Disco Sucks…or not

Basically, to the extent that I accept the work of the cross as my invitation to participate in the self-giving intimacy of the Trinity, I must be prepared to embrace the self-giving intimacy with the “other.”  To partake in the sacrificial love of the Trinity is to participate in sacrificial love with all others, not just the ones who are part of my homogenous Christian group.1

 

When I was young, I was a Hard Rock fan.  “Disco sucks!” was the motto that those of my crowd shouted (though secretly I liked any kind of music, but didn’t dare say it out loud).  We liked our music, and we didn’t like anyone who thought differently.  Kiss, AC/DC, Aerosmith, and Def Leppard were some of the bands we thrived on.

How is it that music can be so divisive?  Music is supposed to be universal, right?  Music is supposed to bring all people together in the one universal language.  In a time when so many things are dividing us, shouldn’t music be something we can all appreciate, no matter the style?

I’m currently reading Disunity in Christ, which talks about the divisions within divisions in the Body of Christ and why it needs to change.  We are all born of the same Spirit, living in the same Kingdom of God, and worshipping the same God.  How is it that we are so vehemently (violently, in some cases) at odds with one another?  Is it any wonder that people are turned off by the thought of becoming part of our faith?

The studies in this book point to the conclusion that we like to be with people who think, act and look like us.  It also brought out an important point about relationships with people who are not like us:  if we intentionally spend time with them, we will become more comfortable with any differences we may have.  When we open ourselves to relationships with people who think, act and look differently, we will naturally become more familiar with those differences and be more comfortable around them.

In my youth, had I developed the courage to hang out with those who like Disco music, I would likely have developed friendships with them, despite our different “favorite” musical styles.  We could have possibly come to appreciate the diversity, and even overlap, in the musical world at the time.

How can we develop the courage to hang out with people who have different beliefs and faith practices than us?  We can start by talking with people who are not like us in some way—as if there were any real differences between us to begin with.  After all, the “other” may be in the similar position of not being comfortable with our culture or worship.  In fact, maybe that can be the common denominator between us that starts the conversation.

The first and biggest step is always saying “Hello.”  This is less about what words to say than it is about why to say them.  If we want a different world in which true diversity is valued, then we must want a world in which people—including me and you—have courage to simply get to know the other.  Everyone will eventually find themselves in a situation that offers opportunity to begin this process of removing the discomfort—even fear—between different groups.  How will we respond in that moment?  Will we keep walking to avoid the initial discomfort, or will we stop and say, “Hello?”

Perhaps, if we do stop, we will find out that “Disco doesn’t suck.”  We may find ourselves in the midst of a kairos moment (a moment of the Spirit’s moving, a defining moment) that will forever change our lives.

 

1 Christena Cleveland, Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart, 2013, Intervarsity Press, p.35.

The Labelmaker

When I was young, I had a labelmakelabelmakerr.  I thought it was cool to make labels to stick on things.  I made labels for my drawers for socks, pants, shirts and winter clothes.  I put labels on my stuff so people would know who owned it.

This is not because I was organized or tidy in any way, but because I just liked using the labelmaker.  It was a new toy to play with for a while.  After a short time it became less fun (and I ran out of label rolls), so I put it away, never to be seen again.  And, of course, when my mom came into my room and saw all the labels, I was instructed to take the labels off so they did not ruin the furniture.

It’s interesting how we label things, how we like to categorize and organize in order to define our lives.  I am currently reading Becoming an Anti-Racist Church, by Joseph Barndt (Fortress Press).  In it, he describes how racism began as an attempt to categorize people—especially people of color—for the purpose of maintaining and perpetuating control by the white European culture and people.

The idea of race was invented by sixteenth-century Europeans, imported by seventeenth-century American colonialists, constitutionalized by eighteenth-century American forefathers, and perpetuated throughout the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries as a tool to measure human worth and distribute power and priviledge.”1

Europeans put labels on things so everyone would know “who owns it.”  It was their understanding that they had the “Divine right” to own everything and everyone, so they set up a system that could be used to subjugate the world for the sake of their own power and control:  racial classifications.

We are inheritors of this process of label-making.  Every government survey or census I’ve ever taken requires us to choose a racial designation.  In some cases it is “optional,” but we live in a culture that insists on labels for race.  It’s just part of who we are.  But does it need to be?

What if we lived in a world where we could look at another human and not see a label attached to them?  What if we could walk into school, work, church or store and not see the other person as a threat—either to your safety or your privilege?

The unfortunate fact in America is that we—collective “we”, not individual “we”—all have labels on us.  If someone is a person of color, then society places the label of “less” upon them in either subtle (sideways looks or “conditional” opportunity) or overt (racial insults or deportation) ways.  If someone is white, there is also labeling—the label of privileged opportunity, the label of being “in”, or the label of unearned power.

Please note at this point that I am white.  I do not presume to speak for people of color, I am as an infant who is just learning to speak.  But to not speak is to silently assent to what is already spoken.  So in my infantile voice, I will say that this label-making needs to go away, not only from individual minds and hearts, but from the systems and institutions that perpetuate them.

Our individual work needs to be on changing our own attitudes and prejudices, but more importantly, it needs to focus on joining with other voices—especially those with labels different than our own—to point out where our culture has embedded racism, classism, sexism, etc. and to bring forward ways to change these laws and “hidden rules” so the label-making can stop.

Once I put away my labelmaker, I never found it again.  I never needed it, because I grew up and knew what and where things were.  I am starting to grow up in my understanding of what it means to be human, as well.  I have a long way to go, and I hope to be engaged by other humans who can help me with that process.

 

1 “Becoming an Anti-Racist Church”, 2011, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, p.90.

labelmaker image from: http://historysdumpster.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-dymo-label-maker.html

Seeking to Understand

O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

–St. Francis of Assisi

What does it mean to understand the other?

In my younger years, I tried so hard to be understood, to be seen as a person of value, rather than one of “those people” who received free lunches my entire school career, who could not afford to go to the movies or have my own car.  I needed people to see me as a struggling human with issues of self worth, and to teach me how to love in a real way.

What I got instead was talking behind my back, finger pointing and ignorance of my true nature as a human.  It’s not that I was unintelligent, but that I had no one to help me figure out how the larger world worked and how I could fit into it.

I don’t write this to make anyone feel guilty or to ask for anyone’s pity.  I write this to point out one of the greatest needs in society – the need to understand the other.

I am just finishing the book Bridges Out of Poverty, by Ruby Payne, Philip DeVol, and Terie Dreussi Smith.  In it, the authors talk about relationships being the cornerstone of helping people in poverty to move toward a different life.  I say different, not better, because my life growing up, for all its financial and social difficulties, was basically one of being loved and cared for.

As a child who grew up in the poverty culture, I didn’t see it as pitiful, but as normal.  I knew that others had things that I wanted and didn’t know how to get, but our family was caring and faithful to one another.

Payne talks about relationship being one of the most important aspects of helping people change their life situation because with relationship comes understanding.  The more I talk with, interact with, and hang out with someoe else, the more I will understand that person.  We can study other cultures for years, but until we enter that culture through a relationship with someone in that culture we will not understnad.

Whose culture have you entered?  With whom have you started a relationship outside your own culture, be it economic, ethnic, gender identity, or any other “classification” of difference?  Has it changed your perception of that culture?

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.“–Leviticus 19:34, NIV

God calls us to love the stranger as we love our own.  This involves moving from our comfort zone into the dangerous waters of relationship.  The danger is that we will be feared, rejected or ignored, which may hurt our egos.  The reward of such a venture, however, far outweighs any risk of our own damaged ego.  The reward is that we will understand more fully the humanity of the other.  The reward is that we will no longer have to rely on stereotypes and prejudices handed to us by our own culture, which has possibly not tried to understand the other, but has simply judged based on its own culture as the benchmark of what is “right.”

The goal of understanding is love because love seeks to place the other first in importance.  As we seek out personal relationships with people whose culture we do not fully know or understand, we come to a greater understanding of humanity as a whole.  That is, we come to realize that humanity is the same as a whole; there are simply differences in understanding.

Seek them out.  Talk to them.  LISTEN to them.  Love them.

Naked and Not Ashamed

At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees.  Then the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’

He replied, ‘I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.’”—Genesis 3:7-10 NIV

 

 

Imagine the most vulnerable situation in which you could possibly be.  Odds are it has something to do with your being naked.  Whether physically, emotionally or psychologically, nakedness equals vulnerability in the minds of many.  We all have this image of nakedness that congers up feelings of dread and fear.

But why is that?  Are we hardwired for this fear?  Are we conditioned to believe it?  We see in Genesis that when Adam and Eve knew they were naked, they were ashamed.  They felt vulnerable.  But it wasn’t always that way.  In the previous chapter of Genesis (chapter 2), they were both naked and were not ashamed.  What happened?

They listened to the world, that’s what.  In their desire for control, they gave up the freedom that comes from being vulnerable.  Have you ever thought about vulnerability being freeing?  When we are vulnerable, we don’t have to worry about whether people approve of our words, actions, or attitudes.  We give up the desire to win or be seen as “right.”

Please don’t get me wrong.  I’m not advocating a nudist lifestyle (though I cannot disapprove of those that do); I’m advocating a lifestyle that leans into the original design for life, in which we are open and honest about our lives.  When we allow ourselves to be “naked” regarding our fears, doubts, and desires, we are freed to speak up concerning injustice because we don’t worry about “making trouble;” we are freed to pursue a life of love for the other because it is right, rather than easy; we are freed to develop our own identity because we no longer need to conform.

When Adam and Eve chose to follow the world, they lost their innocence and their place in paradise.  They chose worldly knowledge over divine intimacy.  If vulnerability is what it takes to recapture that intimacy, I’m all for it.  Vulnerability leads to intimacy.  That may be a leap for some, but I believe it’s true.  When we are vulnerable, we are seen by those around us as real and authentic.  When we are vulnerable, others feel safer being vulnerable around us.  The relational potential in this is amazing!

The more vulnerable we are, the more human we become.  And the more human we become, the more we express what God has created us to be.  If our biggest need is for lasting, real relationships, then  being “naked and not ashamed” is a good way to start.

Being Human

“When we move into our deepest human nature, we find God, the divine source of everything.  The incarnation, the word becoming flesh, also happens in us.  We too are divine words being made flesh in our time and place.  Our true humanity is the discovery that we are also sons and daughters of God, all divine words, spoken into being.”—Kent Dobson

What does it mean to be human?  I was reading the story of Simeon and Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:21-35), and I got to thinking about “the image of God.”  We were created in the image of God, as was Jesus when he was born.

The “image of God” is less about reflection than it is about essence.  When we see ourselves as a representation, or reflection, of God, it is very easy to label God: “God looks like (fill in the blank).”  But if we understand this image of God language to say that we hold the essence of God within us, then we must acknowledge that God is more, greater, and other than any label.

Likewise, if we try to imagine ourselves as the “words being made flesh in our time and place,” we can start to see the divine diversity toward which Jesus was born to guide us.  To be human is to recognize in the other the divine.

I find it fascinating that God called Godself “I Am.”  To exist.  Rob Bell does a great job explaining this.  Simply to exist is to experience God, who simply exists.  Simply existing makes us enough.  This is what stirred my thoughts about being made in the image of God, who simply exists.

Do you exist? Are you?  If so, then you are the image of God.  God is.  You are.  I am.  We are the image of God simply because we exist.  This is why Jesus became human: to show us that being human is enough—enough to deserve dignity, enough to deserve love, enough to deserve peace and belonging and joy.

As we walk through this life, we do it together, not for the sake of tribalism or being in the right group, but because we are all human and we are all the image of God.

 

(Kent Dobson, “Bitten By a Camel: Leaving Church, Finding God”, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, 106.)