Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Post #59 - Reaching Out

"...forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. " Philippians 3:13)

Mother Raphaela (of the Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery) writes “For us fallen people...ignoring and violating boundaries comes naturally; building bridges does not.” There is, in the literature of cross-cultural communications, the concept of “marginal man,” meaning a person who is comfortable straddling lines, whereas most of us are more comfortable near the center of our social and psychological space. As Chris Hedges says, “Those individuals who understand other cultures, speak other languages, and find richness in diversity are shunted aside...By finding our identity and meaning in separateness the myth serves another important function: It makes communication with our opponents impossible.”

Countering that is the impulse to connect. “And who will deny,” says Iranian-American author Keshavarz, “that bridge building is the thing to do in this age of transnationalism fractured by fear of terrorist acts and erroneous perceptions of each other?” She is insistent that the rich wisdom of traditional culture not simply be thrown out as inapplicable to today's challenges. We can learn from one another, if we create settings in which that can occur. Other countries are doing this better than we; whereas only about 500 visas are issued to Americans each year to visit Iran, about 60,000 are issued to citizens of Germany, whose population is only a quarter that of the United States. Iranians planning trips to the United States for a conference or a college reunion often find a bewildering and disappointing end to their trip; some, though they were awarded a US entry visa at a post abroad, may be stopped at the first point of entry and sent back on the next flight -- without explanation.

Within the Khajoo Bridge, Isfahan
I am struck by the fact that some of the world's most famous bridges do not simply connect one body of land with another, but are also themselves living thoroughfares: old London Bridge before it fell, the Ponte Vecchio of Florence, with its stalls full of tourists and window-shoppers, and the Khajoo Bridge of Esfahan, where people gather to mingle, talk, sup and sing among the arches and nooks of the ancient structure. Although it has been pointed out that leaping across a chasm cannot be done in two steps, perhaps the best bridging involves enjoying and savoring the journey from one side to the other.

A Washington Post reporter, Steven Knipp, did not expect the kind of reception that he got on an August 2006 trip to Iran. He wrote about the apprehension he had prior to the trip and how his ideas changed:

"What took place over the next fortnight astonished me. Everywhere I went – from the traffic-choked streets of Tehran in the north to the dusty desert town of Yazd in central Iran, to the elegant cultural centers of Isfahan and Shiraz – I was overwhelmed by the warmth and, dare I say it, pro-Americanism of the people I met.
"Ponder the irony of that last statement for a moment. While much of the rest of the world seems to be holding their noses at us Americans, in Iran people were literally crossing the road to shake an American's hand and say hello. Who knew?"

I believe that God wants us to reach out and discover the humanity of others whom we have only viewed across a yawning chasm of unfamiliarity. To quote from poet Annie Dillard, “You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.”

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