The natural result of curiosity building in our lives is that we take relationships, work, and ministry and point them outward. Or rather it is the supernatural result because God is not a mono-cultural God. He is not the god of the suburbs, the soccer moms, yuppies, the hipsters, the yupsters (hipster + yuppie), or the yuccies (young urban creative, as found particularly in places like East Nashville or Greenpoint, Brooklyn) alone. We see God through our lens, our culture, our language, our past experience. We shape Him in our mind by our story and try our best to fit Him to our world. But He made the world and is fit to nowhere. Curiosity shows us this. It turns us insular-side out.
I write this from the perspective of a middle class, white thirty-something male. Culturally speaking, I live a cakewalk. I have all the racial and gender advantages America has to offer. (If you do not believe there are racial and gender advantages for white males I would simply encourage you get more curious. Read widely. Listen closely to minorities. Be humble enough to absorb.) I am at an age, by the world’s standards, old enough to be respected, but young enough to not be culturally obsolete. This means I function from a position of power as part of the majority, for the majority culture always has power. Majority doesn’t mean numerically larger; it refers to the culture that is dominant and defines the values and expectations of society. I have the privilege to never have to think about other cultures. After all, my way is the “right” way.
This is equally the most comfortable place to be and the most awful. By no choice of my own, I was born into and with little enough effort I have achieved a place where I can spend every day thinking nothing of how others live, think, survive, and navigate culture. They navigate around me, not me around them. It is a place of passive superiority that soaks deep into the soul. How easy. How terrible.
This is not what God intended. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And it won’t be a segregated service with one group having their preferred music style. Heaven will be fully integrated with no culture dominating any other. So what can we do to move that way now?
Just as curiosity turns us to the well being of others in personal relationships it does the same culturally. Of course, this is best accomplished in relationship. Curiosity is the bridge between neighbors of different races because it is built on genuine interest and honest questions. It seeks to know the other person with no agenda or ulterior motive. Curiosity allows us to humbly admit ignorance of another’s way of life, perspective, or experiences and then humbly listen when they share. Curiosity assumes the veracity and validity of another’s pain or joy even if it doesn’t understand precisely because it doesn’t understand.
We can apply curiosity to outside study as well, to the macro level of culture. When we ask questions of neighbors or co-workers we hear one person’s perspective. When we read books and articles, when we look at the history of a people group, when we begin observing the scope of a culture we see where their individual experience fits. We see them as a blade of grass in a larger field. This kind of interest is of equal importance to personal conversation because it provides context to cultural clashes—the rising tension and cries of outrage after Trayvon Martin’s murder, the riots in Ferguson or Baltimore after the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, the controversy over the Black Lives Matter movement, and more—where they came from, what led to them, how they impact people. Without curiosity we will judge those of other cultures. With curiosity we seek to understand and then empathize.
We need relational, micro curiosity and macro curiosity to cross cultures well. It will be a life-long effort for the same reason that curiosity in relationship is—the endless rich depths of cultures reflect the endless rich depths of the individuals who form them. We will learn to respond to differences not as threats, our default position on the unknown, but as new aspects of something God made and we can learn to appreciate and love. We can learn to trust and we can gain trust. Curiosity born out of a desire to understand the creator of all nations and cultures will come to see those peoples and cultures as He does.
 This is the first of three excerpts this month from the book The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life by Barnabas Piper. It will be released on March 17, 2017 (B&H Books). Used with the author’s permission.
Cover image by Sarah Miller.