Diversity As A Gift

Reproduced and adapted from the July issue of Roqueta, Menorca’s English language magazine.

The month of July brings the season of Fiestas in Menorca into full swing. Last month I wrote about living in community. One of the ways in which we as expatriates are drawn into the life of the community around us is to enjoy the spirit of the fiestas that take place in our towns. I am sure that after a while, the novelty of the fiestas starts to wear off. Familiarity may or may not breed contempt, but it can all too easily cause loss of interest, and this is a pity in the case of a source of vitality and joy for the people of Menorca.

Last month I also wrote about the ways in which our need for communal life clashes with prevailing cultural tendencies towards individualism and autonomy, characteristics that tend to work against community involvement. When this happens, a sad result tends to be isolation from our neighbours.

During June, the Anglican church commemorated Sundar Singh, who was born in 1889 into a wealthy landowning Sikh family in Rampur, North Punjab. The death of his mother when he was 14 unhinged him. He abused the missionaries at the mission school he attended, burnt a Bible and resolved to commit suicide on a railway line. However, he experienced a vision of Christ and was converted. Expelled by his family, who regarded this as an act of treachery to their faith, he was taken in by a nearby Christian community and the following year, 1905, was baptized in the Anglican church at Simla.

While on a train journey, he had an experience that illuminated his understanding of a serious flaw in European missions to India. A high-caste Hindu – a Brahmin – had collapsed in the heat but refused water from the Anglo-Indian stationmaster. He could only accept it in his own drinking vessel. When that was brought he drank, and revived.

This led Sundar Singh to see that India would not accept the gospel of Jesus offered in Western guise. He found that many listeners would respond to him in his Indian sadhu’s robe. He made it clear that Christianity was not an imported, alien, foreign religion but indigenous to Indian needs, aspirations and faith. This was an important insight. All too often in the past, religious evangelism came tied in a very heavy package of cultural intolerance and colonialism.

Back in Canada, there has recently been a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to unearth one aspect of this: the enforced removal of aboriginal children from their homes to residential schools, where their culture was not only ignored, but denigrated and punished. Other abuses occurred, which have now been acknowledged, and for which those responsible (including various churches) have apologized publicly, albeit decades after these things occurred.

Whether we are engaged with people in a religious, commercial or recreational capacity, it is important to understand how this affects our everyday dealings with those whom we meet on life’s journey. Those who are different from us offer us insight into the rich, divinely endowed mosaic of humanity. If we attempt to deal with people while remaining firmly entrenched within our own culture, we will enjoy (in Menorca, for example) sun, sea and sand, but we will miss the opportunity to enjoy aspects of community life.

I have now been an immigrant in three countries (Canada, USA and Spain), and I have learned (not easily at first) that living in community and finding means to connect to people in ways that are meaningful and understandable to them makes life much more fulfilling and enriching.

In fact, living in this community gives an opportunity to share in its heritage and tradition – which is why last year we ventured, very cautiously, into the realm of the fiestas with a small celebration in honour of the saint whose name graces our church in Es Castell, Santa Margarita.

This year, we plan to repeat the celebration, with another fiesta for Santa Margarita. There will not be any ‘jaleos’ – just a simple procession through Es Castell, from the Roman Catholic parish church of El Roser to the church of Santa Margarita. If all goes well, we may even have a band to lead the way. We will worship together (in Spanish and English) with our neighbours from El Roser, and then share goodwill and refreshment together. All this will take place on the evening of Sunday, 19 July, the eve of the date for commemoration of Saint Margaret of Antioch (alias Santa Margarita). Anyone who feels inclined to do so is welcome to join us.

Meanwhile, we are blessed to be able to live in an environment rich in culture and tradition that is different from our own, but which has points of connection with ours: the British presence in Menorca and its legacy, for example. If we open our eyes, our minds, our hearts to see the blessing in the rich diversity of our world then we may, to quote a prayer, be inspired to blend our differences to make a difference in the world.

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