24 September 2006

Some thoughts after two days

It's the culture, stupid! That's what I usually think when I don't do something I should do, do something I shouldn't, or just don't get it.

For example. I drove for the first time today in France. Not much more anxiety than driving in parts of Chicago. However, when you make a left turn in France, there is a large white circle in the middle of the road that you are supposed to go around on the right, not cut across it. This circle is meant to keep two large moving pieces of metal from contacting each other, especially when I'm in one of them. Makes sense, it you know what the white dot is for.

We did our first load of laundry tonight. No problem, except... everything is in French, and even then, the words written on the machine don't alway match what is in a french dictionary. So it might make sense or it might not. Then we could not figure out where to put the soap (it's in a pull out tray at the top left), how much to use (still don't know), and which of the five slots to put it (ditto). Our country director happen to call at an opportune moment, so most of the problems were solved.

Then, we couldn't get the door open on the washing machine. No matter how hard I tried, it wouldn't open. Finally, I noticed that it hadn't finished it's cycle, and the drum wasn't turning. I finagled the knobs and got it to short cycle to a finish, and then got the door open, behind which was our soaking wet laundry. The problem turned out to be nothing more benign than simple overloading of the machine.

Another problem: who do you kiss on the cheeks? Everyone kisses on the cheek (actually they launch the kiss in the air several inches from your skin and assume it will drift down to make contact). I saw quite a few people greet each other that way, but I saw no rhyme or rational for it, so I kept moving and shaking hands. Finally one very nice woman caught up with my wife, and then before I could react, we were both "bised" (kissed). The next thing you know I'll be buying a beret.

An interesting bit of culture shock is buying four pieces of ham in a plastic bag that cost as much as the entire pig in the U.S. Or paying for a liter (approximately a quart) of gasoline that costs almost as much as a gallon of gas in the states.

Of course, the problem isn't the culture, it is us --we are the people who are out of sync.

All of this is to say that as bad as it sounds, I've enjoyed every minute of it. Basically, I've had to deconstruct my own culture to discover why I do certain things a particular way, and come to the conclusion that it really isn't that important unless comfort and familiarity is really important to you.

I don't say that to be specious or sarcastic. All this is opening my eyes to how to do ministry here in France. I have no doubt that God can and will use the giftedness that he's given me to share and touch the lives of people here, but it means that I need to really think beyond the box and look carefully at my cultural baggage, and how it puts a spin on how to reach out to others.

But, as Paul writes, there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, neither is there male or female, the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. I think that means that God is in culture as well as above it, and if so, there is hope for us whom he has called to serve

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