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Carnival And Culture And The Role Of The Christian

Carnival And Culture

There is much that is in my heart that I would like to share about this; sometimes it may overwhelm me, so I pray that all that God desires me to share in this post will be shared.

In many countries there is the celebration of Carnival. It Is by no means an exception here in Trinidad and Tobago. We have a very rich culture of Carnival that incorporates music, costumes and the works. Unfortunately, over the years, there has been an increase in immoral behavior in carnival. So much so, that many Catholics and Christians have completely exempted themselves from the celebration. Some may go as far as to preach that those who participate in carnival will go to hell. Is this what God wants of us?

I am immediately reminded of a scripture passage where Jesus was looking down on Jerusalem and he cried because of their lack of faith in him, and the scripture passage says that he was unable to work many miracles there because of this. Jesus cried because he desired so much more for them – just as he does for us – but could not do it because they did not believe in him.  I am also reminded of Jesus’ crucifixion where he marched right into the city where he knew they wanted to kill him, where he knew they wanted to destroy him, and he did it all out of love.  I am also reminded of the scripture passage in Romans 5 :8 that says that while we were in sin God proved his love for us by sending his son Jesus to die on the cross not because we were righteous. Hopefully I will be able to tie all these into this post

So what would Jesus do if you were living in Trinidad or if you were living in Brazil around this time? Will he call down fire and brimstone on all who participate in carnival? I think the answer to this can be found in the scripture passage that says very clearly that God’s desire is that none should be lost but that all may be saved and come to the knowledge of Christ (ref. 2 Peter 2: 9). So then what would Jesus do? We see time and time again in the scriptures, Jesus doing things that were completely outside of the norm, sometimes resulting in him being ostracized and branded as unclean. For example, Jesus could have whenever he encountered a leper, simply say, “be healed,” and the leper would have been healed. He has that power. But I believe to prove that God desires to get involved with our lives, he touched the lepers as part of the healing process. In this weekend’s Gospel, Jesus could no longer walk freely in the city, but had to stay on the outskirts. It was as if he and the leper changed places where the leper was now able to live with other people and the Jesus became the outcast.

Carnival costume

Carnival and culture

In the second reading for today, it starts by telling us, “Brothers and sisters, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (Ref. 1 Corinthians 10: 31)  I believe that if we as Catholics and Christians live by this word and we keep constantly in mind that God’s desire is that all be saved, then our approach and our mindset towards not only Carnival, but every other ill in our society will be changed and we will see ourselves as being the agents of transforming them not by our own power, but in the name of Jesus Christ Our Redeemer.

So back to the question; what would Jesus do if he were living in Trinidad? I believe with all that is in me that if Jesus could sing and or composed calypso music,  he would do it exceedingly well and to the glory of God. I believe that if Jesus could compose and sing Soca music he would do it exceedingly well and to the glory of God. I believe that if Jesus was a Trini and could make carnival costumes, he would do it exceedingly well and to the glory of God. Needless to say that the costumes he would make would show total respect to the human body because Jesus knows that the body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit.   I believe that if Jesus were living in our times and he could write music for pan, what heavenly music we would hear!! He would do it exceedingly well and to the glory of God. There-in lies, I believe, the answer to what approach a Christian should take to culture and to carnival.  Seriously, can you imagine for a moment, Jesus creating costumes to portray his teachings on the Beatitudes?!  But Jesus is indeed living amongst us. He has no hands but ours; no feet but ours. We must therefore be completely open to his and not our will.

Amidst all that I have written so far, I am tremendously encouraged by the results of the International Soca Monarch competition. For the third consecutive year, a relative newcomer with the determination not to join the ‘smut’ bandwagon has won with positive music and lyrics. This year, The Voice doing “Year for love”, is reminding evildoers in our society that hell exists and that if they continue in their evil ways, they will suffer the consequences of their wicked and evil deeds – they will burn in hell!

We had a bit of icing on the cake where evangelizing our culture is concerned, in that the runner-up in the International Soca Monarch was literally preaching the gospel in his very catchy and jumpy Soca selection, “Hulk”. My hats go off to The Voice and to Blaxx and I thank them sincerely for the role that they have played this year in evangelizing our culture in a very real and tangible way. We should pray for them. We should pray for more like them. I believe many may be familiar with the lyrics of “Year for love”, but for me Blaxx’s  “Hulk” was a bit of a surprise as I have never heard the Gospel so directly preached in Soca music before. Here is the second verse of “Hulk” as well as the actual song itself:

(VERSE 2)
Trials and testings does come before blessings
But we have to be patient, yea
Weeping and mourning in de night but joy inna de morning
But we just have to endure, woy

You see God doh wear no night gown
So he doh really need to lie down
Dem say what goes around comes right back around
I go wait until meh time come
So from sun up straight to sunset
Yuh could catch I bussin ah sweat
I must climb out

This should give us a very clear understanding of what is possible if we as Christians truly seek God in all that we do, and in using our culture as a possible means of evangelization. This is a challenge for all Catholic and Christian musicians – including myself – of what is possible.

So after looking at the lyrics and listening to both, what do you think? Do you still believe that the role of the Catholic and the Christian in carnival is to stay completely out of it?  I do not know either of the artists in question here.  I cannot speak to their spirituality, but clearly, they have set a path to follow.

Maybe you might be wondering at this stage, ‘what am I supposed to do?’ Should I just jump in and hope for the best? My response is absolutely not. This will constitute a direct attack on the enemy’s camp and he will not sit idly by for this to happen. All that we do must be carefully planned and under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Our hearts must be completely sold out to God before approaching the process of evangelizing our culture and our country. This cannot be effectively done in small pockets. Small unplanned approaches to this will more than likely be overwhelmed by the darkness that exists. We must be convinced in our hearts that God’s desire for all – regardless of their sins – is that they too be saved and come to the knowledge of God through Christ Jesus his son. We of ourselves must constantly seek to do all things to the glory of God. I believe that this is the one-two punch that is required to knock sin out of our culture and our country.

Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians wrote in 1 Corinthians 15: 10, “but what I am now, I am through the grace of God, and the grace which was given to me has not been wasted.” As Catholics and Christians on our way to God, we must always be clothed in sincere humility in the recognition that it is the grace of God that sustains us. When we lose sight of this fact, we have effectively lost our way in our journey to God. When we recognize that it is through the grace of God that we are who we are and where we are, then it is easier to look at others who may be lost in sin, not through the eyes of condemnation but through the eyes of Christ and with a desire to want to help them along that road that leads to their salvation.

We all would have heard at some point in time that when a problem exists, we can either be part of the problem, or we can be part of the solution. There is no demilitarisation zone. Neutrality and indifference contributes to the problem. So we must decide as individuals whether we are going to be part of the problem, or we will become part of the solution. If we step back a little from all that I have shared so far, it can be very clearly seen that it is not applicable to Carnival alone but to every ill that faces our society and our world. Being a Catholic and Christian is not just mere words. There is a tremendous responsibility that has been bestowed on every baptized Catholic because we have been baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Much has been given us, and to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12: 48).  So we are not baptized to make up numbers! No! We are baptised into the Body of Christ to be part of the building of the kingdom of God. So whenever there is a problem, one of the first set of people who should step up to resolve that problem should be Christians. If we put on the mind of Christ, then there is absolutely nothing that we cannot do. There will be no problem, be it national or otherwise that we cannot resolve, in the name of Christ Jesus. We must however be unreservedly for Christ Jesus. We cannot attempt to walk both sides of the fence. We cannot attempt to serve two masters. We cannot be lukewarm or indifferent. The word of God tells us that if we are lukewarm God will vomit us out! (Ref. Revelation 3: 16) That is very strong language!  So neutrality is completely out of the question. We are either for God or we are against him. We are either for a resolution to the problems that we face or we are contributing to the problems; be it directly or indirectly by our silence.

Even if we may not think that we can actively do anything positive to influence the situation, there is always prayer. We can pray for conversion. Never underestimate the power of prayer coming from hearts that truly desire God’s will. This rises up like incense unto our God, and he will hear our cries. So prayer is a very important part of evangelizing our culture and our country.

Also do not underestimate the role of the media in all of this. We need to pressure the media into reporting truth and things that are life-giving. The media has played a very big role, whether they want to admit it or not, in much of the immorality that we see in our society. We must demand change for the better from our media houses, be it print, audio or video. We must demand of them that they should no longer be showing death and the things that do not give life in the way that they have been reporting it. Their being on board as well with our whole approach to transforming our culture and our nation is a big plus. If however, they continue along their current part, then we can simply choose not to support them. We need to pray for our media and we should let them know that some of the things that are presented and not acceptable. Part of the evangelization of our culture and of our nation stems from us no longer being silent on matters such as these. For example we must let them know that we do not accept vile and semi-nude images of masqueraders. We must let them know that we will no longer accept them displaying dead bodies on the front page of their newspapers. In fact, whenever this is done, our responsibility as Christians is not to buy them.

Carnival Costume

Carnival Costume

Saint Leo the Great once wrote, “the true Catholic faith professes that the being of all creatures, be they spiritual or corporal, is good, and that no being is by nature evil, since God, the creator of all things, made nothing that is not good.”  There is intrinsic goodness in in our culture. There is intrinsic goodness in our music. There is intrinsic goodness in our creativity as a people. The real problem is not our culture. The real problem is not our music nor is it our creativity. The real problem is our sinfulness and we must recognize this. It is not our culture that is at fault, nor is it our music or our creativity. It is the injection of sin into all of this that makes it corrupt and distasteful. So as Christians our approach should be to deal with the sin factor. We must aim to shut the sin factory down.

As Catholics and Christians, our presence in our world, our presence in Trinidad and Tobago, should help to make our country and our culture move from being less human, to being more human and holy, the way God intended it to be. Catholics and Christians unified by God and disciplined by the gospel should be different from what is seen in the world, and by extension, should make a difference. This difference should be an important way of saving the world and our culture. If we are meant to bring wholeness and holiness to our country and our world, then this must first be seen among us. We must therefore be living lives rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There must be no compromise nor double standards in the way we live. We must be completely sold out to Christ.

In an interview dated January 29th 2017, and recorded on the Catholic News Agency, when asked about his specific mission for the laity, Pope Francis responded with yet another appeal for the laity to go outside of oneself in evangelization. He appealed to the laity to come out of their comfort zones. During that interview, Pope Francis said and I quote,  “Sometimes I think the best business we can do with many Christians, is to sell them mothballs so that they can put them in their clothes and in their lives and aren’t eaten by moths.” Pope Francis also said that many Christians are locked up and they are going to get eaten by moths. “They have to go out and they have to go and bring the message of Jesus to others,” he said, explaining that the good news is meant to be shared and not stored away.

Finally, what would happen if Catholics and Christians were to really go out and seek to take the good news into our culture, our carnival and into our country? What would happen if as a body truly seeking to do God’s will and with our hearts set on him, we sought to evangelize every aspect of our culture and of our country? What would happen is our culture and our land would be transformed. Will this be easy? It will not but it is certainly worth it!

I pray that the fresh Breeze of God’s Holy Spirit would truly convict the hearts of every Christian to be part of this new evangelization of transforming culture and country, and that we will be neither ashamed nor afraid to answer the call, knowing fully well that God will grant every Grace needed to do what he desires. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen!

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One comment

  1. gale mohammed-oxley

    This is a good article reflecting on culture and carnival in the life of the Christian and Catholics. I do hope many can read this and appreciate God’s purpose for TnT in evangelizing the world. Carnival is creation personigied. What a thing!

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