Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Shooting Straight Through Culture

Okay.  I'm ready for my wrist to get back to normal!  

It's now week two of the "Pain Strain Right Wrist Twist," my unwelcome memento from the "icemageddon" that slammed north Texas two weekends ago.   I had slipped on some ice, sprained my right wrist, and can still barely type a complete sentence, even though most of the swelling has gone down. 

In the meantime, then, how about some bullet-pointed thoughts on various topics, instead of essay-style posts?  Most people seem either unable or uninterested in following a train of thought longer than a bullet point these days, anyway.  Weapons experts say bullets are one of the fastest ways of communicating something, so hopefully we can communicate with grammatical bullets.

And not leave any scars in the process.


Today's Topic:  Shooting Straight Through Culture

The Holocaust.  In our dialog over culture and its importance in validating a people group, the Holocaust often is cited for being the bitter end of culture's negativity scale.  The worst a culture and a society can be, the Holocaust encapsulates.  I used it myself yesterday to make such a point.  Yet in doing so, might the Holocaust, for all the evil that it represents, be too singular and extraordinary an example?  Maybe even overdone, and almost trite?

When I say that no culture is intrinsically good, but can be intrinsically evil, or that culture itself simply represents a poor barometer by which a people group's relevance and integrity is measured, would it be more helpful to consider examples other than the Holocaust?  Or slavery, or any other despicable cultural relic?  Would some everyday, straight-from-the-headlines stories about how impure, imperfect, illogical, and even vile individual cultures can be provide fresher validity for claiming culture's reproach?
  • How about this development, coming hard on the heels of Nelson Mandela's memorial service and burial:  Archbishop Desmond Tutu is criticizing the overt dominance of black South Africans during their country's highly symbolic and internationally commemorated pageantry for the civil rights icon.  Upon his release from prison, Tutu argues, Mandela himself worked for reconciliation between blacks and whites, but public observances after his death were heavy on party politics and cultural dogma favored by black South Africans.  Tutu is troubled that this was done to the blatant exclusion of white South Africans with whom Mandela was able to secure a remarkable level of peace and cooperation.  "We were amiss in not being as inclusive as Madiba [Mandela's clan name] would certainly have been," Tutu chided his fellow blacks yesterday.  For his part, Tutu is reportedly considering leaving the African National Congress, the political party of Mandela, because it's becoming too radical and polarizing.
  • Or how about this?  Customs authorities in New York City have arrested a diplomat from India who allegedly has committed visa fraud over the nanny/housekeeper she brought to America to work for her.  After receiving complaints from the worker about not being paid all of her wages, the State Department allowed the diplomat to be arrested and held on a $250,000 bond, which was paid last Thursday.  Back in India, tempers over the incident have boiled over, with politicians pulling out all the stops in their attempts to exploit the arrest as a way to project their own patriotic dignity during an election season there.  Apparently, however, the anger isn't about a diplomat not paying the wages she claimed she would pay her employee, but that the diplomat was arrested at all.
  • To demonstrate their indignation at the United States refusing to accord diplomatic immunity in this allegation, the Indian government decided to remove the protective barriers around America's embassy in Delhi.  As if diminishing the security of a place many Indians themselves go to work and process customs paperwork for their benefit will penalize more Americans instead.  And if that wasn't illogical enough, as concrete barricades were moved, construction equipment was brought in, and temporary pads of wood were placed under the stabilizing arms of a backhoe to prevent damage to the pavement from the equipment.  However, workers simply pushed and dragged the concrete barriers along the pavement, causing pavement damage anyway.  To top it off, a chauvinistic candidate in the upcoming elections tweeted an unnecessary reference of their diplomat's gender:  "protesting ill-treatment meted (out) to our lady diplomat in USA."  Maybe such language plays well to a home audience in India, but can you see how patriarchal it sounds to us Americans?
  • Then there's this:  In Nigeria, 11 women have been killed just in the past two weeks in pagan fetish rituals to spirits.  Apparently, some tribes there also continue marrying women to their traditional gods, a practice that violates Nigeria's constitution, yet persists as a feared superstition nevertheless.  Earlier this month, 100 women rallied to petition the government for greater protection against such customs, but again, in patriarchal societies, changing practices that only benefit men can be a long and arduous process.
Do I need to go on?

Just because the culture in which you live, or with which you choose to identify, may not be killing women or marrying them to deities, does that make it better and more worthy of honor?  What things do we do in our Westernized cultures that tribespeople in rural Nigeria might find disturbing?  Who decides whether the things that disturb us in other cultures, or the things we Americans take for granted that strike tribal Nigerians as bizarre, are right or wrong?

Ultimately, it's God, isn't it?

Now, God didn't send His Son to save cultures, did He?  Not that cultures are such pure creations that they don't need to be saved, of course.  But God sent Jesus to save individual people because, ultimately, God is not a God of cultures as much as He is the God of souls.  Christ became incarnate - as we commemorate during Christmas seasons such as this one - to redeem sinners.  And He desires a personal relationship with us, not our culture.

No matter who we are, or where we live, or the moment in history in which our life flashes across this vast panoply of human existence, we are called to worship God.  That worship will inevitably be flavored by who we are, where we live, and the moment in history in which we live.  And to the extent that God gives us the talents and opportunities to impact our culture for Christ, we should.  But does that mean we justify our worship based on our culture?

Or that we worship despite our culture?

Another thought:
Please indulge me one more time on this rap flap.  Does God listen to rap music?  That's the title of a new book written by Curtis Allen in defense of the musical genre.  However, right off the bat, I have questions about that title.  Isn't it as misleading a question as asking whether God listens to Bach, or anything by the self-professed atheist, John Rutter?  Instead of asking what kind of music God listens to, I wonder if it's at all appropriate to anthropomorphize our holy Creator by asking such a question.  Does God listen to music the way we do?  Or does He receive it as an offering... or not, as the case may be?  Might even asking such a casual question betray a forgetfulness of our Creator Lord's utter sovereignty?  Some might say my questions dabble in semantics, and deflect attention away from the main point of Allen's book.  However, I'd counter that if semantics don't matter, then how much do any of us have to believe - about anything?

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