By BOB and MARY STRONACH, SFO
PITTSBURGH, PA, July 4, 2007 -- Episcopal priest Eric Law painted his message of multi-cultural diversity with Franciscan brushstrokes at the first keynote session of the 17th Quinquennial Congress.
He began by having the 400-plus attendees chant the words, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” while he sang the other verses to the peace hymn known as the Prayer of St. Francis.
Then he had the audience join him in reading aloud Article 13 of the Secular Franciscan Rule, which exhorts Secular Franciscans to accept all people, with a gentle and courteous spirit, “as a gift of God and an image of Christ.”
“We’ll be studying this text in a deeper way in the small group sessions,” he noted.
Father Law is a sought-after author and authority on dealing with multi-cultural issues. He founded an institute in his Los Angeles Diocese to train and support leadership development for a diverse world. A native of Hong Kong, Father Law came to the U.S. at the age of 14. His family became involved in the Episcopal Church, which led him to the seminary and eventually ordination. He peppered his talk with cultural issues he faced growing up in a Chinese family, from racism and sexism to family and spiritual values. Some values he wouldn’t want to pass on to the next generation, while others he would. It’s true for anyone interested in truly knowing him- or herself. One cannot just look at the tip of the iceberg, he said; one needs to explore beneath the surface of the water to where beliefs, values, patterns and myths reside.
Thus, he asserted, “the first step to becoming an inter-culturally sensitive person is to know your own cultural iceberg.”
This self-awareness, he said, is one of the qualities of being a competent leader in a diverse world. He listed six qualities altogether. The other five are:
-- the ability to approach differences as opportunities rather than problems. “Not every difference is good,” but we ought to have a “sacred curiosity” in being open to people.
-- a commitment to a pluralistic understanding of issues while being able to make faithful decisions. It’s not an “everything goes” attitude, but rather recognizing that “there are different ways of looking at an issue.”
-- engaging in active theological reflection on diversity issues as they relate to oneself, others and one’s community.
-- the discipline to apply appropriately, the skills, models and theories that will increase the inclusiveness of various situations.
-- ability to guide and support a community to move toward change faithfully in response to its changing environment.
Father Law outlined communication guidelines for the small group discussions, summing them up in one word RESPECT. Use these guidelines, he said, wherever you want to dialogue and understand. The guidelines include:
-- taking responsibility for what you say or feel without blaming others. Use “I statements,” such as “I think” or “I feel”.
-- empathetic listening. “Put yourself in the other person’s skin.”
-- being sensitive to differences in communication styles.
-- pondering what you hear and feel before speaking. “Think before you speak.”
-- examining your own assumptions and perceptions.
-- keeping the confidentiality of the group.
-- trusting ambiguity because “we are not here to debate who’s right and who’s wrong (in the context of people in a group learning about each other).”
Prior to Father Law’s presentation, International Councilor Doug Clorey, OFS, of Canada brought greetings from General Minister Encarnación del Pozo, OSF, and from Secular Franciscans around the world, reminding the audience that “we are part of a world-wide Franciscan family.”
The Rev. Joan Varrett, TSSF, brought well-wishes from the Episcopal Third Order Society of St. Francis, and noted that she just came from an Episcopal congress where two Catholic Franciscan friars presented, while an Episcopalian priest is presenting to this Catholic congress. That, she said, is a sign of “true Franciscanism.”