Reclaiming with Rohadi Nagassar When We Belong

“Reclaiming” with Rohadi Nagassar

~ing podcast Season 2 Episode 25
Full Episode Transcript

Season 2 Episode 25: “Reclaiming”, with Rohadi Nagassar was released on June 21, 2022. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:
We need belonging to survive and thrive. ~ing Producer, Ben Wideman, sits down with author/speaker/pastor, Rohadi Nagassar, to talk about how we might find a path toward reclaiming a place of belonging. Sometimes it can feel easier to walk away from faith completely. But Rohadi believes there is another way. We’ll explore themes from his brand new book, When We Belong: Reclaiming Christianity on the Margins (available now from Herald Press!). When it feels as though there’s no place left to belong, Jesus invites us into a love that knows no bounds and a community that truly liberates.

Rohadi Nagassar, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
Welcome to Season Two of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus? Each week ~ing Podcast invites you to join us on a journey. Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world,

Rohadi Nagassar  00:27
For folks who’ve been pushed to the margins, and the story I weave is around my own story… So as a racialized minority, there are so few places where you can just let your hair down and be you without looking over your shoulder and wondering, you know, do I have to put on a face here is someone going to say something out of place? And so to have those safe spaces where you’re truly seen for who you are, there is a comprehensive aspect to belongingness I think.

Ben Wideman  00:55
Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.  Welcome friends to another episode of ~ing Podcast. I’m really excited today to be sitting down with one of our Herald Press authors. I’m here with Rohadi Nagassar and we are talking about a book that’s coming out here in the month of June. Really excited to have you here. Rohadi, thank you so much for being here on the podcast.

Rohadi Nagassar  01:20
Thanks for including me.

Ben Wideman  01:22
Absolutely. For those who may not know you, how do you introduce yourself?

Rohadi Nagassar  01:28
Yeah, depends where you are. I usually share the lands on which I’m situated on and so I’m on Treaty Seven lands in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and Treaty seven different parts of Canada are treaty regions. And so the indigenous nations on which their land I’m a guest on… some spaces are treaty nations or treaty territories, and others are not they’re unceded territory. So that’s how I would situate myself. Calgary is three and a half hours north of the Montana border to help American listeners mostly known for the ’88 Olympics. Probably more for Banff, which is not Calgary, but Banff in the mountains. We’re just off the Rocky Mountains, it’s about an hour and a bit away.

Ben Wideman  02:24

Rohadi Nagassar  02:24
So that’s where I am. I’ve lived in Canada for almost my whole life. I’m originally from Trinidad, and half my people are from Trinidad. And the other half they’re from Canada, but they come from China and Japan. Okay, so there’s a criss cross of Asianness. I got all the Asian. And so that’s a little bit of who I am. I grew up in the church wasn’t born there, I guess, but basically grew up in what I would now call white evangelicalism though that was my formative years, went to seminary right after university. And then that’s kind of when I started to reshape my paradigm around what faith could look like in a post Christian context. And really part of the story of how when we belong came together as well. So in that space, I’ve started different things, by vocational minister, very like light on the on the vocation, ministry side things. But that’s part of my story as well. So a lot of different intersections and pieces and narratives. But those are some key ones.

Ben Wideman  03:53
Sounds like you’re the kind of person who likes to connect the dots and perhaps be a bridge between different spaces that don’t always overlap. I’m excited to talk more to and it dawns on me… Just last week we interviewed Dennis Edwards, Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards, and he’s got this book, Might from the Margins. The subtitle of your book When We Belong: Reclaiming Christianity on the Margins. I think that there’s going to be some some healthy synergy here between these two voices, these two stories and the offerings of these two books. So if you haven’t yet picked up Dennis’s book I encourage you listener to to do that. And as soon as Rohadi’s book comes out, I am guessing they’ll be good complement to each other as well.

Rohadi Nagassar  04:43
They are! So, When We Belong is, apparently it came out a month early! And it’s like but like some people are just holding it. For for the… Reverend Dr. Dennis… I have met him. So he’s a cool dude, I think he’s super smart, and wisdom beyond his years. And the thing I really value about him and get his book are he has many books, but he kind of makes those the next generation that’s coming up. Because he’s a church planter, too.

Ben Wideman  05:22

Rohadi Nagassar  05:23
Or was, and he will make folks like myself sound way smarter than they really are. And He’s genuinely, which is to say He’s genuinely interested in the things that other folks in the next gen coming up have to say. And that’s really rare with with with folks of his stature of Prof. And writers. And so part of the my book actually plays off of his I didn’t actually make the connection of the titles. But we write to a similar audience. And that’s intentional.

Ben Wideman  06:00
Well tell us more about how you arrived at this book project. As I said before, the title is When We Belong: Reclaiming Christianity on the Margins. Tell us about your call to put this out into the world.

Rohadi Nagassar  06:14
Writers and artists, they just have this knack of taking invisible things and making them real. And so an idea comes and it hits you, it strikes you and you just can’t let it go. And so the formation of when we belong, started, as a much more boring idea than it turned out to be. The book was initially built around… So in the book, I think, Chapter three talks about the different sort of and I make large point… I paint, I paint a large picture here. So it doesn’t capture everyone. But when I speak to belonging and church contexts, I offer different options that are typical. You go into contemporary, usually white churches, you stay with an ethnic churches, you can maybe start something, or you leave. And so the book initially was to leaders of the church of how to build more inclusive multi ethnic spaces. But that was so narrow. And it didn’t encompass really the story that I was trying to tell which is my own. So not merely imparting ideas to leaders of how you can build fully or more inclusive churches. But it was trying to address what was basically an exodus of people from the church. It is a church that is struggling to communicate a gospel in a language that those outside of the church can comprehend, but also struggling to connect with their own folks. And it’s Christians who are leaving the fold. And so we need better language in a better story, in order to hit the heart of what many are searching for, and that is truly spaces that will see you for who you are in the fullness of who you’ve been made to be. And so the story is not about how to be strategic around multi ethnicity or inclusivity. But it’s what a belonging and what do we need to do first for ourselves, to capture a sense of belonging in ourselves, but also spot that out in the wild in communities? And right now, with all the conversation around the you know, what’s hot right now is deconstruction and all of those words. And so I actually insert that into the book, but much later, in the writing process, and wrapped around the story around Hey, listen, you’re questioning faith, because things have happened to you that shouldn’t have, is that normal? Is that really a Jesus Gospel that is, is going on around us? And the answer I take is no. And so let’s reclaim a Christianity, however, that will fit the ways we want to live but also matches what we know inside of our own being in that we want to belong. Find it, cherish it, hang on to it, and also venture with others to do the same. So there’s a there are possibilities and pathways to have that happen. And I articulate some of them in the book.

Ben Wideman  09:34
I want to focus in just a little bit on this word belonging. As someone who worked with young adults for a number of years on college campuses. I think I think there’s this assumption from older folks that because of the connectivity of our world, especially with our electronics and our social media stuff, that belonging is something everyone automatically has now, right?  Like it’s a commodity that we’re, we’re all good at we all good at belonging and finding spaces to belong. I think the surprising truth that you don’t often know until you start talking to young adults is that they’re starving for belonging, even if there is this mirage of connectedness. So can you speak a little bit about that need to create spaces of belonging in a world that sometimes assumes we’re already belonging?

Rohadi Nagassar  10:26
Yeah, that’s such a good question. Because it’s not just one thing. And so I think technology… and I wouldn’t have been in this place 10 years ago. But boy, the pandemic has really showed us a different way that technology can be used as a critical tool to find your people. And I value that, and it opens the door for all sorts of different folks like disabled folks to be drawn into community when we and they could not. And so I think that there’s deep value to tech. Now, would it be better if we could all sit around the table and share a meal? I think so. I miss that. And I don’t want to say that tech or online, is somehow inferior. There’s just something about incarnate presence of touch, feel and smell. Yeah, they can’t really do duplicate it. But the tech pieces is on its own, I think, an asset. But the flip side of that is, it can be thin. Yeah, super. All the time. It is the superficiality of, of, for examples, justice issues, you can feign performance, rather than actually pursuing justice. So there’s there lacks the possibilities of an embodied quality to tech, however, I think we’re figuring that out. On the matter of connection, however, I think it’s connection. And then there’s a certain matter of depth, connection to truly being seen. And I think that’s different. Because when you are seeing for the fullness of who you are, if you know who you are, I mean, that’s part of it, too, then suddenly, things change. And you can let your hair down. And for folks who’ve been pushed to the margins, and the story I weave is around my own story. So as a racialized minority, there are so few places where you can just let your hair down and be you without looking over your shoulder and wondering, you know, do I have to put on a face here is someone going to say something out of place. And so to have those safe spaces where you’re truly seen for who you are, there is a comprehensive aspect to belongingness I think, I use Brene Brown, as one of my dialogue partners in the early chapters on the search for belonging, because we all need it. But it’s so hard to find a new maybe you’re the person where blogging is hard to find, you can find it everywhere you go, and I’m jealous. But for most of us, it’s like man, I wish I could have more of that belonging. And so I interact with Brown because she uses belonging or speaks to belonging through an individualistic lens. Now I know that’s not her endpoint, but that’s the pieces I was dialoguing with. And I think belonging is comprehensive in the sense that you do need to belong to yourself. But when we filter it through love ethic, and the comprehensive love that God has, so the love for one another, the love for God, the love for ourselves, and the other like these are different pieces. It’s not just love but it’s specific to four different places of to God to the others. So the neighbor to ourselves and also to one another in community. That is an exercise in belonging that I think we all must engage in. So we participate with that, in order for us to also receive now not that we must participate in order to receive but there is a an interaction or relationship that belonging is in fact how we relate between these things. And it is good.

Ben Wideman  15:00
I think the church… and I’m using maybe a “big C” church here. And I that’s dangerous, right? Because it’s hard to summarize the church, you know, one thing, but the Church has assumed it’s already pretty good at making people feel like they belong. But I’m hearing something in what you’ve been saying that, that we’ve, we maybe have some growth areas in Church spaces to really figure out belonging that like you’re talking about?

Rohadi Nagassar  15:28
Yeah, I would obviously disagree that the church is, in fact competent at doing belonging well. In fact, when I came out of seminary, the notion of I didn’t name it as such as a belonging. I thought the problem was theological. So I thought the problem of churches and I would label it then, and maybe still, that the church, the church, Big C church, so the contemporary church is incompetent at connecting with people who don’t look like it.

Ben Wideman  16:04
So it’s like a social club, as long as you fit a specific mold,

Rohadi Nagassar  16:09
To fit a specific mold. And so I thought the problem was one of mission, solve the missiological problem. And then we would be able to solve this matter that everyone inside the church looks X thinks urns lives in probably the same. It’s churches and communities governed by sameness. Now, it turns out that if we look at the problem of sameness through a theological lens, we won’t produce the result we want. Because it’s not a thinking problem. One of the chief characteristics of churches right now is that they are racially segregated, they’re still racially segregated. And a lot of that has been cultivated through market driven approaches, meaning we just created a church service that appealed to a certain demographic and has maintained racialization or racial segregation.

Ben Wideman  17:04
And then are surprised by that, too.

Rohadi Nagassar  17:07
We’re not so much surprised by the segregation piece was I’m not sure if we’re alert, especially in white churches, we’re alert to the notion that there’s segregation to to folks who are in their communities that just kind of comfortable, right? And so there needs to be an alertness where you say, wait a minute, and so you do name it in contemporary churches, especially evangelicals. You name the problem as a problem of discipleship. And you’re realizing a you’re not growing through new converts and be you suck at discipleship, but you’re always have trouble. It’s like, every year you’re sending people to disciple, well, we call it Leadership Summit. But you have this discipleship problem, bring people through discipleship, you have discipleship pastors, and so forth and so forth. Yet it’s the weakest component in evangelical churches, like who’s good at that, maybe you’re not supposed to be good at it. Right, but who’s good at that. So we do see the problem. We say it’s a discipleship issue. But I’m saying that, Oh, it’s deeper, we need to look at foundations, where we’re building the identity of the church through a lens of white supremacy, through the lens of empire building, that if we root in those spaces are not really going to produce a church that cares that it’s not diverse, or cares that it’s actually pushing people who don’t fit into that heteronormative gaze to the margins. And a reorientation or reclamation to the Jesus oriented, Jesus centered, and Jesus being the marginalized, religious, religiously marginalized, but he was also in the process of being colonized, like the scriptures are through that lens, not through the lens of the winner or the Empire, or through strength. It is through the last shall be first. Yeah, and it’s within those stories where we can reclaim a sense of community or a way forward a DNA as it were, that hopefully at least produces a deeper possibility onto fully inclusive belonging for all.

Ben Wideman  19:18
It sounds a little bit like there’s something in in our American… Canadian… North American, perhaps cultural values of being the best being first place being on top being powerful. That also is part of this discussion here, too, right. You don’t go to the margins to find power in our social context. You You look for who’s got the biggest paycheck and who’s got the most political power and who’s got the same yes, that you were talking about? Yeah.

Rohadi Nagassar  19:51
Yeah, for sure. For sure. I write about that, in that the church has lost its place as the critique to Empire. In fact, gotten into bed with empires for 1700 years, right?

Ben Wideman  20:03

Rohadi Nagassar  20:04
In fairness live in a space where we’re not subverting cultural assumptions, we’re trying to chase and cling to inherited power and authority and privilege in the day to day lives of Americans and Canadians. Like that’s not the place for the Church.

Ben Wideman  20:23
Yeah, there’s some heaviness in this subject matter, because I think it pulls back the curtain a little on how broken so much of this is, where are you finding hope in the midst of of some of that? Or do you? Is it just depressing, barren landscape?

Rohadi Nagassar  20:41
I mean, gosh, you could just linger in the depressing landscape. I think that fits the prophets out there. We’re always like, walking around with sackcloth and ashes. Just sort of tired of all these clocks. Right? Wouldn’t mind a little bit of of deliverance here. I do spend a couple of chapters digging into what I call the roots, the foundations of the church in the West, and centered around white supremacy. So I do name it because I think you need to name the things you need to be healed from.

Ben Wideman  21:15

Rohadi Nagassar  21:16
And then I offer pathways of possibilities. So I don’t have answers. And in fact, I wrote the last chapter of the book, and I separated it into three or four parts. And the last part is one of beautiful tales. So let’s be part of writing new stories. But the last chapter is one of I don’t know. I don’t have an answer. What I have is meandering, with this small group of people around me, we’re trying to love imperfectly, imperfectly, emphasis on imperfectly. We’re trying to love and pursue justice rightly. And it’s hard. It’s hard. And every week, we seem to be going into the next traumatic experience called gelly. Right? Like, what, let us come up for breath. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic still. Right? What are we to do in all of this. And so there is a constant, tense tension. And we need to hold that with a sense of hope. But sometimes you just don’t have that hope. Sometimes it’s just a meant. And the work of lament is one of truth telling, when in the world is going on around us. But I think, in fact, I hope and I want, I want for sure that we would pursue these tensions with a few faithful and forgiving friends. If we have that. Who cares about the numbers? I think that’s it. We why. And and if we can meander, with those faithful and forgiving friends in the pursuit, pursuit of deeper belonging, and a love for one another. I don’t know what else.

Ben Wideman  23:12
Right, especially when you’ve got the marginalized example of of Jesus. Amid that struggle with friends. You know, I think I think there’s something there. It’s rich.

Rohadi Nagassar  23:24
Yeah, it there’s a richness in that we can be drawn. And this is why the West has so much trouble withdrawing into a nearness in many ways to Jesus, because we haven’t filtered our understanding of the gospel stories through the lens of the oppressed. Yeah. And of course, there are many writers who, and theologians who have process that and we need to now center those stories and learnings into our own practices. Because there’s something there when we discover a richness. I like that word. A richness of what happens when we encounter Jesus on the margins. Yes, I think that’s the book. Someone wrote that book. There’s a few!

Ben Wideman  24:08
Yep. Yeah. Hey, this is absolutely been a joy for me to just spend a bit of time in this space with you hearing you reflect for those who are really resonating with what we’ve been talking about. Where do you direct them if they want to continue to follow what you’re up to?

Rohadi Nagassar  24:27
Yeah. Please, buy the book. Tell all your friends to buy the book. I’m online. So just Rohadi – R O H A D I – and you’ll find me if you Google that you’ll find me all over the place

Ben Wideman  24:42 in fact, is your website.

Rohadi Nagassar  24:45
Yeah, @rohadi on Twitter, although I don’t have the Instagram one. So it’s @rohadi.nagassar on Instagram. But yeah, I’m there and I always love to hear stories of folks who are engaging in like these mishmashy new expressions or attempts and I’m like, Yes, like I’ll… I’ll cheer you on. And I love to hear that kind of stuff of folks just grasping also their own story in new ways. Like, that’s good. Do find me.

Ben Wideman  25:18
Rohadi, thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us today. It means a lot. And I want to thank you for this offering to the world this, this reflection again, this recentering perhaps on when we belong, friends, please go check out that book and get yourself a copy and get one for whoever you think might need to hear that message. Rohadi, thank you.

Rohadi Nagassar  25:41
Thank you.

Ben Wideman  25:44
Thank you for traveling with us this year on ~ing Podcast. Next week we will be reflecting on season two as we wrap up this time together.  As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at