The first time I walked into my future in-laws Christmas dinner, nearly all their family was present. Moments after I entered the house and removed my shoes (a Korean custom), a two-year-old girl dropped her bottle. I picked it up and tried to hand it to her. She did not take it. In her simple honesty, she merely looked at me like I was from a different planet. Indeed, I was.
It should be said, I was the only Anglo-American in the house. My in-laws moved to California from Korea about forty years ago. It made sense for the two-year-old girl to look at me perplexed. I was not part of her family. I looked different. I sounded different.
As the church, it becomes imperative for us to pay attention to who we are, to all our layers of identity and the assumptions that go with our identity. Who we are and how we do what we do send a message.
At the outset of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin asserts that without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God.
During my doctoral seminar last month, we explored the concept of “intersectionality.” Intersectionality draws attention to simultaneously experienced multiple social locations, identities, and institutions that shape individual and collective experience.
A professor of Gender Studies at the University of Southern California, Ange-Marie Hancock, has observed, “Intersectionality makes power visible.”
Each of us experiences multiple layers of identity at any given moment. Many of these layers of identity are subtler than my first encounter with my future in-laws at Christmas dinner.
One of my peers in the doctoral seminar from South Korea asserted, “You Americans need to see that you are the Roman Empire.” I thought, “Whoa.”
In the story of Acts, we see the significance of intersectionality emerge as people of different classes, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, cultural heritages, and religions meet in unlikely circumstances. We see some of these different layers of identity challenged, and as boundaries are dismantled, a new community emerges.
Think of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch or Ananias and Saul or Peter and Cornelius or Lydia and Paul. In each of these interactions, we see layers of identity intersecting and commonly-held boundaries dismantled. In Acts, the Spirit leads the church through these boundaries like water passing through soil. The insiders do not merely assimilate the outsiders. They all are changed.
In the New Testament letter of Ephesians, the apostle Paul asserts that God is creating one new humanity (Eph. 2:15).
As we pay attention to who we are becoming, we are also able to leverage who we are for the common good. This can be the deeply rewarding work of the church.
May the Spirit give us the grace and courage to see ourselves honestly and to reach out to other humbly.
Grace and peace,