I’ve always valued the experience of being immersed in a culture that is not my own. Even when it is uncomfortable, and it often is, it allows opportunities for reflection on your self, your values, and your place in the world. It also give you an opportunity to explore those things that you think our particular to your context only to discover that they are a part of the universal human experience.
I spent last week Veradero, Cuba. My wife’s presbytery has a decades-old relationship with a Cuban Presbytery. Her congregation has been going to the country since long before it was safe and legal to do so. The harrowing stories of sneaking into the country via charter planes from Venezuela always sound like more of an adventure than they may have actually been, but I love to hear them, nonetheless! Nowadays, travel into the country is a bit easier, but there are fears that the current administration may reverse some of the progress that was made by President Obama.
The trip was a pastor’s retreat, gathering pastors from Baltimore, Central Florida and Cuba presbyteries to think about self care and how pastors can care for one another. While some of the stressors that American pastors experience are uniquely ours, many come from the universal experience of serving a community of faith. Issues of loneliness, being overworked, and not getting to be authentic cross cultural boundaries. Our Cuban friends have the additional stress of a national pastor shortage, leaving many pastors serving multiple congregations, sometimes a distance a part.
While the focus of the time was the common stresses, it was also hard to ignore the common joys. There is a comfort that we all find in Scripture, there is a mutual love of music, though Cubans tend to add in more dancing than the average American Presbyterian, and their is the common joy of fellowship around the table. As the language barriers were navigated, we found that our lives are so much more the same than different. That’s not to ignore that there are major economic and political disparities between our countries, only to say that at our core, we are seeking the same things: community, purpose, and to be known, loved, and accepted.
The third stanza of the hymn “In Christ There is No East or West” reads:
Join hands, disciples of the faith, whate’er your race may be. All children of the living God are surely kin to me.
Despite our cultural differences, we all find our home in God and that makes us family. I felt that sitting in the circle with group of pastors and I reflect on it as I think about our work in South Arlington. As I walk up and down Columbia Pike, I see faces that represent every corner of the earth converging in the heart of one town. Each person shares the same longings for love and acceptance and we as the church have an opportunity to model a community of love that honors our differences while celebrating the One we have in common. May we be the kind of church where folks from north, south, east, and west can find a home and experience our shared humanity.