On Cultural Encounters and Tangents

By Maggie Velasquez-Choi

Culture is intertwined with holidays. Holidays (stems from holy days) are often intertwined with religion. Religion is a sensitive subject that steps on toes, so put on your steel-toed boots.

Although I write on cultural encounters, I'm not an advocate of open-mindedness nor telling readers to be accepting of different cultures. During my missionary training in ‘92 we were taught to accept the people and have an understanding, not necessarily an acceptance, of the culture. Ironically, I've become more “close-minded” to accepting different cultures because I have to weigh “their” way with “my” way and this leads me to study deeper what I believe. Since I've chosen the Bible as my foundation I pray and compare with the scriptures. Historically, Korea is a society of Confucius philosophy and Buddhist religion mixed with Shamanism, but Christianity has, and is making inroads. My husband and I are both Christians (in progress) and the hardest part for us is doing and not doing what we believe without insulting his Buddhist parents (who live with us as tradition dictates) or turning them away from Christianity. This past weekend is an example .

Happy New Year of the Pig! Sunday, February 18, was Lunar New Year (AKA Chinese New Year by Americans). Most people get a three-day break to allow for traveling time. Friends and extended family came on Saturday and Monday. Sisters and their families came on Sunday. It's a day of eating, playing and relaxing. Tom's young nieces and nephews like this holiday because Korean children get money gifts when they do their yearly “sebae” (forehead-to-the-floor bowing to the elders). They can collect about $100 by bowing to grandparents, uncles and aunts. I don't feel very comfortable being bowed to by the children nor bowing to Tom's parents. I feel that I really need to stand by my convictions of Revelation 19:10 (don't bow down to worship anything nor anybody but Jesus). Others say it's just honoring and not worshiping. I still don't totally agree with it but I go along so as not to upset the family. Maybe next year I can get out of it tactfully.

In the New-Year morning, before breakfast, my mother-in-law and one of my sisters-in-law fix a slew of food items such as fruit, dried fish, soup, rice cakes, dried nuts, meat patties, alcohol drink, fried tofu and boiled rice, among other things. It is the duty of the elder of the household (my father-in-law) and his eldest son (my husband, Tom) set up a memorial table in the living room and place the food items there. The elder lights incense, then they all get in front of the table and start bowing to the floor and thanking the dead ancestors for their watch over them. I'm supposed to join also but I told them from the start that I believe that the dead are asleep and see and hear us not (Ecclesiastes 9:5) (Job 14:12 , 21). I said that I will thank Jesus for his watch over us and I will try to honor the living while they're still here. They accepted this and I stand at the back of the room and observe. The eldest son (Tom) pours alcohol into cups for the spirits. Afterwards we all go away into a bedroom for about 5 minutes to allow the spirits to “eat and drink” of the offerings. Later we return to clean up and eat breakfast. We eat some of the food from the offering table. For more details on this tradition go to: Koreaherald.com, then click on: “Lunar New Year Food more than delicious”.

I didn't expect I'd have to deal with this tradition in my life because neither Tom nor I believe this way and this tradition is left up to the eldest son of a family (a big reason that Koreans insist on having a son) but his older brother was killed in a motorcycle accident 3 months ago and it's Tom's duty now to serve in this ritual beside his father. He says we won't continue it when he's the elder of the home.

With globalization and political correctness being the trend nowadays, cultural awareness and open-mindedness are emphasized. It's all good and well for our understanding of the world around us and to know why people do what they do, but if you keep too much of an open mind your brains will fall out. We have to have our own feet planted on solid ground. I remember that in my philosophy class at OPSU the debates would get interesting after each reading assignment. Some students were convinced by every theory or hypothetical situation so they would argue for it but it would contradict what they believed last week. They were like leaves in the wind.

To wrap it up, we don't need to travel the world to find the right culture. We can form the best culture in our own house by reading and applying the Word. They say that the U.S. Secret Service agents don't extensively study the counterfeit U.S. dollar bills during training. They just study the original bills to spot a fake.

Text of the day: Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”