One of our new Ends states that “we the people of Unity Church-Unitarian will create a multicultural spiritual home built on authentic relationships.” I see three significant words in that statement -- multicultural, spiritual, and authentic. How we define each of them may vary, so how do we get to the “we the people” part of this? Actually, the “we” is also significant. This is a journey we’re taking together, as a community, living into how we might create such a home. I have no answers, only questions.
Lately, I’ve been pondering the word multicultural -- how would I define it? Have I ever experienced it? How do I know it if I see it?
I think of the time I spent in France, studying the language at a school for foreigners. The students came from all over the world -- South and Central America, North America, Scandinavia, West and East Europe, Africa, and Asia. The culture, language and life experiences were different, yet we managed to communicate using our varying expertise with French or English, the two languages most in common. The key was being curious about differences and nimble at adapting.
I learned how to navigate French cultural norms, sometimes the hard way. I remember the day I was standing on the sidewalk, waiting for a friend, and an elderly Frenchman walked by. As is my custom when at home in Minnesota, I greeted him with a “Bonjour monsieur.” He stopped, looked at me, and then leaned in to stare. I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong, or whether he was a little crazy -- he did look at me in a scary way. Without sufficient language to apologize and explain myself, I looked away until he walked on.
KP Hong says being multicultural is about more than race -- it’s all the values and interpretations that lie beneath the behavior we see -- the cultural iceberg. This model says that our behaviors are shaped by our core values of right and wrong and how we interpret those values. We see someone’s behavior, but we don’t know the life experiences and values that underlie it -- those are the hidden depths of the cultural iceberg. Developing authentic relationships is one way to begin to know and understand another’s way of seeing the world and to share our own. Who knows what will come of that?
Morgan Forum with Michael Cowan
Few Are Guilty but All Are Responsible:
Let Us Reason Together About Race
Dr. Michael Cowan returns for another deep conversation about America’s original sin.
Michael Cowan is a professor at Loyola University New Orleans, and a fellow in the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict in the University of Oxford and the Irish School of Ecumenics in Trinity College Dublin. A leader in interracial and interfaith community organizing in New Orleans since 1990, he initiated an issue-based interracial effort to rebuild New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A provocative and thoughtful speaker, Michael Cowan has helped to welcome and guide our congregation's efforts in New Orleans.