Street view in Edinburgh

President’s Travelogue: Edinburgh

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Jay Smith, YTI President and Bridger Professor of Theology & Ethics

February 27, 2017

Cultural Stew

The first day of my trip to Scotland and England was unremarkable in many ways – four different airports, not much sleep, airplane food, and followed by an early, rainy arrival in Edinburgh. But it was also remarkable in a few ways. I had an encounter with a young business woman from Edinburgh, returning home from a trip to New York. Originally of Ukrainian-Lithuanian descent, her family now lives in Edinburgh. She recommended several places for me to visit in Edinburgh, and encouraged me to go into northern Scotland if I had the opportunity. Of course, I invited her to bring her family to Bozeman and Yellowstone. Our meeting was a precursor to my experiences that evening. She represented a different culture introduced to the traditional Scottish culture, and in the process pointed to a larger immigration of culture. Later yesterday evening, as I reflected on that visit, I was sitting on a traffic barrier on the High Street, waiting for my dinner companions, when I became overwhelmed by the cultural crash going on around me. Most of the buildings around me dated to the 18th and 19th century, yet the people in the streets represented an interesting mix of generations: from the mid-twentieth century modern, with a sense of generation and tradition, to the early 21st century “postmodern,” where innovation, individuality and a ‘pastiche’ of tradition was the wear of the day. These two distinct representations tended to congregate separately, but at times, they mixed into an odd kind of communal stew. On several corners, one could find musicians – guitarists, saxophonists, singers and even bag pipers. The juxtaposition was both intriguing and disorienting. The mix of languages and acceptance of each other was fascinating. There were Lithuanians, Russians, Scots, Welsh, English, Americans, Italians, French, Portuguese and many others.

Culture Clash

This stew of culture is rarely seen in the United States in such an amicable and creative fashion. In the United States, we experience much more a “clash” of culture, due to our history of ethnic conflict. There is much we can learn from how these cultures have interacted though. There is a peaceful acceptance of the ‘other’ here. There is a naive respect for the history around them. The buildings, the statuary, the city design itself is the anchor of all the cultures here. Many are restored, adapted and treated as a hallowed icon of the area.

Christian Expression Transformed

Christianity in this culture is expressed in a variety of ways, although you could conceive those expressions as “traditional” and “non-traditional.” “Traditional” Christianity centers on faithfulness to a specific church, or type of ecclesiology. “Non-traditional” Christianity focuses on a Christ-centered spirituality and ethic. It is less concerned about where, when and what; but rather how and why. I believe it YTI’s imperative, not to encourage the polarization, but rather to bring a rich center to the fore where both expressions are transformed.

So long for now!