God’s Tapestry: It’s a colourful world

That’s the theme the Cross-cultural Mission and Ministry Unit has chosen for 2014.

Tapestry is a good image for the colourful world we live in. Who can deny the beauty, the rich and diverse textures of the world? And what is a tapestry before the weaving commences and the strands are interlaced? Individual fibres of various textures, some smooth, some rough. Threads of many tones and types, drab and bright; colours that complement and clash.

And yet the weaver sees in these differences the possibility of a new creation – the different strands are skilfully interlaced together.
A tapestry depends on differences, thrives on variety. Imagine if all the fibres were the same. The lavish beauty would be lost.

The Master Weaver loves diversity. The universe is made up of suns, moons, planets, stars and galaxies. Our world has a diverse range of mountains, valleys, seas, lakes and rivers, deserts and the wetlands. Then there are the trees and plants that grow in our bush and gardens.

Finally, when we look at humanity, we see a great diversity of peoples and cultures, let alone the diversity within nations.
We have short and tall people, sturdy and thin. Humans of different colours and shades. God’s tapestry is the colourful world we are all part of and live in.

Within our Church there is great diversity. Small and large. Conservative and contemporary. Orthodox and progressive. Anglos and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) congregations and faith communities. Some are multicultural but many others are mono-cultural.

I support ethnic-specific or language-specific congregations but I do not support ‘silo-mentality’ congregations.

Silo-mentality congregations often remain within their own walls; operate as if it were the only or most important part of the Body of Christ. We need each other for we are the threads, fibres, cords, yarn, filaments, twine, and cables that the Master Weaver wants to interlace together, not remaining separate strands.

We are a multicultural Church and it is a multi-coloured Church.

Did you know that colours have different meanings in different cultures? For example, in Western countries, white is a positive colour, it symbolises purity and divinity. It is associated with marriage and birth.

In Asia, North Africa and black Africa, white is the colour of mourning and old age. To be culturally sensitive, we need to know the meanings of different colours in different cultures.

Colours are also used to symbolise different races. The two common colours used to distinguish race are black (or coloured) and white. Unfortunately they are often used to differentiate and assume one colour (race or culture) is more superior to another.

This, of course, was the central folly of colonisers and well-intentioned missionaries who believed they needed to ‘improve’ the lives of indigenous people by bringing them Western morals, values and religion, trampling and devaluing local cultures and traditions in the process.

In short, the ‘three Cs’ of colonisers and missionaries were: commerce, Christianity and civilization.

“I don’t see colour when I look at people. I am colour-blind.”

How many of you have heard this before? Colour blindness suggests that the best way to end racial discrimination is by treating everyone the same. However, race does exist and it does determine what happens to people.

Pretending not to see race does not make the problems of race go away.

Instead, colour-blindness exacerbates these problems because they do not get addressed. We want to eradicate racial inequality, not create racial blindness.

Telling me that you don’t see me as a Chinese is not only a lie, but it is also incredibly dismissive of who I am and my experiences.
Sometimes I say to my friends: “The first thing you must do is to forget the fact that I am Chinese. Second, you must never forget that I am Chinese.”

While our image is one of ethnic and cultural diversity in Australia, and in the Uniting Church, on a community/congregation level we tend to prefer homogeneity rather than diversity.

We feel more comfortable communing with people who share our social class, values, and beliefs. We prefer interacting with people who look like us.

Maybe it’s a ‘Birds of a feather flock together’ mentality. But I believe as God’s colourful people we need to embrace a different idiom: ‘Birds of different feathers serving the world together’.

In diversity there is beauty and strength. If people were all more or less the same – if there were no differences – life would be in some ways easier. But it would be boring.

Diversity is the spice of life and a gift from the Master Weaver. Our ability to embrace diversity makes our collective lives much richer.

The challenge for us is whether the leadership in our synod, presbyteries, boards, church councils, committees, and task groups reflect the colourful tapestry that God has created and gifted to us in the Uniting Church in Australia?

Swee-Ann Koh
Director, Cross Cultural Mission & Ministry Unit
Commission for Mission

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