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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Cultural or Spiritual? Perpetuating the Divides

Please welcome guest blogger, Jonathan McCallum, who discovers how dominant-culture biases can shape how we worship, and who we value in our churches: 

In 2005, I arrived to the infierno of summer of Spain's blistering hot capital, Madrid. Tapas and Real Madrid were my reality for the time. I met Eric from the USA who invited me with his lovely family to visit the Tour de France which was passing through the Basque region between Spain and France.

To cheer for the sweaty riders, I had donned the Australian, U.S. and Spanish flags (I find it hard to choose a team), and as Lance Armstrong raced past, I found that my apparel was attracting attention. The green-flag-bedecked Basque crowd began to call out in my direction, “Franco is dead!”

I remembered something I had read in a book about a Generalisimo Franco, dictator and repressor of all things Basque. “What flag is that?!?” they called out again. I realized my blunder. I was waving the flag of Spain's kingdom and rule, a red flag of recent pain and unhealed wounds, issues unresolved after generations. “It's the wrong flag!” I said to Eric, slipping it into my bag. The crowd understood my gesture and some even walked over and offered us a beer as they explained what that flag represented for them.

While living in Madrid for three years, I occasionally told my flag story to friends inside church and out, and people’s responses taught me a lot. One friend summed up the general Spanish view commenting how “those” Basque just will not cooperate in “our” Spanish state.

And sadly the stereotyping and blame is also found in evangelical churches in Spain and the Basque Country. Most believers here reflect their society’s values, more than Jesus’. Rather than humbling themselves to contextualize and forgive, like Jesus with the Samaritans, they further embed the separation with misconceptions and disunity. For example, Spanish (not Basque) is the predominant language of the small, struggling evangelical churches in the region, and some even see Gospel ministry in the Basque language as a compromise of the Gospel (read my story about this here).

For me, the experience has been an ongoing exposure to a reality that many across the world live with—that the act of worshiping, preaching, meeting together in a certain language could actually be a part of the divide between cultures. I realize I have been privileged to grow up and grow spiritually in a place where my culture and language were the dominant ones of the society and of the church.

In Spain and the Basque Country, the hurt and violence of the past has been carried out by both sides. Yet Jesus is not on either side. He is for both peoples.

If we as believers do not embrace Basque language, culture and identity, the Basque people will be left to the muddled images of a religion that mixes with Franco, the inquisition, and a Jesus marred by oppressive politics and historical wounds. Thus, we can only expect a disbelief in the idea that Jesus is for them. This is true anywhere in the world where a culture is depreciated in the church.

Jonathan and his Austral-merican family love living among the vibrant and welcoming Basque people of Europe. Jonathan has a passion for experiencing Jesus daily within his community and with other followers of Jesus.

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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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