Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Can Only White Men Be Christian?
Lunar New Year Reflections

The above question may seem idiotic or silly to you. Of course it's not true. Anyone can believe anything that they chose to commit to and orient their life around. Yet in terms of the Christian Church I'm not convinced that our regular, at least historically so in the particular context of this country, actions reflect that belief.

We celebrated Lunar New Year in our worship gathering this past week. We tried, as we have done so in the past few years, to go beyond the token/stereotypical celebration which affirms cultural specificities and particularities by sharing a meal of what some might call "ethnic" or cultural-specific food. This year our children again learned in Sunday School how to make some of that food, actually helping to prepare our Chinese feast. We also have a longer presentation with media clips and photos of past experiences of the speakers growing up in a Chinese Church in Chinatown, learning that being Chinese is bad in terms of being Christian: in a sense that they had to choose being Christian over their identity as Chinese-Americans. The presentation, seeking to engage the audience in participation, lifted that ironic and painful evangelistic and effacing approach to cultural diversity and the culture of the church. I was struck again by the multicultural nature, since birth, of the community of those that follow Jesus: or the church. Begun in a land dominated by at least 4 languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin) it grew quickly (within 300 years) to take in and "take over" the immensely diverse Roman Empire. Where along the line did it start to become a mono-cultural entity, erasing cultural diversity in the name of orthodoxy and even into a triumphalist power that legitimized imperialistic oppression and the cultural destruction of colonialism? Good question. Are those tragedies consequences of aspects inherent and innate to the Christian worldview/doctrine/experience? I hope not. I don't think so. So are they then merely logical consequences and developments from the broken nature of the human condition? Hmmm.

I do know that historically the Church grew rapidly [in particular places like ancient Scotland and Ireland, not in those such as enslaved colonial Brazil] because it engulfed and embraced diverse cultural aspects in its evangelistic endeavors, pointing to the "Christian" which actually lies underneath the previous/ancients practices. Sunday our speakers made this great insert breaking down similarities they see between Chinese cultural celebrations and Christian meaning-making holy days/liturgical seasons, in particular comparing Lunar New Year to Advent. Here's a jpeg of it.
I'm well past starting to go off, and still struck by the comment by a speaker on Sunday. "I grew up thinking that being Chinese was bad, that I couldn't be both Chinese and Christian." What pain did that teaching (whether conscious or unconscious) cause and does it still cause? And how much more pain is there like that both inside and outside the church?

1 comment:

Leila said...

I grew up half-Arab, specifically Lebanese Christian, and we find this whole question very puzzling. First of all, the white Christians you are talking about think most of my Lebanese Christian brothers and sisters are not white. However, we Lebanese CHristians are closer to Jesus in our bloodlines as well as geography than almost any other Christians alive. OK Palestinian Christians, but they are our blood kin - there is no difference between a Lebanese and Palestinian Christian worth mentioning.

Geography - the story of the Canaanite woman of great faith happened in my home town.

Jesus was probably a very dark Middle Easterner. Americans know this but they still grow up with Western-looking Jesus images so they don't really get it.

I am very glad that you and your church are breaking down the barriers to what a Christian looks like and who a Christian is.

16 or 17 years ago I happened by Park Slope United Methodist Church in Brooklyn on my Sunday walk. The door was open and I popped my head in. THe preacher was sermonizing on the Canaanite woman. He claimed her story was the moment when Jesus had a paradigm shift (his term - he defined it too) and realized that His message was not just for Jews, but for everybody. The Canaanite woman wanted His blessing even though she was not Jewish. He denied her at first but she spoke back to him, and his heart was opened, and he healed her.

Hearing that sermon about a woman I consider my neighbor and ancestor seemed a significant coincidence - synchronicity.

White Europeans are indeed Christians even though they are not related to Jesus by tribe. So are Chinese, Africans, South Pacific Islanders, and everybody else... as you know, as we all know.

I guess my point is that Chinese are no more "foreign" to Jesus than Irishmen or Germans.