Some years ago I was part of a group who visited Myanmar for two weeks through a Christian network. I'd been studying cross cultural mission and I've been privileged to be part of quite a number of missions around Asia and the sub-continent over those years. During that time I was part of a mission group to several Asian countries.
This has given me an opportunity, as someone from the West (I'm an American) but was studying in Australia (Worldview International College in Launceston – WEC) to consider the question whether relationship can exist without culture?
I've seen first hand now quite a number of different cultures and I'm asking the question whether culture is the defining agent of human relationship? As the Gospel crosses-over cultures is therefore culture itself a defining agent?
Culture gives definition to verbal and, more importantly, non-verbal communication. And isn't communication the key to intimacy, and intimacy the key to relationship? It therefore, unequivocally supplies meaning.
Surely culture has enabled us to relate to God across the ages? The Hebrews of the Old Testament had a very different culture to my western culture today. So does culture provide the tools for understanding and using our world, enabling us to respond to what we see? Gospel and Humanitarian.
If this is true, then imagine life without culture. Therefore culture sheds light to who we are in relation to God? Humanity is in the image of God, but what makes this so?
Experience as humans
It seems to me having experienced all these very different cultures that I am a witness to the Lord working in the lives of people through their intimate relationships which are engaged in these variant cultures.
My mind therefore envisions the scene in Genesis with Adam in the garden. Culture was core to his existence - needed for, talking to God, identifying animals, tending the garden, establishing relationship etiquette with his wife, his sons and essentially any other interaction he had with his environment.
My first hand mission experiences show me that we are intrinsically bound to this element of culture and walking with God (deity). This reality is beautiful.
This very link to the Almighty is foundational to our experience as humans and calls not only for an appreciation of all cultures, but also active participation of the kingdom of God, in the process of cultural output. For this cultural output is what fosters the growth of human relationship; connecting people at an intrinsic level of existence and bringing them in proximity to the Divine origin of culture.
Considering culture's placement in the human psyche, cultural output and communication becomes an incredibly important and powerful tool in our job as a kingdom of priests: communication of the Divine plan of grace.
Western Christianity incredibly exclusive
The church's approach to a society's cultural output has been varied over the ages, from rejection, to complete acceptance, to establishing our own Christian-subculture, which, by its own doing, is incredibly exclusive. This is for a variety of factors.
Quality is often sacrificed on the altar of content, which is never understood by those outside of the kingdom, no matter how much we promote it, and through the marketing of the gospel (Christian T-shirt's, Christian knick-knacks, Christian bumper stickers, Christian books modeling the self-help model, Christian music, Christian conferences- the list goes on and on) an environment has been created that can only be understood by those 'of the faith', and in my experience; draws very little on the surrounding population because of the exclusivity and obvious replicated focus on a consumerism based model.
Now, this is not to say we should not have things focused on edifying those who are of the faith already, but rather, shouldn't considerable amount energy be put into creating cultural output that entices people into the kingdom?
This begins on a small scale, forsaking the old model that does not adequately grasp and express the beautiful and terrifying, grandiose and simple, intense and halcyon aspects of the kingdom of God. Writers need to write, artists create, storytellers expound, and musicians entice others into this mystery revealed to us through Christ.
My summation therefore is a need to think about forsaking painfully explicit Christian themes we in the West have established, to a fresh paradigm as Christ expressed in his parables; that is, implore others to embark on the journey to the almighty through their cultural norms – and encountering Grace himself.
Dan Peterson (25) lives near Chicago, Illinois, USA where he works in refugee resettlement with World Relief. He enjoys discovering old books, new places, and good coffees. His dream is to summit a mountain on every continent and have a pet pygmy marmoset.
Dan Peterson's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/dan-peterson.html