I have a fundamental belief that churches need to produce disciples who build bridges between very different cultures and that part of recognizing different cultures is to understand the differences in people.
Perhaps it’s my age speaking, but I’m convinced more than ever that we don’t need to “build bridges” with people who look the same, think the same, serve the same, act the same, worship the same, or who are the same as we are. I look at it differently, I suppose, and my spiritual journey has led me down the path to building bridges with people who are different from me.
Bridge building hasn't always been easy, and I've fallen off the bridge a few times in my attempts to bridge differences. With the scars to prove it, I’ve discovered that to build bridges; I had to accept that people are different and not deficient. For instance, some people are very outspoken, while others are not. Some people desire to action, while others cherish ideas and reflection.
The world is full of all types of individuals. If we are an expressive person, we tend not to understand a reserved person. In the same way, if we are a “heart” person who values people’s feelings, we may not understand a “just the facts” person, who values logic.
Our differences are what author Rosabeth Moss Kanter describes as being an X and an O in her book, A Tale of O. She highlights what happens to the O, in a world of Xs. One consequence of being an O, Kanter points out, is heightened visibility. When an O walks in the room, the Xs notice. Whatever the O does, positive or negative, it stands out because of this increased visibility. When several Os are together, it captures the X's attention. Without the "other" in room, the Xs go about their business, perhaps not even noticing that they are all Xs. But when the O walks in, the Xs are suddenly self-conscious about their X-ness.
If we’re honest, we’re never totally an X, which often represents the dominant culture, or an O, which represents the non-dominant culture. For instance, a couple of weeks, when I attended the DS Orientation at Lake Junaluska, I walked into a local restaurant, I was an O. It was obvious that I wasn’t from the area as I didn’t know whether to sit or to wait for a server. A few minutes later, when I drove onto Lake Junaluska’s campus, I was no longer an O, but an X, part of the dominant culture of being at a United Methodist Conference Center as a pastor and new District Superintendent.
OK, so I admit that Xs and Os may not be in your top 5 of burning issues. There is a host of matters that divide people into Xs and Os that need our attention. But how do we start? How do we engage in meaningful dialogue about hot-button issues? How do we get past our fear? How do we get past our anger? Are we willing to take the risk of speaking up? Can we trust that there will be others to listen and support us? Will it make a difference anyway? Is it worth the effort?
I’ve learned to address these questions by focusing on my sphere of influence. I can't fix everything, but some things are within my control. While many of us experience ourselves as Os at some point, we all have some sphere of influence in which we can work for change, even if it is just in our network of friends.
Ask yourself, “Whose lives do I affect and how? What power and authority do I wield in the world? Whom do I talk to in a day?" Identify your strengths and use them. If we are to live together in harmony, there has to be a “both/and” thinking that counters our commonly held assumptions of dividing the world into Xs and Os.
On the Journey,