Tuesday, August 23, 2016

he built a zoo

One of the things to love about the Olympics is that it lifts the awareness of the peoples of the world.

But a bit like the rainy season, or springtime, the season of the Olympics passes and we all return to the national corners from whence we came. What then? How do we keep alive an awareness of the peoples of the world once the sights and sounds of a closing ceremony begin to fade?

A single text should be sufficient. Embedded in it can be found such grand truths.  'From one man God created all the peoples of the world' (Acts 17.26). Common origin. Same imago dei. Equal dignity. One family. Racism repugnant. Injustice unacceptable. Poverty avoidable. Argument over. Case closed. Game. Set. Match.

But that text doesn't seem to be sufficient. People seem to need help to reach this destination...

As Barby and I travel around New Zealand, we are using two approaches. One is to pick a scene from the biblical story. For example, Mary and the baby Jesus is a good one to use. Then search Google for paintings on this scene from different cultures. Watch how the peoples of the world make it their own. It is beautiful. It helps make us less preoccupied with our selves and our cultures and more open to other perspectives. Here are two of the paintings we are using (NB: I can't tell you where they are from, because we are running a little competition. But here's a hint: they are from two countries whose names start with the same letter!).

The other approach is to use food. Learning about the food people eat in a MasterChef-world is a great way to progress an awareness of other peoples. Barby and I are sticking with the familiar - street food, or chaat, made famous in (Old) Delhi where we were based as teenagers. All going well, people will taste samosa, dahi puri, jalebi, kara pori, aloo tikki, mango lassi - and then that queen of Delhi chaat, the pani puri. (However, all did not go well the other night when our communication with the local Indian restaurant was confused and we arrived a night earlier than they expected!).

But I glimpsed a third approach with my grandson, Micah. 'C'mon, Grandpa, let's make a zoo'. Off we went to his bedroom where I watched him go to work. He has loved animals for years (well, let's make that three years!). He has a huge box of them. I sit there and watch him make his zoo. First he places storybooks on different parts of the carpet. They become 'enclosures', as he expresses it. Then he opens up his book of continental maps on which are placed sketches of the animals who live in that continent. Off he goes ... filling his 'Africa enclosure', his 'South America enclosure' etc - all over the carpet of his bedroom floor.

Slowly, his box of animals is being dispersed into the various enclosures of the world. There is even a NZ enclosure, with a kiwi and a couple of cows! The time comes when only a lone wolf is left. 'Where shall I put the wolf?' As I am getting the hang of this building of zoos, I feel an inner surge of confidence to volunteer my thoughts on where the lone wolf might go to be less lonely. 'The North America enclosure?' ... only to receive the response, 'Silly Grandpa, not North America, the Arctic enclosure.' If Grandpa had a tail, it would be between his legs...

Yes, I know - the animals of the world are hardly the peoples of the world, but Micah is well on his way towards appreciating how the created world is full of diversity - a diversity to be celebrated, protected and engaged.

nice chatting


PS: And yes, We Bought a Zoo is one of my favourite movies.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

cross-cultural conversations

It is eight years since Barby and I shifted our focus from New Zealand to the peoples of the majority world. Back then, in NZ, voices reminded us of the need to be resourcing mission with inspiring stories of relevance. Now, returning to NZ for two months (August-September), I find that our experiences have drawn each of those words into a deeper, fuller conversation.

Resourcing – but what about partnership?
The resourcing mentality can create a sense that there are those with something to give and then there are the rest of us, who have something to receive. The flow tends to be one way. Even with the best servant-hearted intentions, this often perpetuates a dependency. And yet when we consider the images of the church in the New Testament - body, temple, building – it is interdependency that is so striking. Everyone has something to give. Everyone has something to receive. Everyone is indispensable – in the global church, as well as the local one (1 Corinthians 12). Expressing these truths is best done through partnerships, built on the foundation of friendship, where we think clearly and humbly about how the church in the majority world can resource us.

Mission – but what about maturity?
In global terms, the mission challenge in NZ is difficult. One of the most difficult anywhere. I have a special admiration for pastors who spend their entire careers battling this challenge with an evangelistic heart. I was with one of them earlier this week. And yet, further afield in the majority world, people are responding to Christ in huge numbers. There is plenty of numerical growth, but it tends to be growth without depth. The desperate need is for ministries which grow people deep into Christ. Discipleship. Biblical preaching. Theological education. Mentoring. It is this other mandate for the church in the New Testament – the maturity challenge, if you like – which surfaces so often. I find a certain irony about New Zealanders going on mission trips, offering an expertise they don't often have to countries which usually do have that expertise. I wonder what a 'maturity trip' might look like?

Inspiration – but what about aspiration?
There are so many resources aimed at inspiring people in NZ. Events. Music. Podcasts. Conferences. Speakers. Sometimes I wonder if there is a danger of being over-inspired? The parrot on Inspector Clouseau’s shoulder in the Pink Panther movies comes to mind - constantly being pumped up because it keeps deflating. Where are those lives that whisper to us the words of Paul, ‘follow me, as I follow Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11)? The life they live quietly draws us close and changes us. Such people did wander through my life in NZ (oh yes, they did!) – but now I find my life is awash with them. The genius of such ‘followship’ is that it plays on our aspirations. We want to be like that person who carries that whiff of Jesus. 

Stories – but what about teaching?
The primacy of story here in NZ is evident for all to see. In the majority world, with its oral cultures, story is always going to be central. But here is the problem. Again and again, church leaders over there are saying something else to us. “We’ve tried stories. Come train us how to teach the Bible. That is what we need.” In one country that comes to mind, they see such biblical teaching to be the way to secure their people against the threat of religious fundamentalism. In another country, such biblical teaching is seen to be the antidote to the prosperity gospel. In still another country, such biblical teaching is the helping hand by which the marginalised are drawn close and valued. In still another region, such biblical teaching is seen to be the antidote to a pervasive nominalism. It is the cry for simple, clear, accessible and transformative biblical teaching that is heard most often.

Relevance – but what about resistance?
In NZ nothing kills an idea quite like describing it to be irrelevant. But there is a problem here. The pursuit of relevance - fitting in with the surrounding culture, flowing with its trends in order to gain an audience - is barely visible in the Bible.  In one testament the people of God are ‘a light to the nations’, while in the other they are the ‘light of the world’. Light?! That sounds more like a life that contrasts, than it does a life that fits-in. The instinct here is more about going upstream, resisting the flow, than it is about floating downstream, going with the flow. How have we missed this? Is it partly because the love and justice of God has eclipsed the holiness of God in NZ? We sing a 'holy' here and there, but maybe if we taught it and lived it more, there would be a greater concern for resistance over relevance.
‘Resourcing mission with inspiring stories of relevance’ won’t be going anywhere. But is it enough? No, it isn't. What about building partnerships which target maturity through an aspirational teaching which energises resistance? If we are willing to be patient, we might be surprised about the fruit this brings.

nice chatting


[NB: this post is adapted from an article written for NZ Baptist News.]