Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Treatment for Xenophobia

As I previously promised, here’s a little more on xenophobia (fear, and even hatred, of anything strange or foreign). The anxiety of possibly offending, being offended, or worse, often allow us to buttress our avoidance of “The Strange,” despite the clear benefits of pursuing greater, deeper community with a wide range of other individuals and groups. At the moment, I am embarking on a wonderful new challenge…from which I feel compelled to flee, simply because it is unfamiliar.

In my last post I mentioned that asking questions is a key component to letting others guide and tutor us into an understanding of their circumstances, thus diminishing the possibility of offense and its consequences. Sometimes that requires us to ask those questions of many individuals before we find someone who will even answer us. But there’s reason to persevere. Here’s why.

I’m familiar with the techniques of some of our missionaries serving “creative-access countries.” These are places where great risk accompanies any admission of Christian faith, much less any activities that may be considered proselytizing. In these environments, missionaries hope to find a “man of peace.” (Luke 10:6) This is one whose hospitality allows them to learn and adapt to the culture of a particular group or village. The relationship with this one person can become the basis for some excellent service to the entire community, where there might be little or no response to less patient approaches.

For you to understand how important a “man of peace” can be, even in a very mild case of xenophobia (my personal anxieties over the strange and new experience of my doctoral program), let me share some of the contrasts I’ve faced the past day or two.

The Familiar: At home, I have to drive more than twenty miles from home to stop at a stoplight. From Fall River Mills, the Glenburn Road goes to Glenburn. From there, the McArthur Road goes to McArthur. Everything else is along Highway 299. If you want to get lost, you have to go off-road to do it.
The Strange: Here in Portland, despite the fact that you could drive in almost any direction and still have pavement beneath your wheels, I’m always on the wrong side of some river, usually because I’ve missed an interchange or exit.

The Familiar: I have served ten years in a small rural congregation in Northern California where I am usually the solo, and only occasionally the senior pastor. Our most recent electronics purchase was a laser printer almost five years ago.
The Strange: Among those in the program are pastors and leaders of sophisticated structures in large, multi-staff urban and suburban churches who regularly incorporate the latest technologies in their service to Christ and others. (On two walls of the classroom are eight-foot flat screens showing our fellow students from another campus engaged in the same discussions and lectures with us.)

The Familiar: After a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, I am well-acquainted with the expectations and intrigues of my alma mater. Though I am, at times, dismayed, the dysfunctions are at least consistent.
The Strange: Nothing in this new environment has been quite according to expectations yet, and some of the developments (Dr. John Perkins’ illness, for one) are upsetting as well as unsettling.

Now, in the midst of all this strange, the familiar here has a name: Dr. Paul Louis Metzger. We became acquainted when he served as an adjunct professor in my second master’s program. He was the first to introduce to me the possibility of pursuing this doctorate through this university. And he’s heading up the track in which I’m enrolled. In several meanings of the word, he is a man of peace. And I know that as I find more questions, he’ll patiently help to reinforce the bridge between what I so comfortably already know and do, and the next section of strange to which God is calling me.

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