majority culture

What I’ve learned from talking about ethnicity–Part 2

What I’ve learned from talking about ethnicity–Part 2

The following post was written by an Anglo staff member ministering with Destino.

In our ministry, there are some older staff who I look up to–Latinos and Latinas who have a deep relationship with Jesus.  Over these last few years I’ve heard them share what it means for them to follow Christ specifically from the perspective of being Latino.  They have expressed a wide range of feelings:  One was on staff because he wanted to see Christ use Latinos to change the world.  Another shared that in her life there had been a time when she wanted nothing to do with her culture and thought that “Spirit-filled” and “Hispanic” were opposites.  Another had considered his ethnicity irrelevant but then came to realize that he had been intentionally created as Latino by the Lord.

In my last post, I started explaining what I’ve been learning through various conversations, interactions, and discussions about race, culture, and ethnicity.  The first thing I learned was that I myself had an ethnicity and a culture, and that I should explore exactly what that means.

One of our values in ministry is that people experience wholeness through Christ in their ethnic identity.  God has made each of us, and if we are in Christ, the Bible says we’re a new creation–He’s re-making us as well!  One aspect of the Christian life is that we are discovering more and more of who God is, as well as who we are.  There are so many dimensions of who God is, that if we spent all of eternity learning and experiencing who exactly He is, we would never finish.  We would never read the last page; we would never see the last facet of the gemstone of His character.

I believe that although we are finite creatures, there is enough to our identity as human beings to fill a lifetime with discovery of who we are.  There are the relational roles you play–father, mother, child, etc.  There are also vocational roles–the things you do for a living or do for fun.  Everyone also has a gender identity, a citizenship, and a cultural identity.  For each of these roles, a Christian at some point ought to consider, “What does Christ’s death and resurrection mean for me as a ______ ?”  Here are some identity questions we Christians tend to ask today in America:

What does it mean for me to be a man or a woman in Christ?

How does the gospel change how I act as a spouse?

How does God want me to raise my kids?

How does God want me to act toward my coworkers?

Over the past few years I’ve had the privilege of listening in as my coworkers ask, “What does it mean to be a Latino/a in Christ?”  Naturally I started asking, “What does it mean to be a white person in Christ?”

If I believe that God knit me together in the womb and ordained my going out and lying down (Psalm 139), then it follows that my place of birth, ethnicity, nationality, and culture are not happenstance.

And if God ordained it, shouldn’t I consider what the gospel entails for this area of my life?

Maybe God’s plan for me in my ethnicity has to do with redemption or healing of past hurt.  Perhaps it means recognizing where I have privilege and power that could either be used to oppress or to lift up.

If I fail to ask the question, “What does God want for me in my ethnicity,” I can still experience Christ.  Just like I can still experience Christ if I never think about what the Gospel means for me as a man, as a husband, or a father.

But I can experience deeper life in Christ the more of my identity I probe.

For example, as I learned more of what Christ wants for me as a man, I treasured that aspect of who He made me to be, and desired to be more like Him in that arena.  The same goes for every other facet of who I am.

I am convinced that considering the totality of who we are, and what God wants for each facet of our identity brings glory to God and makes us whole.  We are being transformed as we are renewed by Christ, and we transformed people are used by God to transform the world around us and announce the sure coming of the Kingdom of God.

How about you?  What does God want for you in your ethnicity or your culture?

Devin is on staff with Destino in St. Louis, MO.  Originally posted on his blog.

Photo Credit:  John Hritz.

Posted by Devin Tressler in Culturally Connected, 0 comments
What I’ve learned from talking about Ethnicity—Part 1

What I’ve learned from talking about Ethnicity—Part 1

The following post was written by an Anglo staff member ministering with Destino.

One of the things I love about doing ministry with Destino is that we value wholeness in one’s ethnic identity.  Since our ministry’s mission is done in the context of a particular culture, we talk about culture a lot.  Let me tell you–this has been interesting for a white guy to be a part of.  I was thinking about some of the things I’ve been learning, and there were a few surprises.

I remember a time when I was really uncomfortable talking about race and ethnicity.  There’s a few reasons for this.  One of the common phrases we hear about race is “separate is inherently unequal,” from the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.  I think I had applied that to my thoughts about race and ethnicity:  different means separate, and so if we are to be equal, then we must be the same.  Another reason I’ve been afraid to talk about race and ethnicity is that I was afraid of saying something stupid or offensive.  But over the years I’ve been able to make more friends with people who are of a different ethnicity than me, and the more we’ve gotten to know each other, the more we’ve all been able to talk and ask questions about our different cultures.  It’s run the gamut from, “what’s that food called?” to “why do I feel like I’m interrupting people when I’m here?” or “why was I so offended by what so-and-so said?”  These honest conversations have blessed me greatly, and have taught me about myself, about the world, and about God.

Anyway, here’s the first lesson I’m kind of currently distilling:

I am an “ethnic”.  In my hometown there was an aisle at Walgreens for “Ethnic Hair Care Products.”  In my town that meant products that African Americans use, but that white people don’t, by and large.  At Shop ‘n Save there was also an “Ethnic Food” aisle, where one could find Bosnian canned goods, tortillas, and salsa that wasn’t Old El Paso brand.  There’s a subtle but powerful idea that the way we speak affects the way we think.  In this case, our language suggests that I am not ethnic.  On forms and documents I do have a race, but “ethnic” is reserved for people who aren’t like me.  So in other words “ethnic” means “different than me.”  Have you ever said, “I wish my culture was more interesting” or “American culture is just so boring compared to…”?  For me, I developed a love of travel and learning about different cultures, partly because I thought we were sort of devoid of culture.

My basic understanding of the world was that other cultures and customs exist beyond our borders, but they’re basically just different flavors of the way I do things.  I am the basic model, and they are the variety.

Here’s another one of my favorite phrases:  “plain ol’ vanilla.”  Vanilla’s really just the plain ice cream, am I right?  Well, if you’ve ever had good vanilla ice cream, then you know that’s wrong.  It’s actually a legitimate flavor, worth enjoying on its own for what it is.  Pistachio is not “green vanilla,” and orange sherbet is not just orange vanilla with a twist. Yet, we treat culture and ethnicity as if that were the case; as if, for example, Hispanic culture(s) were just “plain ol’ vanilla” plus some tropical fruits.

The first lesson I’ve learned about culture and ethnicity is that I have one!  To be white American actually consists of something!  If it’s the vanilla ice cream (I know…playing into the stereotype), then it’s a real flavor!  If I consider our nation’s cultural variety to be just variations on me, I disrespect my own culture’s value, and diminish all the others as well by trying to reduce them!

There are a lot of well-intentioned “we’re all basically the same” sentiments out there, but I fear that “we’re all the same” usually means “I’m normal and you’re all like me but a little different.”  Let’s face it, “you’re abnormal, but it’s ok” is really disrespectful at best, and has some destructive implications at worst.

Practically, I find it’s much more productive to talk about ethnic majority or ethnic minorities.  That keeps us honest and helps us give respect to the way we are.  I’m no more or less “normal” than my African American, Latino, Korean, or East African friends friends.  When comparing two cultures, “Which one’s normal and which is ethnic?” is the wrong question.

Devin is on staff with Destino in St. Louis, MO.  Originally posted on his blog.

Photo credit:  Brian J. Matis.

Posted by Devin Tressler in Culturally Connected, 0 comments