I’m increasingly coming to love this church I have been attending for the last month or so. In the sermon today, Lucas had this understanding of the story of the tower of Babel, and also of a few passages in Revelation. Basically, I think he was saying that we now live in this world where we have cultural differences, and the goal is not to get past them. In the future, even in the kingdom to come, we will still exist within our cultural context.
He spoke about how all of our cultural differences carry a certain kind of baggage with it, and also a certain amount of power. This was the first time, I think, that I thought about this stuff in a Christ-centered way. But it is not the first time I ever thought about.
Before I knew much about Jesus, I was a big fan of Steven Biko. Biko was a South African freedom fighter. A bit more guerilla, a bit less main stream than Nelson Mandela. If you’re not familiar with Biko, permit me an analogy: If Mandela was Dr. Martin Luther King, then Biko was Malcolm X.
The film about Biko, “Cry Freedom” lead me to the biographer of him written by Donald Woods, a “white” South African ally of Biko’s. I have always been fascinated by and wrestled with a component of Biko’s idealogy. He seems to be appreciative of the support of Woods and other “white” supporters, he is crystal clear around the idea that his organization needs to be comprised of only “Black”/”native” South Africans.
I came to a deeper understanding of this in a feminist philosophy class I would end up taking many years later. It was a graduate-level class, and as it would happen, there ended up being just five students and I was the only guy. It was a pretty amazing oppurtunity for me to connect with these bright students and professor in a way that was much more intimate than a normal class might have been.
One of the things that become clear to me, in this class, was that the reason we need feminism is not because individual guys can be jerks. While it’s true that individual guys can be jerks, and while this doesn’t help, individual guys being jerks isn’t really the problem: not even if there are an awful lot of guys being very jerky.
Therefore, me, as an individual, if I behaved in a way that was un-jerky: if I managed to interact with women in a way that wasn’t sexist, this wouldn’t solve the problem. Even if a bunch of guys, even if the vast majority of guys, figured out how not to be jerks, there would still be a need for feminism.
The thing is, we exist in a cultural context. I remember so clearly one night, as we were discussing this in class. I suddenly got it. As long as I am a guy, all the things I say carry with it all the weight of guy-ness. They all come with the trappings of being a male. There is no way out of that.
And so it was in South Africa. Biko tried to explain it in the book and the movie. And I didn’t get it when I first saw the film. The students needed to get past the socialization that had been inflicted on them. They needed to go through a process of discovering that they were not second class citizens.
It is hard to express this idea: but I started to understand in the philosophy class that there is something about power. When power is handed down to you, when it is offered to you from the dominant group, in some sense, you are still subservient. At that time, I suspected that power needed to be taken, not offered. Opressed groups needed to be able to reclaim themselves.
I am thinking tonight about how Lucas was optimistic. He was pretty open and honest about the idea that he, like me, is a member of the dominant group. So perhaps there is some way we are blinded, some sense in which we have the luxury of viewing the world through rose colored glasses.
I think there is a little more. I think my understanding is going through another shift. I think the person of Jesus gives us this possibility of something more than having to just walk away from the table so that the opressed can take their power back.
Jesus is all about the idea that the greatest power is the power not wielded. The greatest dominance is in submission. And in this crazy, upside-down, backward power dynamic, there is, I think, some hope, that we might be able to enpower each other in a new way.
I am not sure how this works out. And I am struggling with the idea that we mantain our cultural identities in Jesus. Because those words are there, in revelation, about how each of the nations will bend their knees. I don’t know exactly how to hold this at the same time I ponder the idea that there is no Jew or Gentile, no male or female, in Jesus. Somehow, both of them must be true.
So in whatever sense it is true that our differences melt away in Jesus, it seems like this is the pathway to our reconciliation. So I end here where I so often do, just wishing it was a little easier to figure out just how all this stuff works…