Culture and Ethnography

God made the universe and He created it in accordance with His love, righteousness and infinity. However each person sees the universe differently depending on his or her culture and other factors. In my study of world religions, philosophy and history, I have reviewed many works on culture and how to study it. I have included some reviews here.

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Medical Preparation for Humanitarian Missions

Going on a mission trip or a humanitarian event to a developing country? Prepare yourself by doing this.

“Doctor, this will be a very long war if for every division I have facing the enemy, I must count on a second division in hospital with malaria and a third division convalescing from this debilitating disease.” General Douglas MacArthur to Colonel Paul F. Russell, US Army malaria consultant, May 1943.

Just like soldiers going to war, people on humanitarian missions anywhere in the world can fail to accomplish their mission due to illness or injury. Whether missionaries seeking to advance the gospel of Christ, secular humanitarians trying to dig a well and build a school in a rural African village, or a combination of both, medical problems can inactivate the best intentioned and most capable teams. This article is intended to help people medically prepare themselves to go overseas on humanitarian missions. You can also watch the video.

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A Theology of Missions

Jesus commands us to go and make disciples. Why don’t we take Him seriously?

18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  19″Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,  20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

This passage, so brief and so full of meaning and power to the followers of Jesus Christ, has changed the world.  The day that Jesus died, probably sometime in the spring of 30 AD, there were about 120 people who followed Him.  That night and the following Sabbath they cowered, despairing at the death of the One they loved so much, bewildered about what they were supposed to do next, and desperately hoping that the authorities were not going to murder them too.  When Sunday came and they found the tomb empty, these emotions mixed with a too-good-to-be-true excitement.  When they finally saw Him and realized that Jesus had really risen from the dead, the worries and questions dissolved into answers.  The One they loved had beaten death, their next task was whatever He directed, and they no longer cared what the authorities did.  If Jesus defeated death, those who loved Him would too.

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Jesus at the Feast of the Tabernacles

Knowing ancient Jewish culture will help us know the Bible better, and know God better. The investment will pay off many fold. 

Modern Jews and Christians are far removed from the ancient Israelite culture. Our food supply in the developed world is relatively secure, while their food supply, and their survival, depended on each year’s harvest. “Feast” in rich modern nations usually means low food prices and “famine” means high food prices, whereas feast in ancient Israel meant life and famine meant death. Refrigeration and cheap transportation give us variety and reliability at the dinner table, while the lack of both made it frequently hard for the Hebrews to know where their next meal was coming from. In modern times we emphasize the role of technology in our prosperity and downplay the grace of God, while in ancient Israel they used existing technology wisely while recognizing that the hand of the Lord was the source of all things.

Is it any wonder that modern first-world Christians don’t understand how important the feasts were to the Hebrews in the Old Testament? Many Americans’ main worry surrounding the main cultural feasts, Thanksgiving and Christmas, is not putting on too much weight. Political and social leaders encourage people to enjoy family and friends, and maybe even thank others who grew the food, but say nothing about God.

To better understand the Bible we must have some understanding of the feasts that meant so much to the Israelites at the time.

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A Sense of Time and Place

We are products of our individual lives, but also of our ancestors, our place, and our time. Let’s stop ignoring this, but understand it, and celebrate it. 

Several months ago I waited with my children at the school bus stop. It was a cool, sunny morning and a neighbor and her child walked towards us. She had a Middle Eastern accent and an olive complexion. Having learned some Arabic in Iraq I greeted her with “Sabah al khair” (“Good morning”) and she replied with “Sabah al noor.” Curious, I asked where she came from, expecting the answer to be an Arab country in the Middle East. She replied “Iran”, where the dominant language is Farsi, and I asked if she spoke Arabic as well as Farsi and English. She answered “no, but Farsi has adopted many Arabic words and phrases since they invaded us.” What strange words to American ears, “since they invaded us.” Her explanation was shockingly personal and immediate, as though it had happened to her, even though the invasion of which she spoke was in 636 AD, climaxing in the famous Battle of al-Qadisiyyah. I couldn’t imagine saying of the British “since they invaded us”, as though it happened to me personally, but the history rolled off her tongue as if it was a current event. I asked if that was the invasion that she was referring to and she said “yes”. The centuries that had passed had no bearing on her feelings about it.

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Hellenization After Alexander – What was it, and Why Did it Matter?

When conquerors want to subdue a foe, they crush their armies. If they want to rule a conquered land, however, they must displace the culture of that land. Alexander the Great knew this, and as he wanted an empire that would outlive him, he needed to displace conquered cultures with his own. This was especially urgent to him due to the diversity of his empire, including Assyrians, Jews, Egyptians, Persians, Parthians, Armenians, and a host of others. Hellenism is Greek culture, and is the primary weapon, even more than his armies, that Alexander used to influence Middle Eastern and European history for millennia.

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Preunderstandings and Presuppositions

Our fundamental biology, assumptions and experiences, passed down through our families and environments, shape us more than we know. By identifying these influences, we can shape them.

In the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical the Sound of Music, 17 year old Rolf sings to his beloved 16 year old Liesl about her innocence as she makes the transition into adulthood. Rolf’s song, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, includes the line “your life, little girl, is an empty page, that men will want to write on.”

Though a charming sentiment, it is not really true. None of our lives are an empty page, ready to learn and experience anything that comes our way with complete accuracy and objectivity. We are each preconditioned by a host of factors to see and respond to life in a particular way:

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Hermeneutics – The Art and Science of Bible Interpretation

How do we interpret the Bible? Literally? Allegorically? It depends on how the Author wants each section interpreted.

Hermeneutics, defined as the science of interpretation, is important in every field of endeavor (1). People working in law, philosophy and religion use hermeneutical techniques to interpret communication, whether written, oral or otherwise, but so do friends arranging a party, and even lovers proclaiming their everlasting devotion. Biblical hermeneutics applies the art and science of hermeneutics to gathering meaning in the Bible.

When a book is written and subsequently read, information and emotion are transferred from author to reader, and both have an important role in the process. Things become more complex when the reader is not the reader that the author was writing for, as is the case with the Bible. The role of the author is to assemble his ideas in a coherent fashion and then decide how best to communicate those ideas to his intended audience. He may use different languages, different genres (narrative, poetry, law, prophecy, wisdom, letters, and apocalyptic), different words, and different stories to illustrate his points (2). The author then puts pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to write his work.

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