What is wrong with this picture? – Thoughts on Christ, Context and Identity

5 Jan

I am always here because something has blown me away. Always it’s God. Often it’s for world missions. Today, anyway, he’s done it with a Chinese guy singing in Tamil. Kinda related, right? 😀 In my limited experience, I’ve never seen the two ethnicities (yeah, yeah, social scientist) have much to do with each other in homelands. So this was special but also sad – that it was special, I mean. Tamil is a language spoken by … well, the Tamils in India but also in Sri Lanka (yes, that Tamil), Malaysia and some parts of Singapore. I think this video was from Malaysia. For some time recently, our perceptions and prejudices of differences has spoken to me often and unerringly.

I once walked home to my little sub-let in a friend’s home, on Coed Mawr, a council estate in Bangor. This was the slightly better off council estate. Fewer at-risk kids, and fewer kids that we worked with through the church. It was dark, in the way that late afternoons can be dark only in the UK. Dark, wet, and ever-reminiscent of the snow-capped mountains in the near distance. This evening was no different.

I liked it, you know. I think I went and fell in love with Wales. And Welsh people. And Welsh accents. And the church family there. I had only recently moved to this neighbourhood and I was enjoying the house. But always when I walked without my housemate or friends, I had the sense of being seen. I didn’t feel different – but to the kids, and probably to their less-unequivocal parents, I seemed different. I was ‘foreign’, but I didn’t look typically ‘foreign’. And by look, I mean dress or talk or eat. I lived with a definitely Welsh friend, and most of my friends weren’t necessarily like me in the way they’d expect, perhaps. They were local, or from the university. So I was so different from them that perhaps I seemed less human. We define ‘right’ and ‘humanity’ by our own measures. I was different but not in the way they thought.

As I turned the corner into our street, I saw the kids from the estate laughing secretively, a boy teasing a girl as if he wished he could do something else instead, a couple of kids on the swings. I knew they would comment on me, but they were teenagers – they would comment on everything and everyone passing by. Instead this time they decided to address me. With animal noises.

I am not all that nice, you know. Really inside of me, I wanted to put on my best upper-crust-can’t-touch-me face (yes, I can do this sometimes but y’all reading this don’t know me so my secret’s safe ;)) and I wanted to say to them: “I’m sorry? I don’t speak Welsh!” Not because I don’t love Welsh because of course, I do, and I had spent a good part of the previous week learning the national anthem in between times! But because I knew that it would hurt them. There – ugh, confession, there’s my mean streak. I thought to myself that it was a good lesson for them to learn. But I didn’t. Aaron told me later that he would have paid me to say it, if he’d been there. He’s Welsh. What I did though was talk to God.

How do we perceive difference? Those kids didn’t know better. I think I might have even had conversations with them later. They didn’t know I would recognise them. But if you are reading this, and you know the Lord Jesus and love his word, then how do you see the meaning of difference?  – Selah, and I mean it. –

Is your identity in being Welsh, or American, or European, or Indian, or Asian, or English, or African? I struggle with this because people might argue that part of our identity does come from these things. From our language, from our colour, our ethnicity, our jobs, our educations and our nationalities. Our identity is a bricolage of influences – think post-modern theory, Strauss, Derrida, even Eckert and others. But what is it built on?

In our first-grade classes, we’re making quilts. We have dozens of little squares, triangles and a few more quadrilaterals because, of course, we’re learning geometry. Every little child gets a certain number of little coloured pieces of paper. Each of them makes a pattern. And then all those little patterns of squares (so far) go on the base white sheet of construction paper. One big quilt. Different coloured little patches, all out of paper, all stuck on one paper. Even that’s not analogy enough.

For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. (emphasis added, KJV)

Get that? Really? All of these influences, every memory, every whisper, every laurel, every pain is subsumed into this one saving identity in Christ. My parents, my education, the good and the bad – they don’t define me. Christ does. He might use these things and he will. But it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. It is not incidental that that whole chapter is talking about Jews and Gentiles.

Does it make you uncomfortable now that we marry, eat, laugh, pray within our own races? Does it make you uncomfortable counting the Christian friends on your Facebook list and realising they have comparable incomes, literacies, families and (this sickens me because after all the struggle against it, it has no excuse) ethnicities? Remember, I’m only talking about Christian friends – we haven’t even started on going out of that box and taking Christ to the world.

How many of them disturb you at all? No, they don’t have to be scandalous and no, they do not have to sin to disturb you. Can they afford pizza at home? Do you know anyone who cannot? Because the whole problem is this – if it makes us uncomfortable, we’re forced to do something about it.

Do you know anyone outside your community, your race, your ethnicity, your settlement, your clan, your club, your caste, your tribe? Are they token people or can you really relate?

Has it surprised you that someone of a different race had a similar emotion to yours? I’ve heard it often enough. Think again.

Who defines you? What defines you?

If this doesn’t make us uncomfortable, then there is something deathly wrong. And we’ve got to change it.


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