I had to be and to remain whoever I had become as a person before coming there. To be accepted by others, I must first of all know myself and accept myself wherever I happen to be. In that way, others are free to be themselves. p. 38
When I first read this I earmarked it. I liked the affirmation of authenticity, of not being more than one self according to situation. One of my objections to much church practice is the way we become false selves in the company of other supposedly “triumphant saints.” But, I have continued to contemplate it. Stringfellow continued:
To come to Harlem involved, thus, no renunciation of my own past or any part of it. There was no occasion in Harlem to repudiate anything in my own history and heritage as a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant nor to seek to identify with the people of Harlem, either by attempting to imitate any of them or by urging any of them to imitate me. What was necessary was just to be myself.
I still appreciate that part of it which is contrary to the missionary urge to proclaim Jesus and one’s own cultural and interpretation of Jesus. Much harm has been done by taking EuroAmerican-Jesus into other cultures as the one who will change and redeem their deep-rooted ways of life. Many a Christian traveler has found themselves as well in the temptation to become something other than what they are, claiming Paul’s comments about becoming all things to all men. I like the way it speaks back to those errors.
And, perhaps I need to read more. Perhaps the idea is fleshed out more completely in the entirety of the work. But this part, taken alone, also appears very limited to me by a static view of the self.
When I truly engage someone of another culture, I often find light shining into parts of me I have no wish to cling to; and on parts of them which offer me a different path or paradigm which is attractive. When I encounter other cultures, I am confronted by the degree to which my culture rests upon the backs of others, that the land I occupy was stolen through bloodshed and deception, and that aspects of divine revelation celebrated in their culture have survived strong efforts at reform or elimination. I see places in myself where growth is desirable. I see things in them which need to be celebrated and allowed to shine a bright light deep inside me.
As I write this I recognize a tendency a friend recently warned about to make everything about ourselves. At the same time, I am the only part of the universe I recognize an ability to control. My actions have effects on the world. The acts of others effect me. And I deal with it all out of the perspective of my personhood. After nearly a half century of living, that personhood is far more secure than when I moved into Benton Harbor as a fresh college grad. But, it is still not static, nor do I wish it to be. Perhaps for Stringfellow, that kind of open personality was natural and within his meaning of staying who he was. I don’t know.
I will refrain from more for now and read and contemplate more. But, there is something that both resonates and irritates about the idea of walking into another’s life sphere and leaving us both unchanged. I celebrate the changes the interaction brings in me, and am honored when others tell me our relationship has been healing or transforming for them as well. Perhaps the difference is in whether we become more like each other, or more like the selves we are intended to be.
I await the light, (often revealed in other people, places, and cultures), that reveals new possibilities. peace