This past weekend, Senior Pastor Jeff Jones shared Chase Oaks Church’s vision of being a church that embraces the other rather than turning away as we try to reach the 800,000 unchurched in our community. While most of us value diversity, some of us might not know how to embrace diversity. Here is the story of Stanley Wang, a member of the other, and his ideas on how to embrace those who are different from us.
I attended preschool at a small church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where my teachers thought I was deaf. They came to this conclusion because I didn’t respond to them when they spoke to me. I didn’t respond to them because I had no idea what they were saying, not even my name.
Up to that point in my life, the only language I ever knew was Chinese. I wasn’t normal. Because I wasn’t like everyone else, I was the other. Now that I’m an adult, I’m culturally like a Panda Express—I’m not apple pie American (I prefer cherry), and I would never pass for the real deal in China. I’m doubly the other.
On the other side of the other is the normal. In China, normal would be an atheist, heterosexual, Mandarin-speaking Han Chinese (the largest of 56 ethnic groups) male. In America, normal would be a Christian, heterosexual, white male.
Broadly in society, these groups are the standard. You never hear someone referred to as the white CEO or the male CEO, and you certainly don’t hear people talk about straight weddings. Everything that makes you different from those groups makes you the other. Being a part of one of those groups doesn’t make you good or bad. It makes you normal.
If we make it more personal, in each of our lives, we are normal, and we define who is the other. Basically, we navigate relationships through this filter of normal or other. And our tendency is toward our normal and away from the other—in or out. This is “common sense” and natural behavior. I like to hang out with people who are like me and not so much with people who are different from me.
Today’s political and cultural environment exacerbates those differences, pushing people further and further into their corners and into their echo chambers that reinforce what is normal while demonizing the other.
You might say we live in a free country, and we have the right to choose our relationships based on what we want for ourselves. While this is true, and we certainly have the freedom to stick with just the normal, Jesus didn’t.
In fact, throughout His life here on Earth, it seemed that Jesus gravitated toward the other. He ate with tax collectors, He touched the leper, and He made sure the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner were not forgotten. He even goes so far as to say in Matthew 25:40,
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
The most shocking example of embracing the other was God becoming one of us.
Philippians 2:6 talks about Jesus,
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Not only does He personally embody His love for the other, He calls us, His Church, to also love one another.
John 13:34-35 says
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The world will know we are Christ followers by our love for the other. In other words, if the world looks at us and sees people embracing the other, then the world will know the power and beauty of God.
So, what does that mean for us?
We should be welcoming, inviting, and open, but I’m afraid that isn’t enough. We can’t expect the other to enter our world and conform to our idea of normal. In God’s Kingdom, our normal is no better than anyone else’s, so it’s a silly thought to think that others should come to us and be like us. A friend reminded me the other day that, interestingly, the Bible never once talks about America.
Instead of just being open to the other, we need to go to them, be with them, learn from them, and begin to redefine our normal.
For us, the other, may be as close as our neighbors, our co-workers, or our classmates. But as the Body of Christ, we are called to reach further. Here’s just a few that come to mind.
People of color, LGBTQ people, Muslims, poor people, rich people, refugees, undocumented immigrants, liberals, conservatives, Millennials, Baby Boomers, single moms, single dads, Taylor Swift fans, Pink Floyd fans.
How beautiful would our church be if we were a community of others? At Chase Oaks, we say we are a “Come As You Are” community. But we shouldn’t wait for the other to come. We need to go and be in their lives.
This Christmas season, we can all take steps toward embracing the other.
For some of us, it’s learning about the struggles of being Black in America. For some of us, it’s learning to see past someone’s gender or sexual orientation to the see the person for who they are. For some of us, it’s opening our homes to the refugee. For some of us, it’s standing with our Muslim neighbors against hate. For some of us, it’s having a respectful political conversation.
For all of us, it’s beginning that journey to embrace the other so that we might see the diverse richness of the beauty of God.