In part one of this series on counter-cultural Christianity, I claimed that how we define our culture is the starting point in any attempt to live counter-culturally. I also mentioned that culture is nebulous and not easily categorized. In the melting pot of cultures that make up the United States, is it even possible to identify an overarching American culture? Are there any values or parts of our lifestyles that cross racial, ethnic, and economic barriers? I think so. So, here are five characteristics that I believe define American culture*.
1. Americans are extremely independent, individualistic, and like to be different from each other.
Individualism is number one on my list because it is the most defining characteristic of American culture in my book. I submit that there are very few of us that want to be "just like everyone else." From a very early age, we are taught that being like everyone else is some kind of failure. As a youngster growing up, I started viewing people more as objects and tools to be used in my quest to be unique. Why should I have cared about them? I needed to be different, so what did it matter to me what they thought or needed?
2. Americans believe in freedom of choice.
Oh boy! Almost equal to our need to be individuals is our need to choose. In fact, they play off of each other a bit. It is my ability to choose what I want to my life that allows me to be the individual I wish to become. No one can tell me what to do. I choose for me. I say what goes in my life. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying the freedom to choose is bad. I would hate to live in a place that did not allow choices. That said, we Americans also tend to think that our freedom of choice somehow comes with freedom from consequences.
3. Americans like personal space around them.
I know this to be true of myself and just about every person I know. In fact, my wife and I just bought a house because we couldn't possibly have raised three children in a house with only 1000 square feet. Every one of our kids needs his own room. When I stand in line, I make sure there is at LEAST a foot of space between the next person and me. I hate people being all up on me. When sitting at a red light, I get irritated when the car behind me creeps ever closer in an effort to gain a little extra time. In short, I like my personal space. I know you do too. Americans love things to be as big and spacious as possible.
4. While we like to carve out our path and make our unique mark on the world, Americans often get offended when asked direct questions about those points of divergence.
Think about this. Most of us at least partially define ourselves by the money we make, the clothes we wear, how we look, and our religion (or lack thereof). But, when was the last time I felt overjoyed when someone commented on or directly asked me about my religion, age, money, salary, weight, or clothing choice?
5. As a result of being fiercely independent, most of us do not like to be thought of as needing to be helped.
So, Be careful when you offer your seat on the bus to an older or a physically challenged person. Oddly enough, what might seem like an honest to goodness act of kindness in your mind might be seen as degrading or offensive to the intended recipient.
I want to be clear here. These are elements of American culture that I believe transcend race and economics. My language above may sound a bit cynical at times. That is only because I find these traits to be growing areas within myself. It is with that mindset that I will close out this series in the next post. In that post, I will detail what I believe being a counter-cultural Christian is really all about.
Do you agree or disagree with this list? Do you think something is missing? Leave a comment below!
I recently discovered Jimmy John's. Not sure how no one told me of this most delicious avenue for sandwich goodness. Did you know that in the Bible there was a heated debate about whether or not as a Christian I could eat a sandwich? Who wouldn't love Jimmy Johns??? It sounds funny to say that a sandwich could start so much controversy, but it is true.
Fast forward to today. Our General Conference was recently held in Oregon. It hotly debated about issues surrounding full acceptance of LGBTQ people into the life and ministry of the church. People were pro or con, and had their scriptures and arguments honed for the event.
I would submit that they were arguing the wrong thing. While it is worthwhile to examine the negative impact of our discipline on gay people, I believe we are missing the larger picture. What we should be debating is the role of conscience in our system. Are you going to be a one-size-believes-all group, or will we make room for disagreement about these issues and still be in community?
Each side of the debate about LGBTQ inclusion seeks the same end: make someone else live by my conviction. Further, to make someone else decide how you and I have to conduct our ministry. I submit that it is our insistence on having only 1 option, and everyone who disagrees has to go along with the majority, is what it causing our impasse and may ultimately cause a schism in our group.
When marriage became open to everyone in Ohio, I asked my colleague, a Lutheran pastor, if she would be willing to perform weddings. She replied that the only guidelines of her denomination were that it had to be legal, and the pastor had to agree to do it. How elegant. How preserving of her conscience.
Let me be clear: I am for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church. I will do what I can to work to that end for the rest of my days. But it took me YEARS to get to the understanding I currently hold on this issue. And it pains me to say that I have personal friends who are no longer Christians because of how we have dealt with these matters. It was in part seeing how they were treated that brought me to the position I currently hold.
But I would also never want to force someone to violate their conscience, as I would never want someone to violate mine, as is the current policy. People need time, experience, and relationship before/if they are ever going to change their understanding. It took us decades to accept women in ministry, and this will be the same.
Back to Jimmy John's... when eating certain types of meat was a hotly debated issue, people were doing exactly what we're doing - judging and condemning one another. Brother was condemning his friend to hell for a food choice. Paul cuts through the confusion by saying, "It's not about food, it's about your conscience." If your faith isn't damaged and your conscience isn't pricked in a matter of personal conviction, than you are free to eat. I Corinthians 8-10 deals with this. I would encourage you to read those chapters.
I Corinthians 10:25-26
"So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace
without raising questions of conscience.
For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
(WIN for Jimmy John's!)
Every generation has its issue about which people try to put personal convictions into law, describe them as 'sin', and then expect everyone to live by their understanding. We have encountered ours. I look forward to the day when it sounds as strange to say that not everyone was fully included into the life of the church as it sounds to say that I could go to hell for eating a sandwich. Come quickly.
We left our church family of seventy-five years ago, in late May of 1941, celebrating the graduation of Girard Seniors, and worrying about their futures, along with the future of everyone. Europe, Asia and North Africa were all engulfed in war. The U S was neutral but Girard young men along with others in America, were being drafted and sent off for military training. Mahoning Valley steel mills, after a long decade of limited production and employment, were now churning out steel as fast as they possibly could, as our military prepared for the worst. It was a time of uncertainty for everyone, not only in our church and town, but throughout our country.
As usual, much of the information found here comes from the pages of The Girard News, our town’s weekly newspaper, published every Friday, and available on microfilm at Girard Free Library. The June 6th edition of the News reflected this uncertainty with two different headlines on its front page. The first mirrored the booming economy – “Building Permits at 300% of Last Year”; the second the uncertainty – “USO Drive Citywide” described the new efforts to raise $1500 from our town to provide “services for our defenders”. It described this new nation-wide program to benefit our servicemen. From our view here in 2015, we know they would go on to support, and read about, and see on the newsreels much concerning the USO in the coming years.
The June 12th edition of the News reported that a ship, the Robin Moor, carrying $5,000 worth of leather from Girard’s Ohio Leather Co. to Capetown, South Africa, was sunk in the South Atlantic by a German submarine.
But, our Church life went on as usual. Sunday, June 15th, was Children’s Day. The following youth had key parts: Recitation “Welcome to You” Nella Weaver, Recitation “A Greeting” Marjorie Purdum, “Song and Finger Play” Beginners Department, Recitation “If I Were Big” Norma Lou Teeter, Recitation “Just Watch” Sandra MacLean, Piano Solo Carl Peterson, Clarinet Solo Jacqueline Williams, “Samuel” Junior Church Group, Clarinet Solo Russell Girt, Piano Duet Jacqueline and Mary Jane Williams, Vocal Solo Norma Clark, and “Jesus My Teacher and Master” Junior Church Group.
On Monday evening, the Women’s Society of Christian Service held its quarterly meeting at the church with an interesting guest speaker. Former policeman, Ray Lawrence, of Youngstown, spoke on the evils of narcotics. A covered dish dinner followed the business portion of the meeting. Friday evening, the Althea Class met at the home of Miss Jacqueline Didier on E Wilson Avenue. Election of officers was held. Saturday, the 21st, a large Double Wedding Ceremony was held at the church in the afternoon, with the marriage of Miss Ruth Brittain to Fred Bullen, and Miss Mary Marks to C Leroy Brittain. Our Rev. Maly officiated assisted by Rev. Philip J Sinner of Trinity Lutheran Church. The reception was held at the Brittain home at 137 E Broadway with 200 friends and relatives attending. That must have been a grand wedding and reception!
June concluded with the Sunday School Picnic, always a fun time with food and competition for all ages. Winners of the Sports Contests were: Doris Pauley –Penny Scramble, Janet Clark – Girls’ Foot Race, Barbara Wormer, Donna Jean Hood and Lubella Shields – Girls’ Pie Eating Contest, Alberta Gosnell and Mary Lou Parker – Siamese Twin Race, Walter Rock – Boys’ Bag Bursting Contest, Jimmy Thomas – Little Balloon Kicking, Mrs Gertrude Clark – Ladies’ Baseball Throwing, Mrs. Olive Bahn – Basketball throw, George McElhaney and Jack Davidson – Badminton Distance Hitting, David Edwards – Boys’ Foot Race, and Betty Nace – Older Girls’ Race.
All of this wonderful, normal, summer fun church activity was taking place in an increasingly awful, ominous, lethal world war, with our country and the Soviet Union the only large countries remaining neutral, watching, worrying, waiting, for an attack that might suck us into what had become a world-wide war. In early June, Chongqing, China was bombed. During the bombing, four thousand residents crowded into a bomb shelter were asphyxiated. Older members of our church family, who had been young children forty years before, reading of this tragedy, would remember the young couple - Kasiah and Dr. James McCartney, who left our church in 1890 to be missionaries at Chongqing, China, building a hospital there in that poverty stricken country. Kasiah would die young in 1894, at 26, never recovering from the birth of her second child. Our church family would erect a large plaque to Kasiah’s memory. It is still in our Narthex. Her husband would return to China, continuing to work at the hospital he founded, until his death in 1928. Those who, as children, remembered Kasie and Jim would have wondered at the news of the bombing and great loss of life. They would have wondered about the fate of the hospital and those people who had been healed there. I can picture them staring sadly at Kasiah’s plaque, questioning the evil unleashed by the war, wondering how long we could stay out of it. Later on June 22nd , German troops would invade the Soviet Union. Now we were the only large country remaining neutral.
This is where we will leave our church family in June, 1941 – seventy five years ago.
Connect with Pastor Vicky, Dave DiBernardi, Sally Wagner, Meghan DeGregory and Shane Russo as they share what God is doing in our lives and what we are learning as we grow.