I appreciate the assertion that the Roman Catholic Church does not reserve exclusive rights to “Church” but extends the definition to all Christian communities “in which Christ is present” and who are “instruments of the Spirit in saving and sanctifying people” (69). I once went to a Catholic service where the priest’s entire message expressed the idea that the RCC was the “one true church.” Since then, of course, I have had much more positive experiences with Catholics. While I wouldn’t go so far as to extend the definition of “Church” to all humanity (the gate is narrow and few enter it), I am learning to view the Body as more of a centered-set than a bounded set. Still, I don’t think we should run ourselves aground for the sake of a succinct definition to something so organic.

I’m taking Storytelling with Olive Drane. We talk a lot about the oral tradition of early Jewish culture and what that means for the reading of oral stories preserved in the four gospels. Kelber concludes: “As a marginalized group, the early Christians scribalized their traditions for the purpose of solidifying cultural memory and constructing a sense of history” (110). In addition, the authors of the four gospels wrote down four versions of the gospel story, each crafted for a different audience and to preserve different aspects of Jesus’ ministry and identity. Reading scripture with the lens of an oral culture telling stories with a different idea of truth than our western emphasis on “just the facts, ma’am, just the facts” opens up a whole new understanding of early Christian interpretation of reality.

I find it interesting that we spend so much of our time struggling to define terms, whether terms describing ourselves or describing others. We like to pigeonhole everything, categorize everyone, as though reality is that neatly organized and separated. I appreciate Berquist’s reminder that the “existence of a false consciousness assumes the reality of a ‘true’ consciousness; that is, a system of thinking that actually represents reality” (87)–as though that were possible. Instead, he argues that postcolonialism is about suggesting subjective lenses that provide a positive impact. We can’t be objective, so we might as well try to be subjective in a constructive way.

I remember spending a great deal of time in my college freshman English class comparing the colonial attitude in Heart of Darkness with Hitler’s oppression and extermination of the Jews. We also compared it to Jonathan Swift’s depiction of the Yahoos in Gulliver’s Travels, with horses behaving in vastly more human ways than those vile creatures who retained Gulliver’s general appearance. This is more us/them mentality, raising the questions of what it means to be human and whether there is or isn’t a superior race (like George Orwell’s telling point in Animal Farm: all animals are created equal, but some of them are more equal than others).

The author makes an intriguing point on page 200 about a non-western nation’s self-definition failing “both to represent its own reality and to represent its own people.” He argues that any expression of nationalism is merely a reaction against westernization (one calls to mind the “us/them” binary we discussed in class). Thus, a nation’s expression of nationalism is truncated by its collision with western suggestions and the apparent necessity to deal with them in the form of agreement or disagreement: we either are or aren’t the way you think we are.

Rajan refers to Ashis Nandy’s suggestion “that the sudden and major changes brought about by colonial rule produced effects of alienation in the Hindu male, and that the strong defense of sati advanced by some members of the indigenous male elite was an attempt to recover its identity by enforcing traditional patriarchal norms” (176). That is, because the Hindu men were being oppressed, they latched on to whatever was left of their own culture–in this instance, sati. This suggestion reminds me of what I’ve been commenting on about the situation of Jewish oppression under Roman imperialism. The Pharisees held so fiercely to the rules of the law in order to preserve something of their own culture from the Romans. Likewise, Hindu men defended and continued to enforce the practice of sati because it was something unique to their culture. Just like the law was not influencing Jewish culture positively (it was breeding hypocrisy), so sati in actual practice was a form of patriarchal oppression of Hindu women. Blind to the implications of sati on the women in their culture, the Hindu men could see only the efforts of white imperialism to erase one more aspect of Hindu culture.

Week 4 Wednesday

October 17, 2007

For those well-versed in postcolonial studies it might be annoying, but I really appreciate the attention given in class to defining terms. It makes plowing through the reading a little less rocky. Also, I enjoyed our small group discussion today about the link between materialism and individualism. People want to be connected to each other, and they’re recognizing their emptiness. It’s the church’s opportunity to offer another choice to fill those base-level needs of community–knowing and being known.

Week 4 Monday

October 15, 2007

One profound thought from today’s class: once you start talking to someone, that person loses whatever labels you started with and becomes simply the person you are talking to who you just might have stuff in common with. It reminds me of what I was talking about before with the importance of sharing our stories. When we open up opportunities for dialog, we learn to appreciate each other as people instead of as these binaries our culture has created for us. We all have our humanity in common, at least. Sharing our stories reminds us of our common ground. Then we can move forward together toward something better, something more unifying, more just, something closer to the truth.

Nathan writes regarding Horsley’s article that when Jesus came to liberate, he set free not those who were under political oppression but those who were truly marginalized even in a marginalized society: women, slaves, the poor, etc. That’s a really interesting point to compound the realization on my part that the Jews were in fact a society struggling against Roman control. Jesus always takes things one step further than anyone ever expected. The Jews expected the Messiah to bring political freedom for them. But Jesus brought social freedom for the lowest and most despised or overlooked, and He brought spiritual freedom for every human being regardless of gender, ethnicity, or social rank. When we talk about postcolonialism and oppression and social justice, we will do well to remember Jesus’ example and not get caught up in labels and pointing fingers of blame and following guilty trails. Everyone needs forgiveness. Everyone needs freedom.

It’s really interesting to read ancient Jewish culture as under the imperial rule of Roman oppression. Looking at the Bible through the postcolonial lens is rather new for me, having simply never thought much about it before. It puts the Pharisees in a whole new light to think of them as “mediators between imperial rule and ongoing Judean attempts to persevere in their traditional way of life” (72). No wonder they were so obsessed with the law. Doesn’t make it less wrong of them to be legalistic, but at least it gives me a little room to feel compassionate about their state of mind. It’s always important to understand people’s motives, even if they don’t excuse their actions.

Two points to make:

1) It’s true that as a white woman, it’s a little weird to have the dual oppressor / oppressed thing going on. I don’t usually identify myself as either unless confronted, but it is a strange position to be in. I’m not really sure what I think about it yet…

2) Pui-lan’s conclusion that women need to read together as a community and challenge each other to be aware of biases and agendas reminds me of Slemon’s conclusion about needing to share each other’s stories. Stories. Community. It’s all part of knowing each other, relating to each other on our common ground–humanity, image of God–and building each other up while holding each other accountable and confessing to one another. I’m feeling very Bonhoeffer-ian at the moment.

I like what Fuellenbach has to say about community in this chapter. He describes the Spirit as unifying: “The experience of the Spirit…was [in the early church] a community-creating experience, a body of Christ experience, an experience of being knit into a community” (51). It’s also our call and mission to continue to build community (55). What does this say about the role of the Trinity in community? Clearly the Spirit acts as the glue to hold the early church together as they struggle to learn how to follow Jesus and work together to embody Him on earth. As the Father sent the Son, so the Son sent the Spirit. And the Spirit sends us, out into the world to draw people into the community of the church–on a local and a global level. More paper reflection? The community is not a stagnant entity; it grows or it dies.