Anthony J. GITTINS. Living Mission Interculturally: Faith, Culture, and the Renewal of Praxis. Collegeville: Liturgical Press. 2015. Pp. 221. ISBN: 978-0-8146-8318-7. Reviewed by Michael McCALLION, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, MI 48206.
Anthony Gittins book, Living Mission Interculturally, is a must read for religious communities (clergy, nuns, brothers, and laity) but also for anyone teaching or ministering in a multi-cultural context. Therefore, I think it is an important book for many pastors and theologians. Anthropologists and sociologists will find the book informative as well given the wealth of material he draws on from those fields, including the works of Bell, Bellah, Benedict, Berger and Luckmann, Berstein, Geertz, Goffman, Greeley, Grimes, Rambo, Simmel, Victor Turner, Van Gennep, and others.
The most striking reality that stood out for me as I read each chapter, quite intensely given recent experiences in my own life, was how much “work” it takes to live interculturally. Of course, Gittins defines and describes in detail the term interculturally, distinguishing it from other terms such as internationality and multiculturality, but I wholeheartedly agreed with his belief that it takes a lot of work to live interculturally. Indeed, I kept thinking it would take a group of very mature adults to accomplish such living. Nevertheless, Gittins enthusiastically argues it is well worth the effort. Well worth the effort not only because there are many benefits and graces that result but also because intercultural living “is not an end in itself but a means whose purpose lies beyond itself: the mission of God, of the Church, and of each of the baptized” (p. 117).
Gittins has many “pastoral reflections” in the book that are filled with wisdom. For example, a reflection in Chapter 7 (p.113), one which supports my previous point about the work it takes to live interculturally, reads as follows: “But the actual experience itself, of living with others and shaping such a community, remains the great challenge. Before that challenge can be met it must first be recognized; and if it is to be successfully met, it requires great and consistent commitment on the part of all.” Nevertheless, Gittins is optimistic about living interculturally, or as he states it, “but this chapter is primarily intended to sketch an approach and to affirm that it is possible to move from enthnocentrism to a more inclusive and respectful way of living.” His enthusiasm for such living is infectious.
In the middle of the book Gittins writes about Pope Francis and his comment “Who am I to judge?” that has received much attention. Given all that has come before in chapters 1 through 6, that is, the effort it takes to live interculturally, the Pope’s comment takes on a more nuanced meaning. As Gittins writes: “Pope Francis’s disarming “Who am I to judge?” shocked many people who thought they had a right to judge—and condemn. The responsibility of leadership is onerous but also delicate. Leaders must lead, and that requires them to find a line between what is totally unacceptable and what is tolerable, but at the same time to struggle with the fact that the future shape of religious life, particularly in its cultural diversity, will be very different from what has hitherto been regarded as unquestionable, exportable, and of universal applicability” (p. 110). Again, when I read this I thought about the difficulties of living interculturally and I also thought about Goffman who has written about how delicate and sacred the smallest everyday interactions are. In my case, anyway, it is sometimes difficult to live with family and friends who have the same socio-cultural background as me let alone with others from different cultures. I think Gittins is right on target in writing “leadership is onerous but also delicate.” Goodwill alone is insufficient- a Gittins writes repeatedly.
Aside from the insights provided in chapters 8 through 12 which place increasing emphasis on the practical implications and applications of intercultural living (without completely neglecting the theoretical – although theory is mostly handled in chapters 1 through 7), Gittins also provides 5 appendices that are additional gems, several of which are practical (pastoral) suggestions for living interculturally (appendix II is titled “Skills and Virtues for Intercultural Living”). The book, in other words, is filled with theoretical, theological, practical, and pastoral insights that hopefully will receive a wide reading.