Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church (Moody, 2010) by Soong-Chan Rah
In Many Colors, Soong-Chan Rah aims to equip local churches and their leaders to be better adapted to becoming multiethnic churches by developing cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence and understanding how culture operates in a church community are foundational to any hopes and efforts at building a multicultural church.
The book has three parts. Part I, Understanding Culture, lays the foundation for the rest of the book. It seeks a working definition of culture from a biblical worldview perspective. After drawing from different views of culture, including a biblical perspective, Rah arrives at this definition of culture:
So what is culture? It is a human attempt to understand the world around us. It is the programming that shapes who we are and who we are becoming. It is a social system that is shaped by the individual and that also has the capacity to shape the individual. But it is also the presence of God, the image of God, the mission of God found in the human spirit, soul, and social system. (p. 38)
(When my daughter Bethany – pictured here – graduated from Grade 8 last year, I was asked to deliver the “Parent’s Speech”. This post was that graduation speech I delivered to my daughter’s graduating Grade 8 class of 2015 for John Knox Christian School, Brampton on June 12, 2015)
Text: 1 Peter 5:7-8a
Dear graduating class of 2015,
It is dangerous to ask a pastor, even a campus pastor like myself, to speak. Because you know that I am going to give you a sermon, right? Especially when you give me a bible text! You chose as your class verse, 1 Peter 5:7-8a – “Cast all your anxiety on him because God cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert.” (NIV) My thoughts are drawn to verse 7: “Cast all your anxiety on God because God cares for you.”
Let me begin with a question: “What do the Hunger Games, Divergent, and the Maze Runner have in common?” Ok, besides being best-selling novels aimed at young adults that became movies. “What do the Hunger Games, Divergent, and the Maze Runner have in common?” I think all three have the same basic plot when you boil it down: in the future, the grown-ups have created a mess of the world, often despite their best intentions, and it is up to the youth to rise up and save the world. Does that sound like the basic plot in a nutshell? Is that why these novels are so popular among your generation of youth and young adults? Do they touch a chord or a nerve deep inside each of you? Is that a generational anxiety or fear or worry that your generation feels about the future?
(On October 24, 2015, I delivered this keynote address at the Christian Courier Story-maker’s Symposium, celebrating that Christian newspaper’s 70th anniversary. Give and take some spur of the moment revisions and minus introductory remarks and the power point slides, this is the presentation I gave.)
I am going to show a music video as part of my talk today. But before I do that, I am going to read three passages from the Bible. There are well known Bible passages. And then, I will give some background info so that you can appreciate the video better, then show the video. And after that, I will try and tie them all together in my talk, somehow.
I am going to show you a music video by Sinead O’Connor. Sinead O’Connor, if you don’t know, is an Irish singer, raised Roman Catholic.
There are a couple of things you need to know about her in order to fully appreciate the music video I am about to show you. First is that Sinead became an international music star in 1990 when her hit song Nothing Compares to You hit No. 1 in several countries including the UK and the USA. Nothing Compares to You, which I think is still the song that most people remember Sinead for, is basically a song about a woman lamenting the departure of her lover, as nothing is the same without him in her life because, well, nothing compares to him. Its accompanying music video also became iconic, where the video comprised almost entirely of a close up of Sinead’s face as she sings the song. Remember this iconic close up shot (for the video).
A note about Sinead’s shaven head – she originally shaved it as a protest against traditional views of women, it became her trademark but also became part of her identity. She once said, “I don’t feel like me unless I have my hair shaved. So even when I’m an old lady, I’m going to have it.” [Barkham, Patrick (20 February 2007). “The Bald Truth”.The Guardian (London).]
One other thing that Sinead O’Connor is (in)famous for is her appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1992, where during her performance, she presented a photo of Pope John Paul II to the camera and ripped the photo to pieces and said, “Fight the real enemy.” Sinead, throughout her career, has, shall we say, a testy relationship with the church? She has often criticized organised religion although she has said before in interviews that she still considers herself a Christian. She is an outspoken feminist and had spoken against child abuse in the church.
The phenomenon of speaking in tongues is common among Charismatic-Pentecostal type churches. It is also controversial, even though increasingly accepted in Christianity. Some Christians see the so-called charismatic spiritual gifts like prophecy and tongue speaking as ceased, i.e. the Holy Spirit no longer bestows such gifts to us anymore in this day and age. They argue that these gifts were necessary for the establishment of the early church as recorded in the book of Acts in the Bible but no longer necessary now that the church is well established. These gifts have ceased as they have fulfilled their purpose.
But Charismatic-Pentecostal Christians beg to differ, arguing that we cannot restrict the Holy Spirit and that through their own experiences of prophecy and tongue-speaking, it is evident that God still give these spiritual gifts to his people for his glory. In these churches, it is common to have Christians break out into ecstatic utterances that are believed to be praying in a heavenly or angelic language (or tongue). Those who believe in a “baptism of the Holy Spirit” often see tongue-speaking as evidence of the Spirit’s outpouring on an individual Christian.
In this blog post, I am going to share my thoughts on this supported by my research into Scripture. I will be drawing material from my previously published article, “Speaking in Tongues: A Cross-Cultural View” (The Banner, Sept. 2003, pp. 46-48).
(This post was originally published as “Have It Your Way? When the Church Embraces Consumerism” in The Banner, April 22, 2002, pp. 28-30.)
A new church recently opened in my neighborhood. How did I know? Well, it was hard not to notice when you were bombarded with letters, postcards and phone calls. I am happy that another church has opened its doors. What bothered me were the marketing techniques used. Besides the intrusive telemarketing approach, the postcards I received pushed a very clear message: we give you what you want. Anything from famous TV personalities and energetic music to fresh hot Starbuck’s coffee waiting for you at the front door! And I am not kidding. The Starbuck’s coffee was one of the church’s “selling points.”
I am not against good coffee or TV personalities. I am concerned that well-meaning Christians and churches are buying into consumerism, which says, “anything you want (not what you need), you got it.” Theologian David Wells, in his book God in the Wasteland (IVP, 1994), argues that North American evangelicals have allowed consumerism to turn the God of mercy into a god at our mercy, satisfying our wants (p. 114).
I want to take a closer look at consumerism. What is it? And how has it affected North American Christianity? Can the church use consumer and marketing models without compromising its faith? Continue reading “Consumerism and the Church”→
(This post is a revised version of an article with the same title originally published in The Banner, September 2004, pp. 48-50.)
At York University where I serve as Campus Minister and Director of a Christian student club, I have come across students who struggle with issues of identity. One female student, for instance, struggled with thoughts of worthlessness, feeling stupid and ugly. Another male student struggles with finding significance in his life. These students are essentially struggling with the question, “Who am I?” It is an issue of identity, of seeking to find your selfhood.
I want to explore a biblical, theological answer to this question. A big picture theological answer is important since our specific individual search for self always takes place within a bigger framework. In fact, our big picture framework influences how we carry out our specific individual search. Let me illustrate this with a few examples of how some distorted frameworks can in turn distort our individual search for self. Continue reading “Finding Your Self”→