My friend, Lauren, came over the other day, and our conversation got me thinking about something I think about quite often: culture.
Lauren and I met at World Race Training Camp in 2012 and embarked on an 11-month, round-the-world journey a few months later. Like me, Lauren felt called back to South Africa after the Race, so she made her way to Cape Town last month to serve with Camp Joy. (Fortunately, she arrived just in time to witness Tony and me tying the knot too!)
Days before Lauren headed back to the states, she and I were able to meet up for a drink. We swapped stories about “South Africa this time around.” I’d gotten married and started doing ministry with my new husband. Lauren had been serving with Camp Joy and Ceasefire in Hanover Park. She told me what her days looked like in one of Cape Town’s most dangerous areas, and I had several questions about her interactions with the community’s gang members.
As she talked about rival gangs, their beliefs and how they operate, I sat listening and feeling all kinds of emotions—sad, hopeless, shocked, disturbed, heartbroken. “There’s absolutely no notion of forgiveness,” Lauren said. And so, the cycle of killing, hate and revenge continues.
How could they believe that? How could they possibly think that’s true? How could they do that to another person, and ultimately, to themselves?
All of my questions of “how” led me to a single answer: culture.
“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.”
–Romans 12:1-2, PHILLIPS
“The world around you” is your culture. It’s where you’re from. It’s where you got your beliefs, values and morals. It’s part of why you behave the way you do. It’s the force that’s influenced and shaped you. It’s as big as your country, and as small as your family. It’s as old as decades and generations, and as young as your lifetime. It’s your normal. It’s your perspective.
But an individual’s normal isn’t the universal normal. And an individual’s perspective isn’t the universal perspective.
So who’s way is right? Which normal? Which perspective? These are questions worth asking. And if we don’t ask them, we may never see our blind spots. We may never “move towards the goal of true maturity."
You see, if the gangster never questions his motives and the beliefs of his community, he’ll continue killing... because in his world, killing is justice. And if I never question my stance on womanhood, I’ll forfeit the very thing I was created to be... because in my world, femininity is weakness.
The problem is, neither of those conclusions are true. Killing is not justice, and femininity is not weakness. It turns out... the world lied.
As I explore questions about my beliefs, creation and identity, I encourage you to embark on a similar journey. Select 5-6 topics from the following list that are most relevant to you now: money, conflict, sex, grief and loss, expressing anger, family, relationships, attitudes towards different cultures and faiths, success, feelings and emotions, parenting, gender roles, marriage, singleness, physical affection.
Write them down the side of a piece of paper. Then answer the following questions in regard to each topic:
1. How does the world around me (my family, community, country, culture) operate?
2. How do I operate? Have I conformed to the world? Have I rebelled against it? Why?
3. How does Jesus Christ operate? Do I agree or disagree?
Now compare the three—you, your world, Jesus. Do you see any patterns? Do you have any revelations?
In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero says, “We often underestimate the deep, unconscious imprint our families of origin leave on us. (...) Likewise, our cultures, the media and our interpretation of events that happen to us also imprint us. (...) It is essential that we reflect on the messages that were handed down to us, submitting them to Christ and his Word.”
Take your answers and discoveries to the Lord. For as long as it takes, sit, pray, journal and ask. Allow Christ to transform your mind so that you may develop a Kingdom, not a cultural, approach to living—moving you closer and closer towards the goal of true maturity.