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Christians aren’t supposed to be proud persons. Pride is a sin. That’s why many people I know—even when they are doing no more than expressing their pride in someone else’s abilities or achievements—feel the urge immediately to throw in the boilerplate caveat, “I don’t mean I’m proud in a sinful way, you understand, I’m just saying . . .” But there are things we can take pride in—be glad about—that don’t necessarily lead us to the first of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Along those lines I have for many years taken a bit of pride in the thought that I am not a provincial person. I try to think big. I lived in Germany for a while and took the opportunity to learn about how the world looks from inside a different culture, from a different political and geographical point of view. I try to read widely. When I prayed the pastoral / congregational prayer each Sunday morning in the churches I pastored, I made a point not to get stuck inside our own four walls of the sanctuary but prayed for Christians in other lands, for places where genocide was happening or where oppression was the norm or where sex trafficking was commonplace.
Hence I was chagrined to learn of a cultural faux pas I committed last week. In my role as director of Calvin Seminary’s preaching center, I now and then send out an email to some hundreds of pastors who have signed up over the years to receive news and updates from the seminary and in particular about our continuing education offerings in the area of preaching. But last week for some reason I just wasn’t thinking about all the places to which such an email goes. In my haste to get it written and sent out, I noted that the upcoming Labor Day weekend signaled the unofficial end of summer. Thus, I wished the pastors who received the email many blessings in their busy upcoming Fall start-up for a new church year.
And then I heard from a colleague in Australia.
He reminded me that they don’t have Labor Day, that it was the start of the Spring season there in the Southern Hemisphere, and that churches in that part of the world start their new “church year” in February. And, of course, even if it’s true that I don’t have lots of people in Australia who receive my emails, plenty of people in Canada do and so far as I know, they don’t use “Labor Day” as the unofficial end of summer, either.
How do these things happen? Probably because it’s the most natural—or at least the easiest—thing in the world to become so immersed in your own surroundings, so accustomed to your own life’s rhythms, that these become what you project onto all other people. The truth is that it takes effort—real intentionality—to break out of all that long enough to learn about and be mindful of other circumstances, other rhythms, other ways of just being.
Every once in a while we may run across someone or see someone interviewed on the news and upon listening to this person for a bit, we observe, “My goodness, that person lives in a really small world!” Left to our own devices, though, that’s likely something that would be true of most all of us. Maybe living in a country as large as the United States or Canada contributes to this. Maybe living in a place like Europe—where a three-hour drive in any one direction may well land you in an entirely different country and culture—makes one more globally aware and less likely to be insular. Maybe.
All I know is that I have long thought that as Christians who have a unity in Christ with sisters and brothers from pole to pole, we should be aware of and concerned about and appreciative of all parts of the world. But my little email hiccup last week also reminds me that this is by no means inevitable no matter how “small” the world is said to have become due to the internet or other technologies that link people up on a global scale. We still too easily make our own selves, our own habits, our own preferences and patterns the be-all and end-all of our thinking about life in this world, thus ignoring the rich panoply of experiences and patterns that actually exist and that make the world (and also the Church) such an endlessly interesting place.
So I’ll keep trying to be more global and less insular. And, to my friends in Australia: Happy Spring!