Race, Ethnicity and Culture Part III

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Presentation during Lutheran Church in Senegal churchwide assembly, Anne Langdji is translating into French.

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Members of the Lutheran Church in Senegal including president of the church Thomas Diouf.

I was in Senegal recently. I was there for the purpose of continuing to build relationships with Lutherans in the country and specifically working with the Senegal Lutheran Development Service (SLDS) and the Lutheran Church in Senegal (ELS). I was asked to speak for the assembly of ELS and I was given the topic of “mutual submission.” (see the beginning of that presentation in an earlier post)

Using the text for the occasion I wanted to make the point about how we treat each other. It is as though the writer of the text says, wait a minute, I thought you were followers of Christ … so act like it. God loves you…so treat each other in the same love that you have been given…..and stop using power and authority to lord it over one another.   I used my relationship with my colleague Anne as an example. I told them that technically I was her boss, but because of her knowledge and expertise in the region where we work, I often have to listen to her advice and sometimes she has to listen to me because it is my responsibility to make certain decisions.

So, I finished my presentation, which by the way was translated from English to French and then to Sere, and then I was asked questions. One of the members of the church said that it was easy for us, Anne and I, because we come from the same culture. How were they supposed to do this when some of them were Sere, some were Pulaar, some where Jola? Looking at them I would say, if I didn’t know anything about Senegal, they were all from the same culture. They are all Senegalese. And it was evident to me that Anne and I are not from the same culture. So I laughed, because we are and we are not from the same culture and they are and they are not from the same culture. So, I tried to explain.

Seeing us  standing side by side, what they saw — two Americans. Standing side by side anywhere in North America what would be seen is an African American and a European American. Our histories on North American soil is very different, our experiences on North American soil are very different, our access to resources, power….. you name it, on North American soil could not be more different. Yet when I tried to explain, many looked at me with surprise on their faces.

Race, ethnicity and culture are complicated issues and are seen differently depending on where you are standing. I have learned this much and much more as I am westafricabound.

Mutual Submission a Conversation — Part 1

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The writer of Ephesians tells us that we should be “giving thanks always to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” After reading this text and looking at the theme for today, I asked myself the question what is mutual submission? If we are all Christians, male and female, from the north and south, east and west then what does mutual submission look like for us?

Well before I get too caught up in this mutual submission conversation, let us look at what the writer is asking of us. Before he asks us to be submissive to one another, he begins this fifth chapter of Ephesians talking about walking in love. In verse one he writes, “Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Then the writer continues using explicit language and instructions about how we can do this. He is insistent that our sexual behavior matters; the way we talk to one another matters; whether or not we covet what our neighbor has matters; whether or not we hold things as more important than our relationship with God matters. Thinking about how these things matter are ways we can consciously walk in love.

The author uses the law, which includes a lot of “do not” language in this fifth chapter of Ephesians, but he also uses a fair amount of good news and positive advice of what we can do.

We can give thanksgiving to God; we can walk as children of light, (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true) and the writer tells us to attempt to discern what is pleasing to the Lord, to attempt to understand the will of God. We all know how hard that is.

We are directly told by the writer that despite how hard it is, in our everyday lives we can address each other in words that are akin to psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, that will have us singing and making melody to the Lord with our heart. To me the writer is saying that a pleasant disposition is a key in how we interact. The writer is saying good and pleasant communication goes a long way.

Then, after all this advice the writer tells us to give thanks and submit ourselves to one another because of the love and reverence we have for Jesus the Christ. Did you hear what we are being told? We are to submit ourselves to one another because of the love and reverence we have for Jesus the Christ.

People of the Lutheran Church in Senegal, do you love Jesus the Christ?

So you can hear the author telling us that the fact that we are Christian means something and showing the love we have for Jesus because he first loved us is important. Because we are Christians and love God and one another we are in right relationship with one another and if we are not we are praying very hard that God will help us.

So what does this mutual submission look like between the Lutheran Church in Senegal and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America?

Well for me and those of us in the ELCA who work with companion churches all over the world, it looks and sounds like accompaniment. That we as we are in companionship are walking and working together to do God’s mission in the world.

So what do I mean? I mean that we all have a part to play and gifts to give as we do the work of proclaiming the gospel in the world. This good news that Jesus the Christ died for our sins and calls us to a new way of being, the good news that Jesus loves us, so we respond in love to one other — so that the hungry are feed, the naked are clothed and the prisoners go free —is life giving. It means that we respond to the love of God through word and deed the best way we can, using the gifts that God has given each of us.

So though some would say there is a founder and those who have been found, a donor and a receipt, a parent and a child, a world that only has so much, we are able to see things, anew; we are able to look at things differently because we bare the mark of Christ; we no longer have to think in the way that histories of colonization dictate.
We are free indeed to walk together, to be submissive to one another–to work in mutuality.

The word mutual is defined as having the same relation each to another. Add submission to that definition and we are talking about mutually yielding to one another… that one does not hold inordinate power over the other and an acknowledgment that we could each learn from the other.

So what does this look like for the ELCA?

(to be continued…)

I am westafricabound.

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