Today is one of those transitional days. We are honoring our dads and their influences in our lives, and we are closing out spring and moving into true summer. It is interesting how we mark our calendars and how pivotal days like today keep us connected to traditions and guides us through our lives. If we seem so glued to our calendars, then how come things change?
Most of you know that I took a vacation–a pandemic-delayed vacation. This trip was never one I had considered, but my close friend encouraged or pushed me to go to Disney World. (It did not help that my daughter joined her efforts.)
Still, this trip demonstrated to me that I had been unaware of a cultural shift that was playing out in front of me. I had not been in a setting outside of our local community for well over two years, primarily because of the pandemic. I had not stepped outside of my culture and looked at the larger, global culture until I spent these days people watching.
What did I see? Certainly, I saw an environment that focused on fun, but I saw much more. I saw families in an entirely new light. The families came in all shapes, sizes, and cultures. The stereotypical Midwest family image with which I grew up and worked around has become redefined; and after a week, I am glad to report that it is better than my own preset image.
One morning I woke up to a dream and a new insight because I realized that we are undergoing a cultural shift in defining the family, but maybe more specifically a shift in the roles of the 21st century parents. A cultural shift is nothing new, but the evolution can be so slow we fail to acknowledge it and then inadvertently do not understand it–maybe even fight it whether good or bad.
Today, I am going to share some of the evidence I witnessed and then relate it to how God is always present with us, even when we are in the midst of a cultural shift.
I suggest that you have your favorite Bible at hand as well as notetaking supplies. You may need to make a note to read more details or to ask questions as we dig deeper into God’s presence during a cultural shift. Let us ask God for understanding:
Dear Loving Father,
Open our minds to your wisdom preserved in scripture.
Open our hearts as we seek to understand your presence.
Open our eyes that we may see you in the lives of others. –Amen
Throughout these months of the pandemic, the term pod has become synonymous with that of family. The CDC has encouraged us to stay within our close-knit family and friends. Certainly, the family are those living under the same roof; but as the months of shutdown continued, the boundaries of our homes began to shift and the term pod became more common. Pods grew to include close friends and then even our working peers. Our culture shifted and is shifting.
In the Bible, the first five books lay out the beginning history and even the laws that the Israelites were to follow as they managed the challenges of living faithfully among pagan followers. The Israelites were those who followed God, lived by his laws, and worked together in maintaining that close relationship with God.
In the selection from Deuteronomy 11:18-21 we read about the Laws of Moses, and these verses are just a small piece of the laws:
18 You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem[a] on your forehead. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 20 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. –NRSV
As the generations of the Israelites continued, the success of their faithfulness was challenged. The culture was tribal and the laws that developed were to keep the tribes together and to define the various roles of those within the tribes.
For instance, there are 11 tribes, and each one has a specific geographical location, but the 12th tribe is that of the Levites. The Levites were the priests and could not hold property. They lived to serve the other tribes in the practices of worship–which included the sacrifices and distribution of food from those sacrifices as outlined in the laws.
The tribal culture provided order for the people and the laws created became more and more specific, challenges to the culture came from other cultures’ attacks. When the Israelites were overpowered by the pagan cultures, they were often taken in as slaves. The challenge then became how to maintain the faithful God-centered culture while living among pagans.
In Daniel, we see a model of how to live faithfully even among the pagans:
8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine; so he asked the palace master to allow him not to defile himself. . . . 11 Then Daniel asked the guard . . . 12 “Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.” –NRSV
Even though captured by King Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel remained faithful to his culture and led his friends Meshack, Shadrach and Abednego, demonstrating their culture’s diet is superior to that of even the pagan king’s personal diet.
Between these two Old Testament scriptures, we see how the ancient culture of the Israelites evolved. No longer was the faithful bound by the tribal culture, now they could live their faith even among the pagans. The culture was shifting, the faithful Israelites were adapting to new cultures while maintaining their own.
Of course, today’s cultural shift follows another shift outlined in the New Testament. The global cultures continue to evolve as the influences from one culture meet other cultures. As the travels of the ancient people continued to expand, the tribal culture and the ancient Law of Moses begin to evolve. The evil influences become invasive and the Jewish religious leaders exercised control by adding more and more restrictive laws. God saw a need to step in.
Jesus, God as man, is born and his purpose is to teach the people, not only the Jewish people, but all people, a new law:
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. –Matthew 7:12, NRSV
A cultural shift begins to evolve again.
As King David shared in Proverbs: basic life instructions to preserve the God-centered culture of the Israelites:
1Listen, children, to a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight;
2 for I give you good precepts:
do not forsake my teaching. –Proverbs 4:1-2, NRSV
Now Jesus began teaching the new law of the faithful. He lived his message teaching the disciples how to love one another, how to shift the culture away from the minute, excessive, restrictive laws the Jewish leaders had created over the generations. One simple law encompasses all other laws: love one another.
The culture shifted. In three short years of ministry, Jesus moved the faithful into a new structure for everybody. The culture of the Israelites simplified as the global influences broke down geographical boundaries, peoples moved in and out of other cultures.
Today, we see how effective following Jesus’ one law has changed the global community. What started as a movement in one small region along the Mediterranean Coast grew. The faithful disciples continued Jesus’ work and the Christian faith expanded in all directions until it wrapped around this globe.
So why do I believe we are in a cultural shift? The pandemic has forced us to stop and re-evaluate our lives. First, we lived within the geographical boundaries of our houses, then slowly expanded to our immediate neighbors, and grew into tight-knit pods of those with whom we live, eat, work, and play. The boundaries were defined physically, but the human relationships defined the pods.
We discovered that our faith family no longer was simply those who met once a week in a church sanctuary to worship together as we began worshipping with a global community through the internet.
We redefined our definition of family as a pod. Now a pod may have been a small group that maintained its connection through Zoom and then, thanks to masks and vaccinations, slowly became that close-knit pod meeting in person once more. The faith community has evolved into a new culture, just as our families have.
This brings me back to my vacation. As we moved into the airports, we witnessed a culture shift. Pods sat together. Close inspection of the pods showed families, but also working teams, small groups such as a Christian school taking the seniors on a trip.
The next step was to reach Disney World itself where I saw a new culture unfolding before my eyes. I witnessed new family structures. I watched parental roles shift. I found hope. I found compassion. I found a world where Jesus’ commandment was being lived out each loving one another as they want to be loved.
“Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get. –Matthew 7:12 from the Message translation
What proof did I have that our 21st century culture is living out the Golden Rule. Well, the temperature on those days at Disney World averaged about 93 degrees. We carried water bottles and all the travel blogs assured visitors would be able to get fresh water simply by asking.
At one point, my friend asked a server for a glass of ice water–the reply was no, but she could go over to another line and ask for it over there. Not wanting to disrupt that line, we found a spot around the corner and managed. While sitting there, a young couple spotted us, came up and gave her a bottle of cold water. They said they heard the server tell her no, so bought one for her, not knowing exactly where we had landed. They sought us out, they paid it forward. They loved as they wanted to be loved.
The culture shifted. There is a culture existing within a pandemic that does look out for one another. There are young people being trained by parents and pods that are stepping forward to love one another as Jesus asks us to do.
Today we are returning to life as we knew it pre-pandemic. But I am confident that the pandemic did not suddenly, artificially impose a cultural shift. As I walked the various parks,
- I saw generations loving one another. (even using the circumstances to make the gender reveal)
- I saw blended families loving one another.
- I saw multicultural families walking and laughing together.
- I saw mixed gender couples, even with children, walking freely among the masses without fear, without guilt.
- I saw strangers treating others as pod members standing in lines trying to manage fussy kids, and the newly-created friendships for the moment working together to make the vacation memorable.
- I witnessed a cultural shift.
How did this happen? I firmly believe that the parables we have in the New Testament have taught us how to live God’s love for one another. I believe that we have fathers who have discovered the value of being fully engaged in the teaching of Christian values to their families–another cultural shift.
The fathers walking with their wives and the kids do not follow the stereotypes of fathers I grew to know. The role of father is now as equal as that of the mothers. The fathers carry the babies. The fathers walk the kids to the restroom. One father allowed his toddler daughter to put lipstick on him even though it missed and hit the cap. Fathers play openly with the kids.
Maybe my stereotypes are just mine, but I believe that when Jesus used the parables, he was trying to break stereotypes. Jesus wanted us to see each other just as we see ourselves. As I witnessed a shift in cultural stereotypes, I am reminded of the parable of the blind leading the blind:
“Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.–Luke 6:39-42, NRSV
Those days of walking around the various parks, watching the mingling of peoples, I found that my own stereotypes were making me blind to the cultural shifts that have continued to evolve even and maybe even assisted by a pandemic.
In Matthew 15, the parable of the blind leading the blind is wrapped in the middle of another lesson from Jesus. The restrictive laws for the Jewish diet were challenged when Jesus and his disciples broke some of the laws as they ate together. The Jewish leaders were offended and challenged Jesus. A cultural shift was needed, and it includes a warning for us yet today as we teach our next generation:
10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” . . . 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
Today is Father’s Day, and as I have thought about the vacation and what I witnessed, I know that Jesus’ parables provide us with the very rules for establishing new cultural standards away from the name-calling, bullying, angry, hateful behaviors we have watched our pre-pandemic world had become.
Maybe the pandemic slowed us down, forced us to reevaluate how we have been living, and showed us that we can raise our families to love one another and to love others outside our pod just as we want to live. We must not continue leading by outdated laws, outdated stereotypes, instead we must be the leaders in our community showing those who are blind God’s love.
We need to re-evaluate how we speak and act in front of our children–not just those in our homes, but to our community’s children. We need to speak in words loaded with love, grace, and compassion. We need to live our faith openly by our actions so future generations will model those same behaviors breaking stereotypes that restrict us from living in Christian community with each other.
Our culture is shifting, and God depends on us to teach one another in our families, in our pods, and across the globe the one commandment: love one another as you want to be loved.
Even as Jesus led the ancient people in a cultural shift, we continue to use our Heavenly Father’s words to learn how to live out God’s one commandment through the parables. In Proverbs, David goes on to clarify that a father’s–earthly and heavenly–instruction brings wisdom
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.
5 Get wisdom; get insight: do not forget, nor turn away
from the words of my mouth.
6 Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you. –Proverbs 4:4-6, NRSV
As we end today, think about the way cultures have shifted since the scriptures began sharing the story of God’s faithful. The words share our Heavenly Father’s wisdom, and our earthly fathers, mothers and more help us keep God-centered even as the culture evolves–we are all part of God’s world. Please join me in prayer:
Dear Omnipotent Father,
Guide each of us to follow Jesus’ teachings
so the words of our mouths speak love
to one another.
Open our eyes to the world around us
so we may see your love in action.
Let each of us grow in faith
so we may be the agents of change,
teaching our children to love one another.
Let us be the agents of change
working to expand your kingdom
even here on earth. –Amen