This past week, my daughter’s school held their annual Football Homecoming celebrations. As a part of the celebrations, the school hosted a day for students to dress up for “Heritage Day.” My daughter pieced together an outfit representing our family’s Scottish heritage. Several of her classmates dressed in clothing representing their family’s heritage. As I dropped her off that day, I enjoyed being able to see the variety of outfits and heritages on display.
Five or six years ago, I would have ignored this type of celebration. I would have simply told my daughter to dress “normal” because I saw our family heritage as a non-distinct American heritage. Basically, I thought everyone had the same family lineage I did. Oh sure, I knew there were folks from different parts of the country, but we were all basically the same – or so I thought. You see I thought everyone else was like me, normal. Reading through Efrem Smith’s book The Post Black & Post White Church forced me to rethink this assumption. I was unsettled by his book and actually gave it a less than stellar review on Amazon because I was frustrated with his suggestions. I understood Smith to be saying that in order to have a multi-ethnic church, I needed to better understand my European heritage. I balked at the idea. In fact, I found it offensive. I did not see the need to follow his advice.
At the time I read the book, I lived under the premise that I was living in a multi-ethnic world. I realize now that I was not being honest with myself. I was living in a middle-class neighborhood, surrounding myself with people who shared my “middle-class sensibilities and values.” I was busy trying to get everyone to conform to how I saw the world and live within my framework. I was fixated on extending my community, but I can’t say I was engaged in reshaping communities by God’s design.
The interesting thing about the stories captured for us in scripture is they all are honest about their pasts. Actually, it is in fully remembering the past that the new alignments begin. I think of the powerful story captured in John’s account of the Good News of Jesus. In the story recorded for us in fourth chapter, we see Jesus reshaping a community through a woman who had to acknowledge her past in order to experience what she hoped and longed for. We often refer to the story as “Jesus and the Samaritan Woman” but as the encounter between Jesus and the women draws to an end, we see a village encountering Jesus and on its first steps to transformation. We even see the disciples of Jesus being further challenged in their understanding of the kingdom of God, which laid the seed for how they would live in the future.
We cannot honestly be a part of reshaping communities until we embrace the current truths of our communities. We must be careful to reshape the communities to represent the kingdom of Heaven and not just our own views. For John gives us a glimpse of how God is reshaping the world in another letter he wrote. “I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9 NLT)
On Sunday, our families of Mexican heritage hosted a lunch celebrating their cultural heritage. They also celebrated the community they were now a part of. Many of these members once felt alone and afraid. Now they express a sense of belonging and family. Some could have seen Sunday’s celebration as simply a party looking backwards, but I saw it as a party celebrating their identity today and laced with hope for what they will be tomorrow as God continues to reshape them into his glorious image.
Next year, I hope that we can have a celebration of heritages of many in our church, not just our families of Mexican heritage.
I hope this post makes sense to you. Basically, I’m trying to emphasize that we can’t be a part of God’s future until we honestly confess our own pasts. In our desire to see the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, we have to confess how things are different. Then as we confess we must walk forward in obedience to the place where we find ourselves as worshippers, in spirit and truth.