It’s Friday and Sunday’s Comin’!
In her book, Foreign to Familiar, Sarah Lanier quotes a letter from Thomas Jefferson written to the Marquis of Chastellux on Sept. 2, 1785:
With respect to my countrymen…I have studied their character with attention…I had even ascribed this to its cause, to that warmth of their climate which unnerves and unmans both body and mind. While on this subject I will give you my idea of the characters of the several states.
In the North they are: cool, sober, laborious, persevering, independent, jealous of their own liberties and just to those of others; interested, chicaning, superstitious and hypocritical in their religion.
In the South they are: fiery, voluptuary, indolent, unsteady, independent, zealous for their own liberties, but trampling on those of others; generous, candid, without attachment or pretensions of any religion but that of the heart.
These characteristics grow weaker and weaker by gradation from North to South South to North, insomuch that an observing traveller; without the aid of the quadrant, may always know his latitude by the character of the people among whom he finds himself.
The idea that people of different cultures think, act and react differently is nothing new. However, we don’t think much about different cultures unless we go to a different place. We might follow the adage “do as the Romans do” if we visit elsewhere but at home we have less flexibility, less openness to seeing things with fresh eyes, less curiosity about what makes someone else act the way they do.
The apostle Paul traveled a lot — all over the Mediterranean world. He was very aware of people’s differences even in the church. Perhaps that’s why he was always encouraging people to practice unity and listening and living a life worthy of Jesus Christ’s love (see Ephesians 4:1-16). He told the church that we have a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19).
A new school year is beginning — a time to buy new notebooks and take up new disciplines. How about the discipline of looking past one’s own blind spots and being open to new perspectives? For all of us to see our community as an always-changing culture that deserves our care might help us all to grow in unity with Christ and with one another.