Entre Dios y Alá

(English follows Spanish)

Si pudiera resumir las noticias de las últimas dos semanas, podría sin duda mencionar dos nombres: Benedicto XVI y Hugo Chávez.

El primero desafió toda una organización, un sistema, una tradición. Hoy que escribo esta nota los noticieros hablan del humo blanco saliendo de la Capilla Sixtina que anuncie que hay un nuevo Papa. No me alcanzo a imaginar todos los cambios organizacionales a los que se enfrenta la Iglesia Católica para adaptarse a este nuevo cambio de innegable impacto mundial.

Por otro lado, tenemos la muerte del presidente de Venezuela Hugo Chávez. Los análisis políticos por supuesto han sido los protagonistas de su partida. Pero no podemos dejar de lado ese aspecto que nos une en este espacio de comunicación.

En medio de la sobre-exposición de la noticia en los medios, incluyendo detalles de su vida, su gobierno, sus frases célebres, visitas a países socialistas etc, está una noticia que este lado del mundo apenas menciona.

La foto del presidente de Irán, Mahmud Ahmadineyad, expresando sus condolencias a la madre del presidente Chávez ha causado no menos que indignación en su país y los países que siguen los preceptos islámicos.

Lo que para nosotros puede parecer normal, entendible y simplemente humano al brindar consuelo en un abrazo a alguien que vive el dolor profundo del duelo, en otra latitud no es más que el irrespeto a lo que ordena su ley, la cual indica que no debe haber contacto físico entre un hombre y una mujer si no es de su círculo cercano.

No siempre podemos entonces actuar como actúan otros, es decir a la tierra que vamos hacer lo que vemos. No siempre podemos adaptarnos a otro entorno, a pesar que podamos sentir la inclinación natural a ello.

Las culturas abiertas podríamos describirlas como permeables a otras culturas, donde son fácilmente identificables y permitidos otros valores, costumbres, tradiciones siempre y cuando prevalezca el interés común sobre el particular. Por el contrario, las culturas cerradas son herméticas y poco o nada tolerantes a las demás. El caso que enfrenta al presidente Ahmadineyad es una muestra clara, y atizado además, por comparar al presidente Chávez con Jesucristo.

Se unen de nuevo alrededor de Dios, de nuestras creencias religiosas los dos hechos noticiosos que mantienen en vilo al mundo entero.

Católicos y no católicos pendientes del Vaticano. Entre tanto el mundo Islámico levantando su voz de protesta por un hecho a todas luces, para ellos totalmente inadmisible hasta para un jefe de Estado.

Entre Dios y Alá, entre Dios y Dios. Hasta la próxima.

Between God and Allah, translation by Dianne Hofner Saphiere

If I were to summarize the news of the last two weeks, I could without doubt mention two names: Benedict XVI and Hugo Chávez.

The first challenged an entire organization, a system, a tradition. Today as I write this note there is news in the white smoke coming out of the Sistine Chapel announcing that there is a new Pope.  I can’t begin to imagine all the organizational changes that confront the Catholic Church as it adapts to this new change of undeniable worldwide impact.

On the other hand, we have the death of Hugo Chávez, the President of Venezuela. The political analyses have of course been the protagonists of his departure. But we can not ignore that aspect which unites us in this communication space. Amid the over-exposure of the news media, including the details of his life, his government, his famous phrases, and his visits to socialist countries, etc., lies a story that this side of the world barely mentioned.

This photo of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, expressing his condolences to the mother of President Chávez, has caused no minor indignation in his country and in the countries of the world that follow Islamic principles. What to us may seem normal, understandable, and simply the human act of providing comfort with a hug to someone living the deep pain of grief, in another latitude is nothing more than disrespect to the order of law, which indicates there should be no physical contact between a man and a woman not within the same inner circle.

We cannot always behave as others do, that is to say, doing what we see in the land to which we travel. We cannot always adapt ourselves to another environment, although we might feel the natural inclination to do so.

Open cultures could be described as permeable to other cultures, those in which other values, customs, and traditions are easily identifiable and permitted as long as the common interest in the matter is maintained. By contrast, closed cultures are hermetic, and not so tolerant of others. The case facing President Ahmadinejad is a clear case in point, further stoked by comparisons of Hugo Chávez with Jesus Christ.

Our religious beliefs join again around God, in the two big news items that have captivated the world. Catholics and non-Catholics watching the Vatican. The Muslim world raising its voice in protest to an act committed openly, which for them is completely inadmissible for a Head of State.

Between God and Allah, between God and God. See you soon!

Respect for All Spiritual Traditions

Our belief systems, particularly our spiritual beliefs and traditions, are increasingly important dimensions of culture. We must be able to bridge religious and spiritual differences if we are to live together in a collaborative, inclusive, respectful world. Yet this dimension is far too often overlooked and shortchanged in the intercultural literature.

Today, in this blog post, I offer up a few quotes that speak to me about this topic. It is my hope that taking a few moments to reflect might help each of us better do our part to promote inter-religious understanding.

We are fortunate that so many schools of divinity, congregations, spiritual communities and ecumenical groups use Cultural Detective to promote tolerance, understanding and respect. I’d welcome hearing from any of you about the efforts in which you’re engaged. Please, also, share with us quotes on this topic that speak to you.

“Impiety: Your irreverance toward my deity.”
—Ambrose Bierce

“When political conflict is religionized, it is absolutized.”
—Jonathan Saks

“Once you attempt legislation upon religious grounds, you open the way for every kind of intolerance and religious persecution.”
—William Butler Yeats

“So many Gods, so many creeds; so many paths that wind and wind; when just the art of being kind is all this sad world needs.”
—Ella Wheeler Wilcox

The joke (instead of a proverb) in Cultural Detective Jewish Culture that illustrates the value of “group solidarity” (CLASSIC cross-cultural miscommunication; enjoy!):

Several centuries ago, the Pope decreed that all Jews had to convert to Catholicism or leave Italy. There was a huge outcry from the Jewish community, so the Pope offered a deal. He’d have a religious debate with the leader of the Jewish community. If the Jews won, they could stay in Italy; if the Pope won, they’d have to convert or leave.

The Jewish people met and picked an aged and wise rabbi to represent them in the debate. However, as the Rabbi spoke no Italian, and the Pope spoke no Yiddish, they agreed that it would be a ‘silent’ debate.

On the chosen day the Pope and Rabbi sat opposite each other.

The Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers.
The Rabbi looked back and raised one finger.

Next, the Pope waved his finger around his head.
The Rabbi pointed to the ground where he sat.

The Pope brought out a communion wafer and a chalice of wine.
The Rabbi pulled out an apple.

With that, the Pope stood up and declared himself beaten, saying that the Rabbi was too clever. The Jews could stay in Italy.

Later the cardinals met with the Pope and asked him what had happened. The Pope said, ‘First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up a single finger to remind me there is still only One God common to both our beliefs. Then I waved my finger around my head to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground to show that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and wafer to show that God absolves us of all our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of the original sin. He bested me at every move, and I could not continue.’

Meanwhile, the Jewish community gathered to ask the Rabbi how he’d won. ‘I haven’t a clue,’ the Rabbi said. ‘First, he told me that we had three days to get out of Italy, so I gave him the finger. Then he told me that the whole country would be cleared of Jews and I told him that we were staying right here.’
‘And then what?’ asked a woman.
‘Who knows?’ said the Rabbi. ‘He took out his lunch so I took out mine.”