The Appalachians, a wild and mountainous region on the east side of the USA is known for it’s history of family feuds. Families like the Howards and Turners of Harlan county, or the Hatfield and McCoys are part of US folklore. These families engaged in cycles of violence which ran over decades. What is surprising is that the violence and killings that were part of these stories often arose over the most minor of incidents.
Sociologists have been fascinated by what would cause so many cycles of violence in the towns and families that inhabited this part of the USA over such a long period of time. After some investigation, what they discovered in county after county was a culture of honour. It’s a culture that is often found in mountainous or highland regions is places like Sicily, the Basque region of Spain, as well as the borderlands of Ireland, Scotland and northern England. The families who had settled in the Appalachians had come from these places and brought this culture of honour with them. A culture where blood was more important than anything else, and where you fought for everything you had. These families that had been formed in lawless violent borderlands of one land could not change who they were in the counties of this new land.
Cultural legacies and family histories are powerful forces in determining who we are. Some traditions and behaviours that we inherit from our forebears or were forged in our personal history can be helpful and powerful drivers of our behaviour. These can be helpful in some cases, but they can also lead us into cycles of hurt and pain.
In cultures of honour, there is a tendency to over identify with family above all else, and there is pressure to behave in a way that is consistent with your identity as part of a clan or family. Even when it is ultimately not the best for you.
In Ephesians Paul reminds those he writes to that they are no longer strangers and aliens, in Galatians he reminds another group that they are no longer slaves, and in Colossians he says the old divisions of Jew or Gentile, Slave or Free, and even Male and Female no longer define us. They are reminders that our identity can be found in Christ, and the old labels, histories and divisions that drove our self understanding and behaviour no longer need apply.
How do you see yourself? Are you bound by your past, your inherited culture, or even your personal history? Whilst these are not always bad things, are there cycles they are bringing into your life which are limiting you or hurting you? Will you allow your identity in Jesus to reshape you and drive your life in new and better ways?