I’m taking courses in both world religion and mission this semester and as a result I have been thinking a good deal about how we best meet culture and faith. How do we effectively communicate respect of an individual for who they are as an individual as well as an individual as part of a culture as we meet them from our own position of self, in faith, and culture?
In reading this article (http://huff.to/11T4YBD) I found myself pondering the subject once again…yet this time from a slightly different angle…You see of late I have been more focused on thinking about meeting culture in “going to” and less so on the concept of “inviting in” unique cultural practices my own backyard. It seems easier for me to think about discussing witchcraft practices of an indigenous Ghanian church than it is to think about a fellow congregant seeking to incorporate smudging into our own typical Sunday worship. (I know – smug of me). Nevertheless I am thinking about it … how can we be sensitive to individual cultural practices or norms that people bring into a setting where the majority are settled within the comfort of their own cultural norms? I contend that sometimes we need some shaking up (to challenge our “ways of being” realizing what is core to our beliefs and what is superfluous). But at the same time, I am probably more comfortable causing change than accepting it.
That is all background for the article at hand which highlights, Chelsey Ramer (a member of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians) who was fined $1000 by her Alabama High School because she wore an eagle’s feather (of spiritual and cultural significance) on her graduation cap. Interestingly, Chelsey, knowing the feather might breach the graduation ceremony contract rules regarding wearing “extraneous items unless approved by the administration”, sought permission to wear it. She was denied. Given her strong convictions, however, she decided to wear it anyway. Now she owes the school $1000 and has yet to have received her diploma.
The article led me to ponder how my way of being may inadvertently (or overtly) deny someone their sense of authentic self, or freedom to their own cultural expression or identity. How can I more effectively “meet others” in their culture honoring them without breaching (or feeling I am compromising) the core tenets of my beliefs and convictions as a Christian? Where IS the line between being sensitive and being compromising? In this way, what does it REALLY mean to “meet culture” with faith?
What seems clear to me from this example is that meeting culture is not done by having a blanket rule (such was the case in this contract stating “no extraneous items”). Clearly the school’s policy was intended to establish some sense of order (perhaps seeking to eliminate the risk of students being goofy). Like in church, however, if our posture and policies suggests “nothing extraneous is accepted here” we might miss the point and we might hurt someone (unnecessarily) in the process. While I am in no way suggesting compromising tenets of our own faith in the name of sensitivity, I AM suggesting that we needn’t, like the school, be so fearful of the extraneous so as to come up with contracts that deny people from being themselves. Perhaps understanding the need (or felt need) for the “extraneous” we may both see the issue with greater clarity…In the end I am led to wonder how many people have been turned away from my own church because of our posture against the “extraneous” and also….who among current congregants may be hiding such a “feather” wishing it could be exposed. I sense its time to start paying more attention.
Tweet: Denied her diploma and fined $1000. Why? For wearing an eagle’s feather in her cap. Read it here: huff.to/11T4YBD