I have always been fascinated by Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, where he talks about living in multiple worlds.
When he is with the Jews, he is a Jew.
To the weak, he becomes weak.
I have always appreciated the concept of being all things to all people. In many ways these words have informed how I have tried to live my life. Identifying with people, especially those who are different from me is important. I want to understand where the other person is coming from.
Until last week I never really thought much about the cost of “becoming like” the other person.
I was at a meeting with about 40 other folks, 37 of them were Anglos and 3 were persons of color. During one of the breaks, I went for a walk with a friend, one of the 3 minority leaders in attendance. We needed to stretch our legs.
We shared about our families. Both of us have boys who are growing and asking for more independence. After a bit the conversation changed. I asked what I was like to be one of three African-Americans in a group so dominated by Anglos.
His response was simple.
“I am tired.”
For my friend, moving out of his culture and engaging another culture had cost him.
In the Anglo world, he was always going to be the “African-American” voice. On the other hand, he had spent so much time going between two worlds that he could never fully go back to the world he came from.
Identification has cost him dearly.
I suspect that identification cost the apostle Paul as well. This may be why he talked about a heavenly citizenship. Paul knew that becoming all things to all people would exact a heavy cost.
Ministry will take a person out of what is familiar and known and ask that same person to engage cultures that are new and different – to become all things to all people. The cost: not being able to go back to where you came from and never being able to fully participate in where you are.
The only solution that I can come up with is to call people to a new culture. A culture where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one …