I am a Christian

This season, more than any other, is a celebration of the triumph of Christianity as a religion and as a cultural phenomenon. It is celebrated far and wide by people, many of whom are not believers and some of whom view it as another product of western cultural imperialism .

For my family Christmas has not been quite the same since my mother’s death some years ago around the holidays.  Things are simple different for us, and for me the rampant commercialization of the holiday is much more apparent than it was when Christmas was a festival not only of the birth of Christ, but also of my mother’s birth and of my own. (She was born on Christmas, and I was born on the 27th).  So the holiday has taken on new dimensions for me and occupied new space in my faith life. 

I read today the story of Jesus’ birth from Holy Scripture  and was inspired again by the reading.  That God would condescend to be born of human parents in an obscure place to insignificant people is truly miraculous.  The humanity of the birth is even more apparent when you read of his early status as a refugee . He knows what it is to be the lowest of the low; to be despised and rejected.  His birth and life make sense of my own identity as a Black man in a world where White is right .

Beyond that I was inspired by reading from Eusebius  on the history of the early church wherein he recounts the sufferings of some of the early martyrs of our faith.  He quotes in his writings a letter from the Gallic churches and in it I found a man whose testimony I desire to be my own.  His name was Sanctus. 

Sanctus was another who with magnificent, superhuman courage nobly withstood the entire range of human cruelty. Wicked people hoped that with the persistence and severity of his tortures would force him to utter something improper, but with such determination did he stand up to their onslaughts that he would not tell them his own name, race, and birthplace, or whether he was slave or free; to every question he replied in Latin: “I am a Christian.” This he proclaimed over and over again, instead of name, birthplace, nationality, and everything else, and not another word did the heathen hear from him…

But his poor body was a witness to what he had suffered – it was all one wound and bruise, bent up and robbed of outward human shape, but, suffering in that body, Christ accomplished most glorious things, utterly defeating the adversary and proving as an example to the rest that where the Father’s love is nothing can frighten us, where Christ’s glory is nothing can hurt us. 

This story is powerful, because it is our story.  It is the story of my brothers and sisters in the faith who I will one day meet in the glory of Christ’s kingdom.  It is the story of those who even now suffer persecution for his name . It is a story that reminds us that Christianity was not, and is not in its essence a triumphal faith.  It is the faith of the despised, the rejected, the lost, the least and the left out.  We are followers of a dirt poor Messiah who suffered a criminals death.  So may we all be found as we endeavor to live as believers of every nation, tribe, tongue, and kindred – may we be found to live daily that confession: We are Christians.

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Conservative Rant

Allow me to take a moment to grieve the tragic shooting of three here in my hometown.  These store owners, Egyptians immigrants and apparently Christians, were shot by teenage thieves in cold blood during a robbery attempt. The sixteen year old girl who shot two of the victims said that her gun went off accidentally. Now, as a compassionate man, and as a Black man who understands well the power of systems in shaping social behavior and the endemic nature of injustice that breeds crime, I have a certain measure of concern for whatever were the environmental factors that led to this shooting.  But if I may allow my conservative side to come out a bit, this is the most ridiculous and powerful evidence for the breakdown of civil society in our country. This girl admits to murdering two people in cold blood and says that the gun went off, “accidentally.”  For me this is a clear parental failure, a neighborhood failure, and a social failure.  Who is responsible for this girl?  Where are her parents?  And how could she dare to utter the words accident in conjunction with a cold blooded shooting?  It is clear that while she feels some responsibility, she thinks that at least part of that responsibility is absolved by saying it was an accident.  What values are we transmitting in our society when those words, those thoughts can even pass by a person’s lips or through their minds? This girl lives in a society and is a product of a culture that has “cast off restraint” and is “perishing.”  The shooting is clearly her fault, but the fault also lies with a culture that undermines parental and social authority.  Say what you will about the dysfunctionality of the 1950’s, but we didn’t have 16 year old girls robbing convenience stores and shooting vendors at point blank range and then calling it an accident!

American Culture II – White Christian is Right Christian

Continuing from my previous post on America as the un-culture, I will venture to offer some small comment about what it means to be a good Christian in this context. 

In a phone discussion with Dpark, I mentioned to him that as I am delving into understanding this intersection of culture and faith, I wonder if the critiques of “ethnic church” and ministry are really just the un-culture at work.  After all, the un-culture requires a rejection of cultural constraints and ethnic people quite simply have too much of it.  The un-culture doesn’t mind some small cultural idiosyncrasies like taking off your shoes indoors, eating with chopsticks, singing gospel music, or even offering the occasional bow.  Those things are okay. 

What isn’t okay are more deeply embedded things, like hierarchy or deference, or placing ones’ family or group responsibilities and expectations above ones’ own desires.  These things are simply wrong, and many a preacher / teacher / book  will tell you that to really be a Christian, you should reject those cultural things and embrace a liberating model.  It is for freedom, after all, that Christ made us free.  So why should a “adult” subject their relationship, career, and lifestyle decisions to the scrutiny and input of family members.  Such behavior cannot be Christian; it certainly isn’t American. 

It is not that I believe non-American cultures are more holy or righteous than American culture.  All human societies and cultures are fallen and are in need of redemption.  Rather I believe that it is far too easy for me, as an ethnic minority to assume that the White way of being a Christian is the right way. White men write the books, give the lectures, plant the churches, do the ministry that set the tone for what it means to be Christian.  And if Asians or Blacks or Latinos are participants it is because they have learned to write it, lecture it, plant it, and minister it like White men. 

When we compare ourselves with ourselves we are not wise (2 Corinthians 10.12), but how many Asian women have I heard complain about how bad Asian men are, and likewise with Black women.  I do not doubt that the complaints of these godly women had validity, but the real question is, “compared to what.”  Compared to what standard are Asian fathers failing, are Black men inadequate, are Latino men below par?  By what standard do we evaluate what is really a good Christian?  My fear, nay my experience, is that the standard is not often enough the perfect mirror of the Word of God, but rather the flimsy and fleeting allure of the un-culture.

Interlude: a small tribute to james kim

 

I do not know James Kim.  I only heard of him from the news reports. I don’t know why his story attracted my attention of all the stories of tragedy in the world, but it did.  He and his family were missing for some days, and he was discovered just today, dead.  I do not know if he was Christian, or what kind of man he was.  I only know that he is a man to be admired, at least in this moment.  He died whilst trying to find help for his family.  He laid down his life in an effort to secure the lives of others; the lives of those closest to him.  In my own small way, in this obscure blog, I honor him.