Saturday, October 21, 2006

Mary and I just got back from a quick trip to The Double JJ Resort. Jane is at college and Dan was gone to Stratford, Ontario for the weekend. So, we hooked up my new (to me) trailer and took off on a shakedown cruise, figuring out how to most efficiently take a quick camping weekend vacation.

This Double JJ Resort place is a themed resort. They have a golf course. I don't golf. Horseback riding is a big thing there. Neither Mary nor I do any horseback riding. We picked this place mostly b/c P.J. Hoffmaster State Park wanted us to stay for more than just one night. But it was pretty cool.

A lot of families with kids were there. We were surprised at how many people were camping in the RV park. But the main thing is the Western theme of cowboys and horses and stuff like that. It was an amusing and relaxing time.

As we're leaving, Mary remarked about the cultural tension she felt. We were both raised in the country with a fair bit of farming going on around us. But she admitted that she just felt like she didn't fit in; she's a city girl now. I agreed. It's sort of interesting to see this subculture, but isn't me.

Then I said, "You know, our former Pastor at Trinity would just love this place." Mary emphatically agreed. We both could see him fitting in there perfectly.

He left Trinity for more reasons than I know, but I think it was simply a matter of flexibility and fitting. He's the kind of guy who'll stand for what's right and not back down. That's good. But Trinity wasn't a cowboy church in the country. Trinity is an American church in the 21st century suburbs. Across from Trinity sit a number of newly built MacMansions filled with families carrying quarter-million-dollar mortgages.

We just heard that our former pastor has taken a church in a rural area in the Michigan "thumb." I hope he does well. I hope he's got a country church where the cultural attitudes of his parishoners match his temperament.

Driving back from Double JJ's, I thought about two groups of people. There's Pew Warmers like me who help out in church when asked. Then there's Joe Random Neighbor, living in that MacMansion, who has no idea what this church thing is about.

It's my job as Pew Warmer to bloom where I'm planted. It is my responsibility to adapt to whatever culture my church presents to me. At my new church, Blythefield Hills Baptist, they occasionally have the "dancing girls" who do some liturgical dance thing. It's cultural, alien to my sensibilities, but neither good nor bad. I don't know if Joe Random Neighbor sees the liturgical dance and thinks, "I understand Christianity much more clearly now," or not. It had better, or it's wasted motion. I have compromise at this point, because there's nothing in the Bible that says this is good or evil.

But things are different for Joe Random Neighbor. He might step in the door of my church to see what's going on. If he sees a bunch of cowboy kitsch, he might get the idea Christianity is some kinda quaint backwards cult--a bigger version of the Amish. I don't know what he thinks of the cultural divide, but I don't think it's essential to Christianity.

My job as an Evangelical Christian is to express Christianity as accurately as I can. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, but I speak in English. I have to translate the truth of Christianity into the language, grammar, metaphors and memes that Joe Random Neighbor will understand. This means accommodating my neighbor, tailoring my message to make sure he understands the essential message uncluttered by my cultural accretions.

Christians need to evaluate our own culture and their neighbors' culture to ascertain which things are good, which things are bad, and which things are neutral. If we find things in our culture that are bad, we need to repent of them. If we find things in our neighbor's culture that are bad, we need to preach against them. But those neutral things in the middle--cowboy kitsch or dancing girls, we need to evaluate whether they advance our goals. If my neighbor isn't into cowboy kitsch, I should drop it. If my neighbor comes to my church expecting liturgical dance, fine then.

Christianity provides value to Christians and the Christian message can provide value to Joe Random Neighbor. I think we have to demonstrate and deliver that value to "buy credibility" with him and so that he'll listen when we talk about God's justice and mercy.

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