As the weekend of green beer and cabbage approaches, it’s appropriate to consider the rich heritage most of enjoy without even knowing it, passed down from the Celtic Christian communities of Ireland and Scotland during the dark ages. You can learn about through a favorite book of mine, “How the Irish Saved Civilization”, whose thesis is that when the Roman empire collapsed and the west was plunged into centuries of barbarism and fear, the bastions of sanity were the Celtic monasteries. This is because a form of Christianity existed north of Hadrian’s wall and in Ireland that was beyond the reach of the Roman Empire. As such, its expressions of faith stood in refreshing distinction to that which was born in the midst of an authoritarian empire.
A great synopsis of the differences can be found here, and include egalitarianism instead of hierarchy, and an emphasis on the goodness of creation rather than the all too common Gnostic view that this physical world is inherently evil. The most famous Celtic saint is Patrick, whose day we celebrate on March 17th. This man of prayer, service, and evangelism, can help us recalibrate our faith if we’ll take a few moments to look at his life and seek to follow his example. From him we learn:
1. That the best way forward is to love the world, just as Jesus did. Patrick had escaped slavery in Ireland, but God led him to return to the land of his captors as an evangelist, inviting people to turn from their idols and enter into the vibrant joy of a relationship with God through the person of Christ. Rather than creating an “utterly other” subculture, Patrick had his own brewmaster on his evangelism team. In so doing he emulates Christ, who used the symbols and life of his surrounding culture to communicate the gospel, and was comfortable at parties. When we misread “love not the world” as a call to withdraw into our own self-referential subculture, we become irrelevant and hopelessly isolated. Love not the world ought to mean that we distance ourselves from the violence, pride, materialism, and nationalism that are just some of false gods we’ve erected. Distance ourselves from those idols, but move in and be present in the culture. Drink the coffee, ski the slopes, climb the hills, listen to the music, and build bridges between all of it and Christ.
2. That creation care and contentment are central realities of real faith. Empires have, forever, slash and burned their way to prominence, right down to the present time. Our resilient earth can take a lot, but there are limits, and every indication is that we’re reaching them. Celtic faith had no interest in upward mobility and the endless pursuit of more. Rather, they took seriously their calling to steward and care for earth. The recognized the earth as both a source of provision, and the Master Artist’s pallet through which God woos people. We need to get over our materialism and discovery the rustic contentment that enables stewardship of the oceans and forests. The celts took their cue from eastern orthodoxy which itself has a strong creation theology reminiscent of Native Americans. It was chief Seattle who said “We do not inherit the earth from our anscestors; we borrow it from our children”. When the church weds itself indiscrimenantly to the empire, creation always loses, because empires are always built on the mantra of growth. We ought to continually look for ways to care for the earth, simplifiy our lives, and support works that are caring for the earth in Jesus name, like this.
Because we’ve been redeemed in the legal sense, we’re sent out into the world on a mission of redemption that’s more than legal because redeem also means, “to change for the better” or “to transform” or “to restore”. This means that Christ’s redeeming power ought to flow through you and I into other places, relationships, institutions, neighborhoods. “Gospel” means good news and the good news the declaration that God isn’t just redeeming spirits; God is redeeming everything. A world of reconciliation, healing, justice, mercy, and celebration is coming, where Christ is king and all’s well! Because of this, we ought to be the most joy filled people on the planet.
Dance a jig this weekend, because Christ’s reign has begun, and go forth as people of hope, working for the redemption of everything. Here are some of the ways you can join in.
These people plant trees to bring economic and environmental redemption.
These people are working to bring literal, human, redemption from slavery
These people are working to redeem the poorest of the poor around the world. Our church partners with their work in rural Rwanda
But these are all monetary. If you start there, don’t stop there. Go be a blessing somewhere, as the namesake of the new pope prayed:
Where there is darkness, may you sow light
Where there is injury, may you sow pardon
Where this is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy.
That ought to make for a fine weekend, with or without green beer and cabbage.