Secularism, Psalm 104, and the Pacific Context
In Charles Taylor’s analysis of the “secular age” he chronicles the shift from “enchantment to disenchantment” and the accompanying shift from the “porous” self to the “buffered” self. These terms are used in quite a particular way, which will be explained in the early stages of the paper. Taylor demonstrates that the phenomenon of secularism is much more nuanced than a simple loss of belief; rather it is a different form of belief, which itself has roots in the biblical world view. At the same time, the shift towards disenchantment and the privileging of the life of the individual mind is accompanied by a nostalgic longing for a more interconnected world. In the light of Taylor’s analysis, I read the marvellous hymn to creation and the Creator in Psalm 104 and consider the extent to which this hymn encourages a more secular form of belief and the extent to which it draws the reader back into a more enchanted age. Such a reading potentially provides some helpful categories in thinking about issues raised by faith in a Pacific context: to what extent does the biblical witness challenge aspects of a worldview, which may in Taylor’s terms be broadly described as “enchanted,” and to what extent does it encourage the reader to affirm aspects of that worldview? And might this be helpful in understanding and navigating the tension between the global and the local, the modern and the pre-modern characteristic of much of our Pacific context? It is not for me to supply definitive answers but, as I hope to do in this paper, offer categories within which to have a discussion. The outcome of such a reading has consequences also for a Western environment, where a secular disenchantment runs deep and has led to the separation of belief from the public square, in the face of which a yearning for the possibility of belief remains in evidence.
Writing the human subject
Qualitative researchers seek to know the world and make it known through engaging with people in real world settings (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). Here, knowledge is gained through interviews, where a researcher encounters a participant’s view of the world. Yet can experience be trusted? Can a researcher listen to a story without subtly intervening, simply by the questions they ask? When does the story a participant is telling become the researcher’s version of the story and their property? Sarah Penwarden will speak about some of the hopes and challenges of qualitative inquiry. She will be speaking in particular about her doctoral research, a kind of qualitative inquiry known as counselling practitioner research (McLeod, 2003). Here, she practiced a literary form of counselling – writing poetry as therapy (Speedy, 2005) - with people who had lost a loved partner to death. She practiced this poetry therapy with participants and then made meaning of their responses to it. Her research thus holds to both the importance of the experience of the human person while acknowledging the shifts of language, meaning and being that occur in the process of interviews (St Pierre, 2008).
On the Evolution of the Church
The biblical narrative describes the church journeying to a place of complete unity with Christ. Our promised future is a reality where every remnant of evil and darkness has been swept away by God’s all-encompassing goodness and light. And together, we are continuously growing towards this future, while also looking forward to a coming radical transformation that will finally make it a full and present reality. Given such an ongoing journey, though, the important question raised is how the church presently grows into a more complete knowledge of and unity with God. If the church is on “The Way”, how is it currently being transformed? There are twin dangers. If (as Reinhard Hütter claims of Barth) we over-emphasise the church’s sinfulness, radically separating God’s self-communication from the church’s witness, the Spirit’s present transformational mission is eclipsed. Alternatively, if (as Nicholas Healy claims of Hütter) we too closely identify the Spirit’s work with church practice, then we cannot adequately account for the church’s sinfulness, failing to recognize that the Spirit works outside of, and at times even against the church. How then can we develop a theological account of the church’s transformation that neither over- nor under-emphasizes the church’s sinfulness? This paper argues that a methodology which intentionally views all reality through the lens of the Spirit, as expressed in the burgeoning Third Article Theology movement, in interaction with the work of Bonhoeffer, enables a balanced account of how the church is transformed. A key aspect in this approach is the development of a “thick” pneumatoecclesial account which distinguishes between the Spirit (of God) and the spirit (of the church). It takes seriously the Spirit’s role as (in part and in kind) making present God’s promises of our eschatological future.
Sacrificial offering in the Samoan church, is it wise giving?
The focus of my research addresses financial giving and offering in the Congregational Christian Church Samoa (CCCS). More specifically, there is a general concern regarding excessive giving of financial resources to various church donations and church related programs. This concern is generally voiced by mainly the New Zealand-born cohort within the church, and voices outside the Samoan church. Contrary to these voices is the inherent belief of the faithful parishioners that these contributions are a sacrifice to God, through His church. From this understanding, I will delve deeper into the Samoan epistemological understanding of sacrificial offering, or taulaga, underpinning an articulation of traditional discipleship within spiritual and socio-cultural spaces. Furthermore, by critically evaluating the transplanting of the CCCS in New Zealand, my contention is that the re-translating of taulaga in a contemporary, foreign context has provided new challenges for the diaspora church. This is because excessive giving to the church has placed many Samoan families in positions of social and economic marginalisation. Issues such as economic hardships, loss of family homes, domestic violence, underachievement in schools, gambling, suicide and other issues have affected many Samoan families affiliated with the CCCS. My research has implications for mission in diaspora Samoan churches. In my investigation, I will be engaging the concept of taulaga with discussions about the prosperity gospel and the theology of Stewardship. How can the parishioners of the CCCS preserve the inherent belief that taulaga is a sacrificial offering to God, and serve as faithful stewards in their communities? This question is important in the context of this research.
In his 1981 book, The Transforming Moment, professor James Loder articulates a five-step “logic of transformation” that he argues underlies all moments of significant insight. Critical to the transformation process is an encounter that challenges a subject’s understanding of reality. Borrowing the concept of episteme from Michel Foucault, building on Loder’s process and drawing on whanaungatanga from kaupapa Māori, I will discuss this disruptive cognitive phenomenon as epistemic rupturing and indicate how it can lead to healthy intercultural hybridity. Episteme replaces ‘worldview’ as a way of conceptualising a person’s deep mind. Epistemes are neither fixed nor structural but more fluid, dynamic, wholistic and interpersonal. Epistemes are bodies of knowledge or ways of knowing. As recent neuroscience research shows, such knowledge is not always cognitive but it is always relational. Epistemes are malleable, formed through our interaction with reality and guided by those who form part of our epistemic social group; in other words, our hermeneutic community, wider society or culture. Since our social groups of origin influence the way we view the world and the priorities we adopt as we interact with the world, epistemic rupturing is often most acutely experienced when we separate from the in-group with whom we identify. This learning process is acutely experienced by cross-cultural missionaries as a source of significant tension. I propose that it is this very tension-in-context, a persistent epistemic rupturing, that provides opportunity for our best witness to the world. As followers of Jesus dwell together in epistemic diversity and persevere with one another, it is akin to the testing of James 1:2-4 that leads to individual and collective maturity, which, I argue, manifests as the unity that Jesus prays for in John 17:21-23. Along the way, the tension that ruptures and rebuilds our epistemes blesses us personally with intercultural hybridity, a desirable outcome for every disciple of Jesus Christ.