Monday, June 19, 2006

For my culture part 2

Culture shock. As far as I can tell it is the term used for emotional and mental distress and confusion that comes from experiencing the differences between a persons normal country/culture and a country/culture which they find themselves.

I think that is what I may have been experiencing the last few days. I really didn't see it coming as (like I said in my last post) I was okay with coming back here. But in retrospect coming back again has made the differences between New Zealand and the UK all the more apparent.

What I have realised is that I have a set of presuppositions that my life runs upon. Or more specifically that my life in the UK was run upon. They took a number of sizes and shapes, from theology to relationships to practical day to day life stuff. I suspect that we all have them. Whether or not we do and whatever are presuppositions may be, they may or may not be right or wrong but they are things that we take as givens for day to day life.

Across a few days last week I begin to realise that mine didn't work in New Zealand and that was a very unsettling experience and had some bad effects.

In terms of theology I realised that a number of folk disagreed with my view on a few issues that back in the UK was not the case. Most were secondary issues that we could agree to disagree on but because it happened a number of times it had the bad effect of putting me on the defensive. Confidence on doctrine should never rest in whether it is held by the largest number of people. What I should have done was gone back to the bible and re-examined my views but what I did instead was I turned into a theology policeman; I would pick up and comment on anything I perceived as being of the mark, now matter how minor it may be.

Relationally I again became aware that though I have friends here I still have some way to go in terms of having very close friends like those who I had spent time with in the UK. Perhaps what I realised is that history is important. The length of time you have known someone affects how much you trust each other and strangely so does the memories of life; be it fun, sad or otherwise.

Practically I wish that New Zealand had central heating rather than thermal clothes and electric blankets!

All these things in isolation would be okay but put them all together and it becomes very unsettling and isolating.

Last weekend was my churches men's weekend away. It was great; a chance to think through what it means to be men of God off the back of some helpful and insightful teaching and a chance to get to know some guys from church. But because of the unsettlingness of last week I struggled to get past the fact that New Zealand guys really like sport and I didn't all that much. But in the final session we talked a little about our identity being in Christ (Ephesians 1 v 13 to 18). I realised to my horror that I was defining myself by all the wrong things: what I believed on secondary issues, who my friends were and what I did in terms if ministry. I needed to repent of this.

Yet I still felt isolated. I looked at my life I realised I was still an alien. The truths I had learned as to not being alone did not move me either.

My church has just finished a series on the names of God. We took a brief look at all the ones we had covered and in a quiet time of reflection God spoke to me. I realised that He is unchanging as is His Gospel (Hebrews 13 v 8) and I have a choice as to how I respond to him and how He reveals himself in His word.

That was my revelation for the weekend. The presuppositions that I run my life upon my change but that is okay because God is unchanging as is His word. Providing my presuppositions are always based upon that fundamental truth then change need not be so traumatic. I also have a choice. I can chose to focus on me or I can lift my focus to God and praise Him for who He is and what He has done for us in Christ.

What was the result? Joy in and towards God, thankfulness for all His gifts to me both here and in the UK, inner peace and conversation. Without knowing anything of how I was feeling some new friends I had made over the weekend from Church asked me how I was adjusting to my return and it was helpful to share with them.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

There and Back Again

It is difficult to sum up two weeks of what I wasn't expecting, but I'll give it a go.

The first thing to say is my thanks for all the prayers, sympathy, support and encouragement I have received from folk via email, text and conversation; they really have meant a lot and have been very helpful, so again, thank you.

The funeral was my first for a very close family member. It was very sad as we will all miss my grandfather but it was also a time of real encouragement. The minister from my Grandfathers church preached a great sermon as to the hope for eternity that Christians have and did so in such as way as to challenge those there who were not Christians and encourage those who were Christians. Afterward all who attended were invited on to a nearby hotel. It was great to be able to meet with family and folk who knew my Grandfather and remember and celebrate his life. The quote for the day goes to my oldest (7 years old) niece: "It's a shame we couldn't have had this party two weeks ago, then Granddad George could have come. He'd have really enjoyed it". None of us were sure what to say in reply but it seemed an appropriate way to sum up the day.

Then followed 10 days with friends and family around the country. It was really great to have the opportunity to catch up with a few folk. It also brought the additional reassurance that relationships are workable over very long distance. Though much had changed in many ways it was like I had never been away. Hooray for video conferencing, email, MSN and Skype! But an even bigger hooray for the people involved in using them with me!

I also learnt a few lessons along the way, some of which I had learnt before but had been quick to forget. The first was that (like I said back when I left for the first time) it is not really possible to communicate to people how much you appreciate their friendship, which frustrated me at first but thankfully I remembered that this is just how it is. But there is now the additional factor of knowing that (at least in the short term) thought relationships change they can still remain strong even though I do not see people anywhere near as regularly as I once did. Which is both reassuring and encouraging!

I mentioned in my last blog entry how much I love my job. Part of that has been a realisation that I can contribute to things here, Not that I have it all figured out or think more of myself than I should, but it has been great to be able to be involved in speaking at the Wellington groups and be involved in training leaders here in Wellington which are areas that I'd generally hung back from during my time with UCCF. But it has disturbed me how easy it is for confidence to morph into overconfidence and then arrogance and that is something within me that I become more aware of whilst back home and I will have to watch out for as it is a dangerous thing.

Very quickly I had been there and it was time to come back again. It was sad to leave again but no way near as difficult as when I left in January. Not that I care in any way lass then when I left in January! But from the UK perspective I know that (as I have outlined above) it is okay. And from the perspective of New Zealand, as I outlined in my last blog post, it is where I belong for now.

So I am really thankful that God has in His grace has used a potentially difficult trip back home to give me a chance to catch up with folk back home, to reassure me that it is possible to maintain meaningful relationships with family and friends back home, give me chance to reflect on the last few months, and generally know that New Zealand is where I am supposed to be for now.