The God of Culture, Not Multiculturalism

When was the last time someone said something that shocked you? I mean, a zinger that seemed totally out of character?

My most recent one was the French President.

This week Nicolas Sarkozy made a startling announcement. In short, multiculturalism has failed.

He’s not the first, however. Last week British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was a “sad failure,” as did German Chancellor Angela Merkel in October.

Sarkozy’s statements during a TFI interview were profoundly counter-politically-correct, and have caught a lot of political Americans off guard (not to mention, a lot of political Europeans).

Of course we must all respect differences, but we do not want…a society where communities coexist side by side. If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France. We have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him.

Tonight I took a walk on the streets of Yverdon, Switzerland and stopped by one of my all-time favorite kebab haunts, Chez Alex. Alex is from Tunisia, he’s a Muslim, and a dear friend. He’s also adopted Swiss culture both in business and in lifestyle. Not fully of course; he can never depose himself of his past. But he has catered to his new country of habitation.

Likewise, I’m an American in Switzerland. But I don’t expect them to know English; I have learned (and am constantly learning) to speak French. I try and learn how they think, how they process, and what they appreciate.

Even standing beside a baggage conveyor belt in Zurich’s airport I couldn’t help notice that Swiss watches aren’t the only things that run with precision: the conveyor belt was silent!

But more profound than European leaders’ condemning of multiculturalism is God’s stance on it:

Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.

Isaiah 55:5

Throughout scripture, God defines nations. They are named. Identified. Particular. And he is the God of the unique and the original. That’s because he loves what makes nations rare. In fact, I propose that he invented their specific qualities. Not even they can lay claim to that. After all, he is Creator.

So the problem with catering to a minority within a nation in order to change its identity (as explored with regard to wealth in my recent post on allowing a minority to trump a majority) is that changing a nation’s DNA is actually anti-God.

It may sound strange, but I felt God’s delight when I recorded our new CD “Heaven Meets Earth” in French. Not because I was producing yet another worship CD that glorifies Jesus–which surely can’t be discounted–but because I was taking the time and making the effort to cater to 40 francophone nations that are close to his heart. I’m serving those people by creating something for them that’s easy to assimilate. I am the minority, serving the majority.

I love the multi-ethnic qualities of America. But as people have long-argued, I want you to learn English, know what a cheeseburger is, and at least pick a favorite baseball team just because they’re there. I want you to understand that we dream of the impossible, see the unknown as a frontiers to pioneer, and we’re loud because the cowboy never really left us. Those are things unique to America and our culture, and I don’t apologize for them.

But more, I don’t want people to learn those things to make me happy; I want people to learn those things in order to preserve a nation that God established.

Because he’s the God of culture. And there is so much mysterious beauty to discover in his inventions.

I feel him smile when I embrace someone with great gusto in Spain, or start “on the minute” in a Swiss meeting, or use chopsticks when a fork would be so much easier, or salute a Polish grandfather with a glass of his prized vodka, or wail like a wild man while among the Zulu in the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa.

If he wanted us to all have the same culture, he would have made us all the same. But we’re unique.

Why?

Because his nature is too large and extravagant to reflect through just one earthy culture. You need all of us to understand his heart. The quizzical, the loud, the foodies, the pensive, the jubilant, the artisans, the analytical, the carefree, the stoic, the hardworking, the peculiar, the emotional, the broken, the cunning, the shrewd, the loving.

And only then, in seeing the collage of the unique, can we begin to understand the culture of the divine.

ch:

GATHERING: Last night’s youth meeting in Echallens, Switzerland.

WAITING: On the tracks off Platform 4 in Zurich.

  • Naomi

    Wow. Well put, Christopher. 🙂 That made me think.

  • Billy Jepma

    That was really cool. And you are 100% correct Christopher. I wish I could see the world the way God does, but I’m learning. Great post, really awesome read too. Thanks man, 🙂
    P.S. Liked the Zulu salute inclusion. 🙂

    • Thanks Billy. And you should see the way the Zulu’s dance during worship! Simply amazing.

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  • Love this Christopher. Love. Thank you!

    • Wow, hey thanks, David. Appreciate that a lot. Is it weird to say I feel God’s pleasure when I adapt to the culture around me? Dunno. But I do!

    • PS :: I know you have quite a bit of experience in this area, too.

  • Terrific read and a lot to think about. Glad you’re getting some time to write over there. This is great convo when we see each other in April!

    • Thanks, Mike. Look forward to the convo and I’m sure you have a lot of great thoughts on this. Just stickin’ this out there as it comes to me.

  • reenie

    YOU hit the nail right on the perverbial cultural head ( so to speak) this was well thought out and explained in such a way that anyone can get it ! I love that God changes the spirit language/ prayer language we speak in – because some words are more appropriate in chinese in this season than the previous language used in the last …..He created culture, language and how we as nations reguard things …. I have read 2 books this year by Whycliff Bible Translators – ” In Search of the Source” (Andrews) and Outrageous Grace ( Fabian) When they send a translator into a culture they are submerged into it – they learn the language, the customs, the beliefs and they work out of that reference to translate the WORD of GOD for these people…. They don’t go in teaching the tribe English but rather they are taught (humbled if you will ) the things they will need to do the job God has called them to! It amazes me how God reveals to them the right, proper and correct wording for things like grace, faith , trust…etc…… But GOD would know which words are best He created language and every nuance that goes with it !!!!! I really liked this post a lot because God has been showing me some amazing things about Who HE is culturaly and What He thinks about HIS PEOPLE ( which by the way – are all of us…….He created us all – only he allows us to choose if we will remain his ). That Every ear would hear , every eye would see and every heart would know the savior – Keep recording the songs the Lord gives you in as many languages He tells you to!!!!!! How will they know if they never hear???? Love you Christopher~ every red blooded American ounce of you lol 🙂

    • This get’s “comment of the month” award for sure. Awesome stuff Reenie. So inspired by those Whycliff translators…amazing… THANKS FOR ALL THIS!!!

  • Great thoughts CH!

    • Thanks David! Appreciate you reading.

    • Erica

      informal much? Do you know this dude?

    • Erica

      I mean you, David by the informal much post.

      • He’s been raised up in our youth ministry, now an awesome youth leader, member of our production department, and all around awesome dude. Why do you ask?

        • Erica

          Because he said “CH”. He was JCC BASIC vice president, which is how I know the name.

  • It’s worthy of note that Jewish immigrants to our country, historically, have always been very thankful for America and identify themselves as Americans, unashamedly. (This I know from personal family experience.) Good post.

    • Proof of them consciously or unconsciously recognizing the value of cultural identity as a means to establishment within a community. Great point!

  • Loved the way you made me think, but just imagine this. What we can grasp about God is merely the tip of the divine. Eternity with Him is going to be so cool, because we get to explore His vastness which we can not even fathom here on this earth. Awesome post.

    • I had the chance to teach some of this to the students here today and the anointing of the Lord showed up strongly as we discussed the character of God that he’s hidden for us in other cultures! Hallelujah!

  • Very interesting perspective!
    I love you.
    Jenny