In Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, Soong-Chan Rah talks about the power of lament. “In his book of Lamentations, Jeremiah responds to the tragedy and suffering of the fallen city of Jerusalem. It is appropriate to lament a situation that is not a fulfillment of God’s plan of shalom for the world.”
In the U.S. we love stories of triumph and victory. Our movies reveal our expectation that even if our team is the worst at the start of the season, we can win the championship at the end with a lot of hard work and a little luck. “American history tends to be filled with a sense of triumphalism… There have been, however, times in American history for which we should recognize the need to lament… Celebration without suffering can become dysfunctional and provide a myopic view of God’s work.”
Rah goes on to explain, “Cultural intelligence requires the understanding of history from the various perspectives and experiences. Focusing mainly on the history of the dominant culture in the United States is insufficient. We need to hear stories from other communities in order to gain a fuller understanding of how the gospel of Christ is at work throughout the whole range of cultures and ethnicities.”
Unfortunately, many of these “stories” are not always happy ones. They may not fit our preference for triumph, success, and positivity. But they are still OUR stories. One of the things I love about the Bible is that it does not sweep under the rug faults, failures, and outright evil. It bares it all with raw honesty. It then invites us to respond with truth and honesty to these events and lament.
Wailing over tragedy and loss is healthy and right. Jesus cried at Lazarus tomb even though he went there with the express purpose to “wake him up” (i.e.: raise him from the dead). Finding solutions to the problems we face does not eradicate the emotional side of suffering and pain. Yes, we should work to bring about changes to the causes of tragedy, but we should also lament at the tragic stories which form our collective past and loss we experience in the present.
What would racial healing in a city look like? Why is racial healing even necessary? Aren’t we years beyond the pain between black and white? Important questions. Maybe more than we have any idea.
Healing takes time. Not only that, but it’s hard for wounds to heal without attention to them. If a wound is not cleaned, dressed and bandaged, it will persist unhealed. There’s been very little cleaning, dressing and bandaging of racial wounds in America. The Church itself hopes for a moment of repentance and forgiveness, and then let’s move on. Right?
The urban cores of American cities are rife with pain. Sure, there are many good things happening, but in the shadow of most of the good things people’s lives are torn up, and neighborhoods are blighted. Young fathers are missing, young mothers are fending, and many children are raising themselves.
What does this have to do with racial healing? Lots. Decades of de facto segregation, generational poverty and racial fear and ignorance have helped cause devastated family systems. I would argue that the call of the Scriptures to defend the cause of the fatherless, the widow and the orphan is a call to what’s real in America’s most at risk metropolitan neighborhoods. Measurable involvement by the whole Church of Jesus Christ toward solutions would in time lead to racial healing across the nation. Healed wounds don’t hurt anymore.
Racial healing would involve joining the work, the pain, the healing process with our very life energy and strategies as the Church. Racial healing would look like health, life and wholeness for people in the urban cores of America. This would lead to racial healing in America’s deepest divide, the black/white fracture.
I know everyone in the core is not African-American. I know that all the issues there are not racial. But many of them are. Just look at Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, and Cincinnati for starters. Much of the uphill challenge in these city centers is found in the lives of people of color living in historically segregated communities.
So here’s the opportunity: What if instead of avoiding the issue, we studied it, prayed into it, built intentionally Christ-centered cross-racial friendships and congregations, rolled up our sleeves and got to work?
I’m reminded of Isaiah 65:20-22 and what a Kingdom city might look like: “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years…. They will build their houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit…. For as the days of a tree so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will enjoy the work of their hands.”
original post: April 4, 2013
In Revelation 7:9 we see the Church gathered before the throne in heaven, a multitude from “every tribe, tongue, nation and people,” proclaiming that “salvation belongs to our God, and to the Lamb.”
Jesus taught us to pray in Mt. 6:10, “Father your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
What if local churches on earth became microcosms of Church in heaven (every tribe, tongue, nation) in so far as their community’s demographics allowed?
Another prayer Jesus prayed found in John 17:21-24 explains how church like heaven is connected to the Great Commission, “Father, I have given them glory as you gave me, that they may be one…. Then the world will know that you sent me….”
Is the unity that the Gospel produces across deep human barriers of racism, culture, class and ethnicity the missing apologetic in the American Church? Is this what the world is waiting for in order to believe Jesus is the messiah?
Paul writes in Ephesians that the “mystery of the Gospel is this, that the ethne (Gentiles) are fellow heirs, members of the same body….”
The book of Romans is predicated on this same vision, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile” (Romans 3:22). As if to really drive the point home Paul adds in 3:29, “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too?”
So what will happen when the Church becomes united on earth as in heaven, every tribe, tongue, nation and people? The world will begin to believe.
The Antioch church leadership team in Acts 13:1 demonstrates what can happen: Barnabas and Paul (Saul) were Jews, the rest were Gentiles. They were Simeon called Niger (a sub-Saharan African), Lucius of Cyrene (North Africa) and Manaen (a Gentile raised wealthy). The diversity of this team is remarkable. It was fruit of a many nations church. It is this church and this leadership steam that launches the New Testament missionary movement.
Azusa Street in 1906 catalyzed this same possibility. We have this in our DNA.
The world wants to believe; they are waiting to see church like heaven on earth.
original post: January 11, 2013