I’ve lived in four different states in the US and visited ten countries around the world. God has been gracious to show me how different cultures and subcultures can greatly impact the way we live out our faith. I want to focus on two specific cultures that I have the most experience with: First, where I was born and raised in Southern California, and second, where I have lived the last eight and half years in the Bible Belt of the South (Kentucky for six years and Texas for two and a half).
As I’ve said, it is human nature to overcorrect problems within our subculture. There are two main ways we do this as individuals. First, we observe the subculture around us and think that it is right, then demonize and stereotype people outside of it. Here are some overly simplistic examples: “Southern California is so much more enlightened than most of the US. I’m so glad I don’t have to live in the South with all those racists and fundamentalists.” Or, “The South is so much more grounded in its history and the Bible. I’m so glad I don’t have to live around all those crazy liberal feminists on the West Coast.”
The second way we overcorrect is to observe the subculture we live in, think it’s wrong, and then jump ship entirely, usually into a very different subculture with it’s own set of problems. Here are some examples: “Southern California is way too progressive and the churches are so shallow. I wish we could go to one of those churches that sings only hymns, offers Sunday school, and has a potluck after service every week.” Or, “The South is so legalistic and they hate women. I wish I could go to a more inclusive community in California where I can serve anywhere or teach anyone.”
These examples are trite, I know. But you get my point. No culture is perfect because everywhere you go, there will be sinful people there. There will be sinful you there. Yes, sometimes the answer to a problem is to jump ship. God can use discomfort to call you away from a place. But just because you’re uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s time to quit. This is where temperance, critical thinking, and more importantly prayer comes in. Temperance is needed to say, “I know there is a problem with my community but I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water and think the solution is doing the exact opposite.” Critical thinking is needed to ask questions like, “I feel like there is nothing good about my community, but I know that can’t be true. What is good and what is bad? What is salvageable here? What needs to go?” Prayer can enlighten your path more than any virtue or critical thinking ability. There will be times when your options ahead look perfectly equal and you really have no idea what to do. Thank God for his Spirit that directs our hearts and minds toward wisdom.