A couple of weeks ago, I brought my gasoline power edger in to a mower/edger repair store. Although its motor was still strong, it had multiple problems. While waiting my turn, a Hispanic gentleman in front of me was trying to get his generator engine fixed. The anglo owner of the shop looked it over and said, “I usually don’t work on these, but I can fix it for (he paused) $100.” The Hispanic gentleman stroked his beard and said, “How about $75?” This owner’s eyes got wide, “You think I am playing around? Now the price is $125!” The Hispanic man was confused and stood there for a moment. “Now the price is $150” the owner went on. “Just take it away, next!” The Hispanic man exited to talk to a friend without moving his generator. I explained about my edger and we quickly decided a swap was in order and I got a much better edger. When I returned, the Hispanic man and the owner had come to some agreement. I was glad. In Latin America, really in many parts of the world, negotiating over a price is normal. But here, the owner was offended thinking the man was insinuating he hadn’t offered him a fair price to start off with. Culture clash.
I fear the same thing can happen in Christ’s Church. Recently, I got involved in a debate of sorts in a discussion link on Linkedin.com. It was on a page on Reformed theology and dealt with how central believing that God created the earth in six twenty-four hour periods was to our Christian faith is to us. Much like the Hispanic man at the mower/edger repair store, I jumped into the dialogue not understanding the culture for those in the group. I learned after the fact that it is a group of Presbyterians from two more conservative denominations than my own where belief in six days of creation is common in one and required in the other. Instead of thinking my views would be more common (that while true, much is symbolic in the creation story – much like the way Jesus told parables), this rankled most of the commentors on the discussion thread. One of the moderators of the group even threatened to virtually throw me out of the discussion if I kept insisting that part of what is in Genesis is metaphor (he didn’t and I am glad). I will go to the mat defending the creation account as true. But truth can come to us in many ways. Some of the most profound truths Jesus passed to us was through stories. I expect it is just how God explained truths to ancient man who had no understanding of the universe as we understand it today.
I raise all this not to get back into the discussion on Linkedin but instead to raise the topic of cultures within the church. I believe the church has so many different denominations because it reaches different people in different places (and sometimes at different times of their lives). Christ is going to reach one culture of people through one church and another group through another church. I love moving between the cultures within the church but I know that is not the norm. Most folks have a preferred way to hear God’s Word proclaimed, to sing God’s praises in music, and are called to different types of mission.
But, I wonder, how can we respect the differences and yet bridge the gaps? How can we help Christ’s Church be one, if not every Sunday, at least in discussion and dialogue? How can we find the way, like the Hispanic and Anglo man in the mower/edger shop, find a way to make the transaction without walking away alienated from one another?
Jesus seemed to be able to bridge cultures (fishmen and tax collectors, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, etc.). How do you think we can bridge cultures? If we can’t bridge the divides within the church, how are we to reach beyond it? There are many people whom God created in this world who come from cultures where our faith is not the norm. Shouldn’t we be able to set the example within the church? Can’t there be a way to show that we value folks who are different, think different, maybe even believe in a different way from ourselves?
If you are interested in the Genesis dialogue, here is the linkedin link:
But, most of all, I remain interested in how to strengthen bonds between different branches of the church, even ones who see things different theologically, because it is what Christ would want and because I think it is going to be needed in the time to come.
What do you think?