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"Culture and Cultural Diversity: It Can Be a Stretch" By Tony Brumfield

Culture is the learned way of life of a people. It is how they do life. It is those shared elements of life that allow people to live together, to work together, or do church together.

Anthropologists teach that there is tangible culture (the things we can see and touch) and intangible culture like social norms and language. All of the different parts of culture have to be somewhat compatible. One element of culture tells us something about the whole. An alien from outer space would notice that a few people in this society have tremendous wealth and power and correctly deduce that this society believes that a few members of this culture are much more valuable than the rest of the members in spite of what is said about equality.

First Church has a culture. When a person from culture A comes into this church they feel affirmed. The culture of the church matches what they are accustomed to. When a person from culture B comes into First Church, it is a stretch. The way that things are done feels foreign. They may be put off by the things that are said or by the way some members eat and dress. And that may be okay. But culture goes deeper than that.

When person B from culture B visits First Church and spends some time sharing her culture with the members, and learning about Unitarian Universalism, the members are changed and she is changed. The members go home thinking about themselves and the church differently and so does she. If the members like her and her culture, and she likes First Church and stays, she may be given a position of power in the church. As a result, the culture of the church may move in the direction of culture B. The members may also gain some clarity on how the culture of First Church is distinct from other churches, and she would gain a greater understanding of her own culture. On the other hand, the members of First Church and she may discover that they have completely different ways of thinking about the world and are not compatible at all. Or perhaps their short time together would be spent talking past each other totally misunderstanding the other. All of these are possibilities.

So culture is dynamic. It never stays the same. Every interaction with the “other” changes both host and guest. If you enjoy thinking about cultural diversity and would enjoy working with others to make Unitarian Universalism welcoming to people from other ways of life, then set aside Saturday, October 2. On that day, our church is hosting Nehrwr (pronounced Nay-wah) Abdul-Wahid with One Ummah Consulting from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Members from other UU churches in our cluster will be in attendance as well as people who are not Unitarian Universalists. It promises to be an interesting weekend.