Our 2017 destination: Banff, Canada. The weather: rain. All over. We had ridden east through Washington, skirting the Canadian border. Mick’s bucket list included Banff, but the weather there was colder and wetter than where we were. Until we hit Sandpoint, and the rain and cold grew. We sheltered in place at a Sandpoint motel, trying to wait it out.
When a brief window opened of no torrential downpours, the desk clerk recommended a day ride north along the Kootenay Lake in Canada. Needing to ride, we headed north in the damp chill. A free ferry, standard in Canada, took us across the lake, and as soon as we parked the bikes, Jerry and I headed to the snack bar for hot drinks. I ordered a pastry and coffee for $5.00, reached to my back pocket to find no wallet—I’d left it locked in the bike.
So I asked Jerry to borrow a five, but he gave me a twenty. US. The clerk handed my change back, another twenty. Canadian. With American arrogance, I had thought all would take American dollars. They did. And returned Canadian. A Canadian twenty with no chance to cash it, so I still have it. That coffee and pastry have cost me $20. American.
Since our return, I learned that accepting US dollars inconveniences Canadian stores, they have to exchange it, and many view it as disrespectful. I get this. And in following Jesus, we need the same knowledge and sensitivity to those with different backgrounds. We all do, and should, interact with people beyond our comfort zones.
Culture isn’t primarily ethnicity, but the “customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits” of a group, according to Webster. And groups can vary, from one nation to another, or even subcultures in the same nation. Followers and nonfollowers have different cultures, as do denominations and local churches and political parties. Regions maintain differences—the Deep South won’t always match the Pacific Northwest.
Paul knew the cultures, and used that knowledge, particularly when he hitch hiked on a religious statue in Athens (Acts 17:22-23). He began with their beliefs and used that as a jumping off point. He even quoted their own literature to them to support his position, (verses 28-29). Please check those out.
We don’t need to approve of other’s positions, but unless they know we listen to them, that we know their true position, we have little chance of developing either a good conversation or relationship. So, we listen. We ask genuine questions, not gotchas. We try to discover why they believe as they do.
But more than just knowing, we need to adapt to them. Not to blindly accept, but to fit in when we can without betraying biblical principles. The classic line can help us, “People won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Paul adapted when he could, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
Truly, we walk a narrow line as we adapt to the culture of those around us. We live in the world and fit into it in some ways, and counter it in others. But to the level we can, let’s identify with unbelievers, learn their values, their language, and strive to understand when we cannot agree. Why? So like Paul, we might save some.
Kick Starting the Application
How much interaction do you have with members of other groups? Does that make God smile? How knowledgeable are you of those groups? Would they say you understand their values and customs? What do you suspect God would respond to your answers? How can you improve this week?