in june i blogged a series of posts called india talkie which were my reflections on my visit to india. some of them reflected on the challenge of the cultural forms of church - e.g. is christianity a foreign religion
sunil came across my posts and we have had an exchange of e-mails that i am posting below (with his permission). i found this really helpful - it justs highlights the complexities of mission and contexts...
Somehow stumbled upon your blog site. Saw Jakes and Sheila and I think I was supposed to drop in when you visited their coffee house. Anyhow I have some thoughts on some of your postings. Expecially the bit about culture and indigenous worship.
I think it's always a danger to slot people. When you go to a different country one expects things to be in a certain way. Ya indigenous worship is surely the way forward but what defines indigenous? My family have been Anglican for over a 150 years. All my friends, whether Christian, or non-Christian speak English, listen to rock. What is indigenous? indigenous Christianity today seems to be a
post-colonial reaction for Easterners and post-colonial guilt for the West. so the West still prescribes what Christianity should look like in other cultures! No sinister motive this. Just a lack of trust and
understanding I think. the Holy Spirit will inspire us to be who we are meant to be. Imposing is always dangerous.
But I completely agree with your statement, 'globalisation, global, western and even american were all getting merged together, sometimes as though they were the embodiment of evil!' I've married a Britisher and we see it every day. Racial prejudice is alive and well all over the world!
These issues of race and culture are only truly answered in Christ. He
is our peace, breaking the dividing wall between us.
Thanks for reading
Great to hear from you. Thanks for taking the trouble to write. I completely agree with you that it is very difficult to define what is indigenous. And this was my first visit to India... I realise that there is plenty of Western influence in youth culture in India etc. and it is complictaed. My posts were not meant to rubbish that in any way. But I still think the issue of contextual worship is important. It must connect with and come out of Indian soil - maybe as a fusion or a remix? But not adopted wholesale. I don't think it is just post colonial guilt (though you are right I do have plenty of that!!!). I was particularly reacting to what felt like english worship from two centuries ago... I can't believe that is a good thing for India today? It's irrelevance here has led to decline in the church amongst young people. I interviewed several people when I was in India (including Jakes). I could send you a DVD if you are interetsed. But one in particular was interesting on this issue. Ganesh works for the IMA and is from hindu background - all his family are hindu. He is if you like outside the church culturally. He basically said that for his family and those who have grown up outside the church they see it as foreign in its cultural expression and this turns them away from Christ. This is why I think it is more than just post colonial guilt - long term unless worship connects at some grass roots level with peoples context it ends up being alienating. I realise that in many areas this will have western components in the mix. But in other places it probably won't and shouldn't...
I run a blog as you know. Would you mind if I posted your e-mail on it? I think it adds an intersting dimension to the discussion. You certainly have got me thinking.
I do agree about contextual worship. I guess it's just that I react a lot to some things. When I studied in London School of Theology (then LBC) we learnt a lot about contextual worship and its importance.. In fact my 3rd year dissertation was on a similar thing. My conclusion was that actually that my church in it's particular context needn't radically change it's musical style, because that's what people have grown up with. Also deciding what is contextual is a difficult process. In a rural area it is simpler because there is more homogenity in culture. But what about a city? There are people from all over India here, speaking different languages. My chief worry here is to impose something that looks unreal.
If a church sounds like 18th century England then obviously that's hopelessly out of context. But straightforward bhajans (indian devotional hymns) for an urban english speaking community will also be out of context. You are quite right in using the terms fusion and remix. That is the only way to go. Aradhna are kind of close. They interweave hindi and English songs within one session of worship. Have you heard them? But many musicians down south say that the singing is too complex for a congregation.
I think the issue is very important, but for some reason not many of the churches have got into the act of at least thinking about it. There was a songwriter in the early 20th century (1905) who did write many songs from scripture with Indian tunes. But they're all forgotten. My father is trying to translate them into English and get them published.
The ideal would be if the local church in each area could write their own music pertaining to their own context, musically and lyrically. But there is a a long way to go. But conversations like this ensure that the seeds are planted and watered.
I use the term post colonial guilt because the issue of contextualisation is often brought about in relation to colonialism. But the first evangelicals to come on mission were very into contextualisation. It's a whole mission history lesson to find out how it all started getting confused.
Anyhow thanks for writing and responding to my rant and hope things are well with you.
I have no issues with you putting up the posts.
Thanks... I have actually booked aradhna for greenbelt this year as I co-ordinate the worship. There is also a group called sanctuary who do a kind of alt worship meets british asian culture. I think you’d find it very interesting. Pall singh who heads it up is doing something very unique...
I’ll add our exchange to the blog