The Christmas tree in India
A picture speaks a thousand words, and that is certainly true in this case, so be sure to pay attention to the photos that accompany this post!
While strolling through an internationally famous botanical garden in India last summer, my group came upon a giant Cook’s Pine tree. Actually, there were two of them flanking a walkway. The trees have a prominent identification sign at their base that reads, “Christmas Tree/Cook’s Pine. This is a tall evergreen tree, grows to a height of 60-70 mts. This tree is grown in big parks, botanical gardens and church premises for its attractive ornamental look. The Christian community treats this tree as sacred one and worship during Christmas. This tree was planted by Shri Khan Gafar Khan (Frontier Gandhi) on Dec. 25, 1969 in memory of his visit to Lalbagh.”
I was really taken aback. You know in the cartoons when someone is surprised or aghast and their mouth drops open and hits the ground? I’m pretty sure that I did that, only not in cartoon fashion. At least, that was my first reaction.
I had to then take a step back and put on my cultural eyes and look at Christmas from the angle of my brothers and sisters in other countries and cultures and other religious backgrounds. I have to say, Christmas looks a little like tree worship when I look at it that way, as much as I hate to say it or admit it.
I have a Christmas tree in my house, just like most of my other friends and neighbors back in the U.S. In fact, back when I still lived in Texas and we had our large historic family home, I admit to being a little fanatic about Christmas decorating. (We had a Christmas tree in the kitchen, the dining room, and the living room.) So I guess if I were an outsider looking in, it would probably appear that the Christmas tree is something central to my belief system and it might appear that I had a worship-relationship with the tree.
This experience also makes me look at how I view the customs and culture that I live in and serve in the mission field. It makes me question myself. How many things have I observed as an ‘outsider’ and made wrong assumptions about? How many things have I neglected to ask about or question or learn about, yet I assumed that I understood? How many times have I been wrong? How many times have I thought that I knew what my other-culture friend was saying or thinking, but been wrong? I’m sure the answer is many!
Sometimes, I look at myself and my culture through the eyes of others, and it all seems pretty confusing and odd. And it is, really. Because life is a little confusing and a little messy and a little odd.
I wish I could shake up the world, like the little snow globes on the shelf, and everything would just suddenly make sense and everyone would suddenly understand. That it would all fall into place and be perfect. But we aren’t designed that way. It isn’t relational. It doesn’t foster community. God created us to be in relationship with each other. The only part of the creation story that He didn’t say was “good” and that he wasn’t pleased with was the fact that He had created Adam alone. So he fixed it. He made someone for Adam. We are created for relationship and community. We need to talk to each other, to learn about each other in order to make sense of it all and to understand.
So this holiday season, I’m learning more. I’m asking more questions. I’m not assuming so much. I’m not just going with the first answer. I’m really digging in and trying to understand, to listen more, and to pay more attention.
I’m living with and learning about different cultures this year, different people groups, and I want to be the best learner that I can be. More than that, I want to be in community with the people I am learning from. I want to understand, not assume.
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Signs of hope in South Sudan - Nov 19 2013
Jim Ramsay, vice president for mission ministries, recently visited The Mission Society field in South Sudan. Here he talks with Mission Network News about the fight against polio and malaria and what Christians are doing to help the South Sudanese gain better healthcare.