Reverse Culture Shock

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
(Ephesians 1:3)

Visiting Haiti was a shock to the system.  The sights, the sounds, the smells, the traffic – everything we experienced was an affront to our accepted Midwest norms.  Here in NW Iowa, you can drive for miles without seeing another person, the streets are clean, and the people around you generally respect your personal space.  You quickly realize when you step off the plane in Haiti; We’re not in Kansas anymore!

As an outsider coming into a different country, it is good to be aware of these differences, and not let them get to you.  We had to remember this when we were being driven through Port-au-Prince – our gasps and groans in disgust at the filth and horrid conditions we encountered were comments well understood by our driver.  This was his home, we were his guests.

It is hard to try to understand the Haitian culture, some recommend not even trying.  They are not so concerned with time and schedules, “Day-Planners” aren’t a hot commodity there.  Things get done when they get done.  Looking at Haiti with American eyes, it’s easy to imagine what a few good Civil Engineers could do to transform their land – or what a nationwide recycling effort could do to help clean up the streets – but at the heart of it all, that’s just me wanting to impose my way of life, my custom and comfort, onto everyone else around me.

In a way, I was prepared for that kind of culture shock.  I was even somewhat prepared to take in the suffering and the heartbreak of the absolute poverty and brokenness of the children we were working with.  These are children whose parents have died, or whose parents cannot afford to raise them and had to give them up.  I knew I was setting myself, and the entire team, for a kind of heart-ache that opens our hearts to love in ways we never thought possible.  I knew that none of us would be the same after this week in Haiti – I was prepared, even inviting that kind of culture shock.

What I could not prepare for, and what still has me reeling, is the reverse culture shock from coming home.  I was overwhelmed by the ordinary of our American prosperity; the mega grocery stores with overstocked shelves and over indulged children; the cheap and easy fast food; the rows upon rows of corn and beans, a harvest that is abundant even in the lean years; the opulence and comfort of our homes (even the poorest here live better than the richest there).  We have millionaire football players who strike because they need more share of the profit, while there are people who make a living off of less than a dollar a day.  We bicker and fight over procedures and policies while there are children who sleep on the ground, hungry because they have no food.

I think there are two ways of coping with this culture shock.  We could come to despise our own way of life.  If we see it for what it really is we will recognize materialism, greed, covetousness, insecurity, all which masks the idolatry of our hearts.  I think there’s a bit of that in everyone’s heart.  But what good would that accomplish?  Recognizing our tendency toward idolatry is helpful, but if that turns into a despising of the good gifts, the blessings, that God has given, then we have merely replaced one idol (money) with another (pride).

I think a healthier approach to this shattered world-view is to see the blessings that God has given us for what they truly are: an opportunity to bless others.  If God has given to you in abundance, it is not so that you can rest in that abundance, but so that you can put that abundance to work.  If God has prospered your way, it is not so that you can clutch tightly to that blessing, but so that the blessing will flow freely from you into the lives of others.  Those who hold a miserly grip on the blessings of God love the gift more than the giver, and deprive themselves of lasting joy.  As God has loved, so we are to love; freely, graciously, sacrificially, joyfully.

I knew that this Mission Trip, the first for our congregation in a very long time, would be a game changer, I’m seeing now just how that will work.  I knew the trip would change those who went to Haiti, but I also knew that our transformation would spread through the congregation.   We are not the same, our church is not the same, because of this trip.  God’s Spirit is moving amongst us, breaking down walls, transforming lives, opening our hearts in love and service.  May we continue to grow in God’s Spirit, that we may abound in love, in grace, in charity – that we may grow in the likeness of Christ.

A Modern American Creed

“Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints…”
(Jude 3 ESV)

While laboring away on my roof this Labor Day weekend, my mind had freedom to wander, and wander it did.  I began to ask myself, “Does anyone today really take their faith seriously?  Do I?”  From there the thought progression evolved into, “If we were really honest about what we believe, what would our credo be?”  The following is the result of such unconstrained meanderings through my mind.

Disclaimer – – Please take what you are about to read with a grain of salt.  This is meant to be humorous hyperbole, an exaggeration of no one particular expression of faith.  That being said, it is intended to expose some of the unbiblical things that we just assume about our faith.  If this lands a little close to home (as it does for me, at times), may it drive you to God’s Word, that you may be established and strengthened in your faith.

A Modern American Creed

I believe in God –

  • That is, I know there is a higher power, someone out there watching me.  I get my ideas about God from what I saw on Highway to Heaven, and Touched by an Angel, though I’d never admit that in public.  I don’t always have to pray or go to church, because I know that God is always there if I need him.
  • I know that God supposedly made everything, but science says that everything started with a big bang and evolution, and since I don’t know which to believe, I think I’ll just not think about it too much – anyone for a rerun of Seventh Heaven?
  • God wants me to be nice, do good stuff, and go to church; but understands when I can’t because it’s opening day for deer season, or when I was at the big game on Saturday and just can’t get up in time for worship. 
  • God gave us instructions for how to live called the 10 Commandments (which by the way I watch every Easter), but since those commandments are impossible to keep we really don’t have to try.  Besides, God is a loving God and would never judge us or hold us accountable for the things we’ve done.  Right?

I believe in Jesus –

  • Jesus lived a really good life.  He was always loving, always forgiving, and would never upset anyone by saying something hard or judgmental. 
  • Jesus wanted us to all get along, to accept each other just as we are, and to keep our noses out of other people’s business.  If you think that Jesus tells you to live one way, that’s fine for you.  But don’t presume Jesus told anyone else to live that way.
  • When Jesus was alive, he talked about how to get to heaven, and never really spoke about what to do with money, sex, or other day-to-day things.  Even when he did, it was all an allegory, a metaphor for spiritual things.  Jesus wants us to be happy, prosperous, successful, and independent.  If I am struggling or suffering in this life, I must be doing something wrong.
  • Jesus called some people to follow him seriously, these were his disciples.  Others got to follow at a distance.  For me, that means that some people can get real serious – go into missions, share their faith with their friends, be a pastor or a leader in their church – but others don’t have to get so committed.

Salvation –

  • I am saved because I am a Christian.  I am a religious person.  I go to church.  I try to help out from time to time.  I can even say the Creed and sing the Hymns on Sunday.  Overall, I am a good person; I might make mistakes, but God loves me anyway.
  • Salvation means I will go to heaven when I die.  It doesn’t really affect me much now, but it’s nice to know I’ll get to see all my family and friends when I get there.

Free Will –

  • God made me with free will, so I get to choose what I will do and what I believe.  I choose to believe in God, and that is why I am a Christian.  I could never believe in a God who would impose his will on others.

The Bible –

  • The Bible is the sacred book of the Christian religion.  People read it to know what God has done in the past.  It is full of stories about people who have followed God and how God has had to fix their problems.
  • The Bible was written by men who wanted to establish their religion.  It has some mistakes in it, and some of the things that were written a long time ago don’t really apply to us today; but overall, it is a pretty good book.

Heaven –

  • Heaven is God’s kingdom, and it is where all good people will go when they die.  When I get to heaven there will be rest from all the hard work I’ve done in this life, and I will see all my friends and family.
  • Those loved ones who have already gone to heaven are angels who watch over me.  They enjoy watching me do well in life, and protect me from bad things that might happen.

Hell –

  • This is the place were bad people go to be punished forever.  Hell is Satan’s kingdom and he lives there with his demons.  It’s always hot there, full of fire and suffering.

The Church –

  • The Church is where I go to worship. 
  • We sit in pews, which thankfully are padded, since the pastor likes to talk for more than 15 minutes. 
  • I have a hard time not napping during the prayers (you try closing your eyes, bowing your head, and doing nothing for more than 3 minutes and see what happens).
  • We sing odd songs, some are really old and use words that I’ve never said outside of church, some try to sound new but are really cheesy. 
  • Usually I don’t get a lot out of church, but every now and then it seems like the pastor’s talking about me (weird, huh).

Friends, I hope this has prompted you to really think about your faith, and what your faith means for your life today.  If you have questions, turn to God’s Word.  Feel free to call or email me, but whatever you do, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”