Mass migration as a global changing reality has been a crucial context of contemporary mission. The intersection of human cultures by this migration has been ordinary phenomenon all around the world. In this multicultural communities as given reality, everyone needs to understand and respond to various cultural influences by seeking the way of living together in righteous relationships in the context of mixed cultures. The River Between, a novel by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, is a good example that reveals human multicultural context as a case of reflecting the life seeking for harmony in the multicultural context. Ngugi’s literary approach to human conflicts and tensions between different cultures exposes various issues of tensions and suggests possible ways of overcoming them. Based on this literary approach to cultural conflicts, this work articulates some values and practical principles of seeking harmony in the context of multicultural conflicts and tensions by developing liturgical practices of hospitality and the two sacraments (the baptism and the Lord’s Table).
We live our lives in the complex world. There are no pure, exclusive cultures or ethnicities in the world. The intersection of human cultures by migration is no longer an odd phenomenon. Regardless of the deep conflicts between different ethnic groups, it is certain that any community is composed of a mixture of two or more different cultures. In this multicultural communities, everyone needs to understand and respond to various cultural influences. Moreover, it is necessary for the Christians to develop the way of living together in righteous relationships in the context of mixed cultures.
Ngugi Wa Thiong’o (Ngugi) introduces to us the issue of cultural intersection within a community in his novel The River Between. This African novel is a good reflection on contemporary human conflicts within a community. The development of the story and its main characters describe real human cultural conflicts and various responses within a community. This novel as a cultural text reflects our current mixed cultures due to migrations and even calls for a more in-depth interpretation. This article attempts to interpret the cultural intersection and conflict in the story of The River Between, which reflects contemporary context of mission. For this purpose, first, I will describe the structure, main characters, and story development of The River Between. This interpretive description helps us find deeper strata of meanings in human community as a missional context. Second, I will investigate how this author deals with cultural conflicts in this novel. Although Ngugi suggests some crucial insights for human cultural conflict through the story, the issue of cultural conflicts could be more effectively approached with a more intentional frame. So, third, as a response to the issues of this cultural text, I will approach human cultural conflicts within a community—a main issue of this text—with a liturgical perspective. This liturgical approach as an ecclesiastical response to human cultural conflicts will suggest some possible ecclesial practices for working towards unity among human cultures in the world.
THE RIVER BETWEEN
Summary of the Story
The River Between tells the story about the conflicts of the Gikuyu people in Kenya. They were originally one community. However, after the Christian faith was introduced by Western missionaries, Makuyu was separated from Kameno and conflict arose between the two communities. Some people followed Joshua and Christianity; other people pursued their tribal traditions. Amid this disunity, Waiyaki, a dedicated visionary, struggled to unite the two villages through sacrifice and pain by educating the tribe. According to him, education could be the only unifying link between the two factions.
One of the key issues for the Gikuyu is circumcision of both men and women. As an initiation rite for the tribe, all Gikuyu people wait for the day of tribal initiation. According to that tradition, Waiyaki also waited to be born again to be a man. However, Christian people deny female circumcision, dancing, and drinking. They especially refused female circumcision because this tribal initiation rite is an abhorrent practice from their Christian perspective. Joshua even thought that initiation was a severe sin. However, there was a girl called Muthoni who was Joshua’s daughter. Even though she was a Christian girl following her father’s faith, Muthoni wanted to be a woman in the tribal way: “I am a Christian and my father and mother have followed the new faith. I have not run away from that. But I also want to be initiated into the ways of the tribe” (43). As a result, she went against her father and went to the initiation rituals to be circumcised; however, she did not heal well after the circumcision and died soon after.
In this context, Waiyaki, a main character, grew up to be a noble person and became the headmaster of a school in the town. He made efforts to unite the people in the Gikuyu through education, enlightening the people. At the same time, he also had a strong and intimate relationship with Joshua’s other daughter Nyambura. However, he could not marry Nyambura due to her Christian faith and her father’s rejection. This caused them great pain. When Nyambura confessed her loving Waiyaki, Joshua, her father, told her to leave the house. Waiyaki also admitted his love for Nyambura in front of people. This shocked everyone. The novel depicts his loving Nyambura as if he broke the oath to keep the tribe pure from outsiders and their ideas. However, in Waiyaki’s understanding the oath never went against loving someone: “yet the oath did not say that he should not love” (151).
Through the development of the story, Ngugi, the author, delineates cultural conflict as a central and real situation of human life in the Gikuyu and, furthermore, deals with the intersection of cultures as a phenomenon of our contemporary multicultural world. Although he clearly describes struggles and tensions between the two ridges, Ngugi does not suggest any specific position as a preferred attitude toward other cultures except efforts to be united; he implies that human community can exist with harmony among the cultural differences, without the conflicts dividing people. This ideal state of human culture is described by the narrator at the beginning: “the ridges slept on. Kameno and Makuyu were no longer antagonistic. They had merged into one area of beautiful land, which is what, perhaps, they were meant to be. Makuyu, Kameno and the other ridges lay in peace and there was no sign of life, as one stood on the hill of God” (16).
Several Meanings of Human Life and Culture
The storyline of The River Between tells us several meanings of human life and culture. First and foremost, through this novel, Ngugi shows us that human life is always an ongoing situation of conflict between different positions within a community. By introducing the Gikuyu, a small African town, and the configuration of the land, he symbolically presumes that life is composed of various conflicts: “The two ridges lay side by side . . . the two ridges ceased to be sleeping lions united by their common source of life. They became antagonists” (1). This means that even a small area of human life cannot be exempted from conflictive situations of mixed cultures. Regardless of the size and place, all human lives are the same in this regard. For various reasons, we always encounter conflictive situations in our lives with the neighbors in the same community. And in most cases, our first reaction to the different position is antagonistic. The struggle between the two ridges of Kameno (one position/side of the river) and Makuyu (another position/side of the river) in the town of Gikuyu (a single community) symbolizes the situation of deep struggle in all human lives.
Second, this novel exposes the situation of the 1960s when it was published; it is a reflection not only on human life but also the situation of Kenya, Africa, and even the world in the 1960s. Ngugi did not dismiss the political and cultural issues in his personal background. In 1963, just two years before the publication of this novel, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was constituted, and in the same year, Kenya, where Gikuyu is located, became an independent country. So, in the midst of a conflictive situation, for Ngugi, being united together among the countries and at the same time being independent in each country were the crucial tasks to be resolved. Despite the great desire of the African people for independence, these tasks have not only been very difficult but have still not been thoroughly accomplished. Ngugi symbolically portrayed this difficulty by the death of Muthoni, the sister of Nyambura and daughter of Joshua, who pursued a life of liberty as a Christian woman in the tribe. Moreover, the tensions and struggles between the two ridges in this novel are also symbolic of the world. For instance, we naturally embrace many different people due to their migrations. Each group of people needs to be distinctive from others and at the same time to be a part of larger groups. It is not strange that a main concern of Vatican Council II and the WCC in the middle of the 20th century was to bring unity among the different positions in conflict. And this task has been more abruptly given to contemporary ministers being faced with the context of mixed groups of people.
Third, in addition to human struggle and the world political situation, cultural conflict is also a serious problem that Ngugi wants to unveil through The River Between. Before the 1960s and even now, many African and Asian countries have been the objects of the mission of the Western countries. From the Western perspective, with the help of education and medicine, Christian mission helps people awake and follow the truth; however, it has also induced cultural conflicts with the traditional religious values in the mission field. Christian faith does not exclude the lifestyle of a culture; rather it requires a change in the practice and attitudes of a person’s and a community’s life. So it is natural that the contextualization of theology has been a crucial issue in countries that have been objects of mission. Yet although Ngugi’s storyline clearly has cultural conflict as a crucial theme, his emphasis is not to investigate the reason for cultural conflicts but to introduce the current state of cultural conflicts as our reality through the case of the Gikuyu. He has a more prospective concern by raising a question of an ultimate vision of multicultural community: “Makuyu was now the home of the Christians while Kameno remained the home of all that was beautiful in the tribe. Who would ever bring them together?” (54).
How is it possible to unify different cultures? This crucial question is not limited to Christian people in a secular world. All people in our multicultural world need to consider this issue. In addition, Christian mission is not only for cultural conflicts. It is also for other causes in our contemporary world including immigration, multi-ethnic marriage, and many others. Regardless of their faith, all people in our contemporary world have already been living in multicultural societies, which necessarily brings cultural encounters. Of course, cultural encounter does not always directly lead to conflict; it sometimes positively helps us rethink our culture in the light of another culture. However, most cultural encounters bring conflict. This situation of human cultural conflict is a main issue of this novel and even our contemporary society to be further addressed.
NGUGI’S ANSWER TO THE ISSUES OF HUMAN CULTURAL CONFLICTS
Seeking Unity as Reconciliation
Through this novel, Ngugi unfolds his vision of unity in the complex situation of human cultural conflicts. The unity he suggests does not mean a victory of one destroying the other; rather it means reconciliation between the cultural contradictions. Most of all, Ngugi expresses his ideal state of human cultural unity and reconciliation through the scriptural remembrance of Nyambura, Waiyaki’s lover. Readers of this cultural text can see the ideal image of unity as reconciliation through the lover Nyambura’s memory even though the actual mission is Waiyaki’s. By this literary skill, Ngugi implies that love is the key to reconcile cultural conflicts. In this novel, the love of Waiyaki and Nyambura symbolizes unity as reconciliation of cultural conflict and contradiction. Waiyaki’s faith is different from that of Nyambura; their lifestyles and cultures differ and even conflict with each other. However, their vision and goal are the same: reconciliation of cultural conflicts through love.
In addition, this reconciliation denies any specific position’s victory and rather seeks the compatibility of both cultural positions. Ngugi intentionally does not develop the storyline as a relationship between the colonizing and the colonized even though the Westernized cultural influence of Christianity is a main reason for the cultural conflict as easily seen in the real field of mission. The cultural struggle or tension is not between the missionary and the tribes but between the two tribal ridges that each follows a different way. Through the point of view of the omniscient narrator, Ngugi intentionally denies the reader’s involvement in a specific position. In addition, the story is told in the past tense, implying that the result has already come about; even at the end of the novel, the cultural conflicts between the two ridges have not been solved: “the land was now silent. The two ridges lay side by side, hidden in the darkness. And the Honia river went on flowing between them, down through the valley of life, its beat rising above the dark stillness, reaching into the heart of the people of Makuyu and Kameno” (152). These literary techniques convey to the reader that Ngugi does not intend a victory for one position; rather he intends the compatibility of two different positions.
Third, Ngugi presumes that unity as reconciliation comes in the context of a contradiction. He stresses a contradiction as the background of reconciled relationship: “Perhaps life [is] a contradiction” (64). The narrator worries about the “splits” coming between the different cultures (59), which is expressed by Waiyaki’s concern: “[he] was always worried by thought of the ever-widening gulf between Joshua’s followers and the breakaway elements” (63). This contradiction arises because isolation is practically impossible in human culture: “The country could now no longer be called isolated” (62). We cannot deny that we live in a complex cultural situation that appears to be a contradiction. Ngugi depicts this contradiction of human life through Waiyaki’s emotional moods. For the people in Africa, rain was very important for their farming; however, at the same time, rain was also the cause of disaster by “carrying away the soil, corroding, eating away the earth, stealing the land” (65). Just as Waiyaki could see a contradiction even in the natural occurrence, Ngugi tries to tell us that encountering another culture “could be a blessing or a curse” (66). In any case, we cannot deny that human life is composed of cultural contradictions as the background for reconciliation.
Thus, Ngugi understands that unity as a reconciliation between conflicts is a goal of human cultural life and assumes this unity to be a state in which different cultures are compatible even in a condition of contradiction. Waiyaki’s reconciling effort in cultural conflict is the main story line of this novel. His task for unification reminds us of Christ’s mission of reconciliation between God and humans and among people. Moreover, reconciliation between cultural conflicts is our real task in the condition of multicultural societies. This task is very necessary for us because without reconciliation “each group [is becoming] more arrogant and more confident of itself than ever” (110). What then is the real and practical way of reconciling cultural conflict that Ngugi suggests?
Ngugi’s Suggestions for the Way of Reconciliation
Accepting the cultural conflicts and contradictions of human society as the reality of human existence and, furthermore, taking on their reconciliation as an important task of human culture, Ngugi also suggests the hardship in the real process of reconciliation of conflicts. His basic assumption is that reconciled cultures in a community are an ideal state but cannot be fully accomplished in reality; reconciliation of cultural conflicts is an ongoing process or direction that each community should seek.
When it comes to real ways of reconciling cultural conflicts, Ngugi presents one desirable way. The most possible and desirable way of reconciling human cultural conflicts is Waiyaki’s arbitrative or mediate way of making a bridge between two different cultures without giving up either cultural position. Ngugi suggests that Waiyaki’s effort for reconciliation between the two ridges could be an agreeable solution. Although Waiyaki is a young man in Kameno, he does not fully follow the native way of the tribe, but rather tries to connect the separated gulf between the two ridges by means of education. Waiyaki assumes that education could be a common ground that could bridge the two hostile positions. In a practical manner, education seems to the people a value-free medium for unifying them. Regardless of their faith, most people in the Gikuyu participate in the education even though the system came from the Western Europe. However, Ngugi presents Waiyaki’s reconciliation through education as simply his conviction, not a strategic plan developed in the storyline. Although education, for Waiyaki, is “the light of the country” and “what people want” (101), the author does not explain how it leads people to light and unity even by the end of the story. Instead, in this novel, his attempt for reconciliation is a struggling process. In the process of his effort for reconciliation, when Waiyaki visits Joshua’s church, he encounters an identity crisis: “there [is] no half-way house between Makuyu and Kameno” (86). Nevertheless, we should keep in mind that the author does not give up the half-way position by developing the storyline of Waiyaki’s struggles for reconciliation until the end of this novel.
Besides that, Ngugi addresses his idea of unification by developing another narrative line in the story. He seems to suggest that the real practice of reconciliation of cultural conflict cannot be realized with the simple application of a means such as education. Instead, Ngugi describes the unity of Waiyaki’s deep love for Nyambura as a more foundational process of reconciliation. For Ngugi, love is a more powerful motivation and medium for reconciliation, so he dramatically depicts the love and tension between Waiyaki and Nyambura as a metaphor for unifying two different cultures. Waiyaki loves Nyambura, however, there is a gulf between them. They feel happy when they are together, but they cannot be one because of their religious, tribal, and cultural barriers. To accomplish their love, Waiyaki has to give up his “oath” to be faithful to the tribe; Nyambura has to leave her father’s brand of religion. These struggles and tensions are real issues in cultural reconciliation. According to Ngugi, there are four steps in the process toward unity in cultural conflicts. These steps can be categorized based on the unifying experience of Waiyaki and Nyambura at the side of the Honia River, which is the mediate place between the two ridges.
The first step is a “transcendental experience” of one’s own culture. Before confronting the other culture as a conflictive object, every person should first experience his or her own culture as a distinctive meaning for oneself. Waiyaki “experienced a frightening sensation, as if she [Nyambura] and he were together standing on an altar ready for a sacrifice. . . . he was confronted with a might, a presence far beyond him” (104). This experience was related to his initiation rite at that same place; “the place would forever remain sacred to him” (104). On the opposite bank, Nyambura also had a similar experience; “this place she was in was sacred, too. Nyambura seemed to be bending over something. . . . she was kneeling down in a praying posture” (104). She was even “afraid of the intense excitement that possessed her” (105). These two experiences were both a sacramental or transcendental experience based on their own religious cognitions. Without experiencing a religious transcendental moment in one’s life setting, it is very hard to encounter the conflicts with a different culture because one cannot feel any contradiction to others.
The second step is a “respecting each other by confessing love.” Coming closer to each other, Nyambura called Waiyaki teacher. In the Gikuyu, “followers of Joshua did not call him teacher” (105). There was no mocking laughter in her voice. It was a true respect. At the same time, Waiyaki’s loving expression was not verbal but more powerful: “His whole body was on fire” (105). Waiyaki “took a step towards Nyambura and stood close to her. He took her right hand in his and at once burst out, ‘Nyambura, I love you’” (106). Nyambura also did not deny her feeling; “it was good that he loved her” (106). Through respecting and even loving each other, each culture can be closer to the state of unity. Without respecting the other, a culture cannot take anything good from the other culture.
The third step is a “fearing moment.” When Waiyaki confessed his love to Nyambura, she “saw the light in his eyes and for a second she was afraid” (106). Although Nyambura wanted to fall into Waiyaki’s arms, still she feared and “she felt a painful sorrow come into her heart as if from nowhere. A tear dropped down her felt cheek” (106). This fearing—through one is afraid of being united in their conflicting situation—is not antagonistic, but it adds greater complexity within one’s heart. This would be a deciding moment for “making space in our heart and mind to see from other perspectives and to hear other stories” so as to learn from each other.
The fourth step is “making a decision.” After respecting each other with a confession of love and a feeling fear, every culture makes a decision for unity as a final step. At the moment of confessing love and feeling fear, Waiyaki and Nyambura did not say anything and “they were one” (107). With conviction of his love, Waiyaki whispered, “Will you marry me?” This is an invitation to be united with the other culture. Nyambura wanted to say “yes”; however, her answer was “no” (107). This does not necessarily mean that Ngugi does not want the two cultures to be united. Rather, Nyambura’s negative answer—even though she inwardly wants the harmony of the human cultures—indicates the difficulty of reconciling two different cultures.
These four steps are not a logical and sequential but a mixed process. For example, sometimes, after experiencing the first step, a person can move directly to a yes or no decision to another culture, skipping the two middle stages. In any case, the steps depicted by this novel can be seriously considered as a real process in reconciling two or more different cultures.
In contrast, Ngugi also shows us two extreme cases that we should avoid. In cultural conflict, the first immediate negative reaction to the influence of an outside culture is to reject or deny it. This is Kabonyi’s exclusive way of sticking to the native culture: rejecting any compromise with others. Kabonyi and the tribes in Kameno are symbols of this position. Kabonyi was convinced that keeping tribal life free from any outside cultures was the best way to serve the ridge. Thus, he “would rid the country of the influence of the white man” (95); this group wanted to deny “the white man’s way”—rejecting outside culture—and to keep the tribe pure by performing circumcision, the important ritual of initiation (68). This circumcision was for them “at the core of the social structure, and a something that gave meaning to a man’s life” (68). With this conviction, Kabonyi is “full of fury” (97) over Waiyaki’s efforts for reconciliation between the two ridges.
Ngugi hints that this position is practically impossible because this novel shows no sign of any victory of that position. The only emotional state of this position is fury. In the battle between Kabonyi and Waiyaki at the school meeting, Kabonyi does not explain the validity of tribal purity but furiously attacks Waiyaki’s lack of leadership for the tribe. He does not suggest any further direction for the tribe. He should have given reasons for keeping the tribe pure to validate his position. However, his concern was not to persuade people to keep the tribe pure but to assert his leadership.
The second negative position is the opposite. This is Joshua’s assimilative way of uncritically accepting the new culture and forsaking the native culture: accepting others without seeking for uniqueness. Joshua forced Westernized Christian culture to become his own. Joshua’s position is clearly illustrated by his rejection of drinking, dancing the tribal ritual, and circumcision, especially female circumcision (30-31). To Joshua, “indulging in this ceremony [is] the unforgivable sin” (31). To Joshua’s Christian group, all of the tribal rituals were sin. All changes in relation to culture as a lifestyle came from his religious conviction: “He renounced his tribe’s magic, power and ritual. He turned to and felt the deep presence of the one God” (29). To Joshua, the native tribal life was the darkness. As Kabonyi showed his fury toward the efforts for unity, Joshua also “grew in wrath and vehemently condemned [the native tribal] behavior” (30). He held fast to religious uniformity in his own home.
As we can see in Joshua’s assimilative acceptance of the outside culture, this position is another type of exclusiveness. One does not have uniqueness oneself but only accepts others. Joshua and the Christian people in Makuyu wanted to live their new Christian lifestyle. However, the author of this novel does not develop Joshua’s Christian lifestyle as a desirable way of cultural engagement. Although Joshua’s position wanted to live the new lifestyle, it did not result in a model for a new life but in the antagonistic growth of the cultural conflict.
To Kabonyi, there is only rejecting others and no relationship with others or other cultures in his community; and to Joshua, there is only assimilation and no uniqueness for identifying himself. Although these two positions in cultural engagement seem to be opposites, they have a common character: their depth of hatred or fury. Readers can easily catch that neither is a desirable choice for cultural conflicts. For him, both of the explanations of Muthoni’s death illustrate their denial of reconciliation. Muthoni was the daughter of Joshua and had a vision of being a Christian tribal woman in the Gikuyu by being circumcised after becoming Christian. But the story has her die right after the initiation rite. For Joshua, “Muthoni had been an outcast . . . let that be a warning to those who rebelled against their parents and the laws of God” (54). For Kabonyi, “[Muthoni’s death] was a punishment to Joshua. . . . it was also a punishment to the hills. . . . it was a warning to all, to stick to the ways of the ridges” (54). By this, Ngugi suggests that these two extreme ways in cultural conflict cannot be the answer.
Overall, Ngugi clearly portrays the human condition of conflicts and suggests some ways toward reconciliation. Although the specifics might differ, our contemporary multicultural world due to migrations has similar problems to that of a small African town of this novel. Yet, Christians need a more practical approach to this topic in order to link this issue to our real lives.
A LITURGICAL RESPONSE TO CULTURAL CONFLICTS
Christians as human beings inevitably encounter cultural conflicts and attempt to overcome them by seeking for a harmonized coexistence with other cultures in a community. Theologians built up solid foundations of seeking harmony among the differences and even suggested practical ways of embracing others. Among them are Miroslav Volf, Colin Gunton, and John Zizioulas to name a few. All of them commonly premise that human beings live in patterned relationship with others and the trinitarian God could be a theological foundation for being oneself in relatedness to others. Their theoretical approaches help us interpret human cultural conflicts with theological frame. As Ngugi points out, it is ongoing process to encounter and overcome the tensions and conflicts between different cultures by seeking an ideal status of unification. Considering this significant issue of cultural conflicts and admitting the roles of education (Ngugi), love (the gospel), and theological frame (theologians mentioned above), this paper now attempts to suggest a bit more practical and liturgical way of embracing other cultures in a Christian community. Along with other disciplines, liturgical theology also endeavors to find appropriate and practical solutions on the matters of multiculturalism by seeking answers to the question: “How then does worship approach the issue of human cultural conflict?”
Worship and Culture
Contemporary worship communities are in the context of various cultures; it seems that worship service could be a central place in which people engage in multicultural condition of human life. We can easily see these multicultural congregations all around the world. Different people are now in the same place of worship. They are the immigrants, refugees, the country people who have come to the city, the city people who have sought refuge in the countryside, international students, etc. Gordon Lathrop calls these group of migrants cultural ‘amphibians’, who are “capable of swimming and walking in more than one culture.” Although Christian worship holds the word, the table, and prayer as common elements, each worship service implements these components in different ways representing these mixed cultures. This multicultural aspect of worship is no longer a matter of option but the most influential phenomenon for contemporary worship.
The Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture’ organized by the Lutheran World Federation’s Study Team (1996) now functions as a springboard for reflecting on and engaging culture in a particular community of worship. When it comes to ways of engaging the culture, each worship should be ‘transcultural, contextual, countercultural, and cross-cultural. Either emphasizing traditions and liturgical components or contextualization of worship, this statement encourages each worship community to more critically and analytically engage the culture by discerning the values, symbols, and meanings of culture for the practices of worship. Particularly, this statement clearly points out the need of cross-cultural experience of worship in multicultural community: “Cross-cultural sharing is possible for every church, but is especially needed in multicultural congregations.” As contemporary worship communities are mostly multicultural, engaging other cultures in worship is now mandatory.
Sandra Maria Van Opstal articulated practical ways of engaging multi-cultures in worship based on her long and professional experiences with international groups. In her book, The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World, Van Opstal criticizes the unintentional acceptance of ‘normal worship’ by pointing out self-centeredness in culture: “it is normal for ‘[Americans]’ to find peanut butter in [Americans’] kitchen. But to what extent can we say it’s normal?” She continues to criticize cultural self-centeredness by saying that “the biggest barrier Christians face in developing communities hospitable to people of every ethnicity and culture is their ignorance about their own culture.” According to her, the most important beginning of multicultural engagement in worship is to aware and reflect our self-centeredness of culture, which is not much different from the narrative of Ngugi’s novel. However, each culture might not be aware of its self-centeredness until it exposes to other cultures. In Ngugi’s frame of cultural engagement, each culture should be recognized as a part of whole cultural structure by having ‘transcendental experience’ as Ngugi suggested. So, the first step of being together with other cultures in worship is to identify and recognize a culture from other’s perspective, particularly by reflecting it before the presence of God. Christian worship could be a good place in which each culture could find its place as a part, not as a center of all human cultures.
A practical principle of encountering and engaging with other cultures is hospitality. Hospitality is not an abstract concept or an idea for unifying different cultures into one. Hospitality, in more practical way, could be “a way of living with others who are different, not just an event on the calendar.” Paul clearly teaches practicing hospitality as a part of transformed Christian life in his letter to Rome (Romans 12:3). Either valuing other cultures or providing what others need hospitality is at the center of Christian life. Christian hospitality can be defined as “respecting each other by confessing love” in the word of Ngugi. As a way of living with others, hospitality could be a way of identifying us as that of how we relate to others. This is not implying for simply coexisting with others but more actively welcoming, embracing, listening to, and respecting others. Accord to Volf, this does not mean accepting everything we encounter, but encouraging us to make space in our heart and mind to see from other perspectives and to hear them in more active way: “to accept [others] we must be willing to part with ego-boosting self-deceit and power maintaining ideologies, be ready to rewrite the story of our identities and reform our practices.”
Christian worship as a place of being together with different cultures could be at the center of practicing hospitality. It is not strange that Christian worship began at the home as a central place of hospitality in the early church. Christian worship begins a welcome directly from God; all cultures are called and welcome by God in the worship service. Anscar Chupungco emphasizes the hospitality of Christian worship by articulating ‘the value’ of it. According to him, the value of hospitality “shapes the active vocabulary of a community and creates pertinent rites to welcome and entertain guests.” Moreover, this cultural pattern of hospitality is “the typical way [that] people think or form concepts and images about, speak to and about [others.]” This implies that any words and gestures of hospitality in the service of worship are not merely welcoming others as ushers but performing the Christian task of embracing and acknowledging them as unique members of the Kingdom of God. Ritualized expressions of Christian hospitality such as ‘God’s welcoming’ and ‘passing of the peace’ are articulated patterns appropriate to the value of Christianity. In this regard, when it comes to respecting other cultures in worship, it is significant to articulate the ritualized words and gestures of expressing Christian hospitality in the service of worship appropriate to the values of each culture.
A specific ritualized form of Christian hospitality is baptism. This rite of initiation could be regarded as a ritualized form of ‘making a decision’ of welcoming others in worship. This is more vivid and realistic practice of engaging in different cultures through worship since Christian baptism could be understood not as a thought of something but as “participating in some way in the reality itself.” Although there is no one common way of practicing the baptism, it is generally accepted that there are several meanings in the baptism according to the Bible: repentance (Acts 2:38), death and resurrection with Christ (Rom. 6:2-11), being sealed as God’s people (2. Cor. 1:22), rebirth (John 3:5), being anointed with the Holy Spirit and chosen by God (1 Tim. 2:20, 27), and so on.
Having biblical and theological meaning of new life with Christ, Christian baptism, in a horizontal perspective, is a crucial practice of acknowledging each other having different culture. Christian baptism into Christ “creates a people as the differentiated body of Christ,” which can be called a new community of fellowship. This body of Christ as a new community of being together “lives as a complex interplay of differentiated bodies—Jewish and gentile, female and male, slave and free—of those who have partaken of Christ’s self-sacrifice.” Worshiping community as the sacramental body of Christ shaped through baptism could identify each person by the relationship with Christ, not by their cultural distinctiveness.
Yet, this baptism does not naturally lead people to the ideal experience of being together with others. Christian baptism requires us to take more practical participation in the teaching and ministry of Christ. Through forgiving our sins and weakness, Christ accepts us who were enemies to Him and restores a true fellowship with us. As this model, through baptism, Christ requests us to ‘make a decision’ (Ngugi’s final step of encountering other culture) and practice of forgiveness by accepting and acknowledging the values of others as one body of Christ as each of us is individually being accepted. Thus, forgiveness, as Volf suggests, is “the boundary between exclusion and embrace” that should be practiced for the true relationship with different ones. Volf summaries the function of forgiveness by mentioning that “it heals the wounds that the power-acts of exclusion have inflicted and breaks down the dividing wall of hostility.”
Eucharist has basically been the way we refer to the Lord’s Supper, a ritual remembering the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and anticipating his return. However, this is not a simple ritual of memorial but a communal share of life-giving meal. The early church Christians celebrated together the love of Christ given to them and they even could find new strength and hope by having the Lord’s Supper. Although there are different positions on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, it is common to acknowledge that biblical narratives emphasize communal aspect of participating in it. For example, in the crucial passage of the Lord’s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11, Paul raises the issue of destroying the community in the Lord’s Table. When people eat at the Table in the Corinthian church, Paul rebukes ‘divisions’ (18) and ‘fractions’ among the congregation. Eating without waiting for others, according to Paul, means despising the church community, the body of God (22). The Lord’s Table is deeply related to the bonding of community as the body of God. So, the Lord’s Table is not an individual partaking of the bread and cup but communal act of experiencing God’s grace. Thus, ‘waiting for one another’(33) implies not simply for waiting until others join them but for recognizing others as a part of the body of God. In this regard, the Lord’s Table is a crucial place for accepting and respecting other people and culture through worship.
Moreover, Eucharist at the heart of Christian worship can also help us locate other people and culture in a crucial place. At the Lord’s Table, by recognizing Christ the Lord who gave his body for us Christians can see each person around themselves as a unique existence composing the body of Christ. As we are invited at the Lord’s Table, the other people and culture can also be welcomed to the same Table. In this regard, Volf argues that “we who have been embraced by the outstretched arms of the crucified God open our arms even for the enemies—to make space in ourselves for them and invite them in—so that together we may rejoice in the eternal embrace of the triune God.” This liturgical nature of accepting the others implies for a crucial part of Christian ethics: “to be is to be responsible for.” In this way, the Eucharist at Christian worship significantly help us to shape Christian responsibility toward others.
This article has attempted to interpret Ngugi’s novel, the River Between, a cultural product by investigating the cultural conflict in human community as a significant issue in our contemporary multicultural society. Through this readable and well-structured narrative, Ngugi shows readers cultural conflicts in the society as a basic and given reality of human life. As a response to the issue of cultural tension in a community, he even suggests readers that education would be a good tool through which people could learn the way of accepting others and living a life of harmony with others. He also literarily presents human love as an essential prerequisite to overcome the cultural conflict with others in communal life. Along with Ngugi, embracing multicultural reality in a community and attempting to overcome the cultural conflicts have been pivotal issue to contemporary people.
However, although education or personal love could contribute to unify in human cultural conflicts, it cannot be applied to every cultural difference; we need a more generalized principle for unification of cultural conflicts. Liturgy as practice of reflecting theology deals with human culture as well as the doctrine of God and human salvation so it can give a more foundational and practical answer. Liturgical approach to cultural conflict would help us live out our faith in our contemporary multicultural world. Accepting multicultural situations has been reality for the ministry of the gospel in relation to culture. Christian worship as a central place of engaging other cultures has also not been only for the context of multicultural ministry but also a significant milieu and means of learning on the way of living together with others. As God welcomes all nations and cultures, Christian worship implements the God’s hospitality God by accepting and welcoming all others into the body of Christ. The two most distinct sacraments in Christianity, the baptism and the Eucharist, have been working for accepting others and recognizing them as God’s people. Although these sacraments have vertical meanings of being united with God, it is truly no doubt that these also have horizontal meanings of making sound relationship with others within a community. In the contemporary society of abrupt increasing number of migrants, more intentional liturgical practices of God’s hospitality, the baptism, and the eucharist could be basic implements of living with others.
Dr. Jonghun Joo Completed his Ph. D. in Worship and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, He has been serving God’s people in various ministerial context. He as a missionary, taught various subjects in pastoral ministry at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology from 2012 to 2016. Since 2018, Dr. Joo has been contributing to the leadership development of evangelical Christian ministers in Ukraine. He is also actively involved in teaching ministry for pastors and missionaries working in various cross-cultural contexts. His main research and teaching areas are liturgical theology and history, contextualization of Christian worship, spiritual formation, pastoral ministry, and theology and culture both in Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity.