There are two stories that I have heard recently that have stuck with me, leaving a powerful impact.
The first was shared in the Latter-day Saint General Conference held in April of 2015. In his talk Is It Still Wonderful to You? Bishop Gerald Causse shared a story told to him by a young sister missionary in Africa about three men who walked over 300 miles to attend a district conference. Their aim was to bring the tithing donations of 15 church members and almost 20 investigators to church leaders, and to partake of the sacrament. After attending the sacrament meeting and the religious conference, they departed on their return journey, this time carrying boxes containing copies of the Book of Mormon on their heads to give to their fellow villagers.
Tears, my friends, tears.
The next story is equally inspiring.
A young man from Sydney, Australia was called to serve in the Fiji Suva mission, specifically the island of Vanuatu. After serving for a while on this island, he was transferred to an even smaller island called Tanna. Soon after arriving, a man came to the door and introduced himself as the leader of a small Mormon branch on the island. The missionaries recognized the name of the branch and knew that no missionaries had been in contact with these people for over five years. This man had walked for 12 hours to ask the missionaries for relief aid because a recent cyclone had destroyed the village.
After receiving permission, the missionaries went with the man to the small village on a Sunday. They could not believe their eyes when they got there and found a church constructed of palm leaves and bamboo. 90 people, members and investigators, welcomed them.
As the church service began, the congregation sang “There is a Green Hill Far Away”, a well-loved sacrament hymn. Then, the branch leader took a carefully folded sheet of paper from his shirt pocket and gave it to a man who was to bless the sacrament. It was the sacrament prayer, carefully written by the last missionaries to visit the branch five years before. You can find the entire story here.
Even more tears.
This is what I love about these two stories, it combines my two favorite things: culture and the gospel.
I studied Anthropology at Brigham Young University. Anthropology is the study of peoples and cultures. There is not a lot you can do with a degree in anthropology, and most people think I just really like to shop for off-beat clothes and over-priced home goods. But spending four years analyzing why people do the things they do has left me with an understanding of the culture we live in today.
A social construct is something that humans create to help them understand their relationship with the environment around them. It is something that is ever changing and fluid, just like our world. As the world changes, so too must our understanding of how we fit in.
Before the advent of globalizing technologies, people, generally distinguished by their geographical barriers, used culture to answer three main questions:
- Who are we?
- What are we doing here?
- Where are we going?
Their culture bound them together and aided them in passing along life-sustaining information. It organized their energies and helped them to flourish and progress. It helped them to explain things that are sometimes unexplainable: sickness, death, crop failure, birth, life, war, victory, etc.
Each culture has its own definition of reality. And to each culture, this definition is right.
THE HERE AND NOW
But now, with the advent of technology—trains, planes, and automobiles, maybe even a computer or two—the world is shrinking. Geographical barriers no longer bar human outreach. And in most parts of the world, social stratification is a thing of the past.
Cultural groups need no longer wonder about “We” because individuals can now ponder “Me”.
As an individual, you can make an impact on your environment. And, likewise, your environment can now be whatever you make of it.
Just look to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and twitter. What about those who become overnight sensations on YouTube?!
Technology has supplanted traditional culture and in its wake a new global culture has emerged that is ever shifting. Fads come and go and styles change with the seasons. Seriously, don’t bother buying the new iphone 6 because the iphone 16 is just around the corner.
Before this rapid dissemination of information, cultures took centuries to shift. Now, new micro-cultures spring up every day. Hello, Bronies anyone?
And yet…and yet–despite all the hype of instant gratification and unlimited knowledge at our fingertips, the age old questions are still being asked, with a slight twist:
- Who am I?
- What am I doing here?
- Where am I going?
While a global culture is, by definition, uniting, it is also very isolating. When you are aware of everything, it is easy to disagree with everything. People are taking offense more and more for themselves and for people they haven’t even met. Offense is isolating. It cuts you off from seeing the similarities and the good in others.
It is “Me” vs. “We”.
A BRAVE NEW WORLD
Enter my other favorite topic: the Gospel.
When I think of this new globalization, a scripture found in the Book of Mormon comes to mind.
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord…” (Mosiah 3:19)
For God, the omniscient being who created this world, his culture is unchanging. It does not sway with the times and the seasons. And it has been since before earthly time.
And He did not keep this culture a secret from us. No, it was presented to us as the Plan of Salvation and we were even offered a Savior. Jesus Christ volunteered to show us the way. And to seal the deal, he offered to die for us just in case this divine culture would prove too difficult.
In fact, let’s take this a step further. This world, this globe, was created for the specific purpose that we could come to Earth to try God’s culture for ourselves. It was created so Christ could come and show us the way. So that we could have a chance to become like Him.
My friends, this is the true global culture. Throw away iphones and tablets, facebook and instagram. Status updates and photoshop have nothing on this. These things offer a fleeting high that dissolves when you’ve been out-updated.
PLAN OF SALVATION FAQ
How can we find out more about the culture of the Plan of Salvation?
Another scripture comes to mind that offers some clues.
“…he gave some…apostles…prophets…and teachers for the…edifying of the body of Christ…till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God…that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind…of men, and cunning craftiness…” (Ephesians 4: 11-14)
- If we immerse ourselves in the teachings of prophets and apostles and teachers, we will anchor ourselves in the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is a firm foundation.
- Temple attendance is another avenue for discovering God’s culture. In the temple we can draw closer to Christ than in any other place on earth. Here we can find true and everlasting instruction from a loving Father in Heaven. And we can re-evaluate our own standing with God.
- Being obedient to the whisperings of the Holy Ghost is another example of gospel culture. Once we have gained a testimony of something that witness does not change or fade with time. The winds of change cannot shake truth.
And lastly, how can we know when we have immersed ourselves fully in God’s culture?
When you can look at others and feel Christ-like love for your brothers and sisters, I think you have achieved it.
When you can look at the world and feel overwhelming love for a Heavenly Father who has created this beautiful world full of diversity and unity for us, his children, you have achieved it.
When you choose obedience over contrariness because of love, you have achieved it.
When you trust in His will because of love, you have achieved it.
Of course, there will be times when those who follow God’s culture will be tossed around and buffeted by the storms of human culture. That is only natural, for we are natural men focusing on “me”. But that is the beauty of God’s culture—it encompasses “me” and “we”. For Christ died for all of us, but at the same time, he died for me…and you…and everyone…alone. The Plan of Salvations is for everyone and for the one. But in this culture, we work together to bring everyone—our brothers and sisters and families—into God’s presence again.
If you have questions, if you have doubts, I urge you to ask yourself these questions:
- Who am I?
- What am I doing here?
- Where am I going?
You are a child of God. You are learning how to return to Him. And You are trying to get back to His presence.
But you don’t have to go through culture shock alone. Rely on Christ and He will show you the way. After all that is said and done, He died for us so that we might have this cultural experience of our own.
Jessica Clark is a wife, mom, writer, runner, knitter, and proud Canadian. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Anthropology, and has been a student of people and cultures ever since. Right now she is busy studying the behavior and cultures of the people of Texas.