Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sin of a Nation?

Should individuals be blamed for the sins of their countries and cultures? Is it even possible for a country or culture to have sins? Everything in this world was beautifully created by God, but nothing remains uncontaminated by sin. Growing up in a cross-cultural context, and now calling a third country my home, has led me to think about how people often view an entire nation or an aspect of the culture as “good,” or “bad.” Another intern in a different part of Cambodia reflected that when NGO workers and missionaries say things negative about Cambodian culture, it seems ethnocentric, or like it goes against our desire as HNGR interns to accept a new way of doing things and embrace a new culture and narrative.

But it also seems true that the school system here does a poor job of educating students and preparing them for the future. It seems true that there are bad roads and a weak medical system, and a government that does not seem to deal with these things very efficiently. Doctors, teachers, police officers, and other officials constantly ask for bribes. People may jeopardize their morals to make money. Walking the streets at night is not super safe, and you have to be careful about being taken advantage of in various situations. Cambodians are not bad, and the culture is rich with beauty and love, but there are some parts of this culture and this country as a whole that grieve me. It is hard to understand how systemic development differs from cultural redemption. I guess we need to see cases of injustice and evil as results of the fallenness of humanity, not the fallenness of an entire culture.

Recently the US played Japan in the finals for women’s Olympic football/soccer. Both my countries played well, and the US ended up winning. I was routing for my Nadeshiko Japan heroes, but happy for the US ladies as well. What I was not happy about was the explosion of racism on various social networks from fans and spectators following this event. I remember the same thing outraging me after the same teams played each other in last year’s World Cup final. Americans made numerous vulgar connections between soccer and WWII on facebook, twitter, and other forums. The comments include racial slurs, making light of painful memories from history, and reflecting the total ignorance and insensitivity of the people posting them. Here are a few from twitter:

For my whole life I have tried not to be angry at a particular country because the things said and done by a handful of ignorant citizens, or because of one aspect of the culture that I do not personally resonate with. Events like this make that struggle more difficult. I have had people make fun of me for being “one of those Americans” while living in Japan, and I have even had people in the US pick fights with me about things Japan has done throughout history or in their culture, as if I had anything to do with it. These things happened at a Christian high school and a Christian college. There’s something wrong. I know I have come across as cynical towards America by many of my American friends, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love Americans. And now, here in Cambodia, I can see things that I don’t understand in this culture as well. I could easily become frustrated at officers asking for bribes, but whose fault is it?

On Sunday, I was walking between church and my grandparent’s house and I saw a blind woman sitting on the steps of a Buddhist temple, begging for money. It reminded me of the story in the Bible about Jesus healing a blind man on the Sabbath. The disciples ask Jesus, “Who sinned? This man or his parents?” I didn’t wonder about this woman’s sins on Sunday, but I realized that I have been looking around at the poverty and oppression of this land, seeing barefooted children selling bracelets on the streets during the school day, and finding myself wanting to ask Jesus: “Who sinned-- This child skipping school to work on the streets? His parents who took him out of school, because they couldn’t afford it? The teachers who charged so many extra fees? The government who would not pay the teacher a living wage? The series of corrupt governments and leaders leading up to this fragile one? Or perhaps it is the fault of the rest of the world, who did nothing when Cambodia was destroyed by genocide, and continue to do very little for the economically downtrodden of this nation? Is Cambodian culture a sinful culture because it has these issues? Or is it my own sin that causes me to view the culture of street children as a problem?”

If I remember correctly, Jesus turned that question right around on his disciples and said that the man was not blind because of sin, but so that the work of God could be revealed in his life, and then proceeded to miraculously heal him. This sparked all kinds of controversy, because the Pharisees could not believe that Jesus was God’s son, or that this man had truly been healed, even with clear evidence. They were so caught up in the issue of sin that they missed the opportunity to believe in something great. When questioned, the healed blind man essentially said, “I don’t know if this man was a sinner for healing on the Sabbath. I don’t know if he was a prophet. I’m not sure where he came from. One thing I know for sure is: I was blind but now I see. Dudes, don’t you get it? It’s not about who I am. It’s about the transformation that came from Jesus! Healing of the blind can only be from God. If this is a God-thing, then this Jesus guy must be from God as well. It’s that simple. Just be excited with me!” In the end, who was sinful? In the end, who was blind?

It's possible I've spoken complete blaspheme in this post, because I'm no expert in the individual/ corporate sin debate or what a blind woman, a soccer game, and a Bible story have to do with each other. But I am trying to be less caught up in blaming people and events and cultures and countries for the things that make me furious, like a beautiful child being treated like a slave, or the beautiful game creating an arena for racial slurs. We live in a world full of sin and suffering and racism and pain. But we also live in a world where a blind man can be healed, a child can be rescued, and many countries can exist in peace in one girl’s heart, all through Jesus. I don’t want to miss out on the healings because I am so busy worrying about the afflictions.

1 comment:

  1. That's a profound reflection, Marisa... very thoughtful synthesis. I also find it quite complicated to mediate our different cultural/national inputs, while recognizing both the brokenness and the goodness. It can be so overwhelming, but I think you're right in how you weave in HOPE and CHRIST. Not only in the midst of great need but in the everyday, the commonplace, Jesus brings healing. And as you said, its that healing, which brings us hope and renewed vision in the midst of our confusion and pain. We just have to be have the right lenses so that we can see the Kingdom of God coming amidst us...

    Thanks so much for writing this. I really appreciated reading and being challenged by it.