Sunday, November 29, 2009

Back in Gear

So. I'm vacuuming at work, just as we're closing. And I'm thinking, for whatever reason, about my customers that day. Many nations. Many cultures. Many ways of thinking, each of which is represented and explored by some of my product (I sell videogames now, parttime). But, I think with a rush of pride, this is what's cool about America. Room for every culture, and room for every gens on earth. And we (the "old" Americans, be they black, white, or brown), lap it up. People go out for pho and Thai noodles and Ethiopian food, and we celebrate the best elements (in food especially, but in philosophy as well) of every culture that has taken up residence in this great nation of ours.

And then I wonder. What are the "best" elements? Are they inherently good? Or are they situationally good? That seems sensible. Culture responds to environment and need. If you can't get just the stuff you need for the religious festival, you make do with what you have. Eventually, that becomes the tradition - culture is adaptive. So the "best" elements that America absorbs are those that function best, and for which there is most need. From there it's easy to extrapolate - the only inherently "good" thing about the American cultural ethos is its willingness to adapt (read: steal) culture from other peoples. There is no really "worthy" or "precious" American value (which is completely uniquely American) except the pursuit of the useful value.

Well, I thought, how does this apply to religion? Religion is the corporate or communal response to the experience of the divine (Johnstone, under Creative Commons). And our religion is shaped by the corporation or community in which we find ourselves worshipping. I worship quite differently from Christians in Zambia or in India or in China...but we are all responding to that divine experience. And all of us have worship quite distinct from that which obtained in the past - or which will in the future - but the response of religion, (even aside from your particular faith background) is common to all cultures.

All of that, however - the adaptability of culture, and the synchronicity of religious expression, seems to me quite distinct from faith (the daily actions we undertake on the basis of our beliefs) and from gospel (the universal message of divine reconciliation shared by the Incarnate Word).

Gospel knows no bounds of culture - it is as true in deepest darkest Antarctica as on the plana of Mars. God loves us and wants to be in true relationship with us. That can be true whether you worship with guitar or with organ or in silence or in scientific exploration.

Faith, our continuous response to the wondrous message, is likewise the same, however it is expressed. That we love our neighbours, and that we seek to be in that right relationship with each other and with God, and that we act that way is a constant, even if one culture's deep insult is another's highest revelation of love.

Faith and gospel transcend (and transform) culture. They surely are not isolated from it, and they are also not fundamentally altered by that relationship, just as the Immutable God can weep for His dead Son (more on this later).

Long story short is this:

I'm back, baby.

Pro tip: upcoming post, on how we interpret sacraments in light of the above.

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