Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Murmurs from the Mundane: "Culture: And the World became a Hotspot for Weirdoes"

Living out in the countryside has its perks: it’s a lot cleaner than an urban environment, it’s a lot quieter than a city, and, let’s face, on the whole, it’s more beautiful to look at. Nature surrounds you whichever way you go, exploding into each and every sense of the human existence.

On the other hand though, the big downside, or one of them anyway, is that it can get very lonely. While the joys of family life do detract from this somewhat, if you’re like me, you like to hang out with people your own age. This isn’t a problem if you have friends living in the immediate vicinity, but again, for me, the closest friend is located roughly an hour, maybe an hour and a half away.

It’s because of this feeling that I love having friends over at my house. It gives them a chance to take a break from their ordinary day lives, and it relieves me of that loneliness that seems to play a huge part in mine.

I recently had a couple of friends over for a single night while my parents were away on holiday. And because I live in the middle of nowhere, we couldn’t do anything the “hip” young adults would do in a situation like that; we didn’t go to a dance club, we didn’t avail of alcoholic beverages, we didn’t even cause a little bit of a ruckus…ok, we caused a ruckus with my sleeping pattern, but that was as far as it went. All we really did was bake, played some video games, listened to some music, and watched some quality and some trashy TV. In the end, it was a perfect weekend of sorts.

Its funny how, even in a few short days like that, we can experience something we know as “culture.” I’m not going to bore you with a precise and detail description on what it is exactly; that’s what a dictionary is for. In fact, I don’t think a dictionary can fully sum up what “culture” is. We can fill up the majority of the answer; that it is the view and belief of a group of people determined on place and thinking, or to put it in even simpler terms, the way in which someone conducts their life. But is that really all it depends on, a location and a means of contemplation? Because of this, it’s been very hard to write this chapter in some sort of way that’s as engaging as the previous. Hopefully I won’t have bored you too much by the time you reach the end.

If you were to ask what culture meant to a group of Greek philosophers, they would say something along the lines of their belief in terms of the spiritual. Ask a group of teenagers today, and they’ll say its all about celebrities and technology. So what’s the key factor that we all seem to forget?

Time. Culture, as we know it, is hugely impacted upon by time. As time moves forward, the culture of a place or group of people changes. We can see this in our own life time, with the integration of home computers in our daily goings-on. And this is just one example; the introduction of new technologies, changing political structures, vast and confusing ideologies. The church is not immune to this, seeing the rising of new and bold movements, the most common examples being the rise and fall of the emergent church, and the continued efforts of the “prosperity gospel.”

Because of the fact that culture, in itself, is so vast and complex, I can’t really give an aspect of it that we tend to forget. Rather, it is in comparison to culture that we tend to forget parts of the very nature and character of God Himself.

You may be wondering why I went on such a big spiel above on how culture is influenced by time. The reason is we can use this to compare culture against God. Whereas culture is directly impacted upon by time, God isn’t. The whole concept that He is the unchanging God is lost on us, not because we don’t know it, but because we rarely look at the gravity of the statement, as God Himself states in Malachi 3:6;

“For I the LORD do not change…”

- Malachi 3:6a

We’re often reminded of the fact that God doesn’t change. However, we only think of this in terms of our own existence. It’s uncommon for us to realise that the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. While its easy to say this, we really need to think this through; the God who created the heavens and the earth is the same God who was born in a food trough; the God of men such as Moses, Abraham and David is the same God of a couple of fishermen and a tax collector; the God whom songs were sung of is the same God who was jeered and mocked on the way up to be crucified.

And not only is the God of the Old and New Testaments the same, but He is the same today. More so, He was the same God before He created the heavens, and He will be the same in His kingdom which will come.

Not only can we compare the nature of God and the nature of culture in terms of time. Before I even wrote that paragraph on time, I talked about the definition for what culture is. And when I finished, it all came down to two things; location and a means of contemplation.

Just as culture varies with time, so too does it vary with the location which it is in. While there may be a near global culture in relation to technology (at least in the 1st World,) there are many aspects of culture which are unique to a specific place. Ireland is a prime example; here we have a small island nation, with a population of roughly 4 million in the Republic, which loves to have a bit of “craic.” What is craic you ask? To be honest, it’s hard to put a definition on what it means exactly. But one thing can be observed; no where else on the planet do they have “craic” the same way the Irish do.

Obviously this change depending on region isn’t limited to entertainment. The language, economic and political system, morals and laws, ideologies, transport, architecture, food, music, night life, work, etc, all depend on area.

It will come as no shock then to find that God is once again on the completely opposite side to this. How so? Simple;

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me…””

- John 14:6

Jesus Himself says it oh so very clearly; there is one God. That’s it. We often look at this passage and completely forget the connotation of the word “the,” being the definite article. Jesus is a way, or a truth, or a life, He is THE way, THE truth, and THE life. He Himself clearly and emphatically states that the only way to heaven is through a relationship with Him. Some people outside and inside the church are guilty of forgetting this; those outside have come up with various religious systems and ideologies, and the ones inside, and out, have placed greater emphasis on worshiping money, power, fame, sex and the like. We have all become idolaters in one way or another. Unlike culture, in which there are many different ones depending on location, there is only one God, something that we all need to be reminded of daily.

While culture may vary over time and location, there is one aspect of culture, its nature that remains constant. I said that the nature of culture changes, and while that it is, there is always something which is common in all instances of culture.

Let’s once again take modern youth as an example. We said that culture for a group of teens today would be about the celebrity status and making sure they had the latest gadgets. If we contrast that to, let’s say, British medieval individuals, a large part of their culture would be the strict following of religious rules and laws. What’s the one thing that both of these examples have in common? I admit, because of the fact that its very hard to think of two examples like these, and even in the fact that the examples themselves are not all that great to begin with, it may be hard.

Both are devoted to the self. It kind of links back to the idolatry that we talked about earlier on. In the two instances here, and in the others not mentioned, a large part of culture is devoted to self. And when we are focused on self, sin crops up. To put it in slightly easier terms, much of culture, today and as a whole, is sinful. The devotion to greed, fame, power, lust, sex, acceptance, image and status, all linking back to envy and pride, is what this culture is built on.

God, however, isn’t sinful. Rather, He’s the complete opposite, being holy, as the angels declare in Isaiah 6:3;

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

- Isaiah 6:3

There’s so much focus on God being loving and forgiving that we tend to overlook the fact that, unlike the world where we live, God is set apart and different from the whole of creation. God is holy, and because of this, He cannot be in the same place as sin. Where sin exists, God cannot live because of His very nature. In the same way, we also forget that good is a good and just God;

“The Rock: His works are perfect, and the way he works is fair and just…”

- Deuteronomy 32:4 (MSG)

Something that I’ve learned to be reminded of all the time is that God has no obligation to this sinful world with this sinful culture. He has every right to leave us and start a new creation without ever thinking back on us. The fact is though, He chose out His good and just nature to set into motion a rescue plan which would span millennia, culminating in the death of Jesus on the Cross. Through the death of His Son, we see the holy and just nature of God. Not only that, but through Jesus, we have an opportunity to escape this sinful culture, and live a life holy and pleasing to Him…