Meaning, and Appropriate Behaviour
Today is the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost in the church-year. The gospel text for this day included a parable told by Jesus where a Pharisee and a tax collector were both praying at the temple. The Pharisee was basically listing his accomplishments, and thanking God for not being like the “sinner” tax collector (not an enviable position, if you were religiously inclined, in ancient times). The tax collector was asking for mercy and forgiveness (the role of tax collector was to represent the empire, and it often included skimming – so those who were so employed were often considered dishonest). My take on the gospel text for this day is that it has to do with how we relate to God (who we experience through each other and creation). Are we in good relationship – looking out for each other – or do we tend to be more self-centered?
Good relationship has to do with openness and acceptance. It’s important to be open, and accepting, of those who may not be just like us – be it looking like us (ethnicity, gender, and such) or thinking like us (religion, politics, and such). When people do things differently, are they seen as different or not okay?
I’d like to offer some information I got at a conference on Thanksgiving weekend about cultural sensitivity and acceptance. “Intercultural competency” has to do with perception and what we do with those perceptions, and it has to do with our capacity to experience commonalities and differences (or not).
There are different stages of development in one model of intercultural sensitivity. 1) Denial – the inability to see differences (“my culture is the only reality” – this inability to see differences can only be present in the dominant culture because of such a privileged position). 2) Defense/polarization – dualistic, “us versus them” (differences are seen, but they’re always negative). 3) Reversal – reverses the us-them polarization (“them” becomes superior, “we” are stereotyped in negative ways; oppression is internalized). 4) Minimization – over-emphasis on commonalities and similarities (minimizing differences; insistently nice). 5) Acceptance – cultural differences are accepted and acknowledged. 6) Adaptation – empathy and frame-shifting (can see more than one cultural perspective; this is not assimilation).
We seek meaning in life, and we find meaning where we are able to have an identity. When our identity is minimized (whether through criticism, or an attempt to be caring or “nice”), it is hard to find meaningful connections in life. So the task becomes one of finding appropriate ways of connecting with others – those who may not be just like us.
In my sermon this morning, I described a culture clash between eastern and western cultures. It’s so easy to miss nuance when one lacks an openness to experience other than their own.
It’s a matter of a desire to be in relationship. We all come with our own points of view, based on our upbringings, and what we’ve come to know as “normal.” And, we find ourselves in different walks of life as a result. In it all, however, we’re called to see each other as God sees us: as beloved children living in a beloved creation.