A few thoughts about today's reading...
Cultural Immersion - We really can't avoid culture. As our reading says about Abraham and the first Christians, "They didn't have much control over these cultures might impact their lives." Culture is at the same time both positive and negative. In the positive sense, whatever culture we are sent to has its own way of expressing and interpretting reality in art, music, food, language, dress, etc. Most of us adapt to these things fairly easily. We're not Amish. But there will always be a point at which we as Christians do not adapt culture, for it goes against our calling to be faithful to God. Can you think of a few examples?One of the interesting things about Christianity is its ability to both shape culture and adapt to culture. On the one hand, much of the Western world is the way it is because of the Christian faith. Concepts like the sanctity of human life, values like family and marriage, just laws, and even major advances in literature and music (Bach, for example.). On the other hand, the message of Jesus has always adapted to its environment. As Christianity left Jerusalem and entered Gentile territory, practice was adjusted (see Acts 15). Unlike the Koran, which must be preserved in Arabic to be truly read and understood, the Christian Scriptures were translated into the languages of the surrounding areas as a living Word. And even now we see our faith expressed in a variety of cultural mediums, such as music, art, etc.
As we interact with culture, we as Christians live in a certain amount of tension. On the one hand, we engage culture and appreciate it as a part of the goodness of God's creation. I think we sell ourselves short when we isolate ourselves by listening to only Christian music, only reading Christian books, only going to Christian events, etc. We even express our isolation with bumper stickers, T-Shirts, and even extend the "Christian" label to our clubs, such as "Christian Art Festival" or "Christian Biking Club." I know the intentions are good here, but perhaps we do this because we're scared of the tension that exists when we engage culture.
The other side of the spectrum is that we do, at times, need to resist culture. For example, I'm not going to endorse a movie like "The Hangover Two" and say, "Hey, we should all go see this because we're engaging culture." And when I read the New York Times in the morning or listen to NPR while driving the car, I do have times when I definitely don't agree with what I read or hear.
I think we're on the right track here. This year we've been immersed in community. We've also been immersed in God. What are some ways that we, as a community at Bethlehem, can creatively engage community, while at the same time exist within the tension?
Prayer: Father, thank you for all you have created. Help me to see your goodness expressed in created things. Remind me today that by the power of your Holy Spirit, you are with me, and you are with us. Go with us into the world, and use us as you will. Through Jesus, the expression of your goodness,Amen.