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Compassion and Creativity from Cultural Conflict

by | Oct 14, 2021

Long before he was miraculously spared a violent death in the lion’s den, Daniel faced a more pervasive foe: bureaucracy.

Babylon’s king arranged the finest meats to sustain his elite conscripts as they prepared for civil service. But Daniel, freshly “recruited” from a foreign land where only Kosher meat was kosher, faced a dilemma. Should he submit to his new and powerful overlord, or should he stay faithful to the dietary traditions of his fathers?

The young Daniel’s response to the situation foreshadows his stellar career as an incorruptible statesman. He makes a special connection with his former adversary, which enables an inspired solution.

He shows that surprisingly cultural clash can give life; it’s a cauldron for creativity too rarely tapped into. Cultural distance sets up harmony, like an empty ball field attracts a pickup ballgame, for all players willing and able.

As you continue reading, be intentional in recognizing the times in your life when you experienced cultural discomfort, in an effort to help you achieve more functional work relationships.

So, how does Daniel avoid the king’s meats yet keep his job? Observe!

What’s your bottom line?
First, Daniel “resolves not to defile himself with the King’s food.” (v. 8) Amid this stressful moment he pauses to consider what he is made of, to rehearse what’s important. Note that he doesn’t try to convert others, just protect himself.

Are you sure?
I imagine he first privately asks the equivalent of “do you happen to have gluten-free?” “We don’t.” I suppose on that first day he suppresses his hunger at lunch. Then without sneaking food or complaining, he winces as he washes down a few morsels of the offending meat that night, asking God’s forbearance as he does.

Why must we eat meat?
The unsatisfied Daniel must find a solution, but how? The next verse reads “And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs.” (v. 9)

I suppose Daniel prayed and trusted God would help. I imagine the next day he approached a supervisor and displayed humility; I’m sure he didn’t make a scene. He probably very forthrightly expressed his conundrum (“it will make me uncomfortable and maybe sick”). He might have explained the problem could cause him to drop the program. Is there anything that can be done?

There is a special moment, when a human connection breaks through, transcending the cultural divide, and striking a chord. This is what the Bible describes as “finding grace in the sight” of another. This is never forced and is not guaranteed, but when you find a way to sincerely communicate a need, you will be amazed at how well people respond. The farther the cultural distance, the greater the delight when the bond is consummated.

I suppose the lower-ranking official, who may well have considered Daniel impertinent at first, after sizing up the situation, became sympathetic. Because he had no authority to change the rules, that official brought Daniel to the Chief, where Daniel had to tell the story all over again. Despite what must have been a clumsy telling, through the limits of language and Babylonian ignorance of Jewish dietary restrictions, the Chief also takes an interest.

Too bad, nothing can be done, says the Chief: “I fear my lord the king, … for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” (v 10)

Do you care to find a solution?
Daniel seems motivated to solve the problem. Although his fellow Judeans are suffering from being “carried away to Babylon,” Daniel himself is quite privileged to be chosen for the king’s service. He does not want to take “no” for an answer.

Any way to achieve the ends by different means?
Daniel thinks a moment, and then: inspiration. As his book is full of dreams, I imagine this was like a flash daydream. “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink.” (v 12)

He may have had other information. Perhaps he knew that the King visits every three weeks… which gives enough time if the 10-day experiment fails to fatten them back up by day 20. In any case, Daniel comes up with a creative solution: if refraining from the meat does not leave them in a “worse condition,” then the Chief need not lose his head!

Is the alternative acceptable?
Can’t you hear the Chief laughing out loud at the suggestion? This is unprecedented and probably won’t work.

Before the Chief can say “no,” Daniel continues: “Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you and deal with your servants according to what you see.” (v 13). Daniel is willing to take the risk, have the Chief judge their appearance, and let the cards fall where they may. He’s respectful and doesn’t want the Chief to lose his head. The Chief agrees to try!

Happy Ending.

“At the end of ten days, it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food.” (v. 15) Imagine the “high-five” equivalents they shared. From that moment, these two were “tight.”

You need not go overseas to experience these cross-cultural connections. Sub-cultures are running throughout our country: believers vs. non-believers, sports fans vs geeks, hipsters of the pacific northwest vs. dixie boys, millennials vs baby boomers, etc.

Rules serve a purpose, but they may impose an unseen cost. Therefore, although it can be disruptive, changing rules from time to time is healthy! A friend of mine at a large U.S. company in China said they had adopted a new language, “rules” were referred to as “current best practices.” That description made it easier for them to evolve into a better and better workplace.

In the nation of Israel, God seems to have built a mechanism for cultural clash: the tribal system. Each of the 12 tribes had its own cultural identity, accents (how do you say “shibboleth”), standards, and I assume dress, cuisine, and musical tastes. But three times a year they came to Jerusalem, put down their tribal identity, and rubbed shoulders as one nation.

In the New Testament, the church goes even further, challenging the whole notion of culture with “in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile,” and “what God has made clean, let not man call unclean.”

We have a long way to go to realize this ideal, but hope Daniel’s example will help.

Paul C.

30 Years living and doing business in mainland China gave Paul a wealth of experience and a unique perspective about entrepreneurship, education and building Christian community.