When You Need to Have the Layers Peeled

“Culture stripping begins the moment you touch the earth in this new place. It doesn’t stop. Ever. Not even when you return to your passport country. Culture stripping forever changes who you are.

Culture stripping is the slow peeling back of layers and layers of self. You give up pork. You give up wearing blue jeans. You give up holidays with relatives. And those are the easy things. Your ideas about politics and faith and family, your sense of humor and taste in clothes, the books you read, evolve and change. Even, potentially, your outlook on spirituality.” Rachel Pieh Jones in Beyond Culture Shock: Culture Pain, Culture Stripping in A Life Overseas

In a beautiful post published five months ago on A Life Overseas, Rachel Pieh Jones takes us beyond culture shock. It was the first piece I think I ever read by Rachel and I was hooked.

Her insight into those layers beyond culture shock comes from experience and she writes about culture pain and culture stripping with wisdom.  I re-read this piece yesterday and it hit me again that I am in a season of culture stripping. It’s like a sunburn. No matter how much aloe or cream you put on it, it still hurts. But perhaps it’s a good hurt, a healthy pain. Perhaps it’s a pain that shows me I’m willing to change, take a deep breath and be stripped of all that hinders.

The cultural trappings that need to go are being ripped off, in their place a new softness that will help me learn. The cultural superiority that I wear so well-hidden, and so hideously? That’s being ripped away and in its place first tears, then a sigh of relief and moving forward.

And as I reflect on culture stripping I realize the Apostle Paul speaks to culture stripping in the book of Romans. His words “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”* are culture stripping words. They are words of challenge, words to wake me to the reality of two worlds – worlds often in conflict with each other.

We who have lived life between worlds should be good at this. We should be able to understand culture stripping and the need for having our layers peeled.

But – I’m not. Not good at having these layers peeled. I fight it. I get angry. I ask ‘Why?’. I point the finger at others. “Look at her” I say “She needs culture stripping!” I try and put the layers back on – because I’ve become comfortable in my layers and I’m stubborn.

I am one flawed character in life’s novel.

But – God is the author and as author of my story He is gently doing this culture stripping, this layer peeling – ever persistent and ever-present.

But oh, it still hurts. 


Rachel closes her post by taking us into the Narnia series and looking at one of the most flawed characters in that series – Eustace found in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  The first words of the book describe Eustace perfectly: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” He was self-centered, proud, and he whined about everything. In the book he is turned into a dragon, his body changing on the outside to what he already is on the inside. Through the course of the story he is transformed back to a boy through the work of Aslan and becomes a different person. He is stripped, layers and layers of dragon skin peeled away until his soft, boy skin is once again revealed. Eustace says this:

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.” 

And in the transformative process of culture stripping, – sometimes the only thing that makes me bear it is the pleasure of feeling the ‘beastly stuff’ peeled off.

*Romans 12:2a

Blogger’s Note: I encourage you to head over to Beyond Culture Shock: Culture Pain, Culture Stripping – the post that inspired this one.