12.22.2006

"Cargo Cult Religion", Ritual, and Manna

It is the Friday 3 days before Christmas, and everyone seems to be running to finish all the last minute details. We all want to please the people we love, don't we? And I think our worst fear is disappointing others, even though -- to some extent, at least -- we're resigned that disappointing the people we love at Christmastime is not always avoidable. (Hmm . . . or maybe that's just me. :-) )

I have been meaning to follow up my last post -- ever since I wrote it -- with an explanation of what I did not mean. I did not mean that all religious ritual and tradition was meaningless, by any means!

But I have been busy doing the next thing that had to be done, and writing is something that I have to do, but that can wait until it can't -- and so here I am, finally!

I need God's presence! I need His Kingdom imposed upon my messes! I need intimacy with Him to color my relationship with every other person in my life. And that plane needs to arrive daily and hourly, not once a week or once a month or even every other day.

I have always loved the way God gave food to the Israelites in the desert -- manna served up each morning for them to gather, except on the Sabbath, when they had enough left over from the day before so that they didn't have to gather fresh manna on the Sabbath. But every other day the manna from the day before was spoiled by the next morning, and they needed to gather fresh manna for the day.

What a perfect picture of our relationships! I need contact with my God that is fresh each morning! I need to maintain contact with the people I love each day! We don't get to keep the nourishment from yesterday, but need to gather fresh nourishment for each day.

The pacific Islanders who imitated the rituals that they thought would bring cargo to their islands didn't err in the idea of following example. They erred in a failure to communicate. The USA has always helped develop economies in places that had been affected by our wars, and would have helped bring some economic prosperity -- some indigenous industry -- to the Islanders who "wanted to do it themselves" if they had been open to having that conversation and following the teaching they received. Industriously following an example to produce a desired result is a useful trait, isn't it? But there must be a proper dose of communication, because fake runways and fake control towers don't bring planes full of cargo, do they?

I have a huge respect for the traditions and rituals of 20 centuries of Christianity -- both for the communal rituals of worship and service, and for the private rituals of personal intimacy with God. They are based on the communication of God with us and on the communication of us with each other through the years. An "emerging church" or a "missional church" that walks away from the ways the Holy Spirit has worked and communicated through 20 centuries can become very like the Pacific Islanders who were following their own reason and observations and creativity without communication about the truths that were out of their sight. We cannot afford to disrespect all that the Holy Spirit has done throughout history!

We need to hold tight to tradition and ritual while we hold tight to active communication with our Triune God about what He is doing now.

And we need to gather today's manna -- each day! My manna is 4-fold: God speaks to me privately, in His voice to me internally; God speaks to me through His Word; God speaks to me through His Church (all those Christians around me in community with me, especially!); and God speaks to me through the world around me and throughout history. If I habitually close myself off from any of those avenues of hearing Him and knowing Him and enjoying Him and obeying Him, I lose touch with any knowledge of that larger reality that needs to be the reasons for our traditions, rituals, and changes.

Obedience is the antidote to "Cargo Cult Religion", and it requires 3 things: We hear God's voice of TRUTH to us in all the ways He speaks; We determine to follow the indicated course of action and relationship; and We appropriate the power to follow that indicated course of action or relationship.

And, ultimately, all three components of obedience are gifts to us out of His grace.

Today may we know Him, hear Him, determine to obey Him, and have the ability through His Spirit to do so!

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