By Hannah Stevens
It was just another simple exercise to open up the next session of the marriage retreat. The speaker invited us to close our eyes and imagine our Father in Heaven. He told us to open our ears and listen to what the Father might want to say to us. I closed my eyes, entering into the realm of holy imagination, and walked straight into the throne room. I walked confidently, expectantly, like a daughter coming into her daddy’s office knowing he will drop everything to receive her. I looked up into the face of my Father and saw His warm, accepting eyes looking straight at me. But with a shock, I saw that He was richly and beautifully black-skinned. My confident stride forward halted, fading into shuffling hesitation. My security evaporated into tentative uncertainty. Would I still be received? Did I belong? Did He still want me even though I wasn’t the same color as him? I shyly looked up at Him and I heard Him warmly, richly say, “Welcome to my family.”
The essence of the Gospel is about finding home. We are wired to long for it. We crave it deeply in our spirits, groaning beyond words. True home is eternity with our Father. But it is more than that. True home is eternity with our family. We are the bruised and battered, sin-riddled, and wounded but each sealed with precious blood. Each of us, dumbfounded and awe-struck, find mercy, acceptance, and welcome from a tender Shepherd who went to unfathomable depths to rescue us from ourselves, for Himself. This family transcends all racial lines, every cultural preference we didn’t even know we had, our pasts, and our family histories. It doesn’t matter what your dad did. You are welcomed to the table. It doesn’t matter if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. You bring value far beyond what you could ever earn or produce. This is the gospel: belonging in the family of God.
The place where we in Americanized Christianity have gone wrong is in thinking that we can only belong when people look like us, believe like us, and act like us. We cluster in our collective huddles around our pet theologies and doctrines. We say we are open to the broader family of the faith, but how many of us are breaking bread with fellow Christians who fall on the other side of the political spectrum? How many of us are finding rich connection with fellow brothers and sisters on the other side of the tracks? How many of us are “welcoming the stranger” into our homes and our hearts?
As Christianity has rapidly expanded the last decades, it has touched and is beginning to reach every nation and people group. A report by Pew Research center from 2010 noted: “Christians are geographically widespread – so far-flung, in fact, that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.” Christianity no longer has a geographic center of leadership or a prominent racial majority. This is a truth that we need to understand. There is no center of global Christianity. God’s work is burning through Asia. It is running through the Middle East. A song is coming up out of Africa. The Americas are hearing of the suffering of so many brethren for the sake of the Gospel in other nations and are starting to realize how much further we have to go. Christ’s work and His family are stretching across the globe. There is no center. Given these truths, my gentle suggestion is this: let’s get ourselves out of it.
Lord, deliver me from self-centered Christianity, where the preferences of my culture and my particular theological viewpoints are the filter by which I view all other faith expressions. Where my skin color suddenly becomes the color of my God. Show me I am part of something much bigger than myself. Remind me daily that I am nothing more than the stranger who has found a home. As I have been welcomed, let me welcome others into the rich, gracious, diverse family of God and into the cross that unites us. It’s time to get out of the center and to turn our eyes towards the Man who is the center of it all.
Two weeks ago, I had the honor of attending the Nigerian blessing service of my friends’ newborn daughter. Though we were gathered in a fluorescent-lit, tiny building on the outskirts of Atlanta, I felt like I was in another country. As the Yoruba hymns rang out, I did my best in my white, bumbling way to sway with the rhythms of the drums. I was uncomfortable and self-conscious. I felt awkward and alone. However, as the sweet baby was publicly valued, honored, welcomed, and blessed, the Holiness of God filled the sanctuary. I saw the face of my Father in the people gathered. I heard His echo of love as we welcomed the baby into the community. The cultural disparities and our individual differences faded away as the Presence of God sweetly united us. I forgot about being uncomfortable. I forgot about having bad rhythm. In that moment, as a community, we entered into the Presence of Christ, who is and always will be the true center of our faith. Sitting there, in the presence of God together, we tasted the home that is to still to come, the home that awaits us.