23 February 2012

New audiences

The discussions I mentioned a couple of years ago about translating Quaker literature from English to other languages  have been continuing. We've also been surveying those who have requested Friends materials here in Russia, asking what they've found helpful and what they'd like to see more of. We know there is more research to do.

I continue to be puzzled by several questions--maybe you can help me (and the rest of us) think them through.
  • How do we take honest account of the cultural values we transmit to a new audience (any new audience) along with our presumably universal insights about Christian faith and practice? How do we connect with the deepest values of the audience's culture?
  • How do we learn of the bondages and challenges faced by our audience members, so that our communications can address those specific bondages and challenges rather than simply being vehicles for our self-descriptions and our wise prescriptions for world peace, etc.?
  • Do we know enough about the translation and interpretation work that might already be going on in our audience's academic world? (Tatiana Pavlova, the first modern Russian Friend, found out about us through her academic work on 17th-century England.)
  • Are there voices already present in our audience that have a prophetic word that we might be in a unique position to recognize--particularly those who are saying things that are needed and also unwelcome in their culture? How will we know?
  • How do we avoid importing Western Quaker polarizations and controversies, which may be either irrelevant or an actual distraction in the receiving community? For example, post-Christian skepticism has had a huge effect in the West, making many of us assume that any potential audience is very prickly about faith claims. This isn't 100% true in our Western cultures, but is certainly not true of our new audience! Some of us may have entirely forgotten about (or have subconsciously discounted) people who are actually quite ready to listen to someone with an urgent Christian message delivered without manipulation, without exaggeration, without authoritarianism, and with love.
  • Are there Friends who actually have a direct message on their hearts for our new audience? Perhaps we're not limited to translating existing texts, but will be hearing from someone with a fresh word.
  • What have other small Christian groups--especially those with a prophetic or dissenting interpretation of discipleship--experienced in "publishing Truth" for our new audience?
Our discussions have already touched on just about all Friends books from the last three and a half centuries that have stood the test of time--but maybe you'd like to suggest books or articles that have been important for you and that you think would travel well into a new audience.

I think there is something very admirable about the tradition of Friends doing outreach work that is totally innocent of any proselytizing agenda. But there is a shadow side to this otherwise admirable trait--and it's quite serious. If there is no clear access for the public to worship with us, we may be sending the message that outreach or service is something "we" do for "you"--and "you" should please remain on "your" side of the fence. Activity, no matter how energetic, that conceals its spiritual motivation--or worse yet, becomes unmoored from that motivation--is not entirely honest and is in danger of becoming elitist. We hurt our own community in two ways--by depriving ourselves of the company of those who have experienced deprivation or bondage first-hand, and by marginalizing those of our community who are spiritually gifted to create our public access. Balancing these needs--maintaining the integrity of our outreach from any hint of proselytism, and the same time being sure there is access to our community for those who want it--is worth a lot of thought and discussion.

The Fellowship of Elektrostal Artists provided our city with a wonderful joint exhibition which closed earlier this month. They invited me to the take-down session, during which all the art was packed up for removal, and asked if I would photograph four of each artist's works (a few had less than four on exhibit). With most of the art off the walls, it was easier to photograph them than might otherwise have been the case. I'm not at all a professional photographer and not an expert at taking photos of art that's behind glass, but I am an available volunteer, so I was glad for the task! Several of these artists have become friends and acquaintances over these past few years, and it was an honor to do something for them.

Here's a gallery of that day's work. Not everything is here--some pictures just didn't get photographed as well as I'd have liked. For one thing, I have a lot to learn about preserving color faithfully. After messing around a bit with GIMP, I may have more pictures to add later.

Khader Adnan ends his hunger strike.

"A Native Faith: Richard Twiss Shapes Portland's Youth."

"The 'Undue Weight' of Truth on Wikipedia."

"Russia's Demography: Reversal of the 'Russian Cross'" ... and the disputed role of alcohol. Sergey Zhuravlev on demographic trends in Russia, with commentary by Anatoly Karlin. A fascinating take on a vital subject.

I knew Rich Mullins grew up in the Friends church, but thanks to Danny Coleman, I now know about the documentary film being made about him.

This week's gap-fill musical exercise for my students: "Joliet Bound." I tried to find Rory Block on video with this song, but these guys aren't too bad! ...


Ashley W said...

Thanks for this post, Johan! It inspired me to write one of my own: A Fresh Word

Johan Maurer said...

I wish I could be at the World Conference. But I'm glad to know you'll be there. (And I'm glad that two Friends from Moscow Meeting plan to attend.) Keep the faith!

Susanne K said...

You raise such good questions, Johan. I don't have any answers to offer. However, hearing that these are tensions you are aware of, wrestle with, and pray about, I feel very confident that the work you do is good, honest, and has integrity. Thank you.