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The Culture Tree: Seasons

Article first appeared here in Global Trellis.

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven” (Eccl 3:1)

March 10, 2022

Mark Hedinger

For several months we have built the CultureTree together – looking at cultures as living things that grow over time. The image of a tree lets us talk about the invisible culture (roots in our model), and tie that into the visible trunk, branches, leaves and fruit.

There is one last truth about trees for us to think about – trees not only grow from small to big and from young to old, but trees grow through seasons of the year too. There is an ebb and flow to many kinds of trees – a pattern of seasons of life. Flowers and buds in the spring; green leaves in the summer and falling leaves in autumn. Like trees, the cultures we come from also have seasons.

But as with so many other parts of the culture tree, the seasons of one group of people may not be the same patterns that are seen in another group!

Think about the “mini-seasons” of weekly patterns. In English vocabulary there are 7 days in a regular pattern we call a week. In Spanish use, one week from today is “eight days from now” because we would count both today and the same day one week in the future. Our work weeks, our school patterns, our church life all cycle through “mini-seasons” that repeat over and over. Around the world that “mini-series” is also true, but the types of events, the frequency of repetition, and how people use a calendar differs from one culture to the next.

Or think about the seasons of the year. In the US, we know that July will have colors of red, white and blue. We know that November will feature turkeys for decorations and product ads. We know that the seasons repeat one after another, year by year – and yet the patterns of colors and focus and specific dates stay the same within a group. As you move into a new culture, learn the patterns of the year! Almost certainly those patterns will not be the same as in your homeland.

And don’t forget the seasons of life. Patterns of life around the world recognize that people start off young and small, grow stronger in their young adult years, and then begin to shift back to wiser but less active patterns in their last years. The pattern is built into biology but one culture will celebrate those seasons of life one way, another culture celebrates a different way. In the US our pattern is to avoid “getting old” as long as possible and hang on to youth and vigor and activity. But many other lands celebrate the honor and respect and wisdom that they attach to aging. What are the seasons of life in your new land? How are they the same or different than in your homeland?

Finally, nations and cultures themselves have seasons. These “mega trends” lead one nation to grow, another to shrink. Power and prestige shifts. Ideas and professions and educational options from one land are applauded in one generation and rejected in another, only to be sought after in following generations. St Augustine FL was established in the days of Spanish power and renown. Now the same city sits in the English-speaking USA, a major world power for this season.

Trees grow. Cultures grow. Some of the growth reflects the biology of the tree itself. Some is fed by the environment where it grows. And today we have realized that trees grow for a while, and then slow down only to pick up the cycle again in the coming months or years. “To everything, there is a season!” Responding well to those seasons is part of being His witnesses until every tribe, tongue, people and nation have met our Lord!

Mark Hedinger, DIS, is Executive Director of CultureBound. Mark and his family spent 12 years living and teaching in Mexico. Since then, he has taught in many international locations and leads culture training programs at CultureBound. With his Spanish language background, he serves in a multicultural church in Portland, Oregon.


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