I am invisible…to myself
Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
This past week I was able to unplug, unwind, and just enjoy some time alone. Throughout the week, while I spent the majority of my time alone in my hotel room, I did venture out occasionally. While out there, I realized that there is a very big difference between myself, and the culture that I have grown up in, and other cultures that are present right here in my own backyard.
Our behaviors are driven by the cultures and norms that we grew up with. When we enter areas or get into groups that have norms that we don’t understand, we tend to interpret those words and actions through the lens of our own culture. The problem with that is that it can lead to misinterpretation of the culture and damaged relationships.
I would like to share an example of this from a business perspective, but understand that this can be seen across countless other “cultural” norms other than business.
In American business, we tend to expect people to say what they mean and take their word at face value. Unfortunately, that cultural norm doesn’t translate across all cultures. If an American manager assumes an Asian counterpart will understand words the same way, that American manager could be in for a rude awakening.
The American manager looked at his Asian counterpart and asked if he understood on how to move forward with a project. The Asian coworker said he understood and agreed with the American coworker on how to move forward. A few months later, however, the American manager realized that his Asian counterpart didn’t agree at all and the project had never moved forward.
In many Asian cultures, harmony is highly valued. It is rude and inappropriate to disagree with people face to face and even more so in the presence of others, such as in a meeting. So typically, an Asian person may nod and say “yes” but it simple acknowledgement that they understood what you said, not necessarily agreement with what you propose.
Many times, the only way to deduce whether someone Asian agrees or disagrees with you is by watching their nonverbal cues. Do they have a pained look on their face as they nod? Don’t expect them to agree with you.
A key takeaway from this is that the American manager should have scheduled a one-on-one meeting with his Asian counterpart and been more aware of his body language. This would have helped him understand that cultural differences between him and his counterpart.
That was only an example taken from a business perspective.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 – For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
But this past week has been very eye-opening to me. Mostly from a perspective of Caucasian versus African-American.
I’ve never subscribed to the political norms of the day. As a Christian, I am supposed to be right-wing, conservative, Republican. I am supposed to be wearing something preppy (I know, a throwback to the 80s) and focused on building my bank account instead of healing the world.
But that isn’t me. I am NOT a Republican (I am also NOT a Democrat). I am not totally conservative. I hold to some traditional conservative values (I am pro-life, for example). But I also hold some traditionally liberal values (I think we should take care of the immigrants in our country, for example).
I base my Christianity from the Bible, not from commentaries or political pundits. I do not ascribe to political Christianity. We don’t live in a post-Christian culture. We have never lived in a Christian culture. Yes, many of our laws are based from the Bible, but we were never a Christian nation. At best, we are a pre-Christian nation.
But, what I realized this week is that even though I don’t ascribe to many of those cultural norms, they are ingrained in my psyche and my actions.
For so long, I held to the fact that I didn’t need to wear a mask. I thought of it politically. Why did I have to do something that various people (both Democrat & Republican) don’t have to do? On the Democratic side, why does Rep. Lewis get a huge funeral attended by hundreds while it is illegal for the average person to get a funeral for their mom or dad. As for the Republicans, why do I have to have my rights trampled on so I can’t meet at church while I can fill up a Walmart or Home Depot with tons of people who barely know how to wear a mask?
I still don’t fear this virus. I have no reason to. I have a God who is bigger than this virus. But what I need to realize is that my culture, the one I ascribe to, is not being targeted. It is not in jeopardy. I can still worship. I can still praise God publicly. I can still have friends over to my house to talk about the Bible openly. And we can, technically, still have church, even if you are in a state like California where they have banned inside services and small groups in houses (they can still meet outside, whether at their houses or at their churches).
Colossians 2:8 – See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
But this week….
I went away to rejuvenate. After doing ministry through this pandemic the past 4-5 months, I realized that I was a little burned out. The sheep have become more in need during this time and we are trying to reach a community for the Gospel that is not just dying spiritually, but now could very well be sick and dying physically!
I went about 3 hours away to southwest VA. In this area there were a lot of people vacationing. There were Caucasian, Asian, and African-American from what I saw.
All of the stores in the area are required to have a sign on their doors that say “MASKS REQUIRED.”
But that didn’t stop people from not following it.
And it wasn’t a cross-section of each population that was not wearing it. It was a single culture that wasn’t wearing masks…mine.
The Asian and African-American people were wearing the masks. Almost 100% of people of those ethnicities were in masks. But the Caucasians were not wearing masks well or at all!
My wife and I met with a salesperson while down there who spits while he talks. He was not masked as he tried to sell us on something. He had spit coming out of his mouth and landing on the table in front of him.
Then, I asked a few people why they weren’t wearing masks in the places they worked and they said, for example:
“I can’t breathe in them” (that was the most common answer…lame excuse! I have asthma and can breathe perfectly through the mask)
“I am not wearing a mask, it violates my rights.”
“Masks don’t save lives. The studies are all lying to us.”
Then, on Thursday, I went to a convenience store. Inside were 3 Caucasian people working and probably about 10-12 Caucasians buying stuff. Absolutely none of them (except me) had a mask on! Also in there were 7-8 African-Americans. They were all masked up.
So I asked them why they were wearing masks. Here are a couple of their responses:
“It is my duty to protect others.”
“The virus affects the black population more than the white population.”
“Masks work to keep us all safe.”
We can learn from so many people from all cultures and ethnicities. But ultimately, what does the Bible say about this?
My wife and I were interviewed om Saturday for a YouTube video that a couple of missionaries we support in Peru were putting together. During the interview, Mimi brought up a verse that I have always enjoyed to share with others, but never put a lot of thought into it.
Philippians 2:3 – Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Now re-read those answers from the people above and see if they fit within Philippians 2:3 context.
So I need to realize that my own culture…even the one I like to say I don’t ascribe to…is invisible to me and I need to start taking Philippians 2:3 as more than just good words of advice to share with others and let it be something that leads my actions and words.