Contextualization of Religious Symbols
Allow me to start by clarifying this: images and symbols are essential to communicating our faith. We all know the quality of respect we accord to flags and other national symbols, for example. Some are made of clothing, yet they signify national identities and even stand for their integrity.
Furthermore, we also see people who respect the Bible, the Koran, the cross, or any other religious objects. Left on their own, they are but a piece of clothes, printed papers or even pieces of wood or iron. Yet, for the communities that chose them, they represent nationality, the Word of God, or even the presence of a divinity.
However, each has meaning as long as they communicate a message shared by the community that uses it, and this, in a language (communication) understandable by them. But for them to stand for what they communicate, they must be meaningful to the culture they are communicating with, speaking their language, and using symbols they can identify with.
During my Christmas holiday, I visited another famous Church in Lagos, and all the images I saw there spoke foreign languages in the heart of my fatherland. They were communicating a divine message but using some foreign accents, so I needed help comprehending them. They were indeed speaking religious languages; I have to say. Each one of them was, undoubtedly, Communicating sacred messages. But unfortunately, they remained strange to my ear, forcing me to ask myself why I needed some interpretation when it could have been easy to let me into this divine communion using languages, symbols, and familiar signs.
This is typical of almost all the churches in Nigeria -- Catholics, Protestants, and Pentecostals. They refuse to speak the people’s language or bear witness to what they live and who they are. Instead, they keep replicating old stories told through foreign lenses. No wonder we keep wondering why there is a contrast between what people live and what our religious communities communicate. It is time to rethink our religious symbols, languages, and values. It is time to allow our religious expression to tell the story of our God experience.