I remember one Sunday morning that was at once confusing and altogether clear. The garamut (a drum made by taking a log, laying it on its side, carving a resonance chamber out of the middle, firing it (to help preserve it), and ritually carving it in the shape of a totem) had already been sounded the third time, indicating that it was time for our church meeting to start. While waiting for attendees to file in, my elderly neighbor approached dressed only in a malo, a sort of g-string fashioned from pounded tree fibers, with a flap hanging in front for modesty. Malos are traditional clothing that men usually only wear during feast times or special celebrations. He was dressed in full regalia. Confused, I asked the question, “Why the malo this morning?” His response was that he was wearing this attire to honor his ancestors–to honor and keep their ways.
His belief system, his worship of local deities and their underlying demands, drove him to forcefully remind his fellow Somau Garia of the ongoing interaction of the recently dead, the need for appeasement of them, and the overwhelming caution not to accept Jesus Christ, lest they offend the local gods.
Our worship defines the parameters of our action, the extent of our risk, the flavor of our character. The extent to which we worship, who we worship, even why we worship will cause us to live, as the Steve Camp song says, “dangerously in the hands of God”, allowing others to think us crazy, allowing others to reject and despise and even attack us. Shaking the gates of hell is risky business in a word devoted to everything but God. There in Uria Village that day, I was reminded that we were ministering in hostile territory, that there were some folks there that felt threatened by the Gospel and that they were willing to risk derision and danger to preserve the object of their worship.
The big question that people of every generation asks is “Why are we here? What is the meaning of life?” What and how we worship reveals our understanding of ultimate meaning. Sometimes folks say that they worship something (God is a good example) yet their behavior says otherwise. This is a folk belief. Watch how a person expends their energy, notice the things they talk much about , watch how they treat others and how they use resources and a picture of their true belief will emerge.
My friend wearing the very uncomfortable attire that Sunday morning believed in the power of the spirits of the place and of the recently dead to the extent that he took an enormous risk to win back the hearts of those who were going over to Jesus. Even though he attended church often, his real belief was based upon traditional tribal religion.
We in the West struggle with the tension between folk religion and true religion as much as an animist. We follow a God who left heaven and put on flesh in order to become both the perfect high priest and the atoning sacrifice for our sins. We follow a God who loves humility and despises pride. God’s character, speech, and action all indicate self-sacrifice for the good of others. Yet, we in the West have been distracted by our super-culture, one which is based on pride, self-aggrandizement, and pursuit of more. Even the character of many of our churches falls very much in line with this folk belief that God rewards those who work harder, get smarter, and are physically healthier than the next person. We resist the concept of “living dangerously in the hands of God.” Our ability to focus on our own “achievements” causes us to lose focus on God derived meaning. I struggle with this tension as much as anyone.
However, I am not excused from surrendering to God’s true character and desire for me, recognizing it for what it is–selfless, self-sacrificing, and reconciliatory–that is, God reconciling the world back to himself. Therefore I am called to live abandoned to God, living dangerously in His hands, risking derision, danger, even death, if need be, to make Him known. I worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus was despised and rejected and killed and yet he lives. He is the object of my worship. That worship is the meaning of my life.
Thank you for reading, for praying, for wrestling with the tension!