Recently the mother of a young girl pointed me out to her daughter because they saw my picture in the local paper every week. But when the little girl saw me she said,”But mommy, where’s his cowboy hat?” I got a chuckle out of that, especially because a few years ago I never went anywhere without it. In fact when I worked at Rafter Six Guest Ranch, just before I began pastoring, I wore the whole shebang every day. I once walked into the Cochrane IGA with my spurs a–jingling not even realizing it till I noticed people looking at me a little funny.
That style suited my first church in South West Saskatchewan very well with all the ranch country down there. It worked because I identified with the people in the church and community. Most of my visitation involved some sort of ranch or farm activity. I was at one of our folk’s ranch the one day and he introduced me to his neighbor who happened to be over. “This is David. He’s the pastor from Golden Prairie.” His neighbor responded, “Oh, what pasture do you manage?” I laughed as I corrected him, especially because you could read the near panic in his eyes trying to remember if he’d said anything he now regretted. Sunday mornings I wore my old fashioned riding britches, complete with leather suspenders, with the pantlegs tucked into my buckaroo styled cowboy boots (much to Wendy’s chagrin).
When we moved to Falkland in the interior of BC I wrongly assumed it would be the same. The culture was different there and even though I came to realize that, I never made the effort to identify with that culture. Not that I didn’t get involved in the community, and I untucked my pantlegs from my boots, but I still just kept trying to insert my own culture into theirs. I never really identified myself with the local culture.
Paul said that when he was with the Greeks, he became Greek; when he was with the Jews he became Jewish. He made the effort to identify with the local culture he was seeking to serve and express Jesus to. In doing so he was saying, “You are worthwhile. You are treasured. You are worth knowing and understanding, and Jesus values you and wants a relationship with you too.” Jesus doesn’t want to get rid of our cultural identity, he wants to transform it.
So now here in Benalto I wear a ball cap more often than a cowboy hat, and sometimes I even wear shorts (actually I always wear shorts when I’m coaching football). But wherever I’m at and whoever I’m with I try to make the effort to identify with that person because they are valuable. As a Jesus follower how do you relate to your neighbors?