I got a new blog friend this week. His name is Alex Koo and he raps, which is awesome. If you go to his About Me page, as I did a few days ago, you will find these words, “I am an Asian American, born and raised awkwardly in two different cultures and learning how the Gospel creates a new culture that transcends ethnic cultures.” When I read that I was all, “Yeah!! Learning how the Gospel creates anew culture that transcends ethnic cultures! Yeah! I feel that.”
My missions professor once said that we American Christians (especially we white middle class American Christians, which is the kind of American Christian am I, therefore the kind of American Christian I can really talk about) like to wrap up the Gospel in an American flag and ship it overseas. We like to plan programs and churches and ministries comfy on our own soil, pack it up, fly somewhere exciting, unpack it and then question why it’s not working. We like to sit in our churches with people who are just like us and wonder why those people over there down the street don’t come to our church services.
But here’s the thing. Understanding culture is tricky. Especially when its your own culture you’re seeking to understand. But tricky doesn’t mean impossible, so let’s try. Dictionary.com has twelve definitions for “culture,” but let’s use these two:
Basically culture is everything you say, do, wear, watch, and eat and where, why, and when you say, do, wear, watch, and eat it. Understanding culture, even just understanding your own, is important when it comes to communication and working together. Culture is important when you stand in line at the grocery store and when you go to school. Culture is important at church and out in the world when you’re loving on people and showing them more of who God is. Understanding culture, I believe, is important to your own personal, spiritual growth.
Understanding your own culture is also the first step in separating your culture from biblical culture, separating your view of things from the Bible’s view of things, and separating “how we’ve always done it” from “how God asked and showed us to do it.”
Here’s a practical example. In American culture – that is, the culture of the United States, since there is a North America, a South America, and a Central America, each of which posses its own unique culture (and bunches of subcultures within each of those American cultures) – time is highly valued. The United States is a relatively efficient place. In the Dominican culture however, time is not highly valued. It’s a pretty inefficient place.
At first, as a United Statesian, I read/realize this and I think, “Come on, Dominican Republic! Get it together! Be more efficient! Do things faster! Wait on me more promptly! Stop lolly-gagging!” But why do I think that? The Dominicans around me who grew up soaking in a Dominican culture that does not value efficiency or timeliness are saying, “Tranquila! Calmate! Esperate! Chill out, gringa! Be patient.”
So I have to ask myself. Do I want Dominicans to hurry up because hurrying up is more like Jesus or do I want Dominicans to hurry up because hurrying up is more like me?
And I think that question is the key to extrapolating our own culture from the Jesus-centered culture that we Jesus-people should be seeking to build here. We Kingdom people are infiltrating this weary world with Kingdom light and Kingdom culture. Kingdom culture says, How can I be more like Jesus? How can this program or process or business bring Him more glory? How can we tell more people about Truth and Freedom better?
I have to look at my church experience, my bible experience, my relationship-with-Jesus experience, my prayer experience, my worship experience and ask, what is cultural and what is biblical? I have to look at what bothers me, what excites me, what makes me nervous and ask, what is cultural and what is biblical?
In college I took an Intercultural Communications class. At the time I don’t think I appreciated the material for what it was. I mean, there was a basketball player in my class so I had more important things to appreciate if you know what I’m saying. But looking back I am so grateful for the eye-opener it was. Like did you know that there are cold and warm cultures? Community-centered and individual-centered cultures? Cultures that value time and cultures that value money? There’s a whole scale or list or graph somewhere that tells about different pockets of the world and how the people there live and why.
That professor told me and the tall, dreamy basketball player (and there were other people in the class too, I’m sure, but who remembers them?) that in some cultures community is valued more highly than individualism. That means that if a person is on their way to a meeting for which they should probably be on time and they pass someone they know, they are going to stop and greet that person that they know even if that makes them late for their meeting because this relationship that is taking place right now on the street on the way to the meeting is more important than being on time for the meeting.
Which, to a United Statesian like me, sounds bananas. Like, hello, it’s totally rude to be late for a meeting. But, like, hello, in this culture it’s totally rude to just walk by someone you have any kind of relationship with without asking how their mom is!
So anyway, what I’m trying to say is that we have this set of values indoctrinated in us from birth just by existing. And sometimes some parts of that indoctrination need to be torn down and built back up again better. Sometimes the parts of us (or the parts of our institutions) that we really like and think are great need to be re-molded, re-worked, or just done away with in order for us (or our institutions) to work in a new culture. And the way we figure out which parts need to be changed is by reading the bible and seeing what parts of people and institutions Jesus gave the thumbs up and which parts He chased out of the temple. And by checking everything against the two greatest commandments – Love God, Love People. Does this part of me help me to love God and love people? Could it enable me to do those things better? Okay, let’s change that. Let’s adopt a Kingdom culture.