Pastor’s Friday Comments (11.29.19)

For the past week Kristy Engel has been hosting two charming young ladies from Brisbane, Australia, Aleisha Paten and Meg White. The three of them are about to embark on a tour that will take them from Atlanta to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, India, and Bangladesh, studying health care in these disparate and far-flung locations. (Their original itinerary included Bolivia and Lebanon, but the political unrest in those countries necessitated changes in the schedule.)

If you would like to follow their progress, send an email to Kristy at kristynurse@gmail.com. She’ll put you on her newsletter list.

It has been interesting getting just a glimpse of American life through the eyes of two young people who have traveled halfway around the world to experience a little bit of American culture, albeit of the distinctly Southern variety. I won’t try to summarize their observations, since I couldn’t possibly know precisely what they are thinking, except to say that they are fascinated by free refills on soft drinks and unlimited chips and salsa in Mexican restaurants.

However, watching them watch us brought home again the fact that we are always being observed by other people, and, because they have little to go on besides our ethnicity or nationality, they tend to extrapolate from the individual to the group. You cannot avoid representing some broader category than yourself whenever you are being viewed by someone who is from another place or another culture.

We’re probably all aware of the general stereotypes about those of us from the United States – our sense of entitlement, our expectation of an American way of doing things no matter where we are, our reluctance to experience other cultures directly. Sure, none of these generalizations apply to all of us, but stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. 

As concerned as I am about how we come across as United States citizens (I love my country and I want others to love it too), I am more concerned about how people think of us as American Christians. The United States is often thought of as a Christian country (a historical and demographic inaccuracy, but that’s a topic for another day) and people from other places often conflate their impressions of US citizens and their impression of Western Christianity.

As with so many intersections of culture, there isn’t much that an individual can do, but what we can do is more than nothing. As I wrote in my monthly newsletter column that you should have received a couple of days ago, Christians are expected to reflect the fruit of the Spirit. If Christ is in us, others should be able to tell it by our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (See Galatians 5:22-26.) Are those traits that you think people from other places usually associate with American Christianity?

Whether all those characteristics are connected with American Christians in general, you can display them in your own life. While you might engage in a conscious effort to develop them, the best thing you can do is earnestly pray that God will give them to you. It still requires effort on your part, but you don’t do it through your own strength, but through Christ at work in you.

When you are encountering someone from another country or culture in your own neighborhood, or whenever you are fortunate enough to travel to another country, remember that you represent more than just yourself. I have been told that people in other places can tell we are Americans just by the way we enter a room (and that’s not necessarily a good thing). But wouldn’t it be great if they could tell we are Christians by the way we act? Imagine being so clear in the display of the fruit of the Spirit in the way you come across that anyone you meet draws the conclusion that you are a follower of Jesus Christ. That’s what Christian witnessing is all about.