Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Culture Shock

Ever been to a different country where the language, customs, history, and dress differ from ours? While you were there, did you encounter something that everyone there accepted as appropriate and normal that seemed just plain silly to you … or even offensive? Or were you ever warned by a guide NOT to do or say something that you would have otherwise done without thinking because it was considered offensive in the culture where you were traveling? Psychologists call difficulties adjusting to these changes "culture shock."

Let’s look at things another way: One of the most hated characters in the hit series M*A*S*H was Major Frank Burns, expertly played by Larry Linville. Burns often referred to the Koreans as “foreigners,” only to be reminded by Pierce or Honeycutt that in Korea, the Americans were actually the foreigners. Burns presented a picture of what has come to be known as “the ugly American.” Unfortunately, Linville portrayed his character so well that people came to associate the character’s negative traits with the actor, and his career was forever affected.

Another picture: When a certain German girl came here to study at our local college and we “adopted” her into our family, it opened the door to a number of fascinating conversations about cultural differences. Knowing how we imitate speech patterns and mannerisms from other countries, I asked her how Germans imitate Americans. Her answer: talk really loud pretending to have chewing gum in your mouth. That’s the way they see us: rude, loud, uncouth, impolite, and inarticulate.

One of the books my pastor mentioned this past Sunday morning is a book called unChristian: What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity … and Why It Matters. It is a difficult read because it exposes us who live in what Andy Stanley calls “Churchworld” to how people who are not in the church see us. It’s not a pretty picture, but it is something we need to know. We are trying to share the good news of Jesus Christ with people who see us as Frank Burns Christians. They will not listen to us until we move through the negative perceptions.

The world around us is changing; and anyone my age or older is now a foreigner. We must work to make sure we represent Christ better than Frank Burns represented Americans.

That’s enough to think about for now.


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