Monday, May 18, 2009


Last week I ranted briefly on Facebook: "So, all of you who appear to care so much about your team winning (hockey, basketball, whatever), please tell me what difference it makes in the real world! A year (or month or week) from now, will it have made ANY difference in your life? Or the life of people you could care about?"
One of my friends responded: "To understand and embrace the culture of ordinary, average Canadians, in order to reach some...To the Jews, I become Jewish, to the Greeks, I am Greek, to a Canucks fan, I AM A VERY SAD CANUCK'S FAN!!!"
He is, of course, referring to 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 where Paul talks about adapting himself to the people around him, so he can better influence them.
Here is how The Message puts it:
"Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people:
religious, nonreligious,
meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists,
the defeated, the demoralized--whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ--but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life."

In 'Adventures in missing the point', by Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo, McLaren demonstrates how this principle would pertain to women in leadership. "Wouldn't the same strategy require him [Paul] to affirm women in leadership rather than restrict them?"
(Both Campolo and McLaren see many other New Testament references to women in leadership, so the principle is more than just for a particular culture or time.)
But this section from 1 Corinthians brings up some valid points.
--it is certainly easier to develop a rigid list of do's and don'ts than to learn how to recognize what is the underlying truth. (The way the church feels about women is a fine case-in-point.)
--you can go too far in endeavoring to be culturally relevant. (But most of the time, we probably err on the side of caution.)
--we would expect someone connecting with an aboriginal group in a foreign country to have to study the culture, language, customs, etc. in order to truly communicate with that people group. We need to recognize the same need when it comes to understanding the sub-cultures around us. It is easy to assume that because the punk anarchist 'looks' like a Caucasian and speaks English that he is on the same wavelength as yourself. The same would hold true for the young poli-sci student at your local university. Just because they appear to look and talk like you doesn't mean that they see things the way you do.

So, how chameleon-like are we to be?
Should we fit in so well as to be invisible?
What really is the principle?
As The Message puts it, "I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view."
That will involve a few things:
--leaving your own comfort zone,
--hanging around people who dress, talk, and think differently than you,
--asking questions (admitting you don't know everything) in order to gain understanding,
--being willing to be seen in 'questionable' places and situations,
--being a servant.

It's taken me quite a while to get on this journey, and I haven't traveled far--but I invite you to join me.

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