The last few years, as part of my graduate studies in Mental Health, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and studying on culture. This involved not a small amount of researching and experiecing cultural groups and practices and doing a lot of thinking (and a lot of research papers) over a 3.5 year period concerning my own culture and cultural experiences and how they might impact the counseling process. It was tough because these projects always required a brief summation of my cultural identity before I expanded on the assigned topic. They wanted me to give them my cultural story in, like, 3 sentences or under. Not possible.
Questions like “Where are you from?” or “Tell me about yourself…,” have always been fraught – do you mean where was I born? (Hawaii) or where was I raised? (Maryland, Germany, and Georgia) or Where have I lived the longest? (Arizona) or Where did I live before Arizona? (Virginia) What’s my family’s heritage? (Northern European and Native American) or whose values have I been shaped by? (Appalachain, Polish, German, Southern, New England, African-American, Caucasian, Christian, Agnostic, Military, and Civilian). I don’t have quick answers to these questions.
My parents divorced when I was young, so I had two families and three distinct cultural heritages to blend into one tiny soul. One family was multi-ethnic and Civilian, the other white and Military. I traveled a lot and had multiple communities attached to each of my families, each with their own traditions, music, clothes, social structures, and vernacular. I spent my childhood observing and blending in. I was the perpetual outsider. I learned a lot and saw life from a lot of different angles. That’s been very helpful to working as a counselor, but as for having my own clearly defined identity, not so much. I’m incredibly grateful for the wealth and richness of culture that lives in me, but it wasn’t an easy experience feeling like no matter where I went I was never quite home. As I’ve pondered my story, I realized the clearest cultural legacy I have is that I know what it’s like to be a foreigner and outsider while also maintaining connection to the people I’m with. I think this is the call to all Christians. Hebrews 13:14 says “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” The call is to acknowledge that we are not-of-this-world while continuing to settle in it, love it, invest in it, and live. To touch and taste and smell, to sing and dance, to explore and see, to tell our stories and histories, and to create and enjoy. To release what has not yet come and sink into the moment of what is, while also embracing the anticipation for the day our wandering spirits finally have the home where it fully belongs.