Love Notes... A few words from our pastor

On the predawn taxi ride from my hotel to the Indianapolis airport on Wednesday, I chit-chatted with my driver. An immigrant carving out a life in a country and culture very different from his own, I praised him for his courage and tenacity.

When asked about my profession, I shared that I pastor a church and then went on to offer a simple description of the UCC’s orientation. Looking back on our exchange, it’s clear that what I said would have appealed to someone from a culture that prizes individualism—because one of the strengths of the UCC is that we are each invited (empowered, even) to come to faith in our own ways.

Sadly, in my still sleepy state, I failed to take into account how what I was saying would rub the man the wrong way—you see, his culture does not emphasize personal autonomy as ours does but instead regards as primary the good of the community. In a nutshell, Western cultures believe that largely what is good for the person is good for the whole. Non-western cultures insist that what is good for the community is, by extension, good for the person.

Given our stark cultural differences, I wasn’t surprised when I received a fairly firm lecture regarding my responsibilities as a pastor. To my taxi driver’s way of thinking, every member’s faith hinges on what I do and how I lead. And while I would agree that what I do and how I do it very much matters, as a pastor who belongs to a Western culture, I am reminded that while I am always responsible to you, I am not responsible for you. My holy task is to support your journey, not dictate how it must be made.

One of the gifts of travel, and of cross-cultural encounters, is being afforded opportunities to see that there are other perspectives and other value systems in place in this beautiful, varied world of ours. I couldn’t fault my taxi driver for his belief system; it makes perfect, wonderful sense in his homeland. While I doubt I said anything to change his mind, I am still grateful for our exchange—it shed helpful light on my role and responsibilities as your pastor, as well as helping me see—yet again—how my culture has shaped me.

Who or what might offer you a similar gift this week, this summer? Who or what might call you to reflect on how your culture has shaped you?

With you on the journey,