Mark D. Roberts

Yesterday I began a two-part “interview” with Dave Gibbons, author of The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church. Today I’ll finish up my conversation with Dave. Let me say, once again, how much I appreciate Dave’s careful and extensive answers to my questions.
Mark: So, are you really saying that Christians should seek first and foremost to love those who are “totally unlike us”? And if so, was it wrong for you, an Asian from an urban environment, to go to Bangkok, an Asian city, when you could have gone to a village in Africa instead? Didn’t the fact that you were somewhat like those in Bangkok give you ways to connect with them? Wasn’t this helpful?
Dave: Actually, I’m half White! Actually I have Irish roots. My birth father had blue eyes. Crazy how Korean genes are dominant. My brother looks more Hispanic! We can look alike. You probably are aware that Japanese and Korean cultures are like Black and White race issues here in America. The Japanese are often hated in Asia because of their oppression of nearby nations. What’s even possibly more confusing is how even though I’m half Korean and part Irish, I’m culturally and more naturally American and Western. I’m a second generation Korean which even throws another layer of complexity into the mix. I probably love grits and gravy as much as some people in the south.
So the truth is Bangkok was a totally different mix of cultures that I was unfamiliar with. It was a mix of multiple Chinese cultures, many sub-cultures of Indian roots, Persian, Northern and Southern Thai, immigrant and expat communities, Muslims, Buddhists and the normal hodgepodge of multiple religions and philosophies. Syncretism is huge in the east. The language itself had five tones. It was the hardest language I ever studied. I thought Hebrew was difficult until I started learning Thai. So while we can look alike we are actually very different. I guess it’s like any major urban, world class city in that regard. There are hundreds of cultures in one city. Even here in Irvine! In fact, I had to repent to the church for my lack of engagement with our neighbor, Santa Ana. When I think of people who are unlike me or I’m not comfortable around, it usually is more of a socio-economic issue not a race issue. Hence, we’ve been working hard in moving forward in building relationships with the city of Santa Ana and her people which is also very diverse.
[MDR: What’s you’re saying her is right on. When I was in Irvine, I was amazed by the number of people who were afraid of Santa Ana. Yes, there was more crime there than in Irvine. But people’s fear was far beyond rational concern. Partly, I expect, it had racist elements. But mostly it would about unfamiliarity.]
Mark: Do you mean to imply that we shouldn’t really bother to love those who are like us? Or that it’s somehow less Christian if I care for a person in need if that person happens to be a lot like I am?
Don’t you think churches should, in addition to seeking to love those who make them uncomfortable, also focus their strategic initiatives on all people they happen to meet on the road, so to speak? Should churches stop reaching out to their literal neighbors as they rightly strive to love those who are different from their members? Did Newsong stop reaching out to the Asian population of Irvine, so much of which is not Christian?
In light of your understanding of Jesus’ call to love the neighbor, how do you make sense of his command to his disciples that they tell people everywhere about him, “in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Doesn’t this text teach us to be sure and reach out to people like us, our literal and culture neighbors, even as we are to reach out to everyone, including those we despise? You aren’t suggesting that we forget about Jerusalem and Judea, are you?
You explain that “Third culture is about adaptation, the both/and, not the either/or, mindset” (40). So wouldn’t a third culture church reach out both to their proximal neighbors who are like them and also to those who are not like them? Wouldn’t third culture Christians seek to reach both those with whom they share a first culture, people like themselves, and also those from the second, different culture?
So now you can see my discomfort with what you’ve written, even though I heartily endorse your basic challenge to the church and appreciate how your experience and wisdom can guide us into more effective participation in God’s kingdom. Perhaps I’ve over-reacted to your rhetoric, reading as a Westerner (which I am, even more so now that I live in Texas!). Or, perhaps I’ve understood quite well what you’ve said, and we simply differ on what the call of Christ means in today’s world. At any rate, I’d appreciate some clarification of your understanding of who is and is not our neighbor and how this relates to the church today.
Dave: Yes, it’s not an either/or proposition. It’s a both/and. We are called to love our family who is probably most like us. Aren’t we worse than infidels if we don’t. But I believe the point of the passage was to call us to a supernatural love that the world would take notice of, a love that was so radical and unusual that they would see Jesus.
The Acts 1:8 text is actually a compelling support to a third culture pursuit. When I read to reach out to those in Jerusalem I believe the context points to people from all over the world gathering there in Jerusalem [MDR: That’s a interesting insight!]. I know it’s common to interpret this as from those who are near you culturally to those who are unlike you culturally. However, Jerusalem did not refer solely to one local homogeneous culture but actually it was the world which includes the both/and. The first circle was not actually just people like us but both people like us culturally and unlike us, people we’d hate and people we’d like, people we want to forgive and others we wouldn’t want to forgive. The list of people in Jerusalem listed in Acts seems very diverse. I love that passage in Acts 2 where it described who was there:

5 At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem.6 When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.?  7 They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, 8 and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages!9 Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia,10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!

A recent thought to me was even Jesus’ inclusion of Judas in his inner circle. Why would he include someone who would betray him? Part of it was to fulfill prophecy but also, I wonder if it was to demonstrate the extent of His love. . . to love someone who would betray him. To me that is the most difficult person to love. That has been even more difficult to me than crossing the socio-economic gap or the cultural divide.
Mark: Thanks for putting up with my long-windedness and what might seem like my crankiness. I take you and your ideas too seriously to ask merely some nice affirming question, or to focus only on areas in which we clearly agree. I expect that you’ve wrestled plenty with the questions I have asked, and I look forward to your answers.
Dave: Mark, I love your heart and the honesty of your reflections. I look forward to hanging out with you. If you come back to Cali, please let me take you out to some good Korean food around the corner. But I guess if we want to be third culture, maybe we ought to go to McDonald’s AND the Indian restaurant at 5 and Culver. We can do both. Much love,
[MDR: Ah, I love that Indian restaurant, especially the lunch brunch! I don’t get this in my part of Texas. I like Korean food too, though I can take kimchi only in small doses. Anyway, thanks, Dave, for the invitation. Let me return it by saying if you’re even in the San Antonio/Austin area, I’d love to take you out for some Texas barbeque!
More seriously, thanks again for your thoughtful answers to my pesky questions. Thanks even more for your visionary leadership of the church today, and for putting your thoughts and stories in The Monkey and the Fish. I hope many of my blog readers will buy it and read it and wrestle with it and be transformed by it.]

FYI: As a Amazon Associate, I get around 6% of anything that is purchased when somebody links to Amazon from my website. So if you buy The Monkey and the Fish by clicking the link above, I’ll get around 70 cents. But to avoid the appearance of self-interest in my recommendation of Dave’s book, I will give anything I make from this blog tour to charity.

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