Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Interpersonal Relationships, Diversity, & the Borg of "Star Trek: First Contact"

One of my classmates asked for some pros and cons of diversity. He first asked for pros and the answers flowed freely as we almost scoffed at such a question. Diversity is practically a virtue.

Cons was a little harder. We talked about perceived cons, such as stereotyping and bigotry. But those are not so much cons of diversity, but rather cons of ignorance faced with diversity.

After class, I rented Star Trek: First Contact, one of the New Generation films. In it, the crew of the Enterprise fight a cyborg race referred to as the Borg. The Borg overtake whole races and make them part of the Borg. At one point the Borg claim to evolve, to which Data, of the Enterprise, replies, "You don't evolve, you conquer."

The Borg is a diverse group. They conquer every race they encounter, assimilating them and making them look exactly like every other part of the Borg. The Borg are one, working towards perfection.

Sounds like 19th-century German liberalism. Sounds like idealism. Sounds like a dystopian novel. Sounds like integration. Sounds like the kingdom of God.

And there I find a potential downside to diversity: assimilation. When we integrate and really experience and learn from diversity--and I'm not talking about "appreciating" diversity--we change. We become less like who we were and more like the other. Likewise, in ideal interaction, the other also comes more like us. Neither should become just like the other, though. Black should not become white or vice verse. But neither should the two meet in the middle.

Both of those options are assimilation. Race would be eliminated (which may be neither a good nor bad thing) and, hence, diversity. If diversity yields assimilation, then diversity leads to the end of diversity. It leads to sameness.

We need to have diversity without assimilation. We need to move beyond our differences with the Other and in cooperation with the Other. In this way, we can remain different and we can change, but we aren't becoming drones.

Resisting assimilation means not thinking what your professor says just because your professor said it. It means resisting authority from authors just because they are authors. It means throwing off the bonds of oppression--yours and that of others. It means throwing off the role of oppressor--yours and that of others.

It means thinking for yourself, but not by yourself.

Diversity is a wonderful thing, but we need to know why it is a good thing and how to handle it. Diversity is not just black and white, old and young, male and female. Being diverse does not mean having a day to talk about African American and female perspectives on an issue, while every other class focuses on the white male slant.

Don't simply accept diversity. Don't assume everyone promoting diversity is doing so in a good way. Think about diversity for yourself and resist assimilation, which, by the way, will mean you're promoting diversity.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Sermon from the Kitchen: Commenting on a Conversation with the Dishwasher

Prompt: The Best Sermon I Ever Heard and Why

I'm not a strong auditory learner, so sermons aren't always the best way to communicate to me. I remember hearing sermons, but not nearly enough about them to say why I liked them. In fact, most of my sermon memories are, "I remember liking that one sermon that person preached the other day." I exaggerate, yes, but only slightly.

I was anxious about the assignment. I work overnight on Saturdays and knew I wouldn't hear a Sunday morning sermon before class. I considered reading a sermon out of a book and just pretending I heard it. But, instead, I kept my eyes and ears open. I remembered Barbara Brown Taylor commenting on how the sacraments serve to remind us everything is holy and God is everywhere. I remembered Emily Dickinson describing a church setting in nature in a good poem I recommend you reading.

So with my ears and spirit open, I listened.

On Thursday morning, I heard a "sermon" and it was good, so I took notes. As I am wont to do, once I started taking notes, I stopped listening, which is sad, because this sermon lasted less than 5 minutes and I was standing right next to the "preacher."

The man used anaphora, although I doubt he knew it. Maybe he never even heard the word, but it was the anaphora that caught my ear. He kept saying, "Keep your head towards heaven."

He wasn't quoting the Bible, although this repeated phrase was very biblical. It reminded of 1 Corinthians: "run as if to win the race." It reminded me of the times when Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. It made me think of that pearl of great price. This man did not select a piece of the Bible and exegete it, but rather let truth which happened to be in the Bible permeate his language. He translated it. He exuded it. He made it make sense.

He related this phrase to himself and his setting, which merits a little background. He was the poor man who does the dishes at a local church's food ministry. He does the dishes like any volunteer might, but he is also coming to be served.

Wearing his apron, waiting for dirty dishes to pile up, I, or perhaps my friend, asked how he was and he said he was OK, because he kept his head towards heaven. His language was understandable and biblical, but with vacant room for the hearer to engage with the language.

And so I engaged. What does it mean to keep your head towards heaven? Could the words refer to Luke 6:22: "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God"? What would "the kingdom of God" mean in this instance? Was this man thinking of justice? What kind of justice? Retributive justice, like in Luke 6:24, where Jesus says woe to the rich, for they have received their consolation? Or social justice, where those who are poor are taken from poverty?

Maybe the phrase had nothing to do with a futuristic justice, but rather, referred to a mindset and a purpose, like when Jesus had his face set towards Jerusalem. This man was not only being served, but serving. In this sense, his face was set towards living like the kingdom of God is already here, a place where we all serve one another, where we give up any privilege (i.e., being served) by losing ourselves, which is the only way we can find ourselves.

Maybe it wasn't the best sermon I ever heard. And maybe he never once picked up, looked at, recited, referred to, or even thought about the Bible, but he certainly interpreted it, while still allowing the hearer to engage creatively with the sermon, scripture, and the Spirit. The language wasn't overbearing or demanding, instead, it allowed for possibility.

The quality of the sermon was highly effected by the worship setting. It was in a church, but not the sanctuary. It was right by the kitchen door, the kitchen being the most important of all rooms, for it is the place where the food is prepared for sharing. It is the place into which we invite the hungry. It is not the solely the woman's place, for it were, women would have too much power. Rather, the kitchen belongs to us all. Woman and man. Man and man. Woman and woman. Family. Friend. Servant and master. Them and us.

And finally, it was prophetic. When the man looked at all the poor and homeless people waiting to be served, he said, "they need to keep their heads towards heaven." How visionary! To think, if the rich aren't going to be Christ's body, then the poor have to do it. They cannot wait on the rich Christians to minister to them. They have got to turn their heads towards heaven and embody the kingdom now. If the rich will not serve them, then they will serve each other. And then, indeed, everything will be alright.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Description of the Homeless in the Winter

The following is part of a letter I received in the mail the other day. It is about homelessness, but speaks of the poor in our cities and towns, as well.
February can be a terribly cold time of year in more ways than one. For an individual on the streets, not only is the wintry season a time of physical danger, but also emotional struggle.

Imagine being so could that you're willing to take anything offered to you if it is guaranteed to help your body and mind escape the bitter elements.

After a time of accepting these 'aids,' you begin to discover that you cannot live a day without them. The drugs become your god and dictate everything you say and do. You never intended for things to be this way. You were just trying to survive.

If by some miracle, addictions have not trapped you, the main task for each day in the winter months is to simply stay warm. You're lucky if you have a coat to wear, much less a blanket to cover yourself or thick socks to put on your feet. A steamy bath is out of the question.

This mental picture I have painted for you is one many men, women, and sadly children live as a reality. Homelessness, no matter how much we look away, cannot be ignored. People in need are living on our city streets, but not one of them desired to end up in this way of life.


Sincerely yours,
Reid Lehman
Miracle Hill Ministries