I was privileged to attend a fantastic primary school growing up as a child. There were a lot of things that I loved about this school, but none more so than our kapa haka group.
We practiced every week, learning waiata and haka, and would hold pōwhiri whenever someone visited the school, complete with a quartet of ten-year old girls giving the karanga. While the vast majority of students and staff were pākehā from upper-class backgrounds, it was a great environment to learn and I grew to love this beautiful culture in Aotearoa.
So when I moved onto high school, I didn’t blink an eye when it came to choosing te reo Māori as one of my subjects. I loved everything about what we were learning and soon became one of the top in the class. But my feeling of belonging in that class bothered me. I was one of three pākehā girls in my class of thirty, and I began to feel very quickly that this language, this culture, was not mine to learn.
No matter how much I loved what I was learning and no matter how much the teacher and other girls in the class encouraged me, I couldn’t shake the sense of not quite fitting in. As a shy thirteen-year-old still trying to figure out my place in the world, I didn’t have the courage to keep going, so the next year I dropped te reo Māori as a subject.
I have regretted it ever since.
Fear of the other
It seems that as much as we try to embrace the ‘other’, our natural human instinct is to avoid and to run. This was something that I hadn’t been exposed to yet as an innocent ten-year old, but as a teenager I learned this very quickly. Even though we may talk about appreciating diversity, there’s nothing quite like a group of people who look, think, and believe the same things as you to make you feel comfy.
There’s been a recent resurgence in ‘fear of the other’. Political parties in particular are drawing incredibly passionate levels of support through this kind of messaging, which we see in the United States of America, England, France, and even Australia. We’re seeing increasingly extreme political policies when it comes to immigration.
Alarming numbers of terrorism attacks are all targeting specific groups that look or believe differently to them. Surely when you drill it down, the root cause of all of this is fear? But this is not the way of Jesus or his Kingdom.
The way of the Kingdom
Jesus loved the other with a fierce and fearless passion. When everyone else turned away, he turned toward with open arms, loving the other without condition. While the Pharisees refused to believe that salvation was possible outside of following their strict laws and becoming like them, Jesus showed that he was the way to salvation for all, through faith in him and his death on the cross.
Galatians chapter 3, verse 28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
This doesn’t mean that everyone is identical and looks, sees, or thinks the same. There are still both male and female people in the body of Christ of course, as there are people of different cultures, but Jesus binds us together in unity despite our differences and diversity. It is through embracing the richness of our diversity that we can be unified.
I’ve been challenged over the past few weeks about how I embrace diversity, not just by my words or to tick a token box, but by my actions. I think the best way to genuinely embrace other cultures is through understanding them and increasing cultural knowledge.
The Oxford Dictionary defines other as “a person or thing that is different or distinct from one already mentioned or known about”. If you know about something, it’s no longer considered other.
I recognise that my cultural knowledge is currently very limited, but I want to know more. It’s not just about knowing other languages, although that’s part of it, but it’s about understanding different cultures’ core values and beliefs, their history and how they react in different situations. It’s about being aware of and valuing the things that make people different to you.
The Church is called to be counter-cultural, to live in the world but not of it. When the world around us rejects the other, this without a doubt should be one area where the Church stands out from the crowd for our fierce passionate love for people different to us.
Because seriously, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by embracing the other.
Rebecca Howan is from Wellington, New Zealand, where she works as an Executive Assistant in the humanitarian sector. She worships and serves at The Salvation Army, and is passionate about music, travelling the world and building community.