Kitchen Showdown: American vs. Chinese vs. Gospel

While we stayed at my parent’s house (they were gone on vacation), a contractor friend from church and his team completely redid our kitchen/family room in 12 days. It was a frenzied process but they did a fabulous job.

Our contractor is overseas-born Chinese and so are all the vendors he works with. The Chinese approach to remodeling has an interesting value premise – to maximize broad appeal at minimal cost. That means a kitchen product should look expensive but be extremely cheap to purchase. The other aspect to status appeal is that the product should be popular - the more common the look, the greater the appeal. Chinese people don’t like being different. For example, the Chinese cabinet store has only five different cabinet styles/colors. We were encouraged to upgrade to cherry-style because guests will notice how classy and costly they look. In response to a color choice, our friend responded, “White is hard to clean. Only Americans who don’t cook pick that”. That’s the last aspect to the Chinese value premise – the kitchen must be highly functional. Immigrant Chinese value cooking their own food.

The American value premise is different - to maximize variety and originality at every price point. The number of product colors and styles available is overwhelming. Even a foreign megastore chain like Ikea has a dozen cabinet options. But what’s most interesting about the American kitchen approach is originality. Your kitchen must have a story. Check out Restoration Hardware’s website. Some of their stuff is downright ugly but man, the story. Wow. You can have a kitchen table constructed from Alexander Hamilton’s 18th-century distressed outhouse floorboards, refinished with Swedish massage sanding techniques, and sealed with seventeen high-gloss coats of eco-friendly polish. White people eat that stuff up. The story of your kitchen is paramount. If you’re on a budget, the story is how you built a gorgeous glass backsplash using discarded bottles of organic root beer. You even mixed root beer in the wall adhesive and you used the bottle tops as accent pieces. Your kitchen story demonstrates how creative, resourceful, and sophisticated you are. That’s what conveys status in Western high-brow culture.

In the case of both American or Chinese premises, it’s image that matters. Your kitchen reflects your values and your lifestyle. So what if the gospel were a kitchen? What would be its value premise?

If the gospel were a kitchen, it would be ugly. It would lack both broad and specific appeal. It would be plain, boring and utterly forgettable. The cabinets would look cheap and mass-manufactured.

And yet the kitchen would be highly functional and every aspect would have an amazing story. It would cost you everything and the room would grow more precious to you every day. The more time you spent in the space, the more it would grow and transform you in Christ-likeness. Dining in the kitchen would radicalize your relationships – reconcile broken ones and begin new ones. Its windows would shift your perspective of the world. Each cabinet and drawer would hold new treasures to uncover. You would enter the room and experience an enduring hope and freedom.

Yes this kitchen remodel has been pretty consuming.


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