As we settle into our city and as our church grows, it can be easy to assume we have “a handle” on the culture of our city, suburb, or town. However, a good citizen-missionary never “arrives” in cultural exegesis but is always knowing, exegeting (studying & interpreting) their culture.
To that end, here are some general and specific suggestions for continuing cultural exegesis:
1. ASK QUESTIONS
Ask your neighbors and fellow citizens lots of questions. Anecdotal information about your city and fellow citizens is unbeatable. Ask them the What, How, and Why questions: What do you think is broken in our neighborhood or city? What gets you excited about life? What do you think should be done about economic decline in our city? Anything you would like to change about your neighborhood? Are you fulfilled in what you are doing in life? Why do you drive across town to do X?
2. READ LOCAL AUTHORS
Read local and independent publications. Op-ed pieces in your local paper will reveal the local voices in your culture or city. Listen reflectively not aggressively. Allow yourself to learn from your city. After all, chances are you are a newcomer. History has much to teach us. Don’t write off unimpressive, independent publications. Very often the stuff that looks like a waste of time contains some of the clearest voices from within your culture. Get local (not just national) opinions and reviews on movies, books, culture and politics.
3. STUDY YOUR CITY’S HISTORY
Gather historical information on your city and neighborhood. How did your city evolve—geographically, architecturally, politically, commercially? The history of a city or town often reveals its profound strengths and deep idols. What political and cultural and economic issues have shaped the ethos and beliefs of your city? Read local authors and histories. Look for commissioned writings by local universities on the city. Check out popular books on the city or even tour guides. Jump on a tour!
4. ENJOY THE CITY
Participate in local art, music, food, and business. Learn to love your city, celebrate its strengths, learn from her citizens, love her citizens! Support local business, go to art shows, listen to local music, eat local food. You should become an expert on local fare and fun! As you participate in local culture, do it reflectively. Consider why certain events, institutions, or groups flourish. Praise what is good, beautiful, and true. Bring the hope of redemption into what is not.