Thursday, 16 February 2017

Culture Including Christian Culture

(originally journaled August 28, 2016)

Over the past few days, I keep wanting to write about my feeling of lack of culture. I keep remembering a time when I wept because my Haida students were so excited to celebrate their culture, their pride and sense of identity. But I felt I had nothing at all.

My Grandpa W maintained something of his British accent and class, but I don't ever remember him saying anything about his life in England, and it was only in retirement that his son, my dad, started "retracing his steps" from World War 2 in Europe, and in the process, some of his family background.

Grandpa M was somewhat interested in way-back (William the Conqueror) family connections (though the records were tenuous), and in Grandma's tenuous connection to Mark Twain ... and her family's story of the elopement of Susannah Pepper, daughter of Lord and Lady Pepper, with the gardener's son and their banishment to the colonies. So there were these "stories" and the "autobiography" Dad drew up in his later years. But for me they weren't much more than stories. Maybe my younger siblings feel a stronger connection because they went to England with Mom and Dad.

Mom and Dad were big on visiting--and camping and picnicking and having reunions with--relatives, and I did get to meet many of Grandpa M's siblings (mostly American) so there is that. And thanks for Facebook I've met more of the descendants. But after Mom and Dad passed, so too have family reunions. Geography can be blamed for some of it, and busy lives. But also, perhaps, a lack of any real sense of shared culture?

Even when I was relatively young, especially after our new Italian-Canadian neighbours moved in across the street, I began to realise we had no "special" things that gave us some kind of pride in a cultural identity. Our town was a predominantly "white" community, but it included several hyphenated immigrant communities--Italian-Canadian, Greek-Canadian, and so on. The had clubs and interesting food and clothes and music and art and dances for special occasions--and of course languages other than English. They or their parents came to Canada to "make a better life." They had unique customs and traditions and lifestyles. I'll always remember our neighbour decapitating chickens with an axe on a stump in his suburban driveway and making wine from the grapes in my his amazing backyard garden jungle. And I remember their weeklong wedding celebrations and amazing, fun wedding reception dances and feasts.

I really do wonder ... Was any "culture" we might have had--and any "pride" and "celebration" and "art" and "music" and "dance" and even "literature" we might have had (I was delighted in grade 12 to discover "English Literature"), I wonder if it was circumscribed--even erased by (may I say it?) our rather dour, strait-laced, legalistic form of Protestantism that rejected anything remotely "worldly."

When I look back, it feels to me as if that particular religious viewpoint (and at the same time I think this is probably true of many religious and political viewpoints, especially those that prefer to set themselves apart from those they consider less pure and less righteous and less devoted) created its own culture and demanded its adherents to reject and abandon any other cultural identifying features (as missionaries so often did to the "heathens" they encountered)--especially features that might induce some kind of pleasure or enjoyment or pride--evils that might tempt "backsliding" away from the religious culture being pressed on the adherents.

And a "culture" it was--not just the "beliefs" themselves, but the whole set of rules and regulations, the design of the church buildings, dress styles and rules (I would not say "fashion" because "fashionable" was considered a temptation; but nonetheless, there was certainly a dress code, in some cases almost a uniform), the long list of forbiddens--the "thou shalt nots" -- as well as the activities (Sunday School, Sunday Morning and Evening services with their definite programs--liturgies, really, though that would be vociferously denied--prayer meeting, choir practice, kids' clubs, week-long "evangelistic services" led by visiting evangelists, missionaries-on-furlough visits, Bible Schools and Bible School music group visits. Oh yes, and the culture's own music, and the annual community from far and wide (and actually much anticipated and enjoyed) camp meetings (starting with family camps, and gradually adding kids' and teen camps, and women's, men's, and couples retreats, and so on.

So culture of place or nationality, or family traditions and customs, was replaced by culture of a strictly defined religious viewpoint. I wonder--is it actually culture (by my definition, an organic, developing group identity that celebrates and maintains past traditions that identify and support, while gradually adding new features that add value or usefulness, etc.), when it is imposed by a "strong" leader or group, and demands that past cultural identity be rejected? Though some "replacement features" may be added from time to time to quell any feelings of loss of past identity or feelings of discontent fostered by seeing what "the others" are doing.

Sadly, the "religious culture" I grew up in was NOT "multi-cultural," partly because it felt threatened by possible outside loyalties, and partly because they really did feel uniquely right and didn't want that to be polluted. So it created its own "culture," which, by abolishing so many aspects of "the others," ended up being drab, unimaginative, static and controlling (though I loved camp--and the music, too, though I wished I could be allowed to enjoy "secular" music as well). And the "substitutes" it eventually created, to try to hold onto those prone to leave, were still bounded by so many strictures that they were never able to be more than ... substitutes. For those unwilling to live within this kind of culture, the choice was almost always to leave, and yet it was hard to leave, too, because the group was often so tight.

This religious culture claimed its base was the gospel--the "good news" of Jesus Christ--a message of "abundant life of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, hope... the fruit of the Spirit." But sadly, in so many cases, the ideal relationship center (Father God, Jesus, Holy Spirit) of the community was replaced by the walls of a man-made "culture" that feared "the world" (as they saw it) and did not (it seems to me?) trust the power and love of the true Center.

Yes, that religious culture has been crumbling, but there continue to be a core, an inner circle, who build ever higher walls. And an outer circle that enjoy the imitations of "world systems" within the perceived safety of the culture.

It's hard to leave that culture when it has become your culture. And to leave it is to be "heretical." Yet if you do not wish to be part of the "world system," if you want to live the Jesus gospel way and life, you live with this "guilt" that simultaneously drives you away from the "religious culture," judged as a heretic, and at the same time that same guilt, as well as loneliness and lack of a sense of belonging, community, and place (culture, such as it was), keeps trying to drag you back.

Yes, there are others out there who want to really be Jesus-centered. But they can be hard to find in many places. And I think there is always a fear of being dragged, unexpectedly, into yet another religious culture.

It's human to want to be part of a strong "community" that shares common values, traditions, customs, identity. To be part of a culture.

Some would argue that Jesus followers are "not of this world" and should expect antagonism from "worldly cultures." Okay--but antagonism from "Christian" religious culture, too? (Oh yes, that really did happen to Jesus and his followers, didn't it?).

Why are we so apt to move into worldly structures of our own? Or to want to marry church and state?

Why is it so hard to follow Jesus? Of course He said it would be. Yet we try hard to make it reasonably easy and pleasant by creating these cultural religious walls--and/or just deciding to "fit in" with world systems.

It does seem to me that we are meant to have community and identity. But maybe it isn't an identity and culture the way the world defines it, after all. The Roman world hated this new Way--but they couldn't get over, or deal with, the love they saw. And the joy and peace when the followers of the Way were persecuted and executed.

So maybe I've got it all mixed up. Maybe I need to get over "culture" and focus on relationship centred in Jesus and on the "identifying marks" of the fruits of the Spirit.

And stop worrying about what is "special" and "identifiable" in, well, physical terms.

And enjoy all the positive and colourful expressions of identity. Take part in some, too--but ultimately live centred in the Life Creator andGiver.

Okay. Let's see how that works out. Jesus?



Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Am I Christian Enough?

(originally journaled August 26, 2016)

A lady, one of my "Facebook friends," is all into healing people ... and now on Facebook, she's been talking about how some people don't get healed because they really don't want to be healed or they don't believe in it. But what about people who have been praying for healing for years and really believe in it, but their prayers don't seem to get answered?

I am in so much pain from my arm injury these days. I am wondering if I should be asking for prayer for healing or just let it heal over the coming days, as the doctor says it will. I am wondering if my hesitation to pray for quick healing is just proof that I have "backslidden" too far.

I have been asked to do a presentation to a Christian writers' group, but I'm worried that I'm not "Christian enough" because I've had doubts and questions, and have gone through depression, and now because of this "healing" thing.

I really was thinking that maybe this arm injury is from You--to slow me down, make me rest, get me going in a different direction, give me more time to focus on You, Lord?

I am stressed. I miss You.
I miss journal writing to You. I miss singing.
I miss Your people. What with one thing and another I haven't been to the church gathering since June ... and only sporadically for a couple months before that.
I don't know.

I know I want to hear Your voice.
I do want to be approved by You. And loved.

I wrote a long letter to my grandkids today.
And now I'm writing this--a kind of letter to You.
I love to communicate in writing!
Lord?

Monday, 6 February 2017

Tradition and Voices From the Past

(journaled July 8, 2016)

I was thinking about what to read "for devotions" this morning, and I ended up reading some of the "Streams in the Desert" passages for the past week. I do find them encouraging and helpful, and I hear Your voice speaking through the voices of past children of Yours.

That is something I like about those churches and individual Christians who value the voices of Your children all through time and place. There IS value in tradition--including long-ago writings--when the purpose is to join together with You and all Your body through time and place.

Maybe growing older does engender an understanding of the value of wisdom and multi-generational stories passed down. There IS value in the "old-fashioned" even as we also learn from the new and enjoy it for its youthful enthusiasm.

Too often we "toss out the baby with the bathwater" when we turn from old to new, and we get so caught up in the novelty and excitement of the new that we fail to be wise and discerning about its excesses (or conversely, hang onto the old, refusing to be wise and discerning about its shortcomings, too).

I think one of the things that is attractive about the long-time liturgical churches, is their ability to move slowly and carefully (some would say glacially slow). Sometimes they have moved too slowly, and allowed error to dig its roots in too deeply, it's true. But there have always been individuals and movements calling for reform from within. Sometimes, those reformers have succeeded, sometimes they have suffered, been expelled, even been martyred. But more and more I am admiring those who really try to hear God's voice and respond from within the church, if possible, rather than quickly jump ship.

The trouble, it seems to me, is that when you have a church with leaders who have already been ship jumpers, it is too easy for them to be involved in yet more jumping ship. Either there is discontent that things aren't perfectly rosy now with this new group, or there is fierce determination that this new church IS perfect because it is in their own image, and they are unwilling to consider listening to God speaking through the voices of others to discern that continuing reform and growth in the Spirit is necessary. Ironic, that!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Assuring Encounter With You

(journaled June 6, 2016)

Lord, last night I watched a video of a young man who had gone deeply into "New Age" and had become very wealthy by operating websites based on it. But he was never content. Then he threw himself on his face before You, God, and had an "encounter" with Jesus. He turned from New Age to Jesus, and lost 97.5% of his income, along with his mansion, fancy cars, etc. But now he is happy, content, fulfilled.

Sometimes I really wish for a more personal "encounter," Lord, with You. I know that You ARE, but sometimes I am still tempted to wonder since it has been so long since I've had a really direct personal meeting-with-You experience. I know we're to trust You no matter what. And I think You allowed me, led me even, to erase all those other things, those kinds of "encounters" I had "faith in" in the past (though that time of "erasing" also brought me dangerously close to pushing You out, too. Thank You for holding on to me...)

Still, I'd like some kind of assuring encounter with You. Your word is good, answers to prayers are good ... but I'd really, really like to see or touch You just for a moment. You know what I mean. (But Your will be done. You know what I need so much more than I do).

I often find myself "intellectualizing" You more than knowing you. Maybe that's why I long for an experience that doesn't appeal so much to my mind, but more to my heart, spirit--even emotions?

Monday, 30 January 2017

Despondency

(journaled June 2, 2016)

Quoting from Madame Guyon: "I entreat you, give no place to despondency. This is a dangerous temptation--a refined, not a gross temptation of the adversary.... Melancholy contracts and withers the heart, and renders it unfit to receive the impressions of grace... God's designs regarding you, and his methods of bringing about these designs, are infinitely wise."

I wonder: Is "despondency" (I'm guessing what we call "depression") always a "temptation of the adversary?"

It is true that it can "wither the heart ... unfit ... to received the impressions of grace" ... and can be a "dark night of the soul." And yet, God used it in my life to give me rest. And He used it to help me "loosen my grip" on things that kept my focus off Him and instead on actions (studying doctrine/dogma; worship music; etc.--Not "bad" things, but not the center, not the focus) that distracted me from focusing on Him.

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus ... and the things of earth [including the things we focus on to reach God, instead of focusing on Him] will go strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace."

I've begun to see light after the long darkness. And it is His light. Sometimes the old sources of light I used to seek still do call out to me ... and while they aren't "bad" things, I do not want to go back to them, at least not in the way I did before. In fact, I feel a certain dread when I think of them, especially of the focus on worship music and how that turned out. Perhaps I know their draw and do not want to be trapped again. Or perhaps I still have pain, hurt, anger that I need to let go and forgive. Lord, please help me forgive.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

If it be Thy Will

(journaled May 19, 2016)

"A Prayer for the recovery of a sick person: ...we implore thy mercy, that ... he may be restored, if it be thy gracious will, to health of body and mind, and give thanks to thee...; through Jesus Christ our Lord."

I really believe in "if it be thy will." It is not a lack of faith, as some claim, to trust in Your will, to pray that Your will be done--in whatever we are praying for. In fact, I think that due to our humanity, our tendency to trust in ourselves, that it takes more faith to trust in You (though of course it shouldn't, but we really don't see You as You are) than in our own wishes and ideas of what is best.

Monday, 23 January 2017

A Prayer for Troubled Minds

(journaled May 19, 2016)

Anglican Common Prayer: "A prayer for persons troubled in mind or conscience: ...give him a right understanding of himself, and of thy threats and promises; that he may neither cast away his confidence in thee, nor place it anywhere but in thee. Give him strength against all his temptation.... Break not the bruised reed, not quench the smoking flax. Shut not up thy tender mercies in displeasure; but make him to hear of joy and gladness.... Deliver him from fear of the enemy, and lift up the light of thy countenance upon him, and give him peace; through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

I could have prayed this prayer for myself many times--and it is a prayer I can pray for others too--during times of depression, fear of loss of salvation, feelings of unworthiness, uncertainty of God's love. It is a truly practical prayer, for we all suffer from these states of mind from time to time, and some suffer much and often. But Your mercies, hope and joy ARE available!