Monocultural multiethnicity: borg theology

In Star Trek, there were a group of aliens called the Borg.  They operated as a hive mind; a collective that adapted & assimilated thousands of species and incorporated the history, knowledge and technology of that species into itself.  Their catch phrase, “You are about to be assimilated, resistance is futile, we are the borg” was a pithy encapsulation of who and what they were.

What does this have to do with multiethnicity?  Well in some ways, the way multiethnicity is practiced looks a lot like the Borg; no matter how many new species were assimilated by the Borg, how many differing groups became a part of the collective, the Borg themselves never changed.  They became efficient,  pragmatic, and eminently adaptable, but they were also the quintessence of banality and non-existence.  What could be a vibrant integration of thousands of species became instead a horrible nightmare focused on nothing more than it’s own survival.

Well I don’t imagine that when faithful Christians push for inclusive multiethnicity they have anything like Borg assimilation in mind.  However, so much of what passes for multiethnicity is simply a lot of different looking people getting together and talking about multiethnicity while worshipping, leading, praying, and doing church like middle class White angst filled gen X-er’s.

Dpark puts in well in his comments on the fight to stay asian

“But you don’t know me. You don’t know Korean any better because of me. This multiculturalism thing is not all true. I mean the world is becoming a smaller place, and yes, there are wonderful opportunities here, but I don’t radiate my Korean-ness here and he doesn’t radiate his Hong Kong-ness here or her Pakistani-ness.”

The teacher interupted me. “But by you being here, we have a window for discussion. The possibilities are there. Even that was never possible before.”

I don’t know where my anger came from but it started to flow more freely. “A window? I know a Cuban. I don’t know what being Cuban is like. I know two African-Americans. I don’t know what being black is about. That’s not a window–that’s a peephole. When I’m here at school, you don’t know that I don’t speak English when I’m at home or what my life as a Korean is like at all. This is not multiculturalism — it’s uni-cultural with all the rest giving up what they have to have the opportunity. I’m not Korean any more, I’m just an American with a Korean face! Or at least I have to be if I want to be a part of this multicultural facade.”

Unfortunately what was true in that classroom is often true in the church.  One hard reason why may be that American culture, and consequently American Christianity, is more like the Borg than we want to admit. 

The tragedy of the Borg is that though they assimilated so many people, knowledge, technology and minds, but they did not assimilate their cultures.  The Borg remained Borg and so were never genuinely enriched by all that assimilation.  I fear the same for the American church, especially in this season of “multiethnicity.”  That all the trappings of culture will be absorbed, but the rich vibrant underpinnings that make culture real will be lost.

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Chingoos / Friends

I have on my lap top background a picture of three men from my small group last year at as Thanksgiving party. These men, along with one of their wives and I formed what we called a “vision driven small group.”  We met every week, unless I was traveling or some other thing intervened.

I met these gentlemen at a prayer group meeting of Korean graduate students and faculty. They welcomed me in and asked me to lead a Bible study with them.  I gladly agreed.  I did not know how significantly they would change my life over the next several months.

 

One of them, Jinho, took it upon himself to teach me Hangul, the Korean alphabet, and the basics of Korean grammar.  Seonghwan told me about his time as a missionary in Indonesia.  Giljun and Heejung modeled for me what it was like to be young and in love.  From all of them I learned about community; something I had not truly experienced since my days as a college student at UT.  During the all too brief duration of our small group, these men became my friends.  We were not deeply intimate, and did not go out every week for drinks, but we cared for each other, prayed for each other, and were genuinely interested in one another’s lives. Leaving them was the most difficult part of leaving Knoxville. They were, and are, my friends.

 

Another friendship I developed in Knoxville was with the pastor of a church.  Pastoring a church was not what he thought it would be, and it was quite lonely for him and his wife.  The day we met for lunch he asked me, much like a shy embarrassed schoolboy, would I be his friend.  As a fellow minister I understood immediately; we needed each other.  We needed friends.

Friendship is something highly valued in scripture, yet strangely underrated and not discussed very much in the church circles in which I’ve been involved.  Sure, there is a lot of talk about community, the kingdom of God, and of course marriage, but very little is taught on the importance or even the need for friends.

David and Jonathan were friends, as were Elijah and Elisha.  I have to imagine that a large part of the reason God gave Aaron and Joshua to Moses was so that he could have friends. The Hebrew boys, Hannaniah, Azariah, Mishael, and Daniel were friends. Naomi and Ruth, Peter, James and John, Paul and Epaphroditus – all of them friends, and so many others I cannot remember. Most of these people were married, some were not, but all of them needed friendship.  They all needed people who became brothers and sisters to them by choice and not by birth.

 

In the church, I think we need better teaching on the value and importance of friendship. We have plenty of prayer partnerships, accountability groups, and work teams.  What we lack are friends.  People who talk about life, who get together for no reason other than that they enjoy one another’s company, who spend time goofing off just because it’s fun to do.  We need meetings without agendas, and time without a purpose. I think we need occasions were people get to develop friendships and we need a dethroning of the marriage partnership as the place of total fulfillment of human relationship.  Marriage is indeed the highest level of partnership to which we are called, and a good friendship is foundational to a good marriage, but even husbands and wives need friends, both together and separately, to give them perspective on life and on each other.   We need training on how even to be good friends and we need to make space for friendship in our lives.

 

Enoch walked with God, Abraham was considered God’s friend; Moses talked with him face to face.  And then there is Jesus. Throughout his ministry, Jesus conducted himself as a rabbi towards his disciples.  They called him master and teacher.  They served him, listened to him, and learned from him.  But on the last night of his time with them, he told them that he did not consider them servants any longer.  He considered them friends, not servants, nor even sons, but friends.  If friendship was God’s priority, it should be ours also.


 

Ahn nyung ha se yo

To greet Koreans in Korean as a non-Korean is always a sure fire way to elicit surprise and a bit of cultural cool points.  It doesn’t matter how much I mangle the pronunciation or use the improper honorific or fail to conjugate the verb, it never fails to please at some level.

Trying to speak someone’s language is a sign of respect, especially for people whose chief aim is to assimilate as much and as quickly as possible to the dominant culture.  It indicates that you value them, or at least care enough to recognize that they are not altogether like you, and that this is a good thing.

As a Christian, trying to speak another language is a discipline of humility since it reduces my normally fluid command of language to sounding like a stammering two year old.  There’s nothing like having a 5 year old correct your grammer for deflating your ego.

In some ways, I think of Jesus as I struggle to learn another language and culture.  After all Jesus crossed the largest barrier of culture possible – from heaven to earth, in order to reach us.  Do we get as excited about his efforts to reach across that divide?  Or better yet, do we expect non-believers to assimilate before we reach them? How might our world be different if more of us were willing to struggle to learn the language of the non-Christian culture around us? How might theirs?

Future History: Part 2

So, continuing, albeit late, from my previous post…

How shall we now live given the dimensions of our culture & faith?  Increasingly I find myself drawn more and more to an essentially conservative approach to faith and life, not that I’ve ever been particularly liberal.  What I mean is that I am beginning to doubt the progressivist agenda of our age, especially the social justice wing of American evangelicalism.

It is not that I reject social justice; indeed, I believe that any reading of the gospels and the totality of holy scripture reveals a deep seated demand for justice to be implemented and to be sought after by the people of God – not just personal, but systemic.

 What I reject is the subtle substitution of such justice concerns for what might be called (and what have been called) fundamentals of the faith.  I do not think we can afford to bend out understandings of scripture to prevailing socio-cultural norms in an effort to be people of justice & mercy at the expense of holiness.

Ah holiness… that elusive word which I hear less and less of in any circle at all, but which is, to me, bedrock to our understanding of God and salvation.  God, it seems, is holy, and has the audacity to insist that we emulate him in that holiness.  Yet often social action, acts of mercy, etc., are substituted for personal holiness which, unlike the kingdom of God, is the one thing we are given sole jurisdiction over.

What do I mean?  Simply this: peace and justice in society are ultimately the purview of God who has promised that perfect peace & justice will not prevail until “the Day.”  What we have been given charge over is our own lives and bodies, which we are to purify and present spotless before the Lord.  Part of that purificaton and spotless presentation is working for peace & justice in the world and in our respective spheres of influence.

As we look towards future history, we would do well to look far enough ahead that we remember that history itself will one day draw to a close, and we will be ultimately evaluated not on the basis of how our sons & daughters remember us, but how our actions and beliefs are remembered by the chief judge.  That will certainly mean acting and believing in ways that will increasingly become unpopular and countercultural.  Just because those who have followed Jesus before us believed some things that we may not think of as being wrong, doesn’t mean that we are right.

Future history: Part 1

Back in those hazy crazy sleep deprived days of graduate school, we learned about the academic discipline of history.  Among other things we learned that history is not simply a record of events that occured in the past.  It is the selection of events that are deemed to be important, for whatever reason.  We were also warned against presentism which is the tendency to read history based on current morality, understanding & knowledge. 

I learned the same thing in school as part of Christian fellowship about reading the Bible.  A text can never mean what it never meant, and we must try to learn what the author’s intent in writing was.

Why do I mention these things?  Because I have been giving some thought to how future Christians will view the current period, when now becomes then.

When we look back on Christians during the era of slavery, we find it so easy to condemn them for their complicity and endorsement of slavery.  We do the same with those during the civil rights movement.  We commit what historians call presentism… we evaluate them essentially based on our now and judge them deficient in their understanding.  And there are those who think and do theology with an eye to the future by asking questions about how we will be viewed by them.  This is especially true about things like women’s ordination or gay rights.  No one wants to be on the wrong side of history.

Is this a problem?  I’m not sure, but I think so. It is easy for us to think that we are somehow above the culture, but it is amazing that as culture has shifted on issues of, say divorce, or women’s ordination, the church at large has trotted happily in its wake while telling ourselves that we are following the scripture.  I cannot help but wonder if we are deceiving ourselves.

So in the future will people look at us like we look at those who justified slavery because we hold the line on certain issues?  But if that is true; if truth is true, then it is always true and has always been true. And a shift in culture should not shift us.

So how do we remain in truth?  Some say scripture, but people use scripture to provide justification for anything and everything.  I think that is where the cloud of witnesses come in.  I don’t think we are wide enough to judge our own motives and so we need the weight of the entire communion of saints, not only present, but past, to help us discern what is true and right.