Maybe This is What “Third Culture” Means

If you are around me enough during my first few weeks back into the United States, you might notice a few things that could be explained as “reverse culture shock”. 

You might notice that I always take my shoes off at the door, that I am paralyzed by the amount of choices in the super market, that I crave rice and fresh vegetables, that I’ve already washed all the dishes by hand by the time I even remember about the dishwasher. For a while, I wake up at 4am and want to go to bed by 8pm. I may spend the majority of my time under an electric blanket, even if you think it’s not cold enough (it is to me). I may forget how to pump my own gas or put my credit card in the reader instead of sliding it. I feel weird wearing pants, I drive slow and have the tendency to think that I can drive anywhere, even if it’s not a road. I may speak a little frenglish every now and then or ask you if what I just said was an actual English word. I will want to wash my hands immediately before every meal. I will geek out over green grass and fall colors or hot water coming out of the sink. And I’m sorry, but I probably am awkward in conversations about trendy things and may make unnecessary comments about excess, waste, materialism, or wealth. 

But that’s only what you may notice. The real culture shock is in a form that you can’t see. Because culture is so much more than what you eat, drink, and wear. It’s about what’s important and valuable and how you think and respond to things. And four years in Africa has changed all that in me. 

It what makes me notice how people are so plugged in, like it bothers me that most people in a coffee shop are sitting alone with earbuds and a computer instead of face to face with a person in conversation. It’s the strangeness I feel when I walk in a room and want to greet everyone but no one even greets me. It’s the offense I feel when someone ends a conversation abruptly because they have something to do, as if the place you need to be next is more important than the person you are with now. It’s the awkwardness I feel when people are trying to keep up with diet and fashion and decor, and I feel so unreconcilably far behind. 

People here brag about busyness like it’s a good thing, like it’s holding us together. We’ve become way too friendly with busyness, which is why people then search for community and closeness in relationships, strategizing about it like it’s something hard to find, and yet I’ve found true community and closeness on accident in a simple place where it’s all they’ve got. I want you to ask me about life in Africa, and yet I don’t because I find it extremely hard to put words to the depth of what I want to say. 

Things like this wouldn’t have been strange before, but thanks to four years in a different place, I’m becoming more and more like a stranger in my own country.

I’m not trying to complain or point out negative aspects of American culture. I have a whole other list of things I struggle with in African culture, which is just as messed up thanks to selfishness and sin.

It’s just that Africa has changed the shape of my heart in a way that doesn’t quite comfortably fit back into American culture. But really that’s not a fair statement. It’s not Africa that changed me, it’s Jesus. And he should be constantly changing our culture, so that we belong less and less to America or Africa or any other geographically-defined culture. We belong to a different culture that isn’t defined by geography or language or nationality. It’s a heavenly culture, a Jesus culture. One that isn’t of this world, yet can be found scattered throughout it entirely. 

Jesus came to set up this kingdom, and he’s been inviting people into it ever since the creation of the world. I’m so thankful to have found my citizenship here, and I’ll spend my life inviting other people to find the love, forgiveness, relationship and community that they are so desperately seeking…right here. 

“How do you move back and forth so often between cultures?” It’s a good question that only a few even think to ask. My answer: I don’t. I’ve found a culture to belong to, the kingdom of Jesus. No matter how many cultures, nations, and languages I traverse, he is my constant. And this culture can be found wherever I go, and if it’s not there yet, I bring it with me. Wherever you go, look for the kingdom of Christ, where he is at work, and settle there. This is what the church was designed to be – the culture of the kingdom of Christ. A refuge for all languages, tribes, people, and nations. 

So I live in an in-between, fitting in neither here nor there entirely. I’ve never felt less at home in this world. And yet I’ve never been more at home in his kingdom, his culture. Maybe this is the “third culture” people talk about. But I think it was actually supposed to be our first, I’m just not coming back to it. 

Come back with me to the culture we were made for, one ruled and reigned by beautiful King Jesus, our constant, where and to whom we all belong. 

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