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Posts Tagged ‘Welcoming The Stranger

Please Read Jonathan Sacks “The Dignity of Difference”

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How to Escape the Orbit of Xenophobia

There is so much good to say about Jonathan Sacks’ The Dignity of Difference: how he welcomes the stranger, how he shows the impact of considering everything as a marketplace endeavor (this approach does not end well: people and relationships don’t fit the calculus of the marketplace), how the work of covenant might well be the glue that binds a global culture together and helps us overcome our stunning differences (just like communities have for centuries).

I like that Sacks grabs texts from the Old Testament to reframe very modern difficulties, like how Abraham honored the stranger, which speaks to our own ambivalence about people different from us. But Sacks also draws on old Jewish wisdom and criticism to help put those stories into context. I like how he pits Plato against Moses and dispels the notion of dualism and the notion of perfect forms. In doing this, he has opened a way from the ivory tower where pure academics lives apart from the rest of life. I appreciate his examples of Jewish scholars who were also workers. Thinking and working should be intertwined, much like Matthew Crawford wrote about so successfully.

You may get the sense this is a wide-ranging book, and it is, though a delightful read at each step. All this material—and he does make it fit together—is in the service of helping the reader reconnect with the wonder of what we can learn from each other. Rabbi Sacks Jewishness is a vital piece of the puzzle: as someone from a tribe that famously wandered for a long time, he thinks his people are uniquely positioned to welcome our world’s current batch of strangers. He may be right about that. In Sack’s view, people of true, deep faith learn to value the faith of others, even as they hold to their own.9780826468505_p0_v1_s260x420-01082013

My one critique has to do with the other end of the Bible Sacks quotes from freely. I would offer that the mystery of the very Jewish Jesus who was also the Christ greatly enhances the story of tolerance and inquisitive curiosity Sacks seeks to tell. The apostle Paul, in one his letters to his friends in Corinth, talked about being an ambassador to any and all, representing to the any and all the reality of being in relationship with God. My take on Paul, with a nod to Lord Sacks, is that those compelled by the Christ have every reason in the world to both hold firmly to their faith in the Christ while simultaneously listening deeply to those around them.

Many of you will stop here and point out how firm faith is more often used as a battlement from which to sling arrows. I don’t deny that has happened. And I confess we’ve not done well in that approach. But faith in the Christ offers both solid ground and excellent motivation for listening, though this is not the kind of thing you hear from the outposts of conservatism.

If you have opportunity to read The Dignity of Difference—do it. It is challenging and a tasty intellectual meal, and possibly life-changing.


Outside Voice

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Recalibrate Your Tribe to Grow

One of our kids was loud. When this particular child was quite young, Mrs. Kirkistan and I spent lots of time distinguishing an inside voice from an outside voice. This particular person (not naming names) did not sort out the difference until a certain age had been reached. But then it became clear to [Child X] why you might not shout your happiness with the world at 5am, for instance. This person still has the capacity to be heard—which I admire.

Patrick R. Keifert’s, “Welcoming The Stranger : A Public Theology Of Worship And Evangelism” (Minneapolis:Fortress Press, 1992) is a sort of outside voice/inside voice book for an organization. Yes, he’s a pastor writing to pastors. But his topic is much larger and dovetails with all sorts of human groups. He tells stories and redacts around the notion of how off-putting our insider language and idiosyncratic group behaviors can be to new people—those not of the tribe. It happens in a church. It happens in a family (I still do not have the courage to ask my new son-in-law what peculiar behaviors he notices when our family is gathered). It happens in a business. It happens on Minnesota interstates: drivers resent others trying to merge into traffic from an on-ramp. Is that peculiar to Minneapolis/St. Paul drivers or is it a Minnesota thing?

I’m enjoying Keifert’s book because he makes a compelling case for why we should listen to the stranger. He traces the roots of this listening to deep theological places and hints at how we were made for this very kind of interchange. But he also notes there are dangers in hearing the stranger (“Wait—what is this guy up to?”). He points out my unthinking refusal to let focus slip away from me as the all-consuming center of the universe. The end game is that I typically hear the stranger saying only those certain words that fit my view of the world. And we all have experience with that.

But hearing the outside voice in our family, church or company can help us get unstuck—especially when we don’t know we’re stuck.


Image Credit via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

October 10, 2012 at 10:35 am

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