To say that the northern and southern regions of the United States have their differences is an understatement.
And the more I think about it, to call it an understatement is itself an understatement. As a Yankee expatriate having taken up residence in southern Virginia, I can confirm that the two locations are like night and day—and if you’ve ever done any traveling between them, you know it too.
We talk different down here. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard someone up north say “ya’ll,” and I’m not entirely sure I’d even need to use any fingers. We eat different, too. Ever had lunch at Bojangles? I guarantee you it wasn’t in New England, because no one north of the Mason-Dixie Line has any idea what to do with a biscuit. The south even has its own food pyramid—it looks just like the one most people know, except there’s another tier right below “Bread and Grains.” It’s called “Fried.”
But I do love it in Virginia. It took some getting used to, and there was definitely a little culture shock at first. (My mother-in-law likes to tease me about the first time I saw my twelve in-laws-to-be and their kids in one room—evidently I just sat and stared, wide-eyed, for a good while.) There are notable differences in how people act, think, and associate with each other, and all of them took some level of self-adjustment for me to get used to.
One of the things I’ve learned in traveling between these two regions is that these two cultures aren’t tied to state borders. People in North Carolina still say “ya’ll.” People in Rhode Island still root for the Boston Red Sox and say “wicked awesome” and have a terrifyingly unhealthy love for Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not so much a matter of being a Virginian or a Massachusettsian as it is about being a southerner or a Yankee.
It’s a point worth noting—it’s not where you live that determines who you are. On the contrary, it’s your culture that helps shape your identity. I’ve lived in Virginia for a year now, but I still get called a Yankee from time to time—it’s not difficult for natives to pick me out of a crowd, since I talk, think, and act differently than they’re used to. They can see that my culture is different than theirs. In the same way, if someone from where I live now moved up north, they wouldn’t stop being a southerner. They would still like fried chicken; they would still say “ya’ll”; they would still want a front porch with a rocking chair. Their culture wouldn’t change just because their location did.
Merriam-Webster lists one definition of culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” In other words, culture defines a broad group of people in terms of what they have in common.
Brothers and sisters, we have been called to take on a new culture—and it goes far beyond the sports teams we root for and the meals we enjoy. We have been called to adopt the culture of a Kingdom that the world at large is ignorant of. Beyond that, we are called to be ambassadors of this Kingdom, representing through our actions and words what that Kingdom is like.
What do the people who know you see you as? They’ll no doubt pick up on your regional culture simply by the things you say and do. But is that all they pick up on?
The Bible describes the people of God as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13), passing through this world on their way to what they consider their true homeland—not the place where they were born and raised or started a family, but the very Kingdom of God. So when people get to know you, do they recognize that?
I don’t have to tell people in Virginia I’m not from around there. They already know. I stick out like a sore thumb because of my northern background. In a spiritual sense, are we sticking out like sore thumbs? Is it easy for the world around us to realize that we aren’t from around here?
Because we shouldn’t fit in. It shouldn’t be difficult for someone in the world to understand that we don’t fit in with the world because our culture isn’t from this world. If a darkened world blinded by Satan’s continual influence sees us as one of their own, what does that say about our culture? About who we are?
The Bible is clear about who the people of God are. They’re the Kingdom-seekers (Matthew 6:33). They’re the ones who have received God’s Spirit and are keeping His judgments and statutes (Ezekiel 11:19-20). They seek to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God (Micah 6:8). They understand that the love of God and the love of others are the twin pillars on which the entire law and plan of God are built (Matthew 22:35-40).
The people of God stand out from the world, because by definition they must. They seek to take on the culture of the Kingdom of their God because that is their homeland. As I write this, God’s followers around the world are observing the Feast of Tabernacles, days that picture the time when the whole world will be living God’s way under His perfect leadership.
If we want to be part of that Kingdom, then we, the called, ought to define ourselves first and foremost by the culture of that Kingdom. And we ought to stick out like Yankees in the south.
Until next time,