The Rev. Sung Ho Lee of Trinity United Methodist Church gave a presentation on Justice among people of different cultures.
What does justice among people of different cultures look like? Sung Ho Lee started with a definition of culture. He defined culture as a way a group of people think, feel, celebrate, and experience life. Ways people express culture include ceremonies, works of art, and tradition. He said that each culture has an underlying system of values that is unique to that particular culture. All cultures have value. No culture is superior or inferior to another.
Sung Ho Lee said that, when you visit another culture for a short time, you will not see the intangible things that make a culture complete, which include beliefs, values, thought patterns, and myths. He said that an iceberg can be used as a metaphor for culture. What you experience in a short visit to another country are the things that are on the top of the iceberg, above the water line, so to speak. You can perceive the things that you can see with your eyes, hear with your ears, and touch with your hands. “It is not easy to grasp the culture of other people,” he said.
Sung Ho Lee, who was born and lived for 30 years in South Korea before moving to the United States, where he has lived and worked for 35 years, has observed differences in these two cultures. Korea is a “high context culture,” which means that it is group oriented, while the United States is a “low context culture,” which means that it is more individualistic. He talked about cultural clashes that he experienced when he first came to the United States.
“I had trouble raising my voice when I had a question. American had no difficulty with that. They raised their hands, and they sometimes asked stupid questions. I adapted. I raise my hand now and some of my questions are stupid questions.”
Another difference? “In Korea, we don’t have an agenda for a meeting. In the United States, people don’t think that we can have a meeting without an agenda. Neither is wrong nor right. They are just different.”
Different is good. Well, apparently, that hasn’t been a value in the United States. Different was seen as something to be eliminated, which is where the issue of justice among cultures comes in. The concept of the melting pot came in the 1780s. All cultures “melt together.” It’s supposed to make them all live together better because they share an American culture. The downside, however, is that people lose their ancestral cultures. They lose their heritage and their identities.
“They lose who they are.”
There is no justice in the melting pot.
Another way of looking at a country in which people have diverse backgrounds is the concept of a salad bowl. A salad bowl is full of a variety of good things, such as lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese. On top of all that, you add a dressing, which is the finishing touch. The dressing gives everything a special tang. Or, as Sue Kaiser pointed out, after the luncheon, “The dressing is the blessing.”
All of these salad foods, Sung Ho Lee said, are “good stuff. They are different nutrients and colors, all coming together.”
How do we create justice among peoples of different cultures? How do we get away from ethnocentrism and the attitude that different is bad and that other cultures are not important?
Sung Ho Lee said that Jesus met all kinds of people and he accepted the people who were rejected by society, such as lepers and tax collectors. He said that the parable of the good Samaritan is an example of how Jesus accepted peoples of all cultures..
“We can practice justice among different people. That is what Jesus did,” said Sung Ho Lee.
The next Lenten luncheon will be sponsored by Saint Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church and the topic, to be presented by Father Earle King, will be justice and the opiod epidemic.