I decided to name this post “Catching Up” partly because it has been so long since I added a post, and partly because I am “catching up” on where other students are in their theology and worship styles. As a true introvert, it takes me time to process information, and the past month or so I have been processing the wealth of information gathered through classes. However, as I am beginning to build relationships with other students, I am gaining new perspectives . . . even new criticisms of the way ecumenical dialogue is done presently, and the way the Spirit may be pushing toward transformation. I am going to try and share my observations, complete with the biases from my personal social location, of my experience thus far.
First I want to share my pride and gratitude to Seattle University and the education they have provided in sensitizing me to Biblical and Theological scholarship in a multi-cultural context. My first observation of “assumptions” was when our African instructor, Father Lawrence, decided to put “American” (including Panama) and European students together to discuss an article entitled “Intercultural Biblical Interpretations” by Musa W. Dube. (The article began with a quote from SU’s very own Leticia Guardiola-Saenz!) The assumption was that we would be more of a same mind, but nothing was further from the truth. What I interpreted as a call to expand our present focus on Greco-Roman traditions as the base for New Testament scholarship and include both the African and Asian perspectives on the Bible was interpreted by the European contingent as replacing or dismissing a scholarship style which they value.
The two other American students, which includes my friend Gerard from New York (an African American) and Sister Donatila from Panama were more in solidarity with the students of the global south in their interpretation of the article, possibly because like me, it is easier for us, coming from outside Europe, to be critica of Eurocentricity without hearing it as dismissive of European scholarship. This was the first of many encounters where I became astutely aware of the difference of how we “hear” or “interpret” what is being said according to our social location. Fortunately, over the past months we students have learned to ask “is this what you meant” rather than take offense at our assumed interpretation of another’s words.
Some of my most interesting conversations have been with the various Eastern Orthodox students, many of whom come from countries like Romania where the population is almost entirely of the same faith. Last evening I shared a meal with two young Orthodox students who wanted to know more about my faith tradition after an “animated” Ecumenical Social Ethics class discussion. They were really struggling to understand my perspective (and history, such as why my Southern Baptist mother did not convert when she married my father!) and Mihai, who I originally perceived as confrontational, shared his frustration that because of his limited command of the English language he fears he is often misunderstood. I responded that I am convinced it not only the responsibility of the speaker to say the right words, but for the listener to know when to ask questions for the proper hearing of the communication.
I was glad we had this conversation, because our evening class on “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World” touched on the topics of Exclusivism, Inclusivism and Pluralism, and generated another animated discussion where passions ran high. Mihai shared with me on the way back to Petit Bossey (our residence) “I had enough arguing in Social Ethics . . . I stayed quiet tonight.” Ecumenical work is hard, but wow, is it beautiful!