Archive for April, 2009

A Diverse Celebration

April 22nd, 2009 by Kelsi Johns



In the March newsletter for New Wine, New Wineskins (, 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. 





Jesus– Changing the World One Heart, One Structure at a Time

April 5th, 2009 by Kelsi Johns

In Chapter 2 of Consuming Jesus, Metzger explores the reality that evangelicals are often blind to social structures that reinforce racialization (race’s impact on everything–from healthcare to education to occupation, etc). Evangelicals emphasize personal conversion and individual responsibility, and many believe that identifying social structures only serves as an obstacle to preaching the gospel and getting individuals saved. While Metzger highlights the vital need for personal conversion, he also claims that such emphasis on personal conversion must be coupled with thoughtful consideration of the societal structures that shape us. Personal conversion is necessary, but is not in and of itself sufficient to solve the world’s ills. They reach far beyond the individual.  Jesus changes the world one person at a time, but in cooperation with this, he also changes the world one structure at a time. It is my desire that Christ’s concern for both the individual conversion and the structural conversion be integrated more thoughtfully into the American evangelical ethos.


Emerson and Smith (referenced in Consuming Jesus) address this tendency of emphasizing the individual transformation over/against the structural transformation. They refer to it in part as the “miracle motif”: Get people converted and social-structural problems (i.e., racialization) will then disappear. These same authors claim that, “This antistructural orientation reveals a lack of proper awareness–the absence of a key tool or tools for remedying racialization in America, especially within the Christian church” (Emerson-Smith, Divided By Faith, pp. 76, 78; quoted in Consuming Jesus, p. 58). This is why I appreciated David Swanson’s concrete suggestions (presented as a follow-up comment to his latest entry on this blog titled “Reflections on the Inauguration”) on how to work with intentionality toward building diverse ethnic and class unity in the context of our churches.  Intentional engagement of church structures is essential; the church is Christ’s witness to the world. It is our opportunity and responsibility to transform the church to be the powerful voice of a liberating and transforming Christ. 


I’ve been reading Chris Rice’s “Grace Matters”, and it has been rocking my world. It is his story about working and living in a multi-ethnic community in Jackson, Mississippi, and his audacity, strength, and suffering in being put through the fires of racial reconciliation. It has been striking me to the core to realize that speaking about these things in theory is one thing, but to intentionally do something about them, to throw oneself in there and be willing to die to self, suffer and be humiliated in order to learn deep truths and gain deep, healing relationships is what makes being a Christian so meaningful. It is how we experience the profundity of Christ’s love. As I read Chris’s story, I see how it contextualizes Metzger’s challenge to us as believers to consider the bigger picture. Rice’s story gives a perfect example of how gospel work does not stop, and is not limited to individual conversion. Structural engagement is a necessary component of healing longstanding racial wounds and changing existing structures. 


Jesus challenged and overturned the structures of his time, as in the event of overturning the tables in the temple (where people groups were being divided). If people are dying in their spirits and hearts because of racial oppression, injustice and division, who are we to say that addressing these ills is getting in the way of the gospel? That is the gospel incarnated. When I hear: “We don’t want that to stand in the way of the gospel”, I hear the voice of a passive (or aggressive) oppressor. Jesus is about freedom, liberation and empowerment (in Him). Passively perpetuating a church body that segregates and a faith that oppresses is not perpetuating the heart and call of Jesus Christ. I am convinced that the more we live in diverse, sacrificial community and serve the marginalized and oppressed as Chris Rice and others have done, we are then able to identify and value our own inter-connectedness and integral responsibility of social structures. As the saying goes, if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. 


I’d love to hear your responses to these questions:


Do you see as problematic the belief that race problems automatically disappear once people get converted?


How important is conversion to the healing of race problems?


How important to race reconciliation is the addressing of structural problems?


Have you witnessed people in communities who are balancing rightful concern for personal conversion with conversion of social structures in addressing race problems?


Do you see things in your own life that are at odds with promoting reconciliation and sacrificial love of “the other”? 


In the power of Christ’s transforming love, what steps can you take both inside and outside the church, to overturn structures that reinforce race and class divisions?