Niklaus Mikaelson, Valerie Tulle, Lizzie Saltzman, Stefan Salvatore . . . do you know who these folks are? If not, maybe that’s because they are not from the Mennonite heritage but from a supernatural world featured in the TV series, The Vampire Diaries. These beings are “hybrids,” born out of the cross-breeding of supernatural species such as werewolves and vampires.
In this series, hybrids display powerful attributes—super strength, super speed, super senses, etc.—unique to themselves. Upon their transformation, they become immune to all conventional illnesses, viruses and infection, and therefore attain immortality.
I am also a hybrid, though very different than the aforementioned versions. My cultural identity has been blurred and blended over the past 30 or so years of living in Korea, Germany, the U.S. and Canada, as well as traveling in more than one third of the world. It seems that I am a permanent resident alien. Even my motherland, Korea, is no longer familiar. Whenever I visit Korea, I am treated as the other.
When it comes to my religious identity, it becomes even more difficult to pinpoint who I am. For the past years of living overseas, I have belonged to various denominations: Baptist, Presbyterian, Nazarene, trans-denominational and finally Mennonite.
With this hybrid identity, I now co-pastor Holyrood Mennonite Church in Edmonton, where I am an Asian man serving a congregation made up of mostly European Mennonites and Africans whose compromised common language at church is English.
The word hybrid sometimes carries a negative connotation. The term was widely adopted by colonial empires in order to distinguish/superiorize their white races from others. It is connected to deep-rooted anxiety about racial mixing and intermarriage.
However, thanks to the modern-day cultural critics’ re-appropriation of this word, hybridity is being redefined and appreciated as the catalyst for cultural shift and creativity, challenging some people’s misconception that homogeneous purity can last forever. Now, more and more people believe the opposite—that the absence of differences diminishes life!
Hybridity is no more than a mixing or fusing of cultural or racial elements. It is the process of integrating different cultures together, an act that opposes existing forms of cultural authority, racial stereotyping and discrimination, according to Homi Bhabha, a leading exponent of this theorization. This process also applies to the Mennonite church.
Even the traditional theological/ecclesiastical arena is influenced by this notion of hybridity, rediscovering Christology that is found in the very identity of Jesus Christ. Incarnation tells it all; God became a flesh, a human; Jesus is both fully God and fully human. In addition to this divine identity of human Jesus, his pedigree at the beginning of Matthew also proves how he has been biologically hybridized. How about our ancestors in the Bible or us, Christians? Christian identity was not born, falling out of the sky one day. It is a result of countless hybridizations of different cultures, religious traditions, ideologies and social locations, from biblical times to today.
And hybridity in the 21st century is now being welcomed even as a concept for the pastoral mission of the modern-day church struggling with its lost and blurred identity, having encountered the inevitable reality of diversity and plurality. It is a reversal to the traditionally homogeneous white dominant churches, steeped with the mindset of colonial missiology that has an immutable distinction between who is original (conveyors of the gospel) and who is new (receivers of the gospel).
The intercultural church we are now tapping into is not for the entertainment value of seeing people of different cultural backgrounds, or foods or languages together. No, it is to relentlessly pursue another new way, a new form of hybridized church by open invitation to a true communion of all “differents” and uniques—to adapt a term from Scott McKnight—and reconstructing an interculturally flat community of faith.
Therefore, the hybridization of the church is not a threat to be dismissed or ignored but a God-given gift that should be recognized and celebrated. That is no more or less than to follow the way of Jesus Christ Hybrid and to be the bridges of God for the world.
Joon Park is intern co-pastor of Holyrood Mennonite Church in Edmonton.
One-anotherness in Christ