Category Archives: Culture

Toward People Group Diversity

So diverse with people groups! That is how we can describe the USA now. Just this weekend I am having three separate meals with three distinct people groups – a Farsi family, a Jingpho Kachin couple, and a Cantonese Chinese family – all who have differently dealt with assimilation and integration the USA differently.

Some people groups, no matter how long they have lived in the USA, do not find it necessary to assimilation. Instead due to the demographic size of their people group they easily maintain their distinct linguistic, socio-cultural, and/or religious norms. This even applies to their children who also easily find identity within the majority of their own people group.

As a result, the USA continues moving toward pluralism in the shape of ethno-linguistic diversity.

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.

Sacred Objects, Places, and People (Part 2 of 3) . . .

CIMG0788Residing on Tokuno-shima (Japan), every 1st and 15th day of the lunar calendar, she makes the journey from her home to the place where her ancestors are buried offering prayers to black ancestral stones.  To her, once buried in the sand, the ancestors now reside within the black stones with each black stone representing a whole generation of ancestors.

When conversing with the people of Tokuno-shima, one would hear more than once in the local dialect (hogen) the common greeting, “Shitte mute yone ogameera!”6 - Ancestral Stones 3  Translated “let’s worship,” it reinforces the priority to show respect to one’s ancestors by visiting the geographical location of the ancestral black stones.  In fact, showing respect to one’s ancestors is so much a part of the identity of the people, the town hall signboard lists “first respect ancestors” as the first requirement of being a good citizen.

Found throughout the world, sacred places – geographical locations – are seen as places that can heal, rejuvenate, protect, etc.  Near mountains, oceans, lakes, rocks, waterfalls, valleys, and so on, no geographical location escapes becoming a sacred place.  Sometimes they are seen as the origin of creation, the resting place of specific deities, or auspicious places for maintaining balance between secular and sacred space.

Its unique, sculpted “turtleback tombs” (seen below) are sacred places for Okinawans.  They are places for ancestor worship, meant to honor their ancestors in the afterlife. clip_image002These tombs are “a part of the great Chinese cultural influence that once dominated the islands.”  Whole family groups may be interred in them, as they are quite large and owned jointly.

The turtleback shape of the tombs with protruding walls as “legs” represents a woman in childbirth, and burial in them suggests returning to the source where one came, from the mother’s womb. Blood relatives observe a special day called Shiimii at their ancestors’ tombs each April to honor them through ceremony, food and drink in front of their tombs.  The family tomb is normally located in remote parts of towns and villages and prayers are offered only on special occasions as opposed to family altars.  IMG_0947During the Seimei Festival, family members visit the tomb with delicacies and pray to their ancestral spirits.

For Okinawans, other sacred places include utaki groves (seen to the right), kitchen hearths, family altars, tombs, and a utopia called Nirai Kanai.  Nirai Kanai is across the horizon and is the “original nation,” the source of all things bestowed upon Okinawa’s inhabitants.  It is a place of ancestor spirits, a place of fertility and beginning, where children come from, and a place of the end, where the dead return.  Gods live in Nirai Kanai and is the origin of all riches; wealth, fertility and life.  000_5032 forest effectWhen gods visit once a year to bless and then return, rituals remain to mark their appearance.  Fire came from there as did grains.  Nirai Kanai is a source of power and renewal related to the harvest.  While on Okinawa’s main island, the gods from Nirai Kanai are ideological and invisible, in the Yaeyama Islands (south of Okinawa) the gods take on visible, tangible forms, incarnated by community members wearing masks and costumes.

CIMG0663On Yoron island (just north of Okinawa island) the people use urns to bury the dead, and then place the urn in the ground or sometimes in a miniature house with a roof.  During the festival of the souls (Obon), they unlock the door to celebrate the ancestors coming home.  After the festival, they go back to the grave and lock the door.

CIMG0659Sacred places evoke worship and veneration from people and are intended to bring protection, good fortune and bountiful harvests.  Festivals, rites and events are held related to seasons, harvests, farming and fishing, and ancestor worship.  For the vast majority of the Ryukyu-Okinawan peoples, rites and rituals have remained unchanged throughout history.  Even modernization has not changed the belief that spirits lie within the mountains, the sea, the trees and animals.

For examples of other sacred places see the following websites:

Similar to sacred objects, sacred places in a real sense serve as mediators between the secular and the other world, a sacred one.