Culture provides the formation and the translation.
As a young teen, I heard God’s call to me to ‘preach and teach my word.’ Even now, decades later, I can still recall that scene and hear those words. As a child, I loved to climb trees and this particular day, I was sitting in the crook of a tree praying. I was fifteen. Growing up in a family and faith community that readily communicated that God spoke with people meant that God speaking to me did not surprise me, but God’s words to me did. It must have been important enough that in my consternation, the words came clearly to me a second time. I somehow knew that God meant for me to be sure about those words. But here’s the thing. As I climbed down out of the tree, pondering those words, “I want you to preach and teach my word,” I, in my adolescent naivety, immediately began to reconstruct them and to make them fit into my experience. What God really meant was that I should marry a pastor. God gifts and God calls, but my culture had formed in me the idea that only men could teach and preach scripture and the only way for me to participate in that would be to do it alongside my husband.
My pursuit of God’s call, has not been a linear path, but more of an haphazard navigation through the morass of cultural voices that tell me who I am and what’s appropriate or inappropriate. This intertwining of calling and culture has become my life’s work. Yes, I preach and teach, but the questions I continually come back to are ones about how the voices of one’s experience provide the context for how we hear and act upon God’s word.
My desire to participate in this conversation is motivated by wanting to raise questions about how culture speaks, forms and provides translation to young people and their understanding of self. A cacophony of messages tell young people what it means to be female, what it means to be male, what it means to be brown or white, what it means to be feminine or masculine . . . . . . Youth are constantly filtering in and filtering out these messages as they navigate an understanding of their own identity (we not-so-young are doing that too). These conversations about culture and identity matter. Paul encourages Christ-followers think about cultural voices in Romans 12: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” Are we listening?