Last Friday, I was invited to conduct a funeral service. At the end of the service, when the guests were filing out, each one received 2 small envelopes from the ushers. The white one had a sweet candy inside, while the red one contained a quarter. A guest was chatting with me by the exit door, a Caucasian lady, while at the same time putting away the 2 envelopes into her purse. Out of curiosity (for me, not her!) I asked: "Are you aware that you would bring bad luck to your family, if you were to bring those envelopes home with you?" The lady simply opened her month in awe!
It's a matter of culture. Religiously, for Christians, it may seem all right to bring home the envelopes (or whatever) passed out from the host mourning family after the burial service. Culturally (for the Chinese), it will bring misfortune to the family, if you do.
Another interesting example: While ministering in Seattle in the 1980's, I received an emergency call from a Caucasian family of another parish one day. I rushed to answer the call, only to find that the young wife of the Chinese speaking family from Vietnam, who was sponsored by the parishioner, had swallowed a bottle of aspirin pills. Fortunately, her life was saved, but the parishioner wanted me to communicate with her to find out why she attempted suicide. The reason was simple, but cultural, as I found out: Ever since she came to the U.S., the (American) host family had been wanting her to eat meals with the entire family - an American courtesy. Chinese are rice eating people. It so happened that this time, she was not feeling well, and she wanted some rice. So she refused to eat at the large dinner table, and she went into the kitchen to cook some rice for herself. In return, she was rebuked by the host family. Out of shame, she took the whole bottle of the pills.
These are only some of the many differences between "Christ and Culture". As a Chinese priest in the Diocese, I have encountered numerous conflicts between ethnic traditions and Christian faith, which I would be most willingly share with you - from preaching of the Word, to being an ethnic Christian (a gentile!), and to doing the ministry (on an administrative level).
Come, let us share our experiences, to the honor and glory of our Risen Lord Christ Jesus!
Gordon K. Lau