(CA) BIC institute stresses cross-cultural immersion
Published: Friday, August 12, 2005
BIC institute stresses cross-cultural immersion
By R. W. Dellinger
Building Inclusive Communities "through mindful cross-cultural interaction"
was the theme of the 2005 BIC Summer Institute.
Held Aug. 3-7 at the University of the West in Rosemead, the five-day
immersion experience brought together more than 100 people of diverse
backgrounds to spotlight and address cultural and ethnic differences in
local communities and churches throughout the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The gathering was cosponsored by the archdiocese's Department of Religious
Education and the University of the West's graduate program in religious
studies. Featured speakers Paulist Father Ken McGuire, Stewart Kwoh, Carmen
Morgan and Chris Tirris gave presentations on Euro-American, Asian and
Pacific, Black and Latino cultures.
Two English and one Spanish track focused on developing intercultural
communication skills, engaging faith and culture, and enriching Hispanic
inter-religious experiences. Classes included "Working with the Disabled,"
"Building and Crossing Cultural Bridges" and "Intercultural Conflict
Father Alexei Smith, ecumenical and interreligious officer for the
archdiocese, moderated a panel of Greek, Syriac, Syro-Malabar, Armenian and
Chaldean priests in a session on experiencing God from the Eastern Rite
Catholic tradition. Participants also visited the Buddhist Hsi Lai Temple in
Hacienda Heights as well as the Islamic Center and Japanese American
National Museum in Los Angeles.
In her workshop on the intersection of faith and culture, Darnise Martin,
assistant director of the Center for Religion and Spirituality at Loyola
Marymount University, pointed out how the biblical figure of Esther was a
minority in a foreign land who "passed" for not being Jewish --- much as
many light-skinned African Americans have pretended not to be black ---
before reluctantly owning up to her real heritage.
Such deception can have serious consequences, the academic stressed,
including self-hatred, intra-racial distrust and violence, and intolerance
plus spiritual conflict.
"God uses us in all of our wholeness," she said. "Everything about us is
important to God. But we tend to think: 'I'm so down. I'm black, I'm
Hispanic, I'm Asian. I don't know if I really fit into this American
Society. Maybe I should play down some of my cultural heritage. Maybe I
would do better if I changed my name. Maybe I should go to the English
service at church and pretend to like it?'
"But Esther's story is telling us 'no,'" she reported. "God wants you to go
out just as he made you in all of that packaging because God can use that."
Religious passing, according to Martin, rarely if ever works out
"People want to be able to have an intimate relationship with God," she
said. "So what's the most intimate? Through your own culture. Through your
own language. Through your own ontology --- your way of being. When you are
forced to approach God through some other language and other cultural
rituals, it's not your own faith. And, yeah, maybe you learn that other
culture and language, but there's always a little bit of conflict.
"It would be easier and better," she observed, "if I approached God in my
own cultural way."
Georgiana Sanchez, a storyteller and native American of the Barbareno
Chumash nation, talked about the power of stories to shape reality and shape
people in her workshop. She said the stories we hear and tell ourselves
become our perception of reality.
"So those stories are very, very sacred," she pointed out. "The stories you
tell in your family tell who you are. They tell us about the world. So
stories shape our perception of who we are, and they're always our
perception of reality. But we're always striving to become authentic people.
And, for me, that's where we're entering into the realm of the divine.
That's our innate divine dignity, even if we are horrible people sometimes.
It's always there.
"Remember, in the beginning was the Word --- that logos that caused creation
to be manifested," she said. "So that word, that story, brought everything
to life, and we are part of that story. So stories are very, very powerful."
But Sanchez warned about the dark side of stories. She pointed out that
every ethnic cleansing and genocide --- whether it happened in Rwanda, Nazi
Germany or the Americas to native peoples --- was always preceded by tales
negating a people's humanity. Today, she noted, that same negative
stereotyping is happening to U.S. immigrants.
"We want to matter, we want to know that we are important, that we have some
worth," she observed. "And often what happens is that we will not look at
our shadow self. Psychologist Carl Jung says we jump over our own shadow,
and we say everything dark and negative and culpable of somebody else. We
empower ourselves at the expense of someone else. So we tell stories about
What's more crucial --- and Christian --- is being truthful about one's own
"Each of us has got to tell our stories to the best of our abilities,"
Sanchez stressed. "We've got to tell our stories."
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