5.09.2017

Get on the Field


I was blessed during my college years with wise leaders in the Christian fellowship I was involved in.  One of the many lessons I took away from them and from that experience was the importance of cross-cultural missions, and of the need for both sensitivity and fearlessness in doing cross-cultural missions.  The good news of the Christian faith is available to all, and is often best conveyed not by getting people to see those truths from our perspective but by learning how to express those truths from their perspective. 

In doing so, we must be mindful of and respectful towards the cultural “rules” that govern someone’s worldview.  We cannot trample on them willy-nilly, nor can we discount them as archaic or silly.  But we also must not be so afraid to make mistakes against those “rules” such that we never really engage with people and learn how they view things and what is important to them.  Indeed, and again without being intentionally cavalier, one cannot really learn and respect someone else’s culture unless one engages with that person in real ways, during which we may make missteps in speech or action.  We should feel bad about those missteps, to be sure, but if they are done in a spirit of humility and engagement, hopefully they are forgiven and they are learned from. 

I recall these lessons from long ago as I consider the hyper-sensitive environments we often find ourselves in.  As people are awakening to sensitive issues of race, discrimination, and privilege, it is easy and damaging to speak in inartful and insensitive ways, and so on the one hand we should proceed with a caution that is respectful of where people are coming from and how misunderstandings and triggers can be deeply hurtful.  But, on the other hand, if we are so cautious to the point that we stick to bland and superficial interactions, or even worse withdraw from settings in which we are with people different from us, that is not a desirable outcome either.

To use a baseball analogy, my encouragement to those of you on the sideline is to get on the field, and my encouragement to those of you already on the field is to help others who are getting on the field for the first time.  When you are on the field, you will make errors, and those errors will be seen and they may be criticized.  But you should still get on the field.  Now, we don’t rush onto the field before we’re ready.  But we also don’t wait until we are totally mistake-free before we step onto the field.  The field is where we learn and, hopefully, contribute positively to the team’s success, even if we still make errors.  For it is far worse to stay on the sideline, when so much is at stake.

If you are already on the field, it can be frustrating to bear the sloppiness of newbies.  And, to be sure, if folks rush onto the field before they are ready, or do so for individual attention rather than team progress, that irritation is warranted.  But, if that is not the case, be gentle with newbies, and use their errors as teaching opportunities.  Our competition is fierce, and we need every contributing team member we can get, even if they are unpolished at first.  People who are trying to get on the field, however raw they are, are to be scolded far less than people who have chosen the safety of the sidelines. 

Of course, in the Christian faith there is such a thing as people grandstanding for the purpose of receiving the praise of men or because they think it is the way to please their God.  But, in the right spirit, being on the field is borne of good news that must be shared, and in the process of conveying that news to people different from us we will likely commit some cultural faux pas along the way, but that is to be feared less than not trying at all.  And so it is with the great social and cultural issues of this day.  If you are on the sidelines, we welcome you to the field.  And if you are on the field, be nice to us who are trying to get on.  This stuff matters.
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