Springtime, a few years ago, and some determined birds were making a nest in the eaves of our house, right above our front door. Their droppings were everywhere around our front steps, and thanks to water restrictions then in force we were not supposed to wash paved areas around the home.
I mentioned the birds at our weekly Bible study, and one of the Chinese ladies said: “Oh, that’s very good luck.”
Then she quickly added: “If you’re superstitious.”
I had already seen the conflicts that members of our Bible study group – all Asian except me – sometimes experienced between their religious practise and the customs of their home countries.
Sometimes we need to think about what is really a religious practise and what is simply culture.
My wife is from South Korea and I have spent a lot of time in her country. I often think that one of the reasons for the explosion in Christianity in post-war South Korea has been due to the Korean church’s appropriation of local culture.
When I visited David Yonggi Cho’s Full Gospel Church in Seoul – the biggest church in the world with something like 800,000 to 900,000 members – an elder pointed to a large Korean magpie that had built its nest on top of the high church gateway. “That’s very good luck,” he told me.
In South Korea, it is still not uncommon to seek out shamans for guidance about sickness, money, jobs and many other concerns. And in particular, for help in finding a husband or wife.
I attended three Full Gospel Church services, and after lengthy prayers at each, Dr Cho announced that particular people in the congregation had just been healed of various ailments. He has explained in one of his books how he teaches women to visualize exactly the sort of husband they want, in order to be successful.
Buddhism teaches the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Dr Cho’s church teaches the Fivefold Gospel and the Threefold Blessing.
There have been suggestions that Dr Cho is a Pentecostal Shaman. But I wonder, how much of our own Christian practise is shaped by the culture around us?