Tuesday, April 24, 2012

it's a cultural thing

When I was 13, my family moved overseas to Singapore.  It was a crazy time, that first year and a half.  I remember the culture shock, getting used to being asked "Have you taken your lunch?" instead of "how are you?".  And the looks I got when I said "no" in response were just like the looks I'd get here if I said, "terrible, actually... let me tell you about it."  But no matter how many times they asked me, I'd still answer the question honestly.  I couldn't say yes when I really hadn't eaten yet, could I?

One of the results of living overseas at that time in life is that I got used to spending a lot of time watching and listening.  You're trying to figure out who you are at that age, and I had a whole other world to deal with.  I had to figure out not just who I was, but who and why everything else was the way that they were.  I had to decide who I wanted to be.  So I watched and I listened.  I tried to hear the values and motivations of the people around me.  I wanted to fit in, so I watched what everyone else was doing and mimicked it.  After a while, I realized that even with all these differences in cultures and values and expressions, at the heart of each person is basically the same thing.  We're all human, we all make mistakes, we all long for love and connection and a meaningful or significant existence.  I've carried that knowledge and that habit of listening and watching with me throughout life.  And I've found those things to be incredibly valuable as I learn to share my faith with others.

When people from the church step outside the church doors and begin to try to connect with those who aren't from that culture and that value system, I'm convinced that they feel every bit as uncertain as I did when I moved to Singapore.  And I'm convinced that the culture of the church is every bit as different from the culture of the rest of the world as Singapore is from the US.  Just like I had to learn to be cross-cultural, I think church people who long to see others transformed by Jesus do to.

As I sat in church after the sermon on Sunday, which was about reaching outside your comfort zone to be Jesus to the people around you, the small group I met with just generally said that the problem they have is not really what others will think of them, but not really knowing what to say.

In response, I think I'd say that cross-cultural communication is hard work.  I don't know how many confused looks and crazy misunderstandings that I had when I was in Singapore.  But we pressed on and I got to know some people there in a really deep and interesting way.  And many of them are still my friends.  We made our way through the cultural craziness and connected at a human level and were able to share with each other from our differences.  And we enriched each other's lives in the process.

I wish that we could see relationships with people who don't follow Jesus in a similar way.  I don't think we have to think of it as this thing that has to be scripted down to the last minute.  I don't think we have to be overly concerned about exactly what we're going to say.  I don't even think we have to worry about getting out our 2 minute elevator speech about who Jesus is to us. 

Instead, what if we looked at it as seeking human connection with other people?  What if we spent the first 20 hours or 20 days or 20 months just listening and learning about people and making the natural connections that come up - about kids or work or fun stuff we like to do on the weekend?  And what if, in the process, we had opportunities to talk about who we really are on the inside and why faith is so much a part of our lives?

Do you have any "cross-cultural" relationships with people who don't share your church culture and values?  Listen to them this week, and look for points of connection around your similarities--even if you have to go really deep, I bet you'll find them.  Without saying a word about Jesus, how can you invest in their lives this week?  How can you share out of the abundance of love and grace that you've experienced?  How can you share a part of yourself that is utterly and simply human?

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