Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Christians of Two Worlds

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, KJV)

It was from tv watching that I learned of this simple ritual that Japanese people do before meal. They would clip their hands, and say “i-ta-da-ki-ma-su” before meal. Every time when I have meal with my Japanese friends, I would do it as a friendly gesture, and as a means to connect with them. But I had no idea what it means until recently a Japanese friend explained it to me. “いただきます” means “I gratefully receive.” It is to appreciate the cook for preparing the meal, as well as to appreciate the animals or vegetables for their sacrifice so that we may have food. After learning about the meaning behind it, the ritual now means quite differently to me.

This is just one of the examples of how a deeper cultural context and significance could be lost in a cross-cultural communication. And when the cultural context and significance are lost, we adopt the mere behavior without the understanding of it. This contextual and significance loss happens not only between cultures, it may also happen between generations. This, I believe, has a lot to do with the fadeaway of Christianity in some parts of the world. Christianity has become a tradition to them, a part of the culture. And if no one bothers to explore the context and significance behind this tradition, then it is just another tradition that we can live with or without.

As we charge those previous generations for their failure to pass down true faith, faithful Christians today are making the same mistake as we interpret the Bible by leaving out the cultural context and significance of the times of the inspired authors. Based on my observation on the Christian life in California (I haven’t been to churches outside of it, so I don’t want generalize all American churches) and the education I’m receiving, I believe what is greatly hindered is the understanding of the group oriented, honor and shame based culture of the biblical times, which is defined by the subtle yet significant relationship that strings the kinsman relations.

I’d like to argue that, rightly understood, the Bible is first and foremost about relationships. As God opens up and welcomes His creatures through creation to participate in His triune community, as His creatures constantly break the relationship with Him by committing themselves to adultery, and as the creatures break the relationship with each other by all sorts of immorality – it’s all about relationship, and how to be right in relationship with God and each other. Understood this way, the teachings of the Bible is no longer merely about behaviors, but how to love right, how to be in relationship with God and each other right. Without love, there would be no relationship, and without relationship, relations would be meaningless. That is why in the churches, we find ourselves missing that meaningful connection and relationship with each other even after having one program after another. The programs, the dos and don’ts are the mere imitation of a pattern of behavior, but what is missing is the soul of it.

Prove me right or wrong, either way I’d like to present this particularly as a challenge and encouragement to my fellow Asian brothers and sisters. We have a culture that is so much closer to that of the biblical times than the Western individualized culture. This is our advantage. Many churches in Asia are already doing well in this perspective – the group orientation comes naturally to us. But we rarely ponder upon it in a more systematic manner. What is that we are doing right with our culture? How can do we better in terms of the biblical ideal relationship? What, even, does that biblical ideal relationship look like? More implications and applications need to be drawn from the Bible.

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