Last week I participated in a United Methodist Church – German Central Conference Language and Migrant Ministries Leadership Training “Multicultural Spirituality and Worship” event in Stuttgart. I even have the certificate to prove it.
And the exhaustion as well.
It was a good conference. There has been and still is a huge immigration wave into Germany. All of Europe actually. Some are truly just passing through and some are here to stay and some intend to pass through and end up staying. Some of us come with resources and some of us arrive with just the clothing on our bodies. I’m becoming involved with what is known as an International Congregation, which is to say a congregation with a range of homelands and stay-times. Some congregations are focused on a specific source country. Everyone is in the middle of not-originally-from-here where can mean, “I don’t speak the language and I think even the bathrooms are confusing to use” and it can mean, “Sometimes I miss my favorite food or my family but I feel like I belong here now.”
I rode with a friend, my first serious extended experience with the Infamous Autobahn. I experienced the following Toto* Moments:
- Yes, some people drive fiercely fast.
- There aren’t any yellow lines to indicate when you are in a two way traffic area. As a matter of act, there are a number of signs and road painting styles that do not (yet) make sense to me. Concentration is required to observe and hopefully learn the new rules.
- Rest stops are commercially run buildings with three different places to buy prepared food in one open room plus a grocery store area on the side. Which place do I want to buy food from? What kind of food? And if I want to use the restroom? Concentrate and observe – upstairs, paid (how much? 0.80 Euro) – the toilet seat will rotate under the special cleansing unit so don’t be surprised. Wash basins may or may not be in a common room. In Germany toilets tend to be gender seggregated at least but each toilet is encased in its own closet rather than the metal dividers in a common room we tend to encounter back home. Then encounter the money gate and figure out how to exit. Not always obvious.
By 9 a.m., I’m already burning the brain juice just trying to figure out how to get to the conference. Fortunately, I wasn’t driving.
This is the life, especially the early months, of the stranger in a strange land. (oh look, a new U-bahn ticket buying system) Most of the time, I enjoy the challenge. (Oh look, a new kind of train car, how do I open the door?) Still, I am also aware of how exhausted I can become with all this paying attention. (Okay, I bought a train ticket but made a reservation for the wrong train and I really want this train so how do I make the modification? Can I buy tickets on the train? Or do I have to stand around in the ticket office waiting for people to come back from their lunch break?) Some of the folks at this conference helped me with the last question – but they didn’t have the complete right answer either. Sometimes I just pay more money then I have to because I didn’t understand what was actually going on. (Oh joy, another surprise installment of the learning to live someplace new tuition.) Sometimes I nail it.
This conference looked at how we all encounter change like this – and how these encounters change us. Because it was a religious centered conference, the lecturer presented within a Christian framework. If God is a Creating and Recreating God, then when we surrender to that process of being created and recreated, we are again participating in God’s work. M. Fulgence Nyengele, the lecturer, talked about a concept of Luminality, which he defined as “term derived from the Latin word Limen, which mean a threshold, chasm, or margin. Luminality is a realm of pure possibility where novel configuration of ideas and relations may arise. it is an openness and potentiality for what is new and different”
Nyengele also defined Marginality as “the experience of living a marginalized existence in society due to one’s race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, or gender, etc. A marginal person is one who lives a marginalized existence.
No one has to leave their home country to enter into Luminality. Change has a way of hunting all of us down. If we are alive and moving, we’re going to be entering into a threshold time and space. And almost all of us are marginalized in small ways or large ways. We just may not know that about ourselves or see how our marginalization of others impoverish us.
Nyengele quoted Jung Young Lee in a discussion question on the second day:
“Jung Young Lee argues that ‘the marginalized people realize their potential when they are conscious of themselves as part of a creative core – the very creativity of God manifest in Jesus Christ. Such consciousness affirms them as new marginal people and connects them to the power of divine creativity.’** How can this process happen? How can people become conscious of themselves as part of creative core manifest in Jesus Christ? What spiritual practices can facilitate this growth and development?”
I like this question.
I like it because it helps me see change not as something that happens to me but as something I participate in. It helps me see change not as something that happens only to me, something that isolates me from everyone else but instead pulls me into the center of everyone else. We’re all navigating a strange new land even if we speak the local language and totally understand that the sandwich bar is always the best bet when stopping at the rest stop building.
How can people become conscious of themselves as part of creative core manifest in Jesus Christ? What spiritual practices can facilitate this growth and development?”
I like this question. I’m going to be thinking about the answer(s) for a while.
*A Toto Moment is my new term for any time I slam up against the reality that how things are done here are not how things are done back home. I have to relearn something. aka, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more.”
** Jung Young Lee, Marginality: The Key to Multicultural Theology. Minneapolis, MN; Fortress Press 1995.