No, I’m not pitching some twisted new reality show. This is real life. And as usual real life is messier than theory. I found this out recently when I experienced a real life collision of cultural forces. I don’t want to go into all the details really. It could happen anywhere in any number of permutations. All that’s required is more than one culture, some assumptions and prejudices and a little dispensational archaeology for the fireworks.
Here’s what I learned… so far. When engaging cross-culturally we do not check our cultures, prejudices and assumptions at the door. We carry them with us always. The fatal flaw is thinking that we have somehow moved beyond this and now engage the world from a trans-cultural perspective. We must humble enough to ask what cultural assumptions shade our interpretation of events and conversations. A good rule is to ask more questions than you make statements. (Still trying to live that one out)
It’s okay to make claims and state opinions as long as we hold them tentatively and are open (really open) to hearing other perspectives. As a seminary graduate I now have the burden of letters after my name (which I have yet to use) that often give more weight to what I say. I find this an unfortunate state of affairs, but it seems to be the case. I was very upset last week when a cross-cultural discussion about faith resulted in the non-degreed believer putting down her own faith because she did not have my training. That is the point at which I know I failed. (This is not only a cross-cultural problem, but perhaps is highlighted in those encounters.)
How can I both encourage people without theological training and also share my knowledge without creating a spiritual hierarchy of authority with myself higher up on the totem pole?
This is a vexing question. One that has nice answers in a classroom, but gets really messy in relationship with real people. One idea is for me to shut up more. Which I will begin practicing… now.