A primer on culture (3)
The cultural artifacts, institutions, and conventions that make up our lives we refer to under the umbrella term, "culture."
Living as a Christian in culture would be much easier if we only had to negotiate one. But the fact is, we all participate in a variety of cultures. Each culture in which we travel makes different demands on us and on the way we use the cultural resources at our disposal. The challenge to us is to learn to be observant, informed, and wise in how we make our way through the various cultures of our lives.
For example, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you participate in a Christian culture. This particular culture - or sub-culture - is most often in play when we're at church or with Christian friends. It requires certain protocols of demeanor, language, and so forth that - as we are constantly reminded - may not be welcome in other sub-cultures.
Like the sub-culture of the workplace. Or the public square. Leave your outspoken Christian culture behind in such locations, we're told, and just go with the flow. Or if you're at a sporting event, say, a college football game, you will participate in cultural activities that would probably be frowned upon in church. Eating all that junk food, standing and shouting and waving your hands, yelling at officials, vilifying opponents, and so forth. No place for that in church. Well, not in most churches.
There are regional sub-cultures. Here in Northern Virginia if I address a gathering as "all y'all", no one thinks anything about it. When I go back to my home in Illinois in just a couple of weeks, "all y'all" will be traded in for "you guys" or even "you-uns" ("you ones"), and grits will give way to German potato salad.
There are sub-cultures of dress, sub-cultures of musical preference, sub-cultures of leisure, and on and on and on. And really, this is a pretty cool thing. All these different sub-cultures make our lives wondrously interesting and give us lots of opportunities to express ourselves and be stretched by our surroundings.
Two constants abide, however, no matter how many sub-cultures we traverse: The first is us, and the second is our calling from the Lord.
The challenge to us is to be ourselves in each of the various sub-cultures in which we travel, and not to allow the world to squeeze us into its mold (to use J. B. Phillips' wonderful Rom. 12.1, 2 phrase). This is really challenging. It requires that we sustain a close and growing relationship with the Lord. The more we increase in Him, the less likely we will be to become cultural chameleons. We need to learn how to be all things to all people in each of those sub-cultures (1 Cor. 9.19-23), but not at the expense of our unique identities in Christ.
And we also need to learn what brings glory to God in each of the various sub-cultures in which we travel. How do we honor Him? What compromises our faith? What skills do we need to master in order to use whatever cultural resources we have, in whatever cultural situation we may be, to speak by our lives and words a witness for the living Christ?
There's always something new to learn. So we should devote ourselves to the task. How many different sub-cultures can you identify for yourself? In each of those, are you a culture-shaper or one who is pulled and stretched and distorted by the culture around you? And what can you do in order to make sure that the constancy of Christ and the glory of God are observable in you, regardless of the cultural context?
Christians have the power to turn their world upside-down for Christ - sub-culture by sub-culture. But we'll need to devote ourselves consciously to this task if we're going to make any real progress.
Related texts: Acts 17.1-9; Romans 12.1, 2; 1 Corinthians 10.31; Matthew 5.13-16
A conversation starter: "Would you describe yourself as a culture-shaper or a cultural chameleon?"