Thursday, 12 March 2009

culture and the church... things I'm trying to figure out...

February 18, 2007

I got another email from the Tribes-of-Christ group.

I remember in the past hearing preachers (native and non-native) telling other native people to give up anything that smacked of the old native spirituality. Now it seems there is a very strong movement that embraces many of those things (including sweats, etc) and "turns" them to being part of the Christian worship and walk. I wonder a lot about all this.

How would that related, for example,to a secular person continuing to participate in the things that really represented his "worship" of the "god of this world" -- money, booze, whatever? (I'm sure we do a lot of that without even thinking about it because we don't see it as "religious" or "spirituality" and don't recognize that we did have -- sometimes still have in perhaps diminished form -- our own "gods"?

I recognize there is a difference between cultural expression (language, clothes, social structures, art, music, housing styles -- general lifestyle, even) and religious expression (which I have assumed would include, in native terms, things like the use of dances, drumming, sweats, peyote, sweet grass, and the items used by the shaman with his "spirit guides" or whatever). But at the same time, there must often be a fine line and some gray areas. That makes me watch this online discussion with interest. I don't know the answer, though I have some ideas... I'm not sure if I even understand all the questions...

I do think that a lot of it is wrapped up in the struggle of a people for basic surival as a community and people, for identity, for respect, for recognition as people of worth and value, etc.

It is easy to glibly say, "Find your worth and value in Jesus" -- but what does that really mean? How does that relate to the way we express our cultural identity? How much are we required to "change"?

As a Christian, I have perhaps toned down some of my "fashion statements" to be modest and not to try and have people continually admiring "me" and approving of "me"... but nobody tried to make me totally change my style (ie to start dressing like people in the middle-East Christian church (and related culture) of Jesus' and the apostles' time!). But some people do dress "religiously." Same with food, etc. Does it make a difference if you are doing it out of free choice (perhaps to "identify" yourself as belonging to Jesus, just because you want to), or out of obligation (because a "church" says you have to -- and another culture, identifying itself as Christian, says you have to) or because you so closely relate your old clothes or food or cultural trappings to the "religion" you came out of (and you thereby, as Paul says, have a "weak conscience.")?

Of course this brings up the whole question of freedom in Christ, another whole discussion about how that is worked out.

Native people were basically forced to give up the majority of their cultural trappings by a "church culture" which did not, in many if not most cases, separate national culture from religious expression.

Lord, I'm going to stop writing about this now because I don't really have any definitive answers, though I do have some thoughts (which are hard to express, somehow). I do know a few Biblical principles and examples that might related -- the question of freedom in Christ -- Gentiles not being forced to adhere to Jewish religious custom/law except for a very few specific items (which, interestingly enough, were closely related to their former trappings of pagan religion, including fornication, related to temple prostitution; meat with blood/meat, related to meat offered to idols; etc). -- there does not seem to be any specific reference to clothes, housing, etc, except as related to Godly principles of modesty, submissiveness in Christ, etc.

We don't ask ourselves to make major cultural changes (though the "church" has, throughout history, done some strange things, like having "sacred languages -- ie Latin in the Catholic Church; thee/thou used till recently in Protestant churches -- and "dressing up" for church, I suppose, when we come to the Lord; probably because for hundreds of years (if not a lot longer) we have thought of ourselves as a "Christian nation(s)" and just assumed that that somehow made our cultural trappings (and our "religious traditions/trappings/rituals") "Christian" -- and therefore assumed that those of other cultural traditions are in all ways "pagan" and that those cultural/spiritual expressions must be eradicated when people from those traditions come to Christ.

One thing is very clear in all this -- the church as the body of Christ, the family under the Father and the headship of Jesus, in love relationship that is based on the love fellowship, unity, oneness of Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- is very, very different than the cultural trappings and traditions that we refer to as "church" (buildings, governing structures, programs, cultural expectations, picky behavioural expectations, rules and regulations, rituals...). Yes, there is some overlap, and yes, Father, You patiently love and grow Your people wherever they are, but it is true that Your best, Your desire for Your family is in body (organism) living in Your life, rather than them trying to serve You out of whatever kind of religious system they develop to express it (or take control of it).

I don't think there is anything intrinsically wrong with different music styles, or building styles, or organizational structures per se... they are in themselves just neutral things... but it is our motivations, our reasons for using them, our letting them take over and control and direct and provide all that You are meant to be and provide, that changes everything and turns it into "religion" instead of just being worship of You alone, and relationship with You, and with Your body, as You really intended... as must be. The rest is rubble; filthy rags if it takes away from You alone! (And how very, very easily we turn to the rubble and away from Your love and glory! Oh, help us, Lord! Help me, Lord!)

One last thing -- I find myself wondering what this might all mean to me -- why am I being led back into thinking so much about native people again? What does the Jake story have to do with me attending "our church" And even with "our church" as it is "seeking a structure and pastor"? And why I seem to keep building a French library and learning more? And how our move in a year and a half would affect my job etc?

And then I realize/remember that it really isn't about me and my future at all... but about You and Your kingdom... and just being in relationship with You and letting You work out Your eternal love and purposes, perfectly as You are perfect... and me just being along for the journey and the love, and just worshiping and serving You moment by moment as You open each new day to my steps walking in Yours...

I lack words to express any of this adequately at all, but You know my heart, Father; You know my longings, and I am glad, so glad, to be Your child, so very, very grateful... and delighted to walk with You and take whatever journey path You send my way! "Forward! Farther up and farther in!" (I think I'm the donkey! :-) )

On to Your Word - to listen to You, to know You! Amazing grace! Amazing love! Almighty God! I love You, Father, Son, Spirit -- Lord and King! Amen!

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