Round 1: the battle of definitions
the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.
the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.
the religion based on the person and teachings of Jesus Christ, or its beliefs and practices.
the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.
Round 2: lol jk
There is a question that I am sure that many of us have often found ourselves asking, ‘what do we do when our culture and faith collide?’ Are we meant to abandon our culture for the sake of our religion? Take carnival for instance. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with it. I’m not going to get in to whether or not it is the same carnival that the Windrush Generation envisaged. But once a year, people come from all over the UK to celebrate the diversity found within the diasporic Caribbean community. As the floats fill the streets and the bass rises in the sound systems, I hear the question “what do we do when our culture and faith collide?’
For me the answer is simple. You compromise, whilst making sure that you never compromise your faith.
I initially wrote ‘compromise,’ but the more that I think about it, the worse it sounds. Maybe it’s due to a lack of words, but although what I am trying to describe is a compromise, it is not what I am suggesting because as Paul so rightly asked, what fellowship has light with darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14)? Evidently that was a rhetorical question, but still deep enough to make you think. But what I am trying to say is that I strongly believe that you can be a Christian anywhere. You can’t sin my osmosis. Carnival in itself does not symbolise darkness but I’d be naive to suggest that the things that take place there are all scenes out of a PG Dreamworks movie. So I guess when your culture and faith collide, you need to test your culture against your faith. Test it against the Word, test it against all that you know to be true. Whilst writing this, I had a few conversations with some friends and they shared some interesting perspectives on this…
There was an interesting point that one of my friends made that really got me thinking ‘culture is created by man and it can be great but it can also be dangerous.’ This made me think about two people…myself and the Apostle Paul. Don’t worry, I am not saying that when you think of Paul, you should think of me LOOOL! But writing about this has really made me question my own culture and not necessarily my culture by way of heritage. You see, I became Christian a few weeks before my 16th birthday. I had been to church a few times prior to my conversion but it wasn’t apart of my regular weekly routine. Growing up, Sunday‘s consisted of swimming, gymnastics, family time or relaxing. It was just another day. So I guess if you were to ask me what my culture was, the ideas and customs that I held was that it was not necessarily essential to go to church. To top it all off, I became Christian during what I guess was a praise and worship session at a youth camp (cliche I know). So the four walls of the church were also not considered to be mandatory to encounter God in my juvenile mind. I say this because as I ‘matured‘ and I use that term lightly, I did not really see anything wrong with not going to church every Sunday. The GCSE R.E. student in me knew that God was omnipresent, so if I do not go to church, what’s the big deal? God knows where I live. So for me, these were the cultural practices that had become quite dangerous. We (or maybe just me) are creatures of habit. But the old us must die in order for the new to live (a rough paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 5:17).
On the flip side, your personal culture and who you used to be can often be used to your advantage. Just look at Paul. He wasn’t just an ordinary Jewish man. He was a Pharisee. He knew the word and knew all of the prophecies. The Torah was everything to him. His living was based off of it, to the point that he found it necessary to persecute Christians for daring to believe that the Messiah had come. But after Paul’s conversion he did not abandon his culture. He abandoned his religion but not his culture and when you go through Acts Chapters 21 and 22 it becomes clear just how powerful it was. In these two chapters Paul states three interesting things about the complexities of his identity. He was a Jew, a Roman citizen and he also spoke Aramaic. The fact that he was a Jew led to him being threatened with death due to his new conversion but his Roman citizenship spared him and the language that he spoke to the people in caused them to be silenced. He used who he was to reach people and also defend himself. He used who he was to share the message of his conversion to those from his culture who did not yet believe. But it doesn’t stop there. Whilst still on trial in Chapter 23, Paul then identifies as ‘a Pharisee descended from Pharisees (verse 6).’ This causes a debate amongst those trying to persecute him and the Pharisee’s come to his defence because they fear that an angel or spirit might have actually revealed something to him. God then says to Paul “[t]ake courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome (verse 11).”
What I took away from this was that God does not want us to hide from our culture, He wants us to use it to bring glory to Him. Our culture, behaviour, ideas and past can all be used to help us relate to people. He wants us to testify to them because at first, they will see themselves in us, but the more of yourself that you reveal to them, they will begin to see the Christ in you!