Category Archives: Christian

Tricked by Culture . . .

Americans believe that being direct is the most efficient way to communicate. The phrases “tell it like it is” and “speak your mind” — express such a value. Being direct is often valued over “beating around the bush.” As a result, Americans are often assertive, open and direct about their thoughts and feelings. Not all cultures have this same value. In some cultures, the “normal” way to disagree or to say no is to say nothing.

The above descriptive cultural pattern paints a picture of who Americans are, whether right or wrong.  The study of cultural patterning a people has mixed opinion. It has the danger of creating and reinforcing concepts of “stereotypes”, and a false impression that another people and culture is identifiable by rigidly categorized symbols, behavior, thought processes, or value systems that are common to all.

In actuality, though, a huge number of variations often exist within geo-political boundaries. For instance, it would be foolish that people who live in Mississippi are just like people from New York.   Although they have some similarities, they are different.

Nevertheless, as long as caution is exercised, cultural patterning a people is a useful tool for analysis. In addition, it is a tool for learning, which gives insight into the kinds of differences that cross-cultural workers will encounter, and the adjustments they can make to deal with cross-cultural situations.

With the above in mind, cultural pattering a people helps:

  • Encourage identification of cultural themes and patterns.
  • Stimulate critical thinking in analyzing ethnographic data.
  • Motivate recording of similarities and differences among a people and within their specific cultural context.

Have you ever wondered what cultural patterns existed during the New Testament.? One cultural pattern was a collective bond whereby one would sacrifice all for the good of the group.  Acts clearly points out that the community of believers had all things in common.  Paul speak of the church as a body that collectively works toward helping, encouraging, and allowing it to function as a collective whole.

What makes things complicated, though, is the USA culture teaches people to do what is good for the self.  A lifestyle that portraits the total opposite of Biblical teaching, yet one that we often are tricked into believing and living.  As a result, we go to church, sit and allow the musician to entertain us, listen to the sermon, and then all go our separate ways for another six days until the next Sunday service.  In essence, culture tricks us into believing how we live is good and okay.   Romans 12:1-2 tell us to not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind.

Well, I have said enough.  Now, what should we do?

Pack Rats . . .

The other day I watched a show entitled HoardersEach episode provides a “look inside the lives of two different people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis.”  In the episode I watched the people never threw anything away.  There was no way to even walk through the house from room to room because of the clutter and mess.   It was as though everything they bought, even the rubbish left over after eating, was viewed as prized possessions that must be kept forever.  They were what I would call real “Pack Rats” in a bad way.

Are all “Pack Rats” bad?  The designation “Pack Rats” is often used in a derogatory sense about someone who never throws anything away.  My question: is that always all bad?  Is there some good about not throwing everything away? DSCN0016

Several years ago I visited a small island just north of Okinawa, known as Yoron.  While there, I met an elderly lady who basically is known as the “Pack Rat” of the island.  She collects everything: all sorts of ceramic and clay jars and vases, old unused tools, etc.  She was very proud of her collection and she should be.   Her collection consisted of artifacts of the past.  More specifically, it consisted of things from her small island that helped the people remember their cultural heritage and those who went before them.

DSCN0025Without such a collection, I as a person interested in learning other cultures and peoples would never have the opportunity to know why the people speak the language they do now, why they deem some things in life more important than others, etc.  I am thankful that this elderly lady, for her hospitality, but more important, for her willingness to be a good type of “Pack Rat.”

Recent events in Japan should remind us of the importance of preserving memories.  The devastation of the Japan tsunami destroyed and washed away family photos, memorabilia, keepsakes, etc.  The list could go on and on.   Those memories will easily in time fade away because the very objects that helped recall those memories are no more.

Cultural artifacts, objects, and symbols are that way, they keep us in touch with the past.  In fact, they bring us up close to the past even though we are in the present.

I am thankful that God’s Word, the Bible, brings us up close to the historical events of how God’s plan of salvation has been revealed.    Even more, I am thankful that the early church were similar to good “Pack Rats” in preserving the Word of God.  In so doing, God’s Word serves as a way for us to know and remember what happened years ago, as though we too are present in the very past.  When you read God’s Word, say a word of thanks for these former good “Pack Rats.”

Culture Transformers

Last week I wrote about how culture often tricks us so that we assume our lifestyle values encompass the essence of the Christian faith.  I concluded with Romans 12: 1-2 that states,

I call upon you, therefore, brethren, through the compassions of God, to present your bodies a sacrifice—living, sanctified, acceptable to God—your intelligent service; and be not conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, for your proving what is the will of God—the good, and acceptable, and perfect.

Paul understood that culture can trick us and therefore he placed an emphasis upon training his mind toward the thoughts of God.  He knew that he could not be like the writer of Ecclesiastes who said,

So I turned my [mind] to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things and to understand the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly. (Ecclesiastes 7:25)

Paul had also heard how the Lord Jesus Christ had rebuked Peter.  In Matthew 16:23, Jesus turned and said to Peter,

Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in [mind] the things of God, but the things of men.

What are you training your mind and thoughts toward, God and His ways or the worlds and its cultural ways and values?  What do you fill your mind with?  What books do you read?  What movies do you watch?  What TV shows do you watch?  Who do you listen to?  Daily, what do you fill your mind with?

All of these activities directly influence our cultural values and what we deem important in life.   Everything we see, hear, smell, and even taste or touch trains our mind and influences what we value in life.

Paul knew the importance of allowing God to daily examine his mind, his thoughts.   The Psalmist said,"Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my [mind]" (Psalms 26:2).  On another occasion Paul reminded the readers that,

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved [mind], to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28)

May we Christians train our mind to think and live Biblical values and in so doing we can be transformers of culture and not vice versa.