A Tale of Two Cultures

My daughter got married earlier this month.  It was a great weekend full of family, food and fun.  She was the first of our kids to get married, our only daughter, and I was a little surprised at how well I handled it.  In fact, the only moment that caused me some reflection was the next day when I saw that she changed her last name on Facebook.  She now had a new last name.  Not that she wasn’t part of our family anymore, but she had become part of another family as well (as did he with us).  And isn’t that the truth, when you get married you don’t just marry the other person, you marry their family, their history, their upbringing, their culture.  And it is the wise couple that recognizes this sooner rather than later and strives to make the two cultures one. To become a third culture that takes the best of both their backgrounds and makes it uniquely theirs.  That’s probably one of the reasons that I handled giving my daughter away so well.  These kids knew that secret and spent the months leading up to their wedding going through the book, Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts, by Les and Leslie Parrott.  It goes through 7 questions (which lead to many other questions) to ask and discuss with each other before you get married (or even after).  The idea is to take away the assumptions you might have about the other person and just find out the truth.  Because you come from two different families, two different worlds and it would be naive to assume you held the same views on everything. 

My daughter, and the rest of the family, first experienced this in Mexico.  We lived in Monterrey, Mexico for 4 years serving through TIME Ministries.  Even more so than two families, two countries are very different.  Some people might think that deep down, everyone is the same.  That’s true in the fact that deep down, everyone needs Jesus and different cultures share the same spread of personalty types.  But core beliefs, values and behaviors can differ.  Not all, but enough to make it confusing.  The rule of thumb for a missionary is that it takes three years living in a culture to realize that you know nothing of that culture.  Then you can start to learn.  It doesn’t make that much of a difference if you’re on a short term mission trip, you just get to enjoy the people and the culture.  But when you live there year round, you notice things.  Not always obvious, but it causes a prickling in the back of your mind that can grow into stress if you are not aware.  Your best strategy is to not assume you know what’s right, but ask questions and seek the truth of the matter.  Through communication we can come to understand each other.  Kids seem to be very good at blending the two cultures.  Missionary kids used to be called MKs, now they are referred to as TCKs (Third Culture Kids) because they successfully blend the two cultures into their own and basically make a third culture.

We can also see this phenomenon in the church.  Whether it’s a group of missionaries serving together on the field or your local church ministering in your home town.  The church is made up of different people with different personalities, gifts, talents, visions, etc.   We all serve the same God, but we are not all there to do the same thing, in the same way.  That’s why the Bible compares the church to a body throughout the new testament.  

I Corinthians 12

Romans 12

Ephesians 4

The problems start when we forget this.  We are not there to compete with each other, or even to compare ourselves with others.  We are to compliment each other.  And I don’t mean saying nice things to each other (though that’s still a good thing) but working together, doing our ‘thing’ in harmony and conjunction with others.  A blending of our skills and talents to grow the church.

The only place where this blending idea does not work is in our personal walk with Christ.  When we place our faith in Jesus and believe that He saved us on the cross, we are changed.  We move our citizenship from the world to heaven.

Philippians 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

Ephesians 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,

We move from the culture of the world to the culture of heaven.   But there is no blending of the cultures here.  There is no dual citizenship when it comes to God’s kingdom. It’s more of a duel citizenship as we strive to leave the one and become the other

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.

to the point of putting it to death and becoming, not a blend of the two, but a whole new creation

II Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

And we will spend the rest of our earthly lives learning how to live in this new culture of heaven, speak this new language of love, associate with our fellow heavenly citizens who are sojourning with us in this strange land as we await the day we can go home.

And perhaps that is the real reason for the lack of qualms at my daughters marriage.  Yes, they are well on their way to blending their families’ cultures into their own.  They are blending their gifts and talents to be a force for the church.  But they also both made the decision to renounce their citizenship of this world and become solely citizens of heaven.  It’s a firm foundation on which to build not only the church, but a marriage as well.

Rick Jacobsen is the Vice President of Leadership Development with TIME Ministries.  He and his wife were Site Director and Site Administrator (respectively) in Monterrey Mexico and lived there with their two children for 4 years.
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