Tuesday, February 15, 2011

On being a bridge

“Tori, do you ever find yourself being judgmental of the church in the West, since you’ve grown up here?”

This question was posed to me by a fellow TCK—Third Culture Kid—who I was able to meet up with again over Christmas, as he was visiting his family still working in Nepal.

His question, posed directly, had a sting to it that also brought a balm of relief. The sting because it was so blunt, the balm because it was good to know someone else had similar thoughts and was brazen enough to voice them.

The short answer: yes. The long answer: still yes.

The problem with being a TCK is that you are in fact a mixture of two cultures, quite literally, and you can’t always tell where one begins and the other ends (I won’t go into detail about how this can complicate the process of “reflexivity” for the purposes of ethnographic writing). It’s just your reality (in my own opinion, TCKs are a prime community for an ethnographic case study on culture and how porous the concept really is. Takers anyone? It would make an awesome doctoral dissertation!) And you happen to think it’s everyone’s reality because all the other kids you grow up around who have American passports (in my case) have similar experiences. So when you return to the States (in my case) and discover that golden calves on pedestals, taking diversity for granted, a rice diet, being able to speak two languages, among other things, is not everyone’s reality, it’s a bit of a culture shock. (And to your American peers, you act like you just emerged from ancient Israel. Thinking back, I probably have more in common with an ancient Israelite than I thought). Its also hard not to become arrogant when things like poverty, other religions, the supernatural, etc, are all seen as rather exotic when in fact these are part of your everyday experience too. And it’s hard to not be judgmental of a church where people don’t want to take risks in their faith, when you have friends overseas who have risked (and often lost) all for that faith. Its hard not to become jaded when congregation members at “home” have a problem with people of other skin colors attending their place of worship, yet praise your family for going to a foreign country to share the Gospel.

In my own experience, I’ve found there to be two choices: you either take the way of arrogance, or, you become a bridge. In the way of arrogance, its “Duh, buddy, (insert: Scripture is supposed to change the way you think/ your culture is not the only way things are done/ not everyone grows up wearing designer jeans, and they’re overpriced anyway). Have you been living under a rock all (fifteen/fourteen/thirteen) years of your life?!” This was, unfortunately, the way that I chose for much of high school.

Being a bridge is a little more involved. It takes a lot of humility, as it requires you to meet someone where they may be—be it “whatever, I don’t care what someone thinks, I’ll just share the Gospel with them” or “what woman wouldn’t wear bangles and eye liner and have long hair?”—and allow God to use your experience to expand the other person’s way of thinking. If the person doesn’t change their thought as soon as you think they should, or refuses to see a different way at all, it takes a lot of forgiveness, and in my case temper control, and faith to keep loving that person. It also means making yourself vulnerable to criticism (good and bad), or misunderstanding. Plus, it just takes a lot more energy.

It also means you have to step out there. Like, volunteer for a missions committee (scary!), and say something in response to the comment “drum kits have no place in church!” (proper response to that one: “Handel’s Messiah has no place in church!”). Being a bridge goes the opposite way too. I had a conversation with a Nepali brother right before Christmas where he commented that many people in Nepal don’t know the true meaning of Christmas, even though it is a national public holiday. For many, it’s just a day when you get together with friends and family, go on a picnic, and have a nice time off. He was shocked when I told him the same concept ruled in the States and many other Western countries.

Has God been working on my judgmental sieve? Of course. Over the years, He’s shown me time and time again how many logs I carry around in my own eyes. And Christ’s promise of rest grows ever more appealing when you work cross culturally and become heavy laden and weary from interacting with two cultures who oftentimes don’t seem to “get” each other.