Cultural Appropriation and Passover

More than ever, it seems like “woke” America finds the concept of “cultural appropriation” insulting at the least, and racist at worst.  I would imagine that the phrase “woke America” is insulting as well, now that I think of it.  The term “cultural appropriation” is defined by Oxford as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”

I get how cultural appropriation can often seem ugly or rude.  I completely understand how the Cleveland Indians’ [former] team name and mascot could be seen as offensive.  The intent may not have been “racist”, in the sense that Cleveland’s baseball fans hate Native Americans, but certainly the goal of their marketing department wasn’t to find the best way to honor them either. There’s a reason why ball-teams use birds for their names, and why the White Socks were named after footwear, not white people.   

I also understand how much more of a kerfuffle can arise when aspects of religion get appropriated by outsiders. Catholic rosary beads, images of Buddha and even Indian deities have all become popular to turn into fashion, t-shirts, and home décor. The city of Mecca, the center of Islamic pilgrimage is often used in sentences such as, “Disneyland is like Mecca to me.” Even witches get upset when their wickedest of days transforms into the American corn-syrup festival each fall. None of those specifics offend me in the slightest. Frankly, I find some of this kind of amusing in a blind-leading-the-blind sort of way. 

Despite being offended that the name “Jesus Christ” has been appropriated by the world as form of absent-minded profanity, Christians remain the best worst example of religious cultural appropriators. We’ve appropriated just about every bit of pagan tradition and made it our own. Late December, the season devoted by the Greeks to Zeus, and Romans to Saturn, was rebranded as “Christmas time”.  The trees which the druids would bring into their homes have become a commonplace fashion statement ever since Queen Victoria. The yule logs once only lit in the process of sun-worship during the darkest time of year, are now available to burn on 4K screens on Netflix.  Mardi Gras and Lent mark the Christian countdown to Easter: all three are non-biblical traditions simply appropriated from pagan worship.  Even if you have found personal meaning in any of these events, they remain unbiblical and can only be justified out of ignorance.   What’s most disturbing to me isn’t their origins, it’s that fact that we’ve replaced pure biblical practices with pure twaddle–and then proudly declare that twaddle as Holy.  

The ultimate irony is that the prime directive of the people of God, Jews and Christians alike, is to disseminate Kingdom Culture, as defined by Scripture, to the ends of the earth. This directive is set forth in Genesis 12:2-3:

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 

I’ve heard this verse quoted ad nauseum in solicitations for money for Jewish causes.  In Judaism, Abraham is considered a Jew—so the pitch goes, if you want to be financially blessed yourself, send money their way and watch the blessing work.

Within Christianity, this same verse is often cited as “fulfilled” with the advent of Messiah. Messiah is the promised seed, true, but the point of a seed is to grow, spread, and produce fruit. What good is a King without a Kingdom? The everlasting goal of God’s Kingdom, as we just read in Genesis 12, is not simply to bless its citizens, but for it’s citizens to bless its non-citizens. This mission did not end with Messiah’s coming. As he did with each Old Testament concept, Messiah came to underscore these principles, not to check any off of a list. The goal of a disciple is to spread Kingdom Culture, not to envy the cultures of the world and adopt theirs. Not to over sell it, but mixing the Holy and the profane is the biblical definition of adultery. 

Last summer, the National Museum of African American History and Culture had to apologize and eventually remove an exhibit called “Aspects and Assumptions of White Culture in the United States”. The core attributes on display weren’t “white” as much as they were key parts of Kingdom Culture. The nuclear family structure, objective thinking, a “protestant” work ethic, a one God concept, a respect for authority, optimism, a “rigid” time schedule, relying on written law—it seemed as if this exhibit was designed to be push-back on these principles. Humans being humans, we have surely twisted and misapplied many of these principles, and there were other attributes in the exhibit that were indeed contrary to scripture, such as “win at all costs.”  I’m all for any and every examination of the fruits of our culture, and course corrections certainly must be made.  But the irony that ignoring race and skin color is also a key aspect to Kingdom Culture shouldn’t be ignored either.

To be sure, the core of our Kingdom influence is built upon the greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”, as originally found in Leviticus 19:18. This command paints with a very broad brush—especially when Messiah teaches that a “neighbor” is NOT always a fellow citizen or even someone who holds correct doctrine.  In this crucial way, this 4,000 year old mandate is still functioning as intended.  Much of what is called “western culture” is driven by this Golden Rule, even if it falls short in practice, and even if God isn’t given proper credit. Charitable giving, for example, spearheaded by Jews and Christians, dwarfs what the rest of the world gives to the poor and needy.

When Messiah paraphrases this Levitical verse in Matthew 7:12, he adds to it: “this is the Law and the Prophets”. Certainly, he didn’t mean that “loving our neighbor” replaces the Law of God.  He meant that each and every instruction in Scripture, primarily the instructions in the first five books (aka The Law, aka The Torah) has as its primary objective expressing the true love of God, and the mission of spreading that true love around the world.  He also is saying that a true prophet, then and now, has that same objective.  A disciple of Messiah is on that same mission, required to live a lifestyle of love within the framework of Holy law—the law that defines love (Psalm 119, Romans 7:12, Romans 7:22, 13:8-10).

The Biblical Holidays (the word “Holidays” has been appropriated from the term “Holy Days”) are therefore consistent with that same mission.  They are often referred to as “Jewish Holidays”, and I’d be proud of that association if I were a Jew, even if that label is inaccurate. These Holy Appointed Times belong to the Creator of the universe. They are the times and seasons given by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to Moses not for the sake of the Jews specifically, or Israel more broadly, but for the purpose of blessing all of humanity. Christianity, ignorant of the purpose of these Holy Days, has instead claimed and modified the holidays of the world as their own, leaving the Appointed Times for the Jews alone to practice and to define.  This leaves those of us who follow The King of the Jews to study afresh and begin to renew our minds to the Word of God when it comes to when and what we celebrate, and why.

Each of these seven Holy Times, when understood and celebrated in order, tells the full story of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Each of these events is historic, looking back at miracles and movements of God in our past.  Each is also prophetic, telling the story of Messiah’s birth, death, resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit, his final return, and the final destruction of all evil. Each holiday also represents milestones in the lives of individual believers. Our redemption and sanctification, the working out of our salvation, the resurrection of the righteous, and the final judgment of all humanity.  These are the days Christians have neglected. These are the days Christians have replaced. These are the opportunities we have missed for 2,000 years to spread the Kingdom Culture, and to invite the world to appropriate God’s culture.  Passover is the first of these appointed times.  

The ritual of Passover is not for the world to appropriate or celebrate, because Passover highlights the futile ways and lies of the world’s systems. However the invitation to celebrate is offered to those in the world who desperately want to leave it.  

To those who have already left, it offers an annual reminder of not just the freedom we experience in God’s Kingdom, but the high cost of that freedom.  It provides a reminder of the origins of all of God’s people, not just the Jews.  Passover literally defines our role in the world and the embedded principles give us a foundation to overcome every obstacle we face in our lives. Without understanding Passover, we don’t understand the fullness of what Messiah did for us on the cross and what is expected of us as a result.

In the next article, I’ll give the Cliff’s notes version of the Passover story for those that are less familiar with the plot and the characters.  We’ll flash ahead to look at the other six Appointed Times, so we can see context and get some direction.  We’ll eventually discuss the timing of Passover, including the unique locations of the sun, moon, and stars.  Following that will be a series of focused studies on the major and minor elements of the Passover ritual, as well as the nature of religious ritual in general.   I hope that these articles are thought provoking and convicting.   There is a lot going on in the world.   It is crying out for Kingdom Culture.

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