On Being Spiritually Cross-Cultural

by Peter on October 6, 2015

in Church, InnerCHANGE, Islam, Peacemaking, Spirituality

Full Stop on Brick Lane

A while ago, a friend in the neighbourhood sent me a Youtube video of an interview with a guru that he had found helpful in his spiritual journey. Because the interview was an hour long, it took awhile for me to get around to watching it.

I finally made the time for it this weekend, and settled down to listen to this New Age teacher share about her childhood in a Satanic cult, her spiritual awakenings, aliens, and the vibrations of the universe. My raised eyebrows got quite a workout during that hour.

Honestly, I didn’t understand most of what she was talking about. To my knowledge I’ve never had experiences with cults, if aliens do exist then I doubt they factor much into our personal spirituality, and I certainly don’t know much about vibrations shaping people’s lives.

At the same time, though, a lot of what she said still had a familiar ring to it. When she described her process of connecting with her spiritual self through learning to be still, focusing on the present, and removing distractions from her mind… it sounds quite similar to how many Christians have met with God for the past two millennia. And her language of justice and reconciliation and love—what she sees as markers of living a more pure and spiritual life—certainly echo many themes of Jesus’ teachings. Now, I’m not saying New Age spirituality is the same thing as following Jesus, but it does cause me to pause and reflect on how we engage with other beliefs.

Liz and I have understood the importance of cross-cultural skills for a long time. These skills were central to our university degrees, were necessary for our work in inner-city Chicago, and resurfaced as we prepared to leave the US and move to London. We knew that, even in England, we would have to learn new language, new customs and expectations, and different ways of doing life. We came ready to be flexible and adopt new ideas. What we didn’t realise was how much this needed to happen with our faith as well.

Often it’s easy in our minds to split religion from culture, allowing ourselves to be flexible culturally but firm and unchanging in our spiritual lives. But if we ever want to have meaningful conversations with people of other beliefs, we need to be prepared to be spiritually cross-cultural as well. The skills we use to learn and understand new cultures also help us learn and understand different ways of seeking our Creator.

This is not to say that we should uncritically accept and adopt whatever belief system we come across—far from it. But over and over again in Scripture, in both the Old and New Testament, we see the people of God affirming Gentiles who seek God and have glimpsed at least part of the truth. We follow a God who is calling to everyone, drawing all people into a new way of life. Our role is not to save them and teach them everything, but to discover what God is already teaching them and walk alongside them in the journey toward God. This is needed in every context—it was an obvious need working in a neighbourhood full of Muslims in a secular nation, but it comes up just as often (if not more) working with Christians, where we have churches and teammates and friends who all follow Jesus but understand and experience that in many different ways.

What does it look like to be spiritually cross-cultural?

It requires a spirit of love. Too often, Christians approach cross-faith friendships with an ulterior motive of conversion. This is a travesty, as it makes the friendship all about our agenda. Instead, we need to approach relationships with genuine interest in understanding our friends’ experiences and ideas.

It requires humility. It’s easy to get stuck in a mindset that assumes we have all the answers, and they don’t. As Christians we can be confident in the truth we’ve found through Jesus, but that doesn’t mean that we have *all* the answers. God calls to everyone, inviting them to draw close; often we will benefit if we stop talking and listen to what others have learned about the Holy. There’s no need to be anxious about it; if we’re listening, the Spirit will confirm for us what is Truth and what is not.

Finally, it requires a real faith in God’s ability to work in people’s lives. It’s a terrible trend in the church of the West that God’s power gets lip service, but is never trusted. We talk about God working in people’s hearts and in the world, yet act as if it’s entirely on us to say the right things so that they believe in God the same way that we do. But we will likely go much deeper with people if we set aside our own expectations, look for what the Spirit is *already* doing in their lives, and discern how we can be a companion in that process.

So let us go and live lives of love and humility, and trust God to be God and saviour, reconciling and redeeming the world.

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