Culture matters. It matters because though cultural engagement we live out our beliefs and values, but it also matters because it’s a means by which people connect, get to know one another and become friends. This morning’s Thought for the Day offers some reflection on the impact cultural projects have on how we view our enemies. As ever you can listen again here at 01:22:48 or you can just read the text below.
As the diplomatic row between Russia and the UK becomes increasingly tense, we’ve heard this weekend that, in addition to expelling British diplomats, the Russian government is to close down British Council operations there.
Many of us have a sketchy understanding of what the British Council does. An organisation to promote cultural relations sounds rather archaic, a throwback to the days of empire, until you stop and think about the power of the arts.
In its broadest sense, culture is how we understand and shape the world. At a time of huge global tension, it’s tempting to put all our hope in politics and diplomacy. And yet across the world cultural projects foster social and political change. We’ve seen ideological and geographical borders crossed in experiments like The West Eastern Divan Orchestra which brings young Israeli and Arab musicians together. One musician has called it a ‘human laboratory that can express to the whole world how to cope with each other.’
Closer to home, Divided City, a play about sectarianism in Glasgow, has made a huge impact – going from the stage to the classroom with workshops encouraging pupils to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
Working on an artistic project with people who are different moves us beyond our initial prejudice, reminding us of our shared humanity. Whatever the content of the creative piece, the act of creating or experiencing something together reinforces our sense of identity as image-bearers of a creative God. It’s a lot harder to hate someone when you’ve shared a stage or rehearsal room with them.
Getting world leaders together to perform a play probably won’t bring about world peace, but withdrawing joint creativity limits our understanding of one another.
Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. That’s hard when there is opportunity to know people who are different, but in times of tension when those opportunities are no longer available, it is all the more necessary.
Pursuing peace by making friends with – or at least trying to understand – people who are different is not just for the playground – its ripples are felt much further and wider.