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The Mestizo Symphony of Heaven

Our Christian destination is a heavenly symphony of praise from every tongue, tribe, and nation

Rico, I often heard parents encourage their children to marry lighter-skinned people so as to mejorar la raza (to improve the race).

In spite of these challenges, I still find mestizaje a useful term in the vocabulary of Christians interested in ethnic reconciliation. Other substitutes (multiculturalism, transculturation, hybridization, etc.) are too abstract. They draw our attention to mixing, but not to the painful history that led to the mixing. Mestizaje evokes an unfinished tale of violence, rejection, and alienation in need of reconciliation. It points to both the problem and the solution. There is a saying in Spanish, un clavo saca otro clavo (one nail drives out another nail). The ethnic hostilities that led to and from mestizaje can only be reconciled by mestizaje with Christ in the church.

Mexican-American theologian Virgilio Elizondo was the first person to bring mestizaje into a theological register. I cannot do justice to his reading of the gospel story in these few pages, but in a nutshell, for Elizondo, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus illumine and transform the experience of mestizaje. Thanks to Elizondo and others, I believe that mestizaje belongs to the very essence of the church. Mestizaje is a corollary of the church’s catholicity. The inclusion of Gentiles into the Jewish community of believers in Christ is nothing less than a sign of a new humanity. Incorporation into the mestizo body of Christ, the church, means not mongrelization or whitening but rather the purification and perfection of all peoples. The waters of baptism do not wash away ethnic particularity. We do not lose our accents in heaven, but our speech is refined so that we can join the mighty chorus out of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation in praise of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Mestizaje marks the church’s journey through history. The cross-cultural transmission of the gospel (celebrated by missiologists like Andrew Walls) is only possible by mixture resulting from the crossing of borders. The Nicene Creed is inconceivable without the mestizaje of Palestinian Christians with Greco-Roman Christians. For the church, borders are not places of separation but of encounter. Of course, throughout church history some of these encounters have been violent. Even then, however, God’s design is not thwarted by human failures, because, as the old saying goes, God is able to write straight with crooked lines.

Section Rehearsals: Necessary and Provisional
I have often wondered if the waves of immigration that the United States is experiencing might be used by God as a wake-up call for the church to remember its roots and rediscover its mission. If the destination of the Christian pilgrimage is a heaven of mestizos, then our life now should be anticipating that heaven. And yet, although our future is symphonic, we spend our present in section rehearsals.

Now section rehearsals are important. I remember my first section rehearsal. I first joined a choir when I attended college. I did not know anything about reading music or different parts, but after hearing me say a few words, the conductor instructed me to sit with the basses. I did fine during the warm-up exercises, but I became completely lost the moment the choir started singing in parts. Try as I might, all I could hear was the melody line carried by the soprano voices. After a little while, the conductor instructed the basses to go downstairs with the accompanist for a section rehearsal. In a small space where we could hear each other well and without the distraction of other voices, our part was played note by note until we learned it. When the section rehearsal was over we rejoined the rest of the choir and sang together. Thanks to the section rehearsal I found that I could now sing my part, but only by standing next to a strong bass who really knew the piece and by turning a deaf ear to the sopranos. The real proof that I had learned my part was when I left the security of my section and sat next to sopranos, altos, and tenors. I discovered that my singing was better in tune when I learned to listen to the other parts.

Much is required before we can leave the safety of our ethnic section rehearsals and come together in symphony. For many of us section rehearsals are all we have ever known. In the United States, one part has been dominant for so long that the other parts have only been preserved through