Sunday, January 29, 2012

Culture Shock

Roses and Dahlias - Difference Beautifying Unity

One thing which has followed me through life as a "missionary kid" and, according to some less happy individuals, a "mut" is culture shock. Not only am I the result of two cultures joining in marriage, but also that interesting mix of habits spun together by living abroad. Since I can remember, the reality that people are different, that there are various ways to approach a topic, that not everyone goes to bed at the same time or speaks the same language or looks the same, has been an obvious part of life. Born in frosty and free Canada, nurtured in the sunny and soulful Dominican Republic, and finally settled in the good, old U. S. of A., I can truly say I am the product of nowhere and everywhere! It is a gift, to be sure. But how does one deal with the clashes, oddities, and miscommunications so common in situations like mine? Does this only happen to people like me, and how does it all fall under Christianity? How can I be a Fair Lady when people have different notions of "Fair"?

Let me show you a bit of the dilemma. When I first stepped foot on United States-ian soil, people acted and spoke in peculiar ways. Their habits contrasted what I had seen both in the D.R. and Canada. I could not say one way was better than another, just...different. Or maybe I was different? Whatever the case, something had to change somewhere before true communication and understanding could take place.

Mine is a mild case. Some people marry into a whole new world. For example, my father's term for washing the dishes is my mother's term for bothering someone. Obviously, "Honey, I can wash the dishes tonight" did not hail the sweet smiles it would in other homes. That is, until my parents came to an understanding, a common ground. This, too, though, is just a funny illustration. Sometimes livelihoods are ruined and friendship dashed due to dissimilar cultures colliding.

I am asked which culture suited me best, or which culture I think is right. A lot of people spend mountains of time trying to figure that last one out. Or they just see the world as shifting sands where no one is right. Here is what I think.

First, praise God for differences! I love going to Canada to smell the smoky air of winter, or pick the luscious strawberries of summer. It is a comfort to know there is a schedule which will be kept and nothing much rocks the boat. And the food. Then again, I enjoy the liveliness of the Dominican culture, the surprise and openness skipping through the sea breeze. And the food. But here is home now, and I delight in home. And the food. Would not the world be boring without this variety?

But, there are jolts to be weathered, too. Stark contrasts, just plain mean circumstances, or dismal happenings which would be funny if it were in a melodrama rear their frightening heads. And a lot of times these divisions are wrong. What can be done about it? For something must be done.

Now is where we stumble upon the whole Fair Lady theme again. Remember my first post, where I introduced the idea of constantly pressing towards the goal of becoming like Christ? How everything in life happens to conform us in to His image? This comes in to play here. All of us, every single child of God, from wherever they hail, all have the one ambition to be Christ's Bride on That Day, to reflect Him in all things. Another way of saying that is we all are running towards one heart, one culture: a Christian culture. No matter whether Dominicans go to bed late and Canadians are early risers (generally) or United Sates-ians crave independence and Peruvians do not mind beholding to someone (generally), there is only one right way of doing things. That is Christianity.

What does this look like? It looks like putting aside all preconceived notions as to right and wrong and opening your life to His Word, subordinating every aspect of it - from the brushing of your hair to the words you choose to say - to Christ. It means a wife cannot tell her husband, "My way is better than your way," unless she has a Scriptural reason for what she does. A Christian cannot do things sheerly for tradition's sake, even if many traditions do conform to Christ, because our desire is for every thing we do to be rooted in His Word, following the path He laid down for us.

Sometimes, adopting a Christian culture will make you behave differently in different circumstances. If you live in Canada, the kind and Godly thing to do, many a time, may be adjusting your clock to wake up early and give people their evenings for refreshment. In the D.R., we early risers will have to learn how to keep our eyelids pasted open and sleep past the sunrise. Why? Because Christianity is about glorifying God and loving your brothers in Christ. That is the bottom line for Christian action, and whenever one's culture does not build from there, it must be abandoned.

So, you wake up in a friend's house a million miles away and you have no idea how to behave. Learn what you can of the way things are done, and when they are Godly, do them. If they do not fall under the banner of Scripture, do not follow, no matter the exhortations to "fit in." Should your habits hurt or hinder your friend or the people with whom your friend is working, change the habits. We want to expand His Kingdom, after all.

It is not too hard. Just be open. Be willing. Give up the control. Let your life reflect Christ's life. Become His Fair Lady.

And will it not One Day be beautiful to see the Dahlias and Roses make one bouquet?

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