6 How can I stand up before GODsome reflections on multiculturalism and its cognates:
and show proper respect to the high GOD?
Should I bring an armload of offerings
topped off with yearling calves? ...
8 But he's already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what GOD is looking for in men and women.
It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don't take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously.
What feels like a long time ago, I lived and served in very inner-city Boston; today I'll begin with a panorama! The local church I served as lay associate pastor was highly diverse in terms of class, race, age, ethnicity, economics and culture, but some time before I began serving that congregation the immediate neighborhood had experienced blockbusting, white-flight and redlining, with a subsequent decline and disarticulation of the public education system. Those particular dynamics of change followed by insurgent gentrification plus underclass growth on the neighborhood's fringes meant there was no way any mainline church could have survived unless they'd been looking at and trying out very different untraditional models for evangelism and ministry ages earlier.
Nonetheless, some streets were (re-)gentrifying, resulting in multi-generational welfare families and yuppies living within hailing distance of one another. As the senior pastor I served with once said to me, "a lot of the folks in this neighborhood never have even been in Harvard Square, let along inside a Harvard classroom"; yet again, quite a few yuppies with advanced academic or professional degrees came to the church seeking volunteer opportunities and sometimes church homes for themselves or their offspring.
Since the void the departure of the White working-class population left in the area also had meant the dissolution of most mainline-affiliated local churches, given such a large immigrant and underclass population a whole lot of independent – mostly Pentecostal and other related Wesleyan offshoots – storefront congregations gathered, evolved and prospered.
Regarding the difficult work of bridging religious and cultural differences, the church building's immediate vicinity included families and individuals whose families historically were Irish Roman Catholic, Blacks - primarily African-American with a growing influx of Caribbean islanders - and an increasingly disenchanted surfacing minority whose forebears originated in the United Kingdom or Western Europe. One of the major problems I constantly dealt with were the genuinely concerned and truly well-meaning White liberals who at the same time were extremely eager to be helpful and culturally almost completely unaware, insensitive and actually gauche! It amounted to dismaying cultural arrogance and ignorance and not remotely the "evangelism in the vernacular" we endeavored to do.
But the society full of compassionate fairness and justice for all, the impartial way of righteousness that recognizes separate means inherently unequal, the "Beloved Community," that formed a large part of the heart of MLK's quest - as always - was a tough one! Participating in the church's programming were nominally Roman Catholic kids, but when I'd visit their home and suggest they begin attending worship, a parent would inform me, "My child is Catholic!" (Typically I'd never seen any evidence of that possibility.) Or, people who seemed to be taking advantage of us for transportation and various handouts...sometimes I wonder if those of us on church staff were gullible or were we faithful servants?
On MLK Day 2005, in what feels like *now* and actually is *now*, I'm living in San Diego; these days, the very words "Southern California" by default signify a fundamentally multicultural and multilingual environment! With Baja California's city of Tijuana just south, this is the busiest land border in the world, and San Diego is very much a conventional border town; in San Diego city and county there are so many neighborhoods that carry an ethnic designation. Practically all of the signage and most of the announcements everywhere are bilingual English-Spanish at minimum; lots are in Tagalog and Vietnamese, too, with some in an least a half-dozen more languages. Restaurants, food courts and other eating places offer an vast variety of ethnic food and Americanized-ethnic eats, too. But how much evidence of actual living in community with, celebrating with and truly understanding the folks of different-from backgrounds do I see around here? I'm not referring to the frequent Festivals of ethnic foods, dance, arts and culture: I'm searching find and longing to experience understanding and true equality that moves far beyond stereotypes and surface tolerance into making this large town a welcome place and a real sanctuary safe for differences! As God charges us through Micah the prophet, each of one us needs to take God more seriously and ourselves less seriously, or as Bible versions a little more conventional and familiar to us than Eugene Peterson's The Message version of scripture expresses it, we need to "Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God!" In the power of the Holy Spirit, God's desire can become our lifestyle!
Still, for this day forward and counting...
Happy Martin Luther King Jr., Day, World!!! You've Come a Long, Long Way!!!!!