The Early Adopters (Race & @ThePAOC Follow Up)

On March 25th, 2010, I skipped work to wait in line for the highly anticipated Apple iPad 2. I dropped Ellie off at daycare, parked my car and prepped for a long, cold day. My buddy and fellow minister Dwayne was the first guy in line that day and we laughed about our willingness to skip a full day of whatever we should have been doing to cop an invention that many people thought was a waste of time (“why do I need a giant iPhone?!? So dumb” they’d say…). As we waited, the line got longer and longer. We both missed the first one and we were excited to get our hands on the next one. We weren’t going to miss it.

That day, we were what Lead Pastor Carey Nieuwhof in his book Leading Change would call “Early Adopters”. While people were hating on it, we jumped in with both feet, even taking the ridicule that came with it as we used the camera in public, brought it to meetings and used it as a Bible. Two months later, we were 2 out of two million owners of this device…with more to come as each generation of iPad was released.

It was around the same time that I heard about something called Twitter. Again, being a nerdy early adopter, I had no problem jumping into the world of micro blogging, twitter pics and such. When I brought it up to my buddies, I got the same sort of response as I did from the iPad – why? Four years later, most of my close friends have two twitter handles and spend time posting leadership points, pictures and random thoughts on a second-to-second basis.

Early Adopters. I love that term. It means that for a brief second, you are a trendsetter instead of a follower. It means that a person is willing to risk. Someone is willing to take a chance on something or someone before it becomes the normal thing, or even worse: a has-been thing.

I’ve been thinking about this term for the past week when I think of my heritage as a black Pentecostal. Last week, I wrote a post on Race and the PAOC (the fellowship/denomination I am credentialed in) based on the actions of current Clippers owner Donald Sterling. In it, I talked a little about my story with race and concluded with my own thoughts on race and gender issues in our fellowship. In the days that past since my post, it was great to have dialogues over tea, online through emails and more about similar stories of what is was like to grow up as black kids (or mixed…which comes with it own specific issues) and now in our fellowship.

I also heard from many women who noticed the same (yet different ceiling) over their lives and careers too. While I only hinted at their struggle in my post, it triggered something to say, “Hey! It’s kinda sucky for us too!” And it was great. And it was sad. Here’s why.

Years ago the movement we know now as Pentecostalism was an early adopter. I mean EARLY! The church in Los Angeles had everything: different races, different genders, different generations and different classes! They worshipped together. They led together. They allowed the Spirit to move and were excited when people caught the call and led. It was so powerful that Frank Bartleman in his book “Azusa Street” wrote, ‘The colour line has been washed away in the blood’. I mean there were black leaders! Prominent ones! And female leaders who made Pentecostalism real in Canada. That’s where we come from.

What I’ve learned in a week is that who we were isn’t who we are anymore, in some respects.  We’ve picked what matters (our distictions, our place in history) and sadly lost what made us special (the excitement of the Spirit’s blessing, the empowering of people to reach everyone and not just their “own” people, etc.). There was a time when we were setting the pace for what harmony in our world could look like, when anyone could dream and believe that they could be anything or anyone. Now? I don’t know. Here's why this concerns me:

Our school, along with the others in our nation are filled with girls who believe they are called but who will sadly be passed over by some because they are a girl. That same girl will then have to decide to either complain about it (Thus giving her the fun “whinny girl” label), submit to it and take something outside of her gift mix, or give up all together.

And the black male (or anyone of colour) will have to constantly decide what jokes to laugh at and which ones to respond to. They’ll have to decide what kind of pastor to be like and figure what they do when they turn 45 and feel too old for youth or young adult ministry. Do they stay in our fellowship? Leave and start something from scratch for “their own”? Or do they give up all together? These are questions that I’ll always ponder, I guess. 

I also learned that we have to define what we mean by diversity. Diversity is more than color or gender…but it’s the appropriate appreciation of the differences that make us special. It’s asking the right question, making people feel cared for. It’s listening and not judging. It’s not mocking with clothing or voice but making people feel safe. It’s not trying too hard or inappropriately through cultural appropriation. It’s celebrating the best of us. It also isn't promotion by legislation (a Christian version of the NFL's Rooney Rule) by based on who's right for the job. 

And I also learned that my journey with race is still ongoing. After writing my post, my good friend texted me and said these words: “Do you have deep pain and hurt regarding the racism you’ve faced in the past and face on a day-to-day basis? Because when I read a post like that I think – wow, Chase is smart (Thank you) and he is using humour and current events to mask what he is really trying to say: I’m hurt.” So do I think he’s right? I think so, in some respects. I mean, my first inclination after Sterlingate (copyright pending), was to talk about how race affect me personally and it did not take long for the memories to come back. I’ll never forget the ones who called me horrible words or judged me due to my race. I’ll never forget being visually rejected in certain stores or even followed. And I’ll never forget when my wife experienced it because she was dating me. Getting it out was helpful. So I guess that blog was a healing process in some respects, but something that is still sensitive to me as black man.

And it should be said: Progress is being made. Just out of the conversations I’ve had in the past 9-10 days, I’ve been hopeful. Personally, I’m changing a bit of the focus of this blog to continue this conversation with guest writers while still aiming to be creative and fun. Hopefully, this will help instead of hurt and change some perspectives. I’m also hoping to keep this conversation going via social media and personal research on the current landscape of ministry, race and mainline churches. 

And I hope that we get back to being early adopters (or maybe even innovators) again! Better that then being people who are simply aiming to protect what we’ve experienced in this life (the beginning stages of what some call the “Old White Guys Club”). I know that parents work hard so that their kids don’t have to experience what they went through, but that should instead motivate us to risk and dream too. They weren’t perfect but they were powerful people. They broke through ceilings and left the evidence for us on how to do it too. I look at this generation of leaders at Master’s and I think, maybe we have some early adopters who’ll break a few ceilings in the years to come. And we have too. The kids being born now and in the future will not look the same as they do now (Check out this awesome link to see what our future will look like! Can’t wait!) and we need heroes who will champion them every step of the way.

…and if anything, I’d be just as happy if they stop girls in their youth groups from tweeting with the hashtag #whitegirlprobs.

Seriously? What problems do they have?

Extra note: Now I know I'm picking on that one hashtag so I should add that I'm not a fan of any racially-seasoned hashtags or twitter feeds. Two others ones I can't stand: @hoodjesus (a sad attempt at make Jesus cool comes off as the worst of culture appropriation and ignorance towards a certain demographic of people. No one would follow Jesus if he was like that. So ignorant) and @foodporn (honestly. the name says it. Anything attached to the word porn is so badly in need of help! Porn kills last time I checked.)

Chris ChaseComment