Today's post is written by guest blogger Dr. Glory E. Dharmaraj. Glory is Executive Secretary for Justice Education for the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. She is also the Administrator of the United Methodist Seminar Program on National and International Affairs at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York.
In his famous epic, Odyssey, Homer captures two key instincts, homing and roaming, and molds them into two timeless characters. One, Penelope, and the other, Odysseus. The former stays at home weaving her masterpieces, while her husband Odysseus, undertakes long and arduous travels, and plays a heroic role in the Trojan War. The rootedness of Penelope and the roaming of Odysseus form a key dialectic in this epic. One has no existence without the other. In fact, Penelope even sets up a game plan to ward off her suitors saying that she has to complete weaving a shroud before she marries again. She weaves by day and unravels her woven piece by night, and repeats it until Odysseus comes home.
In light of today’s patterns of travel and migration, Penelope and Odysseus are no longer singular monolithic subjects representing changeless principles of rootedness and roaming. Today travel and migration constitute complex, multi-directional,
and unprecedented patterns in history. This impacts our traditional notions of global and local and how we negotiate them.
Christian mission as journey
In this context, it is imperative to conceptualize Christian mission as a journey, and not a place where we arrive one day. Mission is neither a destination nor a program strategy but a pilgrimage. This journey allows us to “tap parts” of the self that are generally obscured by chatter and routine, and also to realize how subjective our certainties can be. Certainties such as the world, the self, and the other can at best be subjective, and no longer be universal. Negotiating the global and the local constantly is a key dialectics in this journey. This dialectic is more pronounced in Christian mission than ever before.
The encounter between the global and the local
Global realities such as the flow of capital, information, and technology have resulted in lop-sided power relations in a fast-paced world. The homogenizing instinct of globalization and the resisting instinct of the local cultures no longer fall under neat and absolute categories. Within the occurrences of globalization and localization, which Roland Robertson calls “glocalization,” global migration emerges as a force, in unprecedented scope and scale, to reckon with.
Diasporas situate multiple identities, not based on the mere local or the totalizing global. The eruption of African, Asian, and Latin American diasporas into the U.S. and Europe is a response to the push and pull factors of migration. War, famine, economic globalization, terrorism, natural disasters etc., push peoples away from their local habitats. Cheap labor and the opportunities available for the gifted people are pull factors into the developed countries.
Living in more than one world, the locality of their country of origin and the country of their residence, has become an everyday reality for most of these diasporas. Peggy Levitt, author of God Needs No Passport: Immigrants and the Changing Religious Landscape, says, “People who live transnationally are the face of the future.” Hyphenated, bifurcated, bi-local, and multi-local diasporic persons happen to be Christians, also. Their new congregations, worship settings, and spiritual practices span more than one locality metaphorically and otherwise. Their remittances to their countries of origin and the support of the Christian communities back home are often hidden from the mainstream denominational landscape. Immigrant, migrant, and refugee churches have networks and linkages often not visible to the majority eye view. When the hopes and fears of migration have met in the diasporic Christian communities in the midst of us, it is imperative to recall the words of a scholar in migration and mission that every migrant Christian is a potential missionary.
I submit that as a church we undertake efforts to receive the flow of mission insights from those who are on the move. We incorporate the global-local insights as bottom-up approach, that the immigrants and migrants bring as agents of mission at a time such as this, and cultivate tools to engage in this mission.
We also realize that in this journey theology is complexly context-specific, and hence it is not transferrable.
We engage ourselves in mission in obedience to the gospel and the promptings of the Holy Spirit in a given context.
Christian mission and ministry is in the context of difference and diversity. It is biblical, global, contextual, multi-lateral,
multi-structural, cross-cultural, polyphonic, and ecumenical.
There is no normative Christian mission. It constantly and continually cross-pollinates with that of our sisters and brothers from the global south. No denomination can afford to lose what the global Christian community can bring to our local church’s mission, ministry and worship.
That engagement in mission is a journey and a movement together, as the recent World Council of Churches Assembly has themed it: God of Life, Lead us to Justice and Peace.
Unwriting the monolithic constructs of Penelope and Odysseus, moving beyond the oppositional paradigm of stasis and movement, and reconstructing mission from the margins in this multi-directional journey is a fearful and exciting engagement.