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Archive for the tag “missiology”

Star Wars: catching up with pop culture

Over the last few days I’ve been catching up on pop culture by watching all three original episodes of Star Wars.

Of course I knew some of the characters and their roles, because one could not avoid reading about them: Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, R2D2, Darth Vader — all were household names. The films had quite a pronounced influence on the way people talked, and there were all kinds of direct and indirect references to them. What I wasn’t sure of was their roles, or even, in some cases, how their names were pronounced.

VaderOne of the more memorable cultural references was back in 1980 when Gerhardus de Kock, the Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, was appointed “Director of Constellation Affairs”, a title which, the Natal Daily News pointed out in an editorial headed Star Flaws, would be the envy of Darth Vader, the villain of the movie. Other people referred to it more disrespectfully as “De Kock’s Cock-up”. For those too young to remember it, the “constellation of states” was the current euphemism for the government’s apartheid policy in the early 1980s.

The film series provided metaphors for theologians too. The missiologist Ralph Winter referred to the second film in the series (the 5th, once the prequel had been added), The Empire strikes back, and said that in that story it was referring to evil returning, but that in Christian theology one could use the phrase “the Kingdom strikes back” to tell how the good came back. As Winter put it,

,… the Bible consists of a single drama: the entrance of the Kingdom, the power and the glory of the living God in this enemy-occupied territory. From Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible, and indeed until the end of time, there unfolds the single, coherent drama of “the Kingdom strikes back.” This would make a good title for the Bible itself were it to be printed in modern dress (with Gen 1-11 as the introduction to the whole Bible). In this unfolding drama we see the gradual but irresistible power of God reconquering and redeeming His fallen creation through the giving of His own Son…

So there were all kinds of metaphors that had entered the English language in various fields, and I had only the vaguest idea of where they came from. When the first couple of films came out, we were living in Melmoth, in Zululand. There was no cinema anywhere near, and we didn’t have TV either, so Star Wars passed us by, except for oblique references. So now I’ve learnt something about the roles and the plot, and how to pronounce the names. For 30 years or so I had thought that “Jedi” was pronounced Yay-dee, and not Jed-eye. So now I’ve even got that straight. And it is now also clear to me that, like polar bears and penguins, wookiees and Klingons will never meet in the wild.

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Ridiculous beliefs

I came across this when someone retweeted it on Twitter, with the comment “Ridiculous beliefs”.

I agree.

The problem is, though, that I cannot recall ever meeting anyone who actually believes that.

Can you call something a “belief” if no one believes it?

If any member of the Orthodox Church said they believed such things, they would, sooner or later, be told that they were heretical. The whole thing is heretical, and every single clause is heretical.

The Roman Catholic Church, I should think, would have a similar reaction. I don’t know if they still have the Inquisition, but they’d revive it pretty quickly if lots of people started saying that they believed that stuff.

Protestants?

Well, it’s a bit harder to say with Protestants , because there are so many different varieties of Protestantism that it is conceivable that there is some sect, somewhere out there, that might believe one or more of those things. But, as I said, I haven’t actually met anyone who believes them.

But, in one sense, that would be beside the point. It’s obviously a caricature, and it’s not meant to represent any beliefs that anyone actually holds.

So what is it meant to represent?

What is it supposed to communicate, about what, and to whom?

Perhaps we could try to deconstruct it.

Here are some of my attempts at deconstruction. If anyone can come up with other ideas, please add them in the comments.

1. My first thought is that it is a piece of “feel good” propaganda by militant atheists for militant atheists. By caricaturing Christian beliefs, and presenting them as ridiculous, they can feel smug and superior when comparing themselves with Christians. So it enables them to feel good about themselves. Some may be aware that it is a caricature, others may not, but that doesn’t matter much, because the main point is to feel superior.

2. The second one is a little more sinister. This is that it is propaganda by by militant atheists for ordinary don’t care atheists, for agnostics, for anyone who is not a Christian, and who is ignorant about Christianity, with the aim of getting them to reject Christianity because they reject a caricature. It is possibly calculated to stir up hatred for Christians. In other words, it is a caricature verging on “hate speech”.

But in deconstructing it, we need to go a bit deeper than that.

Where did the caricature come from? What is its source?

A friend of mine, now a retired Anglican bishop, once wrote the following about Christian mission:

The Church exists for mission, not merely by words, but by representing Christ. Its work is not to convert, that is the Holy Spirit’s work; ours is to preach (Mark 16:15). `Think not of the harvest, but only of proper sowing.’ We bear witness, whether they hear or whether they forbear’ (Ezekiel 2:5 etc.). Our task, and it is quite sufficient to keep us going without bothering about the consequences, is to make sure that if people reject Christ, they reject Christ and not a caricature of him, and if they accept him, that they accept Christ and not a caricature. If they reject, we remember that Christ got the same treatment – in fact half our problem is that we require something better than the success of Christ. We are not to cast pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6) – we are not to try to `fix up’ people’s salvation against their will; `to try to force the word on the world by hook or by crook is to make the living word of God into a mere idea, and the world would be perfectly justified in refusing to listen to an idea which did not appeal to it’. This is the way we seek Christ’s success. The Church is not to be like a mighty army, pressing on regardless; it is more like a bloody doormat – a phrase which could even fit the Master of the Church himself, for it is only by the cross and precious blood of Christ that we are what we are, and he himself is the way on which we must tramp and maybe wipe our boots as we come to the Father (John 14:6). This is the kind of Saviour we represent.

And I suggest that in many ways the caricature has come from Christians themselves, from Christians who have done some of the things suggested in the paragraph I quoted — tried to fix up people’s salvation against their will, tried to make the living word of God into a mere idea, tried to present a caricature of Christ rather than Christ himself.

And that is in fact the original sin, because it goes back to the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve presented a caricature of God to the snake.

God said to Adam and Eve that they could eat the fruit of any tree in the garden but one. And the snake asks what God said, and Eve said that God had told them not to eat from that tree, but also not to touch it. That is an extensive exaggeration of what God said. An ogre God sounds more impressive than the true God. And right up till now there have been Christians who have presented an ogre God.

I was once at a church youth group where an evangelist was speaking. At the time there were some popular bumper stickers on cars that had a picture of a smiley face, and the legend, “Smile, God loves you.”

The evangelist denounced these in no uncertain terms.

“That’s wrong,” he said. “God doesn’t love you, he is very angry with you because you’re a sinner. He was so angry that he killed His Son.”

That was presenting an ogre God, a caricature. And one doesn’t have to take the caricature a whole lot further to get to the statement, in the picture above, “I will kill myself as a sacrifice to myself.”

So I would say that if atheists want to reject Christ, then it is better that they reject Christ rather than that they reject a caricature of him, or even accept a caricature of him.

But it is much more important that Christians should not present a caricature in the first place.

Luddite theology

Last week I was at the Joint Conference of academic societies in the field of Religion and Theology, and I was struck by the almost complete absence of comment on the conference in social media, or in other electronic forums.

Only last year one of those learned societies, the Southern African Missiological Society (SAMS) held its annual congress in Pretoria, and there was a continual stream of tweets on Twitter with the #SAMS2011 hashtag. WiFi was available at the venue (a local church hall) to facilitate this, and there was even a screen set up to show the Twitter stream as it was occurring.

This year, in a far bigger conference, with 16 different societies participating, held on a university campus, there was almost no electronic sharing with those unable to attend. Though there was a good WiFi network available on the campus, conference participants were not given access to it, even though the conference was very expensive to attend. So the most we could manage during the conference was the occasional tweet from a cell phone, and the occasional picture on Facebook (and I still haven’t managed to work out how to make the cell phone do these tricks, so I was never sure what was posted or not). But as far as I could see only three people tweeted using the #JCRT2012 hashtag, and one of those tweets was simply a remark that I seemed to be the only one tweeting on the conference.

Does this indicate that academics in the field of religion and theology have gone off the use of digital technology, and that SAMS 2011 was merely a flash in the pan, an incongruous exception?

There were digital projectors in all the venues where papers were presented, but I didn’t use one for my paper because I didn’t know beforehand what provision would be made for that, and in many cases when they were used they were distracting, as there was much fiddling with the equipment, and sometimes the wrong slide was shown, with interruptions while the right one was found, and where the equipment was used it was often only to show the text of the paper anyway.

While the lack of WiFi can be blamed on the organisers of the conference, I’m not sure that the blame lies entirely with them. If there was access, would anyone have used it?

Abstracts of all the papers being read were made available to conference participants beforehand, and I thought that that might be an opportunity of sharing what was being said and what was happening with those unable to attend. I posted a few of the abstracts in some electronic forums in the hope that they might elicit some comments or questions, but the response was zero. Perhaps that is an indication that academics in the field of religion and theology are technological luddites, and are simply not interested in using electronic media to communicate, or perhaps it was because they thought that the quality of the papers, as reflected in the abstracts, was so poor that they weren’t worth reading, much less commenting on. I posted several abstracts in the missiological forum, since missiology is my field, but I also posted some in the general religion forum, the new religious movements forum, and the African Independent Churches forum. There didn’t seem to be any responses in any of them.

I don’t think Twitter is the best medium for commenting on or sharing what is happening at an academic conference. I think live blogging is better, as it can give more idea of the content, but without WiFi live blogging is not an option, and so we had to make do with Twitter, but it seems that most people didn’t even use that.

I wonder if anyone will even read this!

I suggest that the next joint conference (in three years’ time) take the form of a bosberaad, where the venue will be cheaper, with no electricity, and people can read their papers by the light of paraffin lamps.

What is Klout, and how well does it work?

A few days ago I wrote on my other blog about some online software tools, among which was Klout, which I’ve been trying out Some online software tools | Khanya.

Klout is a website that purports to tell you how much influence you have in social networks, and who you are most in contact with. First impressions were difficult to gauge, because I discovered that Klout takes a bit of time to get up to speed. It starts off by adding your Twitter followers (or is it followees) as “friends” or “influencers”, and then after a day or two goes on to Facebook, Google+ and other networks. So you probably need to use it for a week or so to see how it actually works.

Even after a week, however, it becomes apparent that it is heavily weighted towards Twitter. If you want to list your “friends” it loads the people you follow on Twitter, rather than your Facebook friends, for example, and it appears to display them in random order. Taking one of my blogging friends, Miss Eagle, and doing a comparison, I can learn what Klout thinks are our spheres of influence:

Sorry if that’s a bit hard to read: you can blame the new and downgraded Blogger interface, which does not appear to let you adjust the size of such pictures before posting them. What it says is that I do 93% of my stuff on Facebook, while Miss Eagle does 100% of her stuff on Twitter. And it also says “You use Facebook as the primary way to spread your influence. Twitter is Miss Eagle’s primary network of influence.”

How accurate it is, I have no idea.

One of the things I remarked on in my original post was the topics in which Klout appeared to think I was influential: Some online software tools | Khanya:

Among the rather strange things Klout tells me is that I am influential in Singapore (first and last time I was there was back in 1985) and that I’m more influential in “Celebrities” than in “Christianity” — if you look at the tag cloud in the right side bar you’ll see that “Christianity” is quite big, and “celebrities”, if it appears at all, is very small.

I’ve since discovered that this can be altered in various ways. You can remove topics that don’t really interest you. You are also given points, and you can use these to add new topics to either your own page, or to those of your friends and influencers. For example, I used five points to add “Socialism” to the topics on which another blogging friend, Chris Hall, had influenced me. Klout had apparently not detected it, and once I added it, it moved to the top of his influential topics.

But the “topics” of influence also seem arbitrary, and quite bizarre, and this, I think, is one of the biggest weaknesses of Klout. I wanted to add “Missiology”, which is my academic speciality, as well as that of a lot of other people in my network, but Klout would not let me. It was not in the “topic dictionary” The nearest I could find was “Theology”, which is fine as a generic topic, but I also saw “The California Pacific School of Theology (Japan)”, and a couple of other similar entries. That is a really silly topic — if you are going to add one theology school, you should add them all, but surely a “topic” is for a discipline, not a single institution. If a single school can have a topic all to itself, then surely every single theology school in the whole world should have its own topic? But it makes more sense to have a discipline as a topic, and not to include only a couple of the institutions where that discipline is taught. Yet a whole discipline, Missiology (aka Mission Studies), which is found in hundreds of schools around the world, has no topic at all.

I wrote to Klout about this, and their reply awas not reassuring. I also looked to add “Church History” as a topic. Nothing doing. They offered “Church”, “Baptist Church” and “Winston Churchill”.

“Baptist Church”? What about other denominations? Try “Anglican Church”? No, nothing doing. You can have “The Riverina Anglican College (University)” as a topic, but not the “Anglican Church” or “Anglican Communion”.

And it gets worse. Not only can’t you have Church History, you can’t have History. You can have Black History Month, but you can’t have History.

Now Missiology may be a fairly obscure academic discipline, but History is big. But sorry, historians have no Klout, not even if they are black historians. They only haveKlout if they are Black History Monthians.

I would thus say that Klout’s topic dictionary is well and truly screwed up. It is badly thought-out, badly designed and badly implemented. It has lots of very narrow sub-sub-topics, but in many cases the main topics that they should be under are missing.

In the light of that, news stories like this are very scary indeed: What Your Klout Score Really Means | Epicenter | Wired.com:

Last spring Sam Fiorella was recruited for a VP position at a large Toronto marketing agency. With 15 years of experience consulting for major brands like AOL, Ford, and Kraft, Fiorella felt confident in his qualifications. But midway through the interview, he was caught off guard when his interviewer asked him for his Klout score. Fiorella hesitated awkwardly before confessing that he had no idea what a Klout score was.
The interviewer pulled up the web page for Klout.com—a service that purports to measure users’ online influence on a scale from 1 to 100—and angled the monitor so that Fiorella could see the humbling result for himself: His score was 34. “He cut the interview short pretty soon after that,” Fiorella says. Later he learned that he’d been eliminated as a candidate specifically because his Klout score was too low. “They hired a guy whose score was 67.”

Consider the case that I mentioned above — Chris Hall. Klout had not picked up “Socialism” as one of his topics of interest, yet when I added it, it turned out that he was more influential in that than in any of the topics that Klout did pick up. And perhaps Klout had done something similar with Sam Fiorella in the story above, but because he did not know about Klout, there was nothing he could do about it.

If these things are flawed, there’s no way of telling how Klout calculates influence even on the flawed and inadequate data it uses — what if its algorithms are as flawed as its data?

Klout is an interesting concept, and it is quite fun to compare yourself with your friends and to see which topics you are interested or influential in. But I’m not sure how seriously it can be taken when its data are so obviously flawed.

You can do something to improve it, though. You can check your friends, and see if their topics reflect those that you discuss with them most frequently. You can help to make their scores more accurate — provided, of course, that their areas of expertise have made it into Klout’s topic database in the first place.

Oh yes, and if you’re feeling kindly disposed towards me, please retweet a few of my tweets. It’s not that I’m looking for a job in marketing or anything, but you never know when you’re going to need it.

St Patrick’s Day

It is said that St Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, which is why there are now no native snakes there.

There have been various explanations of this, and of how it was done. I rather like this one, hat-tip to Casher O’Neill.

Here’s another one, with a more scientific explanation: nourishing obscurity | St Patrick’s Day mood setter.

On a more serious note, there’s this:

Saturday 17th March 2012
* Tone 6 – Third Saturday of Great Lent
* Memorial Saturday
St Alexius the Man of God, in Rome (411)
St Patrick, Bishop of Armagh, Apostle to the Irish (?461)
St Withburga, Solitary at Holkham and East Dereham (c 743)
Martyr Marinus, Soldier, at Caesarea in Palestine (260)
St Ambrose, Deacon, and disciple of St Didymus (400)
Monk-Martyr Paul of Cyprus (767)
St Macarius, Abbot, Wonderworker of Kalyazin (1483)
Hieromartyr Gabriel of Mtsyr (Georgia) (1802)
Revised Julian (New Style) Calendar

And, from Orthodox Church in America: lives of the saints:

Commemorated on March 17

Saint Patrick, the Enlightener of Ireland was born around 385, the son of Calpurnius, a Roman decurion (an official responsible for collecting taxes). He lived in the village of Bannavem Taberniae, which may have been located at the mouth of the Severn River in Wales. The district was raided by pirates when Patrick was sixteen, and he was one of those taken captive. He was brought to Ireland and sold as a slave, and was put to work as a herder of swine on a mountain identified with Slemish in Co. Antrim. During his period of slavery, Patrick acquired a proficiency in the Irish language which was very useful to him in his later mission.

He prayed during his solitude on the mountain, and lived this way for six years. He had two visions. The first told him he would return to his home. The second told him his ship was ready. Setting off on foot, Patrick walked two hundred miles to the coast. There he succeeded in boarding a ship, and returned to his parents in Britain.

Some time later, he went to Gaul and studied for the priesthood at Auxerre under St Germanus (July 31). Eventually, he was consecrated as a bishop, and was entrusted with the mission to Ireland, succeeding St Palladius (July 7). St Palladius did not achieve much success in Ireland. After about a year he went to Scotland, where he died in 432.

Patrick had a dream in which an angel came to him bearing many letters. Selecting one inscribed “The Voice of the Irish,” he heard the Irish entreating him to come back to them.

Although St Patrick achieved remarkable results in spreading the Gospel, he was not the first or only missionary in Ireland. He arrived around 432 (though this date is disputed), about a year after St Palladius began his mission to Ireland. There were also other missionaries who were active on the southeast coast, but it was St Patrick who had the greatest influence and success in preaching the Gospel of Christ. Therefore, he is known as “The Enlightener of Ireland.”

His autobiographical Confession tells of the many trials and disappointments he endured. Patrick had once confided to a friend that he was troubled by a certain sin he had committed before he was fifteen years old. The friend assured him of God’s mercy, and even supported Patrick’s nomination as bishop. Later, he turned against him and revealed what Patrick had told him in an attempt to prevent his consecration. Many years later, Patrick still grieved for his dear friend who had publicly shamed him.

St Patrick founded many churches and monasteries across Ireland, but the conversion of the Irish people was no easy task. There was much hostility, and he was assaulted several times. He faced danger, and insults, and he was reproached for being a foreigner and a former slave. There was also a very real possibility that the pagans would try to kill him. Despite many obstacles, he remained faithful to his calling, and he baptized many people into Christ.

The saint’s Epistle to Coroticus is also an authentic work. In it he denounces the attack of Coroticus’ men on one of his congregations. The Breastplate (Lorica) is also attributed to St Patrick. In his writings, we can see St Patrick’s awareness that he had been called by God, as well as his determination and modesty in undertaking his missionary work. He refers to himself as “a sinner,” “the most ignorant and of least account,” and as someone who was “despised by many.” He ascribes his success to God, rather than to his own talents: “I owe it to God’s grace that through me so many people should be born again to Him.”

By the time he established his episcopal See in Armargh in 444, St Patrick had other bishops to assist him, many native priests and deacons, and he encouraged the growth of monasticism.

St Patrick is often depicted holding a shamrock, or with snakes fleeing from him. He used the shamrock to illustrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Its three leaves growing out of a single stem helped him to explain the concept of one God in three Persons. Many people now regard the story of St Patrick driving all the snakes out of Ireland as having no historical basis.

St Patrick died on March 17, 461 (some say 492). There are various accounts of his last days, but they are mostly legendary. Muirchu says that no one knows the place where St Patrick is buried. St Columba of Iona (June 9) says that the Holy Spirit revealed to him that Patrick was buried at Saul, the site of his first church. A granite slab was placed at his traditional grave site in Downpatrick in 1899.

Whiteness revisited — Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl

I recently discovered a new academic discipline, or pseudo-discipline, called “Whiteness Studies”, through some friends who appear to take it seriously.

From what I’ve been able to see, it this discipline proposes to cure racism by encouraging racist thinking, which, it seems to me, is a bit like an alcoholic thinking that the cure for his craving is another drink.

If any of this interests you, I’ve written a series of four blog posts on it, here:

Comments welcome, there or here.

I thought I’d written enough on it, but someone posted something on Facebook that made me change my mind: Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa:

Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa

Male and female circumcision collide in Foreskin Man #3 when America’s most controversial superhero attempts a daring rescue in the jungles of Kenya.

That looks like a rather good candidate for #20 Being an expert on YOUR culture | Stuff White People Like, though with a somewhat different slant on it. That seems to be the essence of Whiteness, as defined by the American discipline of Whiteness Studies.

But I’m getting ahead of the story, which begins here, in a web article someone recommended to me, about Racism 2.0, which is the racism practised by white liberals in the USA Tim Wise | With Friends Like These, Who Needs Glenn Beck? Racism and White Privilege on the Liberal-Left. And, it seems to me, the comic book Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa seems to be a good example of Racism 2.0 as practised by white liberals in America. The gallant white superhero, representing enlightened Western values, sets out to rescue the barbaric Africans from their darkness. The cover of the comic says it all.

One of the things that human beings seem to do a lot is modify their bodies. The way they do this varies with different cultures, and as time passes cultures change, and bodily modifications fall in and out of fashion. One such fashion in the USA has been male circumcision. Another, common in the Western world, has been female ear piercing, and in some sub-cultures in the West piercing other parts of the body and sticking safety pins and other objects in the holes. A southern African varient of earpearcing, about 70-80 years ago, involved putting wooden cotton reels in holes in one’s earlobes.

Other such practices are knocking out front teeth, tattooing, and lengthening necks and penises. In China there was the practice of foot-binding of girls, because small feet on women were fashionable.

Another thing about this is that bodily modifications that one culture regards as normal seem bizarre and barbaric to people from other cultures.

In the 19th and early 20th century Christian missionaries travelled from Western Europe and North America in large numbers to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people in other continents, and they came across many cultural practices that they found strange, and some that they found abhorrent. Among the ones they found abhorrent ones were foot-binding and female circumcision.

In China it was Christian missionaries who founded the Natural Foot Society, to discourage the practice of foot-binding. And in parts of Africa missionaries, who were associated with colonial governments, discouraged female circumcision. In Kenya, where, in the 1920s, all schools were controlled by various religious bodies, some missionaries, led by the Church of Scotland, insisted that all teachers in the schools should take an oath against female circumcision, which was practised by the Kikuyu (Agikuyu) people. This led to the formation of independent African-led educational associations, and eventually contributed to the establishment of the Orthodox Church in Kenya (see Orthodox mission in tropical Africa).

The policy of demanding oaths came back to bite the colonialist missionaries, however, when, about 20 years later, the Mau Mau movement began getting their members to take oaths to fight against the British colonial regime. Suddenly “oath-taking ceremonies” were made illegal, and suspicion that someone had participated in one became sufficient cause for detention without trial. All Kenyan Orthodox clergy were detained.

White Western secular liberals have often been quite vociferous in condemning the way in which Christian missionaries “destroy indigenous culture”, but are not averse to doing exactly the same thing when other people’s cultural values conflict with their own, and using neocolonial powers to put the squeeze on people who resist.

In a way, I can empathise with those who object to female circumcision. I can still recall the shock and revulsion I felt when I read about it as a teenage schoolboy in a book called Blanket boy’s moon by Peter Lanham and A.S. Mopeli-Paulus, which described the practice in Lesotho:

The first night of the (circumcision) school is known as the Marallo, the secret night. This night is spent outside the village in the dongas, where ritual dances are taught and new code names are given to the girls — so that they can afterwards challenge the claim of any woman who states that she is circumcised.

At Marallo, too, the Khokhobisa-tsoene, or “Hiding-of-the-monkey” is encompassed. The girls are cut with a blade in their outer sexual organs, and a flap of flesh is drawn down to cover that mischievous “monkey” which can be the source of much pleasure to uncircumcised girls. The performance of this rite tends to encourage chastity among the women, for a circumcised girl can know little of the joys and passions of physical love. During this ceremony when the blood flows from the wounded flesh, black magic medicine is rubbed in as a protection against bewitchment.

It can perhaps be said that the circumcision of women not only denies the girl great pleasure and joy in the sexual act, but must in consequence lessen the happiness and exaltation of the man, and thus shut out any upliftment of the spirit — lying with a woman, then, becomes a selfish rather than a mutual pleasure. Here in the very homeland, in this circumcision of women, lie the seeds of the physical love of man for man, which is brought to flower in the living conditions imposed on African mine workers by the white man.

As a schoolboy I found that more scary even than a description of a ritual murder elsewhere in the book.

But an interesting thing is that though the protest against the Protestant missionaries’ attempt to suppress female circumcision was one of the factors that helped the Orthodox Church to grow in Kenya, very few, if any, Orthodox Christians practise female circumcision today, not because of high-handed colonial or neocolonial suppression, but rather as a result of people seeing no need for it within a Christian worldview.

Western cultural imperialism hasn’t changed very much. Whether practised by Protestant missionaries or liberal secularists, it looks much the same. And I won’t say it doesn’t exist in South Africa. There are signs of it, for example when you get white suburbanites objecting to their black neighbours next door ritually sacrificing a goat, but generally I think white racism in South Africa takes different forms from that in North America. The North American version, with Foreskin Man going out to deal with the black savages in far-away places, is perhaps typical of the American version. And Foreskin Man doesn’t seem to be interested in rescuing the people his fellow-countrymen drop bombs on, in places like Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, where they lose a great deal more than their foreskins.

Apart from anything else, to me Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl sound utterly kitsch. But that’s probably just my cultural prejudice speaking.

Book projects nearing completion

I’ve been trying to get a lot of stuff finished before Holy Week, and going on holiday in Bright (Easter) week.

One of the projects at last nearing completion is the book African initiatives in healing ministry, which I’ve been working on for more than 10 years, and my coauthors have been working on for considerably longer. I’ve just signed off the final page proofs, and the book should be available in the next couple of months.

The core of the book is a study of healing ministry in four churches in Zimbabwe, one Anglican, one Roman Catholic, and two African Independent Churches, each of which has developed a slightly different response to health and healing.

As if to emphasise the urgency of this, someone I knew died of Aids last week. But he would not face up to the fact of his illness, and insisted that someone had been trying to poison him. His mother persuaded him to visit a sangoma, and to stop taking antiretrovirals, and to take traditional medicine instead. A bad decision, but for which he might have been alive today. This is one of the important health and healing issues in Africa today, and to grapple with it we need to understand attitudes to health and healing in Africa, and also the different Christian responses, and the attitudes that lie behind those responses. Hence the need for the research that led to the publication of this book.

Another task was the final indexing and proof-reading of the doctoral thesis of my colleague in ministry, Fr Athanasius Akunda, with whom I’ll be serving at the Good Friday liturgies later today.

(This is a post I tried to post here yesterday, but kept getting “Illegal date/time format” messages, so posted it on my Khanyablog instead).

Tall Skinny Kiwi: Get Ready for Lausanne World Congress

For the last couple of months I’ve been keeping an eye on the Lausanne Conversation, but there has been very little about it in the South African blogosphere. Perhaps a prophet is not without honour, except in his own country. Here’s what a New Zealander living in Europe has to say about it Tall Skinny Kiwi: Get Ready for Lausanne World Congress:

The global mission event of the century is only a week away! Its the Third Lausanne World Congress on World Evangelization also known as Lausanne 3.

Its huge.

We’re talking 5000 invited delegates from all over the world.

Its bigger than Lausanne 1 and even bigger than Lausanne 2.

Its bigger than Edinburgh 1910 and 2010

Its the most wired, webbed, blogged, twittered, streamed missions event EVER!

Its also more SOUTHERLY than any missions conference you have ever followed.

It happens in Cape Town, South Africa and it starts next week. Like Oct 16 – 25th

Overblown hype? A lot of South Africans seem to think so, to judge from the way most South African bloggers are ignoring it.

Andrew Jones, alias Tall Skinny Kiwi, is one of the gurus of the emerging church movement. you can engage with him on his blog, or at the Lausanne Conversation here.

The Western Confucian: A Tale of Two Missiologies

More than a hat-tip to The Western Confucian: A Tale of Two Missiologies

  • Father Maryknoller in Korea on “what it was like in the [Catholic] mission stations during the early days of persecution” — How the Early Christians Nurtured the Church in Korea — and on the queen who “while her husband was torturing priests and thousands of native [Catholic] Christians… was secretly studying the catechism and preparing herself for baptism” — A True Story by Bishop Mutel, Bishop of Seoul, 1890.
  • Robert Neff on “violent Christian [Protestant] missionaries who did not respect Korean culture and the needs of the local people” and came only after the persecution ended — Were early Christian missionaries in Joseon Korea violent?
  • I would be interested to learn most about how this was affected by John Nevius, who, I have heard, had a different approach from that of most Protestant missionaries of his time (1890s) — see Nevius, Allen, Kasatkin | Khanya.

    St Nicholas of Japan (Orthodox, in Japan), Roland Allen (Anglican, in China) and John Nevius (Presbyterian, in Korea) advocated methods that differed from those of their contemporaries, and which Robert Neff’s article complains about. I know least about Nevius, and would be interested in learning how his methods contrasted with those described in Neff’s article.

    Evangelism, or cultural imperialism

    Since the US invasion of Iraq, Western-style Protestant evangelical Christianity has begun to appear in that country. It is not, however, converting Muslims to the Christian faith, but proselytising among other Christians.

    Evangelicals Building a Base in Iraq – washingtonpost.com:

    The U.S.-led toppling of Saddam Hussein, who limited the establishment of new denominations, has altered the religious landscape of predominantly Muslim Iraq. A newly energized Christian evangelical activism here, supported by Western and other foreign evangelicals, is now challenging the dominance of Iraq’s long-established Christian denominations and drawing complaints from Muslim and Christian religious leaders about a threat to the status quo.

    The evangelicals’ numbers are not large — perhaps a few thousand — in the context of Iraq’s estimated 800,000 Christians. But they are emerging at a time when the country’s traditional churches have lost their privileged Hussein-era status and have experienced massive depletions of their flocks because of decades-long emigration. Now, traditional church leaders see the new evangelical churches filling up, not so much with Muslim converts but with Christians like Tawfik seeking a new kind of worship experience.

    There is much talk in Western Christian missiological circles about inculturation and contextualisation, and the need for Christianity, when it enters a society of a different culture, to become part of that culture.

    But this seems, on the face of it, to be the opposite: taking already indigenous Christians, and converting them to an exotic culture.

    On the other hand, globalisation is such that exotic cultures often seem attracive. Some traditional Christians in countries like Iraq achieve their desire to identify with exotic cultures by emigrating. Others, perhaps those who can’t afford to emigrate, do so by joining exotic churches, like Western Baptists, and enjoy the foreign cultural ambiance.

    So is it evangelisation, proselytisation, or disinculturation (or could one say “exculturation”? Is that a word?)

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