I love the Olympics. I like the idea of the world’s top athletes coming together to compete (though I’m personally not much of a sports person). I even like the idea that I have absolutely no interest in many of the sports I find myself watching, that my horizons are broadened by the whim of the broadcasters. I love the fact that my boys scream out Apollo Anton Ohno and Shawn White’s names when they see them on television as opposed to some other sports stars.
I also like the fact that, if we’re paying attention, the Olympics offers us some valuable lessons for the rest of life. Hard work and dedication can pay off. Not only that, but it’s all the better if you can love what you do and foster a passion for your pursuit. But all of the lessons we might learn from the Olympics are not necessarily positive.
As we were watching the Olympics the other night, we got stuck with “Ice Dancing.” Yes, I said I like that the Olympics helps expand my horizons but I mean that I would never otherwise watch ski jumping, not people dancing. On ice. But that’s what happened. As we watched, we found ourselves being bombarded by one bad cultural impersonation after another. Foreigners in cutoffs dancing to Thank God I’m A Country Boy, followed by Americans dressed as Indians. Some other people impersonating Spaniards and, perhaps the most well-known by now, the Russian team who chose to “go” as Aboriginal people. Nearly everyone knew that most teams had no clue about the culture they were impersonating and nearly every team came across as a cliché rather than a tribute, much less as authentic.
Christians should pay attention to this farce because, lest we forget, this is exactly how we come across to much of the surrounding culture. The Gospel is always communicated in the context of culture. As God’s sent people, it is our mission to transform these cultures from within with the power of the Gospel (this is the power of salt and light, etc. Matthew 5:13-16, etc.). This is done most effectively when we are most authentically transformed by the Gospel.
Yet, the problem for many Christians is that we have bought into false ideas of holiness. So much so that we are quite uncomfortable really being ourselves. Then, when we try to reach out to others, because we don’t truly know who we are in Christ, we don’t know how to reach out to others, we don’t even know our relationship to culture, so we end up coming across as fake, we end up coming across as clichéd, we end up looking like Aboriginal ice dancers. Not to mention the fact that ice dancing is to ice skating what tee-ball is to baseball. No jumps! It’s just not as exciting.
Not only is the problem that we don’t really know ourselves, we have come to believe that everyone outside of our own walls is so evil (which we all are outside of Christ), that we don’t ever really take interest in the people we’re trying to reach. Part of the reason so many Aboriginal people (if I may venture a guess) found the Russian ice dancers so offensive is because the Russian team had no real interest in the Aboriginal culture, it was simply a means to an end for them. This is exactly the way many Christians treat our surrounding cultures. We have no real interest in the people around us other than as projects and numbers and they know it, they sense it, they can spot it a mile away. The ice dancing teams that were most effective were those who didn’t have to reach as far for their personas (at least in my opinion).
We need to learn to adopt the posture of good missionaries in our own neighborhoods, at our jobs, at our grocery stores, where we already exist, where we’re most authentic. Why is it that we can spot fakes anywhere and everywhere except when it comes to Christian culture?