During the month of November members of the Word Made Flesh team share reflections on partnership and challenge us to move beyond our current understanding of what it means to be partners with one another to the glory of God and for the advancement of the Gospel in word and deed.
Sitting in a meeting in our hotel’s conference room outside of Kathmandu, Nepal, I found myself distracted and disengaged. A wave of anxiety, the afterbirth of the release of that odious phrase dominant culture, had crept up and smothered me. These two words, uttered just moments before, were reverberating like an obstinate pinball through the alleyways of my mind. And though the air continued to buzz with discussion and thought on the role of North Americans in the mission of Word Made Flesh, I remained silent, held prisoner by my worry. This is me. I am a white, North American male. I come from a dominant culture.
I was at Word Made Flesh’s (WMF) 2009 International Field Forum, where our focus was on partnership, the so-called round table where our international community might gather in mutual submission and trust. I imagined how such a table has historically looked: tilted grossly to the West, like a seesaw occupied by a lone child. Those on the weightless side, teetering involuntarily in the air, were dutifully nodding their heads in approval of any idea thrown at them. Acutely aware in that moment of my identity as a white North American and my role in a society that is guilty of injustices ranging from institutionalized racism to genocide, I became overwhelmed by the thought of what it might take to right so many of the wrongs that have been committed over time. After returning from the conference, however, and after mulling these thoughts around in my mind, I have come to the conclusion that the dream of re-directing and equalizing power among all of our international partners can only be realized if we make humility our starting point.
Humility exists on two levels. On one, it can be simply defined as the absence of pride. On another, it can be attributed to someone who is low in rank or status. As a white male from North America, in order to be truly humble, I must not only reject my pride, but must also throw my status away in submission to others who do not come from dominant cultures. In their book Being White: Finding our Place in a Multiethnic World, Paul Harris and Doug Schaupp call white people (and I might add anyone from a dominant culture) to “ongoing repentance, humility, self-awareness and a learner’s posture” (p. 128) and “to become comfortable with giving up power in relationships, with having people call [them] on [their] sin” (p. 149).
As a western Christian involved in mission, therefore, I can no longer continue to hide my culture’s history of oppression, colonialism and racism. While acknowledging these things, I must choose to renounce the power and dominance I intrinsically possess. Through open and honest discussions, real listening and the empowering of others to make decisions, we will find ourselves on the way to partnership and the one new humanity described in Ephesians 2, reconciled both to God and each other.
The phrase “dominant culture” no longer has its life-threatening grip on me. While acknowledging the privilege from which I have come, I choose to claim and confess the sin in which my culture has been entrenched for too long. In denying my power and listening to others, the dream of racial justice and equality is attainable. These days I am finding that I am more and more grateful to be a part of this WMF community, a group of people who are not settling for easy answers, but who are willing to do whatever it takes to proclaim in its fullness a God’s reign of peace, love and equality. As we continue to enter into more discussions like the one we had in Kathmandu, I gladly anticipate our tilted roundtable becoming a little more level.
While endlessly dreaming of Moldovan hills and vineyards, John Koon spends his time serving as an educator at the Valley House in Galaţi, Romania. You might also find him playing the cello, water skiing or drinking warm milk before bed.