What Living Cross Culturally Taught Me About Being a Christian

by Editor on April 27, 2015

spectacles

We’re excited to feature Cindy Brandt again today. Cindy has written for us before and is the author of a new book, Outside In. You can learn more about her book and get it for free here.

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I have lived cross culturally almost my entire life. Born in Taiwan, I knew one language, one culture, and one worldview, until I was introduced to the strange habits of the West at age 10. As my tongue adjusted to swirling out two diverse languages, I began to know life only by straddling both the worlds of the East and the West. I was raised cross culturally, married cross culturally, worked cross culturally, and am raising my kids cross culturally. Some days I feel fractured and fragmented, but mostly I am grateful to be privileged with a unique vantage point. Like I have been given two sets of spectacles in a world where most people wear one.

It has been complicated, to say the least, navigating my faith with my two spectacles. When I was introduced to the Christian faith, many of the habits of being Christian felt awkward: standing up and walking down the aisle to pledge my allegiance, praying out loud, singing lots of songs about loving God, which felt totally irreverent coming from a culture where the word “love” was reserved only for romance.

I thought all these habits felt strange, like clothes that didn’t fit quite right, because I was a new believer, new to the ways of Jesus. But that was only part of the reason. As a child, I hadn’t yet perfected the skill of switching my spectacles. My teachers who taught me how to be Christian wore one set of lenses, and I imitated them wearing a different set. By the time I learned how to wear the western lenses, the habits of being Christian no longer felt weird; they were natural.

We all wear a set of spectacles. Everyone does. Those lenses dictate the way we view life. They determine the habits we make, what we eat, when we sleep, when we marry, and how we work. They assign value to our lives, determining what is meaningful: family, faith, honor, love. If you are like me, you wear two spectacles; some people in the world wear three or more.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that you can see Jesus wearing different spectacles. You do not have to abandon your spectacles, or switch them out for a new pair, in order to find Jesus. You do not have to forsake the cultural values you were assigned at birth, taught by your parents, passed down by your ancestors, in order to know Jesus. No, you find Jesus by looking through them.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that some people have mistaken the Good News to be changing out the spectacles for new ones. We have reduced the Gospel to be an exchange of values and habits. What I have seen in both cultures I reside in, is that there are good values and bad values in both; we are differently good and differently bad. We are quite equally flawed, not one culture can claim superiority to teach the other much. As long as we believe we are the Bearer of Right Values, we will be pronouncing ill-informed judgment on other cultures because we have not yet learned to see God through their spectacles.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is there is more than one right way to be Christian. When you see Jesus differently, your walk with Jesus is going to look differently. When people with different spectacles worship Jesus in the same way, it is likely because the dominant cultural narrative has subsumed the minority, often in the name of unity.

They say that God is the same here, there, and everywhere; therefore if you follow God, you will look like me. Uniformity is a passive form of aggression. Homogeneity is coercing everyone to wear one pair of cultural lenses. It is leaving some people stripped of their core values, robbing them of dignity, leaving them without sight to see their way forward. It is perpetuating violence in the name of a nonviolent Jesus. No, the Good News is not that there are new spectacles we get to force upon other people’s faces. Jesus came wearing old spectacles, practicing Jewish laws, performing Jewish rituals.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that so much strife, across races, cultures, and nations, happens as a result of people being unaware of their spectacles, believing their worldview is the only right way to live. They begin to see others who live differently as evil or secular. That their way of living is uncivilized, less enlightened, sub-human. They refuse to believe that others also see God, that their lenses are just as clear, their view just as bright. That God reveals Jesus to everyone regardless of what culture they were raised in, no matter what color their skin.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that the Good News is the possibility for every tribe and nation to participate in the life-giving, humanity affirming way of Jesus. When he taught us to love our enemies, He was showing us how to honor a different way of doing life, assuring us all that every person is made in God’s image but situated to see God differently.

What I learned living cross culturally as a Christian is that the Gospel makes room for everyone, those who wear this set of lenses or that, and even, that there is place for me, someone who wears both.

It is Good News, indeed, that not any of us possess the singular image of God, that we only see a partial view, so that we spend our lives inviting more people to our table, to sit, eat, and tell us what they see.

 

MG_9851_2aMy name is Cindy Brandt. Like a true Third Culture Kid, I feel sure I belong someplace, yet live each day in search of it. Along the way, I write about faith, culture, and beauty in the margins at cindywords.com. I live in Kaohsiung, Taiwan with my husband and two TCKs with very well-stamped passports.

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  • Elizabeth Trotter

    Cindy, thanks for this post. As I told you when I first read it, I wanted to highlight entire paragraphs, but had to restrain myself! It’s so important to be able to value other cultures’ worldviews. I remember listening to a long term missionary here discuss the way Cambodians handle conflict in the Church. They said it can feel frustratingly slow to an American, but for Cambodians, many of whom live their entire life in one village and are related to many others in their village, their slow approach to conflict takes the “long view.” They have to live with those people their entire lives. They are related to many of them. They can’t just church hop the way Americans can. Being slow to confront doesn’t mean they don’t love; it means they are making wise decisions in their context.

    I think this post resonated so deeply with me because of the Kairos worldview class we took in 2011. It really opened my eyes up to the importance of contextualization of the Gospel. Totally changed my thinking! So I loved what you said here.

    Also loved your view recent interview with Dr. Randy Woodley, especially points 1 and 2. “There is no place we can go where Jesus is not already present and active. Since Jesus is active everywhere, the first responsibility of mission among any culture is not to teach, speak or exert privilege but to discover what Jesus is already doing in that culture.” These truths have totally changed the way we approach ministry in a Cambodian context — and also, increased our faith. There is no place so desolate that Jesus is not already there! That is very comforting.

    • Hey, you commented! 🙂 I appreciate your ideas so much especially since it comes out of your practical experiences of working with local Cambodians. I think American history is so short compared to many nations in the world with far longer histories, there is a disconnect in our timelines of “getting stuff done”. That’s interesting about the way Cambodians handle conflict in the Church, makes a lot of sense.

      I loved Randy’s interview as well. I like how contextualization falls in step NINE with so many other steps before it. We used to pat ourselves on our missionary backs for trying to contextualize, now I think we need to do much much better!

      Thanks for engaging with this piece, so thankful I’ve gotten to connect with you.

  • Excellent read! I’m the new kid on the block, in Japan. After serving in SA and Mozambique, I arrived with a determination to NOT try to create an American Church in Rural Japan. Long term missionaries here have had little reception of the gospel. I have to wonder if it isn’t, in part, because of this very issue.
    People do not feel valued when you tell them they have to lay aside their ways of being and doing in order to be a Christian like”me”.
    The gift makes a way for the giver. Ultimately, the goal is that those we disciple will go and make disciples, not clones! I LOVE the uniqueness of individual people, they bring so much delight to the Fathers heart. So it goes with people groups. They need the freedom to experience the Lord in all of His majesty.
    My only plan for cultural change is that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
    Thank you for verbalizing this message so clearly!

    • Oh wow, Kimberly, you give me so much hope for the future of missions! Thank you so much for sharing your heart and your posture of humility. It is inspiring and encouraging. God bless you real good!

  • Thank you for this. I think our tendency to adopt the “Bearer of Right Values” system is a sad, sick substitute for real Love, and yet it’s also the easy button we can push and Know For Sure that we’re right. Thanks for pushing us to think beyond easy.

    • Thank you for reading it!

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