In the March newsletter for New Wine, New Wineskins (http://new-wineskins.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/090401-new-wine-newsletter.pdf), I explored the profundity of two different cultural art forms (Bach and African music) being brought together to produce something entirely different: ballet. I would like to explore this theme further, specifically in terms of how it speaks to our dire need for cultural diversity and multi-ethnic representation in the church.
That ballet performance involved the creation of something beautiful out of two or more different and separate cultural expressions. This inspired in me a longing and sense of need: I long for the church to be a community where we truly sense our need for one another in the diversity of our cultural expressions, involving rather than negating cultural and ethnic tension. “Tension” in the sense that I do not believe that diversity in the church “just happens,” or is necessarily comfortable (especially considering the unequal footing from which we are currently working in America in regards to race relations and divisions).
We must intentionally work to understand, engage and respect one another–accounting for our different backgrounds and ethnicities. These differences must not be undermined, but rather engaged and celebrated. When this happens, something beautiful and new emerges.
It frustrates me that the phrase “celebrate diversity” is often labeled as taboo in Christian circles. I believe that the call to “celebrate diversity” is one of the most profound and significant aspects of our spiritual lives as Christians! The way I see it, the lack of appreciation for diversity fosters passive racism and homogeneous units in our social, educational and churchly spheres as believers. True, we are not to herald religious and spiritual “relativism” as such, but this is not what I am addressing.
It perplexes me that diversity is often dubbed as synonymous with spiritual and religious relativism. But diversity–different colors, voices, perspectives, thinkers, feelers, cultures in the body of Christ? This is something to be celebrated. Rather than stopping at celebrating diversity, my desire is that we celebrate the one Christ in diverse ways in the church.
I am convicted that to move forward, we must be brutally honest with ourselves about our faith. We, as believers, have been part of a movement that throughout its history has at times celebrated cultural diversity and yet at other times has shamefully oppressed diversity, including minority and non-Western cultural expressions of the faith. If we as the church are to move forward as the embodied presence of the liberating and compassionate Christ whose glory is revealed in manifold and diverse ways, then we must come to celebrate diverse cultural expressions as central to our worship gatherings and daily Christian existence.
It is my desire that we make beautiful music out of the prism of differences in the world, music that inspires and liberates the church to be a diverse people centered in Christ. Just as Albert Schweitzer combined his Bach performances with the lively and colorful sounds of Africa surrounding him (which eventually inspired a beautiful ballet performance by the Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland), I believe we too are designed to combine, to harmonize, so to speak, with different communities and peoples.
What would that eventually produce? Who thought Africa and Bach would inspire a ballet? I believe we, too, could produce something unexpected, unique and utterly beautiful. Something that resonates with and echoes the symphonic melodies of the kingdom of God. I desire to see something of a ballet emerge from the body of Christ: a collision of diverse expressions creating something entirely new and profound, accompanying the divine drama of the reconciling Christ.