Glocal mission and cultural icebergs

I just got back from two days at ELCA Glocal Mission Event in San Antonio. Seven of us from San Lucas took the church van to learn about what it means to do mission close to home and around the world. My brain is starting to feel mushy after flipping back and forth from speaking English and Spanish.

I think it’s great to get out of our linguistic comfort zones a bit. At worship, we sang music in English, Spanish, Arabic, Indonesian, and a bunch of African languages that I’m not culturally astute to differentiate.

We had some trouble with the translation audiophones, so the people who needed translation had to sit in the back to get translation, which defeats the whole message of the event—inclusion, accompaniment, and welcome.

My biggest learning was a powerpoint slide showing an iceberg, demonstrating that most of the ice can’t be seen. Culture is like the iceberg.
We can see just a little bit on the outside, like clothing, language, and music. What we don’t always see are things like sense of time, child-rearing techniques, and greeting customs.

As a white pastor serving a Hispanic/Latino congregation, I’m in the process of learning many of these hidden cultural things. For example, here on the border, it is very polite to greet every person individually with a handshake, hug, or even a kiss, upon entering a room. In my white, Midwestern, Scandinavian background, it’s perfectly fine to walk into a room, say, “Hi, everybody” to the whole group and continue on. That would be rude here.

I also have a pretty wide personal space area. I’m not a hugger, but I’m slowly learning to be. Culturally here, it is very appropriate to pat a child on the head when coming or going. For a pastor, I should probably give a blessing. This is somewhat out of my comfort zone. I’ve had enough boundary training in light of clergy sexual abuse scandals to be weary of touching anybody, especially a child. I’ve also known too many African American women who have been majorly offended when white people get fascinated with their hair. I don’t really want to touch anybody’s hair, just to be safe.
I’m glad that some parishioners came. Now we have the shared image of the iceberg. From now on, when we run into one of those cultural differences in our life together, I can say explain the iceberg image, and we can name and claim those differences.