What is culture?
As I sit around a table at mission training with a multitude of nationalities, different cultures and backgrounds, it begs the question 'what is culture'? How might I express it, and what defines it? How does it relate to our life?
According to Wendell Pierce, "Culture is the intersection of people and life itself. It's how we deal with life, love, death, birth, disappointment... all of that is expressed in culture."
As Wendell Pierce expressed it—culture is people clashing and doing life. It creates who we are and challenges the meaning of each specific event. Culture is created through people from different backgrounds translating to others what they believe to be important and truly 'right' in their culture.
Where is culture evident?
It is evident in all walks of life; like me on a mission course experiencing new people from different walks of life, and together embracing people on their own turf.
This happens even among friendship groups who have grown up together. The people each member of the group interacts with every day creates a culture clash and forms each one differently to create their own new culture. This idea therefore tells us that we are constantly being formed anew as a different culture, which develops us as people.
This depends on what cultures we choose to interact with or spend time with. My culture, even in my own circles, is constantly evolving, responding to the areas of life which the people in those circles value the most, and what they choose to share from their backgrounds.
This can mean that our cultures are only 50% formed, and the challenge is to be willing to embrace others in order to see what form of existence develops, as Wendell Pierce surmised. Moreover, I believe the Olympic experience is a champion venue of cultures—with participants mixing in the Olympic Village in particular. There is a plethora of cultures and nationalities present from the front gate to the back gate.
Culture in the Olympic context
The Olympic Village is a different place to the Olympic Contests, where performance takes precedence. Yet, once off the centre stage of competition, again we see this mixing and a semblance of peace with athletes embracing new friends. This interaction is fostered by opportunities to rest in the convivial areas within the Olympic precinct.
How do we as Christians choose to influence our own circles with the goodness of Jesus' love? One way might be by ensuring our love is genuine and accepting that we can accommodate cultural differences, particularly for the better.
The Bible spells out incidents and experiences of culture clash, and these stories exemplify the goodwill that is possible between people from different nations and backgrounds. We see this on Paul's many missionary journeys.
There is considerable evidence the disciples of Jesus came from different cultures, as listed in the Gospels. They certainly experienced culture shock when they followed Jesus around, experiencing his divine love and witnessing his supernatural ministry.
What I have come to learn at mission training is that the way I greet people in my British culture was acceptable at home—jolly and friendly and which leads to conversations. I am finding this is possibly not acceptable where I am at present and seems to have some thinking I am little funny.
I wonder how many minor 'culture shocks' I cause without realising? Do I choose to adapt to a broader culture, or force my British culture on someone else?
What is our culture?
As stated, we have a certain culture which we see ourselves in, but when we come into contact with so many different cultures on our journey through life, we find that we are not only culture but through our experiences we become a mix of cultures. Take for example the way I have seen Australians enjoy exotic Asian food.
We are constantly changing. We embrace such interests and live our lives as an ever-changing cultural journey!
Mike Burr is from Manchester, England, with a marketing degree and several years working in the corporate world. Mike is in Australia for six months at a YWAM Discipleship Training School in Byron Bay, NSW.
Mike Burr's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mike-burr.html