Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Celtic Christianity?

I never gave the hype over Celtic things too much thought.  I like Celtic artwork and music but frankly, I thought that some folks went a little overboard with identifying with Celtic culture and spirituality.  When I started studying Welsh quilts, I was surprised to discover that Wales had Celtic origins... I thought Celts were Irish... right?  I was even more surprised when some authors stated that the culture of modern Wales remains the most 'Celtic' of the cultures we associate with the ancient Celts.  Ireland and Scotland (which are Celtic to the core) were a little too popular with the fans of things Celtic (and I don't mean sports fans).  Queen Victoria loved Scotland but the Victorian fascination for Scotland didn't do much for maintaining the traditional culture... romanticism sells better to tourists than reality.  The same for Ireland which has been romanticized beyond recognition at times by those who wish to connect with 'being Irish'.  But, dig a little deeper... these people have a history beyond the movies and novels and most of all, they have a Christian history which has a lot to offer to those of us who have come to the conclusion that much of what the modern Christian church is doing just isn't working.

In my lifetime, I've watched people become less and less civil to each other.  People are self-centered and driven by individualism which is encouraged by American culture.  Education seems to be more indoctrination than teaching how to think... there has even been speculation that the world is on the verge of a new dark age of thinking.  One of the terms that I've seen used for the people of the Western cultures is Neo-Barbarians.  That ought to be a concern for those who profess to be our leaders but the problem is that they don't see a problem because many of them are aspiring to be the warlords.

Now, back to 'things Celtic'.  I recently read a book about Celtic Christianity and it really struck a cord with me and I've been on my research frenzies... reading everything I can find and sorting out the information.  So, let me explain what I mean by Celtic Christianity.  When Christianity moved out across the world, different ways of being Christian developed.  There was the Roman way and the Celtic way, they were both Christian but thought differently and lived it out in their lives differently.  The Roman way didn't appreciate the created world and tended to use and abuse it more.  The Celtic folks understood the deep connection that we humans have with Creation and were aware of God's witness through nature. 

The Celts conducted 'church' through the common people and were mostly a lay-movement.  The Roman church developed levels of leadership over the common people and this is the pattern we see in most modern churches.  The Celts shared their faith through living alongside the 'barbarians' and it was a very natural way for the Celtic Christians to share their faith... it wasn't forced on their neighbors.  The Roman approach was very differrent because the Roman cultural influence on the church created a distrust of anything non-Roman so the Roman Christians tended to believe that they had to civilized people before the people could understand Christianity.  This is why there has been a focus on cleaning people up so they can be Chrisitians... which usually means a Western looking church (many leaders of the Roman styled church seemed to completely overlook the way Jesus interacted with the 'barbarians' of his time which is pretty much how the upper-level religious leaders saw the kind of people that Jesus hung out with and loved on). The Celts accepted the cultures of the people they lived alongside of and only challenged the most important practices such as human sacrifice but they did it in such a way as to show them a better way of living.  For example, they explained to the 'barbarians' that they didn't need to sacrifice each other to a god because Christianity was about a God who sacrificed himself for them... they were relieved and set free from the self-destruction of sacrifice.  Eventually, there was a show-down of sorts between the Roman and Celtic branches of the church and the Roman church prevailed.  The Celtic church submitted to the ruling and the dominent form of doing church in the British Isles was dictated by Rome. 

So, what's the big deal about a Christian movement from the early days?  For me and others, it offers a model that addresses the concerns of our imploding, postmodern culture.  There is a simplicity and depth to the Celtic model that works in my life (especially as an introvert) and I look forward to more of it.  It isn't about another way of 'being Celtic', it's about learning from some amazing early Christians who happened to be Celtic. 

More later...