16 March 2012

Empathy, Community and Diversity

It wasn't until lately that I became aware of Jeremy Rifkin, and I heard about him because of a post on Invisible Children's tumblr blog. They say that Mr. Rifkin's work on empathy has inspired their work. Here's the video they shared to explain his influence:

If you skipped the video to continue reading, either go back and watch it now or save this post for later when you have time to watch the video. You must see this video.

In less than 11 minutes, Mr. Rifkin has left me with ideas that could take weeks to unpack, and a lifetime to work out in practice. Empathy and community, identifying beyond tribe, religion and nation-state. It's clearly what we see with an increasingly interconnected world, benefiting from instantaneous contact via the Internet. There are so very many of us now on this planet, more than at any point previously in history, but we are better able to connect and identify with one another than ever before.

From a theological perspective, the point about empathizing beyond narrowly-defined communities strikes me the hardest. The Book of Acts in the Bible describes the early church, formed entirely of Jews in the beginning, being forced by God himself first to accept Samaritans, and then all Gentiles. There was some contention over the matter, but no one could argue against what God was doing. Further, the teachings of Christ and the apostles, backed by the Hebrew Scriptures, made it clear that those who are God's children must have the best interests of all humanity in mind.

Through the centuries these high ideals have at times prevailed, but more often than not have been buried beneath ethnocentrism, xenophobia and greed. Churches that reach out with ulterior motives that are less than honorable (like the prosperity Gospel's exploitation of the poor) or else a shadow of the biblical calling (seen in those who do good for the poor only in the interest of making converts) do little to advance the mission of God in the world.

Christians are called to be a universal family, belonging to God and led by him to do good to all. We are brought together out of all nations and born into a new family. Often we get it wrong, but I'm thankful for the times and ways we get it right.

My home church, Central Jersey Church of Christ, is one that gets it. We are currently composed of people from 43 nations, and we reach out through our local chapter of HOPE worldwide to minister to the poor without expecting anything in return. We aren't perfect, but I'm confident that we are on the right track.

Recently we celebrated our diversity in our annual "International Sunday," and I leave you here with the video of the flag presentation. My wife and son represented Brazil

"So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." - Galatians 3:26-29 NIV