Tag Archives: culture

Love your cultural enemies? Start with listening and validating their story

Cultural enemies are those who oppose our views about important aspects of life (faith, religion, identity, family, values, community, government, politics, etc.). Worse, many cultural enemies do more than oppose our way of life, they accuse us of the worst sort of behavior, that of hating and hurting others with our culture via systematic bigotry.

When we hear Jesus call to “love your enemy” (Matthew 5) what images of love come to mind with this kind of enemy? Not returning evil for evil? Not seeking revenge? While turning the other cheek is surely part of what it means to love the enemy, we know that love requires action as well–not just the absence of bad responses. 

What if our first action was to really listen to and validate the story of our cultural enemy? Might sound easy but it is not!

Consider Mark Galli’s recent short essay in the April 2016 issue of Christianity Today [link here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/april/what-reconciliation-sounds-like.html%5D as he addresses the challenge when two opposing groups feel their story/narrative is not being heard by the other side. 

We experience daily clashing narratives from Muslims, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, whites, main liners, evangelicals, pro-choices, pro-lifers, gays, straights, men, women, elites, the poor–to name a few. 

Mark points out why listening is so hard. First he notes, 

…narratives define the conflict, name the antagonists, and spell out the resolution. Narratives are, of course, biased. They rarely lie about the facts, but they are selective in their use of them. 

Then, he says one of the more difficult things for us to embrace.

The truth does not lie somewhere in the middle, as we are wont to say, but on both ends. [For example,] The American experiment is a remarkable achievement of democratic governance, human rights, and free speech–and is riddled with hypocrisy and racism. 

Yet it is difficult to take seriously the narrative of the other. We fear that if we do, we’ll sabotage the value of our own narrative. 

And that is the reason why listening is difficult. To listen to the other means to give credibility to the other’s story. And if their story (which paints me or those like me as the enemy) has any merit, then maybe my story will not get any airtime. In fact, we probably already have evidence that our story has been marginalized or charicatured and so we rarely enter a conversation without a chip on our shoulder. 

 To listen to you, my cultural enemy, I have to relinquish my anxiety that I will not get the same opportunity. (This, by the way, is the most frequent challenge in conflictual marriages. If I listen to your hurts, it will diminish my right to be heard.)

Half-listening is not real listening. 

Faux forms of listening need to be named as they give the appearance of listening but actually leave all parties further apart. Galli points out mitigation as one tactic needing. Mitigation is in play when we say, “Yes, true, but you…” In this method we barely acknowledge some sin on our side but excuse it on the basis of a larger sin on their side. We point out their biases, straw-men, mis-characterizations, and sins that cause us to possibly do something wrong. In short, we listen so as to defend, excuse, blameshift, or explain. 

But true love for other requires a different response, one that moves beyond hearing to validating the story. 

True love requires that we listen and validate the narrative, even with its biases. We even go one step further to acknowledge where our own cultural narratives have been wrong, even if we think the wrong is small compared to the wrong on the other side. Can I listen and acknowledge (validate) their wounds, their experiences of injustice. 

Validation does not mean agreement on all aspects of the narrative. 

I once watched an academic presentation/debate between a biblical counselor and a psychologist from a different persuasion. They psychologist went first and detailed a long list of sins and failures of biblical counselors (in practice and in foundational beliefs). The biblical counselor then stood up and took the time to agree with the  psychologist. Without caveat, he agreed with the sins and mis-application of the bible. There was no defense. Instead, he even asked the psychologist if he had any personal negative history with biblical counseling. The psychologist told a rather personal history of harm to his own family many decades before. It provided an opportunity for the biblical counselor to apologize for that experience. Later, the counselor was able to talk about what he hoped biblical counseling would be known for and painted a picture that I think most in the room could value. But, none of that would have happened if the counselor didn’t set aside the temptation to defend or deflect criticisms that might have been little more then charicatures. 

Try it with your next conversation with a cultural enemy. Hear their story. Validate whatever portion holds some portion of the truth. Do it without a “but”. Be willing to consider the flaws in your own side even if the other will not do the same. Trust that God will make all things right (including our flawed culture) in due time. And trust that He will give you the time and space to speak truth (in love) to your cultural enemy. 

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Filed under conflicts, Cultural Anthropology, group dynamics, Justice

Confusing Culture and Christ?

The Christmas season is a good time for Christians to examine who they really serve. Sometimes, in the chaos we call “life” we can lose sight of who we worship. Last September Diane Langberg gave a twenty minute challenge to her audience about the dangers of confusing culture and Christendom with Christ. In her talk she explores the deception we mistake Christendom for the church. When we do, we fall prey to blind guides and to the temptation to protect institutions over being the hands and feet of Christ to the vulnerable. We fall prey to seeking power (or maintaining it) over speaking and being truth.

And for those who are not tempted to mistake Christendom for Christ, another danger exists. It is easy to become jaded with the church and want to abandon her as unhealthy. We can trust in our shrewd critique of the wrong things within the church. Yet, she calls us not to be toxic or arrogant. That will not serve the church well.

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Filed under Christianity, Diane Langberg, Uncategorized

Individual or collective responsibility in matters of justice?

If you read blogs you likely follow current news and are aware that a you tube movie trailer has spawned protests, violence and death in Muslim dominated countries. Haven’t seen the movie and don’t intend to. From what I hear it paints Islam and the Prophet Mohammad is some rather unflattering (and for Muslims, offensive) light.

For most Americans and Westerners, it can be hard to understand the reaction. No one (I think) believes the American Ambassador to Lybia had anything to do with the production of the movie or was in support of it’s depictions of Islam. Yet, it would appear that some thought it reasonable to take his life in response to the film’s damage. The same would be true for lesser forms of violence in other parts of the world (car burnings, threats to life, destruction of US property in foreign territories)

Is it religion or culture?

Though we could easily chalk reactions by Muslims up to religion, I think culture may play a greater role in this one. We Americans, apart from religion, see the world as individual. We are concerned about individual justice and individual fairness. It is hard for us to accept responsibility for things we didn’t do. For example, you might hear someone grouse about affirmative action, “I didn’t enslave anyone, why should they get a leg up that I didn’t get.” Or, if a member of my church is exposed for a heinous sin, I’m sad, maybe a bit embarrassed, but I certainly don’t feel I ought to bear ANY of the responsibility for his or her crimes.

Much of the rest of the world doesn’t see it this way. If someone in your family does wrong, your whole family suffers disgrace. If someone in your community does wrong, it is as if the whole community gets a black eye. It is less about individual sin and much more about corporate sin and shame.

Is there a biblical answer to this?

While in NO way validating the senseless revenge attacks on innocent victims, I think it important to consider whether there is a biblical response to the strong individualist-communitarian tensions we feel when it comes to corporate sin and righteousness. If you are looking for a single verse, there isn’t one. However, it is interesting to see OT leaders lead in corporate confession of sin–even if they themselves were not guilty. There is an emphasis on “we”. Jeremiah’s lament, Nehemiah’s confession of sin, the minor prophets warning of destruction to the entire northern kingdom are all examples of this “we.” Maybe even more provocative is that of the destruction of Aachan’s family and animals for his sin or the salvation of Rahab and her family for her individual righteousness.

You might argue that this is an Old Testament thing, however, the community language continues in the New Testament, even if less pronounced. There is focus on unity of the body, Christians as all attached to the head, Jesus, refusal to allow sin by other members to continue within the body, and finally, serious warnings given to entire Churches in the book of Revelation.

While you and I should not adopt and “eye for an eye” motto nor seek to punish those who are innocent of crimes, maybe Christianity isn’t quite so individual relationship with Jesus as we’ve painted it to be in the West….


Filed under Uncategorized

Read this: What’s wrong with giving a girl a push-up bra?

Friend and fellow counselor David Wiedis just sent me this Dailing News column link about his wife’s new self-published book. Having seen a mock-up of it, I can’t recommend it enough. It is clever, beautifully illustrated…and nails it on the slippery slope of playing to our sexualized culture when it comes to clothing for girls.  It will certainly make you think! Miho is also an acclaimed performance artist and does a show called, “Clean Sheets.” You can read about her work here.

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Filed under Christianity, church and culture, cultural apologetics

Living through the life of another

Citizens Bank Park - From the Break from Right...

Image by wallyg via Flickr

Last night I took my family to a Phillies/Red Sox baseball game. My wife gave me two tickets for father’s day without knowing that another wonderful person offered me two of his tickets to the same game. In many ways, it was a great and blessed night: wonderful weather, great seats, time with one of my sons, a gem of a pitching outing by Cliff Lee despite the fact that I’m a Red Sox fan, a batting practice ball caught and given to my son, and best of all…missing keys turning up in at lost and found (if God hadn’t answered that prayer…well this would be a far different post!).

But, I do want to note a couple of observations about human behavior (notwithstanding the great behavior of whoever found my keys and turned them in…THANK YOU):

  1. People drink far too much. Going to the game means indulging in food and drink
  2. Related to this…it is interesting to watch strangers pass a twenty dollar bill down the row to the aisle, beers and change come back down. No one seems to even play with copping either the beers or money. Outside the park, I’m pretty sure the same values would not apply
  3. Put on a shirt for your team, drink (see #1 above), and you enter the Lord of the Flies. People acting if THEY were the team. When their team does well, they are inclined to make sure the “enemy” is duly scorned and despised.
  4. Some fans of the opposing team (Red Sox fans in this case) don’t seem to realize the odds are against them. Some “men” in front of us decided they would take on the fans in front of them. Created some anxiety in myself and my son. Probably #1 involved. Thankful security took care of the issue.
  5. I’m all for cheering, but some cheer in such a way that makes you think they’re cheering for righteousness and jeering the Nazi Germany. (I”m sure this would also be true if we were in Boston, where I took a beer over the head at one game I attended there).
  6. Some people who pay top dollar for their seats don’t seem to stay in them very much. I can’t count the number of times some of the fans left to buy drinks and other merchandise, and take care of business in the bathroom.


Filed under Cultural Anthropology

Thoughts on sport, romance, and perversion

I’m not particularly the romantic type but certain things tend to spawn warm fuzzies in me. One such thing is the Olympics. Watching young men and women throw their all into sport for the chance to win (even though most won’t even come close) is one of those things. I recall the same feelings as I lived and breathed track and cross-country running in high school. I have fleeting desires of being able to race that fast, throw every cell into an activity, to think that succeeding will be the best. But then, my aching ankles and knees remind me of the consequences of doing so…

Pairs figure skating, in my mind, is one of the best illustrations of sport, romance, and perversion. It is definitely a sport. Have you ever tried to skate? To skate and jump off the ice…and not have a brain injury? To catch someone spinning over your head? To do all that and look graceful? But pairs are also supposed to be artistry and poetry.  The couple skates in a way to tell a  romantic or romantic/tragic story. But with the new scoring system couples are rewarded with moves, jumps, catches, positions. They are not as well rewarded for fluidity, artistry, and poetry. Maybe I’m showing my age but I found very few of the skating pairs very interesting this year. The couple that won certainly were interesting, both on the ice and their personal story. But, many just skated to music and did the moves they knew would get higher scores.

In my mind, it perverts the romance of the sport. Sure, the skaters are athletic. Sure, the moves they do are amazing taken one at a time. But, I would liken it current pop hip-hop lyrics that skip all the romance and just flaunt or demand raw sexual activity. Forget the dinner and the candles, just give me sex!

If you were watching the long program of pairs, you may have seen a Canadian couple. They fell and so wouldn’t have medaled. However, I think they had more romance and art in their skating than all of the first three combined.

Which leaves me one question. Are we beyond romance in this day and age? Missed something on television? You can catch the 30 second clip of the most important points on video. Don’t want to watch a whole football game? You can get the highlights instead. Seems we like things raw and to the point.

Maybe this is the sin of Cliffs Notes 🙂

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Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling

Volf on “Giving and Forgiving”

On Saturday I attended Miroslav Volf’s 3 hour talk on the topic of renewing grace and forgiveness in a “culture stripped of grace.” The first talk, “A Culture stripped of grace” he had these things to say:

1. Our culture is oriented around satisfying desires. If you ask a person what makes us flourish, you may get get a blank stare, or, they perceive that flourishing means living with satisfaction. Can we imagine flourishing without met desires? Maybe we should speak of “living well” instead?

2. We have lost some of those things that religion teaches us how to curtail desire. We live in a “grab ass/kick ass world” We grab what we can and take revenge on those who try to take from us or block us from what we think we deserve.

3. We tend to live in 3 (maybe 4?) modes
a. Taking mode (get what we want) Notice that life becomes dull in taking mode and so you need bigger and bigger takes. “Opiate for the people is commercialized culture, not religion.”
b. Investing mode (try to get just a bit more than we get)
c. Exchange mode(rough equivalency of giving and getting). This is where we live most of the time and it isn’t bad
d. Gift mode (giving more than we hope to get). Here he made allusions to bad gift giving which he says is worse than exchange mode.

4. What happens when gift mode shrinks in culture or goes away? Human life is impossible w/o gifting. We cannot pay enough to cover the costs from being raised, for example. We begin to see, when gift mode shrinks, that giving is being a fool, a loser, a sucker. In this current crisis we are afraid not of going hungry but of not being able to have what we want. 

He ended the talk with the question we wants us  to ask: What is our life for? This requires us to think and stop just reacting to desires and culture cues. What is our life for? Is it for me or for giving? How might this current crisis move us to ask this question?


Filed under church and culture, cultural apologetics, Doctrine/Theology, Forgiveness, sin