Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Melting Pot or Fruit Salad?

Reflection of “Multicultural Worship: Melting Pot or Fruit Salad?” by Pedrito Maynard-Reid. I have been told “if you work hard, you can do or be anything you want!” As great as this sounds and as true as the statement may be at times, it is not always possible to do so. Integrate and assimilation are probably two of the most difficult things to do anywhere at any time. And even then, even in talking about Worship, is full 100% integration and assimilation even possible? In early American history and even until recently Anglo-Saxon Protestantism was the way to go. And if you could melt into that then you melted. And good for you. You were assimilated. But you had to pass for the group. You had to give up your distinct culture to make it happen. So you melted in, you blended in, but at great sacrifice. However,“The Other” was not always able to melt. And most times this was just because of the color of skin. With all the troubles of the world, and being strangers in this world as Christians, we may not always be able to melt in the world, but surly we should be able to melt at the foot of the cross. But in the church I eve seen first hand that integration into a Christian community is one of the hardest things to do. Why? We are cultural beings and it is hard to integrate into the culture of churches. But, while I may not be able to fully understand someone else’s culture I can appreciate and integrate moments, essences and elements of other cultures into my social and religious life that can enhance my being. I love how Pedrito put it, “The paradigm is not a melting pot but a fruit salad.” Melting into one is not always possible but maybe melting into one isn’t what is necessary? In the salad we are always able to end up back at our roots - there is always that one chunk of fruit that may be I do love the idea of fruit salad: One thing made out of the full richness of different parts -the juices dissolving into one beautiful, enhanced celebration. How do we celebrate this way without feeling like our roots are being dumbed down or that we are just tolerating the Other. Worship is very cultural. But what is culture? Culture is a total sum of that which is passed on in society. Culture doesn’t only pertain to artistic activities. Different languages and symbols have cultural connotations and implications and are in turn continually shaped by culture. Even in the same country different symbols can mean different things. I feel this is something that I have a good grasp of - the contextualization of culture. And I love that it is getting just ingrained into my head and at such a positive academic level. However, to a point it goes against an inner voice I have saying “But there is universal truth!” But at a certain point truth is just boiled down to what we experience. This is a topic that makes me so frustrated. Most of my friends who are worship leaders lead like they are in a vacuum. Hillsong United does this so we do it. How can I move to a new state and a new denomination and expect to lead a full, comprehensive, beautiful worship experience? The depth and breadth of religious culture is too large to be taken lightly. This tossing around from one church to another, to one Christian tradition to another, is just bogus. Culture is not racial or biological, we make it up. Culture is something outside of the ontological make up on an individual in order to exists safely and comfortably. To understand culture we have to understand the word “survival.” Pedrito calls this Comfortable Survival - A system of navigating one’s way through life. Culture is what people are. We do not exist in the abstract. We exist in the context of our history, culture. Rejection of culture is rejection of self. To not understand the culture of where you are, where you came from and how you got there, especially in the world of corporate worship, is to never know the flavor of a delicious fruit salad.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Reflection on article "The Top Three Issues Facing Multi-ethnic Church worship Leaders."

When reflecting on this article and on multi-ethnic worship in general, there are three things that keep returning to my mind. I was very glad to see these items turn up in this article because they are things that I have thought about but had not been able to pin point. I thank this article for helping me better articulate my understanding of key issues to keep in mind when pursuing multi-ethnic worship. In this reflection I hope to summarize my thoughts on these three key points.

Compromise - Ken Reynolds said “It’s impossible to please everyone. As a worship leader myself, I have to put the needs of the congregation before my needs.” Putting the preference of others in front of our own is possibly the hardest thing for me to do as a worship leaders. Most leaders have a fair amount of training and are hired for the job because they are being trusted for their judgment. With this mindset itis very easy for worship leaders to just slip into a rut of doing their own thing and even get a little cocky while doing it. Besides, the church should be OK with what I like, I mean, that is my job! But compromise in ministry needs to happen at every level, multi-ethnic or not. The ability to compromise and put the needs of the congregation first (with out loosing your head trying to please absolutely 100% of every one) should be the a growing trait of any good worship leader. This ties into my following points of purity and vulnerability. If there is no compromise by the worship leader there is no purity in worship because the service is not authentic to the congregation. Also vulnerability is more difficult because without compromise I am asking the congregation to come forward on my terms, not theirs.

Purity - Gail Song Bantum hit on the idea of purity. This really struck me. Relay, purity in worship is striving to fight the specter of tokenism. Purity means compromising but it also means putting in a little extra leg work when planning worship. Just because I have an African-American as part of your worship team means they are comfortable leading the Gospel style song you I use once a month. Purity also takes place when I strive to develop my team. Maybe that scrawny white kid could pull off that song better than any other? I never know if I don’t invest. Purity in worship takes work. Purity means truly investing and going beyond compromise. To many worship leaders, even my self, slack off in this department. My goal is to take what I have and not just sit on it, but make it great for the congregation and for God.

Vulnerability - Normally when I see a congregation not responding in worship (whatever “responding” means, that could be a whole other paper), I think “these people don’t get it!” My next thought is “No, that leader doesn’t get these people.” I think the latter is more correct. Congregational context is very important to consider when leading but if the congregation doesn’t trust the leader, they will never connect. Pushing and stretching a congregation is one thing, but instead of pushing, I believe vulnerability means honestly bringing the congregation into the presence of God. Vulnerability is about trust. If I don’t have a leader I trust I have a very hard time following. It seems that vulnerability in worship is about compromise and purity but it is also about being authentic. If, as leaders, we can’t be open and true about ourselves, our congregations may never fully get to the point of experiencing God’s story in its fullest.

In the end, I really can’t have one of these points without the other. And really, these are all things that are a part of any ministry. I believe these three points are key to instigating multi-cultural worship because they make up the foundation of being authentic. If I can not be real or authentic in my leadership, people may follow me but my leadership will all be false. If I can not compromise, strive for purity in ministry and seek to be vulnerable I cannot expect that from my ministry. And while there does need to be a level of professionalism, in the grand scheme of God’s story, compromise, purity and vulnerability are small prices to pay for participation at the heavenly table.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Reflection - How the Irish Saved Civilization – Thomas Cahill

First, I did not know that civilization was particularly doomed at one certain point in history. I know civilization always seems to be on the brink but I never figured there was one point in time where history as I know it would not exist. Now that I think of it there are many times where my current context hung in the balance. The battles between the Greeks and Trojans, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Korean War, I guess these are all things that have shaped my context and made my world what it is today, but the fact that historical Christianity would have been totally lost if it were not for the people of Ireland it quite remarkable.

An image I picked up early in the book and something that I believe effects my ministry directly is the example, or non-example, of Ausonius. Churches, like Ausonius and more recently the financial institutions of America, sometimes become too big to fail. Not even the churches themselves, but their ministries and ideologies get so comfortable with what they do that two things happen: they lose touch with the climate of the outside world and they become embedded in their methodologies. I my short life time I have seen church after church fall victim to self important mentality (Children's security? Why would we need that? Everyone knows everyone!), disregarding their direct physical community and surroundings and just feeling like they have it made. No church, no individual, no ministry ever has it made. The first lesson I learned from this book was more of a warning: Never think you've got it.

Something that I found quite interesting on page 151 was the line “Ireland is unique in religious history for being the only land into which Christianity was introduced without bloodshed.” This is quite interesting to me. As an American, Christianity is as much a part of my roots as violence. I also find it fascinating how Patrick evangelized Ireland - he took the Roman system but made it the country's own. Truly, the story of Patrick is one that really pulls at my heart. Abducted at a young age into slavery; one day able to escape only to return to the land that held him captive to set them free! What an incredible story. Speaking of story, it was the Irish oral tradition, their desire to keep important stories going, which helped save civilization. What an incredible story that is!

I feel that part of this story, the part about the lack of bloodshed in the spread of Christianity to a people, is so strange. Why? Why is Ireland not the norm when it comes to the spread of Christianity and violence? How is it that a religion of peace has been perverted to such an extent that it is acutely used to justify war and bloodshed and in turn war and bloodshed is used to expand this religion of peace? Maybe in the world that we live in the military is a just means of security, but how can Christianity be so intertwined with that means? I think it was because of Patrick's persecution and emission in the native culture that he was able to state his case in a display of good example and compassion. Maybe it is that we have not been persecuted that we do not know how to sympathize, or maybe we as Christians have for song long held places of privilege that, like a bratty child, when it comes to getting our way the only thing we know how to do is lash out. I personally never wish to be persecuted but to know the depths of despair, to be able to fully empathize with the lowly, the other, to know a culture and be aware of my surroundings to such an extent that I just breath it in and breath out Christ; That is what I want.
To sum this book and how it will impact my life, I have come to a few conclusions: I need to keep a more watchful eye on my life to make sure I am not getting to comfortable and susceptible to attack. Always be learning, always grow and never think I have it made. I need to love my culture, to be absorbed in art, in music, in my traditions and in scripture; to never miss out on the things that are shaping me. I need to steep my foundation in Christ more and more. As Greg said in class, “If you are struggling, you have already fallen.” If and when I fall like Rome, I want to know Christ and his mission so well that I will have something to hold on to; not fall back on but to shield me from the storm. I don't believe I will be the one who single-handedly saves my civilization, but I want to be someone on watch, someone with the hunger and wisdom to help stop the downfall in the first place.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Reflection - The Church and the American Experience – by Askew and Spellman

This reading was quite eye opening. I have always had a good idea of the American connection to Christianity, but I was very surprised to find how deep that connection ran. The main revelation for me through this book was seeing the where the idea “America is a Christian Nation” came from. Some of the founders of this country may have been Christians but the church tradition they established was somewhat more organizational in purposes than religious. Ethnicity was almost as important as theology when it came to religious groups defining themselves from one another. In Europe the church was very institutionalized and so it would have been very normal for these people to adopt a similar structure in this new land. The beginning of the American church was basically a complex process of multiple transplant European cultures recreating and reestablishing their former context. The early church structure was for religious reasons as much as it was for community structure and survival. That structural desire combined with the pioneer spirit that kick-started the U.S., cause the church to evolve rapidly. While some religious communities did see much growth, in many cases, such as the settlements that started for economic purposes, it is amazing that the church continued on at all. While the purely communal nature of the early American church may be seen as a negative, these churches were rallying points for the communities of the new world – a place to gather and socialize. But is this Christianity? Maybe the early American church got it right on the community aspect of Christ's message but there is a sense that they were missing something.

Something the early American church struggled with would be the issue of attendance numbers and converts verses theological and traditional integrity. This was especially problematic in Puritan communities where new generations who were baptized as infants but did not profess the faith along with unconverted members were allowed to partake in the sacraments. The motivation for this was to draw in new converts and member in a time where people started to drift away from these religious communities. The Puritans were just trying to adjust to the cultural and contextual issues relative to the time. But does intention to grow numbers justify watering down the theology that has established the tradition in the first place? How often in our churches today do we sacrifice right practice and belief for the sake of accessibility? I do not believe that a government institutionalized religion is the way to go, people should be allowed to make their own choices on where and how they worship. I also understand the purpose and importance of evangelism but there has got to be a better way to draw people to the church without sacrificing integrity. Many of the early attempts to adjust ritual were meant to keep the younger generations around and this is an issue I see churches dealing with every day. We grow up watching our patients do church but then we also grow up seeing them live life and sometimes we harshly judge their inconsistencies. It is really the parents that give the younger generation a reason to participate in the church. There seemed to be inconstancy in that early church that caused the younger generation to steer away from an institution that they found to be insincere an inauthentic. To preach love and holiness only to experience pain, legalism, and strife – between other Christian communities no less - it should be of no surprise the religious ups and downs and the revivals and awakenings that America experienced. Maybe I am just reading my personal experience into the text, but it is an observation I have noticed time and again throughout history and especially throughout the church.

Another issue that I noticed in the American church is that it is almost fully built upon social action and reaction. Over and over again I have seen the swing from liberalism to conservatism, from social gospel to hard core evangelicalism, and there never seems to be a middle ground. Neither side is fully good or bad, right or wrong, there is definitely some fuzzy theology going on at times (and some groups are actually more wrong than others) but these groups just seem to be reacting to a void left by the current pattern of religious thought and action. I was shocked to read some of the quotes from the evangelists of the 19th century when talking about this issue. The issue was poverty and D.L. Moody was quoted as saying “It is a wonderful fact that men and women saved by the blood of Jesus rarely remain the subjects of charity, but rise at once to comfort and respectability.” Intentionally or not this is just another case of sacrificing the Good News of Christ for the sake of gaining conversion. It also clearly shows how the thread of White Privilege has been a significant ingredient in American Christianity.

What is the most amazing thing to me is that there is a contemporary American church at all. When I read books like this and I see all of the animosity and infighting I just know that God's Spirit is real and at work as the glue holding us all together. What man tears down over and over for selfish gain God makes new, rebuilds, strengthens and restores to do his work in the world. The church is the body of Christ – the agent of God's story. The body of Christ was sacrificed once already to reconcile the world to him, I don't think it needs to happen again. As sad as this book may be at times it is amazing to see how through history, the church, by the grace of God, continues on.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I have issues (No one is safe...)

I haven't written lately because I have been deeply involved in life. Not an excuse to not write... but good enough for right now.

In reading for MWS 502 I have been studying the history and spirituality of Christianity. It is incredibly interesting to see the ebb and flow of strength Christianity has held in the world and it is also astounding to see the insane amount of variation and variety not just in the world but in the US alone. Some may say that God will keep his religion pure, but at a closer look it seems that every incarnation/denomination/sub-denomination, even the ones that think they are keeping it pure all have an aspect of personal preference. Every turn has their own beef, their own agenda and looking through out early American history it seems like all these different splits were motivated by reaction against some other group. Others involved economy, other politics, etc. The other thing that bothers me is that no one seems to be hitting the center of Christ's message. You have one group that has some good things but they go way overboard on the right. Another group will have some other great aspect but they jump overboard on the left. Why can't anyone get it right? (This is a loaded question because every good believer of a church should/probably believes that they are right.... no one can win...)
So, my first beef is with Methodism/Holiness. Methodism started by the Wesley brothers as a wonderful opportunity to share the Gospel with the people of the fronteer. These were rough dudes out in the wild. Working in ridiculously harsh conditions, some were ex-cons, some had lost everything back East. Pretty much all of them were undereducated and were looking for ways to start a new life - and hit it rich along the way. The Wesleyan emphasis was on deeds. Deeds don't save you, but deeds are how you know God and how people know you know God. Again, deeds don't save you but deeds are a measure on how close you are with God and if you really are a true believer. So, to the uneducated rufians; don't chew, spit, drink, play cards, rollerskate, dance or go to the circus. There are things that bad people do, you aren't bad people any longer, so don't do them - Just live a good life. The issue I see in this is that this message gets the priority/message of Christ out of order. We are told to be holy as Christ is holy, so we try, but we can't. So, what do we do with that? Is God asking us to preform an impossible task of perfection? No. this path of thinking isn't even in the right direction. Is it bad to murder? Yes. Is it bad to not help a friend? yes. But not doing these things doesn't make you a good person. in is sin. But, to be holy as Christ is holy is to be in Christ. When we are in Christ, when God sees us, he sees Jesus - his Son and his sacrifice over death and the Devil. We are holy because Jesus was holy. Methodism and the idea of Holiness creates a problem where we think that good works make us good/more spiritual. But since we are all in the same spiritual, sinful boat how can this be true? The real answer is to start in the other direction, the direction towards spiritual discipline. Instead of our works making us spiritual, how about our spirituality compelling us to do good works? In this manner we lose the pressure of having to earn blessings or grace or proving to the world that we are Christians by doing good deeds because we have to. Now, because we are free in Christ, because we have been given the opportunity to take part in God's story for the world we are free to be Christ in the world - instead of being held over the barrel of Hell, we are now compelled, and given the opportunity through the Holy Spirit, to live lives of thanksgiving to a gracious God who has reconciled the whole world to himself and himself to the world.