Missing Pieces

I just finished reading the very interesting IVP book Deep Church by Jim Belcher.  I’ve also been tracking a conversation, as well as contributing to the commentary on Dr. John Stackhouse’s blog.  These unrelated activities and my own interaction in rather diverse settings of life and ministry have once again stirred my thinking about several issues.

Stackhouses blog asks the question about how academia, Christian academia in particularly, and Regent specifically, become more diverse in its faculty representation.  He contends that the presence of other voices, notably women and “underrepresented” ethnic minorities necessarily enhances both the research and the teaching function of the Christian university.  He is concerned about those voices that are not at the table.

Belcher is addressing a completely different set of questions and issues.  He seeks to chart a “third way” course between what he terms the traditionalist model of church and the emerging / emergent church conversation.  He works very hard to be fair in both his critiques and affirmations of the respective weaknesses and strengths of each.

How are these two things related?

Well in some very real sense they are entirely unrelated to one another, except that they both seek to address perceived or real problems in the evangelical Christian community, and both believe that there is some real value in listening to heretofore unheard voices, whether those be women (Stackhouse’s concern) or people in various “camps” of evangelicalism (Belcher’s concern).  There is something else that unites them though, and that is the extreme lack of awareness in any meaningful sense that their entire conversation is largely irrelevant to,  unimportant to, and ignorant of the concerns of many hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of believers in the United States alone who would consider themselves to be orthodox theologically and quite likely evangelical doctrinally. I speak of course of the many ethnic minority communities in the US, to say nothing of the global church.

I do not believe that either Belcher or Stackhouse is ignorant of this entirely and I am certain (or as reasonably certain as Christian charity requires) that each of them would agree that such awareness is important and that we need to do a “better job” of listening to many different believers.  In fact, I am sure they would want to invite those people into the conversation. Indeed that was part of Stackhouse’s intention.  Nevertheless, this doesn’t change the fundamental point.  Belcher’s book is by, for, and about a certain strain of White, largely middle-class, usually suburban (in thinking if not in residence), approach to church.     Stackhouse is, I think, much more in touch with this but also in some ways misses the boat. His desire to diversify the academy is itself a project of great importance to the same demographic, though one slightly more liberal and open minded than the traditionalist of Belcher’s description.  Frankly as I consider the churches I’ve attended in my life, the churches my father and brother now pastor, the tens of thousands of churches like them and the many millions of believers in them, I am convinced that neither Stackhouse’s desire for diversification in sex and ethnicity, nor Belcher’s third way have anything to say to them.  Even more importantly, I am pretty sure that both groups (though not these two men in particular; I don’t know them well enough or at all to say specifically) are not necessarily open to learning from them.

I find myself in an uniquely odd category.  People with backgrounds like mine generally don’t interact either in person or through the blogosphere with people like Stackhouse or Belcher.  It is funny to hear talk about listening to different voices, especially the voice of the minority and the poor, and yet be aware that many of them don’t realize that those voices may be entirely uninterested in being a part of the conversation, and even more that the conversation itself seems pointless and irrelevant to them.  It doesn’t seem pointless and irrelevant because they have been excluded from the conversation.  Its just that most of what is being talked about doesn’t matter one whit.  Likewise it is interesting to hear discussion about “the church” while ignoring the fact that much of the global church world could care less about emergent or emerging or emergence or whatever other monikers well connected White dudes (and some Asians) who have enough money to fly around to conferences discussing what to call themselves care about.

This latter is not an unimportant point.  How amazing it is to me how many thousands of dollars are spent by these folks flying around the country and the world talking to themselves about what is important.  The irony is amazing really.

Well this post has been mostly random thoughts not terribly well put together.  Perhaps I”ll dress it up later or not

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On Engagement Rings, Oreos, and Impromptu Parties

As you might have heard, or suspected, or divined by means of casting lots or looking at the entrails of a sacrificed bull, ElderJ is planning to be married, or is he?.  I know of course that in today’s highly networked world, a traditional engagement announcement (or lack thereof) means nothing.  All that must occur is for some pictures with proper captioning to appear on one’s facebook page, and the words of felicitation begin to flood in, as well as not a few incredulous phone calls seeking to verify what might, after all, be erroneous information.

In cases like these where there is so much potential for accuracy, inaccuracy, and downright guesswork, it if probably important to seek understanding “straight from the horse’s mouth,” as it were, and in this case, I am the horse in question.  Therefore I will seek to cursorily address what might or might not be on the minds of those who know me.

Are you engaged? The short answer to this question is not short at all.  I and my sweetheart are not technically engaged in the traditional North American romantic love way of things.  There has been no exchange of rings, no getting down on one knee, no blushing and crying woman saying, “Yes, yes, of course I’ll marry you!!”  However, we are most certainly planning a wedding and, more importantly, planning to spend our lives together.

So you’re not engaged but you’re getting married?  I’m confused… Don’t be confused.  We are engaged in a Chinese traditional sort of way.  I met the parents and requisite family members.  Hands were shaken.  Heads nodded with appropriate solemnity.  Difficult questions were asked and answered, and at the end of it all, my beloved’s father produced a cake and made an announcement.  What had been a mission’s prayer meeting became an impromptu engagement party.  We ate cake.  We received congratulations.  We were photographed.  We smiled until our cheeks hurt.

So you set a wedding date even though you’re not engaged? Yes.  Actually we set the date for our wedding back in December, even before we had made a firm decision that were going to be married.

Are you going to give her a ring? Yes

Why didn’t you give her a ring when you went to see her? Although we have been steadily moving in the direction of marriage, there were a lot of things we needed to talk about before moving ahead.

Aren’t you rushing things? Maybe we are.  Ask us in 30 years and we’ll let you know.  Seriously though, things are moving ahead at a somewhat quick pace, but there are reasons for this.  We decided very early on that this relationship would end in marriage or that we would not pursue it.  Neither of us is young, so we know ourselves much better than we did 10 years ago, are much more aware of our own limitations, and have much more realistic expectations of marriage than we used to.  We have been very intentional in tackling straight on the things we know are important.  You could say that our relationship is not entirely unlike arranged marriages of the past: we determined that we would be a good fit for each other, and have spent the time working through some of the pitfall we know we will encounter (since there are many we DON’T know about).  And we have fallen deeply in love.

Change of subject – Why are you with this Chinese girl?  Are you an Oreo? I am most definitely NOT an Oreo (for the uninitiated – Black on the outside but culturally White on the inside), though I was asked this question in person during the process of my courtship.  I love Black women, Black people, Black culture, and never really considered that I would marry someone that was not Black; indeed every woman I’ve dated was Black.  And yes, I know I’ve been going to an Korean church, but I do not have “yellow fever.”  I am also not naive about the challenges inherent in a cross-racial relationship, and I know there are some Black women out there who will not look favorably on my relationship.  I can’t do anything about that.

What about the kids? Our kids will be ridiculously attractive, but not because they’re biracial.  Seriously, have you seen how fine I am??  How could they be anything but fine as well?

Does this mean you’re going off to China or something? I am no more likely to go off to China now than I was before.  My life belongs to God.  Where he sends me, I will go.

Do you love this girl? Yes

Where will you all live? We will live together

Do you know each other well enough? I don’t know if there is a real answer to this question.  Does anyone know the person they marry “well enough.”  The answer is probably both yes and no.  We know each other well enough to want to spend our lives together. We don’t know everything there is to know about each other, and there is no way we could.  One thing though that is true of us is that we know OURSELVES far better than we did years ago.  Self knowledge is critical in any relationship, and the ability and willingness to be honest about who you really are with another person is important as well.

So when is the wedding? We are planning to marry September 11 in Atlanta Ga, followed by a honeymoon in SE Asia.  We gladly accept gifts of cash and in-kind donations.  We’re both missionaries, so yeah, I’m not joking when I say that.  We live from the faithful obedience of God’s people to be generous in their giving.

Give me neither poverty or riches…

Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full and deny you, and say, “Who is the LORD?” or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30.7-9

These words, so powerful and so true, should be inscribed on the heart if not the wall of every Christian, especially in the wealth and prosperity of American society. Indeed this proverb most profoundly encapsulates the very heart of what have been the most troublesome and persistent problems in our society and in the church. So much of the injustice, racism, environmental and economic exploitation that has plagued our society finds its root in a failure to be satisfied with, “the food that I need.” Scripture tells us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and that those who desire to get rich fall into a trap and are ensnared by evil, and the Proverbs are filled with admonitions like this one against the deceitfulness, transience, and emptiness of wealth.

Despite this it seems the chief day to day preoccupation of believers (much like everyone else) is the acquisition of more and better. In fact purveyors of the much maligned prosperity gospel have built a theological house around the notion that God not only wants to meet our needs, but desires for every believer to be materially wealthy.

Prosperity preachers, maligned though they may be, are not the first or the only to promote such views. Indeed it could be said that the scorn heaped upon them by mainstream evangelicals is a bit hypocritical when one drives into the parking lot of the typical suburban evangelical church and observes the well coiffed parishioners leave half million dollar suburban homes in $40,000 SUV’s to worship in sanctuaries plush with thousands of dollars worth of carpet, and tens of thousands of dollars in the latest multimedia equipment. The rich always decry the indulgences of the poor.

Prosperity preaching is in some ways merely a continuation of what has always been latent in American evangelicalism: an equation of God’s blessing with material goods. After all the massive prosperity of the United States was built on free land (taken from natives) and free labor (taken from Africans) the use of which was often endorsed by protestant Christians.

In any event, as a observer of immigrant culture in the context of the immigrant church, this correlation has caught on quite readily. It is an unfortunately easy leap to make; the pursuit and achievement of the American dream is often perceived (if not overtly stated) to be the best way to be a good Christian. And while it is easy to see and critique it in the Asian church, it is quite apparent in other places as well. After all the Christianity they practice is the Christianity to which they were converted.