Monday, March 24, 2008

Staying another year?

Greetings from Cairo. The Division for Global Missions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has asked me to consider staying a second year at the seminary, while they continue to search for a long term replacement. I have agreed to consider this. Though not yet final, it appears that I will return in June to the U.S. for two months and then come back here in mid August. The experience I have received and the help of colleagues here to orient me makes this possible.

I have been thinking about what courses will be offered in 2008-2009. Along with the Bibical courses which others will teach, I will be responsible for courses in middle eastern church history, from the beginning to the coming of Islam, and in the 19th century to the present.
I have asked myself what else I can contribute which comes from my background and experience.
This brings me to my first picture: a wall mural from a rural village church in El Salvador, where I served as teacher for four years. An elective course which the previous director, David Grafton (who now teaches at the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia), developed here was an exploration of various Biblical interpretation methods which arose in the 20th century, many of them in countries in the southern regions of our globe,when they had been freed from European and North American colonial rule after World War II. The countries still received missionaries from the "First World", but more and more (sometimes with resistence and hesitancy) the indigenous teachers in these "Third World" countries have taken what they have judged to be valued (the historical-critical method of Biblical studies would be one example) and moved on to produce materials which arise out of their own context and their own studies, and which express their own understandings and "theologies".

In Latin America, the term "praxis" was used to describe how students of Scripture received the best from the past, but with a critical attitude which brings their own insights and experiences of their reality to their reflections . This has often led them to reject or modify the "lenses" of interpretation which have come from the outside, and to develop their own. Recently, this seminary received two books from our Norwegian friends, (pictured to the right)
which describe the development of interpretative studies in sub-saharan Africa. The Old Testament has been a particularly exciting area of study, because there are many similarities between the societies of the two. Back to the first picture for a moment. One aspect of Latin America Lutheran theology in El Salvador is the "wholistic" approach to life and to the study of Scriptures (represented by the phrases and examples: "peace with God". "peace with our brothers and sisters", "peace within ourselves" and "peace with the natural world"). This has become an important feature of the study of Scripture in Africa, incorporating the whole person in community and in the world, and not seeing the person primarily as individual and unconnected to other people and the world.
One study on the Old Testament Book of Proverbs can serve to illustrate an African author's approach. He cites the passages which lift up the poor and condemn the rich, and suggest this condition as not of God's plan. Though few in number in the book, he sees these references to the injustices are privotal in criticizing the "status quo rather than accepting and supporting it (the way I was taught to view Proverbs), and to lift up a cry of hope as well as pain about the way things are. One can see how the author has benefited from the fulness of the historical-critical method introduced from the west, and combined this with his community's reflections on its reality. What I hope to do if I remain here another year is to continue a main focus of the master's program: To introduce materials which challenge the students to think critically, and which encourage them to challenge what they have received from their own context to produce new insights appropriate to this place.
(More another time of what the ELCA means by a south-south strategy - but for now my bringing insights from Latin America is one part of this). Peace and justice. Roger

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