In the first post in this series, I concluded that we need to first define “our culture” before we can decide what living counter-culturally is. Then, in the second post, I listed five ways in which I believe the many subcultures in America overlap to make “American culture.” Here is a recap of those five areas:
- Americans are extremely independent, individualistic, and like to be different from each other.
- Americans believe in freedom of choice.
- Americans like personal space around them.
- 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.
- As a result of being fiercely independent, most of us do not like to be thought of as needing to be helped.
1. Embrace Community
Since we are wildly independent and individualistic, embracing a community might possibly be the most counter-cultural thing we can do. Independence and individualism are inward-focused qualities. They center more on me and what I want/need. They also isolate us from quality relationships. If I want to counter isolation and look outward, the way to do it is by entering fully into a community. This means that I am going to have to give up some of my personal space. I need to allow others to get close to me physically and personally. I need to stop concentrating on how I am different from others and start seeing how we are alike.
2. Change Your Choices
Freedom of choice is foundational to the human life. So, I would never tell you to give up your right to choose. But, with an outward-thinking and community-driven mentality, the choices I might make are going to look a lot different. When I am not focusing solely on myself, when I am thinking about the lives and situations of others around me, then I am more likely to make choices that reflect how those decisions will impact them. If I am thinking about my wife (or church for that matter), the way I choose to spend some of my free time will reflect the fact that they both need some of it. That is not to say that I should not have my own time. It does mean that all of my time should not be self-serving.
3. Be More Transparent
We all want to be different, but most of us don’t like it when people point out those differences. It is almost like we want a certain amount of secrecy or mystique to accompany our egos. I know that is true for me.
For example, I was very resistant to telling people I had gastric bypass surgery for a few months after the procedure. I must have lost 70 lbs. in the first three months, but I didn’t want people to know how it happened. I was not embarrassed. I simply wanted the mystery to surround me. It wasn’t until I started telling people about it that I realized that there were many people in my life struggling with the decision themselves. I found that being open about my past could benefit others.
Did transparency make it easier for me to be a target? Sure. Once people learned that I had surgery to lose weight, I got the obligatory, “Did you ever try exercising?” lectures. I have even had people very loudly exclaim that I took the “easy way out.” However, for every one of those folks, there have been ten that have needed to hear my story. I am certain that there are people in your communities that need to hear your stories too. So, don’t be afraid to tell them.
4. Accept What Other People Can Give
The people most willing to help others are most often the least willing to accept help themselves. Deep down, this is a way to try to control the situation. Being controlling might seems counter to the helpful nature of the giver. But, when a helper refuses to be helped, that is exactly what is happening. It all goes back to wanting to be independent. Our independence gets in the way of the reciprocating nature of authentic relationships.
Just like transparency, accepting assistance from others makes us more vulnerable. I’m getting the image of prayer in my head as I write this: heads bowed. Some people believe we bow our heads out of respect, and that is part of the reason. The major reason we bow our heads when we pray is that is displays submission to something greater than ourselves. Submission makes us vulnerable. We submit to God when we trust God. We trust that God will not hurt us, and so we open ourselves up to receiving whatever God gives us. While people are not God, the relational aspects of accepting what others can give through submission and trust still hold true. Such aspects are certainly counter-cultural.
There you have it. Living counter-culturally as Christians should mean being more outward-focused, transparent, and submissive. It should also mean making more choices with others in mind. If all of that sounds crazy or impossible, that is because living truly counter to culture is one of the hardest endeavors we can undertake. Jesus lived counter to his culture. It cost him dearly. However, that price paid created and ripple effect that forever changed our history and futures.
What would the world look like if we all chose to live counter-culturally?