A couple of decades ago, I moved to a town outside of Pittsburgh, PA. This community’s heartbeat was maintained by a steel mill on the edge of town. The mill employed at least half of the people, either directly or indirectly, through companies that supported the needs of the mill. Many within our congregation were employed through this company and were following their family’s legacy as their father, grandfather, etc., had also worked at this same place.
Even with the impact of this one company, there was something else that defined this community…their love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I don’t recall a single person who was not a devoted fan of the black and gold. As an outsider coming into a new community, I thought I’d make a comment about the previous week’s loss and try to lift the spirit of the people. Instead of lifting the spirit, I quickly learned that no one speaks ill of the Steelers, let alone joke about a loss.
After church, one of the elders of the church came and shared with me a simple truth—“If you want to keep your job, root for the Steelers. If you want to lose your job, say something bad about the Steelers. Got it?” I am now a Steelers fan.
It took me a few years to understand the impact of culture. Culture is often unspoken, until the cultural norm is challenged. As an outsider coming into their culture, I falsely assumed that the place that employed most of the people would be the key to their culture but quickly learned that a sports team was that reality. Their culture was their norm and an outsider was daring to make a joke of a team, which was actually making a joke of them.
This year, we will be exploring the idea of culture—what is it, how it is shaped, what type of culture do we aspire to create—we will study our unspoken cultural norms and seek to discover the culture of God’s Kingdom. The goal isn’t to offend or diminish any culture; rather, it is to understand our own cultural biases and realities so we can honestly view how we live and see the world and others within it.