Posted by: rogermitchell | October 29, 2012

Culturally invasive mission (ii)

In the previous post I was feeling after a way of approaching other cultures with our own culture, once it has been impregnated with the testimony of Jesus. The context was seeking an alternative to culturally invasive mission. As I put it “We give you what is good in our culture to complement yours, our strength to partner with yours, and our leadership gifts to collaborate with yours. Will you receive us, cooperate with us, love us and work for peace and blessing for the people and planet together?”

In their comment, my good friends Lorrie and Darrell Fields of Seed of a Nation put their finger on some key issues. They carry indigenous Native American stock, and are intimately acquainted with Quaker William Penn’s extraordinary ‘holy experiment’ that you can read about in their illuminating book which I thoroughly recommend (The Seed of a Nation. New York: Morgan James Publishing, 2008). Penn provides a brilliant example of an attempt at culturally harmonious mission. Lorrie and Darrell raise three particular points, and I agree with them all. As a result I want to adjust my suggested invitation to culturally inclusive relationship.

1. Their first key point, as I understand it, relates to the lack of free space that my approach leaves the already indigenous people in making their response. As the Fields put it “We wanted to add more risk into your statement on what love would say. Something that might begin with, “If you will…” or “We see your gift and hope you may be able to receive ours…” Making sure that there is “free air,” as Penn would have said, to dissent as well as consent. Seems like there is pressure in your question that begins with “Will you” because to refuse may be implicating with the idea of freedom to dissent (and may lead to being marginalized). To remain in community even if we don’t agree or collaborate is powerful demonstration of love.”

I particularly like their wording “We see your gift.” It assumes that we do! So we need to start further back with an ingenuous, risky request to get to know the ‘host’ culture. I say host, but the initial approach can’t assume that the indigenous people necessarily want this. I think the advice of Jesus helps us here when he speaks of letting “our peace rest” on people when we first encounter them (Luke 10:6), and staying with them in their house if they will have us. He also makes clear that we should move on if we are not welcomed.

2. The second point concerns the misunderstanding that may arise from the use of the word collaboration, and the importance of loving community involving the freedom to dissent. As they suggest “we would want to take out the word ‘collaboration’ as it is a signifier for Western time driven agendas. If we understand native, island people, which with we are familiar, they are event driven and have a ‘let’s see what happens after we hang-out a while’ attitude.” My reason for choosing the word collaboration was to avoid any idea of the newcomers expecting to dominate the host culture with any sense of superiority. This is obviously important. But I still recognise the problem of assuming some strategic, goal oriented rather than relational approach to being together in love for the sake of it. I do think collaboration might carry this, although it was certainly not what I had in mind.

How about something like “we come to you in hope of exploring how we can share life together if you would like to?” This is not at all to deny the call to repentance that is at the heart of the incarnation. Rather it’s to demonstrate it by turning from all domination and arrogance in our approach, and waiting for the time when we can share how the kenarchy of Jesus challenged and transformed our own life and culture.

3. Thirdly, the fields raise the issue of money.
“Empire also says we have more money than you (which I suppose is summed up in strength) but we would add it to distinguish between physical might.” That, I think, is their most important point. If we are offering to share life, we must be offering to share money. Not give it with strings attached, or in a superior, imperial way. But as costly gift that brings us into a relationship of genuine mutuality. Sharing culture means sharing money. Once again this is clear from the Jesus story, where following him meant giving into and sharing his resources (Mtt 14:16; Jn 6:9).
Your thoughts please!

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Responses

  1. I come at this from a participatory development perspective…
    The very helpful comments prompting this post have caused me to think of two things
    1. The importance of knowing what cultural baggage we carry with us
    And
    2. The importance and complexities of ‘levelling’ relationships

    The question is raised- whose perception of reality counts?

    The other issue is who you talk to and collaborate with, the empowered are easy to find, it’s the voiceless and powerless who are less visible or accessible.

    It reminds me of a favourite quotation from an aboriginal woman to a development worker
    ‘If you are here to help me, then you are wasting your time. But if you are here because your destiny is bound up with mine then let us begin’

    I’m away from my computer at the moment but can provide supporting refs for the comments above if anyone is interested.

    • Great conversations on this and previous post!

      James, I was just about to post the same quote! I’ve found it a very helpful reference point for some time. The version I have, has the word ‘liberation’ instead of ‘destiny’, and ‘work together’ instead of ‘begin’: similarly profound. (I’ve not got a proper reference).

      With this quote in mind, I like the move away from terms like ‘service’, which tends to lead to ideas of charity (with associated unbalanced power dynamics (I’m not saying never appropriate, just not ideal)).

      ‘Beginning together’ with someone (when invited) as an acknowledgment of interconnected destiny, is far more exciting and far more difficult than ‘service’ (to the depth that our culture understands that word?).

      But this quote also strikes me, that where the real grace here is here, is in that invitation (from the aboriginal woman), to work/walk/begin together. It cuts through the good but misdirected intentions of the western development worker, and makes an appeal to a deeper level of their heart and need.

      Perhaps in the absence of invitations from others, the appropriate action of grace is to make such invitations? (can’t do this lightly!)

      It is in the context of deeply genuine relationships, with ‘people of peace’ (are we ‘people of peace’ ourselves?), who are different to us, that we can most valuably learn and also share our most valuable beliefs and experiences?

      • Hi Tom,
        Thanks for this. Your question “are we people of peace” ourselves is the challenge!

    • Thanks for the added perspective James. The quote from the aboriginal woman is particularly helpful. This was the way I was attempting to use collaboration. If we are in the image of God then we are seeking for all relationships to be as trinitatian, mutual and egalitarian as possible.

  2. Some excellent comments there and I don’t think you should be afraid of letting go of the goal orientated collaboration. We have found much fruit in hanging out together and seeing what happens, it lets the wind of the spirit move where it wills rather than trying to channel it in one direction.

  3. This is good stuff.

    I think hospitality is a critical concept here. So totally agree on the first point that the ‘host’ is the one with constituent power. In order for hospitality and embracing the Other to be a possibility, there can be no presumed power on the part of the visitor. It is the choice of the ‘host’ whether to constitute that power as sovereignty (through refusing or antagonising the Other) or to offer hospitality (in which power is initially retained and the encounter with the Other is negotiated agonistically rather than antagonistically from that point). So many of the Western approaches to encountering another culture are obsessed with process and endless deliberation of the issues – this is a form of insidious control in my view.

    On the second point, I wonder whether what is really at stake here is the second manoeuvre in hospitality. The gift of acceptance by the ‘host’ of a ‘guest’ still maintains some hierarchy: the ‘guest’ may remain but not as an equal to the ‘host’. This is as far as Kantian cosmopolitanism takes us. But this precipitates a more tricky dilemma – to fully negotiate difference is to be responsible for the Other and to allow a kenotic exchange of power and identity (the real gift-giving). So I see this idea of ‘collaboration’ as drawing on the future that comes when this exchange is happening. That is, when we really do this ‘reconciliation’ there is an inevitable togetherness and a need to be (and thence to do in some way) together. The boundaries between our identities come down and we are together in our differences and our newly-constructed shared identity – somewhat deconstructing the significance of the water that has gone under the bridge.

    On the third point, I think that the exchange of resources is an extension of the redemptive, gift-oriented deconstruction of division as conceived above. Where the one is rich, they should give more etc. But, in my view, such gifts can’t take the form of a compensatory payment otherwise sovereignty is wrongly re-engaged.

    Clear as mud?

  4. Nice fine tuning. What about substituting the word engaging instead of collaborating. I love weddings.

  5. This is good stuff.

    I think hospitality is a critical concept here. So totally agree on the first point that the ‘host’ is the one with constituent power. In order for hospitality and embracing the Other to be a possibility, there can be no presumed power on the part of the visitor. It is the choice of the ‘host’ whether to constitute that power as sovereignty (through refusing or antagonising the Other) or to offer hospitality (in which power is initially retained and the encounter with the Other is negotiated agonistically rather than antagonistically from that point). So many of the Western approaches to encountering another culture are obsessed with process and endless deliberation of the issues – this is a form of insidious control in my view.

    On the second point, I wonder whether what is really at stake here is the second manoeuvre in hospitality. The gift of acceptance by the ‘host’ of a ‘guest’ still maintains some hierarchy: the ‘guest’ may remain but not as an equal to the ‘host’. This is as far as Kantian cosmopolitanism takes us. But this precipitates a more tricky dilemma – to fully negotiate difference is to be responsible for the Other and to allow a kenotic exchange of power and identity (the real gift-giving). So I see this idea of ‘collaboration’ as drawing on the future that comes when this exchange is happening. That is, when we really do this ‘reconciliation’ there is an inevitable togetherness and a need to be (and thence to do in some way) together. The boundaries between our identities come down and we are together in our differences and our newly-constructed shared identity – somewhat deconstructing the significance of the water that has gone under the bridge.

    On the third point, I think that the exchange of resources is an extension of the redemptive, gift-oriented deconstruction of division as conceived above. Where the one is rich, they should give more etc. But, in my view, such gifts can’t take the form of a compensatory payment otherwise sovereignty is wrongly re-engaged.

    Clear as mud?

  6. Roger,

    Your friends hinted at it in their first point with, “we see your gift” but I think it goes beyond that. Other cultures have the ability to help us to understand our own message more clearly. Some missiologists have called this the evangelization or conversion of the missionary, whereby when new peoples come to faith and particularly when they have the Scriptures in their own language, they can “see” things we have missed because of their unique cultural glasses. They are then in a position to give us more of the Gospel than we were able to grasp before. The best example of such a gift I have is found in a powerful book by Rupert Ross called, “Returning to the Teachings: Exploring Aboriginal Justice” (Penguin Books, Australia, 1996) which looks at emerging First Nations justice systems in Canada. What remarkable insight into the nature of forgiveness our native people have! What an understanding of restorative justice! It blew me away. As well anyone who has met First Nations peoples knows how much we can learn from them about our attitude toward creation and the environment.

    • Thanks for this Jim. Particularly the statement “Other cultures have the ability to help us to understand our own message more clearly.” May be we should append that to “Jesus’ message more clearly.” Although it may be that your point is that we don’t really hear ourselves until we do it with others’ ears and eyes. That has certainly been part of what enabled me to see how permeated with empire our Western gospel has become. Thanks for the book recommendation too. I must read it.

      • Roger,
        Indeed Jesus’ message more clearly to be sure! I agree others help us to hear ourselves, but my point was that seeing with different lenses, they understand the world and thus the Gospel from another angle, thus illuminating for us facets we cannot “see” from our side. It will be interesting to see the reception of your ideas among those believers who really know what it means to be powerless and to pay the price of life-laying-down love in their daily existence.

      • Hi again Jim,
        Out of interest, Vera Pauloosie who comments below is Inuk and the Fields whose perspective gave rise to this post carry Native American stock. Their contemporary experiences meet your thoughts about what the reception of these ideas among the powerless might be like.

  7. Roger,

    I would like to make a small observation that is connected to your post above..For many years I have at times struggled to connect with my peers in church leadership,.This has been a source of frustration for me and has at times left me feeling isolated.Over more recent years I have been able to begin to understand the reasons for this frustration..
    My conclusion in part is connected with your post.Much of the church that I know and connect with is led by a people group that is not mine.They are predominately,white,middle class,educated males.They have a world view that is different from my working class worldview,they have a culture that is different from mine,and for a long time there was the subtle and unspoken suggestion that I/we had to become like them.This makes it very difficult to engage in any meaningful way,it has made it very difficult for me to encourage those with me to participate in larger events.I have finally been able to listen to those around me and understand there frustrations.They could not connect or engage because of the language used because of the level of education needed and had no confidence to speak for fear of seeming foolish.
    So I have decided to try and tackle this by writing a paper that hopefully helps us find new and creative way to make sure these voices are heard.

    • This goes for women too. And I’m single so I don’t in any way fit in with a church culture that is relentless when it comes to being married. Sometimes I wonder if they have read Paul’s letters and his comments on marriage at all (he does say it is better to be single if you can do it, but of course, none of us believe that is of God, one of his weak moments I guess). And I am about to finish my 5th university degree – so now I am too educated, too much of a challenge to the church leadership. Unless you are a white, middle-class, educated male, church culture doesn’t really speak for you or me. Yes, women do support it and engage with it but rarely in evangelical circles with any real power (generally as some man’s wife and co-minister) – oops now we have to get into a discussion of imperial power and hierarchy and authority don’t we. And of course, most of the time, the message of church culture is conform or leave please. c.

  8. Looking forward to that paper! Rog

  9. I have spent some years with ex-pat North Africans in France and have found myself challenged in how I interpret some parts of the Bible and some communal expressions of faith. One church that I was part of found it helpful to have a monthly service and meal in Arabic to cater for those differences. I have found the book “Jesus through Mediterranean Eyes” exceptionally helpful.

    In terms of mission to those of a different world view to us I’m divided. Partly I see the great value of learning from them, and we found that coming in weakness reaching out as foreigners to other foreigners has been very valuable. Some people groups can only give but not receive hospitality – I have been the happy recipient of many cakes for muslim special days, but can give nothing edible in return, and for reasons of pride they can’t be seen to receive more than they give.

    However I also feel that the good news is, and should be, a challenge to any culture. Everyone will have to make some stand in some way against some aspect of their own habits and traditions. It doesn’t necessarily help them if we come in with woolly ideas that encourage syncretistic practices.

    We need such wisdom and grace to reach out beyond our own mental borders. We debate long and carefully about the best and most sensitive approach to people then blow me down some crass, heavy handed, culturally insensitive person or group comes in and gets loads of converts…


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