would like the black race to feel as if we were living in the days of Dr. King and whites to feel as if we are aweful slave owners. And while it is a sad fact that the US made grave mistakes in its treatment of blacks and African Americans- I am appalled how many times men, such as they, want to platform a case and cry racism racism, when simply it is just a case of faulty humanity and race may have nothing to do with it. The norm? Pulling out the "race cards," seems to be the norm in my opinion.

As for bigotry: in the church, I observe that there are too many preachers, teachers and church goers who fall under that category. To me, bigotry is the norm among those who are bigots (and no, I don't refer to you, but I say this in reflection of the whole.)- closed minded religious people who have no grace for anyone around them and therefore are prevented from really learning how to become more like a follower of the Most High-Jesus Christ. For those who are unraveling the Truth we have been given, bigotry has no place and cannot, is not accepted as "normal."

Finally, some thoughts on sterotyping- I believe, sadly, that sterotyes are there for a reason. And sad as it is: sometimes the few ruin it for the whole group. But two things must happen- 1) the initiator of classifying sterotypes must make the choice not too, and get to know a person for they truly are. 2)the receptor of the sterotype must look around him and choose not to live as the sterotype dictates he a result rise above the circumstance- just as YOU did concerning the flat.

This is start, and a very good discussion.

Scott Williams said...

I actually read this post all the way through and you had my attention. I was thinking of similar experiences in my life.

That defines a Season of Change!

Joseph said...

Hope, Hope C, Ashley and Scott, thanks for responding. I love the discussions that are beginning on different blogs as a result of this.