Navigating Cultural Waters- Part One


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Snapchat.  Facebook. Tinder.  Pornographic websites.  Transgender bathrooms. School shootings.  Casual hookups. Anorexia and bulimia. Cutting.  Online bullying. These are all part of the cultural waves our children encounter as they attempt forward motion in life.  They’re different waters than the ones you and I found ourselves in at their age. Strong undercurrents of unhealthy lifestyles threaten to suck them in to deep, dark places they never planned to be while the turbulence of a world quickly changing can leave them disoriented and directionless.

Not talking with our kids about the waters they are navigating is pretty much the equivalent of putting them in a small dinghy with only one oar.  Or as authors John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle put it in their book, A Practical Guide To Culture, “Not to clarify the cultural issues of our day with the next generation is a dereliction of duty.”

Although I have finished raising my children, I have five precious grandkids who will be treading these waters and many friends who are still in full blown child rearing mode so when I stumbled upon this book last week I felt like I had discovered a valuable maritime map.

Not talking with our kids about the waters they are navigating is pretty much the equivalent of putting them in a small dinghy with only one oar.  

It’s not an especially easy read and I spent the majority of my weekend covering the 340 pages of this book.  But it’s such a helpful and important resource that I felt like I wanted to recap some of the book’s highlights for my readers’ benefit.

To begin with, the authors establish culture (coming from the Latin word cultura, which means “agriculture”), as being “what human beings make of the world.”  Now obviously this can be both good and bad, harmful and helpful. But for the harmful parts of the cultural climate, the question for our kids is “Will they recognize the lies and still embrace what is true?  And will they not only survive the culture but also be able to engage it with courage, clarity, and resolve, standing for Christ wherever he has placed them and in whatever work He has called them to?”

Stonestreet and Kunkle divide their book into four parts.  I’m including quotes, snippets and summations from each of these and because there is so much good material I am dividing this post into two segments.  This week we’ll look at parts one and two of the book and next week parts three and four.

Part One:  Why Culture Matters

How culture shapes us is called internalization.  “Unintentionally, we become culture shaped rather than intentional about shaping culture.”

The authors assert that not only are we called to the world but that we’re also called to a particular time and place.  They refer to the passage of scripture in Acts 17:24-27, especially this passage, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. . “

“Not only is it impossible to escape our cultural situation, but God hasn’t asked us to try.  Christians should see their culture as the setting for living out their God-given callings to bring life to His world.”  I love that these writers point out that Christ didn’t come to save us FROM being human, but He saved us so that we could be our FULL human selves in the best sense of the word.  

“Not only is it impossible to escape our cultural situation, but God hasn’t asked us to try.  Christians should see their culture as the setting for living out their God-given callings to bring life to His world.”

They also observe that in every generation there are two tempting reactions to current culture.  One is to flee from it and withdraw into the safety of the church. The other is to simply avoid controversial issues.  Some who take the avoidance route even spiritualize this cultural surrender by suggesting “the culture-changing business gets in the way of the people-loving business.  But you can’t love people by ignoring the cultural evils that victimize them.”  To me, that would be the equivalent of not warning someone the drink they were gulping down had poison in it.

The night before His crucifixion Jesus prayed for His disciples “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.”  (John 17:15)  Stonestreet and Kunkle warn against “the idol of safety” but say that Jesus didn’t call us to be safe.  He called us to be faithful.

Part Two:  A Read of the Cultural Waters

In this section a lot of facts and figures are given about the information age and how much our world has changed because of technology.  Examples: Each day 500 million tweets are sent, 4 million hours of content are uploaded to YouTube, 4.3 billion Facebook messages are posted, 6 billion Google searches are conducted and 205 billion emails sent.  This, of course, doesn’t include billboards, bumper stickers, Snapchat posts, commercials, songs, movies, television shows and digital ads.

But as they point out in a quote from T.S. Eliot more than eight decades ago, “We shouldn’t confuse information with knowledge or knowledge with wisdom.”  And that “if we passively absorb the information around us, someone else is thinking for us.”

That’s why it’s more critical than ever that parents, church leaders and mentors create an environment where kids can ask tough questions and wrestle with controversial topics.  Because in the information age, plenty of voices are willing to talk with our kids if we aren’t.

“If we passively absorb the information around us, someone else is thinking for us.”

One of the most important and enlightening paragraphs in the book for me included these words, “Feeling isn’t thinking, but many kids can’t tell the difference.  They’re constantly told that. . . being tolerant is better than knowing truth. However today’s version of tolerance isn’t tolerance at all. True tolerance means to treat others with respect even if their views differ from yours.  Today tolerance means embracing the views of the majority culture, and those who don’t are labeled ‘intolerant.’  In a culture like this, people are pressured not to think but to conform.”

“From us, kids need to not only hear truth, but they also need to learn what it means to think with truth.”  These two authors believe that despite all the noise of our culture, parents remain the most important voice in the lives of their children and that we need to be talking to them about our worldview – the basic beliefs we have that shape our belief OF the world and FOR the world.

They need to know that every song, movie, television program, article, speech, tweet, post and commercial reflect certain values and carry a message. Have conversations and ask them what THEY think the central idea reflected is.  Often asking questions is the very best way to teach.

The last chapter in this section is entitled “Being Alone Together”.  It reminded me of the last time I went into our local frozen yogurt place and saw a group of “tweens”, maybe 8 or 10 of them, sitting in a circle around a table with every single one of them looking at their phones instead of interacting with each other.  I see it with families at restaurants, with employees who are supposed to be taking care of customers and with moms at the park pushing their kids on the swing with one hand and scrolling their phones with the other.

Sherry Turkle, psychologist and professor at MIT says, “We’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.  We are learning to be alone together.” As a result, life today is lived more indirectly than directly.

To avoid living life through our devices and losing touch with one another, suggestions in the book are made to hold off on providing screen time for your child as long as possible.  Another recommendation is to establish technology fasts or device-free zones, times and places where everyone unplugs. Four possible options are the car (great time for conversations), the dinner table (great time for connection), the bedroom (great time for couples to reconnect emotionally and physically) and vacations (great time for relationship building).  I thought these were all excellent and viable possibilities.

Next week we’ll be covering everything from pornography and gender identity issues to helping our child establish a solid worldview and taking the gospel to his or her culture.  It’s not an easy climate to be raising godly children in but it’s reassuring to remind ourselves that our children ultimately belong to HIM and we are just their caretakers. It’s also reassuring to read in Psalm 121:4 that Our God never sleeps or slumbers so His eye is constantly on our kids as they struggle through these rough waters.

See you next week!