I am ever so grateful that I was assigned The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community, written by Eric H. F. Law, during my studies at Loyola Institute of Ministry – New Orleans. It has been an invaluable source of wisdom as I bear witness to the ways Unitarian Universalism is and is not welcoming. I gratefully commend it to ministers and lay leadership.
Law is an ordained Episcopal priest who grew up in Hong Kong, then immigrated to the United States when he was 14. He has a lot to say about external and internal culture, both the breadth and depth of hospitality. Law offers a helpful paradigm for understanding how to get beneath the surface of what limits our ability to welcome multiple cultures. He writes:
[E]xternal culture – [music, food, dance, art] – constitutes only a small part of our cultural iceberg. The larger part is the hidden internal culture that governs the way we think, perceive, and behave unconsciously… the “instinct” of our cultures…The cultural environment in which we grew up shapes the way we behave and think. Implicit in this cultural environment are the cultural myths, values, beliefs, and thought patterns that influence our behavior and the way we perceive and respond to our surroundings.
Most of the time we are unconscious of their existence.
They are implicitly learned and very difficult to change…Internal culture is like the air we breathe. We need it to survive and make sense of the world we live in, but we may not be conscious of it.
Internal cultural difference is not a matter of different ways of singing or speaking or dressing. It is a matter of perceiving and feeling.
Some of you may remember the scene from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) when Harry Potter sees a strange reptilian horse pulling the carriage and asks “What is it?”
Ron Weasley: What’s what?
Harry Potter: That. Pulling the carriage.
Hermione Granger: Nothing’s pulling the carriage, Harry. It’s pulling itself like always.
Luna Lovegood: You’re not going mad. I see them too. You’re just as sane as I am.
While being called as sane as Luna Lovegood was perhaps not particularly reassuring to Harry Potter, I hope that the image can be useful for Unitarian Universalists.
The carriage of our faith does not pull itself. Unitarian Universalism swims in the waters of implicit culture. This faith, our congregations, and each one of us have internal cultures.
And as Law explains:
The same event may be perceived very differently by two culturally different persons because the two different internal cultures highlight different parts of the same incident… To discover the unconscious, implicit part of our culture is a lifelong process. Some of us go through life like a fish in the stream and never know we are living in water… “When whites and people of color recognize that there are cultural differences in their perceptions of power, they take the first step toward doing justice.”
To Eric Law’s multicultural list I will add other layers of internal cultural perceptions of power differences that usually receive only external attention:
* cis- and trans- gendered,
* the gender spectrum from female to male,
* the spectrum of abilities and mobility,
* the sexual orientation spectrum,
* the class caste from poverty to the 1%,
* the ageism that saturates our lives from infancy to elderhood…
Law believes that “because of cultural differences some people are perceived as lions and wolves and some as lambs and calves” unconsciously, setting up “an uneven distribution of power before groups even meet.”
If the church is to become the holy mountain on which people from diverse cultures shall not hurt or destroy each other, we must respond to the call to do justice.
Doing justice in a multicultural environment requires us to understand the consequences of these cultural differences in power perceptions. Doing justice commands us to reveal this unconscious and disproportionate distribution of power. Doing justice compels us to develop new leadership skills that can confront injustice. Then we can create a just community when people from different cultures encounter each other with equal strength.
Our call in this time, as a people of faith, is the same one found on the cover to The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, namely, “Don’t Panic.” Realizing that our perceptions will be strongly influence by our internal culture, let us look around at life outside of our stream and honor that the water we live in is not the totality of the human experience.
Let us welcome grace into our midst, offering mercy to ourselves and to each other as we discern how we are together and how we wish to be together. May we bring our whole and holy selves into a community committed to collective liberation, to radical inclusion, to equity and compassion in human relationships.
Beloveds, let us do justice together, faithfully.