Ramblings on Culture

Culture….

The odd, inexplicable, almost undefinable phenomenon.

Everywhere I go, this word stalks me. It follows me from the plains of Central USA to city life of Thailand.

It explains a hundred things and raises a thousand questions. No one article can fully describe or do justice to what culture is or what its far -reaching effects are. There are too many ‘if’s’, ‘and’s’ or ‘but’s’ surrounding its definition.

Culture, while not spirit deep, defines an underlying layer of your soul- of your mind, will, and emotions. Which would  you  be the most offended at-   someone spitting at your feet, hearty belching at a meal, having the sole of a foot pointed at you, someone eating in front of you without offering anything to you, or someone sticking out their tongue at you? Culture will define largely which one of those is the most offensive.  But it goes further than just dictating what you are offended at. Culture, whether good or bad, dictates how you react to the behavior of others, how you perceive the world, how you look at the people around you, what you think is healthy or unhealthy, how you view respect and much, much more.

To take a man out of his culture and order him to deny it to the fullest, is like wresting a blanket from a child and ordering him to sleep without sucking his thumb.

Nearly impossible. No man, however long that he leaves his own culture, will be able to deny, even with bad experiences, how his home culture has defined him. There are some things implanted into the deepest threads of your being that will not be changed easily even by years of immersion into another culture. (That’s when it gets really confusing for someone who has spent years in a foreign culture returning home. It is his culture, deep down, yet it isn’t.)

The human soul is fragile, flexible, and easily imprinted.  Culture defines so much of what we do, thus creating a very delicate tightrope that each Christian striving to live the way God has called him to must walk. Culture can too easily become religion, or a dogmatic set of practices that overrides the true worship our spirits were created for.  A Christian who really lives in the kingdom of God will never quite fit into his surrounding culture. We can create sub cultures wherein it is easier to walk out our Christian life, yet, even no subculture here on earth is perfect.

Yet, although cultures are not permanent, although they are of earthly making, somehow, they are a part of the very fabric of our souls. To make fun of a culture, to demand someone to change their culture, to disregard the importance of culture is like driving a nail deep into one of the most tender parts of our being. It is like saying, “You and what you do are not important. What you do is weird, therefore you are weird.” Those who genuinely know their position in Christ and know that they are defined by more than actions and culture will be able to handle that. But that kind of maturity is rare and most of us have yet to come to the fullest recognition of that truth.

I love my people, although I am willing to spend the rest of my life living away from my people, if God so calls me to that. Or maybe I should say I am willing to be made willing. But I am like the New Englander in the O’ Henry story who has traveled the world around and claims that he has no home, but smacks the first person who makes fun of his Boston.

Yet moving yourself out of your own culture for a time into the unfamiliar, unanchored oceans of life in another realm can be one of the healthiest things you can do, if you are prepared for it. Stripped of your own culture, life demands that you define what is cultural and what is really spirit-deep. God becomes your anchor, instead of the familiar things that seemed so solid, and you are forced to cling to Him, the only One who never changes and the only Being that transcends all cultures.

What are some cultural experiences you have had, whether in relating with a new culture, or having your own culture belittled?

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