Upon arrival at the lakeside summer service I immediately noted the recorded music was a bit livelier than usual. Not that a “normal” service offers dark and depressing music, but this had a kick to it. A lingering bit of salsa on white bread, so to speak.
Our minister made a simple introduction: Agape, aka, David, is a young Lutheran minister/hip hop artist out of North Minneapolis. Please welcome him.
Wait, what did he just say? Is it even legal to use the words Lutheran and hip hop artist in the same sentence?
I craned my head upwards—turtle like—to see over the baseball capped heads and grey sea of tight curls. (We have an aging congregation.)
Agape seemed like an average guy. He wore a loose tee-shirt and below the knee shorts. Short-cropped hair lent a dignified visual to the moves that were about to follow. As David explained it the definition of Agape is: selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest of the four types of love in the Bible.
But more importantly to him, the A in Agape stood for people like Asians, Africans, American Indians, American Latinos, and so on, whereas the “e” in Agape stood for the European Americans. “Notice,” he said, “what is between the A and the e…a gap.
Agape’s message, delivered via hip-hop music and dance, was that Lutheran churches often use the message, “All are welcome!” when in fact, all are welcome if they look, act, believe, and have similar incomes to those already in attendance.
If a person is different, well, Lutherans really don’t mean the welcome part. We try to mean it, our guilt kicks into high gear, but different is icky.
Agape said the North Minneapolis church he belongs to has been trying to get it right for ten years, but it is still a holy mess. As humans, we’re good at making messes. As Lutherans, we should get over it and say what we mean and mean what we say.
He concluded with a quote from one of his parishioners. “If you don’t like people who are different here on earth, ya’ll are going to hate heaven.”
My rural upbringing was heavily colored by the small Lutheran church sitting two miles down the road from our farmhouse. That color was pure white. My great-grandfather started that church and no questions were to be asked about the way it was stewarded.
In a bold act of integrity the sign outside of the church has never said, “All are welcome.” Truthfully, if you were even a member of a different branch of the Lutheran church you were barely tolerated if you visited.
I was a member of that church until I was a teenager, and my father is still a member, but would I be allowed to take communion if I wanted to do so today? No. I’m not a member, and therefore I am an outsider. Can you feel the love?
Agape’s message was hard to hear even as it made sense. It holds up a truth I haven’t questioned often enough. Where is my stand on acceptance?
For that matter, where is my stand on hip-hop music? I’ve got to tell you that seeing the aging white-haired congregation attempting to bust a hip-hop move at Agape’s invitation was unbelievable. Perhaps even a miracle. I tiny shining miracle towards acceptance.