I’m not sure how much I realised culture impacts things until I’d lived in a few cultures. Northern Irish culture; English culture; Irish culture; there’s nuanced differences between all of them. But nuanced differences magnified by living out assumptions that there’ll all the same, sometimes make surprisingly large differences between all of them! It’s what irks me most about comments from those who’ve travelled in eastern Europe (or anywhere for that matter) and declare all the cultures to be the same! And sadly in my first few years of settling in Cork (and probably still) I’d a lot to grasp about those differences. One of them is urgency.
How do we as Irish people display urgency?
I remember living with a couple of doctors once (yes, you guessed it, one of the ones who got married). Coming down in to the kitchen one morning, already late for work, he stopped and put on the kettle and sat down to chat. Looking at him slightly puzzled, he saw my face, said “haven’t seen you in a while bud, you want a cup of tea?”, and proceeded to chat away for another ten minutes. Much as the British like their tea, I wonder whether they would not have scolded him and shoved him out of the door before the kettle boiled.
Equally I came from having lived in England nearly five years, where task-orientated life dominates. You send someone an email, and if you don’t get a reply in a few days, it’s a fault on their part. Landing in Cork, I started sending many, many emails. I saw one recipient on the street a few weeks later who casually wandered over to me and said “ah Peter, how’s it going? I see you sent me an email a few weeks ago. Do you want to go for coffee now?”
Relational life is beautiful.
It took me a while to get round to seeing it as that, but it is. At times frustrating, but still none-the-less beautiful.
A friend in Limerick similarly noted that when Limerick flooded a year or two ago, the process by which the local councillors and groups got together to work out a solution and an urgent action plan, was not a British task-orientated, exact plan. In fact, to the on-looking British it may have even been considered lackadaisical.
Some would say to me that Irish people don’t do urgency. But I’m not so sure that’s true, as I see plenty of situations we react to urgently, although it’s true that we seem to love some sense of spontaneity too. I just wonder whether Irish urgency is indeed very different. Which makes me wonder about those who believe they have an urgent message to proclaim. Muslims, Mormons, Evangelical Christians, others.
I have sat down with Mormons who seem to have such urgency that they quite often struggle to engage with me as a human. Perhaps their dualistic theology also leads to this (see here for more). Interestingly many of my Muslim friends seem to get relational culture far better, as they come from even more relational backgrounds than I do (perhaps works-based/semi-pelagian religions tend towards a slower, relational lifestyle, given the impossibility of immediate, certain salvation??). That is, until religion is mentioned, and then many that I know seem to change!
Similarly I’ve sat next to British or some northern evangelicals who with tears in their eyes for the lost, wonder whether anyone else really cares, because no-one else is displaying such passion in the ways they are. Equally, the lack of effort by us to culturally engage the more African-orientated “Redeemed Christian Churches of God” (the largest protestant denomination in Ireland, I believe), has meant that much frustration and division in CUs comes through cultural misunderstanding of some of these things. “You’re just not passionate about the good news!” will often be the accusation.
But before this gets too long, I’ll leave you with two things I’m increasingly convinced of, and questions for you, of which I’d be grateful of your thoughts.
- I’m increasingly convinced that the gospel demands urgency, and that this is part of the offence of the gospel because it shapes our means of bringing the gospel. As a philosopher I love “other possible world” hypothesis, but as a theologian (which we all are too), I’m not sure the Bible spends much time on them. So when a Cork church leader recently said “I think if we had infinite time, God could bring everyone to Himself because we’d have all the time in the world to show them the warmth, beauty and truth of Christ and Christian community”, I’m not so sure I can agree or disagree (though I lean towards the latter). Infinite time this side of eternity would so bend the Bible’s message that everything else would look distorted too (election, predestination, His means of bringing Himself glory etc).
- I’m increasingly convinced that cultural displays of urgency are very different, and that we end up judging others for the way they display it. Street preaching; four spiritual laws; very direct conversations; endlessly posting things on facebook; I’m trying to figure out how an Irish person would do these or if they would at all. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an excuse for not being urgent, just a large question of whether some British, American or Nigerian ways of displaying urgency are really superior.
And so to my questions for you: what does urgency look like in your culture? Where is it displayed? What factors go into making a culture’s view on urgency? Where do Irish values stop and borrowed values start in terms of urgency? Does Biblical urgency ever call us to trump Irish ways of displaying that? And where does our humanity fit into all this urgency?
Over to you!