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Thoughtful Individuals and Global Pluralism

We have a problem that can be best formulated in distinctive ways for differing audiences. The problem is how to live with people - especially the ones with whom we disagree. I guess, eventually, that includes everyone - even oneself at times.

Though we live in a nation that is supposed to be united, Americans often appear to be hopelessly divided in governmental politics. After the last presidential election I recieved an email from our university administration offering counseling to students who were too upset to function properly. This wasn't an isolated incident - numerous universities across the country sent students essentially the same message. To be clear, I'm not against people getting help when they need it. My present interest in the messages, however, is their function as markers of our divided political state of affairs. There was a substantial negative emotional impact in view when university leaders made these public offers of counseling. Subsequent protest marches in the streets bear further witness to the point. But, politics is just one arena in which deep differences are palpable. Universities are embrolled in debates over the limits and importance of free speech. The news media often seem more focused on personal attacks than on reporting of facts. The stability of families is slipping. And, the list goes on.

As a landscape architecture professor, I've seen the same problem through a different lens. Students tell me they want to live fulfilling lives and make a positive difference in the world. But, these are normative aspirations. And, no matter what set of norms they embrace as a foundation for their actions, there will be millions - if not billions - of people in the world who disagree. The professional literature is full of laments about the loss of meaning in environmental design. Can young adults approach professional practice with confidence in the absence of a shared set of values to ground their actions? How will they garner the public trust required to serve as an expert/professional in the first place?

The Church also is not immune to manifestations of the problem of otherness. Chrisitans, individually and collectively, are instructed to speak the truth in love. Yet, the Church has struggled throughout history to define its relationship to surrounding cultures. Living in an age of global pluralism just adds a whole new layer of complexity to the challenge. One can no longer focus solely on the problem of interpolating the gospel into the framework of a particular, more or less monolitic, sociocultural situation. In the age of "liquid modernity" every culture seems present in every place at least much of the time. What does this mean to one who is serious about understanding and carrying out the church's mission in the world?

In this blog I want to record and share ideas about this issue that I've been chewing on for some time. The blog posts will serve as abstracts introducing topics that I think are important to a thoughtful investigation of the challenge. Often, I'll provide a link to a file that contains an expanded discussion of the issue. This will allow me the space necessary to place my thoughts in context, define terms critical to a sustained line of thought, and offer citations when the ideas of others have been important to the formation of my own.

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