Monday, April 14, 2014

Culture Shock!

Standing at Flinders Street Station with my very excited 14 year old son viewing the monitors for a connecting train, an announcement caught our attention with the information we were looking for, "A special service to the Showgrounds for the Supanova Pop Culture Expo will depart on platform 9 in five minutes."  As we made our way down the escalator to the platform I felt as though we were entering another universe.  Scores of pop culture fanatics were dressed in full costume bringing alive every imaginable comic, animated and science-fiction character from their imaginary worlds.  To say I felt like a foreigner in another land would be an understatement!

From the train to the show grounds my feeling of cultural displacement reached new heights as I mingled in this imaginary world where my senses were overwhelmed by crowds of people of all ages passionately interacting with the exhibits of this pop culture.  It was then that it occurred to me I was experiencing the same reality as those who enter the church for the first time where people dress, speak and act in a foreign manner.  To an outsider, the foreign culture of a church must feel every bit as strange as Supanova did to me!

Through this surreal cultural experience I observed a number of parallels with the church:

  • A strong cultural following elicits a high level of devotion by its followers
  • Passionate people are prepared to look foolish to others to express their passion
  • Like-minded people want to gather in community with others who share a cultural connection
  • People are willing to invest a large amount of money into something they believe in
  • There is a distinct language that can make outsiders feel disconnected within the culture
  • A specific dress code may connect with insiders but dissociate outsiders
  • Cultural expressions are often misunderstood without their associated meanings

I belong to a church that has its own very distinct subculture within the culture of Christianity, complete with a uniform, hierarchical structure, language, expression of worship and mission, rules and regulations, that can have a similar effect on outsiders as I experienced at Supernova.  The challenge for The Salvation Army, and any other church, is to examine our distinct cultures through the eyes and experience of an outsider to assess how well we connect with those we seek to reach.

We may then consider changing, adapting or explaining our cultural expressions to minimise the cultural shock for those encountering our culture for the first time.

1 comment:

  1. Actually had an interesting experience in the line waiting to get in on Friday night. As it was raining, I had my large golf brolly up, and offered its shelter to the next person to come along, a lady who was probably in her early to mid fifties. We got talking, as you do while waiting in lines at these things, and I found out she'd never been to anything like Supanova, had no idea how to get her pass for the weekend, what she needed to do to get a photo with Lucy Lawless, or even when things were. Being a little tech savvy, along with being reasonably gregarious when I know stuff, I offered to help guide her through the process of getting her wristband, getting her ticket for a photo, when the Q&A with Lucy was, all that sort of thing. Once I had her situated, oriented and sorted, we headed in to somewhere we could sit & rest until things kicked off. Once my wife was finished with her duties as a volunteer for the night, I wished this lady well, knowing she knew where & what she was doing for the rest of the night. She told me she was part of the management team for Axis of Awesome, and was so touched by my help, she wanted to give us tickets for one of their shows - totally unexpected, and not why I did what I did. As you know I'm fairly chatty & open, willing to share what I know, without any expectations, so what she did was a pleasant surprise, which helped reinforce my view that the geek/pop culture community can be awesome when you're not expecting it.