Looking through our Western lens at other cultures, it's easy to spot syncretism. That's when folk beliefs and other religions and non-Christian values mix with Christian beliefs to make a new system that opposes scriptural principles. The Bible and my textbooks are full of examples of resulting mish-mash and chaos when people depend on things besides God's provision to keep them safe. Villagers wear charms, amulets, and tattoos. The urban poor have special rituals. Across the world, people visit witch doctors and shamans for advice, keeping their Christian beliefs as "high religion" for Sunday and other other meeting times. They spend time and energy preserving ungodly systems.
Wait a minute. How is that different from the American culture?
We have gurus for how-tos on everything from meditation (Zen calm) to exercise (Hindu yoga) to carrying around lucky charms (best handbags and high-end jewelry, success guaranteed). We depend on Oprah and Dr. Phil or Carucci (NFL) and Hal Bodley (Mariners) to keep us on track. We check astrology quizzes on FB to see "what type of person" we are by the week we were born. We have routines we depend on for safe passage through the day. "Oops, I must have gotten out of the wrong side of the bed," we say when something bad happens. Ever watch the rituals sports players go through for luck before or during a game?
It's not that some things are wrong in themselves. But our lives and balance sheets show what we have prioritized over our faith. We pay our dues to God by attending a Sunday morning song service and sermon (is it over yet?), then spend our time and money on Sunday afternoon at restaurants and the mall, the regional center of commerce and materialism. A global missionary remarked to me last week that he was struck by the temple atmosphere as he sat in a mall, watching the aimless wander from store to store. He was appalled at the costly decoration of the altars of the Gap and A&F (where do those window decorations go?) He was stunned by the veneration of "stuff" to bring satisfaction and fill the empty heart. What happened to Jesus' observation that "You can't serve God and mammon?"
Work provides our needs. It brings us money, satisfaction, affirmation. We expend our energies in a secular setting, putting our faith aside as something that doesn't belong on the job. Meanwhile our coworkers are struggling with family issues, illness, cares of this life, weighed by the weight of guilt and sin and needing Good News. They may have no idea we are hoarding a treasure beyond compare. We lose our jobs and wonder why God is not providing when we haven't ever expressed our gratitude and his ownership by tithing. (No, I'm not saying if you don't tithe God will punish you by taking your job away!)
Do our kids take first place on the schedule as we run them from one activity to another? "There's not time for devotions or sitting to talk about God," one mom complained to me. Off she went to take her kids to music and ballet. Of course, we teach them to think highly of themselves, so that they can fight to survive in a capitalist society. "Look out for me. I'm the center of the world." We'd recognize it as pure idolotry, if we'd see it in another culture.
We train the young to worship sports and venerate professional players (the priests of the religion). Some players become god-like, and their accomplishments substitute for ours as our families watch from the sofa or sit in the stands to applaud them. TV and movies swallow our resources without a thank-you. We treat movie stars like deities, and reward them for modeling shallow and self-centered excess.
I'm not immune. I look at my schedule and checkbook and compare that to the the time I spend talking about the Pearl of Great Price. It doesn't always balance into the holistic, abundant life God promises to those who serve him with all their heart, all their mind, and all their body.
I'm reevaluating my life, looking again at our worship of goods, sports, and celebrities. We're deeply vested in a culture in America that is desperate for committed and prophetic missionaries, especially when viewed through the lens of global missions. Who needs Good News through us today?