There are three things that I have learned not to poke fun at in Australia:
- Slim Dusty
It’s very easy to ridicule Vegemite because it tastes like scrapings from the oil pan of a rusted-out old ute—but I promised Christine that I wouldn’t make fun of it.
I don’t know much about the country singer Slim Dusty, but the songs that I’ve heard sound, well … different.
Because my musical tastes bend at a different angle, Slim scratches my eardrums like a wandering tomcat
—but I promised Christine that I wouldn’t make fun of his sound.
Cricket makes little sense and, even speaking as a baseball fan who can watch nine innings for one hit ball, I still can’t understand how one person can bat for a whole day and be rewarded for hitting foul balls while the rest of his team sit in the stands wearing cardigan sweaters, putting white sunscreen on their lips and noses. I didn’t promise Christine that I wouldn’t make fun of cricket.
Most Australians rejoice at being young and free to eat Vegemite while listening to Slim Dusty duel with a tabby on the prowl during a cricket match that lasts 42 hours with only two people batting and 19 breaks for tea. These three things are precious to them, I think, and, as I soak in the Australian culture, I begin to appreciate them—even if I don’t understand them.
It happens in churches, too.
There are some precious things in Lutheran churches that ‘outsiders’ don’t understand either. I’ve heard these before:
- Why are people singing? And what’s with the organ? Do they listen to organ music on their iPods?
- Why does the pastor wear a dress to church?
- Why do people sound sad when they say ‘Alleluia?’ I thought it was a happy word?
- Why do people who read the lessons sound like they are reading from an economics textbook?
- Why do we have to confess our sins every week? Doesn’t God already know what’s going on?
Often the tendency is to become defensive when these ‘precious’ things are discussed, but usually, I would guess, we do some things in church because we’ve always done them and we’ve forgotten exactly why. Perhaps there should be some discussion about the purpose of music, the history of teaching the faith through sound. Maybe we could remind the congregation that a pastor’s clothes should not distract from the service; the stole represents a yoking to God, for example. We should be shouting the ‘Alleluia’ at the top of our voices and reading the Bible should be an expression of wonder. And confession is not for God’s sake, but for ours.
Maybe we just need to be reminded of why we do what we do and why that makes these things precious to us.
PS: Christine doesn’t like Slim Dusty’s music either.
Reid Matthias is pastor of Green Pastures Lutheran Church, Lockrose, Queensland.