Global Church: part 3 - building our “dream home”
This is my “dream home” said the Roman Catholic Cardinal Tagel when addressing the Lambeth Conference. He wasn’t speaking of the conference itself (a strange kind of home that would be, with only bishops and their spouses!) But he was picking up on the themes we had been exploring in 1 Peter and the universal human longing for a true home.
I was struck by his references to both intercultural community and also intergenerational community – two terms which we use a lot in the Diocese of Leicester. The “dream home”, he said, includes diversity as we welcome the stranger of another culture, and it includes “intergenerational otherness” as we recognise that technology and social media are shaping our children in a way that older generations can’t always understand.
In the light of this, he emphasised the importance of developing cultural intelligence. “Culture is second nature to us. We talk, eat, dream, celebrate according to our culture. We must understand how people express their humanity in their own cultures.”
And this, he suggested, requires humility. For if we don’t understand the importance of culture (both our own and others), we will always be quick to judge someone simply because they have a different way of doing things. Humility keeps us open to the possibility that someone else’s way of following Jesus is just as valid as mine. It is simply expressed in a different way.
It seems to me that the task of developing cultural intelligence is rapidly becoming a core skill for clergy and lay leaders in the church. Whether it is the rapid changes in our demography (our towns and cities becoming ever more diverse), or the growing differences between the technologically literate and illiterate, we live with a plurality of cultures in our communities. And this means that followers of Christ are constantly having to navigate different cultures, something which is no easy task for the seasoned traveller, never mind the person who stays at home and simply observes the world all around them changing.
How can we do this? Well the starting point is simply meeting people of different cultures and reflecting with them on the differences and similarities of our cultures. This is in essence what we did at the Lambeth Conference. Indeed in my opinion, it is the most important thing that we did at the conference (far more important that any of the specific topics we addressed). In my own Bible study group, I spent time with bishops from Pakistan, South Africa, the Solomon Islands, USA and England. Reflecting on the same Bible passage but from our hugely different cultures was both fascinating, enriching and at times frustrating (I couldn’t always understand the point someone else was trying to make).
Outside of such conferences, the starting point has to be those places in our own communities where we can encounter someone of another culture. Whether it be a charity supporting asylum seekers, or a school or college where we learn about the culture of young people, there are plenty of opportunities around. But we then need others with whom we can reflect and learn together. This might be a clergy chapter meeting, or a small group in our church where we meet regularly to recount our experiences and ask one another questions: what are the values which shape this culture; how are these values expressed; how do these values challenge or overlap with our own; and what does the Gospel of Jesus Christ have to say to people of this culture?
These are difficult questions. Missionaries have been wrestling with them for centuries (at least they were when they were open to other cultures rather than simply trying to impose their own). And they touch on every aspect of discipleship, from our worship to our ethics and our approaches to mission. I hope they will soon become core to all we do as we build our “dream home” together.