Pastoral Series

Reconciliation: Cognitive Generousity

Reconciliation: Cognitive Generosity

In the harrowing Martin Scorsese film, “Silence,” the ex-priest Ferreira (played by Liam Neeson) assures the missionary zealot Fr. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) that Christianity simply doesn’t work/won’t take in Japan.  The truth is, Christianity has worked in Japan – but not a westernized or Americanized version of the faith.  The historian Mark Noll, assessing how Christianity spread across all the continents, notices how Christianity takes on forms of local culture while retaining its core message; but “it also challenges, reforms and humanizes the cultural values of that place.  The Gospel comes to all peoples exactly where they are.  It is by nature a religion of nearly infinite flexibility because it has been revealed in a person of absolutely infinite love.”

I love that.  It’s humbling, though, as we realize our culture-bound grasp on the Christian faith is clearly not the whole story.  To broaden our sense of the fullness of God’s wondrous love in Jesus, we need to connect with others who are different.  You don’t have to go to Zimbabwe or Chile either.  Look around your own city at the people who love God but think, feel and vote very differently.  Imagine what you could learn about God if you asked, and listened.  Dr. Christena Cleveland put it well:  “People can meet God within their cultural context, but in order to follow God, they must cross into other cultures, because that’s what Jesus did.”

Jesus didn’t just hang around orthodox Jews from his hometown.  He went to Samaritans, Gentiles, Romans, any and every type of person.  If we stick close to him, we go to people who are different.  Learning about cultural difference isn’t necessarily “liberal groupthink or political correctness” (although it could be); such learning is actually being one with Jesus, who is unfailingly intrigued by and in love with any and everybody.

We know that in business, diverse groups with varied gifts, backgrounds and strengths really achieve more than homogeneous clumps of carbon copies of one another.  With religion, we may need to start out with people like us – as children play with other neighboring children.  But maturity is getting out of the house into other places in God’s good world.  We stretch, we grow.  We thought we were experts on others, only to realize how ignorant and misguided we were; Cleveland lays on all of us the responsibility to “relentlessly attack inaccurate perceptions of others.”  She labels the goal for us Christians as “cognitive generosity.”  I like that.

And most importantly, we hear new intonations and messages in God’s own voice.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, assuming we are eager for the fullest possible understanding of God, says, “We cannot find the dimensions of Christ’s love other than in the community of the broader church; each person must tell the others what special knowledge of the Lord has been shown to him.  For no one can tread simultaneously all the paths of the love given to the saints: while one explores the heights, another experiences the depths and a third the breadth.”

Instead of being appalled those who voted wrong could claim to be Christian, go and ask them about it.  Look to people of other faiths.  Muslims pray 5 times daily without fail; if you don’t, you might want to learn how.  Jews know how to turn off the gadgets and delight in a Sabbath day of rest; aren’t you weary enough to want to learn from them?  Reconciliation is really like going back to school – but with the other people.

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