Cross-Cultural Intimacy Isn't 'Unrealistic' - It's My Reality

By Jimmy McCarty 10-06-2008

My mother is an immigrant from Korea who has worked as a janitor in a hospital and waitress in a Korean restaurant. My father is a white guy from a small town in Tennessee who has been a soldier and dock worker.

My wife's grandparents were African-American, Puerto Rican, and German immigrants. Her family has climbed the social ladder and is now comfortably settled in America's middle class.

I have served at an African-American church in inner-city Los Angeles for the past several years and consider many there close to my heart.

I have thoroughly enjoyed, and been encouraged, by the recent discussion on this site about the New Monastic movement and racial reconciliation. The posts by white "leaders" in the movement seeking ways to share power lifted my spirits. I nodded my head in agreement with those ethnic minorities who expressed an admiration for those who have committed their lives to this form of ministry but have been wary of joining it because of racial and social dynamics. I, too, applaud those who have committed themselves in solidarity with the "least of these" in our society while questioning if the New Monastic movement is truly the way for me, as an ethnic minority, to pursue this goal.

Now, regarding the post by Bart Campolo. He makes some important arguments. As one who has spent considerable stretches of time living overseas in cross-cultural community, I can relate to the need to be "comfortable" in order to recharge my "reconciliation battery." There is a reason missionaries go on furlough. So, he is correct in pointing out the need for time within our own culture. He is speaking as a missionary who lives outside of his culture. He is not talking about cheap friendships, but true reconciliation.

He is wrong, however, in asserting that it is "unrealistic" to expect the same intimacy from those outside of your "culture of origin" as you do from those within it. It may be difficult to achieve, but it is not unrealistic. He may argue that my cross-racial and cross-cultural marriage is possible because of sexual intimacy. He cannot, however, make this argument for my "inner circle" of closest male friends. My "inner circle," who all consider each other as close as family and act accordingly, is made up of myself, a white guy from the Bay Area, a black guy from Tennessee and another from L.A., and two men from southern Africa, one from Zimbabwe and the other from South Africa. We all met in college. Our relationships with one another can easily be described as "intimate." We come from different racial, ethnic, socio-economic, and religious backgrounds. We shared a location and culture for a few years of our lives, but our "cultures of origin" are vastly disparate.

There are times when we are apart and move in circles that are different, but that does not take away from the intimacy of our shared relationship. This is also true of my relationship with the elderly African-American women at the church where I serve, and it is true of my wife's relationship with my grandparents in Tennessee. It is also true of my relationship with the formerly homeless members of the church we attend.

What makes this possible is some connection. The connection can be as varied as going to the same school, the same church, or marrying into a family. Oftentimes it is a shared faith or cause. Sometimes it has been as simple as liking the same sports team or disliking the same pop stars. There are, in my experience, extremely few relationships where no common ground can be established. There are times when this happens, but I believe it is rare. Even people from different continents and cultures have built intimate relationships with me based on, oftentimes, a singular common connection. When this connection is faith, it can overcome all barriers, but it can be something simpler as that as well. As long as there are two people with open minds, open hearts, and open hands, reconciliation and intimacy are possible. (This is the hardest part of the whole thing!) It may take years of long, hard work, but it is possible, and it is realistic. I have seen rival gang members become close friends in America and Tutsis embrace Hutus in Uganda. Reconciliation is possible because resurrection is possible.

Because this is the case, it is good that New Monastics look upon their monocultural communities and seek to diversify them. Yes, there needs to be a place to retreat to and relish in your "culture of origin," or as I prefer "culture of comfort," but that place does not necessarily have to be your place of intentional community and ministry. In fact, it probably shouldn't be that place. That should be the place where God is stretching us the most.

One final point. It seems that Mr. Campolo is not speaking to the reality of many in America today. He assumes one has a "culture of origin" as if everyone has only one. For many in my generation, this is just not true. What do I identify as my culture of origin? Am I the child of an immigrant from Korea? The child of a white family with deep roots in the American south? Or both? Clearly these cultures are different, and yet I encompass both and more. My entire existence is an exercise in cross-cultural relationship, and I am comfortable in multiple cultural settings. This is increasingly becoming the reality for many in America. It is one more reality that complicates the "unrealistic-ness" of cross-cultural intimacy. Many in America, as one commenter pointed out, and most minorities do it daily.

Jimmy McCartyJimmy McCarty is a student at Claremont School of Theology studying Christian ethics, a minister serving cross-racially at a church in inner-city Los Angeles, and a servant at a homeless shelter five days a week. He blogs at

[Read all posts in this conversation on New Monastics and race.]

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