This Christmas article breaks away from the usual format to give you some seasonal food for thought.
A person’s culture is defined by what they take for granted. It is all the assumptions they make about the way things are and ought to be. Our culture colors our world and provides the lenses through which we see life. It is how we define everything that happens around us. The language we speak is one of the instruments through which we pass along our culture and life assumptions. Our individual behavior is another powerful way in which we pass along and express our culture.
I have spent many years working in a culturally rich place, Brigham Young University – Hawaii Campus. We have more than 70 countries represented in a student body of just a few thousand. Almost anything you can say or do in public or in private is regarded by one culture or another to be either praiseworthy or offensive. Communication here is problematic at best. That is one of the reasons that we deliberately try to pass along what the Church refers to as the culture of Christ. As a Church, we find ourselves among people of every culture on the planet, but as Latter-day Saints, we all need to develop one culture that takes priority over all other cultures, the culture of Christ.
We look to Christ for the perfect example in all things, be it behavior, attitudes, spirituality, you name it. We should always strive to live the way He lived, and be the kind of person He was above any other definition of being human we run into. But what about us? What about our friends, neighbors, relatives, and the strangers we meet? Can we teach each other to follow the Culture of Christ?
I was thinking of some of the more notable people in the scriptures, and my mind settled on Mary, the mother of Christ. She did not have Christ to hold up as an example of how to live, at least not until Christ was old enough to start to teach her. Yet someone had to pass along the life lessons she needed to become the woman who was worthy to be the mother of the Son of God.
Think of all the people in Mary’s life who, by example and by word, taught her to be honorable, truthful, trustworthy, a person of integrity. Who taught her what it meant to be a good Jew, a law-abiding citizen, and how to fill the role of a woman and a wife in her society? It is very difficult for one person to do all of these things for another person. That is why we have the saying that it takes a village to raise a child.
Mary had the examples of the women around her to learn how to do housework, shopping, how to worship, to learn the rules and teachings of the Law of Moses, and of the history of her people. Her mother was not alone in teaching Mary how to be the best person she could be. Mary had a family who had good values, a father who set an example for her, and a mother who trained her from the time she was young.
When one person stands up for what is good and right, it is often easy for evil to beat them down and make them be silent. But when there is a community of people who are standing up for what is good and decent, righteous and praiseworthy, it is a lot harder to silence them or pretend they don’t exist.
This is where the power of example comes in. Mary was an extraordinary person, and much of who she became was a result of her native personality. But all the rest of it was because she had good people showing her how to be the best person she could be; the best daughter, the best friend, the best citizen, the best Jew, the best example of maidenhood.
So let’s put these two things together. How do I learn the culture of Christ? How do I learn to put it before the culture I was raised with, and how do I pass along the culture of Christ to others? I learn the culture of Christ by listening to the prophet and obeying the teachings of the Brethren. If I come from a culture where beating and abusing people is considered normal and acceptable, but the Church teaches me that this is not acceptable, I need to choose which culture I will adopt. If the Church teaches me that honesty is a Celestial virtue, and that it needs to become a big part of who I am, but my culture teaches me that if I cheat and get caught that I just need to cheat better next time so I won’t get caught, then I have a choice to make. Which culture do I choose to follow?
Culture defines us, so whether it be the decision on whether or not I get a tattoo or whether or not I go shopping on Sunday, everything I do tells me and others which culture I am a part of. The culture of Christ is found in the scriptures. It is found in the teachings and examples of the Brethren and other Church leaders. The culture of Christ is taught by the Spirit as He prompts us to behave and do the things that will bring us joy. Everything in the culture of Christ is designed to ultimately bring us joy.
The language we use may be one of the main instruments by which we pass along our society’s culture, but it is also how we pass along the culture of Christ. Do we choose to speak in kind and gentle tones or do we choose to shout in anger or speak cruel words? Do we speak words of comfort and uplift those around us, as Christ would do, or do we gossip, spread rumors, criticize, or rob others of hope through the things we say?
Each of us has a culture into which we were born and raised. Yet each of us has the opportunity to replace our culture with a far better one, the culture of Christ. But to do so we need to learn to see where Christ’s way is better than our own. We need to make the choice to follow His culture. All cultures will bring a measure of fulfillment. If they didn’t they would have changed. But Christ’s culture is the one that will bring us home to live with our Father in Heaven. The choice is ours to keep what we want and to replace what we want of the culture we were born into.
Each of us can contribute to not only the culture of Christ, but by the choices we make we help build a community of Christ-like people. The more we adopt His identity in how we act and behave, the more we support each other, stand up for what is right, and teach those around us to embrace good and righteous principles, the more we build a society that is based on the culture of Christ. This is where we, as a people will find strength, support, love, tolerance, acceptance, and joy.
Kelly P. Merrill
Kelly Merrill is semi retired and writes for https://gospelstudy.us. He lives with his wife in Idaho. His strength is being able to take difficult to understand subjects and break them down into understandable parts. He delights in writing about the gospel of Christ. Writing about the gospel is his personal missionary work to the members of the Church and to those of other faiths who are wanting to know more about Christ's gospel and His Church.