The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Seeing the other whole: A habitus for globalization

Note: This article is provided to accompany "Seeing & saying the other side" and as background reading for Anderson's August 9-16.  2005 discussion in our forums.

Honoring difference has never been easy but it is a particularly complex issue for our time. The resurgence of racial, ethnic, and national loyalties in an increasingly interdependent world; tensions caused by social class, racial, ethnic and gender differences residing in greater proximity; the consequences of growing diversity in our churches; relationships among the religions of the world; the impact of postmodernism on the normative visions we have used to manage difference; and the struggle to understand the meaning of reconciliation in conflicted contexts have all converged to mandate new approaches to diversity. Dealing constructively with difference is also a new challenge for the mission of the church at the end of Christendom. Even as we continue to tell the Christian story in new ways, we must learn how to live without domination as partners and neighbors in a world in which Christianity and western enlightenment categories no longer predominate and in which there are many different ethnic traditions and religious options contending for allegiance on a shrinking planet. The agenda is comprehensive. It requires the best thinking from the social sciences and from theology in order to set a steady course through murky and sometimes turbulent waters.

In another sense, however, the issue we face in our time is a simple and specific question: How we shall regard the Other? It is a question that claims us with some urgency because human difference is no longer hidden by geographic distance or behind cultural and religious imperialism. Encounters with diversity that once were the province of missionaries, the adventurous, the open-minded, or those too poor to live where they wished are an unavoidable and irreversible dimension of daily living for more and more people. For example, I regularly have 10-12 cultures represented in every class I teach at Catholic Theological Union. Human diversity is not new, but diversity in our schools and neighborhoods and families and churches is. Behind that simple question are changes in our assumptions about missionizing the Other. The aim of Christian mission is not simply to convert or transform the Other. Therefore learning how to live with the Other as neighbor and partner is an inescapable agenda because diversity is nearby and domination is undesirable.

Three Ways of Understanding the Other

The Other, as I am using it here, has at least three meanings: the Other as not me: the Other as not like me: and the proximate Other who is like me but different from me. The Other, in the most general sense, is anyone who is not me. Husband, wife, lover, friend are all Other because they are not me. Whenever we recognize and respect the distinctions between ourselves and people with whom we are emotionally close to us, they are Other. If we welcome the children born into our family and from our flesh as “strangers,” we will be more likely to honor them as equals with a story to tell and gifts to give. There are, however, two sides to otherness. I, too, am Other to someone else. Unless I begin from a radically egocentric or ethnocentric posture, I am also an Other. This recognition of my “otherness” modifies the human inclination to make distinctions between Us and Them as if the strangers are the real Others. If, however, everyone is a stranger in the sense of being an Other, then no one is stranger or we are all strangers or both.

Despite that qualification, we still use the word Other to identify the one whom we believe really is stranger or whom we perceive to be alien. That is the second meaning of Other. In this sense, the Other is someone who is different, who is not like me. The Other may be not like me in many ways but the underlying assumption remains the same. If I am the norm for how the Other should act or what the Other should be, they, the ones outside, will always be strangers or the Others. The human impulse to determine who is IN and who is OUT, who is US and who is THEM has as its larger aim determining identity and belonging. We are inclined to say that we belong with people who are like us and people who are not like us are outsiders because they are not like me.

One consequence of globalization has been a blurring of these boundaries between Us and Them that have divided people for centuries. Jonathan Z. Smith (1992) of the University of Chicago has identified several ways to make distinctions. One way to decide who is the Other is according to certain qualities. Smith illustrates this mode of determining the Other from URIII, an ancient text in the western tradition, in which the Sumerians distinguish themselves from the Amorites because the Amorites “do not know barley,” have “never known city life,” they eat “uncooked meat,” and because after death “they will not be buried.” (Smith, 1992, p 2) If the Amorites do not know barley, they are obviously nomads and live on the periphery, away from the defining center. Those were reasons enough for the Sumerians to decide that the Amorites were Other and like to remain so. Despite globalization, we still decide that some people will never be US because they are not clean or they are lazy or they have bad manners or they “eat dog,” as one African said about another African tribe. Our qualities may change but the process does not.

The Proximate Other is a term we have devised to describe the one who is like me and yet different from me. It is a term we use when the qualities between Us and Them are mixed. We are unsettled by the Proximate Other because we see ourselves in the one who seems to be totally Other. Australian author David Malouf, in his novel Remembering Babylon, (1993) has written a powerful story about the impact of an Other on one community of people in the north of Australia in the 1800’s. In the novel, Malouf captured the terror we experience in the proximate other with the splendid phrase “monstrous strangeness and unwelcome likeness.” (p 43) The phrase is used to describe Gemmy, a shipwrecked English cabin boy raised by Aboriginal people, who wanders into a white settlement in the north of Australia in the 1800s. Gemmy was not a black person but he was not white either. He smelled strange and his movements seemed less than human and yet once in a while he talked like they did. Near the end of the novel, Mr Frazer, the fastidious schoolmaster who had regularly held his nose in the presence of Gemmy, concluded that “what they were dealing with, in Gemmy, might be closer to them, to him, than he knew. “ (Malouf, 1993, p 179)

What made Gemmy’s presence so disturbing to the British settlers, what is unsettling about the neighbor who mows his lawn wearing a turban or the smell of curry mixed with barbecued steak is the combination of monstrous strangeness and unwelcome likeness. It is the proximate other, the near neighbor, who is most troublesome. Jonathan Z. Smith puts the dilemma this way. “While difference or ‘otherness’ may be perceived as being either LIKE-US or NOT-LIKE-US, it becomes problematic when it is TOO-MUCH-LIKE-US or when it claims to BE-US...The deepest intellectual issues are not based upon perceptions of alterity, but, rather, of similarity, at times, even, of identity.” (1992, p 13) The proximate Other is problematic because he or she is too different from us to be comfortable and too alike to be dispensed with.

In response to the increase of diversity nearby, I propose to explore one question in this essay: What shall be our disposition toward the Other? How we answer that question will not eliminate conflict among warring tribes or effect reconciliation between ancient enemies or eliminate dis-ease among missionaries or even guarantee global transformation but it will suggest the contours of a spirituality toward the Other or habitus for globalization. Our task then is to learn from social sciences and from our theological traditions about relating to the Other in order to fashion a habitus for globalization. This focus on spirituality or habitus has both experiential and methodological implications. It is experiential and, I would submit, urgent because difference is an inescapable gift and the proximate Other is a permanent part of the human landscape. The methodological reason for exploring a habitus links this essay to another in this volume in which Edward W. Poitras examines a new understanding of the “mission self” is called for when mission is seen within a mode of receptivity. (pp 00-00) The implications of what I am proposing about a habitus for globalization may eventually take us beyond learning how to live with difference to examine the place of spirituality and the self in both mission studies and practical theology.

The Meaning of Habitus

In Theologia, Edward Farley argues that theology is a mixed aptitude of the soul: a theoretical and practical habit whose primary characteristic is wisdom. Although modern thought tends to regard theology as a theoretical science about God, there is a strain since the Middle Ages that identifies theology as a habitus, “a cognitive disposition and orientation of the soul, a knowledge of God and what God reveals.”(1983, p 35) I understand habitus to be a practically oriented disposition of the human soul formed from general spirituality, shaped by disciplined meditation and the study of Christian texts, informed by a careful reading of the signs of the times and the practical knowledge necessary for the work of ministry in this time. A habitus is not just about thinking and it is more than skills. It is like learning how to do theology by heart. It is as close to us as breathing. It is a disposition of the soul that transcends the distinctions between intellect and affect that have often divided approaches to what is essential for ministry.

Elaine L. Graham, in her new book Transforming Practice: Pastoral Theology in an Age of Uncertainty (1996), uses Pierre Bourdieu to expand on Farley by constructing a more dynamic understanding of habitus as practice that is both linked to past knowledge and yet open to creative agency in the present. “Practice thus emerges as the process by which social relations are generated. As a working definition, we might characterize practice as purposeful activity performed by embodied persons in time and space as both the subjects of agency and the objects of history.” (Graham, 1996, p 110) Even though our actions are always embodied and therefore culture-specific, they are also creative, inspiritational, prophetic and capable of being subversive. At a time in which we are locked into old prejudices and ancient enmities; when our vision of the Other is often limited by our own particular histories; and when ideologies are significantly linked to economics, I believe Elaine Graham is right to wonder “whether Christian practices might be imagined as the bearers of living principles of hope and obligation.” (Graham, 1996, p 111)

Although we may need legislation to inhibit or reduce the most egregious acts of discrimination or sexual harassment or racism and we may need training programs that teach us some skills for responding to difference, neither legislation nor training programs address the real source of the capacity to “respect diversity” or receive the Other. We need a different kind of learning in order to see that the actual differences we experience are differences of attribution - differences created by viewing the other according to our own preferences. Robert Kegan, in his book In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life (1994), has suggested that “this kind of learning cannot be accomplished through informational training, the acquisition of skills, but only through transformational education, a ‘leading out’ from an established habit of mind.” (p 232) That is to say, there is no habitus without formation. And no formation endures without transformation. The formation of a habitus for globalization is the end of process that includes the transformation of old habits and ways of dealing with difference.

Understanding cultural diversity and honoring differences among religious or ethnic traditions is an intellectual exercise that challenges the tendencies to globalize cultural realities at the expense of the local or particularize at the expense of the global. This way of responding to diversity must, finally, be more than an intellectual exercise or pastoral strategy. A habitus for globalization is a personal spiritual discipline sustained by four distinct attitudes that precede any encounter with the Other: 1) wonder at the mystery of human uniqueness; 2) recognition of the Other; 3) hospitality toward the stranger; and 4) reconciliation as a way living with diversity. These characteristics are grounded both in the Christian tradition and the human sciences. Before we explore these marks of a habitus, however, we need to define the meaning of globalization as a way of understanding the signs of our times.

Understanding Globalization

Few people understand the issues regarding globalization better than my colleague Robert Schreiter. While Schreiter has demonstrated that there is no single definition, it is generally agreed that globalization is about the “increasingly interconnected character of political, economic, and social life of the peoples on this planet.” (Schreiter, 1997, p 5) Globalization is a world-wide social phenomena in which things are fragmenting or splintering and reluctantly coming together simultaneously. On the one hand, there are new borders emerging daily in nations and multinational corporations because of parochial concerns within, while on the other hand universalizing forces from without make borders more porous and particularity more difficult to maintain. Moreover, there is a proliferation of political, economic and cultural centers of power. As a result of these rapid changes, the world has become a multipolar place without a clear map. Living in a multipolar world is especially difficult for cultures and persons who have presumed political dominance or cultural superiority.

Globalization today, according to Robert Schreiter (1997), includes a fundamental redistribution of wealth, making some people and some nations very wealthy while others are driven deeper into poverty and despair. People who were Other and maybe even enemies to one another not so long ago are partners in this emerging hemispheric shift of economies and centers of power. And new alliances create new enemies. If there is a new bipolarization, it is between the rich and the poor. Our experience of globalization at the end of this century has been escalated by the new communications technology. We all live in a world wide web, for good and for ill. If our relationships around the globe are more like a web, then interdependence rather than hierarchical independence or dependence is the norm. Communications technology becomes another means by which the Other comes closer to home.

Globalization, as the extension of modernity throughout the entire world, has diminished difference by homogenizing the Other. The assumption behind this effort to export Enlightenment values is that progress, equality and inclusion are universal values. Despite this effort, however, difference remains. Instead of one world reality, the extension of modernity through globalization has created plural maternities that resemble one another but are still embedded in and reflective of local cultures. The local cannot keep the global out. Even so, global efforts are changed according to local rules and local arrangements. McDonald hamburgers and Coca-Cola are unavoidably modified by local taste. The point of tension is in the encounter between the local and the global or what Roland Robertson has called “glocalization.” (1995) Some of the most significant features of religion and theology today must be understood in terms of the glocal, the close interaction between the local and the universal or global. Here is how Schreiter puts it. “Neither the global, homogenizing forces nor the local forms of accommodation can of themselves provide an adequate explanation of these phenomena. It is precisely in their interaction that one comes to understand what is happening.” (Schreiter, 1997, p 12) Therefore we need to attend simultaneously both to the contextual and the universalizing dimensions of living in order to respond appropriate to the issues of our time.

What is happening in the world is best understood in terms of reflexivity. In this interactional process of reflexivity, every participant is changed. That is how globalization differs from colonialism. It is not simply that cultures on the periphery are influenced while the center or dominant cultures remained unchanged. Modern globalization, wherever or whatever its origins, is an outflowing process that curves back upon its origins. This element of being changed introduces the possibility of risk and the certainty of ambivalence in any glocalized encounter with the Other. The mutuality of influence at the center of this process is similar to what the French Roman Catholic spiritual writer Therese de Lisieux once called the “evangelist’s gamble.” How can anyone expect, she asked, “that the person who is listening to an evangelist should be ready to change his or her life or way of thinking if the evangelist is not notionally prepared to submit to the same discipline?” The risk of every dialogue with another who is “not me” is that I might be changed. To understand the Other, therefore, we need to be prepared to be changed ourselves. This willingness to be changed is a fundamental characteristic of a habitus for globalization.

It is this risk of being changed that evokes fear and despair in people and cultures who have presumed to have the normative view. Celebrating diversity and reinforcing particularity as an alternative to universalizing often surfaces an antiglobal point of view that, according to Schreiter, manifests itself in two distinct ways: fundamentalism and revanchism.(1997, pp 22-23) Fundamentalism is a powerful vehicle for opposing globalization, modernity, and the Enlightenment from which modernity arises. It seeks to determine who or what belongs inside the circle by insisting on certain requirements that will keep others out. Revanchism is more than resisting further change: it seeks to regain lost territory or influence by reasserting centralization and control. In a world that is increasingly multipolar and whose forms of communication are symbolized by networking rather than through hierarchy, recapturing control by regaining lost ideological territory or reasserting old forms of power is an illusive ideal.

A Constructive, Enlarging Engagement with the Other

The settlers in Malouf’s novel Remembering Babylon (1993) discovered quickly how difficult it was to recapture old forms of power on the barren, harsh environment of north Queensland. The English and Scottish settlers found their dreams of a new Jerusalem shattered by the land and its demands. In this bleak environment in the north of Australia, it is understandable that these settlers remembered Babylon. Daily living was an experience of strangeness. Moreover, they knew that beyond the edges of their fragile community was the absolute dark, a land totally other, wild and black. From that other land, not far away geographically, Gemmy came into this vulnerable settlement in search of himself.

The first people Gemmy met were children at play. When the children threatened to shoot him with a wooden gun, he shouted “Do not shoot. I am a B-b-british object.” (Malouf, 1993, p 3) And so he was. He was a British cabin boy who had survived shipwreck years before, washed ashore barely alive, and was raised by the people native to the land, the Aboriginals. When the settlers looked at Gemmy , however, sometimes he was not white. His skin might be white, they concluded, but not his features. To most of the settlers, he was simply Other, someone who was not like me. To others in the settlement, he became a proximate Other, someone who was like them and yet very different from them. They lost ideological territory they would never again regain because his presence among them had fundamentally altered their perceptions of what it is to be human.
As he heard the settler’s speech, Gemmy began to remember the language of his origin. And yet, the settlers looked at this strange creature, Malouf reports, at the furrow in his brow, and they wondered whether it was “a white man’s thought that set it there, or the knowledge of something (they would not name it) that could hardly be conceived of in a white man’s thinking.” (Malouf, 1993, p 41) This distinction put Gemmy outside the realm of the human for most of the settlers. His manners and looks suggested he belong to the Absolute Night where the Others dwelled. He was like Them, the dark ones who lived where it was dark. Gemmy was the ultimate Other. As the novel unfolds, even though Gemmy slowly learns some of the settler’s ways and everyone agrees that he would not cause harm, still most of them insisted that he was dangerous. For others in the community, knowing Gemmy changed their world and altered their self-understanding. He provided for them what the encounter with the Syrophonecian woman was for Jesus: a constructive, enlarging engagement with the Other. (Matthew 15:10-28) Edward Poitras has made a similar observation regarding the self in mission. “The self is a moving target, always in flux, hopefully enlarging and open to more inclusive forms. But especially in mission, where reaching our and sharing are presupposed, we would expect a widening, accepting, and inclusive self-consciousness.” (00 manu. p 11) The self is transformed as it enlarges to include the community with others.

Learning to honor difference without fear occurs when we have a personal experience with someone who is different that enlarges our vision of the human and transforms our attitude toward the stranger. Common Fire: Lives of Commitment in a Complex Age (1996) is the study of 100 persons who have sought to live and work on behalf of the common good. The single most important pattern present in the lives of everyone studied was an event or experience that became “a constructive, enlarging engagement with otherness.” The authors define that experience in this way. “Always the storytellers would describe some event or experience of “otherness” that jolted their idea of who they were and where they stood in the world, challenging previous assumptions of who was ‘one of us’ and who was not.” (Parks, 1996, p 65) This idea of being transformed by a stranger is both the consequence of and the prelude to forming a habitus for globalization. Being able “to see the other whole” requires all our imagination and resources in order to attend to the transformative power of empathic connections with otherness. We turn next to a brief outline of a disposition toward the Other which has implications for mission and ministry on a shrinking planet.

A Habitus for Globalization: Wonder

The first characteristic of a habitus for globalization is wonder. We experience wonder when a child is born. We are surprised and often awed by the delicate hands and small gestures and the loud sounds that come from such small bodies. There is also a fierce dignity of the newly born that sometimes startles us. We also experience wonder or awe in the presence of people we perceive to be powerful or famous. As a characteristic of a habitus for globalization, wonder honors the mystery of the Other, of all Others. Honoring the mystery of the Other is not a new agenda for the human community but it is now unavoidable. It is not the only posture toward the Other but it is the first.

Near the end of the Malouf’s novel Remembering Babylon, the cousins Lachlan and Janet, now Sister Monica, meet after many years and reflect on their first encounter with Gemmy. When first saw Gemmy on the fence, Janet remembers, he was all she ever knew of him. “Except I have never seen anyone clearer in all my life.” (p 194) What Janet remembers about her first seeing Gemmy mirrors the use of wonder by Alfred Margulies in his book The Empathic Imagination (1996). “The holding of wonder, a searching attitude of simultaneously knowing and not- knowing, of finding pattern and breaking apart, goes against the grain of our organizing mind, but is intrinsic to the creativity of introspection, art, and empathy.” (p 000) At the beginning of understanding the Other is wonder and wonder presupposes simultaneously knowing and not knowing. To make room for wonder we need to suspend judgment Wonder presumes being in uncertainties without being irritated or need to establish fact and reason. Such receptivity toward the Other demands the capacity to tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity. It also limits arrogance. Excessive arrogance discourages us from approaching both cultures and individuals from a perspective of equal worth. The challenge of the time is to regard diversity as a mystery to be experienced in wonder as well as a problem to be solved with reason.

When we approach the Other with an attitude of awe and respect, we presume that persons and cultures different than me or my own culture have something to teach me. As the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor understands it in Multiculturality and the Politics of Recognition, (1992) that disposition toward the Other is an act of faith. “As a presumption, the claim is that all human cultures that have animated whole societies over some considerable stretch of time have something important to say to all human beings.” (Taylor, 1992, p 66) The presumption of equal worth is a stance we must take, argues Taylor, whenever we embark on the study of the Other. Whether the Other is child or spouse or the stranger in our midst or a culture alien to our own, we owe them this presumption of equal worth. This presumption overcomes fear of the stranger, engenders curiosity about the Other, and promotes the kind of disciplined listening to another that leads to understanding.

The willingness to respond to the other with awe and wonder also requires the courage to be surprised. I say courage because many people prefer not to be surprised. Seeing the Other whole carries with it the possibility of surprise. Instead of imposing our preconceptions on the Other, we are prepared to receive something new, something we had not expected, some unthought-of possibilities . This receptivity demands a capacity that is able to tolerate uncertainty and bear surprise. For the Christian, the courage to bear surprise is rooted in the conviction that the future belongs to God. If the future is God’s, it is not our enemy. And neither is surprise.

Learning to respect diversity, to enter into conversation with an Other with the presumption that their culture or perspective is of equal worth to mine, and maybe even to celebrate diversity as a gift all requires handling ambiguity better than most of us do. What James Fowler (1981) has identified as conjunctive faith is even more necessary for our time if wonder is to be part of our disposition toward the Other. We need people of faith, as Fowler has suggested, who are able to take a person stand and be affirm diversity in the world as something to be celebrated. The alertness to paradox, the capacity to embrace the polarities of life, and the ability to hold multiple interpretations of reality in view all become essential dimensions of this disposition of wonder towards the Other.

A Habitus for Globalization: Hospitality

The second characteristic of a habitus for globalization is hospitality. Hospitality to the stranger is action by which we honor the ‘otherness’ of any human being. Ethicist Thomas Ogeltree, in his book Hospitality to the Stranger: Dimensions of Moral Understanding, (1985) puts welcoming the stranger is at the center of Christian moral life today. “Regard for strangers in their vulnerability and delight in their novel offerings presupposes that we perceive them as equals, as persons who share our common humanity in its myriad variations.” (p 6) When we offer hospitality to a stranger, we welcome something new, unfamiliar, and unknown into our lives that has the potential to expand our world. When we disregard others or reject the stranger, we are diminished. Kosuke Koyama (1993) has made a similar observation regarding the necessity of hospitality in a pluralistic age. The only way, he contends, to stop the conflict and violence among and between people in our world is by extending hospitality to strangers. Doing so may be risky but it is the essence of the Christian gospel. Humanity has also been aware of this, with or without the biblical instruction. (p 169) Hospitality will become an increasingly important sign of the presence of the reign of God when Christianity can no longer assume a position of dominance. It is a central posture of mission is “the aim of mission is the creation of the koinonia of the whole humanity centered by the peripheralized Christ.” (Koyama, 1993, p 171) Hospitality becomes a central sign of the presence of the reign of God.

For churches in the western enlightenment tradition, our schooling in hospitality in the future is likely to come from a poor church. If we respond to the Other from a spirit of poverty, if we can admit that in some ways we are impoverished, if we begin with the expectation that the stranger has gifts to give that we need, if we learn our lessons of hospitality from the poor, we will learn better how to practice hospitality that avoids domination and welcomes reciprocity. Our awareness of God’s poverty makes it easier for us to receive the gifts we give to one another. In that sense, hospitality is a metaphor for the gospel. Hospitality is a sign of the graciousness of God who welcomes us, always creating space for us to live our story. The way we welcome one another is also a sign of the generosity of God in the world. In order to value hospitality as an act of Christian discipleship, we need to foster a greater spirit of receptivity among us.

It is difficult to conclude that the stranger is not inherently dangerous because sometimes strangers are dangerous. That is a theological truth too simple to promise and certainly difficult to achieve but necessary as a way of life. Sometimes strangers are dangerous. We train our children not to take candy from strangers. We have unlisted telephone to avoid unwanted phone calls But if we live as if every stranger or everyone who is different is not safe, we are most bereft. Believing that the stranger is not dangerous is also difficult to achieve because most of us have been taught in our homes that difference is dangerous and too much difference is prelude to disaster. Honoring the Other does create conflict. Honoring competing truth claims is not without tension. In order to celebrate diversity nearby and honor difference, we will need to practice reconciliation as a way of living that fosters understanding as well as restores brokenness. More than the struggle with conflicting ideologies or truth claims, beyond the danger of showing hospitality to strangers, there is the risk that hospitality to the Other will change us.

A Habitus for Globalization: Recognition

The third characteristic of a habitus for globalization the recognition of the Other. The recognition that begins in the interaction between the newborn child and its mother and continues through childrearing is necessary in marriage as well. Marriages that endure and flourish have achieved a kind of mutual recognition in which husband and wife each honor the other as a separate and unique subject. Rainer Maria Rilke has said this very well in an essay On Love and Other Difficulties. (1975) “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against a wide sky.” ( p 28) In marriage, each is the guardian of the other’s solitude. In a similar way, seeing the Other whole is a way of preserving the gift of otherness in any human relationship. When we realize how difficult it is to accomplish this simple task in marriage, seeing a spouse whole against a wide sky, we can begin to see why it is so difficult to honor the uniqueness of people whose color or culture or ethnic traditions or religious beliefs are very different. Honoring others means seeing the other whole. When that occurs, it is possible to live together side by side as neighbors and partners with people who are Other, strangers because they are not like me.

Seeing the Other whole, however, is not a common experience. We are more likely to see one another as mirror reflections of ourselves, as projects to transform, as unbelievers to convert, as embodying ideas needing correction, or as incomplete beings needing formation. In order to see the Other more clearly, we ourselves need to changed. Sometimes this happens when we encounter the Other. More than anyone else in the Malouf novel Remembering Babylon, Jock McIver is fundamentally changed as he slowly welcomes Gemmy into his home and his life. He sees himself more clearly, his neighbors differently, and the tall grass he walked through all the time had “tips beaded with green” he had not seen before. He also sees his wife in a new way. “He had turned his full gaze upon her - that is what she felt. He wanted to know now what her life was beyond what he saw and had taken for granted, a shirt washed and shaken to make it soft, food on the table; to enquire into her affections. It was amazing to him - that is what his tentativeness suggested - that he had known so little and had not looked.” (pp 108-109)

Honoring the Other with awe and wonder is a central characteristic of a habitus for globalization. Showing hospitality to the stranger is necessary in order to insure the development of human life at its fullest and maintain communities in which intimacy does not eliminate autonomy. Similarly, recognition of the unmistakable particularity of concrete persons or social groups is at the core of any theory of morality. Justice can be measured, one might say, by the ways we regard the heterogeneous, non-identical, the diverse, the anomalous ones among us. Part of our struggle with honoring particularity, however, is that it makes universal moral claims more difficult - even moral claims about honoring the Other. The notion that some truth claims are superior or dominant over others has been challenged by a pluralism of competing ideals of life and value orientations - each with their own claim. Moral protection of the particular means establishing a politically effective way to provide all subjects with an equal chance to articulate publicly their interests and needs. And this presumes a context for discourse free from domination so that even silent voices are given speech. But we cannot possibly respond equally to every Other. Therefore care for the concrete Other is always in conflict with the goal of equal treatment. Or to put it another way, benevolence and equal regard are in irresolvable tension.

For this reason, respect for the Other is a major moral dilemma for our time. One of the mistakes of modernity is ignorance about the particularity of the Other. This ignorance is intensified by the presence of pluralism in our neighborhoods and churches. In order to correct this problem, we need to regard as a virtuous any mode of conduct that contributes to sensitizing our perception of individual particularity. Axel Honneth makes this point in an essay on “The other of justice: Habermas and the ethical challenge of postmodernism.” (1995) “What is normatively distinguished here are the attitudes and demeanors which share the feature of increasing our perceptibility of other persons and thereby of heightening our moral sensitivity as a whole.” (pp 299 -300) The characteristics of this virtue of sensitivity to the “other” are what we otherwise associate with care: the ability to listen, the willingness to be emotionally involved, and the capacity to accept, even encourage, personal uniqueness.

Mutual recognition is not possible unless the virtue of sensitivity is already present that enables the perception of individual or cultural particularities. We will not see injustice done to individuals, how someone may be ignored or treated unequally, unless we have a heightened sensitivity to his or her own personal attributes. Unless we imagine individual variations and differences, unless we see the Other whole, we will not respond when suffering or injustice occurs. The capacity to visualize individual particularity and intuit understanding of a stranger who is not like me is often defined as empathy. “I can acquire an understanding of the value a particular interest has for a concrete person only to the extent that I also attempt to comprehend his or her individual life ideals and modes of orientation.” (Honneth, 1995, p 304) For that reason, one might say that empathy is the central virtue that will enable us to live side by side with partners and neighbors who are very different than we are. The awareness of diversity in our homes and neighborhoods makes empathy both increasingly difficult and increasingly necessary. What Axel Honneth (1995) has outlined as the agenda for our time is a faith issue as well as a ministry task. There is a kind of irony here. Precisely at the moment when there is a decline in the influence of the church in society, there is a growing set of needs for social living for which the church is singularly equipped if we understand that recognition, hospitality, and celebration at the wonder of diversity are at the core of the Christian faith

If our presumption, as Charles Taylor (1992) puts it, is to regard the other as an individual or culture or religious tradition of equal worth, we need to be able to set the other at distance and imagine a world quite different than our own. Even when our understanding is partial, even if our presumption of the other’s equal worth is fleeting, it is a beginning. Even that beginning, however, is risky. When we really listen to the story of another, when we enter as fully as possible in to the world and experience of someone we presume to be a stranger, we will be changed. And even if we are not changed, our vision of the human has been expanded by every story we hear. We may discover in the end that the stranger is not dangerous: empathy is.

A Habitus for Globalization: Reconciliation

Reconciliation is the final characteristic of a habitus for globalization. Reconciliation, as Robert Schreiter (1992 ) has so ably defined it, is more than managing conflict or bartering a compromise. It does not move toward a hasty peace nor does reconciliation require overlooking difference or forgetting wrongdoing. What we are learning from the struggle of the people of South Africa is that reconciliation is only possible if all the stories are told, all the voices are heard, every position has an equal hearing. Reconciliation, I believe, must be a part of the habitus we embody in a global village because polarization, scapegoating, and prejudice are too dangerous today. We need to practice a reconciled way of living because bombs and handguns are so lethal and so pervasive that it is no longer enough just to think about reconciliation as a way of healing broken relationships or restoring people and communities shattered by violence. The complexity of human life and the pervasiveness of human conflict also reminds us that reconciliation requires more than human effort. It is, rather, a habitus or way of being in response to brokenness and violence that recognizes and responds to God’s work within us and between us.

When our focus is on honoring the Other, hospitality and recognition are prelude to reconciled living. Hospitality is a prelude to reconciliation because it creates an environment in which trust and safety prevail. Reconciliation as a habitus for globalization also presupposes a willingness to be attentive to the Other. We practice reconciliation whenever we listen and when we wait attentively. Understanding the Other cannot be hurried. It may require us to be attentive to the painful memories and damaged dreams. We may need to walk alongside a victim at the victim’s pace of resolution. It takes time to make peace and reconciliation keeps its own timetables. If we are able to recognize and honor the uniqueness of the Other, we will be willing to see with their eyes and wait at their pace because we believe that their way of seeing and walking is of equal worth. In this sense, reconciliation is a challenging dimension of our attitude toward the Other. It is not always easy to see the Other as gift rather than threat. When we are able, however, reconciliation enlarges our world because it fosters true respect for the Other and invites us to show hospitality to the stranger.

Reconciliation is possible only when the truth is told and clearly heard. That means that alienating events or distancing beliefs need to be included as part of any process of reconciliation.
Showing hospitality to the stranger is a prelude to reconciliation because it creates an environment in which trust and safety prevail. Learning to embrace the other and honor the stranger is also a step before reconciliation. Because reconciliation is more than righting wrongs or settling a dispute, because reconciliation means coming eventually to a place we have not been before, we will be surprised. We are surprised by what we discover in the uncharted territory that reconciliation creates. When we meet the Other with a reconciling habitus, we may experience transformation as we never imagined it and grace where we least expect it.

Wonder is at the Beginning and at the End

Wonder, which is so central to our disposition toward the Other, has its begins and ends with our awareness of the majesty and mystery of God. The child’s response to the Nurturing Person, once differentiation from the physical and social relation to mother has occurred, is an early experience of the numinous or holy in human life. This initial experience of ‘otherness’ is prelude to our experience of God as the Wholly Other, ONE-NOT-LIKE-ME. God is not only Wholly Other, however. In the Christian story, Jesus is the proximate Other, the one who is LIKE-ME, BUT-NOT-LIKE -ME. Like every proximate Other, Jesus is both necessary and dangerous. He is too different and therefore dangerous; and too much like us and therefore necessary. The incarnation of God is a necessary sign that inclusivity does not require self- diminshment. Living with the “otherness” of God and recognizing the stranger both require the same capacity to honor the Other. We are sustained in this capacity to honor the Other when we recognize that God is not diminished by including human ‘otherness.’ What this means for the mission of the church is most difficult and necessary of all: a vision of faithful inclusivity.

Pamela Dickey Young, a Canadian feminist theologian, in a book entitled Christ in a Post-Christian World (1995), articulates a vision for the church and for theology faced with a pluralistic world. Her aim is to develop a non-imperialistic, non-patriarchal Christian theology without abdicating the Christian symbol system. “Both in feminist thinking and in thinking about religious pluralism the challenge is to hold the particular and the universal in tension, not to let the commonalties get swallowed up by myriad diversities, [and] not to jump too soon to pseudo universals. The way to the universal is through the particular and not around it.” (Young, 1995, p 35) It is possible, Young holds, to develop a Christian identity that can live in integrity with all one’s human and nonhuman neighbors in a world where there are many religious options. “The Christian identity that I seek is one that recognizes the interconnectedness of all that is and fosters partnership among all creatures in working toward integrity for all who share the world.” (p 146) When this vision of the interconnectedness of all things is combined with a spirituality that approaches the Other with wonder, shows hospitality to the Stranger, and sees the Other whole against a wide sky, we have the beginnings of a habitus for globalization.

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February issue


Embracing diversity