Since 1999, Australia has celebrated 21 March each year as Harmony Day. The promotions say ‘Harmony Day celebrates Australia’s cultural and religious diversity. It is about inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone’.
We associate the word harmony most often with music. Harmony comes about when different notes, voices or musical instruments come together to produce a pleasing sound. It is about different parts being in right relationship with each other.
Building strong and harmonious cross-cultural relationships is a challenge for us as individuals, as a church and as a nation.
It is fitting that this month’s issue of The Lutheran has cross-cultural relations as its theme. We can read inspiring stories of Lutherans building bridges across cultural divides and forming colourful new communities.
Building these bridges isn’t easy of course. Establishing and maintaining good relationships takes work and it takes time. We need a long list of virtues: courage, humility, sensitivity, understanding, empathy, openness, honesty, trust, faithfulness, patience, good humour, willingness to admit to wrongdoing, readiness to forgive, and so on. When we practise right relationship, we learn from—and are changed by—each other.
Cultural diversity is rapidly becoming the norm in Australia. Some of us are finding it hard to adjust. But adjusting is part of our Christian calling. Bonding only with people who are related to us or who look like us and share the same beliefs and customs is not enough. As Jesus asked long ago, ‘Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that!’ (Matthew 5:46-47 GNB) He urges us to meet, befriend and become good neighbours to people who are different from us. He wants us to be like God, who sends his sunshine and rain to everyone.
There are dozens of possible prayer points on this topic that we could include. Here are some. Please add your own!
We thank God for
- The variety of human cultures in the world, expressions of the wonderful diversity and adaptability of human beings
- The celebration of Pentecost, which reminds us of Christianity’s origins in the Middle East and that the Christian Church has always been a multicultural community
- Indigenous Australians and the rich gifts they share with our society and our church
- The knowledge, colour and variety different cultures bring to our lives
- The blessings we receive from engaging with people who are different to us
- Individuals, government, church and community organisations that are reaching out to include in our community people who feel excluded
- Lutheran aged care, schools and community services as they welcome of people from diverse backgrounds.
We seek forgiveness for
- Negative attitudes towards those who are different to us and for being unenthusiastic and pessimistic about building relationships with them
- The arrogance, fear, and selfishness that keep us distant from people who are different to us
- Times when we have made an idol of our culture.
We especially ask God’s help for
- A spirit of openness and hospitality towards people which builds connections between all members of society.
- Openness to learn from people who are culturally different from us and to being changed for the better by them, and a similar openness on their part to learn from us and be changed for the better by us
- Wisdom that we may discern which aspects of our culture are helpful, not so helpful or of no moral importance and wisdom to discern which aspects of other people’s cultures are helpful, not so helpful or of no moral importance
- Increasingly deep and strong understanding and acceptance among Australia’s indigenous and non-indigenous people
- More and stronger relationships between Christians and non-Christians in Australia and NZ as together we tackle the issues of our common life in society
- More and stronger relationships between Australian and New Zealand Lutherans of different cultural backgrounds
- Confidence in the Holy Spirit’s power to sustain and protect our faith in our interaction with people of other faiths and those who claim none
- Migrant families experiencing tensions between parents and their children over culture, behaviour and language.
Pastor John Henderson
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
20 March 2017
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