Racing Together @ Starbucks

Did you see THIS STORY in the news? “Starbucks to encourage baristas to discuss race relations with customers”

starbucks race together 02Starbucks is a business.

Starbucks sells coffee.  And sugary frozen drinks.  And tea.  And hot chocolate.  And expensive pastries.

Starbucks exists to make money for shareholders.

Starbucks has decided to take the risk of encouraging its baristas to discuss race relations in the US with customers.

Churches are not businesses.

Churches represent God to the world.  And usually make Folgers coffee.  And homemade cookies.

Churches exist to spread the message of God’s love throughout the world.

Churches, more often than not, choose not to risk discussing race relations but to remain segregated in black and white church buildings.

Why would a business, whose goal is to make money, show greater willingness to address controversial social issues than churches? This move is clearly not part of their business strategy for increasing sales. It’s a decision by Howard Shultz, the CEO, that his company should have a voice on social issues.

Why would a church, whose goal is to spread good news, not want to spread a message that God can bring racial reconciliation to this country? This message is clearly consistent with the greater message of the Gospel. Have we allowed a concern for congregational well-being to take precedence of faithfulness to the Gospel message?

Do you think that Starbucks baristas will have all the answers to improving race relations in the United States? I don’t. But their willingness to initiate the conversation provides the vital first step.

Too many churches, and preachers, and elders, are unwilling to begin the conversation because they feel that they don’t have all the answers. Answers won’t come by waiting for them to drop out of the sky. Answers come through listening to each other and working together to develop mutual respect and even love across ethnic boundaries.

Tragically, churches’ unwillingness to start these conversations denies the power of the Gospel. It suppresses the truth that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.“(1 John 4:4) It allows fear to seize control of the church. Perhaps fear has this power within the church because we haven’t cultivated the loving environment that makes our churches a safe place for these conversations to take place. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 Jon 4:18b)

Starbucks should never provide a safer environment than the church. Something is broken.

How would your church lobby look if you gave each attender this week a cup that said, “Race Together”, along with permission to start a conversation about race.

Communion cup 01Is it irony that each week we actually do hand each other a cup that says “Race Together”?

It’s a cup that Jesus gave us to remind us that he died for all humanity. (Hebrews 10:10)

It’s a cup that reminds us that all Christians form one body. (1 Cor 10:16-17)

It’s a cup that reminds us that we run a race…together. (Hebrews 12:1)

So church… Let’s #RaceTogether.

The Cultural Mosaic blog exists as my effort to initiate conversation on this topic.

I am also greatly encouraged by the work of the The Racial Unity Leadership Summit. This is an organization within Churches of Christ carrying out conversations about race. You can listen to recordings of their most recent gathering, which was held in Memphis, HERE. (The site has several events listed, so look for the heading “Audio Racial Unity Leadership Summit 2015”.)

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What We Celebrate Matters

I’ve mentioned this concept a couple of times in previous posts, which means I’m overdue to expand on the concept. What we celebrate matters.

Last Supper 01Jesus knew this truth. Shortly before his death Jesus instructed his disciples to remember his death through a simple meal. (Luke 22:14-20) I imagine that without this instruction the disciple may have decided to celebrate other aspects of Jesus’ ministry. Earlier the apostle Peter had wanted to construct shelters to memorialise the spectacular event of Moses and Elijah appearing and talking with Jesus. Other disciples could easily have chosen to celebrate Jesus healing ministry or concern for the poor.

How would the history of Christianity differ today if the first followers of Jesus decided to politicise His criticism of the religious establishment? Would they have sought revenge against the pagan Romans? Would they have sought to initiate an uprising and seize control of the temple, freeing it from apostate religious leaders?

Instead, Jesus preempts these possibilities by establishing a celebration of his death and his resurrection. This move required the first Christians to pursue understanding of his death. Why did it happen? Do you remember what he said? Do the Hebrew Scriptures speak of a resurrected Messiah? How does this impact us? Does this change our relationship with God?

The simple meal. The memory. The celebration. The understanding. Jesus directed the focus of future generations for thousands of years to the points that are most important.

Our churches still face the same opportunities. In addition to the Lord’s Supper, we get to decide what and who to celebrate.

I once visited a church and watched an elder call every one 18 and under who had a birthday that month to the front of the room. As they stood on the stage with him he prayed over those children. What an affirmation that these children matter to God and to the church!

I know of a church that hosts a VBS each year for special needs children. This event shines the spotlight of love and grace upon these children and their families, letting them know that they’re valued and important.

Last October, the church a friend of mine attends encouraged everyone to wear purple one particular Sunday in support of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This topic seldom receives attention from churches and this congregation sought to publicly stand with victims of abuse.

I recently saw a church workshop advertised with the theme, “Reprove, Rebuke, & Exhort”. This celebration clearly communicates what matters to them: Reproving and Rebuking. Getting things right. Doing things right.

I’m aware of many churches that have special “Mission Sundays” or “Ministry Fairs” as they highlight the need to send and support missionaries around the world, or the importance for members to involve themselves in church ministries.

Each of these churches chose to express issues, topics, causes, and people that they view as important through celebration.

It would be overly simplistic to infer that the reverse is true. Just because a church does not celebrate a particular cause or person does not mean that they don’t care. No one church can emphasise every issue. If they try to acknowledge everyone, eventually no person or cause is particularly special because everyone’s treated the same.

Which brings us back to where I began: What we celebrate matters!

With this in mind, I’m thrilled that my church celebrated our racial diversity last Sunday through a special day that we call Harmony Sunday. I’ve been part of multi-ethnic churches in the past who preferred not to acknowledge their diversity. Taking one day to celebrate the reality we see each Sunday communicates to the church and the community that each person matters. It reinforces God’s vision for his kingdom as a house for all nations. And most of all, it communicates that this topic is important, not an accident.

I am convinced that events like Harmony Sunday are vital for the good health of multi-ethnic congregations and those seeking to broaden their membership. Among many other benefits, this type of celebration gives permission for conversations about race to take place. It communicates a desire for the church to provide a safe place for dialogue.

Harmony Sunday

I talk to a lot of church leaders who would like their church to contain greater racial diversity. They just don’t know how to go about it.

As I often say on this blog… I don’t have all the answers, but I have some ideas.

One of the difficulties mono-cultural churches face is that they’re always inviting minority populations to come and join the majority population. As I’ve written previously, “What we celebrate matters”. If you’re a white American, can you imagine a Hispanic church successfully inviting the local Chinese community to attend their Cinco de Mayo event? Yet so often we expect other cultures to slip right into the events that we find valuable.

On this week’s blog I’m taking some time to describe what my church is doing to reinforce the Godly pursuit of racial harmony within His kingdom.

HARMONY Sunday 2015Next Sunday will mark the fourth time in seven years that we have hosted Harmony Sunday. This day celebrates the ethnic and cultural diversity God has brought to our church. In round figures we’re about 50/50 black and white. However, we have members, and regular guests, born in at least nine different countries. We also have members whose first language is one of four others besides English. Not bad for a church of 100.

On Harmony Sunday we use our regular Bible Class period to tell stories of inter-cultural experiences or to present academic research relevant to multi-ethnic churches. Then during the worship service the sermon presents a Biblical basis for pursuing a multi-ethnic church and the cultural challenges that come with this diversity.

For most of these events, and again this year, we bring in a guest speaker to share a fresh perspective. This year we have also invited a song leader from one of the black churches in Rochester to share the song leading duties. We are also going to begin our service with children placing 25 small flags at the front of the auditorium, representing the birthplaces and ethnic backgrounds of our members.

Fairy Bread

A vital element of our Sunday program is our meal. We invite everyone to stay behind after worship and eat lunch with us. Because food provides a very tangible connection to our cultural roots, we organise the meal as a congregational pot luck. Each family is asked to bring and share a dish that can be identified with a particular culture. For instance an Italian family might bring spaghetti. My “Australian” offering will be the very English shepherds pie, as well as some Vegemite sandwiches and some fairy bread for dessert.

This year we’ll be adding Ancestry Question Cards to each table as a discussion starter among our members. They’re not controversial questions, just prompts to help us share our stories with each other. For example:

  • How far can you trace your ancestry?
  • Do you know any significant facts/details about your ancestors?
  • Were there any special traditions and/or trinkets in the house that you remember as a kid?
  • Do you know where your surname comes from or what it means?

Finally, this year we will also add a Saturday evening roundtable discussion facilitated by our guest speaker. We have invited our elders, deacons, ministry leaders and spouses as well as a selection of other members. In total we’ll have about 15-20 present. This will provide an opportunity to discuss more directly some of the issues multi-ethnic churches encounter, such as:

  • Do you see culture as different or the same as race?
  • Do you regard our church leadership as having a particular cultural style?
  • How might this church’s worship service better reflect our ethnic diversity?

So here’s our schedule for the weekend:

Saturday Evening – Leadership Roundtable

Sunday

  • Bible Class
  • Worship Service with guest speaker and song leader
  • Lunch

Through all of this planning we hope to instill in our members the value that God created His church to provide a place of love and belonging for all nations. We want to remind ourselves not to take for granted the diversity God has gifted us, and that this Godly trait is worth working to maintain. We hope to demonstrate to our broader community that we are God’s children by the love we show to each other. We want God’s church to lead the community in the area of race relations and this is one step that we can take in that direction.