Cross-cultural incidents. This is something we talked about over and over again in our classes and debrief time in Uganda. We even talked about adjusting back home and how we may have reverse culture-shock. However, I was very unaware at the form this would take upon my return.
I remember first arriving in Uganda and being surprised at how little actually did surprise me or result in some sort of cultural incident. I was actually very frustrated at first. My trips and extended time spent in India prepared me for cultural experiences very different from my everyday American cultures that I found myself frustrated with how unexciting Uganda seemed at first. The traffic didn’t really seem that bad to me compared to India. There were more animals on the streets in India (and more exciting ones). Indian dress and foods were way different, and some of the foods in Uganda even came from India. Basically I was disappointed. Could I ever love Uganda as much as I loved India? At first I thought no. But man…I was so wrong. Uganda now has just as much of my heart as India does. Funny how God works.
Despite the fact that some of the typical cultural incidents that many in our USP group had were not incidents that necessarily occurred for me, I had a few that were unique and unanticipated. However, rather than focusing on my cultural incidents in Uganda, I want to share my experience with cultural incidents upon my return home.
I felt very well prepared for returning home. I had done the reverse culture-shock thing before. I anticipated what would irritate me, what struggles I would have. However, I did not anticipate what specific incidents would set me off the way they did.
One thing that I was incredibly sensitive to coming home was anything politically related and things dealing with Westernized Christianity. It was only a couple days before we flew home that Osama Bin Laden was found and killed. I remember sitting on the plane and receiving a newspaper. The front page was a picture of Americans in NYC celebrating. I felt sick to my stomach, and I still feel sick every time I think of Christians celebrating his death. However, this is not my focus for this blog, so again, I will move on. Just know that I had an increased sensitivity to these types of things.
The newspaper on the airplane was just the start. I want to share one specific incident for you that I was not anticipating. I am sure most of you reading this have some knowledge of Rob Bell and his latest book Love Wins. My time in Uganda helped me become comfortable with tension in the sense that I am very okay asking questions and not having answers concerning faith and just life and all that that entails. I heard about the controversy surrounding Love Wins, and this caused me to be intrigued enough to want to read it. So one day about a week or two after I returned to the States, my sister and I walked into a Christian book store to look for the book. I searched through the shelves and found the Rob Bell section. They had a number of his books, but I was unable to find that one. I finally asked a clerk who worked there. She kinda looked at me like I was ridiculous and with a seemingly condescending laugh declared, “Umm, no, we won’t sell that.” The first thought that ran through my head, “Are you kidding me?!?! At least half the books you sell in this store can be argued to be unbiblical but you won’t sell a book that offers a hopeful perspective and emphasizes the love of God?” I didn’t vocalize this, but my face probably was showing what I was thinking.
Despite my irritation, my sister and I continued to browse the books. We made our way down the devotional isle. This is where things only got worse. Glancing through the books, there was on in particular that caught my eye. On the cover was a picture of an American flag…and then…I saw the title: God’s Promises for the American Patriot. Long story short, I freaked out. One of my thoughts, “They won’t sell Rob Bell’s book, but they’ll sell this piece of crap?!?” Now to be fair, I literally judged a book by its cover (which we grow up being taught not to do) and the content was not as terrible as the cover made it sound to me. However, the cover was enough to set me off. I left the story fuming. Ask my sister…she had to deal with me. I was angrier about this than I had been about anything else in very long time. It takes a lot to get me angry. Trust me. For some reason, that was enough. A million thoughts and questions ran through my head about Christianity and American Christianity and politics and everything else related.
I never expected walking into this book store that I would leave so angry over such a small thing.
I am not just telling you about this for the sake of telling it. I want to tell you what I learned from this experience. I learned that being overly-sensitive all the time (even if it is something you are passionate about) is not the most appropriate way to get through life. If I continued to snap at every little thing that bothered me because of my sensitivities, I would become a very cynical person to be around.
It is okay to be passionate about issues, but we must express our thoughts in the context of love and grace rather than anger and judgment. There have been many occasions that I have been off in my thinking on an issue. I have been illogical at times. I have been stubborn. I have been ignorant. We all have our moments of this. I don’t know everything. Part of the reason I have become so okay asking questions without answers is because I acknowledge that I know very little. So why should I judge people and their thoughts, especially if those thoughts were thoughts I once had? I don’t know people’s hearts or minds the way God does. All I know is that I am called to love people and loving means extending grace. Granted I need to seek to proclaim and protect truth, but this must be done with love and grace an open-mind to the work God is doing in people’s lives and my own.
Love conquers all.
Help me, Lord, to extend grace and love instead of judgment and anger…but help me to seek and protect truth. Help me compromise where I need to compromise and stand firm where I need to stand firm.
Meg (Spring 2011)