Monday, May 07, 2012

It Ain't A Race

I'll apologize in advance for the punny title, but I liked the double meaning so it survived my internal edit.

It's been humbling to have the conversations I've had in the past few days since the last post on race. A lot of people I respect quite a bit have made great comments and queries and helped me continue to process everything that's been going through my head recently.

Since I haven't been inspired to change topics just yet, you'll get some more reflections that have come from those conversations:

First, is to stress the importance of living and relating across economic and racial boundaries. I am forever indebted to the positive challenge that is constantly on the lips of Ron Benefiel (a friend and former President of NTS) - Does it look like the kingdom? The implication being that the coming together of all races and peoples is a major eschatelogical signpost - and if we are really living in the world that is becoming, we have to take seriously the need for unity.

There is something here much beyond the type of individualism I focused on in the previous post. It's more than just treating each person as a person, it's taking into account the broad histories and wide gulfs between people groups that have been separated by trivial differences since, well, certainly as long as anyone can remember. I don't think there's anything wrong with seeking out experiences and relationships because they are different from your perspective - economically, religiously, racially, nationally, etc.

One of the struggles for me, however, is a futile search for completeness when it comes to such radical integrative relationship. Somehow, subconsciously, I have this idea that there's a mathematical formula for understanding another culture - that I can spend X number of hours with one group and that will be enough to "get" them - and I can move on.

It really does, at times, seem like a race race.

Perhaps what I didn't do a good job of communicating in the previous post is that, for me, the charge must be to slow down and be present in the moment. I don't expect everyone will encounter the same problems and roadblocks in their struggle - but there will be challenges to address and overcome.

Neither do I want people to think I've given up on immersing myself in different cultures. Especially with a daughter coming along very soon, I want to make sure we're engaged with many different people in many different ways. The important thing is to constantly be challenging yourself to more and deeper exploration.

I regard as one of the formative experiments of my life the embrace of one question - "What if different doesn't mean worse." The jump from cultural superiority to self-reflective evaluation is one we don't speak about, let along engage in, nearly enough. The practical difference in moving from "their culture is good for them, but I just wish they could see it from my perspective" to really examining your own culture through someone else's eyes, is unimaginable.

It took a mental exercise to make the leap. I didn't really believe that another culture could really be on par with mine; I was buried in ethnocentrism. I made the intellectual assumption, a "what if," what if this culture was just as valid as mine How would I explain that value to someone else? It was in that exercise that I began, almost immediately to see value where none had existed before and to see shortcomings in my own culture that were previously invisible.

I think what I was realizing in the previous post was that this applies to individuals as well as groups. It's a tool to be applied in all relationships and its an ever evolving challenge. It's not a race to be won, not a task to be completed... just steps on a journey.

I've rambled enough for one post, let alone two. I just want to close with heartfelt thanks to those patient souls who have and continue to walk with me through life's journey. My incipient arrogance and stubborn naivete must be grating at times, but you have persevered and I am grateful.


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