I don’t know about you, but at almost every chapter in An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor I think, “Oh Barbara, we cross-cultural living people don’t need this practice in the way YOU need it. We understand the importance.”
And then pride smacks me down.
From the idea of self-sufficiency, to introverts, to attracting like-minded people, and circling back to being in charge, encountering people looks a lot more humble and a lot less grand than I make it out to be.
Care for the nations? Check and check. Care for the turkey sitting behind me on the plane? Not the encounters I want to have.
I think that may be the main point of this practice, as long as I keep it lofty, I can lull myself into thinking I’m someone I’m not. Or at least someone more patient, kind, and Maria Von Trapp like (complete with the ability to turn curtains into clothing and charm folks with songs.). But God isn’t after my idealized version of myself and if he’d have wanted me to make clothing out of curtains I wouldn’t have so many venetian blinds in my life. Amen?!
No, God is after genuine encounters with real people. I appreciated Barbara’s repeated reference to making characters out of people we come in contact with. OK, maybe “appreciated” it not the right word for being called out on a bad habit. But it was one I need every so often as I found myself recently having this very conversation with myself.
In reference to the Desert Fathers, “The reason they needed one another was to save them from the temptation of believing in their own self-sufficiency.”
Who is more self-sufficient than a single women who has lived for years cross-culturally? Oh, that’s right, Momma’s living cross-culturally, women without kiddo’s, empty-nesters, grandmas on the field.
I know I was already prone to self-sufficiency as a young adult, but twenty years of having to fend for myself overseas has strengthened those muscles. And this is good. I know not all of us are part of an organization and no judgment from me! But part of the reason I’ve been with organizations is for this very reason. I need to regularly encounter others who are doing what I’m doing lest I drift to one extreme or the other.
I would love to hear from you strong introverts — or those raising strong introverts — on the field. How has being an introvert been a blessing to cross-cultural living? How has it been a challenge?
Attracting Like-Minded People
“The only problem with these kind of groups [book clubs, rotary groups, quilting circles], as far as I can tell, is that they tend to attract like-minded people, the same way most churches do…. At its most basic level, the everyday practice of being with other people is the practice of loving the neighbor as the self. More intricately, it is the practice of coming face-to-face with another human being, preferably someone different enough to quality as a capital ‘O’ Other — and at least entertaining the possibility that this is one of the faces of God.”
Where do you encounter the Other? Those who might disagree with your beliefs or parenting decision or food choices or financial beliefs or types of books you are drawn to? This is a small and stupid example, but I once had a teammate who read cat mysteries. A genre I never knew existed. (This is where the sarcastic part of encountering others wants to say,”for a reason!”) I read one to see how an author could pull off having a cat help solve a mystery. I have to admit, I still roll my eyes at it, but were it not for the teammate, I never would have read it.
Encountering the Stranger
“According to Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of Great Britain, ‘the Hebrew Bible in one verse commands, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” but in no fewer than 36 places commend us to “love the stranger.”‘
“Why should we do that? Because we have been strangers ourself, the Bible says. Because if we have never been strangers, then that is because we have never left home.”
I had not realized that ratio before. Wow.
Over to you :). How have you encountered others? What thoughts stirred in you as you read, underlined, and starred. Any points you disagree with? You know my mantra, disagreements welcome too! This book is a place to start the discussion, not to end it.
P.S. Next week we’ll looking at the Practice of Living with Purpose
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