Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Stepping Into a Different Culture

This morning as we were getting ready for work, Beverly told me that at her pretreat for her trip to Africa she learned that in that culture it is taboo to point with your finger. You point with your lips. I tried to envision that -- but it seemed difficult. I even caught myself -- as I was shaving -- looking in the mirror and trying to point with my lips!

Isn't it interesting how different cultures view things so differently. A gesture that is considered in a positive way in American might be an insult in another. It almost makes going to another country scary.

Well, I've been thinking a lot lately about how uncomfortable it must be for a person of the world -- or even a new Christian -- to come into our church buildings. It's like entering an unknown culture. When do I sit? When do I stand? What can I say (or not say), and when? Do I keep my hands in my lap the whole time? It would not be unlike someone who grew up "in church" going to a bar or a men's club.

I pray that the Lord will give me more sensitivity to such people. How sad that a building -- intended for convenience and comfort -- could become such a daunting place.


Josh Ross said...

You are dead on. I was thinking about this last week. We (churches) say things like, "Wear whatever you want. Come just as you are. But, if you are serving on the Lord's Table you have to wear a tie." Ummm...does anyone else sense some inconsistency?
Then, we have VBS where we sing joyous songs and invite kids to clap and do motions, but then they come to "adult" worship time, and they aren't allowed to clap or rejoice. Ummm...another inconsistency?
The list could go on.
I love the church. She represents Christ on the earth. We just need to be careful that we don't burden people with burdens they aren't meant to carry. I think Jesus said something about that (Luke 17:1-2)

Kyle R. said...

Good points Josh, Rick. Culture shock is a big factor. Also, inconsistencies drive me nuts.

I was in an assembly once where a new Christian was leading singing and he started clapping with the song just like the youth group typically did with that song. At the completion of the song (in the middle of the worship service), a gentleman in the congregation stood up from his pew seat and quoted a Scripture that he believed supported "no clapping." Needless to say the young man (new Christian) was confused and his feelings were hurt. To my knowledge, and even after encouragement from many of the church, that young man was never at another assembly of the congregation. I don't know for sure if he began attending elsewhere or if his faith was permannetly damaged. But it sure made me mad at the time that the older (supposedly more mature believer) was so insensitive. I know that story is a little different than culture shock, but regardless of the opinion held in that matter, it was insensitive and possibly eternally hurtful.

I believe culture shock inside our church buildings is a major obstacle for many recent converts and non-believers.

I know I have been guilty of not being sensitive to their perceptions in certain ways.

Not that our church culture is off base, I'm not saying that. But our loving, caring, sensitivities are off base sometimes.

Let's be aware of such.

randy said...

If we only relate to religious people then we're not much like our master who was comfortable with all people from all walks of life.

Josh's comments about wearing a tie brings to mind what the church in Elk City did when I was a teenager. Traditionally, we had the Lord's Supper as the last part of the service Sunday evenings for those who were "providentially hindered" in front of the whole congregation. Even 40 years ago I didn't wear ties on Sunday evening nor did most of us who were younger but the elders eventually made a formal rule that if you served the Lord's supper you had to wear a tie. One evening before services started I was asked to serve the Lord's supper by one of the leaders and I declined citing my lack of a tie - he offered to loan me his and I declined emphatically explaining it was the rule that was offensive. And I never served at the table on Sunday evening until they stopped enforcing the rules.

Now I don't know that I feel the same way today but one thing is for me remains the same - we don't need any rules, formal or informal, spoken or unspoken, custom or the will of the majority, that arise from someone's personal prejudice or interpretation. Someone will eventually be excluded unnecessarily and that's not where we need to be.

jross said...

Great post! I completely agree with Josh' comments. Fortunately, many churches have moved on from the "tie dilemma" when it comes to the table (our church has), but there's still "the preacher needs to wear a suit" thing that still lingers.
Two quick comments for Rick: (1) I have heard about the pointing with the lips in Africa. I attended Harding with a man from Africa (who knows of our great Uncle Ray). (2) I was considered rude when I visited Belarus in 1995. The Belarussians treated us to the Russian Ballet, and following the performance I was whistling one of the songs because I enjoyed it. In Russian culture it is considered extremely rude to whistle in public. It is the equivalent of booing a performance. I was very apologetic.

Jeff said...

The culture of our church should reflect love. The younger should show love to the older. The older should show love to the younger. This applies to both age and well as spiritual maturity. I have too often seen the old recoil towards the young. Too often I have seen the young reject the old. Once we reflect love, we will reflect Christ. Until then, we only reflect ourselves.