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Monday, September 25, 2006

Culture Shock

The US is a weird place. Most things run smoothly most of the time. Most people speak the same language, and are fairly inable to speak anything else. Most places are very clean. Most people have enough money to live a life of relative comfort and be constantly entertained.
And all of this irks me intensely. I've always been a bit critical of some facets of American culture, especially in the ways that it encroaches on the church, but recently that emotional thrust has become fiercer than usual. America is starting to annoy me. I'm finding myself more and more resentful of the people around me for being American, especially in regards to their use of money. I find myself thinking back longingly on my days in Sudan and Angola, when every day was an adventure. There was no telling what would happen. Would the truck start, or would we have to cart bricks by hand? Would we be able to get enough radio bandwith to send an email or two within the space of a few hours? Would we be able to motivate our workers to work today? I find myself missing the delicious uncertainty of life. I'm never completely happy unless I'm sitting on a dirt floor, talking to someone in a language I don't understand.
There's a term for all this: reverse culture shock. I've never really experienced culture shock during my travels in Europe and Africa, but on returning to America this time, it's hit me like a load of bricks. It helps to at least understand that this is normal psychological process, and that most Americans really aren't scum just for being wealthy and self-centered. But it also gives me a window to examine American culture more closely, before I get sucked back into it. I find myself having clearer vision on the life-draining effects of constant entertainment, yearning to find ways to encourage those around me to live more simply and to give more freely, and simply becoming more passionate about living a life of radical discipleship. I find myself praying for more churches that will abandon the consumerist pull of suburban Christianity--churches that choose to build cheaper, low-grade buildings in order to support the mission field better; churches that draw people to costly discipleship rather than to entertaining programs; churches that actively seek out the lonely, the suffering, and the despised. It isn't a sin to be wealthy or well-entertained. But it is a sin if those things keep us from living out boldly the imitation of Christ.

5 comments:

Dave said...

well, personally I'd prefer to see a time come where everyone on Earth could afford to live a life of comfort... though there'd be nothing wrong with some people choosing to live a different life. What bugs me is when it's not a matter of choice, but of necessity. But the way you describe it, it almost sounds like there's no point in trying to improve the lives of others, because it's better to live simply. I'm fairly sure most of the people in such circumstances would trade places with you or almost any American in a heartbeat. Not all of them, but many of them would.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we need to be clear here about the difference between voluntary poverty for the sake of others, which Matt seems to more or less be recommending, and the sort of involuntary poverty that dehumanizes most of the population of the world. The latter is not idyllic or desirable because it is only suffered, not chosen. It's true that wealth can corrupt (and that infinite wealth can corrupt infinitely), but there's nothing necessarily virtuous or desirable in being poor.

-Josh

Hannah said...

I think we also need to question whether a "simple" life necessarily means discomfort or poverty. I don't think it does ~ the longer I'm here, the more materialistic and consumeristic (I think I made that up) I find myself becoming. Going to Gulfport in February was really good for perspective for me, although not as good as going home would have been.

Matty, thanks for sending Nich your link. We were in Houghton for Homecoming this weekend, and Ja/Naomi said you were both doing well. My love to both of you.

Dave S. said...

Matt,

Very interesting thoughts. Though I've never experienced an extended stay in a foreign country, I understand what you mean. And thus I'd have to disagree with the previous posters here. I don't think the ultimate tool of Satan is to keep people in poverty but to make them think he isn't there at all. This happens in a materialistic culture like ours. Thus, in some ways, it might and could be better for many to remain poor, knowing they have intense needs for each day. "Our daily bread" might actually be a legit prayer. But alas, we have the great Christan paradox: "that poverty is blessed and yet ought to be removed," as my dear friend Clive Staples would say.......

Dave S. said...

Matt,

Very interesting thoughts. Though I've never experienced an extended stay in a foreign country, I understand what you mean. And thus I'd have to disagree with the previous posters here. I don't think the ultimate tool of Satan is to keep people in poverty but to make them think he isn't there at all. This happens in a materialistic culture like ours. Thus, in some ways, it might and could be better for many to remain poor, knowing they have intense needs for each day. "Our daily bread" might actually be a legit prayer. But alas, we have the great Christan paradox: "that poverty is blessed and yet ought to be removed," as my dear friend Clive Staples would say.......