Many years ago, before I even thought about moving to America, I spent a summer overseas on an experience placement with the Mar Thoma Church in Kerala, South India. The placement was organized by the Church Mission Society (CMS) and it was and still is foundational to how I live out my faith. In the short time that I was in Kerala I experienced what it meant to be a Christian when the majority of the people around you were not. I experienced worship that was from the heart and a liturgy that was alien but also familiar at the same time. I also learnt from other Christian’s how to live in community. I experienced acceptance in the shadow of rejection (I will always be grateful to Helen and Shonagh for being there for me – I have been a terrible friend and a very poor Godparent but you are always in my heart). On return from India I continued to work with CMS and one of the educational packs that they produced was called “The Christ We Share”.
The pack is a series of images of Christ from around the world along with lots of support material. Images of a white, black and asian Christ. A happy and sad Christ, Christ through tribal eyes, a female Christ, a tortured Christ. Over twenty different interpretations of Christ but still a single shared subject.
Thursday nights at the Downtown Safe Haven (DTSH) consist of dinner, a house meeting and then time with everyone just being present and building relationships. A couple of weeks ago I took along my ‘The Christ We Share’ pack and invited folk to look through the images. John* came and sat next to me at the dinner table and started off by telling me that he did not go to church. He picked up the stack of images and started to look through them. “mmmm” was his response to an African portrayal of Christ. “why did you go mmmmm?” I asked and the conversation started to flow. An hour or so later we finished going through the pack and we had entered into more conversation than we ever had done before and on a deep and connected level. Christ himself used parables to teach complex theology in a simple accessible way. What tools do we use today effectively? And for that matter what opportunities are we missing by not using tools that could be available to us? Would Jesus keep a blog? Would he tweet? I think he probably would but I also believe that he would never abandon the personal relationships that he formed.
After John went off to do something else I sat down with two of our female residents. We laid out the image cards on the outside table. Having spent some time in silent reflection we picked up the image that we liked most and was most comfortable with and discussed each others choices. Then, we turned to the images that made us uncomfortable, but we had built enough trust within our little group to explore this uncomfortable side and all that could potentially flow from the discussion.
At the end of the night as I was putting the cards away I was struck by how the same image could provoke different reactions from people. Why was I surprised by that? How do I react when someone else has a different reaction to Christ than I do? What is my response? What should my response be? We are on a journey and there is not a single correct or incorrect answer and the answer I choose can change over time.
What I do know is, that despite our differences, despite how we see things differently, we share a single Christ.
In answer to the question “what holds Christian’s around the world together despite our differences” the simple answer should be “The Christ We Share”.
* Names have been changed.