My son is 19 months old and his favorite topic of conversation is what noises animals make. No surprise then, that one of his favorite songs is "Old MacDonald". At our house "Old MacDonald" has a lot of verses. There are every variety of farm animal and usually the babies too. And there are elk, bison, crows, owls, and mice. We want to add "llama" but we usually sing while driving and I haven't looked up what a llama says or the right way to make that noise.
Here's the funny thing I've noticed in myself, though: when my child makes a noise that I think sounds like the animal in question--"ruff!"--I want to say, "Right! A dog says ruff!" But why not "bow-wow" or "arf" or "bark"? They're "right" too. And then I get thinking about how none of these nearly words sounds really sounds very much like the actual sound a dog makes.
So, why so I so automatically say "right!" when he said the word that isn't really the sound that we don't even all agree on? And why am I hung up on what the right noise for a llama before adding it to our song?
And here's what I've been thinking: our culture is so stuck on "right". On being right. On having the right answer. On there being a right answer that if we know and can say then we can feel comfortable and safe.
But, the thing is, we live in a world where a lot of the time there isn't a "Right" answer. There are a lot of answers that could work and have pros and cons. And this is so true at church: Should you have standing committees or task forces that leap into action when needed and then go dormant? Should the whole congregation worship together or should children go to religious education while the adults go to a service? All good answers. Some of them are good for some churches, others for other churches. But none of them are "Right".
As we become a more diverse society culturally and as we welcome that diversity into our churches, we need to all get better at this. The skill set we are working to train leaders in is called "intercultural competency". These are the skills to navigate difference and instead of making everyone choose between doing it our way or leaving, forming communities in which difference is truly welcomed. At our workshops we sometimes use silly examples, but they're real: Do women's leggings count as "pants" (wearable with shirts one would otherwise wear with pants instead of a dress)? Who should take their hat off inside, anyone?
And we also explore, through embodied experience, some of the more difficult differences. When we're hurt, should we say that quietly and calmly? Or express our real emotions? Both are good answers depending on the family culture you've been raised in. And both styles can be done healthily and unhealthily.
To form congregations that can welcome people regardless of how they feel about leggings or whether they show emotion when hurt means getting beyond "right" answers and getting down into the more interesting conversations about: What does that mean for you? What did that look like growing up? What's the consequence for you when your way of being isn't welcomed?
It's not as comfortable. We don't get to feel good because we know the "right" answer. But we do get the blessings of real relationship and getting to know the real differences already among us.
If your congregation isn't doing intercultural competency work, look for chances to attend a training in the future. We'll calling them "Building Authentic Diversity".
p.s. Want to know what a llama says? Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sxs6KxHHvkk I haven't figured out how to fit that into "Old MacDonald".