Thursday, January 18, 2007

race matters

in a recent poll, 59% of quebecers (and 47% of canadians nationwide) self-identified as at least somewhat racist. 36% of quebecers have a bad opinion of jewish people, while 27% have a poor opinion of blacks, and a whopping 50% have a bad opinion of muslims.

you can imagine the reaction to that, especially in a multi-ethnic family like ours. critics are already challenging the results of the poll as skewed and unfair. they're at least partly right. i'd particularly be interested in knowing how 'racism' was defined in the poll or was understood by those who responded. only 16% of those who responded said they were moderately or strongly racist — closer to previous polls in quebec. of course, that's still one in six.

whether one takes the higher or lower estimate of the percentage of racists, the results are provocative in a nation that prides itself on being in the vanguard of tolerance and multiculturalism and which has the highest per capita immigration rate in the world. perhaps even more revealing than the poll itself was the response of public figures here in canada; to date, only the premier of quebec has responded publicly and he essentially dismissed the poll out of hand. there also seem to be remarkably few responses in the canadian media, other than critiques of the polling methods. some of the most thoughtful analysis that i've found has been published overseas, in korea and india (though apparently by a canadian)— both of which apparently send substantial numbers of people to canada.

racism is a subject that is often avoided in polite conversations. but whether or not we confront it, race matters. it's mattered for a long time, no matter how often some have tried to maintain otherwise. the bible has more than one thing to say about race, but here is a sampling:

there is neither jew nor greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in christ Jesus (galatians 3:28). this is what i think well-meaning christians mean when they say that race doesn't matter. no matter what our race, our ethnicity, our gender, our social status — all of us are equal before God and equally loved by him. but race and ethnicity continue to exist, just as male and female still exist as real categories that shape who we are. it's just that in Jesus, the differences don't matter as much as what we have in common.

for Jesus himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in his flesh the enmity, which is the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in himself he might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity (ephesians 2:14-16). this tells us that race and ethnicity should no longer divide us in Jesus and explains why: Jesus has broken down the dividing walls of hostility and made peace between the two in himself. that is, he has united people from different and previously hostile races and cultures (in this case, jew and gentile) in his own body, the church. it's one of the reasons why the church, in its various local forms, must demonstrate this oneness of heart, mind, and mission in a transnational, multi-ethnic way.

after these things i looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (revelation 7:9-10). here, we find that not only will people of every tongue and tribe and nation worship God together in eternity, they will apparently do so with ethnic and cultural distinctives that are still recognizable (though healed and transformed, no doubt). it's an amazing thought that something like race or ethnicity will be more valued and enduring than empires!

ultimately, race matters because God built racial diversity into our original human parents, and he isn't planning on eliminating ethnicity and culture, but will redeem them for all eternity. in a unity that is manifest in incredible diversity, God will reveal his creativity, his wisdom, and his amazing grace. and the beginnings of that are supposed to be happening now.

your kingdom come
your will be done on earth

as it is in heaven

(matthew 6:10)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

you have a calling

that was the theme of urbana 2006, inter-varsity's big student mission convention, held every three years. this year, for the first time in decades, the conference was not held at the university of illinois, but in downtown st. louis — a very different venue and feel for urbana compared to past years.

predictably, there were some wrinkles to iron out. food seemed to be a problem for many at the convention, with a high carb breakfast and long lines at lunch a common complaint. i found that amazing, given that st. louis is supposedly built for conventions three times the size of our 22,000+ delegation. seminar experiences were uneven. and as an old timer, i missed being on a university campus and that sense that we used to have of 'taking over' the place.

but while many things changed, some of the best things didn't. there were some excellent challenges from the platform -- for example, you can listen to sharon cohen's testimony about her work with the international justice mission or york moore's evangelism challenge. the worship was remarkable. you haven't lived until you've worshiped in the same auditorium with people from 144 nations, in many languages and musical styles, with music, dance, and song — a small taste of heaven. and the entire conference was built on the book of ephesians, which was both exposited (by the able ajith fernando) and studied inductively — a hallmark of inter-varsity's ministry over the last 75+ years.

when a conference has such a long and storied history, it's hard to live up to the hype. and with such a broad and growing audience, it's impossible to keep everyone happy. but this i know: there's something special about so many young people sacrificing a week of their christmas break, traveling long distances, and in many cases, spending a fair sum of their resources to come together to seek God and to pursue their place in what he's doing in the world. and God always seems to honour that.
i pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power toward us who believe. (ephesians 1:18-19)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

happy new year!

thank God for new beginnings. without the chance to start afresh, where would any of us be? the inception of a new year is a time to look forward, a time of anticipation about where God may lead and of seeking him for the resolve to say 'yes' when the time comes.

we pray that 2007 will be a great year for you and your loved ones — a time of drawing near to God, trusting him more deeply, and seeing his grace and power in extraordinary ways!
no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. 1 cor 2:9