Cross-cultural Discipleship (Richard Rohr)

Cultural differences in the body of Christ enable different types of people to draw near to the heart of Jesus. . . . Jesus did a fantastic job of knowing his audience and speaking directly to their hearts. For example, Jesus talked

  • sheep to shepherds,
  • fish to fishermen, and
  • bookish theology to bookish theologians.

He was all things to all people. I think that our differences enable us to speak richly and directly to the hearts of all types of people. . . .

Culturally homogeneous churches are adept at targeting and attracting a certain type of person and creating a strong group identity. However, attendees at such churches are at a higher risk for creating the overly simplistic and divisive . . . labels that dangerously lead to inaccurate perceptions . . . as well as hostility and conflict. What often begins as an effective and culturally specific way to reach people for Christ ends up stifling their growth as disciples. Perhaps this is because we often fail to make a distinction between evangelism and discipleship. People can meet God within their cultural context but in order to follow God, they must cross into other cultures because that’s what Jesus did in the incarnation and on the cross. [I, Richard, would add that Jesus crossed “into other cultures” quite consistently in his entire public ministry. This is rather hard to miss!]

Discipleship is cross-cultural. When we meet Jesus around people who are just like us and then continue to follow Jesus with people who are just like us, we stifle our growth in Christ and open ourselves up to a world of division. However, when we’re rubbing elbows in Christian fellowship with people who are different from us, we can learn from each other and grow more like Christ. . . .

For this reason, I believe that churches and Christian organizations should strive for cultural diversity. Regardless of ethnic demographics, every community is multicultural when one considers the various cultures of

  • age,
  • gender,
  • economic status,
  • education level,
  • political orientation and so on.

Further, every church should fully utilize the multifaceted cultural diversity within itself, express the diversity of its local community, expertly welcome the other, embrace all who are members of the body of Christ [which is everyone] and intentionally collaborate with different churches or organizations in order to impact the kingdom. And churches situated in multiethnic communities—I’m not letting you off the hook—should absolutely be ethnically diverse . . . seeing culturally different others as God’s gift to us.

New Images Help Us See New Realities

As St. Francis is often quoted as saying, “You must preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” This demands no “belief” or theology whatsoever, but only eyes wide open.

.. In the great basilica in Assisi where Francis is buried, there is a wonderful bronze sculpture of Francis inviting the Holy Spirit. Instead of looking upward as is usual, he gazes reverently and longingly downward—into the earth—where the Spirit is enmeshed. Francis understood that the Holy Spirit had in fact descended; she is forever and first of all here! There are artists who inherently understand incarnation.

Fear and Trembling in Las Vegas

A week with the street preachers of Sin City.

He gives me lessons in salesmanship. “You only have thirty seconds to make a pitch,” he says. “Whatever the product, you have to make them think they need it. Each person, you have to learn to mimic them. If they’re abrupt, you have to be abrupt. If they’re open, you have to be open.”

.. According to Ricky, you have to make it clear they need the product—weed-killer, say—without insulting them: “You have to say, you’re doing such a great job with those cypresses, but I couldn’t help noticing a couple leaves are wilting.” Being vulnerable, he says, is often a great sales tactic. Personal stories create the illusion of connection.

.. Until 2005, casino hotels such as the Bellagio treated the Strip outside their doorstep as their de facto property and street preaching was banned, the prohibition enforced by byzantine Clark County—Vegas’s home county—restrictions on the size of a banner a person could carry. Jim was arrested under such restrictions in 2005.

.. It was then that Jim found an unlikely ally: the American Civil Liberties Union, not historically a friend to the religious right.

.. Clark County wanted to settle with him, he says, and spent the deposition asking if he’d take money in lieu of policy change.

.. Jim is partial, I come to learn, to the dumb routine, as a means of disarming those he sees as his intellectual enemies, accustomed to expecting someone who’s not “academically playing with all the cards.” Such a perception, he says, can work in his favor.

.. His only interest is in learning just enough theology to respond to the questions and concerns of would-be converts: “I have no desire to learn things that I’m not able to pass on in a practical way to other human beings. Learning for the sake of learning—I have no desire to do that.

.. “And I said, ‘Lemme ask you a question: once you’ve gone through that whole course and you graduate and you’ve got that diploma, how many people are you going to be able to talk to about this subject matter?’” The answer? Not many. “And I said, ‘Why take the time, then? Why don’t you spend your time down handing down tracts on the street trying to reach people for Christ, rather than getting another degree under your belt, so that you can feel like you’re kind of a mucky muck within Christianity?