Unending Culture Shock


In our time we have been uprooted from our former homeland, adrift in a mobile and changing society. We are lonely in crowds who seem not to care, pushed to and from by machines to serve and be served, until we too become mechanical and act like machines. We meet the other persons as strangers, but mostly by external contacts passing by or bouncing away as if we were rubber balls.  We… do not know the inner life of other persons, and so we give attention mainly to the external appearances. Estranged from them or used by them, we are empty within ourselves, lost souls for whom no one seems to care. The need has never been so urgent for someone to care. How can a pastor care for his people in such a world?

Paul E. Johnson (“Christian Advocate” entitled “Where We Are Now In Pastoral Care” 23 SEP 1965, page 7).

I used this quote in my two pastoral care blogsites (www.bukallifecare.org, and www.cpspp.orgwww.cpspp.org)

But I would like to look at it from a missiological standpoint as well. The quote sounds a lot like what missionaries go through in terms of culture shock. They are uprooted from their homeland, and become strangers in a strange land. They struggle to fit in but often feel a lonely disconnectedness, unable (at first anyway) to connect with others beyond a superficial level, and feeling like they are tossed around by forces beyond their ability to control or even understand.

But this article wasn’t written about missionaries. It was written about all of us. Because we live in a globalizing (while simultaneously particularizing) culture undergoing rapid, and still accelerating change, we all feel a certain amount of disconnection. This disconnection we don’t always notice because it has become the background base of our reality… a barely noticed incessant neuroticizing hum.

Sometimes, I enjoy visiting my old home in upstate New York. That area has changed so little over the last few decades. It gives me a sense of connection with my past. But in the last couple times that I have been there (in 2012 and 2013) I have felt a certain disquieting feeling as I have noticed the slow build-up of changes that make the place start to feel just a bit “foreign.” This is so unlike my other homes over the years in Virginia Beach, Charlottesville, and now in Baguio City (Philippines). In these places, change is rapid and seeing the place after a few years (or even a few months) almost is like seeing a new place.

Johnson suggests the transitory nature of our lives leads to superficiality. Church should be a place of rich and deep interconnection, but it commonly isn’t. We tend towards the reality described by Lily Tomlin “We are all in this together alone.

Perhaps we need the findings of cross-cultural experiences in missionaries applied to all of us, since many (most?) of us are undergoing an unending, chronic, culture shock– a perpetual dehumanizing cultural uprooting.


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