Last week at the European Lutheran Conference in Germany the Bishop of the Kyrgyzstan Lutheran Church, Kenzhebek Botobaev, made a presentation to a number of people who were ‘friends of his church’. I was one who received a special Kyrgyz gift – an ak-kalpak – a white kalpak – which is high crowned hat made from four strips of felt or sheepskin with a brim that can be turned up. They can be folded flat for storage or trans-port. Kalpaks are hats worn throughout Central Asia and Turkey. Al-kalpaks (ones from Kyrgyzstan) are often embroidered or decorated with the Kyrgyz flag or symbols and the white ones are often worn for festive or special occasions. It has been said that what the baseball cap is to an American, the kalpak is to the Kyrgyz.
I received the gift, I suspect, more for the promotion of the Lutheran Church in Kyrgyzstan in The British Lu-theran (2013 Annual) than for my work on the ELC but for whatever reason, it is nice to re-ceive thanks and a gift. When I got home and Charlotte saw the hat – not knowing the con-text but knowing that I am largely illiterate with fashion – she just rolled her eyes. After all, an ak-kalpak, is to us a strange hat! It’s haberdashery rather than culture.
But explanations followed and so we can appreciate the thoughts behind the gift, the gift it-self, and expand our horizons because there is so much of this world to explore and learn about. (According to tradition you must never kill a man with a kalpak on but if you lose your kalpak, you lose your head!)
We live in the UK which is steeped in Christian culture but it seems increasingly people do not know how to read their church buildings, don’t know much about Christian clothing or calendars, and – according to YouGov poll commissioned by the Bible Society – there is a growing Biblical illiteracy in the UK where, to give two examples, 27% of parents surveyed failed to link the Good Samaritan and the Bible together while 54% of them thought that the story line from the Hunger Games was or might be in the Bible. My own story about this sort of thing is from Australia (in the early 1990s!) where the pretty shop assistant in the jewellers enquired when bringing out a tray of crosses and crucifixes, ‘Would you like a plain one or one with the little man on it?’. (It’s true … she really said it.)
Our world is a fascinating place – lots of wonder and yet also lots of tragedy. Spiritually lost and dead, we are not left to our own devices to try and make the best of things but we hear that God is among us – walking, caring, blessing, loving – not as a cosmic puppet master but as an almighty Being who has chosen to serve us. That’s what the cross and empty tomb is all about. These are strange things in our world and need to be explained because we’ll never work out what is going on by ourselves. — GS