Embracing & transcending culture


We’ve lived in Kraków now for 18 months, and at times it feels like much longer (not in a bad way, just that it’s been a time full of life), and yet it isn’t much time at all on the grand scale of things, nor compared to many other workers here. However, because I’m keenly aware of the fact that we are still “newbies” I also want to share a little bit of our ever-changing viewpoint on what embracing a host culture looks like, and where Kingdom ideals transcend regardless of culture.

So what kinds of Polish cultural things are we embracing? For starters, and we were always committed to this, we are slowly (and at times frustratingly) embracing the language. Language is one of those things that truly opens your mind to the culture, the underlying ways of thinking, creating relationship, and it’s a huge commitment, which builds trust. Could we do what we’re called to do without the language, I think so, and I also believe for this culture, this place, it speaks volumes, even if we never master this tongue twisting and structurally complex language.

We’ve also embraced the typical eating schedule, now this isn’t a cultural thing that makes or breaks how well our “work” goes… but it is something which puts us into a rhythm like the locals. You see, here in Poland, there’s a light breakfast just after one wakes up, and then a light second breakfast in the late morning. The main meal of the day comes in the mid-afternoon, for us that’s around two in the afternoon, it’s the largest meal and usually hot. Then there’s a light supper/dinner in the evening, around six in the afternoon for us, this is usually some kind of open-face sandwich, or a soup. We really enjoy this rhythm, it seems to flow well, and since the girls get their main meal at school anyway it just naturally works. I can’t imagine hanging onto our American meal schedule, it just wouldn’t work out with invites to people’s homes (usually in the evening), we’d be starving if we expected a full “dinner” whenever we were in someone’s home!

So what kinds of Kingdom values do we hope will transcend into our relationships? This is much harder to pinpoint since so much of “who we are” is based on our culture of origin (like so many hot topic political issues, regardless of location) rather than Kingdom values or principles. It’s easy to think something is “kingdom” when in fact it is probably a value from our place of origin. I think there are a couple things though that are certainly from God rather than human culture. First, the idea that our identity is not what we do, but simply and authoritatively defined by the fact that who are surrendered to Jesus are children of God, no expectations, 100% grace, unconditional, full love. The level of how someone is compelled by this fact is another story, and 100% influenced by culture, family, and the war we all fight spiritually.

Second, the concept of taking the high road, directing ourselves and everyone around us (at least trying to, and sometimes falling on our faces) to find the “third way” the way which points towards love, compassion, and transformation/restoration in Jesus. It can be difficult to express this idea, and at times it seems nearly impossible. The truth is, we can’t be perfect and we will “fail” to take the high road 100% of the time. The idea here isn’t to be perfect, it’s to realize our mistakes, when we hurt someone, or when we’re really serving ourselves rather than God’s kingdom and come back to forgiveness, and try again. Often culture tries to give only two options, two sides of the story, yet when I dig and pray I usually find a third idea or way which honors both God and people (and sometimes I have to start over and try again). So I leave you with this to embrace the way of Jesus beyond your culture and for your culture:

Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people [the pharisees, religious people, and false teachers of the day] do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Eph 5:6-9 NLT.

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