Upholding His righteousness
Living overseas in any type of culture different from your own is difficult. It’s hard because it often feels like this new culture contaminates your own culture; it challenges your way of doing things.
What is culture? Culture is how a specific people group feels it is normal to act. Our culture seeps out of us in our language, table manners, parenting, marriages, friendships, driving, housing, bureaucracy, spending… I could go on, but to put it simply culture affects every aspect of our lives. There are quite a few obvious cultural differences but there are thousands more not-so-obvious differences as well and to be honest, the ones that aren't obvious are the hardest to wrestle with. Every single country, continent and people group have their own culture. When we start mixing them up it can become very frustrating and also very scary.
A few days ago I found myself exasperated with my kids and their new ‘attitudes’ since moving to Portugal. The language here is harsh and loud and it sometimes seems like it’s trickling into them. For example, a simple question to pass the salt sounds demanding in Portuguese. Where the American in me wants to say “sorry, but if you don’t mind could you please pass me the salt when you get a chance?” Here they simply say “give me the salt dude!” As I felt myself growing hot with frustration and while fighting the urge to correct my kids yet again, a flashback hit me.
We had just moved to the area and were walking home from our neighbourhood football (soccer) field. It was dark and as we were walking some kids began to walk with us. We noticed one of the eight-year-old boys was walking with an eight-inch knife, as if it was normal for him to be carrying it around. I leaned over to my husband and cynically noted that the knife was probably not for cutting his apple at lunch. The boy then started playing football with his knife flailing around everywhere. A guy on the street scolded him and the kid just slipped it into his pocket. “Oh great," I thought, “that’s much safer, if he falls he’ll just slice open his spleen.” We walked back to the house and over the next 24 hours I processed this new reality in my life: raising my kids in close proximity to darkness. Was I ready to not raise my kids in a bubble of only goodness? The next afternoon I walked again through the neighbourhood with my kids thinking about all that had been and all that would be.
It had been a big week for us, our older boys had started at the local Portuguese school and the mom in me was taking inventory of all the uncontrollable influences they would be encountering. From little things like chocolate milk being offered three times a day, to the big things like the teacher screaming and hitting kids if they made a mistake. Sighing, I heard Jesus whisper in my ear “be willing to be contaminated, as I was contaminated for you.” I looked around the mess I was walking in and began to picture the moment Jesus stood from His throne in heaven and walked out in order to take on the flesh of man. That in itself was a deep contamination for His Majesty. And yet, He did it, joyfully and willingly.
Two years later sitting at the table I felt the cooling peace of humility overcome my hot rage. I am willing, willing to be contaminated while I uphold righteousness. Willing to collide my culture with theirs. Willing to have kids that sometimes talk harshly because it’s their ‘new culture.’ Willing to follow the steps of my Saviour who became sin who knew no sin so that I might be called His righteousness. (2nd Cor. 5:21)
Upholding righteousness is not keeping my kids from ever having a teacher who screams with anger and impatience. Upholding righteousness is teaching them that in the midst of facing a four-year stretch with this teacher, they who know what sin is might be the righteousness of God in her life, so that she too can become His righteousness.
The question then becomes am I willing to be contaminated by putting myself in the midst of my son's teacher in order to be a light in her life? And allow him to be in her presence all the more and with peace in my heart? The answer was not an easy ‘yes’ for me. I can be quite a chameleon and take on the personalities around me, which can be helpful when it comes to adapting but difficult when I need to use discretion in who I am becoming. So the contamination is found in being witness to, not becoming like. This is a key element to the way Jesus was contaminated for us. He bore witness to all the darkness of man, but faced it with His righteousness. This is our goal as well: to face the darkness we live in with the willingness to be contaminated as witnesses but stand to uphold righteousness.
How does the culture you live in challenge you to be contaminated as you witness darkness to uphold His righteousness?