I recall my third or fourth Hawaiian History course but only vaguely. Growing up on Hawaii, I learned only Hawaiian History every year and didn’t know much about the mysterious mainland until I planted there (mostly) at age 16. I remember the stories of James Cook and the Sandwich Isles (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/cook-discovers-hawaii) and I’m surprised there hasn’t been a dozen or so movies retelling the tale of the “Discovery of Hawaii”.
What mostly sticks in my head are shadows of other stories, told by hula or the bamboo stick beat, about the way life was for the previous “Discoverers of Hawaii”. With the Westerners came the Western Church, or at least those who claimed to be members. I knew the Hawaiians to be smart and sensitive people, akin with their world, and they would not, it seemed to me, be likely to pass by the Gospel when it was offered. But along with the Gospel came Western Culture – which it seems was (is) not so fair a friend nor kindness.
Bottom line, it was always my impression that the missionaries enforced their culture long before upholding the Gospel and within a very short period of time the Hawaiian Way was largely crushed under strange-looking boots. It was sad to me.
You may be surprised to know at this point that I too would not allow the Gospel to pass me by – I did become a Christian in my mid-twenties. I did not trust myself to the Christians but to their Christ – with whom they seemed to share very little culture back in the 90s (and perhaps less today). That does not mean I did not struggle with modern Evangelical culture. Were I in Hawaii two hundred years ago, I probably would have rejected the Western Christ if it meant also no longer walking the Earth barefoot.
But I did learn about the mainland when trying to finish High School (which didn’t end up happening). I learned about the Native Americans who had discovered a continent long before the West “Discovered America”. From there the invading culture nearly wiped out the First American Way.
Granted, in both cases there were political and power-groping causes for the tragic results which I recount here, but in both cases, and in many others throughout history, the Church has failed to learn much from its unfortunate alliance with world-power. In fact, the Church has failed to learn much from the many many rich cultures and beliefs systems and perspectives as it carried the Gospel treasure around the world.
There is at least one instance I am aware of that the Gospel meet a people who seemed to be looking for it – as if to complete their own beliefs, and were not bullied out of their own culture in order to make a home for it. The Celtic traditions had some practices that were clearly out of line with their acceptance of the Christ Way – they would cease from sacrificing much like the Jews had to do, but they would see that the Trinity was the power above all they previously had known and worshiped. They largely blended their culture with their belief and ended up with a smart and sensitive way, upholding all things of value: the forest and the beast, the birds of the air and men and women.
So this got me thinking about how the Universal Christian Church (as in not strictly/nor/excluding Western Cultural Christianity) could connect with the world in a way that is both Kingdom Seeking and People Honoring. As an exercise I thought I would dig through some history – some written, some simply remembered, and then write a collection of thoughts on the things the Church might have learned were it not that it seems that we fell asleep on our desks during class.
I think I will ask some questions, such as “What can the Church Learn from the Buddha?”, or “Just because a Pagan practiced it, is it Evil?”. I am even thinking about maybe asking the question, “What would God have us Learn from the Gay/Lesbian culture?”. Who knows what I might ask from there…
I may find out it is impossible to retain my faith (practice and dogma) intact alongside everything I learn – much in this world is indeed set against Christ… But the Celtics before me found the Way was always theirs and so lived by it, and I wonder whether the Gospel of Christ can be the same treasure in any culture it finds a home in.