Monday, July 23, 2012

Boys To Men!

    I heard a report that a young woman I know was working in a store that was robbed.  Evidently a man, with his friends, stuck a gun in her face and cleaned out the cash drawer.  Thankfully she was not hurt.  Of course that report is nothing compared to the story of what happened in Colorado in the mass shooting at a movie theater.  These stories have prompted my thinking about such things as manliness, honor, humiliation and shame.
    In our anger, frustration, and despair over such continuing stories we may forget some of the dynamics going on in our society that I think lead to more and more of these kind of events.  I know there are lots of factors going on in the drama of American violence, whether it be mass shootings, racial shootings, inner city violence, or domestic violence.  Some are debating America's paranoid and schizophrenic view of guns; whether to be paranoid of them or paranoid someone is going to take them away.  Some ought to be debating our failure to identify those mentally ill who are dangerous and institutionalize them, before they stop taking their meds and go buy weapons and use them.
    I want to talk about something a little more basic, maybe not as dramatic but in the long run fundamental to the health of our society.  I want to talk about making boys into men.  I want to talk about taking the feelings of impotence out of their character.
    I remember when I was a little boy how much I loved cowboy and war movies.  I did think that someday I wanted to have a "gun" and maybe get to shoot bad guys.  I did understand very early on that there were good guys and bad guys.  I thought learning to shoot might help make me a man.  I remember when I was a little older how much I enjoyed heroes in movies who used karate to beat up their enemies.  I thought if I learned karate I could beat up people too, and that would help make me a man.  I imagined that someday I would have to go to the local police station and register my hands as lethal weapons. (OK, I never achieved that).
    As a young boy without a father I didn't know a lot about honor, except what I was learning on television and at the movies.  Some of those old heroes weren't too bad about that kind of thing.  I knew what it meant to feel humiliated, embarrassed sometimes about being a white boy in a black neighborhood, or being overweight.  I wasn't very good at sports, but I was learning to fight, both boys and girls.  I didn't always win but I learned how to get even with someone who bloodied my nose.  I jumped on top of them and held them down while I bled all over them.  It was sort of a unique technique.
    In time I became a Boy Scout, and they taught me to shoot a rifle and skin an animal.  They taught me gun safety and that weapons weren't toys and being a man meant learning how to use it correctly, and never to harm people.   I took karate, and learned my instructors never used it to hurt anyone, except in self defense.  I became a Christian and learned that what other people called me didn't define me because now I saw myself as a child of God.  I began to learn the difference between honor, humiliation, and shame.
   I learned some of these things because men who were not my father took the time to mentor me.  I learned that I could be humiliated but it didn't mean I needed to fee ashamed.  I could try something and I might fail, and I might feel humiliated, but I suffered no shame in trying or being out performed by someone else.  I used to think that if  you attacked me I must fight back because to back down would be shameful, so I was ready to fight.  Then I learned that it was more honorable to take a punch, even to be publicly humiliated for the sake of Jesus than to beat up someone else.  This was hard, but sorting out the difference between humiliation and shame was very helpful to me. 
   Now of course I have done things I am ashamed of, but they are in the category of my own moral struggles, not in the competition between insecure men.  We live in a generation of feminism and fatherlessness. The rate of fatherlessness I believe actually exponentially reduces the number of men who can mentor boys who are not their own. Men are failing at earning a living, they are failing in comparisons with women, and they are failing in one of their most important responsibilities and that is to stay faithful to their woman and their begotten children.
     Men often feel they have little self worth as they compare themselves with others, they feel humiliated and in their reaction to that they lose their honor.  In the shooting in Colorado there were heroes who died covering their loved ones, both men and women.  They were the ones with honor, but so often we have seen gutless, need for fame or infamy, revenge filled, proving their worth or superiority but actually worthless individuals who use lethal power to kill others better than themselves.
    I learned to shoot, skin an animal, drive a car, ride a motorcycle, fly a plane.  I ran a marathon or so, climbed over a glacier to scale a peak.  I joined the Army and went to war, more than once.  I lift weights.  I know how to love a woman so that she smiles when she sees me come back after a while.  No matter that I have enjoyed learning and doing those things my manliness is found in deeper places.
     It is found in living for something greater than myself, and in being willing to die for it.  My honor is not going into a rage and seeking revenge when I am cut off in traffic, on purpose or inadvertently.  My honor is in allowing a woman to lose her temper, yell at me, and have an emotional melt down but not beat her up or abandon her because of it.  My honor is to admit it when I mess up, pay a bill I owe but can't afford to pay, be loyal and help my friends in their hard times, defend those who are weaker than myself or their adversaries, stand up for truth and justice when it would be easier to keep my mouth shut, and to forgive my enemies. 
    I have struggled with my self worth when I didn't have much money, but I have learned that honor is more important than money.  Better to be poor than a liar the book of Proverbs says, but many have lost that kind of honor in the materialistic competition we have with each other in our society.
    Boys need to learn honor early, so they will defend the weak and not hurt others to prove that they are not.  Real men have learned restraint is as important as action.  Men need to learn their value must come first from the love of God and the innate dignity that he gives them and that neither weakness, poverty, nor opposition and setbacks define them.  Boys need to value their honor, so they will stay at the books, or stay at the shovel, and do what it takes to make their own way and provide for others. Boys need men to help them learn that, and women too who will build them up and not tear them down.

Talking about racism in the PCA!

    I am thankful to Dr. Anthony Bradley for confronting us in the PCA with some of the articulated views of Dr. Morton Smith.  I confess I have not pursued examining Dr. Smith's views as he was not in my Presbytery, and I never felt he accurately reflected what I know of or want the PCA to be.  Since Dr. Smith's views are public (June/Sept. 2002 Presbyterian News. p.14-15) I think they are fair game for criticism or at least reflection.  I could only hope that Dr. Smith has repented of some of his views and changed the way he thinks.  I speak not only of what I consider the racist  result of the way he thinks, but his very poor use of Scripture.  This is amazing to me, and makes me wonder how he has retained any stature in our denomination.
   Let me state that I may disagree with Dr. Bradley on the effect of the PCA's racial past and his possibly gloomy and pessimistic view of the capabilility of the PCA to make an impact in the African American community.  I would also state that I don't think racism is the unforgiveable sin, and that I believe strongly in the power of God's grace to bring reconciliation with people who were formerly bigots and racists.  Who am I not to forgive someone if Jesus has forgiven me?  Who are you not to forgive?
    Dr. Smith used the Scripture to seemingly justify his view that segregation was acceptable to him.  He states that he doesn't think he is a racist because he doesn't hate anyone.  His use of Scriptural precedent by citing the Egyptian discrimination against the Israelites while they were in Egypt, eventually resulting in their slavery to the Egyptians, as a postive reference of segregation I found sad and pathetic in someone supposed to be Reformed in his understanding of how to exigete Scripture.  He said he finds segregation in Scripture, but we also find lots of terrible things in Scripture, like murder, rape, incest, etc.  These are not grounds for continuing them.  It is one thing to see the sovereign hand of God in the use of that segregation to maintain Israel as a separate nation, another to think that God justifies what the Egyptians did.
    God has sovereignly created an African American culture in the United States by compressing many tribes and tongues of Africans into one ethnic minority due to the crucible of racism.  The color of their skin became their defining characteristic.  Attempting to crush all national, cultural, and linguistic heritage the slave traders were used by God to create what has become one of the most powerful cultural groups in our present world, both in terms of church culture and of popular culture.
    Only racists insist that the positive benefits of being in America justify slavery or the abuse of man stealing, separation of families, breeding of people, and the attendant demoralization of folks to slave status.  Those same American racists storm and strut in protest about any kind of tyranny over them, whether it be too many taxes, imposed health care, the taking away of their guns, or the centralized control of a liberal denomination in the case of Dr. Smith.
    I love my freedom, hate tyranny, and I am willing to sell my life for the cause.  I also don't like hyprocrisy.  Nor do I like the misuse of Scripture, and thus bring blasphemy to God.  God does not approve of injustice though we know that he uses it for his own ends. Why would Dr. Smith favor segregation if he didn't think one race was superior to another?  That is racism.  Why would Dr. Smith favor segregation unless he didn't believe that Jesus has made us one in Christ?  That is racism, and denial of Scriptural truth. 
   Racists often hide behind the justification of their feelings by thinking themselves gentleman, and that segregation and slavery was somehow for the benefit of the people they would deny full access to communion in the house of God.  The defenders of Apartheid in Africa did the same thing.  Whatever the emotions, the actions are hateful, pernicious, and wicked. 
    In the government of the Presbyterian Church we believe in the parity of Elders.  Racism sought to eliminate this parity by refusing the integration of other races into our churches, presbyteries, and General Assembly.  This is one reason the Methodists and Baptists were so successful in church planting among Black folk and the Presbyterians weren't.  Presbyterians can't plant churches among other ethnic groups without admitting their equality in the courts of the church.  So, Presbyterians built schools, which educated a lot of former slaves and black folk, who then went on to become Baptist and Methodist ministers.
    Thank God the philosophy and practice of the old Southern Presbyterian Church did not continue into the present day PCA in terms of race. Even though some believe the PCA is a bastion to protect white privilege.  However, we have a lot of wasted years and damage we have to overcome.  The PCA exists to glorify God and win people to Jesus Christ and disciple them in the whole counsel of God.  If we eliminate or segregate certain groups of people so as not to reach them or gather them we fail in obeying the Great Commission and reveal our hypocrisy. 
    I don't think the fact that some in our denomination came into and helped form our denomination because they felt they could escape integration means we are condemned to never reaching African
Americans. I have given my life to prove the opposite.  Reconcilation means something because of a former hostility, not because we were separated by distance or a vacation.  I was thrilled to do a preaching conference about cross cultural ministry last year to a congregation in South Carolina that had left a downtown church over the issue of race.  Repentance, as we all should know, is possible and is a blessing.
     The challenge is for now, and do we love now, and do we pursue each other now for the sake of the Gospel?  I believe that what the PCA has the world needs.  Enough and be done with a racist and humiliating heritage.  Let us not hold on to anything that doesn't reflect Jesus.  And let us not be afraid to move forward to reap the harvest, white or otherwise.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Ugly Cousin!

Last Sunday as I was giving a pastoral word to the congregation of New City-Nairobi I used an illustration I call the "ugly cousin" situation.  I'll explain that later but this brought back to mind the way I felt when Joan finally started acting like she might be my girl friend.  This was during our high school days.  I was (still am of course) white and Joan is an African American.  When we were somewhere together and some black young man would flirt with Joan, (flirting outloud to pretty girls was a standard Newark behavior) I wondered if she would acknowledge me, or act like I wasn't there, or be swept off of her feet by some guy more appealing than me?  I was somewhat insecure about where I stood.
    I wasn't jealous so much, it didn't make me angry (a lot), and as always I was willing to fight if necessary.  I really wondered where I stood with Joan.  I couldn't fault guys for wanting to flirt with Joan since I thought she was terrific and I assumed everyone else felt the same way. My intuitive feeling was that if this girl was for me, it wouldn't matter who else came along, she would want me and would stick with me.  Time has proven me absolutely correct on that account.  This makes me very thankful to God, and mystifies me as to how she could love me like she does.
    I know that when we want to reach a certain ethnicity it is easier to reach them if one attempts to reach them with cultural congruence, this means in ways that they socially appreciate and that do not offend them.  This is what I was speaking to the church about.  In a reconciliation type church (one that purposefully is inclusive of various ethnic and cultural groups)  evangelism sometimes means you go after a specific ethnic group, but in company of other ethnic groups, some of which may even be offensive to the group you are trying to reach.
   When I was a teen-ager doing evangelism on the streets of Newark in the late sixties there were times when the crowd around our platform would be yelling at us, namely the white folks in the mixed race evangelistic team.  They weren't being friendly, they were calling us names.  These were sometimes just angry people, sometimes Black Muslims, some members of the Black Panther Party.
I am sure there were times when some of the African American Christians wondered, "why didn't we leave them home?"
    Well, there are a good reasons why we can't leave the "offensive" race home when we try to win people to Jesus.  One of those reasons is because sooner or later the new people are going to find out that we actually do church with these other kind of people.  This where the idea of the ugly cousin comes in.  It is like when your mother realizes you are going out with your friends, and your cousin happens to be visiting, and your mother insists you take your cousin with you.  You don't want to do it because your cousin is ugly and socially inept.  Your friends will despise you if you bring your cousin with you, and probably make fun of you for days.  But you have to do it.  Later of course one of your friends marries your cousin.  For Joan, I could have been like an ugly cousin.  The lesson here is that you can't deny family, and in Christ all who are in Christ are our family.
    Do you know that song, "When we all get to heaven..."  Maybe the next part should be, "what a surprise there will be!" Surely those who wouldn't or couldn't stand to be around others not like themselves are going to have a shock when they find out heaven is crowded with just those kind of folks.  Assuming the bigot gets in at all.   It is not just race and ethnicity.  We can all be pretty accepting if the other ethnic type guy is a millionaire, or a doctor, or a great athlete.  No shame in that company.  Class distinctions are getting stronger and stronger these days.  Being "ghetto" is a nice affectation for some middle class teen-agers, unless of course it is real, then those people get really scary.
    Americans are loath to admit they are in a class.  We believe in social mobility and we don't like the idea that anyone is frozen at an economic level.  Fluid as we might like to believe things are the reality is that some people don't flow very fast, at least not upwardly.  Levels of economic income and education give us each a distinct culture.  Sometimes in order for a person to move to a different level their culture will have to change.  While we are in our (lower) culture others may despise us.  Not often consciously, but boy they can sure avoid pretty well.  Christians tend to avoid evangelism, inclusion in church and youth group, inclusion in schools and social settings, to and with cultures(i.e., people from those cultures) that make them uncomfortable.
    My Bible reads that Jesus was anointed to preach the Gospel to the poor (Luke 4).  I don't think he had drive by preaching in mind, tossing Gospel tracts out the window as we speed by.  I think he meant loving on folks who are not like us.  If we do include those kind of folks in our lives, then how can we hide them for a little while as we seek the middle and upper classes to win?  Maybe we can keep them out of our churches and send them to churches especially made for "their kind."  You know, a place where they wouldn't feel out of place.  Here I want to give a very southern, "well bless your heart."  Which means I think you're an idiot.  Not because I think people are dumb, but blind to the love of their own comfort with its sense of security, and their inevitable hostility to folks Jesus wants them to love, not in theory but in the daily living out of life.  Isn't there something in the book of James about this?  Oh yeah, chapter 2:verses one to six.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Man, What a Mess!

I'm in Nairobi these days.  While I am here I get to preach at New City-Nairobi, which is really a plant of New City St. Louis.  Pastor Joe Muutuki worshipped with them under Pastor Barry Henning while Pastor Joe was at Covenant Seminary.  I am fascinated how the New City idea has become international.  A lot of this of course is due to the missionary focus of Barry Henning.
   Cross cultural ministry, reconciliation, and ministry to the poor have many common elements around the world.  Nairobi is a large world class city and so many typical urban problems are here, as well as ones that are a bit Nairobi unique.  The congregation here struggles with living out what reconciliation means, and how to be cross cultural.  NC-Nairobi is really a vision of Joe Muutuki's to reach from African to Asian in this multi-ethnic city. 
    America has its racial history and pain, and so does Kenya.  Peopled by many different tribes, some of whom have a historical antagonism or ambivilance to each other. Invaded and exploited by slave taking Arabs, colonized by the British, seeded with Asians by those same British to build their railroad, evangelized by Muslims, and Christian Europeans, Americans, and Koreans, and now economically invaded by the Chinese.  I suppose I have left someone out.
   Over the years the Asian community (not monolithic except in ethnicity) became the traders and store keepers and the middle class.  Sometimes they became "hyper-British" in culture.  During colonial days the British were racist to them too, but they were considered one step over the Africans.  Of course the Africans wanted their freedom from the British, and this they got in the sixties when Kenya became an independent nation.
    This put the Asians in a bind, they had the money while now the Africans had the government.  As in all world class cities the disparity of wealth is a cause of concern and friction.  There are rich Africans and rich Asians, and there are poor Africans (millions of them) and many poor Asians.  Even among the poor there is tribalism, the caste system, and feelings of superiority over inferiority.  There is prejudice, favoritism, and these things lead to a certain kind of corruption.  Here in Nairobi we have all kinds of corruption, and class, religion, and ethnicity all play a role in it.
    It would be wonderful to say that Christianity ended all of this, that in the church there is no superiority, no favoritism, and no corruption.  Actually instead of  radical house cleaning of these kinds of sins many folks brought their "isms" with them to church and used both missions and churches to reward their family, clan, and kind while attempting to hamper, exclude, and deny others who were not like them.  It would also be correct to say that some of our white American missionaries brought their own kind of racism and classism right along with them when they brought the Bible over here.
   For one minute let us imagine no racism or classism, no tribalism.  Cultural understanding would still be tough even with the best intentions.  Given that a lot of us don't have good intentions, man what a mess!
    One conundrum is the goal of evangelism.  It is easier to do evangelism when you only focus on your own group, language, class.  This is a sociological observation known as the Homogeneous principle.  At New City-Nairobi they are attempting to reach Asians, but, New City is not attempting to be an Asian church.  This means that in doing evangelism we can't hide from people what we are trying to bring them into and when they see that cross cultural picture, that multi-ethnic and multi-class church, they might not be so attracted to it.
    Let me try this illustration.  You are trying to impress someone, maybe a girl you want to date.  However, your mother insists you take your ugly and socially inept cousin along with you.  Maybe even the very cousin that has been irritating to this very girl in the past, or at least her family.  You know that if you don't cut the cords from this cousin you ain't going to get the girl.  Of course, if and when you do get the girl your cousin is still your cousin.  You can't hide him forever. 
    Here in Nairobi we have some folks who are middle class and social climbers.  They don't like the embarrassment of poor Africans.  It is ok if all of those who come are educated and middle class Africans, but poor Africans just hamper the effort to convince other Asians that New City is a church for them.  I find this dilemna in the American church as well.  Mercy ministry is one thing, but inclusion of lower class, uneducated, and unruly and ill mannered folks in our congregation is another thing.  Let us do something for them, but for pity sake, don't bring them inside the house.
    The challenge of course is for a radical Gospel, that not only wins and includes our "target group", but helps the target group to understand repentance in its fullness.  You have been saved because you were lost, not because you had something to add to God.  In short, as we seek the lost to win, we don't need to encourage them to bring that dog shit on their shoes inside the house.  Justifying someone's "ism" so we might see them brought to Christ doesn't bring glory to Christ, doesn't bring reconciliation, and puts the church on a faulty foundation.  Come to Jesus, and let him figure out how we fit together, because he is going to do that even if he has to shape (break, cut, and mold) the stones to fit in this building.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Self Righteousness of Righteousness

   The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, remember that one?  You know, where the Pharisee says, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men..."  There are some great things about this parable.  Notice that the Pharisee is thankful.  I think that is great, and when you start with thankfulness, what can go wrong?  I also remember Jesus saying, "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees..."   Wow, even Jesus admitted that they were righteous.
    I would admit that quite often I am right there with the Pharisee.  I am thankful that I am not like other men, and I am righteous.  Yes, I am.  I have a whole list of things about which I can reflect on how much better my perspective is, my position is, my practice has been, my experience has been than other men.  Haven't you ever had one of those conversations where you were with friends and you talked about your views and how you agreed with each other, and then spoke about other groups, churches, ideas, individuals, and how you were so glad you weren't like them?  I had one of those recently, and honestly I must say I was thankful to be better than others in certain areas, and then realized of course how self-righteous I was in my supposed thankfulness. 
    I do want to say though that just as Jesus recognized some righteousness in the Pharisees we have to realize that self-righteous obnoxiousness does not release us from the necessity of making moral choices.  That there are some things better than others, that some things are right and good and some things are wrong and bad.  The condemnation of self righteousness does not obviate the necessity of righteousness.  The pastoral word, the prophetic word about being a bigot, or judgmental, or condemning doesn't mean that some things should not be condemned.
    I was recently in a conversation about my denomination which is the Presbyterian Church in America.  I can see self righteouness in myself when I think of all the good things about being in the PCA, about being Reformed, about being a Calvinist, about having a very rigorous theology, about being able to dismantle the world views of unbelief.   Yes, I think my theology is better than a lot of others, so I am thankful I am not like other men...
    On top of that I am thankful I am not like others in the PCA.  I was the pastor of New City Fellowship, a cross cultural urban church that pursued mercy to the poor and preached justice and racial reconciliation and practiced worship with joy.  In my denomination most of the congregations are not known for those things, and when I or my people go to other PCA congregations, or Presbytery, and especially General Assembly we go into culture shock.  How can these people stand to be so mono-cultural?  How can they continue to be so captured by materialism and self indulgence, and the list goes on.  Do I think that pattern of church and ministry is better than others?  Frankly, yes.  Not because I am proud but because I happen to think it is more Biblical to be that way.  Am I self righteous about it?   Why did I start writing this essay anyway?   Yes, yes, I have all too often been self righteous about it.
    When someone goes through the Sonship course they hear comments about various kinds of "righteousness" all variants of self-righteouness.  It is amazing how we can often see ourselves as better than others, and as the Pharisee was even before God, be thankful.
    In my circles I see some of my brothers who don't attend Presbytery, and who don't attend General Assembly.  Sometimes they see all those activities as a waste of time, and I believe they also judge their brethren as caught up in things that don't really matter that much.  Would that as much time was spent in evangelism, in mercy, in the pursuit of justice.  Do we sometimes waste time in these meetings?  I certainly think so, and I do think there are weightier things to think, do, and preach about than many of the storms in a bottle that we in the PCA indulge in.  However, though all of us must continue to make evaluations about what is good versus bad, what is best over what is good, our protection from self-righteousness is not found in our thankfulness that we think we are right and not like other men.  Our protection is found in realizing we are just like other men, and not at all worthy before God.
    Sometimes the Gospel is thrown against me when I have spoken against homosexual practice, and movements to redefine marriage, as if the leveling field of the Gospel meant we couldn't or shouldn't condemn sin when we see it.  Usually of course the issue between my critics and myself are what sins they are bothered by versus not being that bothered by the sins I am bothered by.  I wish I was holy enough to be bothered by them all.  What the tax collector did though was to be bothered first by his own sinfulness.
    This is of course the miserable place I find myself in, that I really am rotten to the core and full of evil in my heart.  Yes, praise God by the Lord's grace I am a saint, but like Paul I realize the looming possibility of being a cast away.  Not because I doubt his ability to help me persevere in my faith, but far too often I dwell in the outhouse smell of my own failure to live faithfully.
    I think we all struggle with this, corporately and individually.  We in the PCA are often thankful that we are not like other men, even our brethren in Christ.  Thankful maybe, but not broken by the reality of our own stink.  Our achievements and victories are real, and we ought to be thankful.  We ought to be able to distinguish what is better and reach for it, and call for it in ourselves and others.  Yet, we attempt to steal glory from God when we are not consistently conscious of the necessity of mercy in his receiving us.
     All we have, all we have learned, whether it be in theology, or methodology, or anthropology and culture, has been given to us as a gift of His grace.  If it was a gift how can we boast about it as if we gave it to ourselves? If in our arrogance we hold ourselves aloof from our brothers, even when we honestly believe we have gotten to a place much better or higher than they have reached, we are not kneeling at the foot of the cross, and we are choosing our arrogance over unity. 
    I believe that in my life I have met great men.  Men more learned, smarter, wiser, more able than me.  I held them as great because the thing that stood out was their holiness.  What made their holiness evident was that in spite of their achievement, their humility could not be denied.  They stood in their common manishness, their mutual fall in the garden, their desperate need of a Savior, their constant need of the power of God's grace to live out the Faith.  I respected them because they were right over other people's wrongs, they could call evil for what it was.  I loved them because they never held themselves to be better than the people caught up in that evil, and they never made me feel they were better men than me, though they surely were.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Man, This Cross Cultural Stuff is Hard!

I'm here in Nairobi, Kenya a city that I lived in thirty years ago as a missionary/pastor.  My home church, New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, had given me a leave of absence to pastor a congregation here in Nairobi while a Kenyan went to the U.S. to go to seminary.  He eventually came back and we returned to Chattanooga.  Over the years my wife Joan and I have returned many times and now we are spending part of our sabbatical here. 
    One of the great blessings to me, and for me, has been the chance to observe culture and cultural interaction in a different context than America.  If I had been better educated in anthropology and cultural psychology I might have learned some lessons better, sooner, and maybe some I haven't learned at all yet.  Nevertheless, it is wonderful to be in a place where cross cultural interaction is a daily occurrence, necessity, frustration, and intentional.
    I have the opportunity to preach for my housing as the pastor of New City Nairobi is in Germany finishing up his doctoral thesis.  He is a Kamba (a particular tribe and language group of Kenya who is married to a German woman.  He did graduate work at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis and so became part of the New City network while he was there.  I get to stay in his house as I preach for his congregation, which is one pastored by an African attempting to reach Asians and bring them into the discipleship of Christ.   These are people whose ancestry is from India and Pakistan, former Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs.  Some are from historical Christian families as well, mostly from South India.  We are sharing the house with some German ladies, who are here studying the Somali language, and one is studying Swahili because she is engaged to a Tanzanian.
    Yesterday I sat in on an Elder''s meeting.  One Elder mostly spoke in Gujarati, but was answered by the other Elders in English (I suppose for my sake).  Sometimes remarks were made in Swahili.  Comments were made about a member who was offended that more people from the church didn't attend her mother's funeral.  Culturally, what do we owe one another in times of grief?  How do we know the rules?  How do we win back someone who is offended and has stopped attending church?
    This last week I met with a Kenyan pastor who at one time was a young man that I had opportunity to pastor and disciple.  He is an educated man, and has a master's from an American seminary.  He worked with an American missionary organization for many years.  Recently they fell into conflict, and it was as if both sides fell back into their most culural ways of thinking (interacting).  I was at a meeting months ago when we tried to resolve an issue, and we failed.  Only now, months later, do I begin to understand a little of what my brother was thinking and why he did what he did. 
    So how is it that people who are daily engaged in cross cultural relationships, cross cultural ministry, and believe in the necessity of it for the sake of God's glory and Kingdom, still have trouble with it and sometimes simply fail at it?  Is it possible that we complicate our cultural interactions with sinful hearts and personalities?  Is it possible that we grow weary of trying and fall back into our "normal" ways of thinking and possibly don't realize that the angrier we get, the more selfish we become, the prouder we remain just adds complication to something that is already amazingly and confoundingly complex?  Sometimes I think we have a de-fault switch and when we are emotional about certain things we trip it, and we stop trying or caring to love other people like they need to be loved, and in fact if we don't love them the way they need to be loved they don't feel the love at all.
    We are always in culture, we think it, act within it, interact across it.  Yet we are always in a spiritual context as well.  Our human-ness dogs us, our fallenness cripples us, our sinfulness distorts our thinking and our relationships.  The necessity of constant brokenness before the Spirit of God, of spiritual self awareness, of a self examination of our own motives both spiritually and culturally is I believe a never ending requirement in this interplay between ourselves and God, ourselves and other people, ourselves and other cultures.
    How many times have we used the phrase, "I wasn't thinking"when we were attempting to apologize?  Certainly as a husband of the male gender I often fail or simply to refuse to think about what my wife of the female gender may be feeling.  What do feelings have to do with it anyway?  Oh, this is one relationship where my laziness or obtuseness will have definite negative consequences.  So, not only for the sake of my own happiness but also for the sake of my integrity in keeping the promises I made to her before God, and for the value I have placed on this most intimate of relationships do I humble myself to keep learning her needs, her wants, and trying to make myself understood.  As with all husbands at times I am confounded, maybe exasperted, and mad enough to not care.  I am sure she has had more of those times with and about me. 
   Sometimes we dwell in the illusion of perfect understanding and harmony. Those things, understanding and harmony, might be a state of being but I think more honestly they are to be a constant pursuit. When we stop paying attention and fall back to our most basic ways of thinking and acting, or some event triggers that default switch we feel like we have never really known each other.  We do that in marriage, we do that in cross cultural relationships.  We must, we just simply have to  continue to pursue love anyway.   It is the call of Christ, it is for the glory of God, it is what servanthood means, it is the glue of marriage and the Church, and the combination gives a richness to life that we otherwise would surely miss.