One Way to Love: Understand
Each mission field has it’s own unique challenges. In the last blog, we mentioned that one mistake many Christians can make is to think that missions is only for the really serious Christians, as opposed to every Christian being a part of God’s mission. Connected to that distortion is another: mission is what someone does when they cross an ocean. Certainly international missions are part of Christ’s command in Matthew 28 (“all nations”) but he didn’t mean to do that at the expense of our neighbors. A great correction that many believers have made in recent years is to remind one another that our primary mission field is right in front of us, among the people and in the place God has put us (Acts 17:26).
One way to show love is to understand. When I first started dating my wife, we couldn’t stop sharing stories and asking questions to get to know one another better. We’d talk on the phone or Skype until near sunrise. Many of you are familiar with those kinds of conversations. Part of loving one another is understanding each other: our histories, our preferences, our fears, our dreams, and so on. Conversely, one way to not love someone is to make assumptions about them. That communicates dismissal, carelessness, and is demeaning.
Getting to know the people and place where God has put us should not be a merely theological exercise, but one of love. As we start to dig in to the unique place and people that is Orange County, we should look at two ways sociologists have described the cultural potency of this region.
An Embodiment of the American Dream
California was settled by people who left traditional ties of family, community, religion, and career to seek after the promise fortune, freedom, and happiness. Proof that these traits remain the defining characteristics of California is language from The California Travel and Tourism Commission’s executive summary for 2010-2011. On the cover of the document, the tagline for California is “Find Yourself Here”. Bringing home the point most potently is the section on brand messaging:
“CTTC’s messaging for the California brand continues to be carefully structured based on ongoing, in-depth research findings. The two key brand pillars are the California attitude, combined with the value proposition of “abundance” - that California has the most (and best) of everything, so visitors will get more for their money from a California vacation.”
Abundance, freedom, happiness, fortune, health, good weather, a comfortable place to retire, opportunity: each of these are promises for which tens of millions of people have come to California, and why it has mythic significance as a place of new beginnings and fulfillment in life. More than any other region in general, or state in particular, California embodies the American Dream.
An Exaggerated America
In addition to California being an embodiment of the American Dream is that California is like America but “only more so”, what sociologists call an “exaggerated America”. It is a region that has elevated happiness, individualism, self-fulfillment, and personal empowerment to positive religious values. So while you might find those traits in other parts of the country, they are at their most potent here. We do have an 'abundance', as the CTTC boasts, but it is for good and bad.
To illustrate this point, in the coming weeks we will look briefly at each of the currents that flow into California’s unique cultural environment: historical development, diversity, secularism, pluralism, individualism, consumerism, mobility, and the resultant defining characteristic of the region, fluid identities. While each of these pervade American culture in general, we will see how they are heightened in Orange County.
The important thing is not to look at topics like this as a subject to be studied but as a way, as we've already said, to love. None of us is immune from the effects of the society around us; it is the air we breathe. That should make us humble and gracious.
The good news is that it doesn't matter how big or potent of a dream that a region or people embodies, the Gospel of Jesus is not only bigger, but it is the only way for that dream to be truly fulfilled. Saint Augustine said it best, "You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You."
1. The California Travel and Tourism Commission’s executive summary for 2010-2001. http://tourism.visitcalifornia.com/media/uploads/files/editor/2010%20CTTC%20WorkPlans%20LINO.pdf (accessed Dec. 11, 2010)
3. Wade Clark Roof, Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Region: Fluid Identities (Religion by Region) (Lanham, MD.: AltaMira Press, 2005), page 40
4. ibid. pages 11, 177