Day Two in the Emergent Village

by Daniel Fan

I’m will only be posting personal reactions and highlights/lowlights from today.  The actual content of the conversations and interactions were recorded and will be posted by Emergent Village at a later date and be available through either streaming or download.

Day two of the Emergent Village Conversation opened in an interaction session with Richard Twiss.  One of the questions that Richard was asked basically amounted to “what do you want [from us white people]” to which his answer was “friends.” This didn’t sit well with a significant number of attendees, as I would later find out through private and small group conversations.

The problem with RT’s answer was that it gave specific ingredients (you + indian), but no recipe for preparation.  This unnerved more than few audience members.  Some decried a lack of access to Native America, and one person even espoused a public policy solution because he didn’t have time for a relational one.

I agreed with Richard Twiss answer 100% and tried to explain (my reasons for) why it was the right answer.  I know some readers are going to want to slam Emergents as a group, but let’s remember that while they some of them may have encountered native ceremony before, it could be the first time they’ve been confronted with the reality of the plight of Native America and seriously contemplated doing something about it.   In addition, the frustrated responses that I’m commenting on don’t necessarily characterize Emergents as a group.  Rather than blast their ignorance I prefer to see this as a conversation that needs to continue, and I tried to continue it with everyone who took issue with Richard’s short answer.  Well, except for the guy who thought public policy was easier and better than personal relation…you have to treat lack of motivation differently than perceived lack of access.

For those who might read this later, the how-to of relation is always going to be specific to the individuals involved.  I could no more prescribe how you should friend an indian than Richard could.  That’s going to depend on both you and that particular Native American. It’s a relationship, not a transaction.  As far as friendships are concerned, you’ll know it when you have it and you’ll be able to feel yourself getting there.  But you have to try, and that’s probably not as hard as most audience members think.  Native  America is a present, but easily ignored ethnicity.  Fortunately you don’t have to go to a reservation (or as Musa Dube aptly said “a reserve”) to find one.  And with Richard Twiss being a kind of everywhere-at-once guy that he is, I’m sure he could hook you up with at least an email.

In my opinion, this was absolutely the most controversial and poorly received thing Richard said during this whole conference.  I’m haven’t been able to tell if it’s the good kind of conversation-provoking controversial or the bothersome-but-ignorable kind.

I was  co-moderator (if I could call it that) of the conversation with Musa Dube.  Unfortunately that means I have no notes and an incomplete recollection of her comments.  Of the three speakers, she probably has the least in common with evangelical views and values.   I mention that value set not because most Emergents are necessarily evangelical but because the evangelical ideals of missiology are going to be what most Americans think of as missions.  Her views are, I would say, controversial but well researched.  I didn’t agree with some of the conclusions she came to in her book “A Post Colonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible,” but since the podcasts will be available I’ll let her speak for herself and I highly recommend that blog readers download or stream her comments when they become available.

One of the really unexpected experiences I had during this conference occurred when Melvin Bray asked Musa to read an article (which I believe was included in her book) she wrote which tells the story of the colonization, independence, and post-independence struggle of Africa in narrative form.  This story included verses, which Musa actually sung in her native tongue.  I don’t think there was anyone in the room who was not moved when they heard Mother Africa’s call.

This is one area that I’m struggling with.  I find myself being very cautious around the idea that music is somehow universal, and that even though we can’t understand the lyrics we can divine the meaning.  I think we can guess at the meaning, but since there are lyrics and we don’t understand them, that something is inherently missing from our interpretation of the actual meaning of the song.  A particular song might be either a slow but heartfelt greeting of the sun in the morning, or it could be a lament for the fate of a people—both could sound the same to the western-conditioned ear.  What I find happens is that, in the absence of a specific understanding of the lyrics, we read our own culturally conditioned meaning into the rhythm first, and then the melody.  That is not to say that Musa’s performance was not effective: I felt it was a moving and appropriate exclamation to the her text, but I’m unwilling to assess it  outside of the context Musa’s comments.

Listen to the recording yourself because Musa’s comments have to be taken in compliment with her view on the fate of Mother Africa.

I’ll address my personal feelings on being a moderator of that conversation in a later conference recap.

The next session involved a lively interaction between Musa Dube, Richard Twiss and Colin Green, of which I’ll only pull out those comments that stood out for me at the time.

Colin  Green observed that a fixation on atonement theology leads to the expectation of utopia, and forgetting the Imago Dei.  That is, the indigenous being is sacrificed on the altar of “the old man” so that the “new man” can come.  It’s not just your sin nature that has to burn away, but your entire nature (if you are indigenous) .  That is neither a possible or desirable state and disrespects the image of Creator which is reflected in all humans.

It was here that I had the ironic vision of the juxtaposition of old man and new man in both Western and Indigenous iterations under this erroneous colonially co-opted atonement model.  When old man of the West burns away, the New man of the West looks pretty damn close to the same guy as before, but now with a WWJD tatoo on his bicep.  But when the indigenous old man burns away, what comes out looks damn close to ‘pale dude with the tat on his arm.  I’m not saying that Jesus didn’t atone for our sins.  But he absolutely did not atone or need to atone for the entirety of our cultures.

I’m going to pull out something that I found particularly poignant.  Musa Dube was talking about domesticating and de-exoticising the field of missions.  She argues that Jesus never left the historical boundaries of Israel, so what if the American Church restricted its missions efforts only to domestic territories?  I personally have family members who have done a great deal of beneficial, contextually-sensitive overseas missions work, so I personally don’t espouse calling all overseas missionaries home.   But the question remains: why are some mission fields (usually those involving long flights form conus) elevated above others in terms of importance and resources?  Is being a missionary in the Amazon Basin more honorable than being a missionary on the rez?  And if we turned our focus there instead of oversees would that improve the integrity American missiology overall?

Colin Green was up next, in a conversation with Dwight Friesen and Danielle Stroyer, about his book Metavista.  He made the case that a post-colonial age requires a post-colonial hermeneutic, and that truth revealed today will still be truth tomorrow, but that today’s truth is not necessarily an all-encompassing truth (as more truth would continue to be revealed).  I found his comments about our post-everything age to be enlightening.  I personally interpreted his words to mean that  (and I know this has particular limitations when we attempt to apply it post colonialism) by describing ourselves as “post-…” (post-modern, post-christian, post-evangelical, post-etc) we are saying more of what we aren’t than what we are.

Colin  stated that this indicated a liminal space in which the re-imagining of the text and missiology was possible (and necessary).

If this sounds a little high-brow it is.  I think I would have gotten more out of Colin’s conversation if I had been able to read Metavista before the conference.  Learn from my mistake.  Don’t try that in class kids.

The day concluded with a workshop session which I’ll have to cover in the next update.  It’s 9:00AM here and Day 3 is about to officially start (interaction with Colin Green).
(photo: interaction session  L-R:  Richard Twiss, Colin  Green, Musa Dube)

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7 Responses to Day Two in the Emergent Village

  1. I can not say how much I appreciate you doing this. I know that when you are a conference like this it can be hard to take the time to sit down and type stuff out – but thank you for keeping those of us who can’t be there in the loop.

    I am very interested in this conference. I like what the emerging group is doing – but I also recognize that if the colonial systems, structures and mentalities are not addressed… that ultimately we will end up with the same thing as we have had.

    I was following the comments a little bit yesterday on Twitter and it sounded like Musa Dube had some pointed things to say. I will look forward to the audio.

    • Daniel Fan says:

      I just examined the Twitter comments myself (tried to be “in the moment” as much as possible while at EVTC). They capture about 1/4 or less of they over all content and without much of the context. They’re good as long as readers remember the inherent limitations of twitter (just like my own blog posts are inherently less than the sum of the conference discussion).

      I’ll give an example Tweet:

      “Talking about negative use of Gal 3:28. I like Brad Braxton’s interpretation: “Eradication of dominance, not erasure of difference.”‘

      I’m an egalitarian so this is a key verse for me. It’s hard to imagine how it could ever be “bad” but in this context it definitely was deployed incorrectly.

      This happened in the context of Richard Twiss talking about how, when he became a Christian, a white pastor gave him Gal 3:28 and basically used it to justify the suppression of Richard Twiss’s indigenous identity. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor anything else, just me, a privileged white American male.

      There’s a lot of these examples where the tweets are good prompts for conversation, but not necessarily good conversations in and of themselves. Let me know if there are any that you have questions about and I’ll try to remember what was happening at the time they were recorded.

  2. Dan Lowe says:

    Daniel,

    Again, thanks so much for what you’re doing here. Thanks for pointing out both the good and the not so pretty. The reaction of the folks to Richard’s comment isn’t surprising; that was one of my first reactions when Randy challenged me with the same thing. If you get to talk to folks about it again, encourage them to stay at the table no matter how painful it gets. Take it from a guy whose committed himself to the table; it’s 100% worth it.

    Looking forward to hearing more.
    Peace.
    Dan

  3. Rob Robinson says:

    Its really speaks to a major malady of euro-centric colonialism — that being a Christ-follower in any type of missional context simply requires being a friend, is foreign to one’s thinking. This is problematic to the extreme. That someone doesn’t have time for “friendship” with another of a differing ethnicity; well that is just plain wrong!! Thanks for taking the time to post Randy — deeply appreciate it.

    • Daniel Fan says:

      What I’ve found, and tried to explain is that the Western mind tends to relate in terms of transaction. An ongoing relation challenges one’s ideal of individualism because it represents and ongoing, open-ended obligation–basically an impediment to the complete autonomy we strive for under the individualism model. Hence the frustration with their inability to “pay up,” wash their hands of the situation and move on.

      But you bring up a good point about the missional context and the foreignness of friendship and its implications. I personally think the western (primarily recent American) model of evangelism is severely broken in that it often says “I want you to have a personal relationship with Jesus, but I don’t want a personal relationship with you.”

      • Daniel Fan says:

        Sorry, my first paragraph above refers to what I tried to explain at EVTC to other attendees who had issues with Richard’s answer. Obviously these are not new concepts to you, Rob. Apologies if my comments came across as condescending.

        [And I’m the one that is always talking about giving proper context and backstory (facepalm)]

  4. ethnicspace says:

    Unfortunately, I can write a book about all the times the American church has shown us that friendship is not in their capability. They are great at program but suck at friendship…

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