The Danger of a Single Story
Recently I listened to a TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie. She passionately reveals through her experience in Nigeria prejudice because of both ethnicity and gender. She is an alarm to our world to injustices because we do not understand other peoples’ experiences. If we listen only our own cultural stories and ignoring other people’s stories huge misunderstanding can occur and lead to very dangerous consequences. 1
Have you experienced misunderstanding by someone else? Or can you think of a time that you have been misunderstood? If we are honest, we can think of experiences on both counts. This is common for all people. For Christ followers the walls of misunderstanding need to be challenged. They can actually hinder the expression of our faith. They can contradict what we say we believe and hinder our voice in the world.
Peter is one of the founding leaders of the church. Even he had misunderstandings that God had to confront. The story is found in Acts 10. Two people with huge walls between them because of their cultural history were about to encounter the God who brings down barriers. Cornelius is a Roman soldier who is part of the controlling power of the time. Peter is a follower of Jesus who is Jewish and under the power of Roman rule. Jews and Romans tended to despise each other. Romans found Jews to be troublemakers who refused to swear allegiance to the Roman emperor and often cause uprisings. Jews viewed Romans as oppressive to their way of life and worship. But God had a different plan. Cornelius was not just any Roman. He was a Centurion used to power and in charge of other soldiers . But he was also respected because of his empathy for the Jewish people, his reverence for God and his concern for the poor. He was an exemplary man. Peter was a Jewish fisherman who kept to the Jewish purity laws. He ate only Kosher food and kept away from pagan influence. To violate that would be seen as impure and go against his Jewish heritage. When God gives Cornelius a dream and Peter an unsetting vision everything changes. Cornelius is willing to get spiritual guidance from a Jew. Peter is willing to welcome a Roman into his house. Because of this the Gospel is experienced by both of them. Cornelius is introduced to Jesus saving work and experiences the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. Peter experiences the expansive revelation that Christ is for everyone.
God is still about removing barriers and reconciling people to each other. In doing so He upsets conventional barriers and misunderstandings. What about us? What disturbing is the Lord allowed in our personal lives? Not everything upsetting is sometime to overcome or avoid. Sometimes the very thing that upsets us is the thing God is using to remove our misunderstandings. Here is a wild thought; what if the upsetting things happening in our country (and world) are actually things to wake us up to a new understanding of others? What if God is upsetting the status quo so that WE change and adapt?
For Christians the good news is that Jesus came to remove barriers between God and between people. He is a reconciling God. Jesus is the means of creating new communities of love acceptance and belonging.
Here are some questions to consider:
· What new understandings about the Gospel can we acquire through encountering
people who are ethnically different and whose worship differently?
· How is God presently breaking down ethnic, economic, gender or other cultural barriers? How are people resisting God in these areas?
· How can we put ourselves in places where new understandings of other cultures and what it means to live for God can happen?