Monday, June 10, 2013

Monday Meditations: Cultural quirks and perspective shifts

Across the Ocean and Thoughts for Home
Dear sisters,
I wrote an article for a Women's Ministry Newsletter and had a request to expand on some thoughts of an earlier post.  On this particular day I was thinking of some far away friends who moved… Across the Ocean…

We have lived abroad a few times; I remember what it is like to be off on an adventure.  Exciting things - making new friends, seeing new things, figuring out where stuff belongs in a new house; the transition of order from chaos-putting things into their proper place (because everything has a spot, even if it is a new one, or just one for the moment – like Nurse swooping through the nursery on occasion in the Velveteen Rabbit).  It can be overwhelming at times, both joyful and difficult; family and friend visits, colored Monopoly-like currency & exchange rates to decipher, a pantry to stock, schooling decisions, learning to drive on the ‘wrong side’ of the road, churches to try, languages to learn - all this is bundled up in a fast-paced newness.  In the midst of this, there's a little longing for familiarity.  Far away family and friends… remembrances–even the bittersweet ones, are refractions of God’s grace in our lives. The Lord is like that; he blesses us when we remember His faithfulness in our lives.  Because we know His character, we continue on, trusting what he calls us toward for each moment; He shows us how he has sustained us in our lives.  I remember a Bible study with Beth Moore where she (and we) reflected on the ‘God moments’ of life; we can place a testimonial rock at this spot, “Thus far God has brought me”.  How gracious of our Heavenly Father to show us, so tangibly at times, His faithfulness in our life.  It sustains us when we are floundering and trying to find our way through ordinary and not-so-ordinary times.

Sometimes we are the ones on the adventure; other times, God brings folks into our lives that come and go.  It is likely that, even if you haven’t been uprooted or stepped out of the wardrobe and into the woods of a new country, you know someone who has.  Home may not be Narnia, but it is a modern, transient town after all! Those not-so-ordinary times bring adjustments and the uncertainties-like figuring out all the new places and people and how you fit.  It covers all those things from what grocery store, if any, carries familiar things to finding a church home where you can serve.  A new perspective on ‘familiar’ is a shift in thinking when everything is labeled in a different language!  I remember being in Germany, knowing only a small amount of travel vocabulary, and finding the ‘American food’ section.  Really - of all the foods and variety of items to choose, who thinks all Americans need pink marshmallow fluff?  Ironically, another approach I often ran into was a narrow focus on something familiar as a necessity–a forest/trees approach.  For example, I remember another time and place when the ‘needed’ item was exorbitantly priced bags of Hershey’s chocolate chips that were hoarded instead of a local, inexpensive option of higher quality Belgian chocolate pieces for the occasional comfort of yummy cookies.  Okay, these are silly, but real examples of cultural perspectives.  And ones you likely haven’t thought about being real if you haven’t experienced that kind if change. There is however a deeper lesson behind American dessert products.  Culture differences abound because of our perspectives–beyond our food choices.

You don’t have to be in a foreign country or of another culture to recognize that we all have different perspectives, even from those with whom we have great commonalities.  That is unlikely to be a new thought for us; however, do we consider that we often don’t recognize those different perspectives that our Christian friends hold? Do we assume they believe as we believe and think as we think, will choose and act as we do? Be careful not to answer that too quickly.  Of course we know this, but how do we behave?

Perspectives shape our assessments; many things are brought to bear upon those views. Our experiences shape who we are and what we think.  As broad of ideas as our worldview with the big questions of life and as small of experiences as what we buy at the market are influenced by those outlooks. Our perspective can affect how we see our circumstances and even hinder our relationships.  We project our own experiences into other’s lives without thought to how different they might be in their own applications.  What makes something ‘familiar’ to one person isn’t necessarily the same as for someone else.  The assumptions we make about how someone is thinking or feeling is probably based more on our own thoughts and feelings than theirs.  Just as within other cultures where words and actions are different than our own, circumstances can be easily misread and we unintentionally misinterpret others.  Colossians 3 counsels us toward this end:
12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Being open to a broader perspective rather than being constrained by false assumptions can help us extend grace in difficult situations.  And helps us admit we need that grace extended toward us as well.  What breadth and grace God has given each of us as unique individuals!  A shortened perspective can blind us to opportunities and keep up from loving each other earnestly (1 Peter 4:8).  Keeping our perspective in line with the living out of our Christian beliefs impacts how we respond to other people, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, in whatever circumstance, relationship, or culture God places us.

Grace for the day,
2 Corinthians 1:12