PCUSA Multicultural Conference – Day 1 Reax

28 May

What does it mean to grapple with change? Culturally, Socially, Personally? This is one of the big questions being asked at the 2010 PCUSA Multicultural Church Conference here in Chicago.  I’m attending and will be posting some reflections each day for the benefit of those who may want to glean from what I’ve observed.

The highlight from Thursday night worship was definitely the preaching of Dr. Renita Weems, the first African American woman to hold an Old Testament PhD, currently co-pastoring a nondenominational church.  She rocked the house with a sermon that addressed how difficult confronting change can be with our limited, biased perspectives whether we are prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, or like her, a child of the 20th century American South.  With self-effacing humor, Weems confessed that she walks with a limp of uncertainty and sometimes weariness into the cross-cultural world that awaits us.  As do we all.  Her riproaring style definitely brought a chorus of “Amens”, even from yours truly.  She didn’t hesitate in offering consulation to those who work in the “underbelly” of denominational change trying to call attention to cross-cultural needs.  Dr. Weems left us with the reminder that God has given us a vision and a promise, and we are not bereft of the means “to work out”.

After dinner we had a rather interesting take on the task of communicating across cultures with an interactive workshop with members of the famous Second City Comedy Improv of Chicago.  Second City has jumpstarted the careers of many well known comic actors who made their way onto SNL, sitcoms and movies.  This was an excellent idea.  If building relationships across cultures is anything, it is improvisational!  Because if you’re trying to manage or reign in how people with different perspectives will encounter one another, you’ll be quickly and sorely disappointed.  One of the actors did make a comment I wanted to delve deeper into: 

 “You need to separate people from ideas.” 

I’m probably not the only one who caught that.  I wonder how realistic this is.  I know many people, irrespective of ethnic culture, whose ideas are organically part of their histories, stories and personal character.  To separate themselves from their ideas can be unthinkable, and even if done, might be undesirable.  This of course is magnified in many ethnic minority communities in which the power to generate ideas and make decisions about them has been limited politically or socially.  Looking back on my grandparents ways, if you asked them a question, they were much more likely to describe a situation, a story from their childhood growing up in the South perhaps, than to actually give you “actionable intelligence” as my diplomatic friends would say, to make a decision. 

Maybe the person/idea dichotomy is really a problem based on the game we are playing.   If at the end of the day, the goal is to perform an improv show, you’ve got to make decisions without taking things personally.  “The show must go on,” as they say.  And likewise if you’re running a church meeting, you’ve got to make decisions about ministries, worship and resources, you’ll try and do the same.  It’s no surprise then that a system of rules, by-laws, and committees will reinforce decision-making as the goal.  But the church is not always about making decisions, at least not in this manner. 

Creating the space for people to reveal their histories, stories and character can indeed generate powerful ideas.  These ideas often have to slow-cook in order to reach their potential.  They don’t always follow the decision-making calendar.  But where is the space for this?  It barely exists.  My hunch is that this is one reason why many church meetings last so notoriously long, despite the pretense of “decency and good order”.  People are so longing to share these things they sneak them in the backdoor of their meetings. 

Somewhere along the line, in order to communicate better across cultural lines, we will have to better know one another.  To truly know one another is not an exercise that can or should be done primarily through the polity we have set up.  It cannot be decided by committee.  It must be a genuine commitment to reserve space for fellowship and togetherness where the our whole stories can come out.

Anyway, thought provoking first evening.  We’ll see what the next day brings.

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One Response to “PCUSA Multicultural Conference – Day 1 Reax”

  1. Laura Cheifetz May 28, 2010 at 6:38 pm #

    Love it. Thanks for the thoughts.

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