Culture in Jeans

It’s a fascinating thing to leave your native culture and revisit for brief stints. Your culture is like a favorite pair of jeans. They fit perfectly, snug in all the right places.

Leaving your culture of origin requires adapting to a new one, at least to some degree if you have any hope of flourishing in it.

Something takes place over the years; your shape begins to change.

Others won’t be able to tell. You may look a bit different on the outside, but the general assumption is that you’re the same on the inside. After all, who really changes? However, a very definite rewiring of the brain has begun for those that are being formed in the cauldron of another culture. It’s more than mere perspective shift.

The way we form sentences, begin and end conversations, and act in public alters. Your concepts of friendship, of love, what is considered funny or offensive. The other day a good friend of mine from Texas mentioned I no longer use articles in my online text messages. I’ve dropped the ‘a’ and ‘the’ whenever possible. It’s Russian thing. I think in short, literal sentence and draw upon 1/3 less vocabulary – it tends to shape your approach to many things – Russians GET TO THE POINT.  Please forgive my directness 🙂 I find now the English language wasteful, superfluous, unnecessarily vague in most conversations.

After ten years in Ukraine, our visits back to Canada and the US have become something of a joke for Deb and I. For the first few years, it was very confusing.  We were thrilled to be back, like gasping for native air.

Over the years, things have shifted, and we long for returning to Ukraine. Deb and I chuckle now at how out of place we feel and function in North America. We’ve stopped trying to put both legs in the formerly comfy jeans. We miss them, we remember them, they just don’t fit anymore.

We were designed by God to flourish in one culture.

I believe this to be true. I’m not suggesting we’ve fully integrated, we still struggle with language and must go deeper to fully inculturate. Culture is real, the worldviews which emanate from our cultural shapes are vastly different. Our meaningful questions in life are as different as the answers to them. This is partly why international diplomacy and current political tensions are so fascinating, and frustrating.

Nobody knows their own cultural shape until they attempt to integrate into another.

Integration takes years, even a lifetime. For those foreign missionaries returning home, be aware of this reality. For those returning from extended military duty overseas, remember this. Give us grace, and let us be confused. When we’re staring at self-checkouts at Target and completely oblivious how to use them, help us. When we’re processing out loud, don’t judge us – we’re just trying to put an old pair of jeans on.

As believers, I believe the process of growing in Christ shapes us too. We become fitted for the Kingdom. This world becomes increasingly foreign and we begin to long for the pure air of another culture. Thankfully, His Kingdom has come now, and we can begin our inculturation  of righteousness, peace and joy by the mercies of Jesus.

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