Interesting times down the local Hammam this morning. Cultural interaction, this being a local rather than tourist bath house, was fascinating. Women whom we would think prudish because they wouldn’t walk down the street in a skimpy top and shorts found our female Western insistence on wearing a top in a wholly female bath house weird and prudish. So what is, actually, “prudish?” what is “natural?” Another conversation with someone local who had been to London posed a question —“why do you need millions of security cameras in England? Here, most people, most of the time, know God will be angry with them if they steal, so they don’t” — a naïve point of view, perhaps, but indicative of another cultural gap?
Back to the Public Bath House. Hammams conserve water and combines the advantages of a shower and a bath — you open your pores and relax like a bath with steam (aided by gommage = mud scrub if you want) but refresh and get rid of the dirt like a shower. The whole notion of a community bath house is a bit odd to our very privatised Western sensibilities. Being bloky and throwing water over ourselves was a lot of fun and we all wish we'd taken the plunge (except there isn't a plunge to take) earlier in the week.
I came away feeling that how we interpret and understand gender are the finest tuned most personal bits of our cultural conditioning, and the easiest to get wrong. Absolutising them is ridiculous. They live within our comfort zones and evolve all the time. It’s all too easy to assume we know that the other person is being liberated or oppressed when all they are being is themselves! Observing gender interactions in an Eastern culture also throws some of the context of the Bible into perspective, as a near Eastern text.
To respond to God in others, we need to listen carefully, reducing our interpretative filters and assumptions to a working minimum, defocusing on our own reactions and respecting their provisionality. We need to express ourselves openly but courteously, suspending our disbelief about the other person’s culture. Then we need to draw gentle and provisional conclusions. That’s how cross cultural sensitivity works, and seeing the different strategies people have for straddling cultures, it’s plain Christianity in an open Cross-cultural environment feels very different to the way it does from an Imperialistic ( = Chauvinstic and standardized) standpoint.
Early Christianity grew best at points of cross-cultural intersection, the open ports and trading system nodes of the near East; so an age of globalised communications should be fertile soil for the authentic article... What has to change in us for this to be the case?