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

People and Imaginaries

Written by: on February 26, 2015

 

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Humanity continues to be impacted by ideas from religion and culture. It is difficult to distinguish religious practice from the culture in which it emerges.  Why pinpoint at the two categorizes and not others like banking, the modern biomedical enterprise and so forth? I believe that they are all inseparably intertwined but while studying Charles Taylor’s book, particular scenarios regarding religion, ethnicity and culture came to mind which explain some more about the earlier statements. The memories where triggered by Taylor’s notion of “social imaginaries.”[1] What role do imaginaries play in the diversification of new options in a world infused with both religious and non-religious choices? In another book titled Modern Social Imaginaries, Taylor describes social imaginaries as:

… something much broader and deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality in a disengaged mode. I am thinking, rather, of the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie the expectations.[2]

The division between the “secular and the scared” is based on social imaginaries which have influenced Christianity in many ways. I believe that the consequences from the measures of ‘us verse them’ and ‘with us or against us’ hinder faithful witness. Not long ago, myself and a group of Ugandan Christians were introduced to the concept of the “10/40 window” by American evangelical missionaries in Uganda.  The missionaries were sociable and friendly, but when it came to the discussion about the “10/40 window”, there was a shift in their countenance. I thought to myself, this must be a terrible place. The missionaries defined the 10/40 window as the place where most of the unreached people group by the Christian message lived. This particular place was across African and Asia, from 10 degree latitude north of the equator to 40 degrees latitude north of the equator, thus “the 10/40”.

We were told that a large number of the population had not heard the gospel.  Yet, the group of Uganda Christians who attended the training meeting still questioned how possible it was that the land of St Augustine and other historical Christian intellectuals might be “unreached”? Were the missionaries aware of the many people to whom Jesus appeared and called to follow him in those particular areas of the world? Why did the missionaries need to have a sweeping label for countries, cultures and continents?  Was such a label Christian or secular? Was this an introduction to new options in Uganda on how to approach people living in the region under question?  Does Western Europe need a similar demarcation since Christendom is on the decline? One can only imagine that there where social imaginaries that accompanied the creation of the 10/40 concept.  But what are the social imainaries in the missionary “targeted” region? How do people marry there? What languages are spoken there? What stories could the missionaries have told about the people is ways of living? In my option, such simplistic concepts like “10/40 window” are unnecessary and disengaging. When religious people are fearful, they either practice the process of ‘othering’ or retreat. It was no surprise that non of the Ugandans expressed further interest in the missionaries’ training seminar.

Taylor’s work covers a historical perspective of the developments in Western Christendom, modernity and the rise of the secular category amid religion and cultural. While studying his work, I was pulled back to events in my history in ways that helped me to understand some of the existing doubts and discrepancies. As I continue to be mindful of how to be a disciple of Christ I am compelled to be embedded in the gospel and discerning of how I proclaim it. There is need to know how to practice a dialectical way of relating in the world of ideas, modernity, religion and culture.  Language, symbols, literature, music, dance, theater, aesthetics and poetry are necessary for the entry into human stories and encouraging an environment of love, respect and mutuality.

[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 172.

[2] Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 1.

About the Author

Michael Badriaki

5 responses to “People and Imaginaries”

  1. mm Deve Persad says:

    Wow, Michael, such important ideas to share. Thank you for revealing the inside truth of what we, in the west have for many years wondered about the 10/40 window. There were many years we heard about it and the urgency to get involved; yet no one ever asked about the presence of believers and how they were living and sharing their faith. I very much appreciate your comment: “As I continue to be mindful of how to be a disciple of Christ I am compelled to be embedded in the gospel and discerning of how I proclaim it.” I recognize that this is where we need to be challenging people – to be disciples who are committed to the gospel.

  2. Michael,

    Thank you for your post. I, too, was angered by the missionaries’ shallowness and ethnocentrism. I have seen this too many times already in my life. Why do Western Christians always have to have a formula for everything, and why do they see others only through their own lenses? Wouldn’t it be wiser if they took the time to get to know the people they are “training” over time? I think that in this case the trainers need to be the trainees and visa versa.

    I loved your commentary: “In my option, such simplistic concepts are unnecessary and disengaging. When religious people are fearful, they either practice the process of ‘othering’ or retreat. It was no surprise that non of the Ugandans expressed further interest in the missionaries’ training seminar.” I would have left the training if I were you, but I sense that you were more polite than I would have been.

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Michael
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts in your blog.
    I love your closing statement: “Language, symbols, literature, music, dance, theater, aesthetics and poetry are necessary for the entry into human stories and encouraging an environment of love, respect and mutuality.” Indeed, these are powerful mediums through which God can be understood and seen, and through which unity can be encouraged. You make a great point!

  4. Russ Pierson says:

    Michael, this is a powerful tale you tell! The notion of the “10/40 window” absolutely fits the modern, U.S. church’s way of breaking everything into its component parts, reducing and generalizing it all into various “commodities” (to use the term Telile used in her post). We’re the Christians with a 10/40 window, 4 Spiritual Laws and countless self-help-oriented sermons enumerating the 3 rules of this and the 7 steps of that.

    All of us–and American Christians in particular-need to remain humble as we engage with one another across the planet. With reference to Africa, for example, far too many of us mentally reassign the nationalities of Augustine and other early African church fathers (including Tertullian, Clement, Origen, Athanasius, Cyril, Cyprian, and countless, largely-unheralded early church mothers, too!).

    Thanks for this poignant reminder.

    Russ

  5. mm Ashley Goad says:

    Michael, your posts continue to be rich and full of wonder. I imagine sitting there and listening to this 10/40 principle was mind-boggling. I thought for sure the 10/40 was to be a far more exciting example than what you described! 🙂 I think this is yet another example of how we try to quantify our work, as opposed to focusing on relationship, community, and the people sitting in front of us. Perhaps those missionaries speaking should have been looking inward instead of pointing the finger outward.

    Hey, let’s catch up this week!

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