Memories: The lies of assimilation

by | Feb 21, 2021

“That’s not how we do things here,” the man says quietly to his wife, while loud enough for the people around them to hear. Meanwhile, the sound of the drums intensified in rhythm as the young men and women kept perfect time. Even the skeptical found themselves mesmerized by the vibrations.

As the drum team moved from simple time to more complicated rhythms, drawing the more timid into the music, leaving us speechless, grateful, and in awe.

It was February, and this team of drummers was a cross-section of the community where they lived. A kaleidoscope of skin tones and viewpoints. The techniques they demonstrated represented a little of the homeland of their instructor. Much different than the organ and piano ordinarily heard on Sunday mornings at this church in the suburbs of Flint, Michigan.

Our dictionary definition of “cultural assimilation” is the process by which a person or a group’s language and/or culture come to resemble those of another group. In most cases, those experiencing assimilation give up their language, the way they dress, food preferences, and more as they blend into their new environment. But blending is rather difficult when the person’s physical attributes are much different from the people of the dominant group.

Some churches consider the process of catechism to be a form of assimilation. Most call the process by a different name. It might be a new believers class or youth confirmation, or new members classes. In all cases, the subject-matter matters to the group expecting that new-comers will quickly blend into the batter mix that they call church.

In his classic work, I and Thou, Martin Buber offers a profound revelation that turns the traditional notion of assimilation on its head. When we experience the other, Martin argues, they become objects. Mostly beneath consciousness, we collect data that we analyze, classify, and theorize about. The object, a person, that we experience becomes a thing to be utilized, known, or put to some purpose. And our anticipation is that we remain the same after the experience.

But when we leave ourselves open to encounter the other as we must encounter God, we are changed. Buber argues that to create a more perfect union, city, community, neighborhood, church, we shouldn’t strive for assimilation. Instead, we encounter each other with the love that allows for constant transformation.

Rather than new persons assimilating into the existing culture, they add their unique flavor to the mixture. First of all, the idea that we always do things a certain way is a lie. We are not machines programmed to repeat the same algorithm over and over again. We are each an ever-changing, ever-growing and dying, creature which reflects the image of God.

In her book, Be the Bridge, Latasha Morrison shares her experiences as part of a white church in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. Working as a youth pastor, it was apparent to Latasha that the parents of the youth in her program experienced her presence as the other. But what kind of other, they wondered.

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
John 8:32

Latasha writes that the parents were “trying to determine what type of Black person I was. That’s right. What type of Black person.” In other words, was Latasha sufficiently assimilated into whiteness that they could trust her not to be the stereotyped, fictional character that they carried in their heads.

Latasha calls for truth-telling and embracing the realities found in the holy scriptures. She writes:

The truth is that each ethnicity reflects a unique aspect of God’s image. No one tribe or group of people can adequately display the fullness of God. The truth is that it takes every tribe, tongue, and nation to reflect the image of God in his fullness. The truth is that race is a social construct, one that has divided and set one group over the other from the earliest days of humanity. 1

The truth is that we constantly change. We are each in motion, living in a world in motion, dancing to a rhythm led by a God of persistent love. The beat of the drum resonates within our bodies in a way that mere words cannot do.

In this week’s Book Club we are discussing chapter two of Latasha’s book. And as we continue our celebration of black history, we are in episode two of our trilogy series, Bridges.

I pray that you will join us each Sunday at 10:30 am and that you will invite friends and family to join us online or in-person. This Sunday we have a special guest, the Rev Jeremy Peters, Sr. Pastor at Court Street United Methodist Church located in downtown Flint, Michigan. Pastor Jeremy is a gifted storyteller will share a few of his experiences with finding peace in the midst of chaos.

We have a new button on the homepage of our websiteClick here to watch. This button takes you to a viewer to allow you to join live or watch later in the week. We’re also live on Facebook and our newly launched YouTube channel. You can find these links along with more information about us on our website at

A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.

Pastor Tommy

1 Most of the content for our series comes from Latasha Morrison, Be the Bridge: Pursuing Gods Heart for Racial Reconciliation. Yates & Yates and Penguin Random House, 2019.

2 Lisa Bitel. “The ‘real’ St. Valentine was no patron of love.” © The Conversation, February 13, 2018.

A Community in Love with God, Each Other, and our Neighbors.