COUNTER-CULTURAL CHRISTIANITY #38/11/2016
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:
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?
We left our church family in July of 1941 participating in the usual summer activities but with their lives increasingly affected by the events in the world around them. Already many young men from Girard had reported to duty to defend our country if it were to be attacked. More were being called each week. Much of our information from seventy-five years ago can be found in the Girard News, Girard’s weekly newspaper, published every Friday, and available today on microfilm at Girard Free Library.
In the August 8th issue, the News reported that Mrs. J S Burtsfield had entertained the Afternoon Guild of the Women’s Society of Christian Service on Wednesday afternoon, August 5th, at her home on East Kline Street. After lunch the business meeting was led by Mrs. Mark Stone, President, presiding. Mrs. Burtsfield gave the devotional. Mrs. John Wiand reviewed two booklets: “Uprooted Americans” and “Family Pulls Up Stakes”. Mrs. G B McElhaney reviewed “The Heritage”. (Every time I report on activities of the women of our church, I find myself wondering what their real names were. Only the occasional unmarried woman was identified by her given Christian name. Once married, a woman apparently lost not only her maiden last name, but also her first name. The title, Mrs., was always followed by her husband’s name, or sometimes just his initials, never her own name. I sometimes wish I knew what their real names were.)
From our records, we know a little bit about Sunday School. For a number of years records were kept in bound books which we have in our archives. So, on August 3rd, 1941, we know that there were 195 people in Sunday School; 16 were teachers, 8 were visitors, and the rest were scholars. The total collection for that day was $9.46 of which $5.45 came from the adult classes. On August 10th, there were 210 present, which included 10 visitors. The total collection was $10.93. These figures were typical of the rest of the August Sunday School attendance records. The amounts collected each Sunday seem very small by our experience. However, Rev. Maly’s entire yearly salary was only $2,200. This amount per year was not atypical. We were still experiencing the money woes of the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
Only the need for all kinds of war materials would finally bring us out of the depression to the good financial times we remember from the 1950’s. Still, setting aside our astonishment at the small amount of money collected each Sunday, consider the number of people attending Sunday School. I cannot find the number of people attending the morning Church service but it was most likely similar or probably larger. These figures are from the hottest time of the summer, when some folks would be off on vacation, or would prefer just to take a lazy weekend and not bother attending because of the heat. Back in 1941 people always dressed up to come to church. Men wore white shirts and suits. Women wore dresses, hats, and stockings with real shoes. Flip flops had not been invented. No one would ever wear shorts to church – or jeans – or a tank top – or canvas shoes (called tennis shoes back then). Those folks would be astonished at how we dress today. But I’ll bet that after they got over their surprise, and found out how comfortable we are today, they would gladly trade their heavy and hot clothing for ours.
On a Thursday evening, August 21st, Norma Moore and Jack Powers, who had announced their engagement at a tea in July, were married in our church with two pastors presiding – our own Rev. Maly and Rev. Phillip J Sinner of Trinity Lutheran Church.
On that happy note I will conclude our Glance back at 1941. I’ve purposely left out the bad news coming out of Europe and the rest of the world from the war. It was always in the background, affecting every decision one made about the future, including marriage. That was life for our church family in August of 1941 – seventy five years ago.