I participated in a workshop the past couple days. This class was continuing education for me, but it was completely not a church event ~ not designed for church people, not marketed to church people, didn't use church language, and used as a starting place concepts that are mostly foreign to church people who have never lived and worked in a business environment.
I knew all of this before even signing up for the class, but was encouraged by someone I trust to go anyway, that I would get a lot out of the class. She was right, and I'm glad I went. I knew beforehand that I'd be glad to have gone, but that didn't take away the discomfort and anxiety I felt before walking in the building at the beginning of the first day. It was a greater anxiety than I normally feel when entering a new situation, because most of those new situations are church settings, where I've spent most of my life. By and large, church people of all varieties are pretty similar to one another, especially in church settings ~ so I don't get too nervous most of the time.
Maybe I was more aware of my surroundings than normal because the setting was unfamiliar, or maybe I would have picked up on this anyway. The group who was at this class reminded me of London. When I was in London, one thing I noticed was that it seemed completely normal, in a public space (train station, for instance) to hear three or four different languages being spoken, and to hear English spoken with multiple different accents. I'm sure my naiveté is showing, but that scenario in today's world (where people from all over the world can live next to each other peacefully and respectfully) is pretty beautiful.
This is what I saw at the class I took. For the past couple days, I heard Americ-English quite a few different accents ~ generic mountain west, east coast, upper midwest, and southern; and that's just people from USAmerica. I also heard English spoken with Russian, Chinese, and Indian accents as if that were completely normal. This made me wonder whether it is completely normal in the business world.
Now, imagine your church community. In congregations I've been part of, I have heard English spoken with different (international) accents; but those have been mostly European. I've heard German, Scottish, and Norwegian ~ that's about it. Which makes me wonder why. I wonder whether we unintentionally exclude people who don't look and talk like we do from our church communities, or whether it's intentional? Obviously, some congregations do a good job of embracing diversity, but they tend to be the exception.
Interestingly, it seems to me that Muslims tend to be better about welcoming diversity than Christians. There's a mosque on the way between my house and our congregation's church building. Whenever there's an event in the parking lot, or if I happen to drive by when people are arriving for or leaving from prayer services, I see people from many different parts of the world ~ and as I understand it, this is not unique to this one particular mosque.
I wonder how our world would be different if we USAmericans were less xenophobic. I'm not advocating that anyone give up their identity ~ I'm proud to be a Lutheran Christian with German ancestry (no matter what German policy was in the 1930s and 1940s), and don't want to give that up. Of course, the reasons why would be for another blog post, but I am proud of who I am. But my pride in who I am does nothing to diminish my interest in people different from me. In fact, I wonder whether those who are more comfortable with their identity are more likely to be accepting and welcoming of those who are different.
My question, especially on this particular day, is, "How the world would be different if we intentionally practiced respect for people who are different from us?"