Challenging Ethnocentrism

We are in the midst of one of the most divisive and harsh presidential campaigns possible with the choices being terribly bleak--truly a case where neither could be considered even the "lesser of two evils". Much of the rhetoric and motivation is based on fear and ethnocentrism. We are also experiencing the explosion caused by the deep wounds of racism in our country. Answers seem to be elusive, at best. The future looks bleak. And where are the voices of those who speak of love, peace and the freedom from fear?

As an Intercultural Trainer and a Christian, I am especially disturbed by the harshness of the attitude towards people of different nationalities, skin color or cultural expressions than ours. Erroneous, negative conclusions are drawn about anything "different" than our own cultural norms. There are many contributing factors, of course, but the underlying cause is ethnocentrism--the belief that my cultural or personal ways are "normal" and therefore, preferable. Ethnocentrism is ALWAYS wrong. It is definitely sinful.

In teaching how to appreciate difference as I trained people to work and live in another culture, I had to confront this inherent ethnocentrism that is found in every culture--but is especially evident in our "white, anglo-saxon, protestant American" response. Because I am a member of this group, I'm speaking to myself and my own culture. I grieve that this is the case.

In Cross-Cultural Theory, we learn of a pervasive response that is found when confronting another culture called, "Attribution Theory". This means that when we encounter someone from a culture different from ours, we attribute the actions or responses of a few to the whole. For instance, if you are in Paris and you are treated rudely by a waiter, we tend to attribute rudeness to the whole of the culture and declare, when we return home, "All French waiters are rude"--or, even worse, "All the French are rude." On the contrary, when we encounter a rude waiter in our own country (and race), we say, "That waiter was certainly rude."  

I read of such attribution happening daily in our media. Whether we are talking about Islam, black men or policemen (for example), we attribute the actions of a few to the general populace. This goes beyond mere stereotyping (which can be positive or negative), it creates the justification to make policies, give speeches that promote fear, and even vote for candidates in order to underscore our ethnocentric, sinful attitudes.

God calls us to a very different response. He broke down the ethnocentric divisions by 1) creating all mankind in His image (Gen. 1:27); calling all ethnic groups into His Kingdom (Gal. 3:28; Rev.5:9-10); 3) commanding us to love even our enemies (Luke 6:27); 4) setting the rule of love for others as the standard for His children (1 Cor. 13); and 5) challenged us to think only on those things that are lovely, commendable, and excellent (Phil. 4:8). This is only a sampling of how God expects us to treat others and doesn't allow for either the attribution of characteristics nor ethnocentrism!

I honestly don't know how to bring this blog to a conclusion. I'm deeply disturbed by what I see in our culture, and yet I refuse to live in fear or despair. Somehow we must each choose to make a difference and treat others as we wish to be treated (Matt. 7:12). . . and love them as God loves each of us. May we each, personally, work to destroy ethnocentrism wherever it be found. For the sake of our country. . . and our world. For the sake of ourselves and our children. But, mostly, for God's sake and to His glory.

"Seated at His Table"

My challenging task this summer is to bring my book, "I Choose to Forgive" up-to-date and expand it with other materials. In attempting to do this, I'm re-visiting my journals and the voluminous correspondence between myself and the man who murdered our son. Grief, pain and the memories of our loss threaten to overwhelm me at times. But, there is also the amazement of God's grace, healing and forgiveness that are so abundant.  My relationship with God and with the man (now a brother-in-Christ) who killed Tim has deepened and become so sweet to recall.

A key part of the journey was the vision I experience while singing in church one day about "once enemies, now seated as His table". In that changing kaleidoscope of images, was the crowning vision of our dining room table, with our children and grandchildren sitting around it, plus the man who killed Tim and his children were sitting with us. At the head of the table was Christ. So powerful!

This image from God eventually led us to work towards the release of this man from prison and to our precious meeting with him this spring. I believe God is assuring me that not only will this "enemy" be with us at His table, but that God is working in the lives of his children to bring them to the table as well.

I was reminded of this recently as I engaged in worship at the "Ancient-Future Faith Convocation" in Jacksonville, FL. As part of the liturgy of worship, we sang a song by an 18th Century hymnologist, Isaac Watts. The final stanza brought tears of joy as we sang,

The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days; O may Thy house be my abode, and all my work be praise. There would I find settled rest, while others go and come; No more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home.

 Yes, we who once were enemies of God, are invited to sit as his heavenly table. But it is even better than that, we're invited, not as strangers or guests, but like a child at home. Amazing.

There is no greater joy in my life than to have my children and grandchildren enjoying a meal around our table. It boggles my mind what the celebration will be like when we are in the presence of our Heavenly Father! 

The interesting thing is that God wants to live in this reality NOW, not only in eternity. We are ever in His presence. THAT is reality--far more than the brokenness and we see all around us. Do I celebrate, a precursor of that heavenly table, being with other "children of God" as I should? Do I delight in the provisions of God as He serves us at His table?

Oh, may I live in this glorious reality of being God's child!

Am I a Leader?

The topic of leadership has been written about by dozens of "experts" and taught in hundreds of seminars around the world. There doesn't seem to be much more to be said on this topic. But, as I'm learning what it means to lead a new arts and faith initiative, I've been thinking about how I would describe myself as a leader. Recently reading "Strong and Weak" by Andy Crouch has brought clarity to my thinking. While it isn't new or profound, the reminder has been valuable. 

In Crouch's excellent book, he writes, "Leadership does not begin with a title or a position. It begins the moment you are concerned more about the others' flourishing than you are about your own." WOW! This seems to fly in the face of nearly all the leadership books that are so popular. The standard for a true leader is not their lists of accomplishments and awards--it is the flourishing of those under his/her care. How many leaders model this? Are there any in our political or commercial realm? Even in the church?

Clearly, by this standard, our greatest example of a leader would be Jesus Christ. His leadership was marked with delegating, serving, and empowering others. The most poignant picture of his leadership style is found in John 13 as Jesus knelt and washed the feet of his disciples. But, the essence of his leadership style was also found as he sent out his disciples to heal and to bring freedom from oppression; in the many examples of the "sending" in what we call the Great Commission; and so many other illustrations. Jesus, the God-Man, was not seeking to dominate his followers. Instead, he was committed to the empowerment of those who followed him! I've often thought about how humanly foolish it seemed to leave the spread of the Kingdom in the hands of broken people like us!

I cannot conclude these thoughts better than Andy Crouch does. He writes, "We learn that the desire to control others is an idolatry that will not deliver what we seek and will certainly not lead to their flourishing. So we turn over power to others, giving them authority to act on their own behalf, to cultivate and create in their own right rather than just implementing our vision. We discover the joy of true power, which is to make room for others to act with authority. We measure our lives increasingly by what others have done--and received credit for--thanks to our advocacy. By exposing ourselves to the possibility that they will surprise and delight us with the flourishing they create."

May this be the mark of my attempts at being a leader.

Am I an Artist?

I am a lover of art and passionate about encouraging artists. This began over twenty-three years ago in the midst of my deepest grief and has grown over the years. I serve as the Europe Ministries Director of the largest ministry/mission agency that is populated with only artists and people doing imaginative work. I'm the founder/director of local arts' initiative in the greater Charlotte region. But, I am not an artist and there is always a hesitation when I introduce myself or start to tell my story of why I'm doing what I do. My normal introduction is "I am NOT an artist, but. . ." But is this accurate?

Pablo Picasso is often frequently quoted, as saying, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain one once he grows up." Was there a time in my life when artistic expression was natural to me? Did I paint? Work with clay? Dance? Sing? I have no memory of doing artistic things. I find that horribly sad. What caused me to lose the artistic freedom of expression in my life? Was it criticism from a teacher or a fellow student? Or, was it my own perfectionism that could never be satisfied? I really do not know.

What I do know is that I have a strong desire to be an artist--primarily a visual artist. But I have an even stronger fear to even try. What has produced such an unreasonable reaction to something that Picasso says was a natural part of being a child? There seems to be no logical cause of my fear. Oh, I buy books by the dozens about art. I just don't do art. Why?

Knowledge can never replace practice if one wishes to be an artist.

I have termed myself a "Creative Catalyst" (from Makoto Fujimura's writings). I encourage artists. I lead events and activities for artists. I teach churches how to embrace and engage with artists. I am deeply touched by quality art, of all types. I try to surround myself with good art and good music. But, I am still not an artist.

I will not deny my creative expression in my home, clothing and family. I do not question I have that part of the "Imago Dei" (image of God) called creativity. But, I still cannot declare, "I am an artist". 

This has been a personal and quite vulnerable sharing. I don't know if it speaks to others of their lives as well. Perhaps it isn't art, but other pleasurable activities that are denied because of fear. I know that such fear of not of God. I also know that God does not want such irrational fear to keep us from engaging in all the beautiful expressions that are available to us in this life. But, again, knowing and doing are not synonymous.

I would love to hear from you about the fears that block your freedom to engage in things that are important to you in life. Perhaps you can share how you've found the courage to face those fears and conquer them. I'm sure many of you have had issues far more serious to face than my fear of picking up a paint brush, but we are still together in seeking to overcome that which holds us back. Let's support each other in our journey of courage.