Reading Between the Cultures

We’ve been watching the trickle trace across the globe, seen it edge into the UK coming off the European outbreaks and gradually pervade the States, multiplying with every news cycle.

And we’ve been watching and waiting for the rapidly changing responses to the Coronavirus. Governmental statements from sombre figures outside places of power, social media’s noisy pendulum swinging from one extreme to another, and then those around us. Ears to the ground, wondering what it is to be in a place other than home during such ¬†serious, unknown territory as a global pandemic.

With BBC news as my current affairs go-to, it feels like I’ve been partially absorbed in the British situation, while living day-to-day life over here. Without a TV, it’s toe-dipping rather than immersion in relation to American news via momentary glimpses. While my BBC penchant has previously meant I’ve felt connected while living far away, in this instance it’s meant that comparison in crisis-handling is inevitable.

Aside from vaguely similar blonde, bolshy leaders, the differences are stark. Time scales, advice given and attempted curve controlling vary hugely.

And there’s the public response.

Both nations guilty of frantic stock-piling, but emptying shelves of different items. I’ve almost felt at an advantage as my English cooking habits mean my ingredients of choice seem to be almost plentiful. As I stood queuing amidst the craziness of the grocery dash yesterday morning, it was trolleys of hot dogs, crisps and shredded cheese weaving in and out of the crowds.

Having been watching friends and family in England seemingly carry on with something resembling normality, we’ve been amazed by how quickly the trajectory here has headed towards self-isolation and shut down. Schools have been shut, with community centres and public spaces following suit, and the buzz words are responsibility and social distancing.

As a Christian, I’m eager to love my neighbour. I’m keen to be responsible and do what is best for those around me. I know this will mean changing the way we go about our everyday lives – with the sacrifices and challenges that will bring. I’m praying that as we know our mighty, everlasting God to be with us, helping, strengthening and upholding, we can be peace-bringers rather than anxiety-fuellers.

But, what does it mean in America to do those things? What does it mean in this culture to be ‘responsible’? How does my neighbour, my friend from church, my new acquaintance down the road understand the term ‘social distancing’? What are people going to be thinking if I suggest meeting up? What are the unwritten definitions of these virus-vogue terms? Having only just begun to read between the relational lines of this culture while not in crisis, it feels like we’ve been thrown back to the beginning as we watch those around us respond in different ways to the coronavirus.

One of the biggest blessings of the last few months has been church family, and probably my greatest fear during these coming weeks and months is that ‘family’ disappearing into the distance, waving occasionally via a screen but feeling unable to share life in the ways we’ve come to rely on.

No doubt creativity, commitment and prayer will be needed to keep building each other up, loving one another, even to continue meeting together. We will need to be intentional – both to keep investing in relationships that don’t grow by accident, and in reaching out to those around us as doors shut, and the instruction to ‘stay at home’ leaves echoing spaces all around us.

Praying that God would be at work in both cultures in surprising ways as we all navigate the unknowns of the coming weeks and months.

Hunkering down together!

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