Community: Transculture

Here must be the heir, if yonder his inheritance; here the laborer, if yonder his rest; here the candidate, if yonder his reward.

~Richard Winter Hamilton (1794-1848)

The challenge of being a community apart from the world is to begin to consider things from a transcendent perspective. How easy it is to be swept along with the tide of opinion and the winds of circumstance! I’ve been considering lately how cyclical worldly events are, how repetitive. Santyana’s famous statement, so often quoted and paraphrased, rings true: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And how often we forget the past, hence I’ve included a couple of quotations recently that have a familiar, contemporary feel.

As a result I find myself struggling with a strange mix of patriotic zeal and melancholy. On one hand I weep when the flag goes by, on the other I am on the margins nationalism. I can swell with pride at the foundations of my country and weep with grief over her departure from them. Perhaps as a part of Christ’s “trans-culture” it must be this way. Isaiah the prophet said, “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales.”  Though I value my homeland, I realize that it is only a temporary homeland. I, and other followers of Christ, have set our hearts on a different place, a transcendent one. That’s why I’m using the word “trans-culture” to describe Christ followers.

Months ago (March 23, 2005), when I began this BLOG I suggested that living between two worlds meant that Christ followers were a counter culture. Not an “anti-culture” in the sense of standing opposed to the dominant culture, though opposed we may be—we oughtn’t be identified by what we are against. Not a sub-culture, having borrowed from the world around us and modified what we borrow to suit our sensibilities—clean it up, remake it to suit ourselves, and then offer it back to the world along with an invitation to follow Jesus. Instead, I proposed we be a counterculture, a group that stands out by standing apart.

But upon further consideration, the term “counterculture” still has a combative and contrary feel to it. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem substantially different from what I called an “anti-culture.” Thus I’ve been casting about for a better term to describe life between two worlds. I am still convinced that the Christ-life shouldn’t be characterized by either borrowing from the dominant culture, or by opposing it. A term that describes the Christ-life should suggest detachment from this world—not aloof, more like indifferent—and yearning for what’s next. I’m trying on “trans-culture,” to describe a people apart, a race of people who live by customs inherited from a homeland they haven’t yet seen. The challenge for us is to discover the customs of our not-fully-discovered country and then apply them to our life between the worlds. Better to start with a set of values to attain to, rather than merely tidy up the familiar ones of the world; or to try to imagine their opposite and then embrace what we have imagined.

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