the fingerprints of God on a "secular" society

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Tonight when I go to bed, we will have already spent 12 amazing days in the beautiful country of España, meaning that we’re already more than 10% done with our 105 total days on Spain Term (I know it’s not exactly 100 days like the hashtag, but hey)! Isn’t that crazy? It feels like there’s no way that we’ve been here this long, but at the same time, it feels like we’ve already been here for a month. And that makes absolutely no sense, but I’m sure everyone has experienced that sensation at one point in life or another. Recap:

Anyway, for this update, I want to talk a little about finding Jesus in the little things around you and appreciating the fact everyone single one of the 7 billion people on this planet was made in the image of God. It’s just something that I’ve been thinking about for a day or two. But first! Update!

So like I said, we’ll have been here for 12 days tonight, and that’s absolutely insane. We haven’t even had a real full week of classes yet, because we didn’t start until Wednesday last week, and we don’t have class tomorrow because our group is traveling to Madrid for the weekend! (Classes canceled for excursions? Count me in.)

However, at the same time, I definitely feel like I’m starting to get into a rhythm here. I’m over jetlag. I don’t get lost walking to and from class anymore. I think I’m understanding and speaking Spanish a little better after a week and a half. I finally figured out how to get the temperamental key to my house to work so my host mom doesn’t have to let me in every day, and I can even make my way to a couple of shops and a couple of the panaderías (bakeries) by myself! So I’d say that it’s been a pretty good learning experience so far, and sometimes it even feels like I’m adulting (but let’s be real, who am I kidding?).

Finally, my small group finally got everything figured out for fall break!! At least concerning flights & lodging, so that’s really exciting!! More updates to come about that! So stay tuned.

Thoughts:

So, anyway, my thoughts this week have been revolving around balance, and specifically how to continue connecting with God over the course of this semester in a secular society (which is what so many people kept saying to describe the spiritual atmosphere in Spain, not my own words, haha). But after having been here for a little over a week, I think that a lot of people possibly misunderstand what secular really means, because that word has a lot of strong negative connotations for American Christians. I think that oftentimes, people imagine “secular societies” to be Bible burning, religion hating societies where everyone is an atheist and you’ll be persecuted if you subscribe to any sort of religion (at least in my most horrible extrapolations of what that word means). But in reality, it just means that most people don’t really care for religion. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be warm, hospitable people who can still bring light even if they don’t necessarily believe.

And the reason that I want to talk about this is that I think that, much too often, Christians get way too caught up in labels and what their preconceived notions tell them that certain descriptors mean. After all, what kind of things come to mind when you hear or see the words ‘democrat,’ ‘republican,’ ‘secular,’ ‘religious,’ ‘gay,’ ‘straight,’ ‘communism,’ ‘laissez-faire,’ and other things like that? I’m sure that depending on your upbringing, you would lump some of those words into the ‘good’ category and others into the ‘bad’ category, just because of the connotations they hold, and I for one, think that’s the wrong way to approach things. I think that we need to start really understanding people and things before we make rash judgments about them.

As my classical literature professor told our class earlier this week, “fascism, communism, and socialism aren’t bad in and of themselves. True, they might not necessarily work out in a given society, but we only attribute negative labels to these things because of the bad people that advocated for them.” I think that’s a really important thing to remember in general. Yeah, some people in the past may have taken secularism to the extreme by outlawing religion and hunting down Christians and others and stuff like that, but that doesn’t mean that there’s anything inherently evil about secularism in and of itself. After all, countries like Iran are theocratic nations where the government and laws abide by a specific religion, and we don’t think that’s good either. Sometimes, a secular state is the best incubator for religious liberty, because it ensures that no specific one is elevated above the others.

So, I got a little off topic, but basically, I want those of you reading to start to think about why we have certain connotations associated with certain words and certain labels and whether or not those connotations and labels are correct or not. Does secular have to equate to evil? Does democrat and liberal have to equate to bad? What about gay and straight? Do those by nature have to be good or bad?

Let me leave you with this.

For our semester here in Spain, all of us are staying with different host families, one student per family. When we arrived, all of our host families came to greet us and take us back to our homes for the rest of the semester. As the stereotype suggested, many of these host moms and dads aren’t religious. They don’t believe in God, or they do, but don’t really do anything about it. They don’t go to church. They might not even have a single Bible in their houses.

But they were excited to see us when we arrived, and I daresay that they loved us even before we got there or as soon as they saw us. And a lot of these people may or may not be Christians.

My one friend’s host mom grabbed her hand as soon as she saw her and had joy on her face as she talked with the onsite director of our program, asking about my friend in third person as she stood there, seeing if she had any allergies, seeing if she needed anything special, and saying how excited she was to have her staying with her.

This woman was so joyful and excited about a random American college student who she didn’t know, who didn’t speak the same native language, and who was different in so many ways. But the thing was that none of that mattered, and it was beautiful. There aren’t a lot of words to describe that.

And the thing is, I think that a lot of American Christians (myself included) could learn a lot from that situation. Our host families and host parents hardly knew anything about us before we arrived. All they had was names, not even pictures, unless we had sent them beforehand. All they knew was that we were coming to spend three and a half months living in the country that they called home and to learn their language. That was all they needed to be joyful and excited about our arrival, the anticipation that they were going to get to know us and get to share some of their lives, their history, their culture, their language, and their country with us.

In my own opinion, I think that’s how Christians should approach the world. Instead of constantly trying to win political or theological debates, or trying to convince people that they’re sinners in need of repentance, I think that we would probably do a lot better by adopting the mentality of our Spanish host families. We might not know anything at all about the people that we’re going to meet over the course of our lives, but what we do know is that we have an incredible story of grace, redemption, and love to share with them. We have a history and a faith that stretches back thousands of years, and we have a God and a Friend who loves us so deeply that He sacrificed His own life in order to save ours. I think that warrants some joy and excitement on our part, don’t you? So shouldn’t we be excited and joyful to be able to share some of our lives, our history, our culture, our language (holla at Christianese), and our love with people?

To that end, I think this comparison is warranted. Part of the reason that we’re doing so well in Spain is that we see these people and we want to be a part of this country and a part of this language community from what we see in them.

In the same way, if people looked at us, would they want to be a part of this? Would they want to be Christians and involved in churches judging solely from what they saw of us? Or would they crunch up their faces and start walking the other way because they didn’t want to be associated with us?

I think it’s time that Christians started being more vibrant about their faith, overflowing with joy and loving with the abandon that draws people in, rather than pushing people away with debates and disputes.

Who knew that I’d be learning so much about Jesus, faith, and how to live authentically in such a “secular” country? It appears as if even “secular” countries can be covered in the fingerprints of God. They were all created by Him weren’t they?

Haha, well until next time! Hasta luego!