Culture: Living in the Salad Bowl

We arrive here with all of our differences
May we never feel we must leave them outside
We arrive here shaped by life-long experiences
May we not feel pressed into a shape that doesn’t fit
As we come together as a diverse people
Let us yearn to know one another better
Let us be inquisitive, gently pushing aside the barrier of polite distance
We light this flame for loving curiosity
May it guide us toward greater understanding, deeper relationship, and an ever growing love


Franklin D. Roosevelt - Address on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. (Excerpt)

"We take satisfaction in the thought that those who have left their native land to join us may still retain here their affection for some things left behind—old customs, old language, old friends. Looking to the future, they wisely choose that their children shall live in the new language and in the new customs of this new people. And those children more and more realize their common destiny in America. That is true whether their forebears came past this place eight generations ago or only one.

The realization that we are all bound together by hope of a common future rather than by reverence for a common past has helped us to build upon this continent a unity unapproached in any similar area or population in the whole world. For all our millions of square miles, for all our millions of people, there 'is a unity in language and speech, in law and in economics, in education and in general purpose, which nowhere finds its match.”

A Ritual To Read To Each Other by William Stafford

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Message, by Andy Pakula

Welcome to a radically-inclusive community of faith. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever you bring with you, you are welcome here.

We say something like this every Sunday morning. When I’ve asked what parts of Sunday morning mean the most to you, the welcome has always come out on top. 

We all yearn to feel accepted. We ache to be welcomed just as we are. We’re used to making changes in our behaviour and our speech to fit in, but we so very badly want the chance to be loved and cared for and embraced for who we are - rather than who we pretend to be.

I have tried to keep my dog stories to a minimum on Sunday mornings. Not everyone is a dog person and I know that not everyone relates to dogs in the same way. But I hope you’ll forgive a dog digression now…

My dog, Rumi, goes to places where there are lots of other dogs and also a vast range of different humans. Every day, he encounters small dogs, big dogs, old dogs, young dogs, dogs of different colours, patterns and shapes... frightened dogs, bold dogs, fit dogs, fat dogs, strong dogs, and sickly dogs.

And he encounters people who are posh, people who are working class, people who speak different languages, people of all different appearances, people who are fit, people who have mobility issues, people who love dogs and people who are afraid of them, people who admire him and people who are not interested.

And Rumi is a radically inclusive dog.

I’d love to show you some photos or video, but we’re not equipped for that. Maybe someday… What I’d show you is Rumi with different dogs and different people. He never judges. He’s always curious. A dog can be tiny or twice his size and he is interested nonetheless. He can be gentle with a small dog and wrestle with a big one. He can be careful with a nervous dog and right in the face of a dog that’s up for that kind of thing. He tries to figure out what each dog needs and will respond to. He’s not always right, and he’ll adjust his approach if he’s not. 

And if you’re a human, it doesn’t matter to Rumi if you’re tall or short, black or brown or white, walking comfortably, or using a stick or a wheelchair. It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO or a street cleaner, if you have a private palace or have to sleep rough, Rumi is keen to meet you no matter what. He wants to get close. If he senses you don’t mind, he’ll give you a lick… or maybe ten.

Not everyone is happy to have a big dog near them - even a very friendly one. Some dogs will snarl or run and some people will recoil. Rumi is puzzled but not permanently discouraged. He expects to be accepted and welcomed by all these dogs and people and, even when it doesn’t happen, he continues to practice his radical acceptance.

The welcome in this place - the promise of radical acceptance - is something we treasure. It is also a responsibility. It is something we create together. If we receive but do not give acceptance, it cannot persist. To be radically accepted, we have to be radically accepting. If we are not radically accepting, we cannot sustain a radically-inclusive community.

We are nearly at the end of our three-month long theme on cultures. Today, we are going to return to a look at the culture and cultures of this place - of this community.

We’ve talked about multiculturalism and about what happens when different cultures come into context. You probably know some of the models - salad bowl, mosaic, and melting pot.

We heard an excerpt from a speech by Franklin Roosevelt as he engaged with the challenge of multiple cultures making up one people in America. We can hear in his words some of the challenges and the opportunities of many peoples becoming one. He fails to mention though the importance of the challenge to those already assimilated when new cultures arrive. It is an opportunity for new growth and new self-reflection - an uncomfortable one, to be sure, as many of the struggles in Europe and the US reflect today - but ultimately an opportunity that can lead to greater strength, wisdom, and understanding.

I like to cook. If you’ve had some of my potluck contributions, you know how this works. In the warm weather, it’s a bean and vegetable salad. In the cooler weather, the same salad becomes a hearty stew. And then, if it’s not all eaten, the leftovers can go in the blender and become a smooth soup.

Salad, stew, and soup. 

They’re pretty good images for when cultures mix. In a salad, all the elements remain separate. They are near one another but unchanged. Maybe there’s a sauce thrown on top of it all. It affects all the components, but they don’t really affect each other.

Most of the same ingredients can be heated together to become a stew. In a stew, you can still see the ingredients, but something new has happened. The flavour of each ingredient can affect the others. The courgettes are no longer just courgettes. They’ve become something new - oniony, garlicky, tomatoey, basilly, courgettes. You can still separate a chunk of carrot from a chick pea or a lentil, but they have made something more complex than they were when they started. They are all changed.

And then, the leftovers into the blender and a smooth soup results. There are no longer beans and courgettes and carrots and onions. There is one smooth homogenous soup whose flavour comes from a combination of all of them.

I hope you’ll forgive this diversion into food metaphors.  It’s a good way to think about how the many cultures in this community interact. Sometimes, we play salad. We keep a distance between us. We talk. We notice differences. But, in salad mode, we don’t connect deeply enough to be changed. We remain as we were when we went in.

In stew mode, something new happens. Our interactions lead us to understand one another at a deeper level. We recognise the similarities and the differences between us. We start to feel the feelings of another and we are changed. We retain our integrity and individuality, but we are now different - enriched by the breadth of awareness we have seen and heard and felt through another’s experience.

And finally, there is the blender. In soup mode, which has fortunately not happened here, we lose everything that made us unique. We are all changed - all one homogeneous whole.

There are some profound differences here in how we are affected in communities of different sorts. We might also consider how these different modes of interaction affect the ability of a new ingredient or a new person to become an integrated part of the mix.

In a salad, it’s easy. You can pop in and pop out. The salad is not much changed and neither are you.

In a stew, entering is a bit more of a commitment. You will be changed and it might be a bit strange at first. But the possibilities are great for connection, for relationship, for growth.

In the soup, you have to be ground to a pulp to be welcome. Not so nice… I do know soup congregations. They don’t grow or change because everything new sticks out like a raw carrot in a pureed pea soup.

I believe in community that is like stew. It enables us to remain ourselves and to be changed. It demands something of us, but does not ask we give up our selves or all that has made us who we are. It is togetherness and separation in the right balance.

The stew community can be termed interculturalism - a way of being together with all our differences and yet becoming something new - something better. A way of growing from our experiences of one another instead of looking at difference like a specimen under a microscope - an oddity to be studied. Interculturalism means learning from and not just learning about. It means more than being aware and knowledgeable of difference - it means opening to be transformed by the encounter.

William Stafford captures the challenges when he says:

“If you don't know the kind of person I am

and I don't know the kind of person you are

a pattern that others made may prevail in the world”

If we are to be truly radically inclusive and radically accepting, we must know one another beyond the superficialities - beyond the interesting - and right down to the heart of what makes us who we are - to the point of feeling the lived experience of another - to the depth where we are each changed by the interaction.

But how? 

The answer to this question of connection across the many cultures in this glorious stew is another culture. Not quite one culture to rule them all, but one culture to connect them all. One culture of habits and ways of being that lead to understanding and learning and growth. We grow and change and accept and embrace when we adopt a culture whose habits are connection, curiosity, and openness.

The Golden Rule does not suffice for such a culture. It works well if we are all the same. If we are identical, then you will be happy for me to treated you as I want to be treated. If we are different, for me to use myself as my primary guide to understanding you and your needs is to overlook all our separate journeys and perspectives. To do so also carries the implication that if you are not like me, you should be. 

Instead, a radically accepting and inclusive culture needs what has been called the platinum rule: treat others as they would want to be treated. And this rule is by far the harder one - it is the rule that leads us to connect and learn and understand and grow together.

Rumi - the human Rumi - guided us in such connection. We need to begin with ourselves. As he said, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

We have built such barriers. We all have. Every fear, every hurt, every time we were given the message that we were not good enough, added height to these barriers.

A radically inclusive and accepting community must be a place where we find the ability to diminish these barriers. That power begins with acceptance itself. Knowing we are accepted as we are lets us know we do not need to hide our fragile selves away. It raises a sledgehammer to the barriers we have created within.

Acceptance creates the environment where acceptance can grow. Let this be a place of understanding - a place of growth - a place of transformation - and to make all the rest possible - a place of radical inclusion and acceptance.

We are wiser together than we can ever be apart
We are stronger together than each of us alone
Let us learn from each other
Let us grow with each other
Let us be changed by one another
For ourselves
For each other
And for a world in need