We inhabit a global world where we meet many people with different ethnicities, religions and cultures, who come together as neighbors living side by side. As we enter a world of globalization and inter-reliance, it is clear that we need to speak with one another with intelligence and understanding so that there is both harmony and peace. In this worldwide community, the probability of our dealing with different cultures increases with each year.
In such a world . . . how do we welcome the stranger into our communities, into our churches and into our lives?
I attended a thought provoking conference, Understanding Religious Pluralism: Perspectives from Religious Studies and Theology at Georgetown University (May 23-15, 2012) organized by Dr. Peter Phan. It was a gathering of scholars in different disciplines, religious studies, theology, ethics, Bible, and psychology as well as different religions. About one hundred and twenty participants gathered to hear plenary speakers and panel presenters on religious pluralism.
I presented a paper on “A Global Spirit.”
My paper expanded on my book, The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other which proposes that Christianity cannot monopolize the Spirit; therefore we need to expand Christians understanding of the Spirit which already exists in other world religions. We cannot say that the Spirit belongs only to Christians, thereby excluding people of different faiths who experience and articulate the Spirit in their lives.
All the conference papers generated challenging questions and discussions. I was struck by a quote read by a fellow panelist from Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. “Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”
The question of welcoming the stranger has been a troubling, poorly surveyed space on the map of my theological journey for the past several years. Thus, this quote is quite exciting as it reminds me that hospitality is about welcoming the foreigner. The heart is the most hospitable place and we need to open our hearts so that the stranger can be welcomed.
When immigrants come to America to make it home, it is very important for them to feel welcomed and accepted. Presently, too much prejudice, racism and hostility still exists. Our fear and discomfort around the Other, generates difficulty loving our neighbor and welcoming those who are different from us. Differences in the language, food, dress, heritage and religious beliefs become stumbling blocks.
The question that lies before all of us is this . . . are we going to ignore those who are different from us or are we going to welcome them?
In a world where cultures, ideas, social practices and religions are clashing, we have a choice to make. Do we allow these differences to separate us further? Or do we allow these differences to be an opportunity where new friendships can grow and become a safe place of welcome/embrace? I hope that the latter will be the choice that we all make.
Perhaps, at the end of our journey, it may come down to how we treat the foreigner that will really matter. Jesus did say, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).
How are you and I welcoming the stranger as we live in a pluralist society?
I love sharing my blogging space with Guest Bloggers and I am glad to welcome back Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim. Grace received her M.Div. from Knox College and her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. She is an Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology and the Director of the Master of Arts in Theological Studies program at Moravian Theological Seminary and the is the author of two books, The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology and The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology. Grace was recently ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and also blogs for 99 Brattle.