I was listening to a Motown CD on my way home tonight. It was one of several I got from a good friend in Cambodia. I never knew much about Motown growing up and did not listen to the music, yet I felt enriched to have learned to enjoy it in Cambodia (and even watch people dance to it!) since it was a style, it seemed, which was well liked by many of my international friends there.
It got me thinking about the Christian culture in which I was raised and others in which I have lived and worked over the years. The culture which impacted my faith the most growing up (not necessarily the one my parents lived in) was one that very much separated itself from the world. I only listened to Christian music, and up until high school read mostly Christian books and had mostly Christian friends. Though I was taught to be light in the world, I was also taught to be wary of contamination by the world. There was the sacred of which I could partake and then there was the secular from which I had to stay away. Good Christians were not good if they "did as the world." Can't say if this was based on the two kingdom theology or not, but it seems to describe my reality.
In recent years I recognized this attitude has followed me all my life, however, it no longer strongly guides my judgements, per se. In Cambodia I got to work with all kinds of people, including wonderful Christians who did not feel the need to separate the sacred from the secular in the way I described. I met Christians, even Mennonites, who, in addition to their Christian music and activities, enjoyed listening to secular music, dancing (a no-no when I went to college), and drinking wine at dinner. I was stretched to stop judging a Christian's level of faith by the amount of secular he/she allowed or participated in.
My husband and I would go out with a very good friend of mine and his wife once in a while. I remember the first time we went out, my friend was concerned he would offend us if he and his wife enjoyed a glass of wine (I believe our MCC contracts did not allow alcohol unless it was culturally inappropriate not to partake). After we cleared it up that we would not be offended, I laughed when I caught my friend's eyes scanning the crowd around us at a restaurant, looking for any Cambodian Christians who might catch him in the act of enjoying a glass of wine with his dinner.
Though my friend felt the "freedom" to enjoy a glass once in a while, we all recognized that we were working in a very young and a rather legalistic Christian culture in Cambodia where, as my friend humorously put it, "Christians should not smoke, drink or chew, or go with girls that do!" This pretty much summed up what Cambodians were taught by most of the Christian evangelical missionaries. He wanted to be careful not to be a stumbling block while exercising his "freedom in Christ." I wonder if Paul wanted us to consider the sacred and secular in those verses. That which we label as secular, Paul would say is OK? I am pondering that thought.
Coming back from Cambodia, I feel I have re-entered a mostly dichotomous Christian culture once again. Deep down, I know that there is sincerity in such a culture which only partakes in what is labeled "sacred" but now I have been exposed to other Christian cultures which allow more of a mix between the secular and sacred. Now I am more skeptical, even of my own motives and convictions. For example, why don't I allow myself to drink wine?
How much is sincere; how much is pretense; how much is unwise . . . so many thoughts and questions. I want my children to be "separate" from the world, but also learn about and appreciate what is there too. If I only allow them exposure to the "sacred," how will they learn to relate to those in the world? How much secular exposure puts their Christianity on the line? Should they only be allowed to read Christian books or listen to Christian music or have only Christian friends???? Hmmm . . .