Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Repentance and Culture Shock

In my preparation for India, one of my concerns has been the language barriers. India has several dialects, after all. And while I know that all of my teaching times will be with the assistance of a translator, it still felt like there was some part of my language that didn't seem like it would properly translate. While I know how to say what I need to say, it was making me nervous whether or not I could say it clearly and precisely with the muddle of my "Americanisms."

The more I've thought about it, I've come to understand just how much my culture plays a part not only in what I say, but in how I say it. The manner in which Americans communicate is rapidly changing. The English language isn't just left to its own - there's tone, body language, and even simple inflections that make up our linguistic intent. And all too often, as many of us know well, the way you say something often says more than the content of what you are actually saying.

For myself and countless other people (mostly young men, I'd gather) in our generation, I've fallen prey to the cultural linguistic norm of sarcasm and cynicism. Our primary forms of entertainment are saturated with overwhelming levels of sarcasm and cynicism, from "The Soup" to "The Daily Show" and the "Colbert Report" to practically every Will Ferrell movie. For young guys, this makes us laugh, and having the desire to make others laugh gives way to us adopting the cultural methods of communication that entertain the most. I admittedly LOVE to laugh and make people laugh, but I fear much of my humor ends up being biting sarcasm and cynicism that is often at the expense of someone else, which doesn't exactly scream Christ-likeness.

In the end, sarcasm and cynicism are simply a means to avoid speaking and communicating deliberately and with purpose. In other words, it takes courage to clearly say what you mean the way you mean it without having to bathe it in a mess of sarcastic cover up. When you speak deliberately, you take responsibility for what you say, what you don't say, and even how you say it. Rarely do we want to suffer the consequences of our communication. But doing so is an act of steadfast obedience to Christ. Our yes' are yes' and our no's are no's in a disciplined act of worship.

There are three verses to point out in Ephesians 4 that speak to this. Verse 15: "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." Verse 25: "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body." And also Verse 29: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

Why then, do we lay aside sarcasm? Because it does not build up - it tears down. Every word out of our mouth is intended to be an edification of the Body of Christ. The content, the message, is not packaged in sarcasm and cynicism, but love. Love is the medium of our language, because love does not take away from the truth - it further clarifies and magnifies it.

The hard truth? If Indian pastors would be hindered by my American sarcasm and cynicism in understanding the Gospel, then it is surely hindering here as well. I need to repent of conforming to the (speaking) patterns of this world, and I need my sarcastic and cynical mind to be renewed and transformed in the knowledge of Christ. An uphill battle? Oh yeah. A worthy cause? Absolutely.

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