Virtual Voices

N.Y. Journal: Blending in

Culture

I was talking with a Midwest friend about how the moms I knew were different than the moms she knew. Post-baby looks didn't seem as important to the moms she knew, while the young moms in my church were stylish, svelte, and looked no different before their first child than after.

It wasn't until later that I realized this was probably because they were New York moms. They were navigating the New York culture of motherhood, which can be brutal---"a form of tyranny," as Alexandra Starr said in The Spectator: "In a city obsessed with self-improvement and status, becoming big with child is not a mellow experience. New Yorkers may appear to be concerned about your baby, but in fact it's all about you."

I thought of this because my pastor, Sam Andreades, mentioned in his sermon last week about how Joseph became an Egyptian, absorbing the surrounding culture so completely that he gave his father an Egyptian burial and his brothers couldn't mistake him for Hebrew. Andreades said this was a good thing. He said that we too should become New Yorkers and blend into the culture around us---but like Joseph, we should keep our principles uncompromised and our eyes on Canaan.

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I think in New York City, walking down the street---past Prada, Gucci, Kenneth Cole, J. Crew---can change you. Eating a vegan cookie in a Fair Trade coffee shop, you absorb a message about how you should eat. Seeing a model---dressed in platform gladiator shoes and a $1,000 minidress---hail a cab, you absorb a message about how you should dress. When you go to a bar and see the fervid mating dance around you, you absorb a message of how you should date. When you wander through the displays of distorted art in a Chelsea gallery, you absorb a message about how you should think. I'm sure the moms in my church breathed in the New York culture of motherhood in the doctor's office, birthing classes, and baby boutiques filled with handmade, organic dresses that cost as much as their own.

Your points of reference can shift without you realizing it. Subconsciously, you change the way you dress and talk and eat and soon you're blending in. This can be a good thing, as my pastor said: Joseph talked, ate, dressed, ruled, and buried his dead like an Egyptian. Christianity is transcultural, and we're called to be active, enthusiastic---not reluctant---participants of the culture we live in.

The challenge---one I think the moms I know have met---is to lose the baby fat without shedding your true identity, too. The challenge, I'm finding, is to make this absorption of culture a conscious and not a subconscious process, so that I can know when my culture is sending a message and I can evaluate and think before I change. I'm called not just to live in New York City, but also to be a New Yorker---a New Yorker uncompromisingly focused, like Joseph, on Canaan.

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