What do we celebrate?

Published 12:43 pm Saturday, October 18, 2014

by Andrew Book

My wife, Joy, and I spent a school year living in southern India. India, especially rural India, is a very different culture from what we were used to in America. The differences in culture challenged us and surprised us on a regular basis as we daily discovered something new about how the people of Mori (the town where we lived) lived their lives, conducted business, worshipped, related to one another and more. From our perspective as Americans, we often thought that the culture and ways of living in Mori seemed strange, but it would be more true to say that the American way of doing things is strange. After all, there are many more people in India than America, so that makes the Indian way of life “normal,” right?

One of the practices that surprised, frustrated and challenged us was the change in life during festival season. Throughout the several months that made up festival season, school was closed at least a day or two every week. This was the frustrating part because we were teaching and we struggled to make lesson plans when we could not count on students showing up. Festival season was a combination of many different holidays dedicated to worshipping various Hindu gods. While I do not remember all of the holidays we saw celebrated around us, festival season challenged me to think about the place of celebration in my life, and the importance of creating time to celebrate the people and events that have shaped us.

This week was marked by the celebration of Columbus Day here in America. Columbus Day has become a controversial holiday for some people, as we have come to acknowledge the ways that Christopher Columbus oppressed the native people of this land, and as we have come to recognize that conquering others is not necessarily something we want to celebrate. As a result, we are in a place where we need to ask ourselves what we want to celebrate. Each of us needs to make our own decision about whether Christopher Columbus is the kind of hero we want to hold up for our kids to imitate. But the universal lesson from Columbus Day and “festival season” is that what we celebrate is going to shape and change us. As a result, we need to make time in our lives for remembering and celebrating the people and events reflect the best of who we hope to become.

There are many ways that we can celebrate: feasting, parties, reenactments or, my personal favorite, doing something that embodies the spirit of the event or person we are celebrating.

Let me give you an example: Sunday, Oct. 19, is the birthday of a man named John Woolman. John was a devout Christian in the Quaker tradition who was convinced that slavery was wrong. He was one of the first people of European decent who actively opposed slavery in the United States (Woolman was born in 1720). So, to celebrate Woolman and the fight against slavery, I am going to do something today that opposes the oppression of people around the world. International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org) is an organization that works to end modern-day slavery, and to celebrate Woolman today, I am going to make a donation to IJM. It is my little way of celebrating his life and letting his example shape me. [I pulled Woolman’s story from today’s entry in a book called, “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne,” Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro (Zondervan, 2010). This book is a great resource for anyone looking to find some new heroes to celebrate!]

We need heroes who reflect the best of humanity, who give us something to strive toward, and give our kids people to look up to who lived the kind of lives we hope our children will live. Woolman is one of those people for me, so I will celebrate him today.

As part of our worship at Courtland United Methodist Church, I love to pull in the stories of women and men who show us a better way to live. Some of those stories are people from scripture, but there are many people who have lived in the hundreds of years since scripture was written that lived lives that are worth celebrating. We need to celebrate them because the people we celebrate are the people we want to emulate. They are the people we want to become. We all need examples.

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org