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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Know Your Audience

Written by: on February 5, 2015

Though I never would have expected it, the triple play of books this week sent me on a journey down memory lane, and I was left with days of smiling. Context theology! Public theology! Practical theology! Oh My! If you’ll allow me (as if you had a choice), I would like to share my memories with you, as they related to each text.

A memorable quote from Stephen Bevans in Models of Contextual Theology is, “As our cultural context plays a part in the construction of the reality in which we live, so our context influences the understanding of God and the expression of our faith.”[1] The Gospels are a perfect example of this. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each had a different perspective dependent upon how they personally experienced Christ, and they each wrote in a different context to a different audience. They chose the stories they knew would relate to their audience the most. Another of my favorite authors, Duane Elmer, wrote in Cross Cultural Servanthood, “It is not up to us to offend but instead to connect.”[2]

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It never fails. No matter where I am in the world, Friday or Saturday night before Sunday morning worship, the pastor of the church will come up to me and say, “You know, we would love to have you deliver the message on Sunday morning.” This has happened in Mexico, Russia, Cuba, Uganda, and probably other places I have blocked out! The one I remember the most, however, was in August 2011 – the first time I preached in Haiti. It was Saturday afternoon when the Episcopal priest handed me the Scripture lessons he wished for me to teach on Sunday morning. Not only was I nervous, I felt inept to deliver a message to people I had only met days before, in a culture I knew hardly nothing about, and in a language I barely understood. I scribbled notes on the back of instructions for a water system, and my Haitian brother looked over the message. After all, he would be translating for me, and he would need to understand. An hour later, my brother found me, and he had a worried look on his face. He said something to the effect of, “Sister, I am afraid there is a problem. There are things in your message I don’t understand. You speak of the future, yet these people do not know if they will be alive tomorrow. They are simply trying to survive today. You speak of God as a loving father, yet many of them have never met their own earthly fathers. We need to make this so they will understand.” My dad had always said, “know your audience,” but I had written a message from my own context – the context of a young white female, from the southern United States, who lived in a comfortable home, and had a job and food to eat most any time. The community to which I would be speaking were middle-aged black Haitians, who lived in small shacks made of tarps with no jobs and never knew when their next meals would be. Their community had suffered unspeakable losses during the 2010 earthquake, and many still lived in fear. There was no connection, or as Stephen Bevans would say, there was no sense of contextual theology. Realizing the culture, the history, the situation of the moment, the message needed a redraft to fit the audience.

David Neville in The Bible, Justice and Public Theology used the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son as brilliant examples of varying interpretations of the same message based on cultural understanding.[3] This reminded me of a conference we used the Good Samaritan as the theme for the weekend, but the group attending had extensive Bible knowledge and training. They had heard the parable of the Good Samaritan many times over the course of their lives, and when we hear things over and over, we have a tendency to hear it with dull ears or study it from the same viewpoint we always have. Many had even memorized the story and could recite it verbatim. We wanted to tell the parable from a new point-of-view to encourage fresh ears to hear the story…and so, we read the Parable of the Good Samaritan in three different formats – a poem, a contemporary version, and my favorite, a TONGUE TWISTER! This worked extremely well and gave way to lengthy discussion; however, trying to repeat it in Haiti was a disaster. The creativity was lost, and the translator was thoroughly confused! And thus I learned yet again, it really is about finding the context, understanding the history, and knowing your audience.

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Reading Spirit in the Cities: Searching for Soul in the Urban Landscape by Kathryn Tanner, especially her description of La Habana, took me back to my trip to Cuba in 2013. The thorough airport check. The people. The 1950s cars. The Russian 4-seaters. The billboards. The ration booklets. It was exactly as I remembered. Sunday morning, we worshiped at a Quaker meeting house in the city square of Holguin. Though the service was in Spanish, there was an overwhelming sense of connection and excitement. They sang Amazing Grace in Spanish, and I sang along in English. They read from Psalm 51, and I recited the verses from memory. A young woman gave her testimony, and though I only pieced together parts of the message, her feelings resonated in my heart. Tanner wrote, “The social human person who needs to relate to others and needs to be keenly aware that we live and move and have our being within and in relation to the rest of creation.”[4] Our understandings may emerge from our cultures and countries of origin, but during this time in Cuba, though from different cultures, contexts, and histories, I felt as one body of Christ. As individuals, we exist as part of the whole, and in that moment, I felt as though I was a member of this community. In that moment, we were living, moving, and breathing in relation to the rest of our beings. I gained a better understanding of who I am as a member of the body of Christ in relation to this community and our world. And now I fully realize how my worldview is skewed. Through the reality of lived experiences in cultures near and far, and through embedded understandings, I see the world.

 

[1] Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2002), Loc. 223.

[2] Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), Loc. 682.

[3] David J. Neville, ed. The Bible, Justice and Public Theology (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014).

[4] Kathryn Tanner, Spirit in the Cities: Searching for Soul in the Urban Landscape (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), Loc. 1322.

 

About the Author

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Ashley Goad

Ashley is the Global Missions Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. She's a UNC fanatic, Haiti Enthusiast, Clean Water Activist, Solar Power Supporter... www.firstserves.org www.solarunderthesun.org www.livingwatersfortheworld.org

9 responses to “Know Your Audience”

  1. mm Ashley Goad says:

    Because I know you are all dying to read the Tongue Twister for the Good Samaritan…

    A sorry sap was sauntering slowly side-to-side when suddenly six serious assassins set themselves to smash that silly sap.

    Stripped, stunned and shaken, he stumbled and sank to the solid slate of the sidewalk.

    After seemingly several seconds slipped by, a sanctimonious sort of celibate saw the simple soul seething on the sidewalk; so he stopped and then simply strolled by.

    Soon a selfish shepherd who subsisted on a small salary stalled a second and left the sorry simpleton stranded.

    Surprisingly, a spiritually substandard Samaritan slid straightway to the subdued subject who was stunned.

    Seeing the seriousness of the situation, he restored the strength of that sorry soul and sitting him in the saddle of his staunch stallion, surveyed him safely to some sanitarium where he secured some substantial sustenance for that stranded sojourner.

    “So,” said the Savior, “Seeing such circumstances, who seems to be the sympathetic saint in such a situation?”

    “Surely, the Samaritan,” stammered the scribe.

    “Superb,” said the Savior, “So must you shape yourself.”

    • Love it!!! Great. I will be sharing this with my kids as we do public theology around our table.

      • mm Ashley Goad says:

        Well, if you like that one…

        Feeling Footloose and Frisky, a Feather-brained Fellow Forced his Fond Father to Fork over the Farthings and Flew Far to Foreign Fields where he Frittered his Fortune Feasting Fabulously with Faithless Friends. Fleeced by his Fellows and Facing Famine, he Found himself a Feed Flinger in a Filthy Farmyard. Fairly Famishing he Fain would have Filled his Foolish Frame with Foraged Food from Fodder Fragments. Phooey! My Father’s Flunkies Fare Far Finer the Frazzled Fugitive Forlornly Fumbled Frankly Facing Facts. Frustrated by Failure and Filled with Foreboding, he Fled Forthwith to his Family. Falling at his Father’s Feet he Forlornly Fumbled, “Father, I’ve Flunked and Foolishly Forfeited Family Favor.” The Farsighted Father, Forestalling Further Flinching, Flagged to the Flunkies to Fetch a Fatling From the Flock and Fix a Feast. The Fugitive’s Fault-Finding Brother Frowned on the Fickle Forgiveness of the Former Folderol, but the Faithful Father Figured, Filial Fidelity is Fine, but the Fugitive is Found! What Forbids Fervent Festivity? Let Flags be Unfurled, Let Fanfare Flare!

        Moral of the Story: The Father’s Forgiveness Formed the Foundation for the Former Fugitive’s Future Faith and Fortitude!

  2. mm Deve Persad says:

    That ‘s an awesome way to hear that parable Ashley. Thanks for sharing it. One of the things that I didn’t write about was the idea that you ended with: “And now I fully realize how my worldview is skewed. Through the reality of lived experiences in cultures near and far, and through embedded understandings, I see the world.” Your global experiences are much more varied than my own, and I wonder to what extent your relationships and exposure to other cultures has helped you gain a greater sense of God’s love for all people? Conversely, I wonder if you, yourself feel more connected in one particular place over another, or if you feel less identified in your “home” context because of these experiences?

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Those are fantastic questions, Deve… Especially in the past five years, my theology, my faith, and my connection to God has changed dramatically. One of the things I appreciate about travel is seeing God through new eyes. Hearing a new testimony, learning of triumphs overcome, seeing the daily lives of so many individuals and faith communities… It’s inspiring. It’s encouraging. And I love being a small part of it. The relationships, the shared memories…and then the follow up trips. God intertwines our lives, and that in itself inspires me.

      Your second question is even more interesting. I am from North Carolina. I love North Carolina. I bleed Carolina Blue. It is “my home.” But after all of this travel, after not living in more than one place for more than 5 years for most of my life…I don’t know if I could ever go back “home”. People, not places, are my home. Sure, I love spending time in some places more than others, but the people around me make it home. …. Hmmm…that’s something to think about! 🙂

  3. Michael Badriaki says:

    Hi Ashley, I like Duane’s quote too, “it’s not up to us to offend but to connect.” That’s one way of doing public contextual theology and justice related work both locally and globally. I believe it all comes down to friendships and how respectful and gentle people to one another. The openness to learning and flexibility is well demonstrated in you post. Those are same of the values of contextual theology.

    Thanks Ashley

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Michael, it’s so true. Everything, absolutely everything, can come back to relationships, relationships, relationships. Indeed, how can you possibly tell someone about Jesus if you don’t know who they are? How can you minister to those in need without knowing their needs? It’s the same message, with a different delivery, based on the person sitting in front of you. Context. Relationships. 🙂

  4. mm Julie Dodge says:

    Ashley –
    As you ready yourself to go to Haiti, it is only appropriate that I comment on your Haiti story. God bless the brother who came to you and expressed his concerns about what you were going to teach about! This tells me many things. First, that you shared your planned teaching in a manner of humility that told him he could indeed tell you his concerns. Not a lot of people do that – they just give permission to read over the notes, not necessarily raise concerns. This takes great strength as well (for you to be that vulnerable). Second, that your translator had the courage to come to you with his concerns. I am by no means an expert on Haitian culture (having never been), but I imagine that it is not a common thing to “correct” the American, pastor, authority person. Third, that God continues to teach and shape and mold us as long as we remain open to Him.

    I really, really loved the writing about Cuba. I could feel it and it only made my longing to go there greater. I think what I also loved about her writing was her communication of her multiple identities. She is Cuban, but not as much as she was; She is American, but not first; and so on. I resonated with these ideas about how where we live becomes part of us. And the more we (I) travel, the more we incorporate little bits and pieces of the other places. The deeper the attachment, the deeper the experience and hopefully greater the understanding of the other.

    Praying for you this week!

    • Ashley says:

      Julie… So Haiti is next. Russia is first 🙂 And now, you absolutely must come to Haiti sometime. You need to meet my brother, Ancy. We’ve long surpassed friendship, and he truly is my brother. I call his mother, “mom”, and he does the same with mine. We have a safe confidence that I’ve had with very few people, and I treasure our time together. We haven’t had enough of that lately. You are right, though… Haitians are in the habit of telling Americans what they want to hear, which is usually NOT the truth. With so many of my interviews for my dissertation research, I have had to intentional create an environment where the interviewee feels safe and protected to tell how they really feel. Normally that takes place in long car rides…where they can’t break free! 🙂 … So, do you want to come? Take a week off in March and come with Stefania and me?? 🙂

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