Being Molded by the Christian Calendar
"With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers (and sisters), as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed. Thus you will prove in practice that the will of God is good, acceptable to him and perfect." (Romans 12:1-2) Phillips Translation
“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:1-2) The Message
One of the best definitions of culture from an anthropological point of view that I have found flows out of the work of Raymond Williams where he says that "cultures are distinguished from one another by those shared practices, convictions, institutions and narratives that order and give shape to the lives of a particular group of people.”
These four concepts are extremely helpful to me. Shared practices, convictions, institutions, and narratives that order and give shape to the lives of a particular group of people. That is one way to define culture, one that I find both helpful and true to life. Defining culture well also enables us to know how to better create cultures that are counter to the dominate culture, or our host culture.
Normal Douglas said, “You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements.”
Eric Fromm in Leadership Magazine says, “A man sits in front of a bad television program and doesn’t know that he is bored; he joins the rat race of commerce, where personal worth is measured in terms of market values, and is not aware of his anxiety. Ulcers speak louder than words. Theologians and philosophers have been saying for a century that God is dead, but what we confront now is the possibility that “man is dead,” transformed into a thing, a producer, a consumer, an idolater of other things.”
What is the guiding narrative of our host culture here in the U.S.?
Which institutions are shaping our lives the most?
What convictions are we developing in light of the stories and narratives that bombard us from every side?
And what practices are we engaging in that are shaping us into the kind of people we are becoming.
The question is never simply whether we are being molded, but more importantly, into whose image are we being shaped?
Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit tells us that the world is trying to squeeze us into its mold, but that transformation comes when we renew our minds. The way we renew our minds is we immerse ourselves in God’s reality by immersing ourselves in His story, which we find in the Scripture. That is our narrative.
Reading the rest of Romans 12 we see Paul referring to the body of Christ, the Church, and how God has given us each other with our different gifts to shape and mold us. The point being that we cannot become like Christ apart from the rest of the body. We need the body, and the body needs our gifts if we are to become like Jesus together. Transformation does not happen in isolation, which is why God has given us the church. The church is a living organism as well as an institution that God created.
So God has given us the narrative, He has given us the church, and it is our responsibility to understand the heart of God so that we can build convictions and engage in practices that will help us experience transformation.
One of the ways we can experience transformation as a church is by observing the Christian calendar, ordering our life around the Christian calendar brings meaning to all time as well as helps us to keep our narrative freshly in our hearts and minds. And the calendar, like our narrative is centered on – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
As you may know, the Christian year represents the historical unfolding of the life of Jesus and his return. Advent, which starts four Sundays before Christmas deals with the coming of Christ; Christmas deals with his birth; Epiphany, his manifestation to the Gentiles; Lent, his journey toward death; Easter, the time to celebrate his resurrection; and Pentecost, the time to experience life in the power of the Holy Spirit. According to this historical representation of the life of Christ, the Christian year begins with Advent and ends with Pentecost.
What happens as we observe the Christian Calendar during our public gatherings is that we remember the core narrative of our story. The early church set aside the day we now call Sunday as the day for the weekly recall of the living, dying, and rising of Christ and the day to anticipate the future kingdom. Sunday is the first day, the day of creation, the day of light, the day of a new time. But it is also the last day, the eighth day, the day beyond days, the day of Jubilee, the day of re-creation, the day of the end-time. God made the world in six days, rested on the seventh, and then on the first day of the week (Sunday), the day of resurrection, began his work of re-creation. Having these public gatherings on Sunday is one of the ways God transforms us.
This year at Kairos Los Angeles we will be observing the Christian Calendar year from Advent to Pentecost. Tomorrow or later this week I will be talking about Advent, which starts this coming Sunday. To learn of the readings for this Sunday, scroll down the right side bar under Lectionary Readings and you can check out the first Sunday of Advent Lectionary. Also, you can download a brief but incredibly helpful word document entitled Christian Year Spirituality at a Glance as presented in Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year by Robert Webber. Download christian_calendar_year.doc