Last week Jonathan spoke about how we create our identities based on what we do, what we have and what others perceive of us. He also talked about the Enneagram test and hopefully most of you have taken time to take the test and have an idea of which type you are. Don’t worry if you haven’t because you might find as I speak this morning that something might resonate with you and pique your interest.
Today I’m going to talk about how our Intelligence Centers speak into how we perceive the world. The nine Enneagram types are divided into three intelligence centres: The heart, head and body. Depending on which Enneagram type you are, you might experience the world and your relationships through your thoughts, your emotions or through instinctive reactions. It’s how you live in the world.
What does that look like? You might be someone who is reactive, so you operate through the Body or Gut Intelligence triad. When you need to make a decision, you are quick to react in the moment relying on your instincts. That is the person you want around when you’re trying to work out where to get brunch after church. You don’t want me who will say “well whatever you feel like, or I don’t know what do you think?” No, you want a type 8, who will say – this is where we are going, and they will lead the way.
For someone who operates through the Head Intelligence triad, you might put a lot of thought into something before making a decision. So this person will probably jump on Yelp before deciding where to go to brunch, they’ll work out which place has high reviews, which is closer, which offers several options to cater for everyone’s dietary needs and give you a couple of options.
I operate out of the Heart triad. And we experience the world through our emotions. We like to engage with the emotions and the needs of those around us. So if you feel like Pizza for brunch, we’d probably go along, even if we are gluten intolerant because they are thinking of your needs.
And the reason we are talking about this is because, we can also engage with and relate to God through our Intelligence Centers, through our heart, mind or body and we are called to do so.
The greatest commandment, which we read earlier, is Jesus calling us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind. But what does that really mean? Why is THIS the greatest commandment? And how can the Enneagram Intelligence Centers help us live out the greatest commandment?
When Jesus spoke of the greatest commandment, he quoted what Moses had said in Deuteronomy 6:5. He wasn’t just making stuff up. He was pointing out that this was the law of God as outlined in the Torah.
Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law but came to fulfill it and that’s why he quotes the Torah. Throughout the gospel of Matthew we read about how Jesus fulfills the laws as God intended and challenges his followers and fellow Jews to do the same.
Jesus challenges the Pharisees and the Sadducees who have obsessively followed the Mosaic Laws and the Oral traditions. So much so, that they’d forgotten the heart of God.
In Matthew, we read of instances where Jesus challenges how faith has been practiced. Jesus talks about the act of giving, prayer and fasting, saying it’s an activity that should be done in secret: Matthew 6:3 “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Mathew 6:5 “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.” Matthew 6:17 “Then you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will be not obvious to others that you are fasting.” Basically, calling them out for using these practices to show off to others.
Jesus challenges the Pharisees for being overly focused on the law that they’ve lost sense of righteousness: when accused of cutting grain to feed themselves on the Sabbath, Jesus retorts back in Matthew 12:12 “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” When putting too much focus on ritualistic cleansing, Jesus retorts back in Matthew 15:19-20 “murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.
Jesus calls them out of living stuck within their mind’s understanding of honoring God through the observance of law and ritual and invites them into a relationship with God that involves loving, honoring and worshiping God with their entire being. Not just with their mind and what they understand to be right.
Their interior alignment with God was lost. Instead of aligning themselves with the desires and the heart of God, the Ancient Israelites were focused on doing what was lawfully right.
But loving God isn’t just in what we do in our actions. It involves our entire being.
So what does it look like to love God with your entirety? It’s when we align ourselves with the desires of God. It’s when our entire being, becomes a REFLECTION of the love and the grace of God. It is when we strive towards being who were created to be, which is the image of God as it says in Genesis 1:27, the Imago Dei. We were made in God’s likeness and when we reflect that, we live out whom God created us to be. When we do this – we are our TRUE SELVES. We become the best versions of ourselves. The healthiest versions of ourselves.
The opposite of that is when we operate out of our false self. An unhealthy self that gets trapped in the mind, in the body or the soul or trapped in the heart. An ego – driven self.
Depending on our Enneagram type and what Intelligence Center we operate from, our false self can manifest in different ways. Having an awareness of that can help us move away from our false self and start moving towards our true self, and thus closer to God.
But before I move forward and explain each triad, I just want to add that with the Enneagram, you have a dominant type but you may find that you resonate with qualities of other types because you can manifest aspects of those types in times of growth or stress or if that type is your wing. So you may find that you can relate to a lot of what I talk about today but that does not mean that you are more than one type. I encourage you, to take the time to research and read about your type to find out what characteristics of other types you might exhibit depending on what you are experiencing.
Explanation of Intelligence Centers
So here’s a chart:
Head Triad: Types 5,6 and 7 are driven by reason and logic. Because they operate from the mind, their energy is focused on the internal. They spend a lot of time in their thoughts analyzing and problem solving and take security in knowing and understanding. They are able to imagine so many different possibilities to a situation or problem.
When I initially read this type, I really wished that I operated out of the Head triad. Because they THINK! And they are so good at it! I feel like we as society, we place so much value in making thoughtful decisions, and being head driven rather than heart driven.
But I don’t, my type falls under the heart triad. Types 2,3 and 4 have strong relational energy. Now, unlike the head triad types, whose energy is internal in their minds and their thought processes, the focus on heart triad types is external. It’s on the people around them and how they relate to others. Because their energy is focused on the external, they have great concern over how others perceive them and their self-image. They seek attention and affirmation from others and that’s how they create their identity.
In the middle, we have the Gut or Body Intelligence centre. The Enneagram types that fall into this type are numbers 8,9 and 1. These types sit comfortably and are energized by both the inner and the outer world. They are instinctive and decisive. There’s no over thinking for Body Intelligence types. They make a decision and are ready to take action, which is why they are labeled as the Instinctive Intelligence centre. They instinctively know and then they do.
The False self
Now I’ll talk about how the false self manifests within each of these triads.
I am a type 2, a helper. Which all sounds nice and dandy, especially because I’m a Christian and work for a church so in many ways it makes sense that I would be drawn to this vocation because of my Enneagram type, right?
But finding out I am a two and reading about what that meant, was like looking at one of those vanity mirrors you see in hotels, the ones where one side is normal and the other is magnified so you see every single detail of your face, every pore, every blemish, every wrinkle. Like you know those details were there but you’ve never seen them all at once! Have all my pores always looked THAT BIG?!
That’s what the Enneagram does, it magnifies every detail of who you are and when I read my type, I became very aware of what the driving force was behind my personality. It was something that I knew but was in denial about. The Enneagram brings these details to light.
When I found out I was a 2, I thought Yay I’m a helper but ewww… (pause) now I know why….well I knew…but now that it’s on paper- it’s official, it’s real – a bunch of people wrote a bunch of books about it.
(slow) I find out what drives me to help people is that I feel worthy when I am needed by them… and I want to please them by helping them. I, as a result, quantify my worthiness on whether or not I can help them.
The dominant emotion that manifests as a result is SHAME…. Shame becomes the driving force behind the behavior of heart intelligence types. Heart types can control shame by trying to get others to like them and see their goodness. Shame can drive heart types to expend energy on seeking the approval of others, as a way to repress their feelings of inadequacy. If they don’t meet their approval or gain their praise, they feel more shameful and then they go find someone else whom they can seek the approval of, and it becomes a vicious cycle where they get trapped in their heart.
It’s interesting to see how this manifests in Type 4s. Type 4s, The Individualist, are unique and creative and desire to be understood as so. They use this to connect with others and that is where they quantify their worth. Feelings of inadequacy and shame surface when they think others see them as ordinary. They control their shame by focusing on their individuality and creativity. This is where they get trapped. They can’t see that they are loved for who they are. They get caught up in comparing themselves to others and trapped in the statement “I am not enough,” because they think they are not exceptional enough.
When a Head intelligence type looks into the mirror they may see that they have a tendency to over-think. A tendency to withdraw from others and retreat into their mental strategies and planning. If they are unsure, they hesitate to take action. They can become paralyzed by their focus on strategies, beliefs and plans.
When their false-self takes over, what manifests as a result, their dominant emotional response, is FEAR.
Type 6s, the Loyalist, can get trapped by fear in thinking about worse case scenarios and then are overcome by anxiety of it. They pour their energy into formulating the What ifs of every situation and get caught up analyzing every single scenario. But are unable to make a decision. They don’t trust themselves to make the right choice. Because they haven’t found security in their own understanding, they become fearful and get trapped in their mind.
When a Gut or Body Intelligence type looks in the mirror, they might find that because they act instinctively that they have a tendency to ignore their own feelings or that of others for the sake of doing what’s right. They are focused on their opinions and judgments that they lose sense of the reality of a situation or relationship.
When Body types get stuck in their false self, the emotional response to that is ANGER. They can dominate a situation by using anger to assert their power and control. While anger as an emotion is generally seen in a negative light, burying or repressing that anger can have it’s consequences too:
Type 1s, The Perfectionist, repress their anger by controlling the environment around them and using their inner critic to control themselves, they fixate on the judgment of others, themselves and their circumstances. When they get trapped in that, they become trapped in a world they see needs constant improvement and control their anger by constantly improving their environment.
In each Intelligence triad, the dominant emotion is not acknowledged leading to behavior that hurts self and people around them. When shame, fear or anger, dominates or is denied or is controlled instead of confronted, then we start operating closer to a false, ego-driven self.
BUT, God created us with those types in mind and although we are dominant in one Intelligence Center, we CAN and we ARE created for wholeness within that type, and that means moving towards and operating out of our true selves, the self we were created to be.
Jesus, the human manifestation of God, believed, trusted and followed the Divine image inside him and has called us to do the same.
Richard Rohr says: “Each of these Intelligence Centers offers us a different way of experiencing the loving presence and voice of God.”
So how can we move towards wholeness? How can we be set free from our false selves? How can we begin to transform and move towards our true selves?
Transformation for the Head Intelligence types means understanding that loving God with all your mind means giving in to the need for understanding and knowing.
That means you let go of the desire to understand life before you can live it. It means you give yourself permission to take action without the security of knowing what’s going to happen next. When you take the risk and allow yourself to engage with others and engage in the moment, without the need of knowing the outcome, you might find you have the capacity to give and receive the love of God freely.
To love with all your mind, is to allow yourself to deeply experience the present moment, even if that moment involves grief and sadness. I’m speaking to Type 7s, the Enthusiasts, when I say this. Resist the temptation to escape those moments of perceived emptiness or emotional pain with fun experiences. Allow yourself to sit in those moments and have the courage to confront them – without the need to understand them.
To love with all your mind is to rest in the knowledge that God is all knowing. Rest in truths beyond understanding. Rest in knowing that you are complete without the need to know, to understand and the need to fill your mind with distractions.
Transformation for the Body Intelligence types means understanding that loving God with all your soul or all your body means giving in to God’s will.
That means, you let go of control, judgment and perfection. You let go of the need for control or perfection all the time. You approach life with less judgment. You receive life without reacting to it or needing to fix it. Be open to and receptive to what unfolds and trust it without needing to react.
For 9s, the Peacemaker, that means letting go of trying to fix it all for the sake of perfect peace. Understand that serenity can come from relinquishing control just as Jesus relinquished control on the cross. Give yourself permission to show up for yourself, without the fear of conflict. You’ve always resisted your desires for the sake of peace because you think this is the right thing to do to improve the situation, but this creates more conflict in the future. Honor who YOU are, show up for YOURSELF too.
Body types can rest in the knowledge that perfection, control and judgment is ultimately in the hands of God. You can love God with all your soul or body when you can surrender to the instinctual desire to react and respond and instead allow your soul, your instincts and your body to be bathed in the WILL of God. In loving God with all your soul accept that you do not need to DO anything to receive the love of God fully.
Transformation for the Heart Intelligence types means understanding that loving God with all your heart means accepting the love of God WITH all your heart.
That means, you let go of trying to impress others. You let go of others’ opinion of you. You let go of trying to fix the world’s problems because that does not dictate your self worth. Accept that you don’t need to perform to feel loved.
Instead of looking externally for affirmation, look internally and reconnect with your self, your needs and your emotions. Get to know and appreciate your gifts and your goodness. Accept that all of you is outstanding and is enough.
Heart types can rest in the knowledge that you are fully loved by God. You do not need to earn God’s approval. You can love God with all your heart when you can receive God’s love with all your heart – without a need to perform, understanding that you are worthy and understanding that you are enough.
I am preaching to myself right now as I say this.
You might remember that I have shared with you before how my self-worth and self-image was largely shaped by my Asian upbringing in a Post-Colonial country. As an Asian girl growing up, I was raised on very collectivist values. I was raised to help my family members. I was encouraged to join our family business to help it grow. Any desire to do differently and to pursue my own passions was seen as being selfish and a waste of time. This upbringing might have influenced my forming of a type 2 personality.
Now layer on top of that the self-denial and sacrifice that are a huge part of church culture. Church culture, perpetuates this idea that one must constantly die to their own desires. They must prioritize the needs of others. Am I right?
So I joined mission trip after mission trip, volunteered every extra hour I had to ministry. Because I thought that was what I was meant to do. That was my purpose.
Then I became a mother. As a mother I spent the first 6 months of each child’s life attached to them. I was their only source nutrition. Their very existence depended on me. Feeding them, changing their diapers, rocking them had precedence over my need for sleep or clean hair. And this is widely accepted by our culture. Our culture does not expect any less of our mothers – we laugh off the fact they may not have showered in days.
So for me at least, I felt as though if I didn’t sacrifice my own needs before my family’s then I was not living up to being a good mother and that I would be failing my family – I buried this shame by answering to their every need, meal planning and attempting to keep a pristine home.
But I think often with 2s, we come to expect their self sacrificial ways as normal and we encourage their behaviour with little regard to finding out what their real desires and passions are or valuing who they are beneath their helpful nature.
We did the Enneagram test with our deacons and found that most of them tested as 2s. Most of our volunteers at church are women and because an overwhelming 83% of 2s are women, I’m willing to bet that most of our volunteers are 2s as well.
So what do we do with this information? What do we do when we know someone who is a 2 is always there for us when we need help? What is our response to our volunteers who continue to serve because it is just in their nature to keep serving?
What we need to do is ensure that we don’t affirm their perception that we only see their value when they help. That even if they couldn’t or didn’t volunteer for whatever reason, that they are not failing us, that they are still loved and valued. We need to remind them that their worth goes beyond what they do. That who they are matters beneath what they do.
This Lenten season, take time to look internally to identify where you’ve been trapped by your false self. Do you struggle with insecurities, need for approval and affirmation, need for control and logic, need to take on everything or fix everything? Use the Enneagram to help you identify what drives you. Dig in to find out what your story is.
So that moving forward, when you practice the greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, understand that in loving God with all your heart, you are receiving love without the need to please God, prove yourself to God or perfect yourself before God. Rest in knowing you ARE loved in your entirety. In loving God with all your mind, rest in loving without the need to understand. In loving God with all your body or your soul, rest in relinquishing power and control and surrendering to God.
It is a battle. It is a battle to abandon the ways of our false selves. But Ben and our prayer team are going to be talking about the specific prayer practices our Intelligence types need to engage in to be set free from being stuck in our heart, head or body. In the meantime, I encourage you to take time to reflect on what drives you and why. How that impacts you and the world around you and how that impacts your relationship with God. My prayer for you is that in becoming more aware of who you are and what drives you, you can adopt practices that can hekp you move towards reflecting the image of God within you and resting in and embracing the love of God.
The author Christopher Huertz tells an important story. It’s a story about his mentor, a priest at Creighton University who also happens to be blind. One day this priest, Father Gillick, was visiting some children at a local school when a student, maybe 3rd or 4th grade came up to talk with him. She came up, started chatting, and eventually realized that Father Gillick was blind. She was a bit startled by this revelation and so she said to Father Gillick, “Oh my goodness, you’re blind! Do you know you’re blind?” And Father Gillick responded humbly, telling the little girl that he did indeed know he was blind. He contracted a sickness and lost his sight at an early age. But the little girl was still quite startled. With an urgent tone she said to Father Gillick, “You don’t know what you look like.” Father Gillick hadn’t heard that before. He thought about what to say but before he had the chance the little girl said one more thing. She looked at Father Gillick and said, “You look beautiful.”
I read this story and I immediately choked up. It was innate. I didn’t have to think about choking up it just happened. Something in that story resonated deeply within me. As I continued to read past the story I recognized that the story did the same thing to the author who had this to say about the story.
When it comes to recognizing the truth of our own identities most of us experience a symbolic version of blindness that keeps us from seeing ourselves as we truly are.
And so my question for you today is this one, “Do you know what you look like? Do you know who you are? Who are you?” So who are you? What do you look like?
I think that for many of us we identify with our outer markers. These are important, especially after we just finished a series on how our outer selves often dictate our lot in life, the way that our country creates systems, and the way we are racist or experience racism. So who are we?
Are we a black man? A white cis gendered woman? Are we an American woman or a tall and somewhat awkward man? Are you an Asian Indian woman? Do we identify as LatinX or Irish? Are we a transgender man or woman? We have identities that come about simply by our outward appearance. And like we said, these are important identifiers as they do dictate the way that we operate in the world.
Perhaps we identify ourselves by our orientation. Do we identify as gay or queer or asexual or intersectional? Do we identify by the fact that we’re straight? That’s an important identifier and one that has important implications.
Perhaps we identify ourselves by where we come from. I’m a proud New Yorker. Once the Eagles won the Super Bowl a couple of weeks ago my wife decide to remind everyone who asked (and didn’t ask) that she is from Philly. Ashley Putnam said in our panel a couple of weeks ago that she still identifies as a Texan. I know that there are some proud Southerners in the room and some prouder Floridians although I can’t really understand why. Do we identify based on where we’re from and what’s shaped us?
And then we identify ourselves as everything in between. I’m a student. I’m a supporter of this sports team. I’m a twenty something, thirty something, or a really great looking 40 something. I’m a cook, a singer, and an artist. I’m a Christian. We can go on all day.
But let me ask you how many of us in this room today would say that we identify as being beautiful?
And furthermore how many of us would say that we identify as someone who is loved?
And further, furthermore how many of us would say that our identity is that of someone made so beautifully that they are absolutely loved by God?
I can stand up here as the pastor of this church for the past five years and tell you with the utmost conviction that I rarely if ever wake up in the morning and say, “Jonathan, you’re beautiful and if nothing else you are God’s beloved.” I rarely if ever do that because I don’t believe it.
I don’t know what I look like because at the end of the day the way I identify myself has a bearing on this world. I am a straight, white, and cis gendered male from New York who loves sports, especially the Mets. Every way I identify myself matters but in no way gets to the heart of who I truly am.
“Who are you?” We are asked the question almost daily and yet like me, I think that most of us in this room struggle to get to the heart of who we are. And so like the 9 year old, we hear with great urgency and some bafflement the voice that says, “You have no idea what you look like.” And we don’t. And when that voice tells us that we’re beautiful, we certainly don’t believe it.
Welcome to our Lent series. We follow the Christian calendar at this church and believe that its rhythms bring about a true sense of what it means to live out the Christ following life. During Christmas season we walked through advent. It’s a time where we wait patiently for Jesus. We find hope in the promises of God and while we wait for Jesus incarnate we recognize that we are the hands and feet of Christ.
We just finished up Epiphany season. In this season we celebrate and reflect the life of Christ. So this past Epiphany we decided that the best way we could reflect the light of Christ was to talk about equity. We said plenty of times that Christ didn’t treat people equally he treated people equitably. In order to reflect the light of Christ that comes in Epiphany we began the hard work of talking about racism, privilege, and equity.
And now we’re in the season of Lent. Lent is generally a time of darkness. It corresponds with the darkness of winter. It aligns with the feeling of cold. It aligns with the seasonal affective disorder that many of us struggle through. It becomes a time to tackle some of the more difficult and dark parts of our selves. This year for Lent we’re going to do just that. We’re going to pursue the question we talked about above, ‘who are we and do we believe that our identity is rooted in the love of God?”
One more thing before we continue. Our church believes that the Gospel message is both personal and communal. We’ve spent most of our Advent and Epiphany time focused on the communal aspects of the Gospel. We want to challenge you to spend the season of Lent focused on the personal. How does your belief in God shape your identity? How do you see God? Is God someone that loves you? Let’s take time to explore the hard parts of our selves and I pray that as Lent gives way to light that we find peace in our selves and an identity rooted in love.
So how do we answer the question about who we are? How do we take away our blindness? How do we find security in our identity?
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! – Psalms 8:3-8
This is beautiful scripture most likely from King David. If I were going to do a bit of modern translating David might say something like this.
“God you are so great that I look up and what I see is unfathomable. There are universes upon universes. There are multiverses and we could spend a lifetime in space travel and not even get out of the far corner of our own universe. I look around and I see that which I can’t even imagine. And then I look at humanity. Humanity is an absolute miracle. The babies that babble are basically praising the fact that they are miracles. We are walking living breathing miracles. In order for us to wake up this morning there were billions upon billions of atoms moving around in our body that had to act in one accord always just a fraction of a second from spontaneously combusting and you made us God! You made us in such a way that roughly every 7 years we’re a new body made up of new cells, parts, particles, we’re miracles! You made us just a little lower than you. You made us to have dominion. God, You’ve made us your beloved! How majestic is your name. That’s pretty cool.
And here’s the thing about David. David could identify himself in any number of ways based on what we know in scripture.
David was an underdog.
David was a hero.
David was hunted and lonely.
David was a king.
David was a murderer and rapist.
David was a father, a husband, a dancer, a wealthy man, and I can go on just by reading scripture. But David writes this Psalm and says, yeah I’ve been those things and they shape my life, but first and foremost I’m an absolute miracle that is made in your image and loved by you to the point that you give me authority over creation.
I think this is why they call David a man after God’s own heart. We look at all of the ways that David can be identified and David continues to call himself God’s beloved. David sees himself first and foremost as an absolute miracle.
So back to us and how we identify. Why is it so hard for us to do the same? Why is it hard for me to wake up in the morning and say, “Jonathan, you’re an absolute miracle so loved by God that you are given dominion over how you choose the day.” I’ll tell you why.
I think when it comes to identity we believe three lies. And I’d say here in New York these three lies hold greater weight.
We believe that our identity rests in these three lies.
I am what I have.
I am what I do.
I am what other people say or think about me.
Let’s think about this for a minute.
I am what I have – This one is easy. It’s the belief that dignity is created based on what we have. I go to therapy. It’s a good thing. If you can go then I recommend giving it a shot. Anyway the therapist asked me what are the best parts of me. I told him it was the fact that I had a wife, kids, and I could pay my bills. I told him that I was able to do normal things like take trips and have experiences.
My therapy told me to tell him about the best parts of me. I listed the things that I had and was able to afford…. Conversely just about everyday my wife and I lament the fact that we have a small kitchen. Daily! We judge ourselves by our small kitchen and lament the fact that we weren’t smart enough to buy an apartment with a big kitchen 7 years ago when we could probably afford it. Something so small affects us so greatly. Our identity is wrapped up in what we have.
I am what I do – What’s the first thing we get asked when we meet anyone here in this city. “Where do you live? What do you do?” What we do defines us greatly. For those of us who are doing exactly what we want to be doing, amazing. You’re probably pretty secure. More often than not the people of our church community tell me that they aren’t happy with what they’re doing. They want to do more. They want to do something greater. They want to do something more meaningful.
I talked with a friend the other day who said, what I do and who I am are indistinguishable. What do I do?
This one makes or breaks us. For those of us who are parents we look at our kids and spend so much time raising them. When our kids get sick, get into fights, become difficult, whatever it may be, it reflects on our identity because raising kids is what we do. When we struggle to get out of the house because one kid is melting down and another just spilled cereal we believe our selves to be failures because raising kids is what we do.
What about those of us who are new to this city? We just got a new job. We moved here to pursue a passion and we work at a coffee shop trying to pursue that passion. We started a new business but it’s going slowly. We’re simply stuck in the malaise of a job we’ve had for a few years. It feels like failure because we’re not doing the thing that brings us meaning. We’re barking up the wrong tree if we want the thing that we do to be the whole of our identity.
If you’re like me then you struggle with all of the things that you’ve failed to do. What I have failed to do? I have no idea? I guess I wanted to paly Major League Baseball. But seriously, I can’t even tell you what I failed to do but I do know that the specter of failure follows me around constantly. I define myself by what I’ve failed to do. Can anyone resonate?
We are what others think and say about us – One of my favorite authors and theologians is the late Henri Nouwen. His insight into Christianity is second to none. He taught at Ivy League schools, wrote books, and was well respected. Eventually he felt lost. He quit what he did. He no longer taught. He quit what he had. He got rid of everything and he moved into a home for people with severe mental disabilities. He started taking care of people who would never in a million years attend one of the schools where he taught. They’d never be able to buy let alone read one of his books. In his reflection on giving up parts of himself, Nouwen reflected that the most difficult part wasn’t giving up what he had or what he did; it was that the people he cared for couldn’t validate him. They couldn’t tell him he was great. They couldn’t compliment his mind or insight. That was the biggest struggle for Nouwen.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we’re deeply affected by what others think. Popular statistics will tell you that we need to hear 9 affirmations just to rid ourselves of the one critique or ridicule. That’s exhausting! With social media it gets even more exhausting as we can’t post something without quantifying what people think of us!
And so these lies, what we have, what we do, and what other people think, they contribute to both our personality and feed our addictions.
Both are interesting words.
Personality -Comes from the Latin word for mask. Super interesting right? Our personalities are simply masks that we put on in order to maintain, handle, and deal with, the three lies that we constantly tell ourselves.
That second word, addiction. That comes from the Latin word for “given to devotion.” That’s not a bad thing until we realize that to give devotion to something ultimately makes it something to which we’re in debt. No longer is it devotion but instead it becomes a form of enslavement.
I believe that we’ve come to such a place that we’re enslaved by the lies. We’ve come to a place that we can’t see our true selves. We continue to wear our masks. And so again, I ask the question, “Who are you?” And again we come to a place where we can’t even imagine writing anything close to what David wrote because we’re addicted to the lies. We’re addicted to false self.
In this Lenten season my prayer is that we pull off the masks. My prayer is that we begin to understand that we are indeed made in the image of a God who sees us as being an absolute miracle and absolutely beloved. Practically speaking how do we make that happen?
I want to introduce to you today the Enneagram. Has anyone heard of this before? I think when we hear about the enneagram we believe it to be another personality test. It’s like the Meyers Briggs or the DISC test. It shows us all of our little quirks. The reason we want to talk about the enneagram is because we believe that it does so much more.
The first thing we should know about enneagram is that its roots aren’t in western psychology and western Christianity. The Enneagram has been used in some capacity by a variety of cultures all over the world. In the 1990’s the enneagram was given some psychological and western language through which we now work. Regardless, as we work with the enneagram we know that it’s helped a large swath of people and is rooted in the unifying of cultures, traditions, and ethnicities. This makes it completely different from other personality tests rooted in western psychology. It also is profoundly powerful in the sense that there is a common thread among humanity to be blind to which we truly are. Take heart in knowing that this isn’t just your problem or my problem. This is a problem that affects all of humanity!
There are 9 parts to the Enneagram. The Enneagram is adept at showing us the 9 ways we lose our true selves. It shows us 9 different ways we lose grasp of who we really are. It gives language to our blindness. The good news of the Enneagram is it gives us a pathway back to finding our rest in God.
Here’s the thing about the Enneagram. It’s going to speak to why we believe the lies we believe. It’s going to give us hope that we can truly rest in God, and lastly, much of it will feel monotonous. Much of it comes from discipline, centering prayer, contemplative practices. That’s right. During this Lenten season we’re going to spend a lot of time being quiet, exploring our truest selves and creating disciplines for contemplative practices.
We’re going to take time to work with the enneagram and I hope we understand why this is something we want to do as a church. We believe that in order for us to live out restorative justice and for us to be a generous expression of Christ, we must accept the fact that we are deeply loved and rooted in God. We believe that the Christ following life is rooted in prayer, in centering, and in listening to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, as a church we’ve spent so much of the past couple of years opening our eyes to new ways of seeing the Bible, new ways of seeing our siblings in Christ, finding new and radical ways to show the inclusive love of Christ, and now it’s time that we open our eyes to truly finding ourselves and no longer living the lies.
Here’s what’s going to happen practically.
-This week we’re going to send out a mass email that will give you the option to take a free enneagram test or a paid one. The paid one costs as much as the vodka tonic you bought last night but it is way better for you. If you’re trying to save money then it’s find taking the free one. It doesn’t have as much insight. We encourage you to start the process of finding your true selves. You can sign up to be on our mailing list at the back computer.
-This week we’re going to give our small groups guides that will help us start to make sense of our selves in relation to the enneagram. You can join a small group by talking to someone on staff or by signing up in the back. If you can’t join a small group we’ll send out resources to you and let you start making sense of yourself in your own time
-Lastly for this week we’re going to end this service with a bit of quiet. We’re going to end with some contemplative prayer; a practice so to speak for what we hope will become a regular discipline.
As we fumble through this my prayer is that we open our eyes to the fact that we’re loved. My prayer is that we read David’s Psalm and identify and praise our God because of the sheer miracle that we’re wonderfully loved and made. Amen.
Prayer from the Sacred Enneagram book.
"1. Sit in an upright, attentive posture that allows for an erect spine and open heart. Place your hands on your lap.
2. Gently close your eyes and bring to mind a word, image, or breath as your symbol to consent to the presence and action of God within you. Your sacred symbol is intended to be the same every time you pray. It helps to ground you in the present moment, allowing you to give your undivided, loving, yielded attention to God. You may want to choose a name for God or a characteristic of God, such as Love, Peace, etc.
3. Silently, with eyes closed, notice your thoughts. Who are you? Your identity is that of beloved. You are loved by God. Say that. Do this however many times you notice your thoughts. Don’t forget, this is not about “getting" it. There is no judgment.
4. Slowly open your eyes and come back to the room.
I have many an intentional conversation. My job as a pastor requires a few intentional conversations. Furthermore, my job as a pastor often means that my intentional conversations will center around God, Jesus, the Bible, spirituality, and the like. I have conversations with quite a few people, my friends inside our church, friends outside of our church. Friends of friends, family members and their friends, social media friends, who are really just friends of cousins of friends who we met for 30 minutes when we were passing through Pittsburgh, and everyone in between.
Here’s what I can tell you about all of these conversations that I have with all people, some of us included. It’s astounding and amazing how everyone has a different opinion on God, Jesus, the bible, and the way to live out a Christian faith. I mean there are some absolute differences of opinion. And yet, everyone cites the scriptures as evidence for their opinion. It’s really incredible. What’s absolutely amazing to me is that each person I encounter, and I’ll throw myself into this mix, creates God in their own image and then uses the bible to back up this God we created in our own image.
I like the way the author Anne Lamott says it,
You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.
This is true and exceptional. We create our God in our own image and then go searching through scripture to make sure that there is evidence to back up our God. How do we do this? By taking our scriptures out of context and fitting them into our narratives that confirm all that we think or feel.
I use this example all of the time so my apologies if you’ve heard it before but I think it gets the point across. When I was 31 years old someone reached back and punched me square in the face. It was pretty crazy.
That’s right. When I was 31 years old I was in the hospital. My oldest daughter was just born. I held her in my arms and in the midst of her crying, she held balled up her tiny fist and hit me in the chin. It was crazy. There I was holding a brand new life and this was my daughter. Do you see how we can use context (or lack there of) to create a narrative that meets our own ends, ambitions, desires, and biases? And so we do this with the Bible quite a bit. We cite scriptures to create alternative narratives that help us meet our own end.
An acquaintance and fellow pastor, Rich Villodas says this, and I think it’s poignant for today’s talk,
“We can read the Bible every day and still have our hearts firmly against the ways of the kingdom of God. Until we read scripture through the lens of the crucified Christ, our exegesis (interpretation) becomes subject to political preference and a tool to protect a status quo that benefits us.”
I think this is especially poignant as we end our series on racism and privilege. A couple of weeks ago I preached a message on institutional racism and briefly discussed the historical views of the Christian church. Brief reminder, the historical views of the Christian church were largely racist, bigoted, and inhumane. But how did the church get to that place and how does some of the church maintain the same racist, bigoted, and hateful views? That’s right, scripture. Scripture without context creates for us a narrative that works to benefit our views and beliefs.
And what’s tragic is that scripture without context, while discounted now, created a Christian culture of racism that still persists to this day. I’m going to point to some Bible stories taken out of context used to perpetuate racism. Let me tell you, some of the stories I’ll use today are downright wacky. Don’t let anyone tell you the bible is boring.
For instance there’s a story in Genesis that’s now dubbed, “The Curse of Ham.”
Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” He also said“ Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. – Genesis 9:20-26
What we have is Noah, of Noah’s ark fame, getting wildly drunk and passing out. We can save that commentary for later. Noah’s son, Ham comes in and sees his father naked, a big no no in ancient near east culture. When Noah finds out he curses Ham and tells the world the Ham’s son Canaan will become slaves. Are we all following along?
For the sake of time I can tell you three things about this passage in context. It was written by the people of Israel during their enslavement by the Babylonians. It was written to instill pride in Israel. Israel finally found their own land by taking over the Canaanites. If you’re trying to tell a story about a nation looking for freedom and revival, you tell a story about the enemy you once defeated named, Canaan. And in context that’s all that this story is.
It is a rousing patriotic tale that begs the people of Israel who are now enslaved to remember the possibility of freedom.
The advent of slavery brought about the need for justification. Like I said, we need to create our own god and scriptural narratives in order to meet our needs. Christian slave holders needed just that. In some poor Hebrew translations, the name, Ham translates to, “Dark” or “Black.” And so without the context of Israel’s own slavery and occupation, without the context of Israel harkening back to a time when they defeated Canaanites to make themselves free, we get a story of Noah cursing his son, “Black” or “Dark,” which means that God must ordain slavery of those with a dark or black skin color. Later on this same story was used to justify slavery of just about any person deemed “rebellious” in nature.
Without context we’ve turned a story that begs the people of Israel who are now enslaved to remember the possibility of freedom into a story about telling the enslaved that there is no possibility of freedom! The irony.
Citing this passage, the Reverend, Henry Van Dyke, a Brooklynite by the way, expressed bewilderment at the fact that abolitionists could ever be Christians. He says these words,
“When an abolitionist tells me that slaveholding is a sin, in the simplicity of my faith in the Holy Scriptures, I point to him this sacred record and say in all candor (just as the bible does) that the abolitionist’s teaching blasphemes the name of God and his doctrine.”
Let’s do another story used without context to create ideologies beneficial to racist ideology. In fact, this story was brought up and discussed in our small group. Rightly so. This story is used to oppress people and create segregation. It’s so ingrained in our Christian imagination that It had to be brought up in small group.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. – Genesis 11:1-9
If we were to take scripture as words on page and out of context then we might get the idea that diversity of language, culture, and people is inherently sinful. It was created because people thought that they could build a huge tower as an affront to God. Sadly, many biblical literalists throughout history have used this story to justify racism, slavery, and segregation, just to name a few.
So let’s start looking around scripture for context and when we do that we see some lineages back in Genesis chapter 10. Lineages may look boring but they’re always good for figuring out context. Just start googling some of these names and in a hundredth of a second you’ll find out some interesting info on these lineages. For instance,
Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.” The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon…….Genesis 10
Okay, there is a guy who is the lead builder of Babylon. What’s his name? It’s Nimrod. There are better names. There are worse. It says that Nimrod is a mighty warrior and hunter. That’s another way of saying that Nimrod is a military power of the day. He is a metaphor for an empire. Now here’s another fun fact. Nimrod in the Hebrew means, “to rebel.” Here’s where it gets interesting. Where does Nimrod come from? He’s from Canaan. We just talked about Canaan didn’t we? Canaan was defeated. So what we’re doing is telling another story about a descendant of Canaan, the enemy, who by building this tower is rebelling against the good guys, the Israelites. And this enemy was ruthless and powerful. This enemy wanted to crush the little guy.
The story reflects a growing awareness and concern that there is a higher good for humanity than the strong dominating the weak, the powerful crushing the powerless, and the proud raising themselves up to godlike status. It’s a story about what can happen in humanity when power, accumulation, and ego become greater than recognizing one’s humanity.
In short, it’s a story about the dangers of the powerful exposing the powerless.
And what have we done with this story? We’ve focused on the language aspect, which by the way, it’s widely agreed to be a way to explain the fact that Babylon taking over the Israelites did some serious damage to the Hebrew language, and decided that this must be a story about keeping races separate.
We’ve taken a story about God getting angry about the injustice of the powerful exposing the powerless and we used it to justify the powerful exposing the powerless!! Oh sweet irony!
Now you may think about this as being utterly preposterous. I certainly do. And the truth is that this scripture cited and taken out of context was used to justify not only slavery, but the forbidding of mixed race marriage, which is some cases was upheld by some Christian institutions right up until the year 2000! (Bob Jones University) 18 years ago! Most of us were alive! Scripture outside of context is dangerous and has kept Christianity complicit in racist ideology.
I said a couple of weeks ago that we take the Bible far too seriously to take it literally. This is what I mean. Without context we can use the Bible to perpetuate racism, privilege and oppression.
We can take a passage like this one.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, - Romans 13:1
And without context, have no clue that Paul is talking about practicing civil disobedience rather than starting an all out war with the Roman Empire. And so this gets quoted without context by Christian leaders who want us to be obedient when we see egregious acts of oppression and injustice to immigrants, to women, to the LGBTQIA community, and to those of different religions. That’s never what scripture intended!
I can take the Bible out of context all day to justify racism, privilege, power, and anything else! We can do this all day! And it scares me.
If our church cares deeply about ending racism and bringing equity then we cannot take the bible literally. We must take it very seriously giving this living, breathing, covenant the attention it deserves and the context it deserves!
And here is the way we give it context.
One more story. This story is about the transfiguration. After all it’s transfiguration Sunday and I know that so many of you were wondering, “When will he talk about the transfiguration? Don’t think I would leave something so important out. I also think the transfiguration teaches us how to take our scripture seriously but not literally. It teaches us what it looks like to be progressive. It teaches us what it looks like to partner in a movement that ends racism and brings equity to people of color, women, LGBTQIA, immigrants, dreamers, and everyone else who’s ever had to live in fear because of their otherness.
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen. – Luke 9:28-36
This is indeed the mystery of Christ right here. The flat reading of scripture without context brings up a whole lot.
But if we’re to put this passage into context it becomes a story about the flat reading of scripture and what happens when we don’t put scripture into context. The irony continues!
This is the story where Jesus becomes greater than the Old Testament. It’s where one testament (an old testament) gives way to another testament (the new testament) and that testament is all about Jesus. If we want to take the bible seriously but not literally then we must see scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ. Let’s dig deeper.
Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
Oh Peter. His impulse is to build three shelters. Why? Because in his reading of scripture and the entirety of Judaism’s reading of scripture at that point, the three men were equals. At that point Moses and Elijah represented holy justice and holy law. Moses represents the law and Elijah represents the prophets. Jesus is just another one of them. Stay with me because this is gonna get good.
Those who practice Judaism will say that they are guided through darkness by the constellations who are considered prophets and the law, which is considered Moses and the prophets. So up until this point anything that is said or done by Moses or Elijah is equal to anything Jesus does. Peter does as much by giving each of them a tent. This is a flat reading of scripture that doesn’t take into account Jesus and what his incarnation means. So what happens when Peter tries to do this?
While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone.
What happens? Jesus is alone. He’s there upstaging the law and the prophets. I think Brian Zahnd says it best in talking about what this means.
“(The transfiguration) shows us that the bible is not a flat text where every passage carries the same weight. There is a new word of God. The law and prophets no longer have final say. It’s Jesus that has final say!
Everything must be looked at through the lens and context of Christ.”
So we know when Jesus preaches his most famous sermon, the one on the Mount, he ends up saying, “I didn’t come to abolish the law and the prophets, I’ve come to fulfill them.” This is what the transfiguration shows us! And when Jesus famously says,
“Love the Lord your God with all of your heart mind and soul for all of the law and the prophets rest on this command….” Once again it points to the fact that law and prophets (Moses and Elijah) not equals. Jesus is the word made flesh. Jesus is the ultimate context of scripture.
So today we can look in the Bible and point out any number of places where we see scripture that seeks to oppress, thwart, become violent, or marginalize. Like I said before, they’re everywhere. But the transfiguration tells us that we can’t look at any of them without putting them in the context of Jesus Christ. If the values don’t match up with the values of Jesus then it probably means we need to dig a little deeper.
When we have one of the aforementioned conversations and someone says that God condoned violence and oppression of people because it’s all over the Old Testament, we can point to the transfiguration and say that the law given by Moses isn’t on the same level as the law of Christ!
We can’t cite Moses in order to silence Jesus. We can’t cite segregation and racism in the book of Genesis without looking at what Jesus does first. We can’t look at the book of Romans and the obedience to the rulers without looking to see what Jesus says about this. Jesus is the ultimate context. And here’s the best part. This is radical, it’s powerful, and it’s absolutely central to anyone’s Christianity. It’s this idea that makes us Christian!
During this series we’ve asked you to do a few things. We’ve asked you to listen. We’ve asked you to develop a righteous anger and grief. We’ve challenged you to develop real and lasting friendships with people that are different than you. We’ve told you to read authors who are not your own ethnicity. We’ve asked you dispel racist myths. We’ve asked you to show up. We’ll continue to ask you to do those things. We hope that you’ll go to the racism and faith workshop. Just because this series is over doesn’t mean that the conversation and action ends.
But here’s the last thing I’m going to ask you to do. When you read the bible, don’t read it flatly. Don’t read it literally. Take it seriously. And by taking it seriously I want us to always put in in the context of Jesus. This Sunday tells us that Jesus is the word made flesh, the fulfillment of the law and prophets. If it contradicts Jesus then we’re not reading it in context. So let’s end today by reading the teachings of Jesus. I want to read his most important passage by which we can see the rest of scripture and the lens through which we work to eradicate racism and bring equity. Let’s read it with all of those who are hurt from racism in heart and mind.
You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Let’s get into some trouble. Amen.
Reading: Matthew 15: 21-28
Question: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I am Asian. To be specific, I am half Filipino and half Indian. And I was born in Hong Kong. I talk about where I come from a lot because I’m proudly Asian. Just Asian. That’s how I identify.
But there was a time, I wasn’t proudly just Asian.
There was a time, that if you asked me what’s one thing I could change about myself, it would be that I would want to be less Asian. There was a time I wished I were half-American and that’s what I would tell people. Really. I was about 13 years old when it started. I would either deny my Indian side or Filipino side and say my other half was American. No one ever questioned it because my accent was not distinctly Asian.
I was particularly ashamed of my Filipino side because of where they stood in the social hierarchy in Hong Kong. Growing up, most Filipinos in Hong Kong worked as domestic helpers. Because of that they sat at the bottom of the social hierarchy. I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I shed as much of my Filipino identity as I could.
Before I go on, I want to just acknowledge the sacrifices that Filipino domestic helpers make when they leave their families in the Philippines to look after another family in Hong Kong, for very little pay and often in substandard living conditions. What they do for their families, in unfair circumstances, takes strength and they should be admired for that.
Anyway, I shed my Filipino identity and I adopted a more western identity. I tried to be like the other kids at my international school. I listened to their music, dressed like them, ate their food, watched their movies, all because I thought if I could be more like them who represented the dominant culture (the American and British expats), then I would be placed higher on the social hierarchy.
Even my family reinforced this. My mother warned me against tanning for too long in the sun – not because I might get sunburnt, but because I might look too dark. My Aunt, would buy me bleaching soap from the Philippines to “brighten” my skin. It seemed normal and I honestly never questioned it. There are skin whitening products sold all over Asia, to this day.
But that wasn’t the most harmful part. The most harmful and shameful part is that I started seeing myself as better than my Filipino counterparts because of my ability to assimilate to the dominant culture and this is really hard for me to admit.
I wish I could tell you that changed as I grew older but it didn’t. After going to college in Australia, I moved back to Hong Kong for a couple of years and in the beginning I had a hard time looking for work.
After lots of interviews that went nowhere, I eventually found work through a friend and got a job as a Teacher’s Assistant at an international school. After a few months, another friend with a tutoring business offered me a job as a tutor making really good money on the side.
I remember that first session when I arrived at the home of the family whose son I was about to tutor. The first session went really well, until when I was about to leave, the mother started grilling me with questions asking where I was from, where I studied and what my qualifications were.
This questioning after each session persisted for three weeks.
This mother questioned me asking: how long did you study in Australia for, where do you teach now, how many students are there, where did you teach before. She didn’t stop, she even rang the school I worked at to verify my employment.
Finally, one week, she straight up asked me: why I didn’t look Indian and I said I was half Filipino (up to this point I had kept that to myself). Then she asked how I could afford to go to Australia, why my English was so good, what job my father had. But instead of challenging her I decided, mostly because of the money, that I needed to press on until the sessions were up and just prove how awesome a tutor I was.
And I did. I pressed on. Every session answering her questions. Until it came to our last session. I honestly didn’t think she was going to renew for another set of sessions. I was so sure she would ask for a Native English speaking tutor. But she instead asked if I would consider continuing to tutor her son and she would pay me cash upfront instead of going through the agency. I felt pretty chuffed that she had finally seen that I was just as capable and qualified a tutor as a Native Speaker from America or England but then she only offered me half my pay and that’s when I realized, even if I did do as good a job as a Native Speaker – I wasn’t worth the same pay. Simply because of my race, she quantified my worth as less than.
This experience, added to the internalized racism that was festering inside me. The self hate, the disgust and the disrespect I had for my Filipino heritage and how I projected this on to fellow Filipinos were all a result of my desire to align more with those I viewed were powerful.
I understood that, if only I could just behave the way they did, and not act too Filipino, and assimilate to the dominant group, then I could be accepted by them, seen to be as powerful as them. Anything short of that was substandard, less than, and would put me lower on the social hierarchy.
That’s where the Canaanite woman stood in the social hierarchy in this setting, over 2000 years ago.
The Canaanites were especially disliked by the Ancient Jews because they are historical enemies. The Canaanites are a racial group that descended from Noah’s grandson, Canaan. Their animosity for one another grew from fighting over the land of Canaan, the land the God promised to Abraham’s descendants.
The Canaanite were also idol worshipers and so they were seen as unclean and immoral.
In contrast, the Ancient Jews viewed themselves as the chosen people. They considered themselves Children of God and everyone else were “others”. They dictated the standard of how one must live through their own religious practices and anything that fell short of that was considered substandard - less than - other.
The passage we read earlier is from the gospel of Matthew which is most likely written by Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples, a fellow Jew. This account is written specifically for a Jewish audience.
We read that Jesus has left a predominantly Jewish region to one inhabited by mostly non-Jews, ie. Gentiles. And that is where he encounters the Canaanite woman.
The disciples don’t see it as out of the ordinary when Jesus ignores her at first, because Jews and Gentiles don’t fraternize, and so they urge him to send her away, he responds by saying: he’s only come for the Jewish people.
That’s an interesting response… very unlike the all loving, all welcoming, non-discriminate Jesus that I know…
Then when this woman BEGS for his help in healing her daughter, Jesus responds by saying he wasn’t going to take from God’s children by giving to a dog.
Wait, wait, wait… back up…Jesus indirectly (but pretty directly) called this woman a dog?!
And as if that wasn’t shocking enough, the woman challenges Jesus, a man, a rabbi, someone who is socially superior. Instead of walking away, she challenges him saying that even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.
She says, that even she, a Gentile, someone as lowly and unclean as a dog, is worthy of his blessing. That it isn’t just limited to the children of God.
Then, after this tense and awkward exchange, Jesus praises this woman’s faith, heals her daughter and sends her on her way.
Before I dive into this passage, let’s quickly put this exchange into context. Let’s see where Matthew places this story and why he has focused on specific details.
This story also appears in the gospel of Mark but is retold slightly differently with different events occurring before and after and I think the reason behind the sequence of events for Matthew is because his audience were fellow Jews AND because of bread.
Yes, bread. And that’s where we are going to start. Jesus shows his indiscriminate heart towards to people of Israel and towards Gentiles through BREAD.
Only a chapter before this encounter, Jesus was on the north end of the sea of Galilee, a largely Jewish area, and Matthew writes about the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand with only five loads of bread and two fish. You remember that? He feeds about five thousand people and collects 12 baskets of leftovers.
But what’s the difference between the two references to bread in these stories? It is the contrast of bread in abundance in the story of feeding the five thousand vs a scarcity of bread in the form of crumbs in Jesus’ conversation with the Canaanite woman.
What does bread symbolize in the bible? Bread symbolizes many things and you can do an entire study just by looking at the instances in which dough is kneaded, bread is baked, bread is broken and bread eaten in the bible. But let’s focus on two:
Bread is: what is shared to socially bond with one another. Jesus breaks bread with his disciples during the last supper to signify a bond between them. So we can assume from this too that bread is shared with those you respect and have concern for. In sharing bread with the five thousand, Jesus and his disciples bond with them and in the act of sharing bread communally, they form respect and extend care for one another.
So it would have been completely out of the norm to speak of sharing bread and bonding with the enemy, their historical enemy the Canaanites. There is no desire to bond, not even a little bit…not even a crumbs worth…
Bread is also symbolic of God’s provision. We see in this story of feeding the five thousand that God blesses the people of Israel by multiplying God’s provision. And so what’s the opposite of that, when there is famine, when bread is withheld? It was thought that famine, lack of provision, bread withheld and the scarcity of bread was a mark of God’s judgement for their wrong doing. Hold that thought.
Then what follows THIS story of feeding the five thousand, is the story of Jesus walking on water. One of his disciples, who is on a boat nearby, Peter, steps out into the water when Jesus calls out to him and begins to drown. Peter cries out “Lord, save me!”
Matthew draws another parallel: the Canaanite woman also cries out “Lord, help me!”
But here’s the contrast. In response to Peter, Jesus says in chapter 14, verse 31 “You of little faith.” But in response to the Canaanite woman, chapter 15, verse 28 says “Woman, you have great faith.”
They both acted in faith. One in stepping out into the water, the other, in refusing to take no for an answer. One believing and having faith, the other doubted, but Jesus helped them both.
Then we read about a conversation Jesus has with the Pharisees and his disciples where he compares ritual cleanliness with moral cleanliness.
The Pharisees brought up the “tradition of the elders” which is the passing on of oral laws and traditional practices: like washing hands before a meal. But why point out this particular practice? Ritualistic cleansing of self before partaking in a meal? A meal like bread maybe? So what are their practices alluding to? Are they saying that their practices ensure they are CLEAN enough to receive bread or receive God’s provision and blessings. And that those that do not commit to these practices, are unclean, unworthy to receive bread (unworthy to receive God’s blessings…) see where I’m going here…
Jesus then argues that they put more weight on these laws and rituals than the laws of Moses and quotes Isaiah in the Jewish scriptures, accusing them of practicing “human laws.”
Matthew was being very strategic when he placed this conversation Jesus with the Pharisees, calling out their hypocrisy in believing these rituals are what keeps people clean. Otherwise, without these practices, people are defiled, immoral and unclean.
These people are the Gentiles, and includes the people of Canaan. And right after this conversation, is when we meet the Canaanite woman, in a region of predominantly Gentile people – the people viewed as unclean by the standards set by the oral traditions of the Pharisees.
It is no coincidence that we see these stories all occur one after another. The blessing and feeding of the five thousand in the north of the sea of Galilee, where bread and God’s blessings are seen as abundant.
Then to contrast to that, Matthew makes it clear to the reader: Look at this: we are so willing to share our bread with multitudes if they are fellow Jews. But with a Gentile, we won’t even share a crumb. With a Gentile, we deem them unclean and unworthy of our bread supply (symbolic of God’s provision and blessings). We cut them off.
And remember what withholding bread symbolized? THE MARK OF GOD’S JUDGMENT. Basically, the writer Matthew, wants to make it explicit to the reader that the attitude of the Jews towards the Gentiles is that the Gentiles are only worthy of God’s judgment and wrath because they do not measure up to the standards that have been passed down in the oral tradition.
Here’s the kicker: Even the Canaanite woman has come to believe that she too is unworthy, unclean, inferior, as lowly as a dog, but still wishes to partake in just a crumbs worth of the blessings being offered by the Son of God.
So, Jesus shows us with the parallel cry of Peter and this woman, that he doesn’t discriminate between their races. And then he furthers his point with bread.
Because guess what he does next, after this exchange? He performs a parallel miracle and he feeds four thousand, the exact same way he fed five thousand in the north end of the Sea of Galilee. This time he feeds the four thousand, in a predominantly Gentile region. He feeds predominantly Gentile people – showing the disciples that his blessings are not limited to just the children of God – Jesus’ blessings extend to the Gentile people. He does not discriminate between their races.
We see bread again in abundance. That bread is in abundance for the Jews. That bread is in abundance for the Gentiles too. That their blessings are not to be reduced to bread crumbs fallen from the table for dogs (even if that’s all they may perceive they deserve), but their blessing is the same as the Jews.
The Gentiles may not meet the standards of cleanliness set out by the tradition of the elders, set out by a culture that marginalizes them and sees them as less than.
But Matthew shows the readers that JESUS, does not place those measures on them. Jesus does not discriminate, Jesus blesses this woman, and blessed four thousand more following her and encourages the disciples, and thus the readers, to do the same.
So obviously, this is a story where we can see that, through the actions of Jesus, God’s love transcends racial lines.
And here’s how my life resonates with this story.
As a Filipina woman growing up in Hong Kong, I understood that I was sub-standard. I accepted this worldview of Filipinos and adopted that identity just like this woman understood herself to be as lowly as a dog.
I viewed my fellow Filipinos the same way. I understood we were less than. That who we were and our work was not worth as much.
I was frustrated with how Filipinos were viewed and how they were treated but I feared that I would be seen as the same but instead of fighting for their equal treatment, I thought the answer was to distance myself and deny that part of my identity so I could measure more closer to the dominant standards. The standard set by the West.
I didn’t recognize the unfair treatment of Filipinos in Hong Kong growing up. I measured them up against the standard that I was taught and when they didn’t measure up, I attributed it to them not trying hard enough. I didn’t recognize the everyday hurdles they faced, I didn’t bother finding out their stories.
Then, six years ago, I moved to the US where Filipinos don’t have this stigma and I bought into another worldview….and that was of the “model minority” who were measured up against the White American standard. It made so much sense to me because of all the other skewed ideologies I had bought into in my upbringing.
William Patterson first coined this term in describing Japanese Americans and their success stories in the 1960s. The term “model minority” comes from the stereotype that Asians are studious, law abiding, have strong work ethics and familial values. Moses Y Lee defines it as the belief that:
“hard work can take you anywhere you want in this country, regardless of your race or ethnicity. Others who did not benefit from the system simply lacked the willpower or ambition.”
Makes sense right? That’s how I was brought up: I understood that if you want to be successful, you simply have to work hard. And that if you were struggling, its because you weren’t putting in the hard work.
I bought into and participated in a lie about Asians being the model minority because they more closely met the standards set by the west. And in Hong Kong, I participated in and bought into a lie that said that Filipinos were than, and were placed at the bottom because they were so far off from the acceptable standard – once again, a standard set by the west.
And I wish, I wish, I wish, it didn’t take me over 30 years of my life to realize that I was worthy. Because like the Canaanite woman, up until a few years ago, I thought my worth was the size of a morsel or bread crumb unless I could measure up to a standard set by the West.
And like the Pharisees, I placed these expectations on fellow Filipinos and other minorities too, believing we were only worthy if we met the standards set by the west. That we needed to meet their standard of beauty, wealth, intelligence and way of life.
But now, today, as every day I become more and more woke – I want to act like Jesus in this story and hope to be part of changing the way Filipinos and the greater Asian population are seen.
Like Jesus, I hope to see people beyond their labels and consider their story, their experiences and their history.
Like Jesus, I hope to call people to come and break bread together, to bond and find respect for one another, tearing down racial barriers, tearing down stereotypes and tearing down the expectations unfairly set by the dominant culture.
Because here is the problem with the myth of the model minority as outlined by Yuri Kochima (Human rights Activist):
“model minority” reinforce pre-existing stereotypes, it also undermines the experiences of marginalized Asian Americans; these misplaced generalizations render their experiences trivial at best and invisible at worst. The stereotype perpetuates conflict between communities of color, prohibiting solidarity and promoting racial hierarchies.
In order to move forward, we need to partner together in refusing to participate in and perpetuating the myth of the model minority. I think this is something we can all do, whether we identify as Asian American, or just moved here from another country, or identify as White American, Latino American, or African American or any combination of these labels.
Here’s what can we do:
-go and read about where the myth of the model minority came from and why it hurts Asian Americans and other minority groups in the United States. Talk about it in your small groups. Talk about whether or not you have formed stereotypes because of the myth of the model minority.
-go bond, share bread, and be in relationship with Asian Americans and get to know them as human beings, as individuals first and foremost. Don’t make your conversation or relationship with them about a fascination with their otherness. See them as people first, because it is from there that you can dispel the stereotypes about Asian Americans.
-quit expecting minorities to measure up to an unfair standard. That’s something we can ALL do. Because it places unnecessary pressure on all minorities, don’t do that. Don’t perpetuate something that shames others if they miss the mark. Instead, go and find beauty, strength and value in what they bring to the table. Promote and empower minority voices and products. Read books, listen to songs, watch movies, buy products from minorities.
Like Jesus, we need to recognize when our worldview has influenced how we label and see others and act against it by working towards making things right, calling out systems that are unfair and recognize that worthiness and value is not determined by one set standard.
I also want to say this to my fellow Asians in the room or listening online who may have been hurt by the “model minority” label, either because they were pressured by it or fell short of it. I hope you know that you are enough. These standards are man made and made to drive a wedge between us and other minorities.
I acknowledge my own participation in perpetuating this myth and ask your forgiveness. I ask your forgiveness when I saw myself better than you because of my ability to assimilate to the dominant cultre. I ask your forgiveness for labeling you and not considering your history and your experience.
I promise to move forward by celebrating and recognizing the uniqueness of our cultural identity and encourage others to do the same.
Let us pray.
Hi everyone I’m Sarah Ngu and I’m a deacon at forefront. I handle FF’s social media accounts and I help run with grace and D our lgbtq ministry, queer communion, and I’m a very proud member of our Brooklyn heights small group.
So, I’m going to tell you a bit about my family. Here’s a photo of my siblings and I in Malaysia. We’re Chinese-Malaysian, and we moved to the United States when i was ten years old for a bit of an unusual reason: My dad was sent by his church denomination to start a church here. Our denomination was founded by a Thai man, and so most of our churches were in Asia and we wanted to expand around the world. America, to be honest, also seemed to us like a modern-day Sodom & Gomorrah: full of sex, drugs, violence and gun ownership.
Here’s a photo of my family a year after we moved to California. As you can see that, in addition to the fact that I look basically about the same age now as I do then, we have several trophies. Those were all from softball. My dad was very eager for all of us to play softball / baseball, because he wanted us to play American sports. My dad wanted us all to become Americanized, partly because as a pastor he wanted to reach white Americans.
Track and soccer were never encouraged because my dad saw those as Malaysian sports. He wanted us to mingle with the whites. My sisters discovered only after years of softball that they preferred soccer and track (one of my sisters was recruited to run for college)—I was the only one, what a surprise, who really enjoyed softball.
My dad is also quite good at languages and I remember he would listen to the radio and practice rehearsing whatever he heard in order to sound American. We kids all grew up speaking English but we had Malaysian accents, which I remember trying to get rid of, because if you talk with Malaysian accent, people will not think you are very smart. If you talk with a British or Australian accent, okay lah. But with a Malaysian accent, it’s going to be a pro-blem.
But the thing that I remember most from my dad’s lessons in Americanese was that he would always say, “Don’t be intimidated like an Asian. Speak up and be assertive like my white colleagues.”
Now, my dad is a fighter; he loves public speaking, he’s very charismatic, so on one level he was just rebelling against the stereotype of submissive Asians. And I get that he was just trying to help us adapt and give us practical tips.
But note that he did not say, “Americans talk in more direct and assertive ways, and even though that’s not our public communication style, that’s what we have to do to be taken seriously here.”
He said, in contrast, “Don’t be intimidated like other Asians. Stand up for yourself like white people do.”
The former is about how to hustle here in America; the latter is... about shame of your culture. It's about internalizing white supremacy.
When we talk about white supremacy we tend to think of the KKK, Charlottesville. But no one talks about how white supremacy can be to use the ancient language of the bible, like a ghost, a demon, that gets under your skin into your psyche and start to possess you. If you’ve seen the movie Get Out, you’ll know what I mean.
You see, my dad and mom grew up right around the eve of Malaysia’s independence from British rule. They grew up in a country that was still, and is still, trying to overcome more than a hundred years of a legal, political and cultural system that put white people at the top, a system that did introduce modern education and technology but that also took my country’s natural resources and used it to rebuild their country especially after WWII.
But perhaps one of the most insidious effects of colonialism and imperialism globally that still lingers on today is the feeling that white people are superior. More capable. More civilized. You can still see that legacy in how most of the models in fashion ads in Asia are white or Asian people with more “white features” partly due to plastic surgery, in salary disparities between white “expats” and everyone else, and so on.
I’m not making any personal accusations of anyone in this room, I’m just saying this is the system we live in. And when I say “white people” I’m not referring to certain biological features. If you look at the history of race, we really only started identifying people by their skin color and organizing them into hierarchies around the late 1600s with the advent of colonialism and Atlantic slave trade. So when I say whiteness, I’m using it as a shorthand for “dominant group,” but which group is dominant is something that changes over history. This will be particularly relevant later on when we get into scripture.
So when my dad’s mom wanted to send my dad to the best university, it’s not too surprising that she sent him to an English boarding school. When he got there, his English wasn’t the best. So his classmates mocked his pronunciation. One of the guys would tease him and say, “Could you pass the sugar please?” I mean, if you think about it why would s-u-g-a-r is pronounced “shu-gar”? My dad at the time could speak three languages - 福州话，客家话，普通话，- and his classmates only one, but he was the one who was made to feel inferior.
When you’re excluded from the dominant group, you have two options: You can either withdraw and hang out with your own kind, or you can try your best to assimilate and be accepted by the dominant group. My dad chose the latter option. To this day, he is proud of the fact that he didn’t join International Christian Students Club with all the Asians, he joined Christian Union which was where the white students were -- he was quite popular in fact and became secretary at one point.
It’s sad to me that although my dad grew up in an era in which British colonialism was formally over, he was still embedded in a kind of colonial Christianity.
Look, I don’t want to diminish the agency and choice that we people of color have made to choose this faith because we are compelled by its fundamental story. But it gets hard sometimes. Honestly it’s hard to hold onto this faith when it’s been transmitted to you by the people who have colonized you, enslaved you, and you look around and you see the books my dad has to read for seminary and how most of them are written by white men, and when I look at the top 100 largest churches in America and how 93% of them are led by white pastors and only 1 of them is led by a female co-pastor, and when I look at whose books and podcasts are being published and circulated, who’s getting the speaking engagements and conference invites — I mean my church in Asia raised kids on Focus on the Family and exclusively sang songs from a white Australian band named hillsong — when I look at all of this I can’t help but think that not much has changed since colonialism. The legal structure may not exist, but the culture of colonial Christianity still remains.
So why am I still here?
Let’s get into Scripture. Let’s look Paul’s letter to Titus, his friend and mentee. In this letter, which is in the bible, he gives Titus a whole list of instructions for how to really set up and grow the Christian community in a Greek island called Crete. He tells him what kind of elders to appoint, the ways families should be structured and behave, and towards the end, he inserts this statement which reminds me of what my dads advice to ud:
”Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you.” (Titus 2:15, NRSV)
Now why would Paul say that? Maybe Titus has some confidence issues, and people around him are kinda arrogant. I’m sure that’s all part of it.
You know if Titus was in a small group he might say, “Hey guys can you pray for me I have this big presentation I have to make and big decisions, and I’m feeling a little nervous if people will listen to me.”
And everyone would be like, “Yeah we’ll pray for you. You got this.”
But hold up. Is Titus feeling insecure because he’s Titus, or are there some larger forces going on here?
Let’s figure this out.
So we see Titus appear again in a book in the bible called Galatians, where Paul is talking about his trip to Jerusalem and he is talking about how there is this faction of Jews who are trying to get all these Gentile converts to the faith to be circumcised. And Paul writes this:
“But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.”
Ah, so we see that Titus is Greek, meaning he is a Gentile, which is a word for someone who is not Jewish.
Why does that matter? Well if we go back to the book of Acts, we read about this tension and power dynamic between Gentiles and Jews in the early church, in which Jews had the upper hand.
By the way recall what I said about whiteness being shorthand for dominance. Obviously throughout history different groups of people have been more dominant than others. And In this context, our bible tells us that it was the Jewish people.
And what I’m going to narrate is going to portray Jewish people in a negative light; I’m just restating whatever the text in our Scriptures states. I don’t really want us to be caught up in questions of whether it was really and historically true that Jewish people at that time acted that way, and whether Paul had an agenda; we have to be super mindful of the fact that the verses I’m going to recite have been used to villainize and persecute Jewish people, and force them to assimilate and to convert.
What I want us to take away from the text are deeper truths that I think Paul is trying to convey about what it means to be a diverse community and what it means to hold power.
With that really important frame, let’s get into it.
So I mentioned this tension between gentiles and jews in the early church. If we go to the book of Acts chapter 15, this tension really comes to a head. Because there are a fair number of Jews who were saying, “Ok we get it that God is now opening up our covenant with God to include Gentiles because God’s given them the Holy Spirit and we see the Spirit evident in their lives. But if they’re coming into our country -- I mean, our covenant -- they gotta assimilate. They’ve got to get circumcised and follow law of Moses.”
Why was circumcision such a big deal? You really see this debate about it all throughout the NT. It was, and still kinda is, the marker of identity for Jews. It was commanded by God; God, as portrayed, in the book of Exodus was about to kill Moses’ son because he wasn’t circumcised. If you’re not circumcised, you’re not part of the covenant. (Of course if you are a cis woman, I guess you’re off the hook since no one seems to really care).
As an aside, as immigrant, it’s really interesting to me that so many of the key flashpoints between Gentiles and Jews are physical: They are about what you eat, how your body is formed, etc. Because so many of the transitions that immigrants have to go through are also physical: Its about your accent, what you eat, what clothes you wear, how you hold your body.
So the early church is at a crossroads and it has to make a big decision about how it’s going to integrategentiles into thecovenant:
Peter gets up and say: “ My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as God did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith God has made no distinction between them and us.”
The church decides that we’re just going to ask Gentles to observe four laws - no sexual immorality, eating food offered to idols, no eating meat that’s strangled or blood… some trace these back to the laws of Noah that Jews believe apply to all humans, but the bigger deal is what’s left out from the list: No mention circumcision and honoring the Sabbath, which is a huge deal because it’s one of the 10 commandments.
This significance of this decision is that what it means to follow Jesus and be Christian — to be part of this new spiritual community — is not about assimilating into the dominant group’s norms or in this case laws. What holds this diverse community together is the spirit of God which is in all of us.
So now that you have that context from the book of Acts, let’s jump back into Galatians. Paul’s writing about his trip to Jerusalem in Heidi he is bringing his Greek friend Titus, and he notices Peter, one of the key leaders in the early church, acting very strangely. He notices that Peter would eat with Gentiles, including Greeks, but when certain Jews -- would come, Peter would separate himself from the Gentiles and eat with the Jews. And Paul is fuming, he’s says, “"If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
If we were to translate this into modern-day America, we might ask, “Hey why are all the white kids sitting together for lunch? Why are all the blacks kids sitting there? Asian kids sitting over there?” And I can’t help but picture Titus, going to Jerusalem with Paul, kinda like a new kid shows up in school, and he’s wondering, “Who’s going to sit with me for lunch?”
Paul is going ballistic in this letter, he’s like:
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified. The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?”
I’ll repeat: Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?
He’s arguing: our shared identity is about the Spirit of God, not with whose bodies or flesh matters more than others. And he would later say in that same later that in Jesus we are no longer slave/free, male/female, Jew/Greek — essentially these hierarchies are abolished. We are bound together by the same Spirit, so why we are then replicating these dynamics in church? Yes let’s bring in diversity but not inequity and hierarchy!
So when we look back at Paul’s words to Titus, where he says, “Don’t let anyone look down upon you” — a formulation btw which I much prefer over “don’t be intimidated” by it places the responsibility on the person who is intimidating you not you and your feelings - because we can read that as “Don’t let anyone look down upon you because you are Greek, you are a Gentile, you are not part of the dominant group.”
If he was writing a letter to the church today, he might say, “Don’t let anyone look down upon you because of your sexuality or your gender identity.” Take pride. He might say to you now, “Don’t let anyone look down upon you because of your job or your lack of a job your height your weight your body your mental illness your physical ability your addiction where you were born, whether you come from a shithole nation or not.” Because EVEN if the most powerful person in the world looks down upon you, there is yet a higher power PAUSE whose spirit is in all of us. There is a higher truth.
As a queer person, Paul’s not always my favorite, but I love Paul when he’s bringing the heat like this. Because stuff like this is what brings me back to this faith and tradition.
But we have a lot of work to do to realize this radical vision. So what are we going to do to de-colonize Christianity?
1. Let’s start looking at our consumption: Whose books and podcasts are we consuming? Is it all… mostly white people? Especially white men? Let’s start listening and paying attention to other voices especially within the church. I’ll post on FFs Facebook page some recommendations and you all can add to it.
2. Let’s talk about church. Who preaches? Who is paid to be on staff? who’s an elder? a deacon? who tends to sit in the front vs in the back? Who talks the most in small group? Who is listened to more? Who do people make eye contact with when they are talking?
My friend Derrick, who is Singaporean, once ran an experiment where he would observe his reaction to his friends’ comments and statements, and if he reacted differently if it was a female friend or coworker vs a male counterpart, and he said, “Omg sarah, i realized I do take women less seriously, i am more dismissive of their comments.” What if we all ran that experiment also? And do the same thing for race? For people who speak different accents?
3. One of my favorite examples of de-colonizing church can look like is in the book of Acts. they had this radical socialist system where no one had any economic needs because people would share resources and property. They had this daily distribution of food to widows, because widows had very little family to support them financially. But they started getting complaints that Greek speaking widows were being overlooked compared to Hebrew widows. So you know what the apostles, the leaders of the early church, who were mostly hebrew decided? they weren’t like oh we will track our distribution processes better, they said: Let’s appoint a group of seven deacons to handle the distribution of resources, and we are not even going to make that committee 50/50 Greek and Hebrew, we are going to ensure the entire group is Greek. I love this example because the early church recognized the fundamental problem was not resource-distribution but power-distribution. And they needed to level the power dynamic. What if we applied that logic today to current problems of inequity?
4. Ok to all my fellow immigrants out there, what cultural ritual or even religion have you been told to stay away from because it’s not Christian? What if you explored those rituals and even religions and found a way to authentically integrate it with your faith? If some of you are like what heresy is this... consider Christmas and Easter. Let’s look at Xmas. The date of Christmas comes from a pagan midwinter festival celebrated by the Druids, a Celtic religion, who would celebrate it by cutting down evergreen trees and putting it in their homes; Easter itself is probably influenced by an ancient Babylonian goddess named Ishtar whose symbols, as the goddess of love and fertility, were eggs and rabbits. So Europeans been playing this game for centuries; we gotta get in on the action. We’ve been missing out. Why do we have to assimilate into their version of christianity?
I think of my dad and how I kinda wish he was here — he’s not attending because of FF’s affirming stance on LGBTQ people — because when I think about how the Gospel can be a truly liberating force, I think of people like him, and how I, deeply wish, he, and all of us, could truly be free.