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November 3, 2003
In some countries, they eat dogs. And cats. In France, a woman wearing white shoes is signaling that she's available for commercial sex (that may not be so ant more, but it was some years ago).

In Korea, a woman is instructed to keep her eyes downcast when talking with a man. Men of all sexual persuasions hold hands while walking in the street.

In some countries of Africa, certain worms are a delicacy. In some parts of North America, the testicles of deer are thought to enhance men's virility, and in Lapland, the same thing is believed of the private parts of reindeer, encouraging a folk practice of chasing one down and biting them off, right then and there.

Some Americans in the Southwest eat rattlesnakes. Iguanas, too.

In some parts of India, eunuchs are considered good luck as wedding guests. In fact, they're not really guests at all: they crash weddings in anarchic groups, misbehaving in a liturgical way. Your wedding is a failure if you don't get a visit from them.

In England, judges wear tiny wigs, wigs that don't come near to covering their own hair, while presiding in court.

Lots of things happen locally that really don't generalize very well. You have to get the hang of a culture if you would understand it. You have to live there. A brief visit won't do. Reading about it in the paper certainly won't do. If you can't go and live there, then it would be best to be careful about condemning a culture's choices. You may not be the best witness.

At the moment, many cultural values have spilled over their boundaries and shown up far from home, where they are neither understood nor appreciated. We are guests in each others' homes, not family members. We don't put our feet on the coffee table until we're sure it's okay.

Yesterday the Episcopal Church in the United States took what many consider an enormous step into the unknown ("We've never had a gay bishop") and others consider a welcome relief from hypocrisy ("We've had gay bishops for years and just never had the guts to say so"). Everyone has weighed in with an opinion or a threat. Or both.

Maybe now would be a good time to open eyes and ears and shut mouths. Just for a while. To look and listen. To let life in New Hampshire unfold and see what it is like, unburdened by responsibility to one's own dire predictions. To let our own lives unfold, and be about serving the poor and suffering.

What should we do in life? someone asked Jesus. What's the most important thing? Jesus knew the 600-plus laws on the books in Judaism at the time. So did his questioner: Which of these is the most important? he wanted to know. I supposed he settled in for a long lecture and discussion. This could take the rest of the afternoon.

"Love God and love your neighbor," Jesus answered, almost offhandedly. Or was it? "That's it. You've got everything if you've got those two."
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