Something special happened on Sunday. Non-religious people would call it magical. People of faith would describe it as the work of the Holy Spirit.
What happened was that the Thai Church I belong to and Hope Tabernacle which rents space from us spent the afternoon together out on the church lawn having what we call “One Afternoon on the Lawn.”
Pastors Pongsak (Thai) and Teague (African American) planned the whole thing. The event included components from both cultures. Hope Tab contributed gospel music by their praise team, an energetic sermon by Pastor Teague—translated sentence by sentence into Thai by Chauwarin (whose energy matches that of Pastor Teague)—a pantomime done to a gospel music recording by Cory Shorter Jr. who was in white face and wearing white gloves and which blew the crowd away, and the band.
The Thais contributed their own praise team leading participatory clap along songs, a game kind of like rock/paper/scissors, and a feast of Thai food.
What was poignant for me was this was all done in the wake of the tragedy in Ferguson and the tension which followed, and the acrimonious debate over immigration.
Here we were, Thais—all of whom are immigrants and many of which are not U.S. citizens—and the descendants of African slaves, not only enjoying themselves together but at times showing real affection for each other.
The thing is that all of it was done in the name of Jesus.
See, religion has at times been the fuel used by colonialists and hate mongers to dominate and oppress other people. That has to be owned, by religious folk.
But, last Sunday it was a shared faith that brought two groups together who would never mix if they didn’t share a church building. Not only did they mix, most people used words like “blessed” and “inspired” and “Holy Spirit” to describe what happened and why.
Religion, if we are fair about it, can be used to curse and also to bless. What did the KKK burn on the lawns of black folk? Crosses. Who is causing so much pain and displacement in Iraq and Syria? Isis, an Islamic group that wants to reestablish the caliphate, even if heads have to roll, claims Islam as the source of their brutal ideology.
But that is focusing on the misuse of religion, just like Prohibition in the 1930s focused on the misuse of alcohol.
To be fair, religion is clearly also the motivator for a whole lot of transformative good. The PADS shelter program around here was started by a coalition of mainly church folk over twenty years ago and is sustained by 1000 volunteers, most of whom get connected through their churches. The reconciliation commission in South Africa was headed by Bishop Tutu. Dr. King used protest which was non-violent because his faith demanded it. One of the doctors who caught ebola was in Africa as a missionary. Etc., etc. etc.
What happened at the corner of Brown and Dixon two days ago is an example of the great good religion is capable of producing, the fruit if you will of a healthy tree.