By Rev. Rony Reyes
Easter is a reflection not of the Easter bunny, although our church kids enjoy egg hunting. Nor is it a meditation on a joyful series of events that concluded in a risen Christ. It is preferable to believe in the all-conquering Christ, which depicts the image of a victorious God. One tends to stay away, not to believe in a Christ that becomes the Suffering Servant. There is a painful journey to get to the event of the resurrection (Luke 24). Christ went through agony at the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46), a crown of thorns (John 19:2), a spear went through his side (John 19:34), culminating with the event of dying fixed to a cross (Mark 15:33-34), which is equivalent nowadays to dying in the electric chair. Christ endured these awful harmful acts in his emotional and bodily being. Yet there is the tendency to shy away from these topics, because they are not pleasant to reflect on.
The example of Christ is that he did not fit within the teachings of the religious leaders of his time, primarily the Pharisees and the Sadducees (Matthew 16). Nor did he fit the mold of the Roman Empire. He communicated the good news of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:20; Greek: basilea theou). He did not socialize with the elite, but with Samaritans (Luke 10:25- 37), drunks, prostitutes, and with sinners like tax collectors (Matthew 11:19). In other words, Christ did not fit the regular categories of the religious and imperial status quo. He became a rare thing, a strange fellow that did not belong in any category. Therefore, he became a threat to all.
Like Christ, our church does not fit the mold of being an Anglo congregation, or a Hispanic congregation, or a Japanese Congregation and/or a Burmese/Karen congregation, but we all form one church: North Shore Baptist Church (NSBC). It is hard to define NSBC. To make it more complex, the pastor leadership is composed of a Pastoral Team, not a Senior Pastor. Even our denominational leaders, when addressing or sending a letter of recognition do not put in all the pastors’ names. Maybe it’s more complicated adding four names, than simply one or two. The point is that NSBC is a rare thing and we are proud of it. We are the alternative of other congregations. The question is, how do we define ourselves?
I would like to suggest the metaphor is of a hybrid car and its pistons. According to the web site auto.howstuffworks.com, the first hybrid car was the “Lohner-Porsche…first advanced electric car and the technological star of the 1900 Paris Auto Show.” It was invented because gas cars were noisy and smelled bad. However, the battery did not hold much charge, so “Porsche added an internal combustion engine that ran a generator, making the Elektromobil the first vehicle continued next page Page 2 to combine an electric motor with a gasoline-powered engine.” So sorry folks, it was not the Toyota Prius nor was it invented in the 1990s or 2000s. So what makes a hybrid car is that it runs on both battery and gasoline—It is not just electrical or just gasoline but both makes one. Sounds much like our hybrid church. We have Asian Americans, Latin@s, Anglos, and African-Americans, Africans, Caribbeans, and Asians. We are a mixture of everything. This hibridez (hybridity) expresses itself in our church by each group worshiping God in their own identity and particular language—The Karen worship in Karen, the Spanish Language congregation in Spanish—this both affirms and celebrates the identity of each group.
Where we encounter the “other” is through our “combined services,” in which each group contributes to the worship service in their own language, through reading of scripture in their own language, and singing songs in their particular language. Another encuentro (encounter) happens when we have meals from the different groups, such as the Salvadorians’ pupusas or the Karen spicy meals. So this hybrid church goes back and forth from one identity to another. We celebrate our identities but we enjoy the sharing with the “other” congregations. And this leads me to my last car metaphor, the pistons. The pistons of a car either work smoothly or run very fast. Professor Daniel Orlando Alvarez describes hibridez as, “the experience and movement between identidad (identity) and otredad (otherness). Depending on the experience it may be delicate dance or a tumultuous back-and-forth experience similar to the incessant motion of pistons in a car engine.” (Latin@ Identity in Pneumatological Perspective) Yes, sometimes our church runs smoothly, and sometimes our combined services are called, “holy chaos,” or as Alvarez puts it, encontronazos refer to messy interactions.
Messy or not, so we are told by our members, that our greatest gift is hospitality. Jesus touched the lepers (Mark 1:40-45), which were the outcast of that day; we continue to welcome the stranger and we strive to welcome the undocumented and all of those that are hurting. So the challenge is in front of us to continue to be a hibrido church, thus, welcoming those that perhaps do not fit in the mainstream society. This Easter those looking for a single ethnic church are going to be disappointed, but those seeking to be loved and accepted just as they are, then: “Welcome!” After all, Revelations 7:9 says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…”
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