When I was five years old, I lived in a small community on Baffin Island, and I had a best friend, named Rajan. He and I were inseparable when at school or play. He had long hair and deep brown eyes, and his mother made delicious food. I remember the first time I met his mother, when our family were invited for a meal at their home. I was mesmerized by the red mark on her forehead, the bindi, from her Hindu Indian heritage. It was a mark of her faith, her culture, and her devotion as a loving wife. When we got home that evening I had so many questions! What does the mark mean? What was in the sauce? What languages were they speaking? I am thankful for the openness of my family to new ways and new cultures through that experience. Thereafter, I have always embraced conversation, discussion and interaction with those whom are different.
During my experience of life in Newfoundland I have encountered much openness to differing expressions of faith and culture. Historically communities in the province were settled in relation to safe harbours and plenteous fishing grounds. Many communities were predominantly of one faith expression, with little interaction with others. There are whole communities that were solely Roman Catholic, Anglican, Salvation Army, Moravian, or United Church: not often were they a mixture. These communities were isolated due to poor roads and limited communication. There was little option for a diverse mecca of faiths and interactions. Even my first posting as a catechist in Burgeo, the community had 650 Anglican families, 80 United Church families, and a dozen Roman Catholic families.
One might think that there would be great opposition to differing faiths and cultures in this type of a reality. Yet, in fact, I have found much openness to differing cultures and expressions. Many of the ‘experts’ and professionals in this province have important roles in the areas of industry, medicine, politics and finance. There seems to be more conflict concerning the divide between ‘townie and bayman’ rather than faith expressions.
I believe that a portion of these expressions of tolerance, acceptance and understanding has to do with our location. We are perhaps in the most isolated and tough province of all of Canada. Persons choose to live here, and thus doing, accept the challenges and blessing that this place affords. It takes effort to move here, dwell here, and understand the culture and language that are present in this beautiful place.
And yet in our context we don’t always appreciate the blessings that are all around us. It seems that in community, we are hardest on each other. A fellow colleague has described the culture of Christian community in this place to be almost tribal in nature. The differences that are apparent within faith expressions are not always embraced nor enhanced. The aptitude for change, innovation, and variation is not always welcomed in my journey with others as leaders in the church.
It is in the openness to dialogue, as with my long ago questioning of bindis and sauces, that helps to quell concerns stemming from differences in community. I hope that I am forever open and questioning, so as to stay present with all who enter into this wonderful easter(n) community.