I’m not sure what you call a holiday when it feels like you are on holiday already, but we planned a few days together as a family to round off our trip. (On Monday we return to Colombo in order to see some more ministry, pack up, and fly out next Thursday.)
So it all feels rather indulgent to stay in Hikkaduwa – our hotel looks straight out to sea (see photo below). The hotel staff are all so friendly and courteous but I wonder what they make of all their western customers living in relative luxury.
At breakfast this morning Emily commented on how unfriendly hotels can seem. Even though we all eat together very few guests want to strike up a conversation with their fellow guests.
Before leaving the UK I read an interesting article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks about Brexit. He argued that the UK is in search of its identity as a result of multi-culturalism. The analogy he used was that of a hotel. Multi-culturalism is like a hotel – you can do what you like in your own room as long as you don’t annoy the neighbours, much. It is not family though; it is not home. A hotel does not foster real community. And, so the Rabbi claims, the UK is feeling the strain. What are the values that can hold the UK together, that cultivate community?
Therefore it has been interesting to observe the stronger emphasis on family here in South Asia. (I say ‘stronger’ because it is noticeable that western individualism is gaining momentum here too.)
While reading ‘Sari n’ Chips’ I came across this quote about Hinduism in South Asian culture: “Unlike in Christianity, personal faith is low down on the agenda; the family has a faith which it follows, and individuals within the family follow it because they are family members. A strong emphasis is placed on observing religious rituals. This is regarded as being more important than the underlying faith.”*
In that quote Ram points out a weakness of Asian culture – that religious faith is often not much more than ‘maintaining the family business’. A great legacy of the Great Awakening (evangelical revival in Europe and North America centred on the early part of the 18th century – think Wesley and Whitfield) is an emphasis in the UK on personal faith – we each have a responsibility to work out what we believe and act on it accordingly. God has children but no grandchildren… Or, as Billy Graham put it, ‘being born in a garage doesn’t make you a car.’
However, there are weaknesses in the western approach too. It is easy to mistake personal faith for individual faith. (The correction of this mistake is at the heart of the Lord’s Supper.) The Hinduism and Buddhism that we have seen are very corporate expressions of religious belief. There is no ‘create your own religion’ here. At least not in an individualistic sense. Shared values hold the family together. There are plenty of examples of this going too far – e.g. Recent honour killings in Pakistan. Nevertheless, there is much we can learn from South Asian culture, especially about corporate faith – about shared values that build community and hold it together. A hotel is a lovely break for a few days. I don’t want to live in a hotel though.
* Sari n’ Chips, Ram Gidoomal & Mike Fearon, published by South Asian Concern.