Culture can be a dirty business. It informs opinion, shapes values, and prompts action. But how often is it left unscrutinised? Culture can seem like too many too-difficult complex, abstract ideas.
The other day at work something happened to me – something incredibly small and insignificant – and I was exposed to some cultural truths I often ignore. And here’s how it went: I could see someone coming up behind me as I swung through the double doors at the office. I was in a rush and they weren’t really that close so I carried on letting the door swing shut behind me. There was this one thought that kept niggling at me for the rest of the day: ‘Why didn’t I hold the door open for them? Why wouldn’t I stop to hold the door open for someone?’ It’s about a cultural story. There’s a whole bunch of factors that have shaped the way I value relationships in my life: the movies I’ve watched, the adverts I’ve paid attention to, the jokes I’ve cracked, the stories my mother told me. Ultimately, these have all added up to one thing: I am the most important factor in my life. It’s not immediately obvious; it has a subtle effect. It doesn’t mean that I’m a mean-spirited, incredibly selfish person, but when it comes to the small and insignificant things, like whether I stop to hold the door open for someone, I act in line with what culture has taught me; I put myself first. Culture can be a dirty business.
In John chapter 9 Jesus heals a blind man. He spits on the ground to make a muddy, gritty paste and rubs it into the guy’s eyes, and he is healed. His eyes are opened and he can see. Can you imagine what you would do if you had come to Jesus to be healed and he told you to smoosh some icky dirt in your eyes?! I’d be a little reluctant. It sounds really uncomfortable, not to mention counter-productive; does Jesus not know that I came to have my sight restored, not muddied?! And yet, when we allow the dust and dirt get into our eyes, we are healed. Our eyes are opened and we can see. At the office that day I felt a bit uncomfortable, troubled by the dirty truth of the way culture has conditioned me to respond. But I came out of that situation a little better, seeing a little clearer.
We need to let the dirt and dust of life get into our eyes, the gritty every-day things that tend to pass us by. We need to have our eyes opened to a new way of living differently. Because it isn’t just the way we value people; culture has given us a pre-set view on everything: the way we should treat the planet, our own self-worth, money, work-ethic, everything down to the underwear we choose. We need to fine-tune our ears to the rhythms of injustice in our world, that we may choose to act counter-culturally in these moments. It is in these seemingly small and insignificant acts that we begin to recognise the forces that shape us. That is the first step to responding creatively, to challenge the unjust ‘norms’ of our culture. Valuing our work colleagues by making cups of tea, giving up television to spend time with other people, being truly thankful for what we have. These are the life-giving rhythms that will flow from our hearts as a we seek a more meaningful way of living. It may be uncomfortable, we will certainly have our eyes dirtied, but we are left seeing a little clearer.