By Harry Rowland
Growing up in the home of a entrepreneur, personally majoring in Business/Pre-law and having two children eleven months a part–one a perfectionist who is as creative as they come and the other a law student–negotiations are just part of my life. This is never more true than at Christmas. These latter years the negotiations relate more to logistics and who does what, but in the earlier years it was what is the earliest acceptable time when Christmas presents–or a single exploratory Christmas present– might be opened. So, I’m accustomed to the early revealing of Christmas presents.
This year’s early Christmas reveal occurred during a CBF Dawnings Retreat at FBC Norman, OK. Present for this three-day experience were one African American congregation, three Native American congregations, and three Anglo congregations. They came from different parts of the state, as different ethnic groups and with different hopes. At least that is what initially was believed. During the retreat, deep spiritual conversations occurred, personal stories were shared and expressed hopes found sympathetic ears.
As I enjoyed a meal with several from the Native American churches, the conversation turned toward sensing God in their context. I was shown beautiful pictures of Biblical stories portrayed in Native American art forms. Jesus in buckskin trousers, a fringed tunic, and braided hair with turquoise colored bands, kneeling before a large rock in a vast plain with cactus nearby and flattop mountains on the horizon–this helped me sense the Garden of Gethsemane prayer with new feeling.
As I sipped coffee with several from the African American congregation, the conversation also turned to where we see Jesus in our context. Once again I was shown pictures. These of one of the church’s traditional community events–a live nativity presentation with animals borrowed from local ranches (who knew there were camels in Oklahoma) and church members as the Holy Family, shepherds and wise men here and there. Dark skinned angels singing before a well-behaved baby Jesus with a perfectly maturing Afro brought warmth to my soul as I imagined the deep heart hope of “peace on earth” expressed by the actors.
The host church FBC Norman took us on a tour of their recently renovated facilities. We gazed upon historic stained glass windows portraying the spread of the Gospel of Jesus preserved in new locations around the church. Several windows showed tunic wearing European looking characters dramatically fulfilling the Great Commission.
As I journaled the morning following the retreat, it dawned on me that I had been treated to an early Christmas reveal. I had experienced a taste of heaven! In the beautiful rooms of FBC Norman, varying ethnic groups came together. However what was present was not the differences inherent in our ethnic heritages, but rather the common culture we had as followers of Jesus! We met as a multi-ethnic gathering AND as mono-cultural disciples of Jesus. The differences in our ethnic heritages contributed brilliant color, jaw dropping beauty, keener eyes, gentler ears and passionate hearts to our shared culture in Jesus the Christ.
My early Christmas reveal was experiencing a few days of “heaven on earth” –unity and hope in a shared common culture enhanced by the beauty and brilliance inherent in our varying ethnicity enlivened the gift of Immanuel–God with us.
Harry Rowland is CBF’s director of missional congregations who coordinates and facilitates the Dawnings process for churches throughout the country.