If you haven’t picked up by now, my mind goes in about 37 different directions at once. I thought I knew the direction this post was going to take and then I wondered, but what about this type of culture clash? Or this one? Or that one? As we’ve seen this week in the posts, not all culture clashes are created equal. If you’re reading The Poisonwood Bible with the book club, thank God! Oh my, if all of our experiences were like the Prices, I don’t even know how to finish that sentence.
In that vein, I’ve created the ever-so-fun-to-say Cross-Cultural Clash Continuum. To get us started, I’ve listed seven potential areas of clashing from light and humorous to serious and heart wrenching. I hope you’ll add to it. Let’s create a resource together, okay?
Seven Stops on the Cross-Cultural Clash Continuum
1. Bending Towards Each Other — Emily Thomas provided a great example of her students leaving abruptly because they noticed the time and were being sensitive to what they thought was polite behavior as a guest; Emily and her husband wondered all weekend what they had done “wrong.” I worked for years in a cross-cultural office where half of the staff were Chinese and half were expats. Some of our funniest clashes came when we’d all realize the Chinese were doing it in the “Western way” and the expats were doing it in the “Chinese way.” Though we were still missing each other, what a kind reason.
2. Clashes That Expand You — Now when I say this end of the continuum is “light” I do not mean to downplay how hard the encounters can be. The very word “clash” expresses there will be jolting, disorientation, and pain. But as Danielle Krouch showed us this week, when you are able to assimilate another culture’s way of doing something, it doesn’t diminish you, it expands you.
3. We’re just never going to agree, but it’s not a big deal — I’m sorry, to this day I just don’t buy that weather changes cause mass illnesses. I think far more illness is caused by viruses and bacteria. But I know a significant portion of the planet disagree with me. And that’s okay. Here we might get into a gray area of “is it lying?” when I say that I stopped telling local friends I slept with the air conditioning on. It just wasn’t worth them thinking I was basically sleeping with a loaded gun. WHAT are you thinking, Amy?! I’m thinking that I want to sleep. And I want you to sleep too, so if you need to do that in a bed of sweat, go for it. I love you and I don’t get this part of you, but it’s not a big deal.
4. You need to lay down “your” way — Beth Everett powerfully highlighted this aspect of cultural clashes with her carpet story. There will be times (more and more as we understand the culture) when, out of love, we will be asked to lay down our ways and choose a “more excellent way.”
5. You are so annoying to me! — Clashing with your host culture is expected, what might catch you of guard is the depth of clashes you might have with your teammates or other expats. How can someone from your home culture or a nearby one be. so. darn. annoying? What about the times when they say or do things you strongly disagree with and want to go around after them doing “clean-up” with local friends. “You know we don’t all think that way about … ” could be taxes, healthcare, the role of women, discipline, the environment, a sport. Your fellow expats keep pushing your buttons and you know one day you might not be able to take it any longer.
6. The Bible Clearly Says — Don’t get me wrong, having good, solid theology is important. Knowing God’s word and what he says about a whole host of theological issues is valuable. But what happens when a staunch Calvinist is teamed with an equally staunch Armenian? In the best cases, all are mature believers and find ways to minister together. In the worst cases, team bible studies can turn into heated Bible Bee Showdowns where verses are slung at each other; not to connect, but to prove “I’m right and you are 157,000% WRONG.” Which, by the way, it a lot more than 100%. This clash can occur with expats and locals.
7. Clashes With Sin — As an outsider, you might have a unique perspective on an aspect of the culture that is flat out sinful and not a mere difference. Corruption. Illegal behavior. Prejudice. Human Trafficking. Educational Practices. Bribes. Treatment of animals. Wife beating. But we all know how much we love outsiders–be they to our marriages, parenting, how we spend our free time–commenting. This morning I was reading in Daniel where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego said, “The God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” There will be times when we are called to speak out on sin and other times we are called to simply not participate in (to varying costs).
Genesis 6 might be the pinnacle of a culture clash. It got so bad God was ready to destroy the earth. I love the description of Noah: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.
This is my hope and prayer for you. You will be a person of righteousness, blameless, and walk faithfully with God regardless of where your interactions this day, week, month or year may find you on the cross-cultural clash continuum. May the Lord bless you and keep you.
What have I missed? What would you add? Thoughts on this continuum?
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