Sunday, August 31, 2008

Culture

Think of all of the ramifications of the folllowing words:
Culture. Multiculture. Cross culture. Subculture. Counterculture.

How many cultures do we have in Canada?
Our middle-class European English-speaking culture. WASP.
Our French-Canadian culture.
First Nations
We still have some specific remnants of German, Ukrainian, Italian and other European cultures.
Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and other Asian
Islander, African, South American and so many more.

So, we are a very multicultural nation. This provides lots of opportunity for cross cultural ministry without even leaving home.
But that is only one aspect of our cultural mosaic. The adult, historical, generational, geographical cultural aspect. The kind passed along from parents to children.
Then we have all of the subcultures: hippy, Gen X, post modern, anarchist, punk, goth, emo, metal, skater etc. People drawn together and held together by politics, music, clothing, etc. These cultural ties are every bit as strong as that of the early settlers drawn together by common history and language. Songs, clothing, stories—all reinforcing their own uniqueness.
Some of these subcultural groupings formed unintentionally. People so against mainstream materialism that they became countercultural. Hippies, yippies, anarchists, punks, etc. Together working to tear down the establishment.

And where do we find the church in all of this?
Pretty much middle class.
The upwardly mobile.
WASPs.
By and large we aren't from the other side of the tracks any more.
We are big.
We are powerful.
We are right (in more than one sense of the word!)
Let me mount my soapbox for a moment. I have appreciated the encouragement from different authors to change from a position of dogma to dialogue, to wanting to discuss an issue instead of trying to prove why I am right. As one author has put it, we need to move from defending the faith to defending the space. After all, if I am being honest I will have to admit that I don't know it all, and may well be wrong, even on those things I feel quite sure about. If you can't visualize how pushy we Christians can be, think about a discussion you have probably had with someone about what version of the Bible you use, or their view of Bible prophecy. We can really get quite vehement when we figure we are right—which is most of the time. Final thought—we aren't as right as we think we are!

But where was Jesus? Where was He really accepted? Not by the religious elite, but by the commoner, the down-trodden, the alien, the second-class.

So what does this mean for us?
Although it is OK that the predominant culture accepts the church, our message is totally multicultural, subcultural, and countercultural.
Our message of love, acceptance, forgiveness, affirmation, healing and hope really should connect with the fringes.
We are totally shooting ourselves in the foot by only being middle class, white and conservative. The chunk of society so well-represented in our churches is just a narrow slice of the whole pie.
Next time you are in church on a Sunday morning, look around you.
Where are the pierced and tattooed?
Where are the homeless?
Where are the gays, the prostitutes, the addicted?
Where are the punks, the emos, the goths?
Where are the hardcore, the straightedge, the headbangers?
Where are the non-whites, the non-English, the non-American?
If they don't feel at home with us (and most of them wouldn't, at least in our traditional church settings), if they don't feel loved and accepted—where do they go? Back to their subculture where their dissatisfaction with society is understood, where they are accepted and affirmed for who they are.
Think about the population of your neighborhood high school. What percentage of them would identify themselves as part of one of the above groups? 50%? 75%? 90%? Ever wonder why not many teens or young adults are in church? Maybe they just know they don't belong.
It's not so much a matter of us putting up with their alternative lifestyle, but acknowledging their right to choose it. It's not saying “I'll pretend I don't see your piercings, spiked hair, or hear your loud music”, but more “I understand your disillusion with society, I appreciate your desire to make a difference, I'll march with you against injustice, (or the environment, or whatever)”. For most of us, that in itself is a huge step. Most of us stop dead in our tracks in the presence of someone from any of the above subcultures. We need to go way beyond the ability to tolerate 'one of them', to a genuine effort to befriend and understand them.
Did Jesus say: “Come to me and leave your language and customs behind, cut your hair, put on a suit, learn our lingo and quit listening to that terrible music”? Or did He say: “Come to me and I will give you rest. My yoke is easy, my expectations aren't difficult.” (Matthew 11:28)
If we are more worried aobut their ability to affect us than our ability to affect them, we need to have a bigger understanding of God's power, and who He has called us to be.

The modern missionary movement of the past couple centuries turned Africans into black Europeans—dressed in our clothes, singing our songs, looking to the European as the Great White Father. We have finally started to separate culture from message in other countries, but we have a ways to go here at home.
No, I wouldn't feel particularly comfortable in a hip-hop worship service, or at a Christian metal concert—but so what? It isn't all about me. God can be honored just as well by a Fijian dance or the patches sewn onto a punk guys jacket as by me singing 'Shout to the Lord' on Sunday along with a worship band. We look at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

Although many of the subcultures around us seem impenetrable, often they are filled with the insecurity of a bunch of teenagers trying to fit in. Vastly different on the outside, but feeling very similar emotions of loneliness or disorientation on the inside.
So often a gentle word, an open mind, and a listening ear is all that is needed to begin a friendship. Part of it is overlooking the outside differences, but a bigger part is truly sharing the heart of this 'alien'.
Are you willing to be a friend with someone who:
has 6 visible piercings?
listens to 'terrible' music?
is gay, transgender or something other than straight?
lives on the street, panhandling and dumpster diving in order to survive?
shows the physical and mental results of an addiction?
figures Christians are closed-minded, bigoted jerks?
has a limited vocabulary, frequently sprinkled with words beginning with 'F'?

None of these are easy, often they really try your patience.
Are you willing to still be their friend in 2 years when they are still the same, only more so? When they have contracted hep C or AIDS from unsafe sex or needle use? Often our underlying agenda is to give them 2 months or 6 months or whatever. If they don't turn around in that time, we'll dump them and move on.
Did Jesus call us to love them only if they are ready to conform to our standards? Part of that goes back to our inappropriate expectation for people to become like us if they choose to follow Christ—to dress like us, sound like us, act like us. Part of it is a willingness to love only if they decide to 'get saved'.
True Christ-like love isn't love if. It's love. Period.

The Good Samaritan didn't cross the street so he wouldn't feel guilty about walking by. He didn't use religious duty as an excuse for ignoring the guy in need.
He took the time and money necessary to see the fellow healed.
He crossed cultural barriers.
He really cared.
He made a difference.
He was a true neighbor. The kind of neighbor I would want when I am in need, attacked by life and left on the side of the road.

WWJD?
That's what.

(Just to balance theory with actual practice—it's not that I find most of this easy, because I don't. I've often missed opportunities to be Jesus because I was in a hurry to catch my bus, or something equally less important. But I still know what God is calling me to, and striving to live more like Him.)

1 comment:

2Pete said...

Al, you're really speaking my language here... hmmm... maybe it's not MY language. I don't want to infer that those ideas which resonate with me AUTOMATICALLY must come from the Holy Spirit - but I do believe, particularly when it comes to "The Least of These," that you're speaking straight out of Jesus' playbook.

One of my core beliefs, apart from Cultural Accountability [that includes accountability to nonChristians], is that "the least of these" are different for different people.

The least of these aren't automatically the poor. In fact, for some of us with particular sensitivities, it's quite EASY to love the poor. But as you suggest in this post, "what about the OTHERS?"

Homos-transgenders-and-sinners-OH-MY!

I believe that "the least of these" whom Jesus spoke of, approached, touched, loved - and risked his reputation on - is different for different people.

Search your gut: who do you have the hardest time loving? That's your least of these. That's where you'll have to do unto them as you would do unto Christ.

For me, it used to be homosexuals. Nowadays, I confess (not pridefully) that I harbor the LEAST grace and patience for my tribe of origin: ultra-conservatives and fundamentalist-pentacostals. I have a hard time loving past the darkness I found in myself, there. But my gut wrongly seeks to punish them for what I've been personally convicted of. I'm on a wildly swinging 20-something-pendulum, and I know it. Those folks deserve more grace from me, and I have to learn to give it.

Thanks for your thoughts my friend,
Peter

 

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