Friday, June 1, 2012

Conversation and Stumbling Blocks

With this reflection by Joshua Keeney from Ministry in a Multicultural Church, the MAS journalism blog continues to share student work from a variety of seminary courses.  Ministry in a Multicultural Church is taught by Ms. Kathy Akiyama.

Tendency to Evaluate
by Joshua Keeney

After reading the article "Stumbling Blocks in Intercultural Communication," many points speak to me, but the main point that has remained in my mind is the fifth stumbling block.  This stumbling block is the "tendency to evaluate, to approve or disapprove, the statements and actions of the other person or group.  Rather than try to comprehend thoughts and feelings from the worldview of the other, we assume our own culture or way of life is the most natural" (Barna 182). 

In other words, the trap of assuming everyone grew up with the same upbringing I did and has no life experiences other than those which I have been through is a regular point of contention and struggle when conversing with others of differing cultural and religious views.  This is the talking point which will be evaluated and expounded upon in my specific experience and continued theological reflection.

Joshua Keeney

This specific stumbling block and way of approaching dialogue with others has been a mainstay in my way of thinking and communicating with others and was recently challenged, though not individually and focused on me but rather the group as a whole, while attending an ecumenical and interfaith conference with Protestants and Jews.  From the beginning, the desired attitude of the conference relayed from those who were leading was for the participants not to proselytize others or become cut off from a conversation because they disagreed or were angered with comments spoken by another member of the dialogue group; on the contrary, they wanted all members to become involved in the discussions and feel free to share their own specific feelings and ideas without the necessity of arguing.

The most vivid and particular example came from the Protestant service in which they referred to Jesus Christ as Jesus Sophia and Jesus Krista.  These terms were foreign to me and immediately raised a defensive wall to what the speaker discussed for the next few seconds because I felt they were trying to call Jesus a woman that He most certainly is not.  Yet, the recap of the desired attitude to keep an open mind to what each person had to say, even when we disagreed, was what refocused me and allowed me to remain attentive throughout the rest of the talk.

She went on further to explain her point that some of the women at the Christian school she attended found it hard to relate to the masculine Jesus they perceived from the Bible, and therefore used these feminine terms to better identify with Him.  Additionally, she went on to explain that the surname Sophia was used because it is the Greek word for wisdom and Jesus is referred to as the Wisdom of God in the Bible while Krista was used because it is the feminine form of Christ.

Without continuing in my attentiveness to what she had to say, I easily could have dismissed her points without listening to the support she gave for using these terms.  Though I still ended up disagreeing with her after what she said, it was easier to understand where she came from and even exactly why I disagreed with her statements.  My feelings at the end were still a bit of uneasiness and discomfort toward her words, but I was better able to articulate this fact of feeling by overcoming my immediate tendency of evaluation.

The culture of Catholics and Protestants can differ greatly.  In my experience, personal interpretation, most notably of Sacred Scripture but also of other faith aspects, is a cornerstone within the Protestant communities.  They can view specific aspects of religion very differently and seemingly have no problem in doing so; in contrast, Catholics value personal interpretation, both in and outside of Sacred Scriptures, but not to the extent of understanding differences in beliefs about religion as necessarily positive or good.  There is, or should be, a consensus as to what we believe in and how we exercise that belief.  "The admonition to resist the tendency to immediately evaluate does not mean that one should not develop one's own sense of right and wrong" (Barna 183), but rather have a healthy understanding about what our right or wrong entails.

The tendency to evaluate also seems to cause the one who is receiving information to hear and wait for the other person to be done speaking to give their response, instead of listening and mulling over what the other person is saying in order to examine and relate the speaker's words to themselves.  The thought, "I think my way is the right way and there is no other" becomes prevalent, especially in our American culture where our right to our own opinion is highly valued.  If something does not sound right, though it may indeed be right, my first intuition is to examine how it is wrong and attack it or simply be repelled by the foreign idea.

This highlights that I do not remain open to the possibility of others enlightening me with new knowledge or information about formalities or issues that I already acknowledge or feel are settled and unchangeable.  We have invested much, in fact our whole heart and soul, into our way of life and do not want to be proven wrong, even the slightest bit, and feel that we have lived falsely or been misinformed for any length of time.

I look to the Gospel of John for the connection between the Scriptures and my experience at the conference, specifically John 8.3-11.  We read:

The Scribes and Pharisees . . . said to Him, "Teacher this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such" . . . He stood up and said to them, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her . . . Has no one condemned you? . . . Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again (John 8.3-11).

I find this passage to be one of the main passages where Jesus shows His great compassion and love for all people, especially women.  I understand this Jesus to be a man many women could relate to and find conducive to developing a spiritual life around.  John shows a man who knows it is not always correct to enforce the strictest letter of the law but rather the spirit of the law and have mercy, just as a caring mother would do in such a delicate situation with a child.  Jesus showed a gentle love to this woman instead of the tough love that the other men, that is, the Pharisees and the Scribes, were ready and willing to commit to her because of her sinful deed.

As a result, not only from this verse but from many more not mentioned due to length, I find the use of additional terms to feminize Jesus, such as Sophia and Krista, unnecessary and merely a construct pieced together with insufficient reason.  In spite of that, it has made me reconsider how I approach ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, with a deeper openness and flexibility in what I respond to immediately and what I ponder more intimately in my heart.  It showed me that considering the points of view brought up by those of other faiths should be given similar time to those given by people who are authority figures in Catholicism.  Furthermore, I feel like this situation allowed me to reflect on how my own faith has grown and remember that not everyone is on the same level in his or her spirituality or on the same faith path.

Resources

Barna, LaRay M.  Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication: Stumbling Blocks in Intercultural Communication.  Boston: Intercultural Press, 1998.

Holy Bible.  Revised Standard Version.  Second Catholic Edition.  San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006.

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