Tulips, Tamales, and Resurrection Living

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by Chad Pierce

From Orange City to Oostburg and Lynden to Pella, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

It’s tulip time. I have spent most of my life in two cities founded by Dutch immigrants. And from the quaint community festival in Pella, Iowa to the commercialized gridlock of Holland, Michigan, I admit I enjoy a good tulip festival. The sight of Dutch costumes and flowers, the smells of corndogs and elephant ears, and the sounds of wooden shoes and Dutch dancing collide into a sensory overloaded yet charming experience.

Now being back in Holland as an adult, has allowed me to relive both the Tulip Time and the city of my childhood. While there are many similarities, Tulip Time has changed. The prices have gone up–$6 for an elephant ear! The number young people willing to Dutch dance has dwindled. The musical performers have changed. And there are even rumors of a beer tent.

The city has changed too. And perhaps that change is most felt during the first week of May. For just down the road, while some gather to celebrate their Dutch heritage, many others gather for Cinco de Mayo, commemorating Mexico’s unlikely victory over France on May 5, 1862.

Holland has a large Mexican and even larger Hispanic population, and that population is growing. Both festivals gather large crowds, celebrate a heritage, and bring families and communities together. As far as I know there have been no recent confrontations between the two (what is said behind closed doors might be another matter). And yet, these festivals remind me that, in a large part, I live in what remains a racially divided community.

During this season of resurrection, I am struck by how Ephesians uses that word. For its writer, the resurrection of the dead is not so much something that is to be looked forward to as much as it is something that has already happened in a believer. Followers of Jesus, in some ways, have already passed through death to new life in Christ. Particularly, Ephesians 2:1-10 teaches us that we were dead to to our sins but made alive in Christ. As followers of Jesus we have been saved by grace through faith. And we have been saved in order to do good works.

Immediately following this plan of salvation in which Christians are saved in order to do good works, Ephesians 2:11-22 calls for a new and all encompassing unity for the body of believers including Jews and Gentiles. The first good work that resurrected Christians are called to is a ministry of reconciliation. God’s kingdom is based upon and calls us to a ministry of reconciliation.

The early church struggled incorporating the new Gentiles into the Jewish movement. We read in Acts that racist tendencies in the church demonstrated the need for the office of deacon (Acts 6:1-6). Galatians reveals the theological tension of God’s kingdom expanding beyond the righteous community’s safe boundaries. And yet, Ephesians calls its readers to extend the same theology of reconciliation to strangers, to the other, as Christ did to us. Christ did break down the barrier wall in the temple because all people are God’s people.

It appears that we have rebuilt many of those walls. To be fair, there are plenty of people on both sides with sledgehammers trying to break them down again. In Holland, we see many wonderful bridge building movements. And yet in the first week of May I am reminded again that more demolition is still needed.

In Isaiah 11:6, the prophet dreams of a day when,

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

That sounds great. Right now though, I would be willing to settle for a city where people could enjoy a good stroopwafel and tamale together. This, of course, will take a bit of effort. Reconciliation always comes at a great price, but the reward is worth it. Reconciliation is what resurrected people are called to do. But are we willing to humble ourselves, as Christ humbled himself, to be agents of that reconciliation?

I love my city. But I think I could love it more if I knew it, all of it, a little better. And to be honest, that Cinco de Mayo carnival looks pretty fun.

Chad Pierce is pastor of Faith Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.

Comments 8

  1. Just a thought if you write further about this: Hispanics/Latinos are not a “race.” They are of many different ethnicities. A person can be brown, black, white and be Latino or Hispanic.

  2. Chad, I agree with you completely, but have trouble making those connections myself. Perhaps you could share with those like me what specifically you are doing in Holland to bridge that gap between the Dutch and the Hispanic populations, and what you are doing to merge the Tulip Festival with Cinco de Mayo.

    1. If any of you are interested, I write a weekly email for the Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony (ACEH), founded in Holland in 1999, that includes listings of diversity and multicultural events in Holland and elsewhere in West Michigan. If you want to receive it, please send a request to my email editann@aol.com.

      One thing I’ve noticed here is that many primarily white churches and organizations say they are open to all, everyone is welcome, etc., but the members never visist churches where most members are people of color; they never attend or support community events sponsored by ethnic or diversity organizations, shop at ethnic groceries, or try to learn more through films, books, classes, and so on. If you have, then you are an exception and are appreciated.

      BTW, Tulip Time and Fiesta (not called Cinco de Mayo now) have a long, somewhat fraught history here that I could talk about another time.

      1. My apologies for these related posts; I thought the first one had been lost and didn’t realize it was awaiting the moderator.

  3. Some years ago, Fiesta (not called Cinco de Mayo now) had its “own” weekend before Tulip Time and therefore enjoyed more community focus. The TT festival then moved so that it began during Fiesta and scheduled a number of events at the same time, with an agreement that TT would help promote Fiesta; I don’t think that has happened. Do you attend Fiesta? Do you attend any other events hosted by Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP)? There are a number of ways to learn Spanish in Holland; there are Hispanic/Latino grocery stores and restaurants and churches. The 2017 Summit on Race and Inclusion is coming up on May 23; that’s another opportunity to learn more. One thing I’ve noticed here, though, is that while “Anglo” churches say they welcome everyone to come to them, few if any of their members go out to visit or participate with more ethnically diverse churches. I am part of an local organization, the Alliance for Cultural and Ethnic Harmony (ACEH) founded in 1999; we publish a weekly email “In the Community” that lists diversity and multicultural events in Holland and elsewhere in West Michigan; if you would like to receive it, please email me at editann@aol.com I appreciate that you are thinking about the issue of inclusion in Holland and how you might help foster that.

  4. I was present for the 2016 Tulip Festival in Holland. I saw lots of cross-dressing and many same-sex couples dancing in the streets. I noticed that most of the public restrooms in town were non-gendered. Was I looking through rose tinted glasses, and seeing progress?

    In 2017, I’m back home in Taiwan, where the cross dressers and same-sex couples dancing in the streets don’t have to wait for a special week, a “most wonderful time of the year.”

    The political and social atmosphere in America having taken a rightward turn, in part thanks to 10,000 voters in Ottawa County, I wonder if Tulip Time 2017 differed from that of 2016.

  5. Thanks for this piece. It is encouraging to see these divides brought out into the open and exposed to the reconciling light of the gospel. The divide between Tulip Time and Fiesta reminds me of the stark demographic differences between Holland public schools and Holland Christian. As commentator Ann Weller notes, getting out of our comfort zones and crossing cultural boundaries is a place to start. Remember how Jesus “had to go through Samaria?” It wasn’t a geographical necessity to go through Samaria and in fact most Jews avoided Samaria, but reconciliation was on Jesus’ agenda.

    1. In addition to crossing cultural boundaries and believing in the value of reconciliation, those with long-standing privilege in this society need to be concerned about working for equity.

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