Friday, June 24, 2011

Crossing Cultures With Cupcakes

They moved in to the neighborhood several months ago. The women all wear long, black robes and black scarves that completely cover their heads and necks. Their faces are exposed. My curiosity was piqued by the fact that they often sat out on their driveway in plastic lawn chairs. This seemed like an openness to the neighborhood. But their very conservative dress made me hesitant. I was afraid that I might inadvertently offend them. I had no idea what country they were from or if they spoke English. Later I noticed the women were also sitting on furniture in the garage with the garage door completely open. This too seemed to me to express openness in spite of their dress. The problem was that when I saw them, I was usually working and on my way to the hospital or some meeting—no time to spontaneously stop.

So, I prayed for an opportunity. And I determined that the next time I was home and saw that they were sitting outside or in the garage I would walk over and introduce myself. A long time passed and no opportunity presented itself.

Then on Memorial Day I was working in the yard and noticed their garage door was open. I quickly went inside our house and put some more appropriate clothes on since I was wearing my bathing suit and a short skirt cover-up. I figured this would definitely offend them. Then I remembered that I had a new batch of cupcakes and Rice Krispy bars for our guests arriving later. But I also know I always have way too much food whenever I have company. So I put some of the cupcakes and bars on a plate and covered them with saran wrap. Then I scribbled our names and phone number and address on a Post-it Note and attached it to the top of the saran-covered plate. I said a prayer and walked outside. But all the preparation had taken long enough that my neighbors’ garage door was closed. What to do? I said another prayer and determined there was no turning back. I would have to ring the door bell. I did.

It took them a while to come to the door. I could hear a lot of commotion inside. And most of it was not in English! Finally, an adult woman, dressed in the full black robe and scarf, came to the door, talking on the telephone. I held out the plate and tried to explain what I was doing. The woman smiled but shook her head. Quickly an older man and another woman appeared. The gentleman seemed to understand and said something to the women, and they took the plate of goodies. Then two small children poked their heads out the door. They were speaking English! I was saved! I explained to them what I was doing—welcoming them to the neighborhood. They all smiled and nodded and seemed genuinely appreciative. They closed the door, and I left. I wasn’t sure if my mission was accomplished but I at least was grateful for the opportunity to try to reach across the cultural divide.

Two days later I arrived home from work and found a plate of flatbread on our kitchen counter on the very same plate I had delivered the cupcakes and bars on. My husband, Drew, explained that an older woman, dressed in black from head to toe had rung the door bell and given him freshly baked flatbread. She spoke in her native tongue. Drew said the bread was still warm and delicious—which explained why half of it was already eaten! It was wonderful and a wonderful affirmation of the power of crossing cultures with something as simple as cupcakes. I felt a deep sense of joy over what might be ahead. I am not much of a textbook learner. I am more of a dive-in-and-see-what-happens learner. I could imagine all that I might learn from getting to know these neighbors, including how to show and express the love of Christ to them respectfully and clearly.

A few days later a younger woman came by with two small children and brought a pan of Baklava. She spoke English. Drew told her that an older woman had come by with bread earlier, she said, “Oh! That was my grandmother. She did find the right house!” The two small children were oo-ing and ahh-ing over our pool, so Drew invited them to come swimming sometime. We will definitely follow up on that soon. I think the swimming pool might cross cultures even more than cupcakes!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A More Visible Church

Today four congregations in Downey California were much more visible. Today congregations from four different denominations worshipped together celebrating the birthday of the Church and the gift of the Holy Spirit. We did this in a city park. And we got to that park by parading down the sidewalks, each congregation joining the parade as we went along. You have heard of progressive dinners? This was a progressive Pentecost parade. It was a beautiful thing to behold. Men and women, boys and girls of all ages carrying banners and balloons, and wearing red walking (some in strollers and one in a wheel chair) through our city on our way to worship in a park. We were much more visible today. We were outside the walls of our respective buildings. That made us quite visible. But we were also together. This also made us much more visible. Racially and denominationally, Sunday morning is said to be the most segregated hour in America. Not for our four congregations today. We were seen together. And we were enjoying being together.
Once at the park we were much more visible. Our worship was done out in the open, in the round around a park pavilion. Children were running around. Some people arrived early and some late (as usual). Our music was much more visible thanks to a trombone ensemble, a vocal ensemble and everyone singing together. We sang in Spanish, we sang in English, and we said the Lord’s Prayer in many different languages all at the same time. What a glorious Pentecost sound! And what a visible Church! Neighbors near the park, cars driving by, walkers and joggers, people coming to the park for recreation—all saw the Church. There was no traditional sign posting this was the Church. The sign was in our being together. The sign was in our uniting around our one faith in Christ sealed by the one Holy Spirit given to us for life together. The true Church, the one that belongs to Christ and knows no geographic, structurally, or denominational boundaries was gathered and very visible. It was a glorious sight! It was a glorious sound! The tongues of fire were not over our heads. The tongues of fire were in our hearts and the result was that we all heard the good news in “our own language”—the language of our hearts. Today the Church was much more visible.

Of course where there is fellowship of the Spirit there is always food! We shared a birthday cake for the Church of Christ and the Spirit that makes it alive. And there was coffee. Always there is coffee. Worship, cake, coffee—together they made a celebration visible for the community. Today the Church was much more visible. I pray that the Spirit of God who gives us life, and that same Spirit that gathered us in the park today, will send us out into the world with the Spirit’s fire in our hearts so that the Church will be much more visible wherever we go!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Blogger Blunder

Blogging begets blundering.  This blogger, in order to post, gets excited about something, feels inspired, or is provoked by some injustice or human foible. In each of these cases it sets me off writing. And I have to strike while the iron is hot, or, I should say, blog while the passion is high. Problem is this creative impulse does not always lend itself to having time to check all the facts and details. 

In my blogging infancy I have been caught blundering. A good friend and colleague and gifted musician has caught me blogging about music beyond my expertise. I am deeply affected by music. But my knowledge of music and musicians is very limited. 

So my blog on the church as global cover stands corrected. Gimme Shelter by Playing For Change features musicians quite famous and instruments quite expensive. Who knew Taj Mahal  was a world class musical veteran or that an old National Steel guitar could look so bad and be priceless? This blogger certainly did not. 

But my friend also graciously suggested the analogy still remains. The diversity of our churches are even richer because of the mix of ordinary and extraordinary players. They may include very gifted (though perhaps not famous) people with gifts that appear common (though really priceless). 

So, I stand corrected. I will continue to blog and continue to blunder. And I will learn thanks to friends who read and respond. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Church as Global Cover

Who would have ever thought that a sampling of amateur musicians from all over the world mixed by a sound artist could make such beautiful and moving music? And, to top the amazement, the piece is a remake of a beloved Rolling Stones classic. William Goodman and Playing for Change accomplished just such a musical feat. The Rolling Stones classic, Gimme Shelter, performed by a mix of professional and amateur musicians from all over the world by the international music collective has brought tears to the eyes and goose bumps to the flesh of millions of listeners—compliments of You Tube, of course. Check it out at or

Listening and watching this video I could not help but think about the church, the kingdom of God. I am not talking about the buildings or the denominations but the incredibly diverse group of people from all over the world who claim the name of Christ and therefore are connected by the Spirit of God. This is the church Jesus inaugurated and spoke about. This is the church that will celebrate almost 2000 years of life on June 12, Pentecost Sunday.

As I watched the Playing for Change video of Gimme Shelter, I was amazed at the variety of people and instruments. The people looked very ordinary and some of the instruments were homemade and some were worn and unimpressive. It reminded me so much of the church I serve. It is full of a great diversity of very extraordinary and ordinary people. And they are from all over the world. We have Filipinos, Mexicans, Guatrmalans, Puerto Ricans, Taiwanese, Venezuelans, and some Swedes and Norwegians as well! None of us are famous for anything or have any notoriety to speak of, we are all very common instruments, some very worn and unimpressive by the world’s standards. But these dear people are making music that is beautiful and moving. They are being led by the Spirit of God to be a church that is very different than most. The older dominantly Anglo members have given full support to the transformation of the congregation so that it is a accurate reflection of the neighborhood. Once a upper middle class professional gathering, it is now filled with single parents, immigrants from many countries, ex-cons, unemployed, and every other common every day walk of life. Together they make beautiful music. They work together to make a safe place for our neighborhood children to have recreation, art and music, and homework support after school. Together they help to repair and rebuild one another’s homes. Together they provide a safe place for someone just out of prison after 30 years of incarceration to find shelter, work, and community. Together they are struggling through very challenging economic times in order to remain faithful to an unusual mission for unusual times. This local congregation is a “global cover” mixed by the Spirit of God. And when combined with the church universal, all across the globe, the music produced cannot be captured on any media no matter how technologically advanced. The global church—ordinary and differently gifted people of every tribe and nation—is the extraordinary symphony directed by God that is marching ever so slowly but certainly toward a new world order. Though Family Radio had the timing wrong. The truth remains. God in Christ is building his kingdom and nothing will prevail against it. And one day, when the Good Lord determines the time is right, all those who claim the name of Christ—the Church—will be gathered singing a global cover song that will ring out for eternity. I, for one, can hardly wait!