Hem lengths, Port wine and Dancing
I have been on a spiritual journey my whole life in one way or another. As a daughter of missionaries, I often felt compelled to witness to the neighbor kids. It's funny looking back now, because I remember mostly feeling really uncomfortable with the model of personal evangelism I was handed. It felt so.... awkward... unnatural... I could never figure out, as a 10 year old, how to approach my neighbor friend and ask casually, "Do you know where you are going after you die?" or "Do you believe in Hell?" And then the follow up question would be...?
As I got older I took part in street evangelism where we handed out tracks and talked about the Four Spiritual Laws. As a young street evangelist, given the task of handing out a number tracks and at least engaging one person about their eternal destiny, I felt more often than not like I was accosting them with something illegal and afraid of their anger at my intrusion. I often dumped the lot in the trash on the way back to church so I wouldn't be shamefully caught with them in my hand.
However, there was one memorable and instructive moment as a kid evangelist when I felt like I was really speaking to someone who wanted to listen. It was someone who approached me and asked a spiritual question. It felt natural, honest, open, and even thrilling! Not forced, fake or manipulated. I almost couldn’t believe it! I decided then and there that this was how I was going to share my faith: when someone asked.
As young missionary wannabe, I sometimes got confused with what appeared to be contradictory messages of what some called faith, TRUE faith, or the REAL WAY to behave as a Christian. For example, when I came to the US from Brazil at 13, I visited a church with my relatives and was told in no uncertain terms that my skirt length would not do (too short) and that I probably should wear pants. Though that was also barely acceptable for church worship. It was deemed disrespectful or something. But I didn't know whom I was disrespecting and why. Besides, the church we attended in Brazil had no such rules. In fact, I often fought to shorten my skirt length because the style (yes, even in church!) was shorter than mine--which was now too short for American Church Standards. Or... maybe the pastor had a problem and spiritualized it? hmmm. Then, a few months later we were in Portugal, and my “American” length was far too short for the church people there. They wore theirs half way down their calves! I swore I would never ever wear them that long. But of course I did as any teen would do to fit in.
The switcheroo between cultures set up further confusion on issues of faith. One preached drinking was sinful, while another drank Port wine for communion! Kids included. One avowed you should absolutely not dance, as God would frown on such behavior, while another danced at weddings, birthdays, anniversaries... you name it. However, the idea of sin management was so ingrained in me, I remember telling my kid sister at 4, to stop swaying to the music. I really didn't want her sinning! Then immediately felt that it was kinda weird that she couldn't innocently dance to some music. I was confused where the line was. When did the sinning part take over?
So hem lengths, Port wine and dancing taught me early on that someone's idea of sin was not even part of another’s faith conversation. While one got tied up in knots, the other blithely went about their business. Oh, I am not saying that one culture got it all right and the other one was steeped in self-flagellation. Each faith culture had its religious rules for behavior. I was just lucky enough to witness the incongruity of it all at a very young age. To me, you see, they all believed they were good Christians, and that what they taught was in the Bible. That it was TRUTH, REAL TRUTH and ALL should follow their teaching because God said so in his Word. Chapter and Verse.
To my young eyes I could already see that culture really really influenced someone's idea of God and what it meant to follow him. We cannot help it, but we can acknowledge it, own it, and hold our views lightly. We don't have to throw them out, just see them for what they are: our views of God through our lens. And we are not "know-it-alls".
I have often thought and sometimes said, that the best way to learn about God is to listen to other voices, cultures, ideas, and faith walks. In my blogs on spirituality, I will be sharing some of the things I have learned or am learning. I don't claim to have the definitive answers or a firm hold on what it means to live my faith life. But that's ok, because I am at peace. This is what I am supposed to do and to invite others to the journey.
Come with me.