Thursday, September 25, 2008

Evangelization in a Multicultural Global Community

In my last few posts, I've drawn from a contemporary work on globalization to outline its effects. Now comes the hard part. How do we as Catholic Christians take advantage of what globalization offers us in order to share the Gospel with people worldwide? The Gospel, after all, is for all people, and we have easier access to people all over the world than any other generation has enjoyed. Globalization is, in effect, helping slowly to unite people in some ways - at least economically. And I would postulate that globalization can help enhance a desire for unity, or in some circumstances, highlight our differences and lead some to reject that which seems "other." We've seen that occur in some predominantly Muslim countries, as well as in our own in the debates over immigration and assimilation of people into the American melting pot.

The Gospel, when proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, has the power to unite disparate people; so much so that Paul could proclaim that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, woman nor man. (cf. Gal 3:28) The Gospel transcends cultures and at the same time contradicts elements of every culture. It is a direct challenge to consumerism, individualism, relativism, the culture of death which seeks violence of all sorts as a solution to problems, prejudices of every kind, and the human tendency to seek retribution rather than forgiveness.

So let me take a look at some of the hallmarks of globalization, and offer some suggestions for how they might allow for effective evangelization. I welcome your comments and other suggestions you might have. I am certainly no expert!

1. More inter-state connections and the decreasing effect of state policy
One of the ways Pope Benedict XVI has taken advantage of this reality is through his intent on encouraging Muslim nations to allow the free expression of religious belief in their countries, in a similar manner in which that freedom is given in most Western nations. While this hasn't been taken up by secular leaders, as far as I know, one could imagine such concessions could be tied to economic relations (if the west were not so dependent upon oil from the Middle East and Indonesia, perhaps).

2. The development of increased transnational communication and activities
What comes to mind right away is the internet, primarily. For those who have grown up with the internet, it is the first source they go to for information. That means our parishes, lay groups, dioceses, the Vatican and individuals who hope to evangelize through the internet need to be aware that their websites may occasionally be viewed by the unchurched, the agnostic and atheist, non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians. Too often, some of our most "Catholic" websites aren't very catholic. What I mean by that is, many proudly Catholic websites are attractive to "insiders" - those who are already proudly Catholic. They may be more or less incomprehensible to others. In addition, if we intend our websites to have any power to evangelize, Jesus must be a prominent - the prominent feature. People have all kinds of issues with the Church, and although we are the body of Christ, we cannot afford to not feature our head. All that we have and are flows from Jesus, and many non-Christians (and, sadly, many Christians, including Catholics, for that matter) are ignorant of Jesus' life and teachings. He is immensely attractive and challenging; impossible to put into a neat, pre-existing category. Any Catholic website that would want to have an evangelizing effect would have to be "catholic" - universal - appealing, as St. Paul attempted to be, to all people. That requires us to try to better understand our potential audiences, and have features on our websites that are consciously made to address the questions of the groups I mentioned above.

I realize not every Catholic website intends to evangelize. Our own Catherine of Siena Institute website is an example. We are directing our attention to Catholics and Catholic parishes and diocesan staff, primarily - even though we get queries from non-Catholic Christians from time to time. But it is time for all parishes and diocesan websites coordinators and staff to ask, "in what way could our website help spread the Gospel of Jesus and attract people to become members of His Church?"

I haven't even touched the issue of a Catholic presence in radio and television, or the possibilities our diocesan papers could take advantage of with regard to helping Catholics be more confident at sharing their faith. They would have to - and many are beginning -to attempt to evangelize Catholics!

3. The emergence of global political, economic and cultural organizations and bureaucracies
The Catholic Church is one of the oldest cultural organization and bureaucracy there is! I'm pretty ignorant of other world religions, so I can't compare our bureaucracy with that of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other religion that might be older. But I would argue that the organizational bureaucracy of these religions have the same global impact as the Roman Catholic Church. Yet the effectiveness of the Church's impact on the international scene is weakened when individual Catholics within nation states are unwilling to follow the lead of the Pope when he speaks out against wars, economic injustice, environmental degradation, the assault on human life in the womb, as well as when he advocates greater cooperation among the people of different nations. If we lived the Gospel as a body, focusing on what it means to allow the truth that Jesus taught to impact our local and national governmental policies, I think we'd find more and more people drawn to our faith.

4. The world-wide spread of Western-style consumerism
For me, one of the most chilling scenes in the Paulist production, "Romero," was of a gathering of well-to-do Salvadoreans at which one of them exclaimed something like, "We just want to live as well as the Americans do." Yesterday at the gym, I spoke with an acquaintance - a self-proclaimed Christian - who said that no matter how much money he made (and he lives comfortably), he always desires to make more. Consumerism is a dead-end. Our desires are never going to be extinguished by things. Jesus himself observed how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. The economic disparity between nations is exacerbated by rampant consumerism, especially among the developed nations, and this disparity has far-reaching consequences. A South African webpage on sustainable development makes these observations (my access to this webpage is, by the way, an example of the effects of globalization!).
While some enjoy unprecedented wealth and luxury, 2.8 billion people are living in extreme poverty, earning less than US$2 a day (World Bank Annual Report 2000). One in seven people suffers chronic hunger and 45,000 die of starvation every day. This inequity is felt at both a global level, between developed and developing countries, and at a national level where there is great disparities of wealth within countries.

This is not making for a peaceful society. Since the Second World War over 20 million people have died in armed conflict and 31 million people are annually affected by it. These figures do not include crime-related deaths. Of the 2.3 million people reported as killed by conflict from 1991-2000, over three quarters were from countries with a low Human Development Indexiii. At the heart of most of these conflicts lies the issue of who gets to control and benefit from resources, whether agricultural land, minerals, fossil fuels or water. Many countries are already experiencing problems with illegal immigration and an influx of both political and environmental refugees. If the imbalance of wealth and power is not dealt with, this problem will only become worse in the future.
As Catholics living in a country with 5% of the world's population, yet consuming 25% of the world's energy, our concerted effort to eschew consumerism for the sake of the Gospel can be a powerful tool for evangelization. In his encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World, 21), Pope Paul VI asked us to imagine
a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization.
5. Reflexivity - people are orienting themselves to the world as a whole, regarding themselves as both 'locals' and 'cosmopolitans'.
Again, this is already true for the Catholic Christian. We are members of our local parish and diocese, but also supernaturally linked to other people - Catholic or not - throughout the world and throughout time. If we take this seriously, we will consider those 45,000 people starving each day not as Bangladeshis, Indians, Zimbabweans, Haitians, and Sudanese, for example, but as "my brother, my sister, in Christ." Christ is the only means by which people of different races, ages, levels of education, and economic status can be truly united, and the Church should be the shining example of that unity. Currently, we are a poor example, especially when we witness factions within our parishes between people of different ethnic groups or nationalities - and in my travels around this country I've heard many stories and witnessed the effects of such factionalism. Yet, if we can be converted to Christ and truly see one another as brother and sister in Him, then, I believe the "reflexivity" that is an effect of globalization will help make the Church all that more intriguing.

6. Risk and Trust. Globalization increasingly involves everyone everywhere in a web of trust and risk, in that all of us have to place our trust in 'experts' and other unknown persons.

Trust is established through honesty in relationships. Part of our effort to evangelize will have to be founded on the painstaking task of establishing honest, trusting relations - true friendships - with those who are not Christian. In the past, the task of evangelization was often seen as the purview of missionaries - usually priests and religious - rather than ordinary layfolk. Yet time and again, as I listen to people's stories of conversion, there was at least one Christian (not always Catholic) with whom they had a true friendship that eventually led to discussions of "the meaning of life," faith, and the possibility of a lived relationship with God. While globalization involves placing our trust in more and more strangers, a more fundamental desire is to be able to place trust in a friend or friends. Whether we try to evangelize by telling the story of how God has changed our life, or through apologetics, or through the radical application of the faith to our daily life, all of these are tremendously more effective when we have first earned the trust of another through a real relationship that will not end should the other not become Catholic. In fact, the relationship of friendship, genuine concern for the good of the other, and self-sacrificing service itself becomes a model for the relationship that Jesus is offering our non-Christian friends.

This "relational evangelization" also involves risk on our part, because at the heart of the Gospel, and of Jesus' message, is a fundamental call to conversion. We have to be vulnerable enough to share our own struggles to respond to that call. We have to care enough about our friend who trusts us and has demonstrated a curiosity and openness towards Jesus, to be able to help them examine their own life and need for conversion - and walk with them on that journey.

The impact of globalization on our world is enormous and will undoubtedly continue to grow. It offers challenges to us - rampant consumerism encouraged through ubiquitous advertising, relativism as we become aware of different worldviews and morals, individualism that can ride on the back of laissez-faire capitalism and postmodern attitudes which encourage a "me first" perspective.

On the other hand, I believe there are some aspects of the growing globalization that offer opportunities for effective evangelization - especially if we recognize that the most effective evangelization is modeled on the example of Jesus, who befriended the sinner, healed the wounded, and shared with his disciples his own Spirit so that they could effectively do the same: person to person, one soul at a time.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Familiarity in a Different Culture

While I was in Korea (yeah, I'm still coming out of the vacation mode... slowly... sloooowly) I couldn't help but notice the ubiquity of recognizable consumer products. One tourist map I carried everywhere in Seoul had symbols for cultural centers, historic sites, museums - as well as about one hundred curious little green symbols. They showed the location of all the Starbuck's coffee joints. Dunkin' Donuts shops could be found not only in Seoul, but on Jeju Island. I also saw McDonald's (no surprise), Baskin-Robbins (usually in conjunction with a Dunkin' Donuts), Pizzeria Uno, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Old Chicago and Cold Stone Creamery. While looking for gifts for the folks back home in Seoul's high-rise "Techno Mall" I walked into a store and nearly burst out laughing. Over the loudspeaker came a kind of hip-hop version of John Denver's Country Roads.

The one personal souvenir I was looking to take home was impossible to find. I wanted a t-shirt with something written in Korean. I pointed out to my friend Yunkyung one day while we were taking in the sights with his family that every t-shirt worn by a Korean had English words on it. Not that the words necessarily made a lot of sense. The words might have been something like, "Kiss the world green," or "Making curious, living huge". Junha, Yunkyung's fourteen year-old son commented, "They don't have to make sense; just wearing something with English on it is cool."

While driving from Seoul to Andong on a marvelous highway (no billboards or potholes), we went through several dozen tunnels and crossed innumerable bridges. Since I was trying to learn the Korean alphabet and a few words, I'd sound out the names of the tunnels. I could check out my pronunciation against the transliterated English word. I presumed the last two syllables, which were always the same, were the Korean word for tunnel. Eventually, I tried to sound it out.

Tun- Nul


"Sure," Yun-kyung said, "We never had a word for tunnel, only a word for an animal's burrow. Rather than create a new word, we just borrowed the English word."

So this blog isn't about how I spent my summer vacation, but about globalization. In fact, it's the first in a series of posts on the topic. Because it's happening, and it is having profound effects in the way we live, and will open up opportunities for evangelization - or secularization- like never before. Yunkyung Cha, my Korean friend, is a professor at Hanyang University in Seoul, and studies the sociology of education. Recently, he helped found the Korean Association of Multicultural Educators to study the benefits, possibilities, and problems associated with multicultural education. While sitting in his office one day, I took some notes from a book on his shelf (in English, of course) titled, A General Introduction in Globalization: The Reader, by John Beynon and David Dunkerley, eds., NY Routledge Press, 2000.

In the introduction, the authors mentioned the hallmarks of globalization:
- more inter-state connections and the decreasing effect of state policy;
- the development of increased transnational communication and activities;
- a decline in the importance of the nation state;
- the emergence of global political, economic and cultural organizations and bureaucracies;
- the emergence of what Anthony King aptly terms 'global cities' (like London, NY, Paris, and Tokyo) as local sites of global interaction;
- a huge increase in the flows of comodities and cultural products;
- and the world-wide spread of Western-style consumerism.

Certainly I noticed the last feature in Korea. Apart from the language and the occasional old royal palace or Buddhist temple, it could have been any western city - at least one that emphasized high-rise apartment living. That shouldn't be too surprising, given the impact of the American presence since the Korean war, and the fact that much of Seoul has been built in the last generation.

What are some of the features of contemporary globalization, and do any of them help in the task of evangelization?
Well for one, there's an ever-increasing speed and volume of movement, goods, messages and symbols. My travel to Seoul took 11 hours from LA. Many of the planes in the skies are not carrying people, but mail and consumer products (FedEx and UPS have huge fleets themselves). And TV and movies communicate messages, ideas and symbols in increasingly powerful and subtly effective ways. Certain images, like the solitary man standing in front of a column of Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square, become instant icons.

Another feature of globalization is the shrinking of space (expressed in time of travel or communication). With the internet, my ideas, however wise or perverse become instantly accessible to billions of people. Yes, billions, when you consider that 70% of the world's countries include English in their primary and secondary school education, according to my friend, Professor Cha, who studies these kinds of things. Cell phones, video conferencing, and Skype bring much of the world face to face - or at least ear to ear.

The highly militarized border between North and South Korea is becoming more of an anomaly in a world with increasingly permeable borders between nation states. Trade, tourism, radio and television, environmental pollution, global warming, and the golden arches are hardly impeded by the dotted lines on maps.

Globalization also leads to changes in how we perceived ourselves, in a phenomenon known as reflexivity. According to Beynon and Dunkerly,
people are orienting themselves to the world as a whole, regarding themselves as both 'locals' and 'cosmopolitans'. Local sites everywhere have an increased opportunity to interact with the global; local businesses increasingly participate in global markets; and governments cannot risk becoming isolated.
North Korea's political and economic isolation, with its concomitant dependence upon China, may have startling effects on its future. Already the People's Republic of Korea has sold mining rights and other economic advantages to the People's Republic of China that could jeopardize a future reunification with the south. In fact, China has already begun insinuating that some of North Korea was traditionally a part of China. In a perfect display of the power of television, South Korea produced and aired a somewhat sappy - and immensely popular - historical drama to refute the claim!

Globalization also means an increase in both risk and trust.
Globalization increasingly involves everyone everywhere in a web of trust and risk, in that all of us have to place our trust in 'experts' and other unknown persons.
(like this blog)
Also, we place our faith in science and medicine, yet no one could foresee the advent of AIDS or CJD (the human equivalent of 'mad cow disease'). Similarly, each of us can be affected, either directly or indirectly by something as apparently remote (and totally beyond our control) as the rise and fall in share prices in the NY, Tokyo or London stock exchange.
In many Korean restaurants, the menu will note where their beef originates; it's part of a five-year long import ban on U.S. beef imports because of the outbreak of mad cow disease. When the ban was lifted just one month before I arrived in Korea, protesters stormed the president's home in Seoul. Prior to the ban, South Korea was the third largest importer of U.S. beef, so this was a big deal - and one of the reasons why I didn't eat much beef in Korea. It was just too expensive.

The authors also seem positively prescient in saying "each of us can be affected, either directly or indirectly by something as apparently remote (and totally beyond our control) as the rise and fall in share prices in the NY, Tokyo or London stock exchange." The near meltdown of our economy in the last few weeks has had even more serious consequences in foreign economies.

In my next post, I'll look at some of the historical examples of increasing globalization before moving on to a reflection on what this might all mean for evangelization in the future.