Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's Not Wrong, It's Different

I was checking Facebook the other day, and someone noted that they always seem to have a bunch of questions, but not a lot of answers to those questions.

That has stuck with me.

When you have served as long as I have as a missionary, people tend to believe, or at least hope, that you have all the answers about where you are serving.

It often does not go well when I have to explain that yes, as a matter of fact, I have been serving in Mexico for over 20 years, but no, I cannot answer your question.

Sometimes the reason is because I simply do not know the answer.

However, most times, there is just no easy answer. For example, when someone asks why we can’t solve the issue of hunger in a specific country, often the answer is just too complicated for us to consider.

But then there may be another reason. Maybe there is no answer within our framework, and we are unable to consider a response outside of our personal box.

To understand this, take a look at the latest blog post by Brian McLaren at “God’s Politics” titled “Post Colonial Theology.” Here, McLaren asks in a world of “modified theology” i.e. black theology, liberation theology, etc., is theology with no modifier just seen as normal?

If the answer to this, as I suspect, is yes, then, applying his concept to other things, how do we interpret God’s ongoing work outside of our own context?

Or to put it another way, when you ask me a question about the church in Mexico, how can I respond when the answer may be so far outside of your normative box, that you are unable, or maybe even unwilling to understand?

Now you may say Dave this is all well and good, but what’s your point?

Well stay with me here and let’s move the discussion away from theology and concentrate on what McLaren is trying to say.

Paul teaches in Corinthians that [we need to become] all things to all people so that by all possible means, I might save some. How can we do that if we are unable to understand those with whom we serve?

This is big within short-term mission because wrapped up in this issue is the question of who drives the bus.

When locals suggest a certain way to do something that may differ from our ideas on how to do it, if we automatically see our way of doing something as normal, then naturally, we would see another way as wrong, or incorrect.

When that happens, we tend to pull back on participation, support, help, and involvement in foreign aid and mission.

And that is sometimes why those of us on the field have no answers. Because we know that the people asking the questions may not like, or understand our answers. Because those answers may come with what McLaren calls modifiers, thus calling into question the normalcy, or orthodoxy of our responses.

Rather than adopt a position of wanting to learn from those that are different, particularly on the short-term mission field, most participants go with the expectation of doing something, and doing it the American way, because we believe our way is best.

It is as if our way is the normative that McLaren speaks of, thereby making any other method, a modified, or wrong way.

So when you ask your missionary about something, understand there is frequently no easy answer. We have to consider a wide range of realities, and often, those can only be seen from a lens of years of experience where we are serving.

Should you avoid asking the questions? By no means. Just understand that the answer you may receive, while different from what you expected or wanted to hear may not be wrong, just different.


Lista said...

Here's what I Got Out of your Above Note...

When you do not Answer a Question, sometimes it is because you do not Know and other times it is because the Answer would Take far too Long to Explain in a Way in which it would be Understood. Let's see if I can Put into my Own Words what I Understand to be the Problem. Please Feel Free to Correct me if I Describe it Incorrectly.

When Americans First Entered into Missions and Tried to Do Everything the American Way, many of those in the Countries that were Visited did not Receive it well and Eventually we Learned that we Needed to Evangelize by using something that is Understood in the Culture as a Bridge. We had to Learn how to do some things their way, or the way they are Used to in that Culture. People are Resistant to Change and not all Change is Really Necessary.

Because of this, it very Quickly became Necessary to Distinguish between what is Truly Biblical and what is American, for the Job is not to Americanize the People, but to Bring them to God. To do this, it is Necessary to Pray and Ask the Lord to Help us to Understand the People and to also Understand how God wants to Interact with this Particular Culture.

Those who have Never Left American Soil may Find the Details of this Concept Hard to Comprehend.

Dave Miller said...

Great job Lista