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
Technorati Tags: india, mission, india talkie
great post, jonny (and sunil).
fascinating stuff and it's amazing to me as a foereign missionary (aussie in the usa) in an urban western context that the fundamental questions about ecclesiology and mission are baically the same in india as they are here.
as i read this post i was reminded again about my hero E. Stanley Jones. he wrote a classic book early last century called "Christ of the Indian Road" where he posed very similiar questions about how christianity might be expressed in India. it's worth chasing down.
thanks again, jonny. see you at GB.
Posted by: geoff | August 03, 2005 at 10:44 AM
this wouldn't be Sunil Chandy would it?
Posted by: si | August 03, 2005 at 03:25 PM
Great to read Sunil’s comments and the discussion on contextualisation of worship – thanks Jonny and Sunil for publishing them.
On reading Jonny’s India Talkie posts in June it reminded me how raw it felt when I first encountered traditional English liturgy in remote rural parts of Uganda and DR Congo. We would gather for worship in a humble but proudly constructed timber and mud church, often with mud floor – possibly tree trunks for pews – a tin roof if they were lucky, and all decked out with small coloured cloths hanging like flags from the rafters. When the youth choir / MU choir / whatever choir (there seemed to be many!) sang their own worship songs, life and colour radiated for a few minutes. But then it would be back to 1662 (in a local language), which felt like a dirge, like a “power-off” switch … and it felt uncomfortable to me.
But when I talked to local leaders they said that this is the way the older Christians prefer their worship. So it seems the tradition/relevance dichotomy is universal.
I then had opportunities to work with young adult Christians from DR Congo and later from Uganda. The goal they had in common was to get electric instruments and the necessary generator to power them.
“But why? Your local instruments sound so rich and melodic!”
“Because young people here listen to American pop music and they need to know the Gospel is relevant to them too through the music they enjoy.”
We had a running debate throughout the first UK visit of AYF from Uganda in the early 90s. AYF are always creating a wide repertoire of compositions for their ministry, and I advised them that their American style Gospel music wouldn't get such a positive response here as their local melodies and languages.
“But this is who we are. You invited us to share our ministry here, and some of our best ministry in Uganda is with American Gospel style. It reaches the young people because it’s modern. And anyway, how would people here understand the message we want to share if it’s not in English?”
Over time we saw clearly that worship is more than an intellectual process through words, as AYF found British people responding rather mildly to their English language Gospel music, but deeply moved by songs in Japadhola, Alur, Luganda or Chiga. Whatever the language or age, certain melody and rhythm elicit soul-level response - plus, I would say, the realism and authenticity of the worship leader/s.
Posted by: Gill | August 04, 2005 at 10:58 AM
it's the very same Sunil Chandy you knew and loved ;)
Posted by: Luiza | August 04, 2005 at 02:30 PM