Missioscapes and Globalized Modernity

Written by Frederick on . Posted in Gemeentes

Missioscapes and Globalized Modernity
Some Theological Reflections (Questions) on Imagination and Cultural Flows
Jannie Swart, Luther Seminary, St Paul MN (November 10, 2007)


 Given my involvement in Allelon’s Mission in Western Culture Project as a research assistant for Alan Roxburgh and as a fellow South African participant with Frederick Marais at the last two annual think tank meetings regarding this project, I wish it was possible for me to be part of what promise to be a rich conversation in Stellenbosch next week (instead I am preparing for a cold Minnesota winter while Alan is enjoying good South African red wine).  Apart from my hope and desire to keep my own research, course and dissertation work as PhD student at Luther Seminary in continuous conversation with many of the partners present at the Stellenbosch meeting,  I am also responding with a few theological reflections on Frederick’s invitation two days ago to respond with a few remarks (if I want to do so) after reading prof Smit’s paper on mainline Protestantism in South Africa and modernity.

 To read prof Smit’s paper was the delightful part of responding positively to Frederick’s invitation.  As someone who has always been hugely influenced by prof Smit’s work,  it was a very energizing exercise to read his “tentative reflections” (which, of course, are always much more than his very modest intentions and claims!) on matters that were very intentionally part of my own agenda of theological reflection over the last two years.  I developed high regard for many (amongst whom I should mention Charles Taylor and Jurgen Habermas) who take seriously any effort to deal with modernity proper before jumping into any so-called post-modern paradigm (however it is defined).  I appreciate prof Smit’s paper in the same light.
The difficult part is to make any substantial contribution to this rich discussion.  However, for the sake of just sharing some of my own theological reflections (questions) and references of the last two years regarding some of the themes that emerge from prof Smit’s paper, I dragged myself out of my hesitancy this morning and I dare putting together a few remarks on paper.

Church in the Cultural Flows of Globalized Modernity

 Prof Smit’s “six material claims” (pages 2-4) on South African churches’ “collapsing into modernity” after apartheid,  indicating the interwovenness of Church and South African society’s transformational processes of “radical modernization” that cannot easily be described and analysed by any “single theoretical approach,” opens up the question on “how they (churches) respond” as embodied existence (“very specific, concrete and visible, social forms”) within society’s processes of modernization.  Since prof Smit also frames this within a larger context of globalization, as “the complex cultural, economic and political processes… impacting on the whole world… also having real effects on South African society today” (par 10, p 3), I want to share a particular influence in this regard that provided my own work of the last two years with a fruitful hermeneutic for the sake of theological reflection.

 I refer to the work of the Indian born, New York based, social or cultural anthropologist, Arjun Appadurai (who was a student of Hannah Arendt and whose work is in many ways well connected with the philosophy of Charles Taylor).  Reading two of his books in conjunction, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (1996) and Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger (2006), pictures both the possibilities and destructions within the flux of the complex global cultural flows of modernity.  I want to highlight two ways (among other) in which I find Appadurai’s work helpful.
 First, Appadurai has a heterogenic approach to culture that plays into what prof Smit expresses as the importance to see “modernisation as an ongoing process difficult to define, rather than theories who speak about modernity as something known, or of modernisation as primarily synonymous with economic growth and technical progress” (paragraph 9, p.2-3).  Appadurai always prefers to talk about cultural (as an adjective) rather than culture (as objective or substantive) to stress what he calls the disjunctive nature of cultural flows.  Cultural as an adjective allows for a more context-sensitive and contrast-centered approach to flows of difference in globalized modernity.  He uses difference in a heuristic sense that brings out both the similarity and contrast between categories of identity in cultural flows, and uses it to emphasize the importance of situatedness and embodiedness.  I found it increasingly important in my own theological reflection to take into account this kind of understanding of cultural flows within the dynamics of globalized modernity.  It is fruitful in the sense that it avoids any static notions of culture.  Prof Smit warns not to “see the church as somehow separate from these historical and social processes” (par 8, p 2), and he shows how churches are “not merely actors, but they are (also) being acted upon” (par 11, p 3).  This observation places conceptualizations on the relationship Church-culture in a totally different perspective, and I want to make a few remarks towards the end of my reflections on the profound implications this has for an understanding of the Church’s participation in the life of God in which God is the primary acting Subject in the world and the Church is seen as embodied existence within that reality.
 Second, Appadurai’s Modernity at Large presents theological reflection with an understanding of how social imagination took on new meanings within the radicalization of modernity (he especially singles out what happened through migration and media flows).   Appadurai uses landscape metaphors to describe different ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, migrationscapes, financescape, and icescapes within the cultural flows of globalized modernity.  Appadurai develops an argument by showing how these disjunctively interrelated different -scapes are forming the building blocks for the shaping of imagined worlds.  Imagined worlds refer to the multiple worlds that are constituted by the historically situated imaginations of persons and groups spread around the globe, and they are able to contest and sometimes even subvert the imagined worlds of the official mind and of the entrepreneurial mentality that surrounds them.  From this definition it becomes clear how his cultural understanding of situatedness, as well as his emphasis on agency (and sometimes resistance), are playing a major role in how he sees the shaping of social imagination.

However, as an anthropologist, his argument represents a constructivist approach to imagination (and therefore, human agency).  It becomes even more clear when he refers to the work of the imagination as “neither purely emancipatory nor entirely disciplined”, but as “a space of contestation in which individuals and groups seek to annex the global into their own practices.”  Working within the anthropological tradition (since the work of the sociologist Emile Durkheim) that stresses collective representations as social facts, Appadurai sees the collective representations of the imagination “as transcending individual volition, as weighted with the force of social morality, and as objective social realities.”
Imagination became a social force in the practices of the lives of ordinary people amidst the cultural flows of globalized modernity.  In this sense, there is a huge difference between imagination and fantasy.  Imagination features as agency, which means that (different than in fantasy) thought are not divorced from projects and action.  Imagination becomes the fuel for action rather than a means to escape (as in fantasy).  It also means that Appadurai mainly works with a collective rather than individualistic understanding of imagination.  He uses imagination as a property of collectives, and not merely as a faculty of the individual.  He talks about the imagination of a group of people, which he calls a “community of sentiment” that “feel things together.”  Therefore, imagination as social practice is different from mere fantasy, simple escapism, elitist pastime, or mere contemplation.  It is rooted in the social lives of people, contains the work of real social practices, and has collective power.  By doing this, Appadurai brings together the idea of technically produced images (in the Frankfurt School sense), the idea of the imagined community (borrowed from Benedict Anderson’s work), and the French idea of the “imaginaire” as a constructed landscape of collective aspirations.  Imagination refers then to an organized field of social practices, a form of work, and a form of negotiation between sites of agency and globally defined fields of possibility.  This places the imagination central to all forms of agency, which in itself is a social fact and a key feature of the new global order.

Missioscapes as the Church’s Imagination (embodied existence) within Cultural Flows
How do we theologically reflect on the kinds of contributions like the above mentioned work of a social/cultural anthropologist?  Over the last two years, I happened to consider contemporary developments in anthropology as a necessity for theological reflection in the light of late modernity developments, but so are many contributions from a variety of disciplines.  But even if it is just a “valuable insight” among many other, without attributing to it the status of a “single theoretical approach that can neatly analyse and describe what has been happening here” (as prof Smit rightly puts it on p 2), we still have the task as theologians to ask questions on location, methodology and content of theology within context.  And how do we ask and answer those questions in a way that breaks with modernity’s very seduction of putting the self (read: individual, human agency, church) upfront as the primary acting subject?

One of the most fruitful contributions of the development of the global missional conversation is indeed to put the focus back on God as acting Subject within the God-world relationship as primary framework for understanding human agency (read: imagination, action) and the position of the Church as participants in the reality of the missio Dei.  Since the Willingen missionary conference (1952), with Barth hovering in the background all the time, and the mission theology influences of Lesslie Newbigin and David Bosch, the missiological paradigm changed dramatically from a focus on the mission(s) of the Church to the mission of God as embodied existence in the midst (read: in, under, over, against) of cultural flows.  Subsequently a number of Gospel and Our Culture Networks emerged in a number of countries all over the world (especially those with modern, western cultural dynamics as part of the fabric of society).

Although the missio Dei conversation needs a critical engagement from many perspectives,  the fruitful prejudice of that contribution is to consider God as actively involved in the cultural flows of the world.  Which means that we have to find ways of discerning God’s presence in non-static notions of God-world and Church-culture relationships.  And how do we do that from a particularly Reformed theological heritage that has both unique resources and huge danger signs on any such endeavor?  On the one hand, the Reformed tradition has a strong and relevant doctrine of creation that is important for the discussion on the relationship God-world, and we have a pneumatology (with Calvin as “theologian of the Spirit”) to embrace anthropology (as two sides of the same coin) for the sake of an embodied theo-cultural understanding of ecclesiology at the intersection of God and world.   However, on the other hand, we also have the strong (Barthian like) warning signs of natural theology as an influential part of our tradition, and closer to home the history of  (neo-Kuyperian) understandings that can easily lead to a theological justifications of something like apartheid.  Indeed, how do we critically and theologcally reflect on imagination within globalized modernity’s cultural flows?

In this regard, I want to (very briefly) share just a few areas (questions) that became part of my own reflection over the last few years, and that are all in some way connected to prof Smit’s elaboration on “three basic forms of the church” (worship and congregational life; policies and practices of denominations and the ecumenical church; spirituality, witness and actions of individual believers) as the “very specific, concrete and visible, social forms” in which the church exists.

  • First, theological reflection on imagination that moves beyond a mere constructivist understanding of human agency and resistance within the cultural flows of globalized modernity. It seems to me that a pneumatologically rooted understanding of imagination, integrated with a theological anthropology (imago Dei),  will serve us well in our theological conversations about an ecclesiology in the dynamics of a radicalized and globalized modernity. I have found works by Paul Avis (God and the Creative Imagination, 1999), David Bryant (Faith and the Play of Imagination, 1989) and Garrett Green (Imagining God) very fruitful contributions to theological reflections on imagination.   It is especially Bryant who proposes a theological understanding of imagination that frames the complex nature of the relationship between God’s agency and human agency within a more integrative dynamic that enables both a constructive and receptive approach to the role of imagination.  This is a theological position that stresses the importance of seeing pneumatology and anthropology as “two sides of the same coin.”  It is a pneumatology that understands God’s active involvement in the world as the work of the Spirit in and through the imagination of people who are formed by God’s imagination, but who are also transformed into agents who imagines a different world possible.   How does this play a role as a crucial dimension in prof Smit’s understanding that, as churches in contemporary global processes of modernization, “they are not merely actors, but they are being acted upon” (by the dynamics of both the Spirit and culture)?   What is the role of a theo-cultural imagination shaped by worship/liturgy that “form identity, collectively and individually, communities of character and characters within community… able to subvert, undermine, and challenge existing social constructions of reality, making it possible… to see with new eyes, to look in other directions…?” (I wish I could be part of the conversation on prof Muller and Cas’ presentation on a missional hermeneutic for liturgy!).

Second, the question is also how we enter these theo-cultural imaginations (both as the imaginations of individual believers in the everyday practices of their lives and in its communal forms such as denominations and local congregations) as locations of theology?  And what does it look like in the South African context, both in terms of the social fabric dynamics and the ecumenical nature of ecclesial spaces?  Allelon’s Mission in Western Culture Project picks up on this conversation in a certain sense.  As I tried to indicate in a research assignment for Allelon’s think tank gathering two years ago (Alan and Frederick can testify to this), the GOCN movements became almost moribund in many countries as a result of a certain kind of disembodiment from the imaginations of local Christian communities within the flux of all kinds of modern cultural flows (with the ever present danger of becoming philosophical abstractions from the lived realities of actual people and communities).  One of the most challenging questions is how to enter these imaginations for the sake of carving out visions for the Church’s faithful witness as participants in the life (mission) of God in these cultural flows and for cultivating habits and practices within these dynamics. (How much I wish I could be part of Pieter’s presentation on entering the imaginations of local churches!).
 Thirdly (and now I’m running out of time!), how does culture change within these dynamics?  If it is true that culture impacts on the Church and that the Church impacts on culture, then reflections such as Graham Ward’s Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice (2005) become extremely important.  Ward addresses this question from the point of view of “from what place does theology speak,” “how do cultures change,” and “what is the relationship between religious practices and cultural transformation”?  Maybe Alan will elaborate on this…
Fourthly (and finally!), it also presents us with new challenges in the post-apartheid South Africa on what it means for the Church’s position and role in civil society (something prof Smit asks towards the end of his paper, p 21) that goes beyond mere agents of social action or a movement of moral regeneration (however important each of these is in its own right).  It is especially important for the Dutch Reformed Church (hopefully as an integral part of a united Reformed Church in Southern Africa) to find its vocation in the lifeworld between politics and economics,  and to avoid the post-apartheid seduction to marginalize itself from the public sphere in the light of the apartheid legacy.

Welkom by Padlangs

Written by Frederick on . Posted in Gemeentes

Die bedoeling met die blog is om met wie ookal wil in gesprek te tree oor my ervarings met gemeentes soos wat hulle oor my pad kom.  Dikwels sal daar meer vrae wees as antwoorde maar met die bedoeling om gesprek aan die gang te sit. Ek vermoed dit sal meestal verwonderinge wees oor wat in gemeentes so onder ons neuse gebeur. Na ‘n dekade se intensiewe werk met gemeentes as fasiliteerder, let wel nie konsultant nie daarvoor weet ek eenvoudig te min, is ek meer as te vore gefasineer deur wat in gemeentes gebeur.  Ek bly eenvoudig byna daagliks verras ten diepste oor hoe die Here deur sy Woord en Gees mense inspireer om selfloos te lewe, ‘n tweede myl te loop, dieper te luister as die eerste keer, op te offer al is daar geen ooglopende dividende nie, alles dinge wat ek in my eie lewe moeilik vind om te doen.
Met padlangs bedoel ek ook dat dit op die grond eerste gedagtes gaan wees van wat ek ervaar, gelees het, oor wonder en my verwonder.
Ek hoop daar sal van julle wees wat lus het om te deel in hierdie padlangse gesprek en dit sal aanvul met julle eie verwonderinge en vrese. Ek sien baie uit na julle opmerkings
Frederick Marais

Of is die weerstand teen die Evangelie, Roelf?

Written by Frederick on . Posted in Transformasie

My pad kruis gister met ‘n predikant wat in Mosambiek werk. Sy opmerkings oor die Afrika kultuur waarin Hy die evangelie bring, het my weer laat dink oor my twee-gesprek met Roelf en ander oor die weerstand teen verandering. Ek dink daar is ook ‘n ander vorm van werstand wat nie in die eerste plek met transformasie te make het nie maar wel met die Evangelie.  Op ‘n vreemde manier is ek bevry toe ek hiervan ‘n paar maande gelede in Andrew F. Walls se

The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian  History (2005 Orbis Books) gelees het oor sy teorie van die vertaling van die evangelie in ‘n bepaalde kultuur.

In ‘n neutedop is Walls se argument die volgende:  Die evangelie wat verkondig word in ‘n bepaalde kultuur kan nie anders as om in daardie kultuur vertaal te word nie. Daar kan tog nie met die mense binne die bepaalde kultuur gekommunikeer word sonder om die boodskap van die evangelie in daardie bepaalde kultuur te “vertaal” nie.  Natuurlik beteken dit ook dat die kultuur op sy beurt weer die Evangelie vertaal. In ‘n bepaalde kultuur sal aspekte van die evangelie makliker begryp word, terwyl ander aspekte weer moeiliker ingang vind in die kultuur.  Sendingkundiges vertel dat daar soms eenvoudig nie woorde in ‘n bepaalde taal is om begrippe van die Bybel mee te vertaal nie.

Daar vind dus ‘n wydersydse vertaling van die Evangelie en die kultuur plaas. Verder se Walls op voetspoor van Newbigin, is daar natuurlik bepaalde kulture wat meer weerstandig is tot die evangelie as ander… en dan die sinnetjie wat ek lank an gekou het, van al die kulture wat aan hom bekend is, is die Westerse kultuur die mees weerstandige kultuur ten opsigte van die waardes van die Evangelie! Want sien, se Walls, ons moet verstaan dat Europa, die kontinent wat geboorte gegee het aan die Westerse kultuur soos wat ons dit vandag ken, het vir die Christendom gekies, maar nie noodwendig vir die Evangelie nie!

Ek het onmmiddelik besef hier steek groot waarheid in, ons sal in gemeentes baie mooi moet onderskei tussen die Evangelie en die kultuur waarbinne die Evangelie aan ons bekend geword het.  Watter een dra en beskerm ons nou eintlik ten diepste. Ons weet dat daar so maklik verwarring tussen die twee ontstaan.  Laat ek een voorbeeld noem, waarop ek baie graag julle kommentaar sal wil hoor.  Is die doel van groei en volwassewording in die Westerse kultuur nie eintlik maar om selfstandige en in-beheer mense te kwek nie. Die Evangelie aan die ander kant se:  Gelukkig(salig) is hulle wat weet hoe afhanklik hulle van God is. Beheer, bemagtiging teenoor afhanklikheid en broosheid. Tog duidelik teenoorstaandes en as ek so om my kyk is dit vir my baie duidelik wat die Westerse kultuur ‘n meer vormende invloed in my gemeenskap se lewe gehad het as die Evangelie op hierdie punt. Ja natuurlik ook in my eie lewe.

Nou hoekom het ek bevry gevoel hierdeur.  Ek het dieper insig ontwikkel in die ‘valsheid” van die aanname dat die Westerse kultuur christelik is.  Dat ons mense, soos wat ons so maklik se, christelik is? kan dalk so wees, maar of hulle (en ek) gekies het vir die evangelie weet ek nie. Dit het my gehelp om ‘n gesonde suspisie te ontwikkel oor wat ons in gemeentes doen en verkondig.  Natuurlik is die Westerse kultuur beinvloed deur die Envagelie, maar die eintlike proses was en is andersom, dit is die Westerse kultuur wat die evangelie gebruik om haar kultuurdoelwitte te gebruik, en waar dit nie inpas nie, word die evangelie eenvoudig mak gemaak en gebuig totdat ons weer gemaklik daarmee is. Of soos watprof jonker altyd gese het, ook ons sou Christus uiteindelik gekruisig het!

Dit het my gehelp om meer onderskeidend te dink tov die heersende kultuur van die gemeenskap waarin ek leef en die Evangelie. En dit was bevrydend, want skielik het ek wer nuuskierig geraak oor wat die Evangelie dan werklk is, oor Jesus, oor na-volgingskap van Jesus, oor God, oor die einskappe van die Sy gemeenskap en sommer nog ‘n hele boel ander dinge.  As dit waar is dat die kultuur waarin ons (natuurlik nie net ons nie, maar almal wat in ‘n bepaalse ons leef) leef, ons blind en weerstandig maak tov soveel kante van die evangelie, le daar mos ‘n goudmyn van ontdekkings om te maak indien ons dapper genoeg is om te onderskei oor waarop dit werklik aankom.

‘n Volgende keer skryf ek oor Walls se idee dat ‘n gemeente net werklik hierdie onderskeidingswerk kan onderneem indien hulle oor die grens van hulle heersende kultuur bou aan gemeenskap.

Terloops ek sien Sharon- snaude@sun.ac.za  het nog ‘n paar kopie van Walls se boek in die boekwinkel- jy sal nie spyt wees nie.

Jannie Hougaard se foto van Kweekskool deure wat lei na nêrens!

Written by Frederick on . Posted in Transformasie

Agter die Kweekskool - Jannie Hougaard

Jannie skryf die volgende aan die hand van hierdie foto van die kweekskool die volgende per e-pos- op ‘n manier ‘n baie gepaste reaksie op my storie oor Roeping en Leon se reaksie daarop. Die foto het my laat dink aan die veelbesproke brug wat die storm deurstaan het – stewig bly staan- net jammer die rivier se loop het verander en die brug staan nou letterlik in die lug oppad na nerens. Kan dit gebeur met teologiese opleiding wat hoe goed bedoel, tog ook op ‘n dag soos die deure van die kweekskool oopmaak in die lug?


Jannie Hougaard
Ekskuus dat ek per e-pos vir jou antwoord.  Ek is maar nog vreemd met die blogtery.  Ek sal later daarop iets skryf.

Ek besef baie dae dat ek maar nog van die ou (Kweek)skool dominees is.  Wat jy geskryf het, het my aan ’n ervaring van my Kweekskooldae laat dink wat my sodanig bygebly het, dat ek onlangs ’n foto daaroor gaan neem het en een van my ryme daarby gepas het.  Terloops, ek onthou ek het op Kweekskool ook ’n soortgelyke foto geneem met nogal Riaan van der Merwe wat agter een van die deure wat so in die lug uitgaan, staan.  (Moet dit weer gaan soek …)

Wanneer leiers goeie nuus nie meer kan raaksien nie

Written by Frederick on . Posted in Leierskap

Die afgelope 2 weke het ek redelik intensief met 4 gemeentes se leierskap saamgewerk. Van die gemeentes het ek eintlik maar hierdie week ontmoet terwyl ander weer meer as ‘n jaar saam met my in proses is. Hulle is uiteenlopend in byna alle opsigte, maar daar is ‘n paar dinge wat my opgeval het wat ooreenkom.  Voor ek die storie vertel, dink ek terug aan ‘n proses wat ek saam met ‘n taakspan gehad het.  Ons moes in die ‘n sinodale sisteem adviseer oor wat tans in die kerk aan die gebeur is- ek dink dit was so 3 jaar gelede.  Ons het ‘n vriend genooi wat sisteemdenke kan toepas om saam met ons te dink oor wat die dinamika is wat aan die ontvou is.

Om ‘n lang storie kort te maak is ons gevolgtrekking dat daar herstel by gemeentes te bespeur is- baie vroee tekens maar tog wel duidelik waarneembar, en dat die vir die leierskap belangrik is om dit raak te sien en dit in der waarheid van die Here te ontvang.   Aan die ander kant was ons besorg dat die leierskap dit nie gaan raaksien omdat hulle te probleem ge-orienteerd was. Eintlik was ons besorgheid nog dieper- om dit in sisteemtaal uit te druk, ons was bekommerd dat die leierskap met die “mental model” gewerk het dat die NG Kerk eintlik maar besig is met ‘n uitgerekte begrafnis, soos wat Piet Naude dit op ‘n stadium uitgedruk het.  Ons het gewonder of hulle die “goeie nuus” gaan glo, of hulle die verassing daarvan gaan omhels veral omdat hulle dit nie self bewerk en verwag het nie.

Ons vrese is bewaarheid- ek kan nog my verbasing en skok onthou toe een na die ander van die leiers ons analise uitmekaar trek met ‘n nog groter “dooms day” storie oor wat aan die gebeur is in die kerk- nou dit was nie almal nie, maar wel is ons analise so stilletjies van die tafel gehaal en die vergadering het hulle weer bepaal by die agenda van probleemoplossing. Die goeie nuus was nie ontvanklik nie, die probleme moes aangespreek word. Wanneer gaan ons van hierdie onsinnigheid verlos word?

Om terug te kom by die afgelope twee weke se ervarings met die gemeentes- daar is duidelike herstel in almal te bespeur, sommige werklik verstommend ander aan die begin van die pad. Met almal gaan dit eintlik beter as ‘n paar jaar gelede, en tog het ons buiten een geval nogal moeite gehad om die leiers te help om dit raak te sien, dit te vier en in dankbaarheid te ontvang. Te midde van die duidelike positiewe energie was meeste van die leiers besig om die stoei met die probleme en het hulle die nuwe lewe eenvoudig misgekyk.

Met die terugry praat ek en my mede-fasiliteerder hieroor- ons verstaan nog nie regtig waarom die leiers ‘n meer negatiewe prentjie oor die gemeente het as wat werklik die geval is nie?  Hoekom kyk ons dit mis? Ek dink Shiela Cussons het verstaan hoekombloeisel-in-begraafplaas.jpg


Wat ruis in die donker flikkerende bome

In die wind, en glans in die driftige vlae

Van die reën, roer in die wortel, stoot

In die sap?- besige Christus,


Hoe kon ek jou ooit misgekyk het

Die sin van dié stuwing gemis het

en so afwesig gestaar het na my?

Sheila Cussons

Corpus Christi

Later die week bel ek ‘n vriend wat predikant in die platteland is en ek noem terloops dat ek herstel en ‘n geestelike ontwaking in gemeentes beleef, oombliklik beaam hy dit, vertel hy dat dit die vervullendeste tyd van sy bediening is en dat hy anders as 5 jaar gelede op geen ander plek wil wees as in die gemeentbediening nie. Ek dink hy verstaan dat die roering en die stuwing van nuwe lewe nie in deur ons brute krag kom nie, maar iets is wat jy in verwondering ontvang en dan as liturg vier aan ‘n feestafel. Projekleiers en voorsitters van finanskommissies en almal van ons wat nog bly glo dat ons die kerk moet red sal dit moeilik verstaan.

Mission in Western Culture 3rd Anual meeting in Lusaka

Written by Frederick on . Posted in Gemeentes

Third Annual Consultation in Lusaka, Zambia of the Mission in Western Culture project

(2-9th August 2008)

I always seem to require a week at least to both intellectually and emotionally process my trips to Africa and this time I asked myself why? I have come to the conclusion that travelling to sub Saharan Africa and really experiencing the enormous economic and social transitions that are presently going on as well as enjoying the natural hospitality of the African people is probably a picture of what it was like to move into London or Manchester during the industrial revolution of the 19th century. All around you watch and experience the disorientating effects of modernization while still enjoying, for the time being at least, traditional African values and ways of life.
Lusaka seemed to me to be much like Nairobi or Johannesburg. On every street corner there is much evidence of those who have found their way into the new world of economic success and social mobility juxtaposed with mind shattering and gruelling poverty and injustice. Dusty streets choked with exhaust fumes; women and children breaking rocks by the roadside; expensive new hotels and government buildings often sponsored and built by the new colonialists, the Chinese; sprawling shanty towns and piles of degradable rubbish. Taxi’s crammed full of people on their way to low paid jobs. Young boys forlornly endeavouring to sell plants or meaningless modern bric a brac by the roadside and everywhere, just under the surface of the vibrant hustle and bustle of city life, the daily pressure and ocean of sorrow and heartache associated with a worldwide pandemic, HIV/AIDS.
Modern Africa is a snapshot of what happens when the global viral economies and epidemics of late modernity invade, consume and explode from inside the settled, and to a certain extent more sheltered, way of life previously sustained through the agrarian economies and social hierarchies of traditional tribal society. The effects are devastating, more losers than winners, more problems than solutions, more challenges than available resources. What is being birthed, however, is the possibility of enormous new wealth creation and a ticket into to the 21st century. Progress? Well, maybe, but one thing is for sure we cannot stop this global march toward – toward what? To a certain extent that was what our consultation was all about.

  • What has become of the Mission in Western Culture (MiWC) project?

The MiWC project came to Lusaka as the brainchild of the Allelon network for missional leaders ably led and nurtured by Alan Roxburgh and his team and equally ably internationalized through the innovative Allelon website. The thesis was launched and enthusiastically embraced by an international group of missional leaders at Lake Payette, Idaho, USA (June 2006). It was further consolidated but also given the North American Christendom treatment at Skamania in Oregon (July 2007), but Frederick Marais’ instinct that the project could be totally re-birthed and reconceived in an African context proved prophetic. The thesis is simple, it is the missionary challenge bequeathed to us by Lesslie Newbigin, namely, that a truly viable, creative and transformative project of cultural engagement with modernizing, global, secular ‘multiple modernities’ has yet to be properly conceived and executed. That last sentence reflects some of the new thinking introduced to the project at Lusaka so let’s reflect on just what happened to us during that memorable week (2nd -9th August 2008).

The Successes of Lusaka

  • The Indaba Groups

Undoubtedly the main success of the Lusaka consultation, as was also true of the Anglican bishops at Lambeth in London in July, was the Indaba community groups. To spend a good part of every day of the consultation, talking, sharing and debriefing in small groups of five or six people, all from different countries, some from different continents and most from totally different cultures was itself potentially a life changing experience. Once again we were indebted to Fredrick Marais from Stellenbosch, South Africa for providing us with the ground rules of deep listening, deep vulnerability and deep affirmation that made our times together equally deep and rich in cross cultural experience. The Indaba groups were the glue that held the process together as well as holding us all accountable to each other as we tried to grapple with the complex issues of planning and executing an international project of this nature.

  • A new Leadership Team

In order for any consultative process to work effectively and produce new thinking and new objectives it must be chaired and managed creatively, openly and appropriately. Lusaka saw the new leadership team of Alan Roxburgh (Canada), Neil Crosbie (UK) and now also Japhet Ndhlovu (Kenya), vice chair of the All Africa Council of Churches, work superbly well and manage a complex process that involved a whole new set of participants. Much planning and deliberation had proceeded the consultation but the creativity by which the leadership team kept the process both on track yet also open to new developments and possibilities was itself a lesson in the creative management of complex processes.

  • New African Voices

The consultation saw the return of familiar faces from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada and South Africa. We also had two young representatives from South Korea who, along with other young leaders from that country, have seen clearly that the American based church growth model of the 1980’s which enjoyed phenomenal numerical success in South Korea, is actually irrelevant and inadequate to the new task of radical cultural engagement in countries now thoroughly held captive to the cultural mores of late modernity. What was new of course was the broadening of the African contingent of delegates to include representatives from the following countries.

1. South Africa
2. Malawi
3. Nigeria
4. Zimbabwe
5. Kenya
6. Zambia

Unfortunately, due to transport and finance difficulties, other delegates from Ghana, Namibia and Lesotho were unable to attend. Clearly we now have the possibility of building a truly representative African delegation which we hope will further integrate the needed contribution of African women theologians, missiologists and church practitioners.

A clearer grasp of the underlying theological and methodological presuppositions of the project
At this consultation we had a paper from Colin Greene that sought to show how the Newbigin challenge of a creative missionary engagement with Western culture remained the same but the missional context had changed dramatically, so much so that talk of a monolithic Western culture was now obsolete as we have now entered the era of ‘multiple or alternative modernities’. The suggestion that we had also moved from an age of reason to a new age of imagination reflected the European bias of the paper and was rightly challenged by Uma Onwunta a missiologist from Nigeria. The ensuing vigorous discussion reminded us all that much of the Enlightenment intellectual framework Newbigin isolated, for instance the private public divide, had never successfully taken root in indigenous African cultures. So while the evidence of multiple modernities and new social imaginaries are everywhere to be seen in Africa they are undergirded by different intellectual, social and cultural frameworks of belief.

One of the highlights and creative transitions of the consultation was when the African contingent met on their own to consider just what those intellectual, social and cultural frameworks actually were and the rest of us realized in light of this discussion that the whole project had to be renamed. So ‘Mission in or through Western Culture’ for the time being is no more. We do not as yet have another suitable anagram but we have a descriptor which more accurately describes what we are all about which is ‘Discerning the mission of the Spirit: Hearing the voices of God’s people amidst globalizing cultures’. Underlying this new descriptor is the African experience of starting with the missio dei rather that intellectual analysis and then discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit amidst the stories and narratives of the local people.
Clearly then there is much commonality between the methodological objectives of the project and the faith aspirations of indigenous African cultures. The research undertaken and published by Michael de Certeau after the 1969 student riots in France, the philosophical and hermeneutical deliberations of Paul Ricoeur, Alastair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor all point to something which Africans have always believed, namely, that any exercise in social reconstruction or genuine cultural engagement must begin with the stories and narratives that contain the hopes, aspirations and social imaginaries of ordinary people. It is in the practice of daily living or what de Certeau called ‘making do’ that we can discern the ways and wonders of God’s spirit at work. We still require further theological and missiological clarity in regard to this project particularly on how the biblical narrative comes into play at the intersection of at times competing and colliding cultural narratives. But that is part of the task for the rest of this year and 2009.

  • The possibility of new local initiatives and agreed international strategies and frameworks

A project of this nature has to learn to live with the creative tension of allowing local initiatives to be genuinely local while at the same time arriving at agreed international frameworks of research and design. I think in Lusaka we caught sight of what this could all look like for the first time. We agreed that the African delegation working through existing missional structures would design and implement a strategy of what we called narrative transformation. In others words finding good local contexts, probably to begin with in Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and designing a process that genuinely enables researchers and missiologists to get into and under the local stories and narratives that sustain a common life and praxis but also contain the seeds of hope, experiment and social imagination embedded in the biblical story and birthed by the Holy Spirit. The design of an appropriate research methodology that can facilitate such an important task will be the responsibility of a new task force headed up by Andrew Menzies from Australia, Steve Taylor from New Zealand, Fredrick Marais from South Africa, DT Banda from Zambia and possibly Mary Publicover, one of the Together in Mission team in England. Alongside this group another group of research advisors such as Sara Savage (Cambridge, England) and Dr X Simon from Stellenbosch, South Africa will seek to make sure that these local strategies become transferable international research methodologies. It is hoped that we will be able to utilize these procedures to facilitate similar local research projects in Britain, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Finally, we recognised that there was a need to stabilize the annual consultation in terms of missional leaders and entrepreneurs operating in the respective countries now involved in the project. Clearly there will be other countries and groups of people who will see the potential of such a project and want to be part of it – the enabling and facilitating of this aspect of the project, however, becomes the responsibility of the overall leadership team.
So much was indeed reconceived, reconfigured and reconstructed in Lusaka. The combination of good African hospitality, accommodation and humour all wonderfully present during our time at the Justo Mwale Theological College, Lusaka. The recognition that Africa holds the key to many of our problems in the West and the appreciation of the sheer energy and vitality of the church in this tumultuous continent wracked as it is by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other equally devastating issues of systemic poverty and ecological threat left us all thinking and praying the same refrain: Veni Creator Spiritus, come creator Spirit and liberate us from our Christendom slumbers to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.
– Dr. Colin J.D. Greene