Approaching Cultural Divisions with Empathy
Amar Peterman on the radical act of the Gospel of Jesus in our world today: loving our neighbors.
The Office of Multicultural Relations at Princeton Theological Seminary is here to serve the needs of the entire Seminary Community. We serve collaboratively with all students and employees in developing and implementing sustainable initiatives.
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What would our communities of faith be like if we celebrated our differences? What if our communities had both respectful separation for different groups and respectful coming together? What if we decided that our multicultural, communities were of such importance that we learned each other’s music; not just the tunes, but the history, and the feelings of singing today and yesterday . . . not only music of the church but music that comes from people’s movements? What if we decided that our diverse communities were of such importance that we learned each other’s stories, not beginning with questions, but with active listening . . . hearing what has been written in history, how it has been written, and what has not been written and asking why . . . feeling each other’s stories with our bodies and souls?
What if we decided that our multicultural communities were of such importance that we learned each other’s languages, maybe in formal coursework or maybe asking what is the word for this or that, what are usual greetings or expressions of politeness? What if we became more attentive to cultural differences of expressions and ways of being? What if we decided that our relationships with those considered as “the other” were of such importance that we learned about each others’ images of God? What if we opened ourselves to images of God as an old Black man or woman, or an old Asian man or woman, or a very young Native American person, or a campesino from Mexico? What if we stretched ourselves and learned each other’s interpretations of Bible stories? What if the dominant group in our communities really welcomed all to the table and embraced the sharing of power and control?
Our communities, like the communities of the early church, are called over and over again to faithfulness. We say in our creed that we are one people united in Christ. We proclaim one God, Creator, and Sustainer of us all. We write policies and invoke doctrines that keep an inclusive vision before us. Formally, we declare we are “in union with Christ and that we form one body and, as parts of that body, we belong to each other.” Such is our formal theology. But what about our day-to-day theology, our practice? How do we actually live our daily lives---both as a community of faith and as individuals that represent a myriad of cultural values, theological perspectives, socio-economic-political-religious beliefs? If we are honest, our practice, our day-to-day theology, does not always reflect the formal theological pronouncements we publicly profess.
God is doing a new thing right here at Princeton Theological Seminary. Not so much in the buildings that occupy 64 Mercer Street, but in the hearts and lives of this community and in the partnerships with the surrounding communities. Yet, the only thing that will keep us from seeing it is fear. Hear then the word of the Lord, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine .. and I love you.” Human families and communities are designed to create stability for their members. Churches are no different—perhaps sometimes they are much worse. Even in the midst of suffering, so often we humans cling to the old adage: “The evil you know is better than the evil you don’t know.” Isaiah 43 compels us to view our experience of God’s grace in the past as a springboard so that we see neither present nor future with fear but with expectation.