Tribe, tongue and nation means more than race

Anyone who has followed this blog knows I typically write about theological topics and cultural engagement. This is one of those rare posts where I will talk about what I do for a living. For the past three years, I have served as Executive Director of a nonprofit arts and culture organization whose mission is to celebrate ethnic and cultural heritages from around the globe. Our mission is prominently seen in our annual festival in May that brings many different cultures together for performances throughout the day that shows the various art forms from around the globe, including martial arts demonstrations. Dozens of vendor booths are present with cuisine, crafts, and cultural displays. It’s like a “It’s a Small World” festival and one of the largest in this area. There is no preference or prominence of one group over the other. You’ll see displays from Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and everywhere in between.

Because our goal is to highlight different cultures, we also have culturally specific events for Lunar New Year and Hispanic Heritage Month. Recently, we added an event for Nowruz (Persian New Year), a significant celebration in Iran and Afghanistan and we’re gearing up for a celebration of African cultures in collaboration with another arts organization later this year. So you can imagine that with our festival and the other events, people and their cultures are identified with a national heritage, i.e., cultural heritages that come from a particular region that has certain customs and cuisines.

I’m trying to imagine what it would be like if we categorized the different groups according to skin color and use the black/white binary or even black, white, or brown people. Of course, it’s easy to speak of Europeans as white or Africans as black. But but what does that mean for the distinct nationalities and their accompanying cultures? How do you distinguish the Italians from the Germans from the Greeks if everyone is just white? And where do the Middle Easterner’s fit into this categorization? And if a person is just black, what does that say about the black person from Ghana vs. the black person from Brazil or the Caribbean who have completely different cultures? The ethnicities would get erased. Continue reading

Beware of the bootleg anointing

This phrase popped up in my head and now I can’t shake it. If you consider what makes something bootleg, it’s a knock off of the original. The bootleg coach purse may look like a real one but it wasn’t produced by the authorized agent. It’s a copy meant to mimic.

Contrary to how I see the term “anointing” use as a kind of special gifting of some Christians, Scripture informs us that anointing simply is in reference to the indwelt Spirit. If one has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, they have the anointing and what I believe John is referencing here;

But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you have all knowledge. (1 Jn. 2:20)

Put together, the bootleg anointing is one designed to look like regeneration of the Holy Spirit. It copies the real thing rendering a person immersed into Christianity and Christian activity, reads the Bible, may even teach the Bible, engaged in discipleship, maybe even gone to seminary and pastors. The bootleg anointing will have you faithful to church and engaged with the saints. It truly looks legitimate. Continue reading

Ten years in the PCA: a reflection of sorts

By way of a personal update, anyone who has been following this blog will have noticed that my writing has slowed down quite a bit. That’s not intentional. I just haven’t been able to write as much or the way I’d like to as evidenced by the several unfinished drafts in my draft bin. I think it is largely attributed to my job as executive director of a nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate ethnic heritages from around the globe. I’m also a staff of one so my many hats pulls me in all kinds of different directions as I work to advance the organization’s mission and expanding programming. I may write on that more later. In the meantime, I have kept up podcasting on the Family Discussion podcast that I co-host with the Rev. Marcos Ortega. We just finished our fourth season as we continue the trek through the categories of systematic theology applied to the issues of our day. Season 4 focused on humanity and sin so we had quite a bit to say about gender, human sexuality, and race. We’ll pick that up in season 5 as we move into Christology.  You can check out more that here. But I really do want to get back to writing on a regular basis, if nothing more than just to download some of the processing that goes on in my head as I observe our current landscape.

And so that is what I intend to do here as the 49th General Assembly (GA for short) of the Presbyterian Church in America just concluded this past week. In case you don’t know, this is the annual meeting of commissioners (pastors/elders known as teaching elders or ruling elders) to conduct the affairs of the church. I’ve tuned in to the livestream since 2016 and been on a learning curve ever since. The parliamentary proceedings can get really complex. But in the deliverance of the committee reports and overture debates, you do get a sense of what the church is grappling with and attempting to bring in submission to the obedience of Christ and to be a faithful witness to him.

You also can hear where there are divergent opinions regarding the church’s direction, which has been increasingly heightened in recent years. That is compounded by the blogs, tweets, and posts seen on social media on a regular basis. There have projections of an inevitable church split produced by factional concerns under the rubric of the oft cited phrase “peace and purity of the church.” Despite what some may say, I do believe there is generally a strong commitment to Scripture though the applicational grid may be skewed in different directions. Continue reading

Have yourself a Merry Nicene Christmas

No, this is not one of those nerdy academic posts.  On this Christmas day I wanted to sketch out some brief thoughts over some observations I’ve made recently that really points to something broader I’ve witnessed in how we can make false choices with respect to the Christian faith. And particularly, this time of year with reflections of Christmas and the purpose for which we celebrate this unprecedented occasion of the incarnation. So I will get to the title in a bit.

Let me start with a gospel music production that we watched last night. The program was mostly music (and it was pretty spectacular too!) interspersed with acting scenes centered on three characters whose lives, we learn after awhile, are interconnected.  The overriding message I got was Jesus is a means to make your life better. If you have the Lord and tragedy happens you have the power to “speak life.” You feel empty? Try Jesus. You witnessed a miraculous event points to the fact that you need God.

What was missing for me in this presentation is why God the Son, eternally existent with the Father humbled himself and left his throne of glory. It was to rescue us from our sin, the sin that plunged humanity into sin because of the events that happened in Genesis 3.  This sin that we are all born into, that impacted all of God’s good creation into anticipated decay and ongoing corruption (see Romans 8:20). From Gen. 3:15 onward in the Old Testament, God promised a reversal of this curse. The incarnation was for the purpose of fulfillment of God’s promises to redeem a people for himself not so much to fulfill our every life demand. Continue reading

Some thoughts on the church and racial reconciliation efforts

I recently got into a twitter exchange over the issue of church’s hosting of a racial reconciliation conference, panel discussion, etc. The thrust of the argument was that it puts a focus on the reconciliation according to skin and we should do as Paul says ‘to know no one after the flesh.’ I pushed back on the notion that anytime a church calls for a racial reconciliation, it is a “false gospel.” As typical with Twitter exchanges, I start getting lost in the comments. So I thought I’d sketch out some thoughts I’ve had on this issue in a more cohesive fashion. This is not so much about that exchange but rather  examining the broader scope of racial reconciliation efforts in the church, my observations of them, and also to identify some concerns. This is not meant to be anything exhaustive but more like me dumping some thoughts on this topic into a single space.

First let me note that I do heartily endorse the idea that believers should anchor their identities first and foremost in Christ. I believe that our first consideration for dealing with other believers is based on our union in Christ. When you see another person with whom you are united in Christ, the first thought should not be a [______] Christian but a fellow heir, regardless of their race, ethnicity, physical characteristics, or place of origin. We should take serious Gal. 3:28;

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

But of course there are distinctions and we can appreciate them according to how God made us.  Are we not male and female and are we not different in that regard? We are not nondescript blobs. We can appreciate the ways in which we bring our ethnicity, heritages and experiences to the table.  We also have to recognize when those distinctions have caused and do cause dissension in the body of Christ, especially when dealing with a long-standing one like racial disparities that were not only deeply ingrained in society for hundreds of years but also in our churches. Racial reconciliation is ultimately about reconciling hearts towards one another. Continue reading