The Christian Reformed Church is culturally and geographically diverse. Since we can’t all meet over coffee, The Banner offers this spot as a place to get to know each other better. In this first column let’s look over John Szto’s shoulder to see what he sees.
The Banner: Tell us about yourself and your world.
John: I’m a single 50-something pursuing three parallel careers in ministry, the performing arts, and architecture. Although I live out in Briarwood, Queens, I spend my days in the heart of New York City—what Dutch Americans have named “Delirious, N.Y.” There I constantly cope with the complexities and contradictions of globalization in a postmodern world. Living in Queens helps me to gain some critical distance from the chaos of the city. It lets me regain perspective so I can contribute more meaningfully to life downtown.
I was born into a missionary pastor’s family and was raised in New York. Although my church was a small, tight-knit Chinese Christian Reformed congregation, the dominant culture in my neighborhood was Jewish American. So I grew up in a multicultural environment, interacting daily with people of diverse backgrounds and worldviews. That has equipped me well to live and work as a Reformed Christian in the most highly pluralistic, secularized environment in North America.
The Banner: What role does your church play in your life?
John: My small, intimate church community has always been an important and formative part of my life. Through my father’s ministry there I gained a Kuyperian perspective (the awareness of how all life falls under Christ’s authority) that has enriched my life immensely. By keeping me rooted in God’s Word, providing me with a tight-knit community, and offering me a wide cultural vision, my church equips me to minister in the complex environment in which I work.
The Banner: What unique perspective, practice, or point of view does your culture and walk of life allow you to contribute to the CRC?
John: Remember that I was raised in a transplanted Chinese culture in a Jewish neighborhood within a Dutch Calvinist denomination. That has convinced me that we must find our unity in Christ alone and not in the trappings of any culture. It has also made me aware of the amazing power of the Holy Spirit, who overcomes the barriers that separate us from each other and allows us to interpret our Christian faith within so many different contexts. Christ truly is all in all.
In short, my own experience allows me to give encouragement and hope to the CRC. In many ways I see Jesus through the Spirit already affirming, gathering, and unifying us in all our diversity. He’s already effecting the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2) for which we yearn.
The Banner: What makes it easy for you to be CRC? What makes it difficult?
John: I’ve already voiced my appreciation for the CRC’s rootedness in Scripture and its worldview. What’s more of a challenge for me is to come to grips with its Midwestern rural/suburban Dutch roots. It seems to tilt toward middle-class, market-driven blandness. Being single, urban, Chinese, and artistically inclined, I tend to experience a bit of a gap with the CRC’s predominant middle-of-the-road culture. But in God’s grace I don’t find that gap insurmountable (Luke 10:7).
The Banner: Any advice for our denomination?
John: We have an impressive and important ministry of writing and publishing in both the United States and Canada. It’s imperative that we capitalize on those gifts in developing and communicating an inclusive and discerning spirituality for the 21st century.
The Banner: So how old will you be when you’ll have milked your first cow?
John: Ummh . . . here in New York? When Juliani votes for Hillary, I guess.