Tradition in Light of Faith

One of my favorite movies of all time is Fiddler on the Roof. It’s a story of a Jewish man named Tevye and his family in a small, turn-of-the-century Russian village. It’s cheesy and it’s a musical, but the reason I like it is that Tevye’s whole life revolves around God. He’s a peasant milkman, not a rabbi or a priest, but every facet of his life is shaped by his relationship with God, with whom he’s constantly talking. I want to be like Tevye.

Our team is in the culture and language-learning phase. We are trying to discern why Peruvians do the things they do. We’re studying religious background and historical influence on modern society and constantly trying to contextualize our message. Contextualization is the practice of applying the Gospel to different cultural contexts. To do contextualization well, you have to be a very astute student of culture and of the Bible… pray for me.

As a team, we’ve been coming across this new culture’s traditions and asking ourselves, “does this point towards God, away from God, or is it more-or-less neutral?” Many traditions in Peru come from Roman Catholicism. Some have their roots in the ancient Incan religious beliefs. Others are a tangled mix of both. I imagine that as we disciple new believers here they will have questions about what to do with old traditions and their new faith. How will I guide them? How do I sort through my own culture’s traditions in relation to my faith in God? It’s something I’ve thought a lot more about recently. As an outsider looking in on this culture I am quick to see the things that don’t point towards God, but what would someone from Peru think about my own culture’s traditions if they examined them closely?

“Because of our traditions,” Tevye says, “every one of us knows who he is, and what God expects of us.” I like that view. Like I said, Tevye bases everything off of his relationship with God. As we come up on Easter, I plan to examine North American cultural traditions surrounding this holiday. There plenty of strange traditions we have in the U.S. including hiding eggs delivered by bunnies. Bunnies are mammals, they don’t even lay eggs! Who thought this up? I’m going to be asking myself the question, “Does this tradition point toward or away from God, or is it completely benign?” I feel I must examine my own culture’s traditions in light of my faith if I’m to advise others to do the same.