It’s hard to believe that it has been two years since I had the chance to visit New York City. It was the experience of a lifetime. Aside from all the fun I had as a tourist, I learned so many incredible things, because I went for a seminar class called “Exegeting the City.” For those of you that many not know the word exegete, I will try to simply the definition as much as possible: to find the original meaning or intended purpose. For Scripture or even other literature, we find what the author meant to say to the original audience. In this class, we were trained to find and understand the “cultural texts” that gave us insight into urban life and trends. If that explanation confused you, I hope you will understand by the end of this post.
This class was structured differently from any other class I had while I was in school. It was much more experiential that most other classes have the opportunity to be. Some of these experiences were organized activities we did together as a group. Others, we had on our free time in the evenings. I hope that by sharing about my experiences, you will see the difference of the culture of city life, and hopefully come to better understand the major cities in our world that so desperately needs Jesus. There were three main experiences that stood out from the rest, and gave a new way to relate to different types of people, especially the people of the city.
Theology of Traveling Culture – Airports and Subways
But it was exceptionally weird when we got to the subway, and we were trying to swipe our Metro Cards properly and get through the turn stiles with all of our luggage. And even when we finally got out into the city, it was weird to drag my suitcase behind me for several blocks. But the locals, both in the subway and on the street, didn’t give our suitcase caravan a second thought. Throughout the rest of my time there, I encountered many people on the subway and in the street alike hauling their luggage all over town. It was just a natural part of life in this city.
Theology of Fashion – Berdorf Goodman’s
This part of our class was one of our first activities we did together on our first full day of class. Together we traveled to Berdorf Goodman’s, a VERY high end department store. The men went into the men’s store on one side of the street, and we went to the women’s store on the other side of the street. We were given instructions to go to the formal wear department and try on the expensive evening gowns they had there. The men were told to do the same with the suits and tuxes. Needless to say, we were all a little hesitant! We all had fears of getting in trouble because we were not rich. For a while, we (the girls in my class) were all afraid to ask to try the dresses on, but I knew I would have to ask sooner or later, so I asked first (which if you know me, is totally not me! lol). After I asked, the other girls found the courage to do the same. I definitely felt out of my element in that fancy dressing room, but I was so glad that I found the courage to try it on!
Four grand for a dress? That’s worth more than my car! I though my dress was priced high, but I was floored when the next day, one of the other girls told us that she found a dress that was the most expensive clothing item that has even been tried on for this assignment. And the totally was:
Almost 27 grand!!! That's so crazy to think someone would pay that for a dress!
But doing this was a powerful reminder for all of us that the wealthy are people just like us. There is definitely a significant cultural gap, one that our professor attempted to help us bridge with this assignment, but they are still just people. Unfortunately, bridging this gap is easier said than done. Even Jesus acknowledged the difficulties of a rich man coming to salvation. Although they are harder to reach, they need Jesus just as much as anyone else. I will never forget what it was like to wear that dress, and the powerful reminder that we are all still just people.
Theology of Worship – Different Worship Services
The other experience our class had together that stood out from the rest was experiencing worship at two churches of contacting styles and demographics. In recent years, I have found great value in being able to observe the way other churches worship. It was even more valuable to see their services on this trip, because we happened to be in New York on Easter Sunday (March 30, 2013). Churches in the city are drastically different than many of us in rural settings are familiar with, and getting to witness this difference was incredible.
- Aside from all the fun, we also had a great class with challenging lectures. We received great hospitality from the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association (MNYBA for short), the hostel where we were housed. We also were welcomed warmly by the Orchard Group, a church planting organization that facilities the class. We had our class lectures in a meeting room in their office space.
- One of the awesome parts about the class was that not only was there seven other students from Ozark Christian College, but there were also eight others from Lincoln Christian University! It was great to not only experience the city together, but also make new friends along the way.
A City in Need of Jesus
New York City is a culture in and of itself. It is so different than what I am used to in the Midwest. Before my trip, I stereotyped New York as a city of violence, crime, and sin. I was reminded that there are some Christians in New York City. They are a minority, but there are there. And while there is a high crime rate in the city, not everyone is a criminal. And although it is true that certain types of sin are prevalent in urban settings, they were still just broken people in need of a Savior. It made me so grateful to know that organization like the Orchard Group are investing their efforts into reaching these people through church planting.
My biggest takeaway from this trip is that I learned how to find “cultural texts” that taught me how to better relate to those who live in urban settings. Our professor urged us to learn how to have a situational awareness and cultural agility in all areas of our lives, and that is something for which we all should be striving. I hope that these memoirs from my trip will encourage you to pursue the same.
(Enjoy a few more pictures from my time in New York!)