Leaving Our Cultural Shells Behind

Rodger Woodworth

In order to grow, lobsters have to rid themselves of their old, hard, protective shell and grow a new, larger one.  They need the shell to protect them from being torn apart, yet when they grow, the old shell must be abandoned. If they did not abandon it, the old shell would soon become their prison–and finally their casket. This process of shedding an old shell is called molting.  They do this about twenty-five times in the first five years of life and once a year after they become adults.

It is an ugly, messy process.  Under the pressure, the old, hard, protective shell cracks.  Then the lobster lies on its side, flexes its muscles, and pulls itself from the cracked shell.  For a short time – between the leaving of the old and the hardening of a new one – the lobster is naked and very vulnerable to the elements.

We are not so different from lobsters. To change and grow, we must sometimes shed our shells such as our cultural worldview that we’ve come to depend on.  According to author Eric Law our cultural worldview are those “unconscious beliefs, patterns, values and myths that affect everything we do and say.”  All forms of Christianity have been affected by cultural prejudices.  Western enlightenment has blinded some of us to the spirit world while African superstition has distorted some of their view of Christianity. 

Peter says as Christians we are a “holy nation”, litereally we are a new ethnicity (1 Peter 2:9).  Every Christian, while staying connected to our culture of origin, must get enough distance to identify and shed our shells of cultural idols.  To do that we need the help of other cultures to honestly critique our own cultural view of the world.  

Author Lamin Sanneh writes that Christianity does not replace our culture with some other culture but rather converts it – it transforms us in the soil of our respective cultures.  This process is called discipleship – leaving the old and waiting for the hardening of the new - and can leave us feeling naked and vulnerable. It means being so committed to Christ that when he bids us to follow, we will risk change, grow, and leave our “cultural shells” behind.

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