November 12, 2011
One of the questions I have been asked with some regularity since returning from a visit to the Diocese of Western Tanganyika is why we are in this relationship in the first place. Are we helping the needy? Building an orphanage? Bringing some kind of expertise? The answer is ‘none of the above’. We are engaging in what Titus Presler calls “Reconciling Mission in a World of Difference.” That is the subtitle of his book Going Global with God (Morehouse, 2010). At All Saints’ we say that we are a community centered in worship and that we grow in faith as we engage God and our neighbor. It is that engagement of God and neighbor that is mission “into difference” with the reasonable and holy hope of “reconciliation” as a result of our opening ourselves to whatever it is that God has to teach us in the world of another.
Jennifer Vanderbes’ second novel is Strangers at the Feast (Scribner, 2010). At a recent gathering of our Novel Theology group we discussed the differing worlds of characters who appear to be in the same world as they are from the same family. Beyond that we saw what happened as they “engaged difference” with their eyes closed and how deathly violence was the result. As some of the members of the group shared about what was happening as they chose to live in ‘transitional neighborhoods’, we heard how difficult it can be to live in a world in which we displace each other for all kinds of ‘innocent’ reasons.
There is something about traveling across the world and wrestling with the suspicion that for our hosts, ‘unity in Christ’ and the ‘fellowship of the gospel’ are quite secondary to whatever monetary gifts we might release that opens our eyes to worlds of difference closer to home. We went with some clear instructions about how our gift was to be used and ended up coming to terms with the reality that partnership means that we must trust those with whom we are in relationship. Whatever financial gifts we can release to assist in the work of proclaiming the gospel in DWT will have to be used by those who live their in the way they think best even as they understand our particular interest in strong education in Africa as a primary means of their finding a sustainable future.
As we think about this ‘mission into difference’, we are already addressing what one reviewer declares missing from Dr. Presler’s helpful book. Ian Douglas, a former faculty colleague of Presler and now Bishop of Connecticut reviewed Going Global for The Anglican Theological Review (Fall 2011, Vol.93, #4 p.734-6) and says he “does not adequately offer a power analysis in his consideration of difference…how disproportionate power allows some to cross borders from positions of privilege while others experience that crossing as targets of oppression.” In DWT we are guests and we are dependent on our gracious hosts in so many ways, but we come from privilege and have to be careful about instincts we have to be ‘helpful’ without really and deeply understanding the world in which we are privileged to be visitors.