Cultural awareness week is January 15-21.
by ALICIA BURGER, LT. COLONEL –
What is it about “culture” that makes us blind to the variations of others and makes us protect our own at all cost, even unto death? Each one of us has been formed, developed, and molded in a cultural context—making it impossible to separate who we are from the culture we come from.
Culture gives us our identity, a sense of security; it gives meaning to our world. It creates a sense of reality for us. We come to know what to expect, we know how to behave, and we know how to interpret data that helps us navigate through the waters of communication. Life is easier and more comfortable when we live, work, and deal with those that are “like us.” The voices that come at us are all consenting voices. No disagreements are heard, or at least, disagreements are minimal when compared to those that cross cultural barriers.
Culture serves us well as long as we are focusing on life from only our own cultural preference and perspective. We can sometimes get so comfortable that we become blind or indifferent to the cultural nuances of others. We may not even think about finding the answers to some very obvious questions like:
“Why do people think and act differently than I do? What can I learn from other cultural groups? How can I build relationships with those “different” others?
While culture is freeing in ways already mentioned, culture also becomes our prison, a place where we remain in fear, afraid to venture out into the unknown territory of others. It keeps us from broadening our horizon, developing our people skills, and from sharing the gospel of Christ.
Reggie McNeal, in his book A Work of Heart says that: “Culture is something to overcome if not downright avoid. In this vein, culture represents the world system as apart from God, the kingdom of human existence acting as a kind of antimatter to God’s rule.”
In this context, we are called to shed culture for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
The author also goes on to say that: “Culture also serves God’s purposes. He uses it to shape the heart of spiritual leaders.”
To this, I would even add that God uses culture to shape all those who are called by his name, especially when we understand our own cultural formation and are willing to venture into the neighbor’s camp.
The incarnate Son of God was sent into our world that he might become so identified with our humanity that he was willing to die for us. Being perfectly God, he became perfectly man. Out of love, he obeyed the Father. He traded his exalted position for that of a mere man, born into a family and a culture for the sake of others.
Jesus was also a perfect example for us to follow as mere mortals. He not only brought to earth the “Kingdom of God” but he also showed us by example what “A Kingdom of God” world view and lifestyle should look like.
A “Kingdom of God” lifestyle can only be lived out by the residency of the Holy Spirit in us.. Any less will only be a false imitation and will not accomplish God’s intended purpose. Living out God’s message of love and grace in the power of the Holy Spirit will undoubtedly push us to cross some uncomfortable cultural barriers.
Within the context of the Gospels, we see Jesus crossing five important cultural barriers in order to not only proclaim with words the “Kingdom of God,” but also to show by his actions the values of the Kingdom.
He crossed the ethnic barriers when he spoke to a Samaritan woman and offered her “living water.” (John 4: 1-42)
He crossed the gender barrier when he affirmed Mary’s choice to sit at his feet to be instructed by him. (Luke 10: 42)
He crossed the kosher barrier when he touched a leper who was considered culturally and religiously unclean. (Luke 5:12-16)
He crossed the age barrier when he held the children on his lap and declared: “Let the little children come to me.” (Luke 18:15-17)
He crossed the social barrier when he ate with sinners. (Matthew 9:10-13)
How can we do any less? Understanding where we come from and the values that formed us, frees us to be molded into
God’s image and be used to heal the souls of sinners, no matter what their country of origin, ethnicity or culture. God desires to use us for his greater good.
(To acquire a better understanding of each barrier, I would encourage you to read each Biblical reference.)