Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wrestling with Cultural Shifts 1

I have crazy too much to do right now - the cutting party for the activity room for the book festival is tomorrow. I'm subbing at a doggie day care part time for a couple of weeks but I have to finish this. It's long but done for now. If you've been reading this for 5 years, you may find this a bit hackneyed - great word- but let me back track a little. More than five years ago we became part of a post-modern church plant. Terms like "emergent," or "postmodern" were new to us. When it was time for childrens' ministry nobody wanted to do it so I volunteered. The only resource I could find about this "new" culturally conscious approach to faith community was Ivy Beckwith's Postmodern Children's Ministry.

I found Dr. Beckwith's book prophetic: keenly observing the very early stages of what was about to become a monumental cultural shift, calling us to pay attention, change, and respond appropriately as God's ambassadors. In every generation God looks for people willing to wrestle with Him to understand the times and lead His people through.

Having grown up with great-grandparents, grandparents and parents all of whom were faith-filled, devoted church people, having raised our own kids (21 to 29 years old) in the church, I'm thinking that these progressive cultural differences are perhaps the most dramatic differences of any generation gaps in the history of man. My children are bridges between past and future. Maybe children always are. Their attitudes towards God, life, the outdoors, technology, consumerism are rooted in my generation and those past, but churned and sifted through the secular and sacred cultures they pass through and hopefully God's Word. I don't envy them the job they'll have as parents to amalgamate past, present, future and scripture for their children. I don't envy them at all, coward that I am...

So posed a question here. The word "ultra-violent" probably doesn't even exist in cultures familiar with war. Someone mentioned that in cultures who depend on hunting for food and raising livestock for food there exists a different attitude towards living things - a more respectful attitude, perhaps. But, having grown up on a farm, I want to say when it comes to animals, farm people have a different respect for animals they depend on but they also think business. They aren't raising companion animals to be kept and fed and sit on a lap. An animal has to earn its keep - not unlike creatures of the wild and not in itself inhumane but rather a different culture. If hunting is the only way you eat, you think differently than someone who can buy their food in a grocery store. I want to think that when those who recognize their dependency on other living things for survival are more apt to care for them in a way that will benefit both in the long haul or he won't live very long.

Violence: If someone is holding a knife to your throat or your daughter's, or violently trying to take away your freedom or your home you may think differently about the ethics of killing than you will as an observer. I'd like to think I would be able to make godly choices but the reality is that I don't know. And what if I turn the other cheek and let someone rape or kill my child.  Doesn't that mean I don't care enough to fight for what I love. . .? Is that the lukewarmness that Christ condemns in Revelation?

I was going to explore what "humane" means in the cultures of animal species but that word as a concept doesn't exist there. Respect does, doing what has to be done for survival does. In my opinion that is not the same as one creature inflicting unwarranted, inappropriate physical, emotional trauma on another like we find among men. Respect and mutual dependency exist but it's not always "humane" but hey, animals aren't human. For man, most of our choices today aren't life or death spontaneous decisions. Well, they probably are life or death but we don't see the effects of those choices like a rabbit who hesitates. Non-human creatures learn to survive by whatever means are in their best interest at the time but most of us are far removed from that immediate cause and effect. We don't live on the edge.

So man, responds to what we deem unwarranted and inappropriate physical and emotional trauma and rebounds, erring on the side of permissive. We don't have to respond like a creature in the wild. We're not fighting for our lives. We're not protecting our loved ones from imminent danger. We live safe, non-confrontational lives and we judge the rest of the world accordingly. We don't know how to correct appropriately and effectively so we don't do it. Life consequences aren't severe so we don't simulate any level of severity on our young.

Historically, and in the natural world, there is a place for correction and a place for appropriate reward. Appropriate effective correction (not violent) needn't displace appropriate praise and reward. Children need both. Both inappropriate praise and inappropriate correction can cause irreparable damage. We need the wisdom and skills to respond appropriately to individual differences in the context of the larger community but that assumes that we live in a cultural environment where everyone thinks the same way about what's acceptable behavior and what isn't. We don't. On top of that, if you look at where children spend most of their time, who's job is it to train children for life?

I'm not a fan of harshness, violence, war, killing. I don't know what I would be willing to fight for. I would rather live peacefully and compromise than fight. . . I would... but all this is cultural. Scripturally, it appears that there are things God was willing to fight for and argue about and punish for severely. There are things God expected His people to be willing to fight for, or was it just cultural? There are times when even Jesus came on hard and things He was willing to get violent about.

So what's happening? The cultural shift we're experiencing, from my perspective, is monumental. People are reacting to the fact that the scriptures are full of war and violence. They are. It's probably not bad to hate war and violence but scripture tells us there's a time to fight. Other generations seemed to be able to handle that. We can't. Why? There are aggressors, defenders, and victims of war...always...unfortunately. The age old question - "when is it justified?" For those who sift their culture through the scriptures they can look back and say, "God said..." For those who sift the scripture through their culture, "How can this possibly be God if God is Love?". Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time and a season for everything - even things we'd rather not do. So my faith says, "For everything there is a season..." Not just peace and love but war, too. Even violence - but I don't like it.

Sifting my faith through my culture or my culture through my faith, requires me to wrestle with God. Generation after generation, the clash of culture with faith forces us to wrestle with God. Jacob wrestled with God. He wrestled to make the God of his father his own God and he wrestled for God's blessing.

So we wrestle with God about all these cultural elements. "What do the scriptures say?" "What was cultural?" "Why did this happen?" I don't think it was an accident that the scriptures were set in the context of many centuries worth of cultural settings, though they don't seem dramatically different to us culturally and socially. They're full of all the same issues that every generation faces, yet God remains the same yesterday, today and forever looking for faithful men and women. As grandparents, parents, teachers, we can sift the scriptures through the winds of our culture or sift our culture through the winds of scripture and catch the grain that remains and let the wind blow the chaff away and I bet most of you can't even relate to that metaphor. A cultural shift. We need grain for bread and bread for life but even that analogy probably doesn't mean what it used my house we're on a no-carb diet for pete's sake...imagine sharing the scriptures with a culture that doesn't eat bread...

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