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Culture Crossing

October 29, 2012

Joy, who loves Daisy the dog, is not certain she wants to be a cat-person.

One of the hard, good lessons God has been teaching me is the depth of the poverty of my own goodness. There’s nothing better for revealing hidden facets of self-righteousness than being thrown into a new culture.

Although I understood none of these as cultural shifts at the time, I believe that my parent’s divorce, my marriage, adoption –all were major cultural shifts. So are: parenting a child with hidden disabilities; parenting one with physical disabilities; changing churches after 25 years.

I’m in the midst of another shift.  This morning I began aggressive treatment for optic neuritis (which has returned), and picked up the diagnostic process to discover if Multiple Sclerosis is the medical reason for the disappearance of myelin in my brain.

Even so, I am deeply at peace. I praise God because this isn’t par-for-course. Despite my reputation for being calm and collected, on the inside I am often anxious.

I have been pondering: What has God done in my heart over the past 46 years to bring this to pass?

Among other things, God has repeatedly removed me from a familiar, comfortable culture and thrown me in over my head into something new. I want to use this post to share His faithfulness because right now, you may be in the midst of one of those over-your-head transitions and need some encouragement.

Paul exhorts believers in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

After a long time immersed in a culture –our accustomed health, the number of children in our family, our parenting style, our church, the way we school our children –we get good at it. The familiar comes to fit like a well-worn shoe. We naturally navigate that place on auto-pilot.

After all, our culture measures “good” by ideas like, “Is it working  for you?” and, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

Why does God keep changing our circumstances? Obviously: if we are doing something that clearly dishonors God, he is loving to stop us and remove us to another place. But why does God predictably shake up the lives of people who are sincerely trying to serve Him?

I am not God so I won’t hypothesize beyond the phrase in Romans 12:2, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Lately, God is telling me that when I get settled-in anywhere too well, my heart is prone to equate that comfortable place with righteousness. Self-righteousness. I need renewal.

Here’s an example. I LOVE our new church. It is a joy to attend and we are working on transferring our membership to make it our church home.

But my heart (privately) has been measuring the children’s curriculum against the curriculum developed at our former church. Changing churches has made me realize that over the years I spent loving these lessons and teaching them, I developed a sense of curriculum-superiority.

After all, when churches drop their old curriculum to adopt yours (my church’s, not mine personally!) and pastors fly in from other countries to be trained in using it, and translate the materials into their national language… it all supported my invisibly growing sense that I was blessed to be using it and have my kids learning about God from it. Why would anyone want to teach any other way?

Sunday morning I was standing in front of a laptop in a children’s class at our new church. We were all singing the worship music that comes with the curriculum we use. The lyrics and accompaniment are presented on DVD so no live worship leader is required –nice when you’re a newer church and are still developing a children’s ministry.

I confess that while we were worshiping, I was thinking: “Were these developers not taught that it is a wasted teaching opportunity to devote so many measures to, ‘Whoa-oh-oh-oh, Whoa-oh-oh-oh, Whoa-oh-oh-oh. (Repeat).’ We could be spending this chorus affirming God’s faithfulness. When times get tough, kids need to hear God’s attributes running through their head, not, ‘Whoa-oh-oh-oh’!”

Bless the Holy Spirit who reined in my thoughts. The talking-to he gave me went like this: You have been blessed to spend 25 years in a church that places high value on a philosophy of worship that carries seamlessly from the sanctuary to the classroom. But don’t confuse luxuries with essentials.‘Whoa-oh-oh-oh’ is worship language to the person who wrote that song. Can you to limit God by content? Is the attitude of your heart worshiping God?

Then, to underline that point, after we sat down for the lesson, the Holy Spirit gave the children wonderful, God-centered, scriptural responses to the teacher’s questions.  These are not children whose view of God is being dulled by singing, ‘Whoa-oh-oh-oh.’

My heart is prone to measure something new against the old, and to judge the new thing lacking because it is unfamiliar.  But I tend to go further and associate familiarity with moral superiority –with righteousness of my own measure.

The 19th century missionaries I study spent decades in this trap, measuring Dakota cultural norms against their own. They had a very hard time separating “Christianity” from the culture they were living in at the time they responded to the Gospel and began living it out.

But I find the second generation of missionaries were less culturally stuck. Those who grew up in two cultures (Dakota plus New England-stye American) could more easily separate the essential truths of the Gospel from the trappings of tradition. They understood that there were elements of value in both cultures worthy of preservation and celebration, elements not “biblical or unbiblical,” “righteous or unrighteous.”

God is not limited. He doesn’t need to commission my family to be “foreign” missionaries to make me multicultural (even though he could). He can gift me with MS, or with a child prenatally exposed to alcohol, or one with cerebral palsy, or direct us to send our home-schooled kids to public school.

In stretching me beyond my first cultures, God is teaching me to surrender my own familiar ways and to wrestle with the question,“What is eternally essential here?”

Does your heart treasure order and structure? He might deliver a little chaos.  Do you love to surround yourself with people? Perhaps some isolating circumstances are in His plan. Do you value intentional consideration? He might take away the mental space–or the actual neurons –for reflection. Do you take comfort in harmony? God might add some dischord.

Are things not going as you anticipated?  Don’t despair! God is at work.


“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:5-7

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 29, 2012 8:42 pm

    This was fabulous. Thank you. I am praying for your tests!!

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