There is lots of talk in the worlds of politics, the arts and religion about culture. Shifting culture, niche culture, world culture, youth culture. For some around the globe, culture is morphing so rapidly that new trends and ideas emerge and disperse before they can be caught. Others though continue to live and think as they have always done, and as their parents generation before them did. It can be a bewildering, dizzying experience trying to pin down what our culture is and how it really affects us and those we do life with.
Simply put, culture is the way we organise our lives. The millions of daily, unconscious agreements we make that have been shaped by our society into rules and patterns that we unthinkingly conform to as normal. Normal to us anyway, perhaps not to those from across a cultural divide.
Culture is woven together like a complex tapestry that is passed down through generations, giving a society a way of expressing it’s corporate identity - Culture enables us to say to the world, ‘This is who we are!’
This tapestry is made up of multi layered shared beliefs, customs and assumptions about behaviour and attitudes that are inherited from our past and hold us together in conformity.
Culture is learned so early, so sub conconsciously, through so many absorbed assumptions from those around us, that it almost appears more genetic than learned - but every child is surely born culture free, before the layers of how to think and behave become quickly imprinted on this blank sheet.
If culture and our need to be rooted in a shared identity has so strong a pull on us as human beings, then it is no wonder that those of us who are experiencing the cultural disintegration of modern western life feel displaced?
Is it any wonder that politicians spend millions on ideas to unify a people who have long since fragmented around differing norms? Is it any wonder that we can feel displaced, unsure of our place in a changing world? Is it any wonder that no single voice of authority has the right to speak to a nation who declare ‘not in my name’?
But our fracturing leaves a hole that settled culture used to fill. Why are the cynics surprised then every time that we come back together like long lost family members at a reunion to enjoy rare shared moments like the Queen's Jubilee or Olympics? These precious few events, regathering the dislocated tribes of people who now call themselves British around some vague set of undefined values such as fair play and the need to queue up without complaining! However vague, we are so hungry for community and the inward pull of culture into family, that we bury our diversity to embrace a unity of sorts.
Such a longing presents a wonderful opportunity to those who have a message of belonging that speaks into changing culture, for those of us who live by a bigger, more defining story that unites people from every tribe, language group and nation. Into such a climate the family of Jesus followers have something distinctive to live out with the unifying story of the gospel, and something attractive to model to a nation who no longer know where or how they fit.