So Kathleen and I had dinner last night with a good friend of mine – he’s actually a recent newlywed, and they graciously invited us over for dinner. He teaches here in town at a private Christian school, 5th-8th grade in various subjects, that serves a predominantly lower SES community of African-american and Hispanic families.
So it’s 3 Caucasians and one son of immigrants Chinese-American eating dinner together, talking about the experiences of him as Caucasian teacher who has to earn his respect in front of the kids, because they all have this unspoken mistrust of him, presumably because he represents all that has tried to shaft their community. It’s complicated because the African-American community here in Dallas (and esp. West Dallas) have good reason to mistrust the Dallas power base of Caucasians, because back in the 70s, the city council tried to do some shady things that really angered the African-American community (or so he hears from various members of the school and associated church).
Anyway, we were just talking about how he’s found the experience to be refreshing, and a real eye-opener to how some people really do come from a different place, in terms of social preparation and family life. One kid said that he doesn’t think my friend, the teacher, means anything he says because he doesn’t yell it. After all, his mom just yells when she means it. The teacher just speaks sternly without raising his voice – why should he pay attention? Another example of just being from different worlds, worlds that just seem to operate by different rules from our upper middle class suburban backgrounds, is how the kids, no matter how red-handed the teacher caught them, immediately refuse to take responsibility. “I didn’t do it. No, really. It wasn’t me. It was Timmy/Susie/etc.” Parents are sometimes at their wit’s end as well. And some parents also tell the teachers that they’ll do something to help their kids out. And totally not do it.
I see some of the same here in the large county hospital where I am spending many of my days. There are people who come here, it seems, just to use the place as a hotel. Looking for “three hots and a cot,” we say at times. They’re seen in the ER, and they have a multiplicity of medical problems, so they’re admitted for an inpatient stay. But they refuse to cooperate, refuse to stick to their medications, eat lots of extra sugary snacks if they’re diabetic, and so on. I just don’t understand where they’re coming from. I also just don’t understand how a hospital stay a year ago for a pretty bad heart condition doesn’t convince someone to go to their scheduled follow-up clinic appointment, which was made for them when they left, so they could keep up their medications and get care. The system here, although not perfect, is pretty darn good for the person who wants to stick with it and get care. But if they never come back, we can’t help them. We can’t give them their medications. And I just can’t imagine how they think, how they see the world.
Then, we wondered about why there are so few African-American Reformed churches, but why the Presbyterian church is so strong among S. Koreans. And how Jet Li’s movie “Hero,” as a picture of Chinese culture, ties into a possible asian predilection towards Reformed theology. And how perhaps, just maybe, the key to removing cultural barriers in the Church, at least in the US, is to appeal to what the Church is, regardless of the US, meaning drawing on the Church historic – liturgy that is not distinctly of a US flavor. Something that isn’t as laden with cultural biases, or at least baggage, that the pop-megachurch/CCM/caucasian middle class church brings with it. He predicts that conservative episcopalianism may be where it’s at in the future. I’m not sure I agree, given that episcopalianism is also the denomination of choice in the northeastern US among the caucasian power base (aka politicians) that is usually seen (from what I hear and read) as largely unresponsive to the needs and concerns of the African-american community, only giving them lipservice.
But I am intrigued by his notion of moving back to something pre-1700s, in terms of finding a notion of Church and liturgy that is less culturally charged, at least in terms of black-white relations in the US. That might be one way to minimize some of the present issues with worship styles, preaching styles, etc. But I don’t know how African-americans see that. I don’t know of many Roman Catholic African-Americans, and if culture-bypassing liturgy were going to be attractive, I would imagine there is some there. We just talked about how it’d be really interesting if chunks of the Church just said to a different part of the Church, culturally, “Assimilate me. Teach me how you worship and why you do it that way. Let me learn about your life, and how it shapes how you worship.” And people humbly and prayerfully learned. And watched. And began to see the world a little differently.
Anyway, these were all just meanderings, and we wondered what it would be like to have an African-American friend there to work through this with us. Would they agree? Disagree? Be offended? Think we’re too academic and oversimplifying? Or maybe making it too complicated?Would African-Ameircans from different SE strata think different things? Caucasians from different strata? Other ethnicities?