What does it mean to be influenced but not defined by cultural traditions?
A colourful five-by-three-foot map graces my office wall – an impulse buy on a recent shopping trip. For less than $20 I can see all the nations of the world anytime I want. Some are tiny, others vast. There are Far East countries with names hard to pronounce; African countries with new names and old problems; cold places, hot places; powerful places and poor places. There are fascinating places with exotic animals and plants, historical places and famous places I will only ever dream of visiting.
There’s Europe – a tight group of geographically small countries with tremendous influence on the rest of the world. Here the Reformation was born and two World Wars erupted. And here I trace my German heritage.
My parents were in that wave of thousands of immigrants who came to Canada in the early 1950s, with high hopes and little else. They wanted a fresh start, but often longed for the familiarity of the languages and cultures they left behind. They started out in Northern Ontario, sponsored by a mining company. It was a close-knit community, but with long winters and limited opportunities, my family moved to Southern Ontario.
Many Dutch people came to Canada with dreams of farming the wide open spaces. Some were treated badly by unscrupulous sponsors. Most persevered and many, in time, became successful farmers and business people themselves. I grew up in a town surrounded by an agricultural hinterland and a strong Dutch presence, including numerous Reformed Churches of various stripes. To us they were all “Dutch” churches.
Identity in Christ
Their kids hung out with us, but somehow maintained their heritage more tightly than most. They went to church twice on Sundays, Catechism on Tuesdays and Young Peoples on Thursdays. They ate salted licorice (dropjes) and peppermints big enough to choke a horse. We joked that the world could be divided into two groups – those who were Dutch, and those who wished they were.
I would say “lucky for me,” but it was providence, not chance that brought Jack VanderSlikke into my life. We married in October 1978. Since then I’ve been an honorary Dutch girl. I learned how to make soup with little meatballs and mash my kale right into the potatoes. (The Germans keep it separate.) I’ve always loved dropjes. I’ve embraced the catechism, led Youth Group and faithfully attended church, except during times of global pandemic. I can differentiate most of the assorted Reformed churches. And bonus! – We’ve spent our life farming together. My affinity for all things Dutch is at least as strong as my German roots. That said, I’m influenced by both, but defined by neither.
Who I am is not found in my ethnicity, geography or vocation. My defining characteristic was total depravity. (Told you I love the catechism.) But that has been completely swallowed up by the righteousness of Christ. My identity now and forever is in Christ. Consider the spiritual implications. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male or female, bond or free. No room for identity politics here at the intersection of mercy and justice – only forgiven sinners, united in their Saviour.
The brilliant hues of autumn are currently painting the landscape outside my window. It’s easy for me to say with the Psalmist, “the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” But there’s a much wider context for that than anything my map shows. My tribe is in Christ. Think of it! And our territory is not of this world. Of all people, we have reason to give thanks in this season and all year long.