Crossing the streets of culture
May 10 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Crossing the streets of culture | Friday, May 10, 2002

Friday, May 10, 2002

Crossing the streets of culture

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

I remember experiencing culture shock when I moved to North Carolina in 1979 (I wasn't born a Tar Heel, but I got here as quickly as I could). I served a rural church made up mostly of tobacco farmers, and it took some adjusting. I learned to prime the sticky stuff, though, and helped friends in the church "barn it" and take it down. There's nothing like being on a lower tier of poles in a hot barn when the guy above is handing down sand lugs to help you feel a part of things. (If you haven't had this experience, just think tired arms, soaking sweat, itchy leaves and sand in the face.)

It took longer to get used to the idea that basketball games matter. Where I grew up, basketball served only as a means for staying in shape between football seasons. But in North Carolina, the round ball rules. I often tell people I sought my Ph.D. at Duke out of self-defense, so I'd have a team to pull for.

And I do. I love calling North Carolina home.

Culture can be difficult to overcome in church, too. Lessons learned and impressions made while growing up in liturgical, traditional, "old-timey" or charismatic traditions are not easily lost.

I've heard it said that the popular music we listened to as teenagers will always remain our favorites - our idea of "golden oldies" - and the principle can apply to church, as well. The difficulty of finding a church that "feels like home" is often more of a cultural than a theological issue.

When cultural differences are compounded by race, the equation gets even stickier. More prejudices and preconceptions come into play, and barriers are harder to overcome. It is often and accurately said that Sunday morning worship is the most segregated hour of the week.

Some of us can remember growing up in a culture that was sharply segregated every hour of the week. Because it was all we knew, the racial - and unequal - separation of white and black Americans seemed as natural as could be, and few people (white people, at least) gave it a second thought.

Thankfully, the days of blind segregation are largely past. Sadly, prejudices and misunderstandings remain as pervasive as pollen in the springtime.

Churches were slow to get on board, but many leaders are making laudable efforts to erase racial barriers and promote increased cooperation among different racial and ethnic groups. Some churches hold joint worship services or practice "pulpit exchanges" with other ethnic congregations. Our (predominately white) Baptist State Convention recently held a special joint session with the (predominately black) General Baptist State Convention. It's a beginning.

Our population is a complex mix of many races, many cultures and many worldviews. We do not experience life or even perceive reality in the same way. It is likely that we will never fully understand each other's perspectives, whether the cultures in question are black/white, liturgical/contemporary, conservative/moderate, Christian/Muslim, urban/rural, East/West or North/South.

But we can try.

One of the things that set Jesus apart from His contemporaries was His extraordinary ability to perceive the real needs of those He met, and thus respond with compassion and understanding.

Those of us who grew up white and middle class will never fully know what it is like to leave our homes for an immigrant camp, or to struggle for acceptance because we are black, or to see the world as an Arab.

But we can try. We can learn. We can seek out cross-cultural experiences. We can visit a place where we're the ones who don't speak the language. We can develop friendships with people who are different. We can worship with noise or in silence, listen to sermons that are brimstone-laced or calmly recited.

And we can learn from each experience that all those different people out there are not objects to be inspected and judged, but individuals to be understood and loved, even - especially, Jesus said - the "least of them."

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5/10/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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