Honing in on Your CQ (Cultural Intelligence)

CQDavid Livermore’s goal in Cultural Intelligence is to effect cross-cultural transformation, rather than just impart information (12). Across the barriers of difference and “the barrage of cultures around us” (11), we still “have so much in common” (11). As we navigate the tensions of sameness and difference, Livermore notes, “These points of difference are where we find both our greatest challenges and our greatest discoveries” (11). Yet Livermore wants more than just cultural awareness. He says, “We must actually become more multicultural people so that we might better express love cross-culturally” (12).

Undergirding all levels of cultural intelligence is Livermore’s call to love, coupled with a robust theology of the Incarnation. I appreciated this theological and practical grounding. He writes, “The language of God is Jesus. The incarnation is the ultimate form of contextualization, the fullest embodiment of cultural intelligence” (33). As a result, Livermore warns those who think the Gospel can only be expressed in “one right way” (34). Jesus himself was a culturally situated figure, and yet a liminal one. The Gospels show Jesus’ interaction with 1st Century Palestine’s institutions and structures, where sometimes he embraced and other times he protested against the cultural values and practices of his day. Even if some readers will find his theological exposition familiar territory, it is nonetheless compelling.

CQ (cultural intelligence quotient) goes beyond educating ourselves about culture—even if it must start there. CQ “measures the ability to effectively reach across the chasm of cultural difference in ways that are loving and respectful” (13). An important step toward a fuller expression of love across lines of difference is growth in self-awareness. One must not only learn about other cultural mores and traditions, but one must know one’s own cultural heritage, and how that shapes one’s identity.

Livermore divides Cultural Intelligence into four basic types, which constitute the major sections of the book. First, there is Knowledge CQ, which pertains to a basic “level of understanding about culture and culture’s role in shaping behavior and social interactions” (48). This is CQ at the level of cognitive awareness. There are several important kinds of awareness: my awareness of my culture, my awareness of your culture, and my awareness of your perception of my culture (49). Livermore provides some practical metrics to help readers measure their Knowledge CQ: fluency in other languages, awareness of how other cultures resolve conflict, knowledge of cultural differences in how Christianity is expressed, lack of projecting our values onto others’ cultures, and so on (58, 61). Especially helpful is Livermore’s division of culture into three domains: socioethnic culture, organizational culture, and generational culture (93). His description of these domains addresses what would otherwise have been a concern of mine: that “culture” is not just a racial-ethnic phenomenon. I’ve worked at churches where the socioethnic culture and even generational culture were similar, but the organizational culture (“shared personality”) between the two was vastly different. Ministry methodologies and initiatives that worked in one church simply would not fly in the other.

Second, there is Interpretive CQ, which is metacognitive, since it relates to thinking about how one thinks. Interpretive CQ is essentially applied Knowledge CQ. If Knowledge CQ is basic exegesis, Interpretive CQ is hermeneutics. A key virtue here is that of empathy: “noticing what’s apparent about another person and trying to tune into her or his thoughts, emotions, and feelings” (158). Livermore connects Knowledge CQ and Interpretive CQ together into “cultural strategic thinking.”

Third, Livermore outlines Perseverance CQ, which is “our level of interest, drive, and motivation to adapt cross-culturally” (213). Anyone who has sought to form deliberate partnerships (or even just close friendships) across cultural lines is aware of the potential for discomfort, miscommunication, misunderstanding, and frustration, especially as intimacy builds. Perseverance CQ is the desire to push through these feelings for the sake of expressing love across the cultural gaps the author describes. Livermore offers an important set of questions and considerations:

What fuels our motivation? Why are we reaching into a new cultural context in the first place? We have to honestly face the motives behind our service, travel, and work. And we have to bear in mind that we are the Other to billions of other people. (225)

To push back, one may find oneself in cross-cultural relationships without deliberately engaging in service, travel, and work. They may exist “at home,” so to speak. Even so, the questions are worth asking. And the emphasis of othering the self that pops up throughout Cultural Intelligence is a needed (if difficult) perspective.

Finally, there is Behavioral CQ. This is the on-the-ground evidence that we love the Other. Livermore describes it as “the extent to which we appropriately change our verbal and nonverbal actions when we interact cross-culturally” (233). True CQ leads to action. We will not be able to “accomplish flawless cross-cultural behavior” (240), but we can become more faithful in “reflect[ing] Jesus to the Other through culturally intelligent communication” (241).

Cultural Intelligence concludes with a practical “What now?” chapter with “Twenty-four Ways to Advance Your CQ” (242). Then follows a CQ self-assessment, which is a brilliant inclusion. I first took the CQ self-assessment six years ago. I was surprised then to have tested so high (“excellent”) in the last two modes of CQ: Perseverance and Behavioral. Re-taking the test in 2016 I oddly dipped in Perseverance and Behavioral CQ, but went up in my “Cultural Strategic Thinking” (Knowledge and Interpretive CQ).

I wonder whether this is because my cross-cultural awareness has grown over the years, while my comfort with my own culture (and my being content with that comfort, to some degree) has led me to make cross-cultural stretching less of a priority. It’s not that I don’t interact with people from different cultures on a regular basis (whether socioethnic, organizational, or generational cultures); it’s just that given the choice I might default to monocultural settings, since they are “easier” (in some senses) to navigate. This is especially true when it comes to workplace and organizational culture. This may be sin I need to repent of—or just a reflection of my plate being over-full already, and the fact that my focus is strained until I graduate from seminary! I found the assessment to be somewhat limited, with its forced choices.

Readers will likely note at the beginning of Livermore’s book that the tasks the author sets out could be more difficult for “white” people who think of themselves as people who “have no ethnicity.” The outdated (but still present!) “Ethnic Foods” aisle is instructive here. “Ethnic” is understood all too often in opposition to “non-ethnic,” or “regular,” which then becomes culturally normative. The insidious danger is when this move happens subconsciously. Everyone has ethnicity, and all foods (and churches) are “ethnic.” The question is rather, “Of which ethnicity?” Livermore’s book reads, in some senses, as being geared toward such a person. However, even those who have done more extensive reflection on their own ethnic and cultural identity can benefit from his work.

Cultural Intelligence is an excellent primer for anyone seeking to enhance their cross-cultural fluency. Livermore is patient with the reader, but not overly so—he’s not afraid to challenge where needed. His truth-telling and practical step-by-step explanations combine to have a powerful impact. Anyone who gets lost in the various interdisciplinary concerns of the book will have a handy Glossary to refer to. Church leaders, Christians, and concerned citizens alike should carve out the time to not just read but also work through the concepts of the book—maybe even with someone with whom they have cultural differences.

You can find the book here at Amazon or here at the publisher’s page. Go here to read a .pdf sample.

Omar Comin’…. (for real, this time)

A long time ago I promised you:

Coming soon to this blog… some interaction with The Wire. Stay tuned.

I showed you the cover of this book:

 

The Wire

 

I’ve read a chunk of it, and more than half of this book, too:

 

Source: http://hub.jhu.edu/
Source: http://hub.jhu.edu/

 

(Find it at Amazon here.)

From the product page of publisher Johns Hopkins University Press:

Did Omar Little die of lead poisoning? Would a decriminalization strategy like the one in Hamsterdam end the War on Drugs? What will it take to save neglected kids like Wallace and Dukie? Tapping into ‘The Wire’ uses the acclaimed television series as a road map for exploring connections between inner-city poverty and drug-related violence. Past Baltimore City health commissioner Peter Beilenson teams up with former Baltimore Sun reporter Patrick A. McGuire to deliver a compelling, highly readable examination of urban policy and public health issues affecting cities across the nation. Each chapter recounts scenes from episodes of the HBO series, placing the characters’ challenges into the broader context of public policy.

So far the main thrust of the book is to (mostly convincingly) suggest that decriminalizing (or “medicalizing”) drug use can go a long way to advance public health. More specifically, there is a call to keep non-violent drug offenders out of jail and get them into treatment options. I’ll have more to say on the matter when I review the book–which really will happen this summer.

So, yes, patient readers, more on The Wire is coming to Words on the Word.

Remembering MLK

The prophet Isaiah spoke of the path from darkness to light:

Seek justice, encouraged the oppressed…if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, a national holiday commemorating the great preacher and one of the leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Were he still living, Dr. King would have been 86 this weekend.

MLK bookIn a world where any black person on a bus was expected to give up his or her seat to any white person who asked, a world where peaceful civil rights protestors suffered unprovoked police brutality, and a world where blacks were often prevented from basic rights like voting simply because they were black, Martin Luther King, Jr., knew what it was to suffer injustice.

And he knew that his particular experience of injustice had universal implications. In his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” he famously wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In response to his fellow clergyman who called for him to slow down, he said that when we say “wait” to righting the wrongs around us, “wait” often turns into “never.” “Justice too long delayed,” he wrote, “is justice denied.”

One thing I want to do more of in 2015 is to stop saying “wait” in my own efforts to speak up and act in response to injustice—whether it’s racial injustice, poverty, homelessness, sexism, violence, or systemic oppression. I’m spending some time prayerfully discerning what this will look like. I am challenged by Isaiah’s call to “seek justice” and “encourage the oppressed,” an essential part of every Christian’s vocation.

I and we need to hear Isaiah’s urgent call and King’s impassioned words just as much today as their first hearers did.

May we open ourselves to God and listen to how he leads us to act on the words of the prophet.

The above is adapted from a short letter I sent to my congregation.

The Wire: Lester Freamon’s Dollhouse Miniatures Matter

[SPOILER ALERT: I talk about events from Season 5 of The Wire below.]

 

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In The Wire, Lester Freamon says, “All the pieces matter,” which is the best and most succinct summary line of the whole show.

Series 5 ends with McNulty looking over Baltimore (the whole) and then pans to a closing montage of all the players (the individual pieces) before going back to city skyline (the whole) again.

Appropriate as McNulty has basically been the city’s puppeteer in Season 5.

 

The Wire Season 5Anyone who’s seen the show all the way through gets that it’s about the pieces-and-whole dialectic, and about understanding the city as a complex, unified system, linked together by interconnected sub-systems.

What two characters best understand this? It seems McNulty (who is the character privileged enough to close the show with the long, longing look at the city) and Freamon (who loves seeing how pieces fit together–his bulletin board is evidence of this).

What just hit me, though, is that Freamon’s interest in tiny dollhouse pieces that then fit together into whole unified sets is a sort of microcosm of his interest in how networks and systems (like drug rings) have individual pieces that all fit together. Even in his hobby the writers portray him (intentionally?) as someone who has an interest in “all the pieces”–in this case, miniatures. He is a “systems guy,” through and through.

Lester Freamon DollhouseAnd, his working at a “pawn shop” could be an echo of or allusion to the “pawns” on the chessboard that D’Angelo uses to describe how the pieces each play their part in the game. Different meanings of “pawn,” but still could be related.

My conclusion? McNulty, though he’s a “gaping [jerk],” maybe sees the system better than anyone else. And Freamon, just as he does with dollhouse miniatures, is able to navigate it more deftly than anyone else.

In that sense, though they both end up very much outside the system (i.e., no longer police), the pro-systems thinking show casts them as its ultimate heroes.

Accept the Incompleteness of Your Work

28102-Sabbath in the City_pYesterday I preached on Sabbath-keeping and what I think is the real reason it’s so hard for us to engage such a life-giving practice. As I’m reflecting further this week on cultivating a Sabbath-oriented mindset throughout my days, I remembered a book I read a few years ago that nourished me. It’s called Sabbath in the City: Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence.

Bryan P. Stone and Claire E. Wolfteich wrote this short yet compelling book on “what constitutes pastoral excellence in the urban context” and “what sustains it.” The authors use results from their project, “Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence,” which piloted a program of rest and renewal for 96 urban pastors across the country. According to Stone and Wolfteich, there are four primary activities or modes of being that make up pastoral excellence (which they also refer to as “virtue”):

  1. The cultivation of holy, life-giving friendships, particularly with other pastors;
  2. Regular Sabbath practices of rest that allow for acts of both creation and liberation;
  3. A renewal of the spirit through disciplines like prayer, reading Scripture, and silence;
  4. Study and reflection on the theology and practice of ministry (the authors tie this in with the above activity, renewal of the spirit).

While the authors note that pastoral excellence thus constituted is applicable to other, non-urban settings, they emphasize the uniqueness of the urban context and how it can challenge and fatigue urban pastors. They describe the city as “a place of distractions, busyness, and frenzied activity.” In contradistinction to more affluent suburban parishes, the urban church is likely to function as a full-service institution that addresses the variegated needs of the city in which it resides. The authors follow the group of 96 participants and show how the four practices listed above helped them to cultivate and sustain pastoral excellence.

Reading the book was itself an act of refreshment. Two aspects were most helpful to me:

First, the authors highlight the importance to pastors of cultivating holy, God-focused friendships. They write, “Friendships, then, are not simply a means of supporting a more healthy spiritual life. As some of the pastors in our project put it, ‘They are our spiritual life.’” The old African proverb is apropos here:

If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.

Second, Sabbath-keeping is easier idealized than practiced. Stone and Wolfteich write,

[The] advice to accept the incompleteness of our work may be difficult to enact.

Though I didn’t have Sabbath in the City in mind at the time, the sermon I’ll post later this week interacts at length with this idea, i.e., why it is that we don’t take the Sabbath we know we want to take.

The book is intended for pastors in an urban setting, but even a suburban-dweller who is not involved in pastoral ministry will find rest and hope in Sabbath in the City.

You can find it on Amazon here and at Westminster John Knox Books here.

LeBron: Back Home to Cleveland

Lebron to Cleveland

LeBron James is going back to Cleveland. He says:

Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.

Whether you care much for him or not, it’s a beautifully written article, touching on themes of home, family, forgiveness, and making change in your community. Read the whole thing here.

Systems Thinking and Gentrification: Review of The New Urban Renewal

How do neighborhoods change? How does a forgotten ghetto become an urban hotspot?

Derek S. Hyra answers these questions in The New Urban Renewal: The Economic Transformation of Harlem and Bronzeville (published by University of Chicago Press, 2008).

Hyra presents a careful comparative study between two economically gentrifying communities: Harlem (New York) and Bronzeville (Chicago). He takes a “systems thinking” approach (though he does not call it that) to see how global and national forces interact with municipal political structures, which interact with community organizational structures, which all work together to affect local conditions. These are the lenses through which he views gentrification in those two communities.

He notes that while Bronzeville and Harlem are gentrifying economically, their racial composition is not changing–they both remain primarily African American neighborhoods. So Hyra also analyzes intraracial, cross-class conflict.

Hyra’s interest is especially in displaced, non-home-owning residents of each community. He keeps this population in mind throughout the book and makes recommendations at the end for how to minimize resident displacement in gentrifying communities.

The New Urban Renewal is not very concise–typographical errors and run-on sentences are surprisingly common for a University of Chicago Press Book. But this can be overlooked. The concepts in Hyra’s book are well worth understanding and exploring.