The Spiritual Landscape
Recently I've been involved in some interesting conversations about diversity. What I've noted about those conversations is that we are still a long way from talking about it in categories that register the complexity of the global landscape.
Take, for example, the way that we talk about Africa and "Africans."
Africa is anything but monolithic.
It is a continent . . . (for crying out loud).
It has a population of 1.033 billion . . .
With 54, 57, or 63 countries, depending upon who's doing the counting,
With between 2000 to 3000 languages and 8000 dialects,
With approximately 3000 tribes or people groups,
Who adhere to one of roughly nine or ten global religions,
And countless indigenous religions.
Factor in differences in life narratives and socio-economic standing and it becomes clear that there is no such thing as an "African" consciousness, worldview, or religious sensibility. The same could be said about the difficulty with talking about what "Asians," "Hispanics," "Latin Americans," and people from "the Southern Hemisphere" think or believe.
Categories of this kind are inevitable, perhaps. They provide a shorthand means of describing the world around us. But they do far more to obscure rich differences, cultural forces, and human histories than they do to illuminate them. When we use them we also run the risk of short-circuiting the process of learning from one another by erasing those rich differences with categories that don't meaningfully communicate much at all.
So, it is time to rethink diversity:
Let's try to avoid using categories that suggest millions or billions of people believe the same thing. When we do, let's recognize their limited utility.
Let's embrace the endless possibilities for learning from one another and let's do the requisite listening it will take to do that learning. Let's evaluate each idea and outlook on its own merits rather than make categorical judgments that eliminate possibilities en bloc.
Let's avoid reading the views of others measured against our own history, context, and expectations. Let's recognize that even ideas that have close parallels in our own culture probably bear nothing more than passing and superficial resemblance to the "same" ideas expressed by people who belong to our own communities.
Globalization is nothing new. It is a force that has been in motion since the Romans began pouring concrete. It might be even older. But we live in an unprecedented age of near instantaneous connectivity. Let's reap the benefits by engaging one another in thoughtful, reflective, and critical conversation.
Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/