Tonight we attended the rehearsal dinner of an American groom and a radiant Romanian bride, and I remembered again what I love so much about culture. When I was little and my family went on furlough, I could step off the airplane and literally smell America. I can’t put my finger on it, but every now and then it comes back to me. Out of nowhere I’ll exclaim, “Clint! Do you smell that? That’s what America smells like!” Clint doesn’t smell it. But I do. It’s the smell of specialness—all the specialness of America.
Tonight I felt the specialness of Romania, and I’ve never even been there. When the bride’s grandfather made a toast, I felt it in the lilt of his accent—in the beautiful way he said her name. And when her uncle and her grandmother spontaneously played the piano, I felt the peace and joy of a culture that knows how to celebrate. A culture less bound by agendas than by the heart.
The truth is every culture is beautiful in its own way. When I think of starkly different cultures, such as my mother’s Chinese culture and my native Filipino culture, I love them both. I love the efficiency and order of Singapore, as if the entire nation understands the value of taking pride in all that you do. I love taking my shoes off at the door, and eating my Aunt’s Chinese food in the kitchen. And I love the exuberant chaos of the Philippines—the bustle, and life, and joy of a culture more enamored with people than tasks. I recently went to Chick-fila with some Filipino women and listened to them talk in Tagalog, and reminisce about Jollybee, and felt for a moment as though I’d come home.
But my very favorite aspect of culture is the way in which it enhances the bigness of God—the vastness, and creativity, and incomprehensible depth. With every glimpse of a different culture, I catch a glimpse into the heart and mind of a God more infinite than I can explore. I will never forget visiting Botswana as a teenager, and witnessing throngs of African men and women worshipping God in their native language. It was the first time in my life that it really dawned on me that God isn’t American. And just like that, He was so much bigger, and so much more mysterious than I’d dared to imagine. And all I wanted to do was worship Him right along with them.
Tomorrow morning, Bret and Sabina will be married. And together we will rejoice in the God of Romania, the God of America, the God of all the cultures in all the world! The God of the Universe.