Ok, that was awkward. Working at Panera, plugged my headphones in wrong jack, so was blaring my David Crowder Music OUT LOUD for a full 2 1/2 songs before I realized what was happening. Appreciate the grace my Muslim table-neighbor just afforded me with her little aw-shucks grin!
Now, stop and examine your thoughts, your reactions to what you just read.
Go ahead. Think about your thoughts.
Did you read about a Christian who sheepishly realized his blatant, overt, Christian music blaring in the midst of a room that contains Muslims?
Or did you read about a dude who committed a public faux-pas by playing his music out loud in the middle of a public space?
Be honest with yourself.
If you reacted with the latter, then kudos to you! More in a second.
If you reacted with the former, you and me share a similar problem. There are labels in this mini-narrative that kind of stand out. We have a Christian pastor, we have a Christian music artist, and we have a Muslim person interacting in a public space. The labels, “Christian”, “pastor”, and “Muslim” color the way we interpreted the scenario. Our own experiences coming, perhaps, from some evangelical influences and a concept of “don’t be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ” combined with these labels makes us react in a way that some could call prejudice, judgmentalism, and perhaps a bit of fear. And look back up this paragraph and you’ll see that I’m right along with you there, too.
But Marty intended the second reading, a reading of simply humans being human together and the little quirks and mistakes that come into play in those situations. The labels, for Marty, were just a way of telling the story, describing the situation. No color was intended, simply a meeting of people.
This whole situation brings to mind a verse from Galations.
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 Galations 3:26-28
Now, before you cry “UNIVERSALIST!”, I’m not saying Islam and Christianity are equals. Please don’t go there. What I am pointing out is a truth in this letter from Paul to a church that was stuck in trying to figure out where people belong. Who is Jewish, who is Gentile? How do we categorize and classify people so that we know their “place” in this new society called the People of God? Where do we draw the lines that help us “control” what happens and how it happens?
Paul is saying that these things don’t matter any more for people in the Kingdom. No matter whether or not you have a Y chromosome, no matter whether or not you can actually trace yourself back to one of the 12 tribes of Israel, no matter your particular social status or class, you are an heir of Christ’s Kingdom, a chosen people, and children of God. This applies especially within the context of that chosen people.
But what about outwards to the rest of the world? I am not saying that we shouldn’t recognize differences in cultures and worldviews. If we go around stepping on other people’s views all the time, we can very quickly expect the same to happen to us with the inevitable smackdown. Full “color-blindness” is unhelpful because it denies those differences and even tries to impose a homogeneity on others that is unjust and ungracious (check out Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 for more on recognizing and respecting differences).
At the same time, though, if we rely on labeling and categorizing people, we get drawn into the stereotypes and into many of the cultural narratives surrounding those labels (like Muslims vs. Christians in the scenario above). One thing that we can do is recognize that, when we set aside those labels, we are all people together. And there is enough commonality in humans that, even with different religious, cultural, and ethnic contexts, when we are just humans together, it makes for a world that is a lot more peaceful and a lot easier to live in. God loves the whole world, no matter what labels we put on it. And, as the People of God, we are called to do the same.