Harvest festivals and cultural redemption
By Maurice Broaddus, for CelebrateKnoxville.com. --It’s that time of the year when the country celebrates a variety of harvest traditions. Beginning with Halloween, and from Thanksgiving to Kwanzaa, sometimes we object to such holidays on religious grounds, viewing them as pagan traditions to be eschewed. However, cultural annihilation is not a part of the Christian mission.
“If we believe that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth itself, we shall not reject or despise the truth itself, wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to insult the Spirit of God.” –John Calvin
God is active in every culture. All people are created in God’s image. All people have what’s been called a “God-sized hole” within them that causes them to wrestle with certain ideas and questions. And as they seek to answer these questions or respond to these ideas, it comes out in art and culture. As such, there are redemptive elements almost everywhere in that culture. One of the first things a missionary ought to do is learn the stories of the culture. Apostle Paul could walk around Athens, a city full of idols, and still find Jesus (Acts 17). To speak into a culture subversively, it has to be done contextually, meaning that the language of the culture needs to be learned.
“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Ephesians 5:11
Christians are warned of the importance of “guarding ourselves” when it comes to being “of the world.” With a closer reading of this verse, the words “but rather expose them” jump out. Exposing is the work of an artist.
True artists pursue truth, truth about themselves, truth about life, truth about things after this life. Again, this goes back to one of the cornerstones of being a missionary: respect the natives, respect the culture, respect the natives’ stories and seek to understand them, and look for redemptive analogies .
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” –Philippians 4:8
Stories resonate with us for a reason and there are redemptive elements in every story. In all things, think redemptively, and let the renewing your mind be in finding God at work in the culture around you, setting out a kingdom mission with the hope that this world can be rescued, redeemed, renewed, and transformed.
As Christians mature, they, much like the apostle Paul, can expose themselves to culture, draw the good out from it, interact with it in such a way as to use it for redemptive purposes. Christians are called to be priests, to be set apart; but set apart, not for their own comfort and edification, but for a purpose: to join in Christ’s redemptive mission. In the cross, Jesus takes an instrument of death and destruction and transforms it into a symbol of life. Through his death and resurrection, He sets the stage for a different kind of world, one where grace and forgiveness reign supreme and uses love and peace as its chief weapons. It’s a call to a greater way of living, changing lives one at a time in order to change the world. Doing good, helping your neighbor, such deeds ripple out and help the world … because everything’s connected.
The Christian must be culturally relevant or it will not gain a hearing. Since all cultures possess negative elements, the gospel must also challenge the culture. There is a fine-line between a culturally-captive and a culturally-relevant gospel. But at no point, despite how it is sometimes practiced, is it about annihilating a culture to make its point. Cultural festivals continue, sometimes the Christian tradition co-opts and transforms them. After all, the Winter Solstice festivals, Yule, and other “pagan” customs provide many of the traditions of a celebration called Christmas.
Maurice Broaddus is an Indianpolis-based writer, editor, teacher, husband, father, and ghetto ninja who regularly writes about issues of faith, race, and gender. Find out more about him at mauricebroaddus.com