“Culture is the cloth into which the Christ-child was laid.” – St Patrick.
I identify personally with the best of the following cultures.
- Aussie culture gave me a healthy start to life. 60s and 70s Australia was for me an easy-going, friendly world to explore. Egalitarian, no-airs-and-graces, a little bit larakin. I played footy, enjoyed the outdoors, felt basically safe and confident. Of course Australian culture is a composite of many other cultures, foundationally the collision of Anglo and Aboriginal cultures. The former is largely responsible for those general freedoms and the Judeo-Christian heritage of our structures, institutions, and respect for others that we enjoy here. We have the latter to thank, along with Celtic arrivals, for the general tolerance, quick forgiveness, mercy and peaceableness of Aussies. Around the world Aussies are generally known for being a safe third party. The friendly, if ignorant, golden retrievers of the global kennel. I like the good-heartedness in that.
- Aboriginal culture has become increasingly important to me (whadjuk.info), though I have no indigenous bloodline. I recently discovered that the (now-believed-to-be-extinct) Booandik Tribe owned the land where I was born on the rim of Valley Lake by the famous Blue Lake. (I’m “true blue!”) It’s said that wherever you were born you became part of that land because your mother’s blood spilled into it during your birth.
As an adult I eventually settled here in Perth on Whadjuk land. I asked if there were a modern equivalent of aboriginal protocol to observe when moving onto someone’s land. The Whadjuk elders appreciated me asking, and although there isn’t such a permanent protocol, they asked me to wear the colours, which I did (and finally tattooed on.) The issues of native title are not going away, and our government institutions did begin on some flimsy, even criminal premises. I know where I sit on this issue – let’s just say I favour the Sunburnt Flag. I’m amazed and so appreciative that the possibility for reconciliation still remains open!
- Celtic Christianity gripped me in the late 90’s. St Patrick is one of my heroes as the best of missionaries, so wise regarding culture. The Celts looked for where God was already at work in a culture. If the Celts had been first to arrive in Australia our relationships with Aboriginal people would have been far better. They share a sensitivity to spirituality, a spiritual approach to land, art, symbolism and stories, and a much less hierarchical approach to power, relationships, and family. I love celtic knot-work, especially the continuous braids which are said to represent eternity (which does the devil’s head in because he knows his days are finite.)
I’m up to a quarter Scottish, as my father’s mother was a Mattingly. I recall traversing the heathered hills and lochs of western Scotland and Iona, profoundly aware that some of my ancestors trod this very same soil. Perhaps some of them were also holy men, or warriors protecting their clan. It felt like a coming home of sorts, though I’d never been there before.
- English dominated both sides of my parentage, and I visited the village of Westlake, outside Ivy Bridge in the shire of Devon. It had 4 houses and a white wooden post with the village name chiselled down the side – obviously not worth marking with an actual sign! I chatted with the inhabitants of a house built in the eleventh century. I noticed an owl crest on their barn, because my sister has always collected owls. Turns out owls are on the shield of Westlake heraldry (that or 3 white wavy lines.) From various records it seems our ancestry includes horse-traders and potato-farmers. No royalty, just grounded, working people. My dad’s dad was in the navy, which I recalled as I explored the nearby port of Plymouth.
- German. My mother’s maiden name is Strauss, perhaps related to the famous composer. I’m tickled that the aboriginal colours I wear are coincidentally also German colours. And I do have a definite penchant for meat, bread, beer and cabbage! Considering hostilities between the two countries over the centuries, my ancestors’ cross-national marriages show they must have been some pretty good people!
- Hebrew culture is making a late run in my identity formation, which is probably overdue since Christianity is profoundly rooted in Hebraic history. My recent study of the Biblical Feasts of the LORD in the Old Testament has wonderfully underscored Christ as the fulfilment of the Old Testament, and they constitute a very liveable set of holidays! A visit to Israel this year brought magnificent tangibility to the histories contained in the Bible. That script on my tattoo is “shalom” – a vision of the world where everyone and everything is related rightly with everyone else. That’s in my heart such that I really do wear it on my sleeve!
- Christianity is integral to my identity, although it is not really a culture. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, so whilst he did come into the Hebrew culture of 2 millennia ago, he and his teachings fulfilled and transcended it, as he fulfils and transcends the best of all cultures and their spiritual search. Heaven will include multitudes from every tribe, nation and language!
To be sure there are a range of cultures within Christianity, ranging from Baptist, various Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, Celtic and so on. I have benefited from elements from many of these. But I have also deconstructed down to the bare bones of Christianity, that I might appreciate what is core from what’s peripheral, and what’s beneficial from what’s distracting. We then use what is culturally beneficial and meaningful to communicate the core for the people we serve.
- More than one is better. Can I legitimately claim all these cultures in my identity?
– Some may feel that by claiming “bits” from others, I am “not truly any one” of them. Yes and no. David Bosch described a “150% person:” a cross-cultural missionary cannot be 100% identical to people in the host culture, only 75% so. Plus, having taken on parts of the host culture, he is now different to his home culture too. But he now has commonality with two cultures, and is the richer for it: 75 + 75 = a 150% person. And this has been my experience. I am much richer for identifying myself with these cultures in my life. And let’s face it, Australian culture is much the same: an evolving culture, morphing according to the many cultures within it.
– I have found that identifying with more than one culture, has enabled me to better discern what is transcendent from what is merely cultural. Not all aspects of culture are good – it takes some discernment, to choose the good parts from the bad. Leaving out the bad does not mean I’m being untrue to the culture, but true to its best.
– Identifying with numerous cultures has also made me better able to see and appreciate the wealth within even more cultures as well. I have been delighted to see the image of God in Ugandan, Zimbabwean, Mexican, North American, Indonesian, Thai, Irish, Dutch, Singaporean, Pilipino cultures, and so on. I can well imagine that the fulfilment of the best of all those cultures would be absolutely heavenly! Conversely I fear that identifying exclusively with only one culture can close us off from appreciating others, and even produce self-righteousness, myopia and xenophobia.
– “Then to whom do you belong?” one might ask. I belong in My Father’s House. I have the confidence to be multi-cultural because my identity transcends culture, because I know where I ultimately belong: I am a beloved child of God. Cultural expressions of that are many and varied.
The above are my personal cultural expressions.
That’s just who I am.
Who are you?