24 November 2013

God is not an American

Living overseas can open our eyes, or it can narrow them.

We see different priorities, different styles, and different ways to worship. All this should open our eyes to the creativity and wonder of God Himself, but oftentimes we're stuck thinking that God loves this culture more than that one, or worse: that God resides in a certain culture only.

Of course, we don't actually label our thoughts as rough or racist as that. It will be disguised in advice or distaste--not seeking to introduce anyone to God but rather to "the way things should be."

This trend was seen  in the 1800s with the missionary expeditions to the Native Hawaiians. Having grown up on Oahu, I'm saddened to see that the impressions left by the missionaries are mixed: appreciation for the Christian religion and resentment for their cultural reform. Many evangelists preached a "cultural conversion," so converts were strongly encouraged to change their traditions: dress, language, hobbies, and music. In the tropical island heat, new believers adopted European-style suits and dresses that covered them from their chins to their toes. Sadly, some missionaries also enforced a ban on hula and the speaking of the Hawaiian language in schools.

Queen Emma dressed like the Westerners who introduced her to the church.

Hudson Taylor countered this way of thinking when he adopted the culture of the Chinese--speaking their language, wearing their clothes, and styling his hair into a traditional pigtail. He said this about missions and culture:  "Why should a foreign aspect be giving to Christianity? [...] it is not the denationalization but the Christianisation of these people we seek.  We wish to see men and women truly Christian but truly Chinese in every right sense.  We wish to see Churches of such believers presided over by pastors and officers of their own countrymen, worshiping God in their own tongue, in edifices of a thoroughly native style" (Hudson Taylor and Maria, p. 176).

J. Hudson Taylor, who is obviously not in Chinese dress for this portrait
In a milder sense, even as women living overseas, we choose between these two types of responses. Either we can idealize our home countries and wish that everyone would behave so civilly . . . or we can embrace culture as an expression of life, of differences, and of God's grace to all kinds of people. For if we recognize the grace given to us, pride (even cultural pride) bows low before Him.

God is not an American because He is I AM: the Creator. God doesn't prefer the English language over 한국어 because He is I AM: the Word. He loves His children, and they are varied.

With narrow eyes, we only see things to fix and not things to learn.

Let us open our eyes, fall to our knees, and remember grace. The world is God's handiwork, and we have the privilege of stepping out of our canvas corner to discover His beauty against a different backdrop. Let us observe, appreciate, respect, and enjoy. And let us praise Him who leaves His artist signature all around us.

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