Developing a Theology of Death

I started to put a post here of the title seen above. But then it occurred to me that it may be better to be on my other site, “Adventures in Pastoral Theology.”

Still, I think it has a certain value missiologically. Therefore, you are welcome to click below to read on the happy subject of death.

https://adventures-in-pastoral-theology.org/2019/06/27/developing-a-theology-of-death/

Missional and Missionary Churches

One of my students is writing about the Missional Church movement as part of her dissertation. I will not steal her thunder. I will just make a couple of comments on the topic here. She noted that the term “missional church” has often been seen as another term for “missionary church.”  Over time, however, the missional church and missionary church has bifurcated in meaning. It seems to me that some of that has to do with their understanding of their place in culture (or as my student would say, their connection with the idea of “Christendom.”)

Missionary churches have often seen themselves as “Sending Churches.” That is, they send cross-cultural missionaries or send money to cross-cultural missionaries. This is certainly a reasonable understanding of the term.

Missional churches commonly see themselves as “Sent Churches.” That is, they exist in the mission field. This seems pretty reasonable as well.

In a time of Christendom as a concept that “just makes sense,” the church can be seen as existing in an E-1 setting, and people in the community exist in a P-1 setting with respect to the local church. <I am drawing from Ralph Winter and Bruce Koch’s article in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, titled “Finishing the Task: The Unreached People’s Challenge.” Pretty good chance you have heard of the E-Scale, and maybe P-Scale in missions outreach.>

However, Christendom (Christian societal evolution) has fallen on hard times as a belief, and we find churches in many parts of the world as being Marginalized— in cultural conflict with the society they are in. This is the reality in many places, but is now being seen as more of a reality in the West as well. In some ways that is a good thing. Being American (although I haven’t lived there in over 15 years) churches there have commonly blended into a politico-patriotic Americanism that has a lot to do with the surrounding culture but little to do with Christlikeness. Of course the US is not alone in this. The goal is, of course, not to be different for the sake of being different. Some in an attempt to be different… are not a transformative influence— they are just strange and foreign. In fact many churches established by missionaries world-wide do not fit well with their culture because they fit the culture of the missionaries who founded them (Philippine churches are a really good case in point for this).

Churches need a connection to the culture to be relevant, but need a certain amount of disconnection to provide an alternative as an impetus to transformation.

Getting back to Missional Churches— identifying themselves as being somewhat marginalized within their setting, they then could be seen as existing in an E-2 culture (and people in the community would find the church as P-3 with respect to its context).

                        Missionary Church                                                  Missional Church

             Sees itself as E-1 in its context                                Sees itself as E-2 in its context

   Sends missionaries to E-2 and E-3 settings              Sends people into its community

      Good distant missions… poor theology                Good theology, poor distant missions

One may think that Missionary Churches and Missional Churches should be quite compatible with each other, but sadly they often are not. Missionary Churches often see Missional Churches as anti-missions. And, in fact, to some extent the charge can be true. Many missional churches focus on local missions so much that they don’t support foreign or E-3 missions except perhaps with Short-term missions— a shaky strategy at best. The lack of support for E-3 missions and reliance on Short-term missions are worthwhile complaints about (SOME) Missional Churches.

The thing though is that the Missional Churches are correct theologically. The church does exist in a marginalized setting in much of the world— and is supposed to be. The church does exist in an E-2 setting pretty much everywhere. As such, real cross-cultural missions DOES happen every time someone seeks to do ministry outside of one’s own church gathering place. The separation between local outreach for a church and missions outreach is a false dichotomy that may have made sense a few decades ago, but makes sense no longer.

It seems to me that we need a mix of missionary churches and missional churches (and certainly such things do absolutely exist). Churches need to recognize that they exist as sent out into the world (on mission) wherever they exist. Churches don’t just send… they are sent. They need to recognize that they exist counterculturally within their own community. On the other hand, the church exists as part of something far bigger than itself… it exists within a world of diversity and should embrace its role to impact the entire world, not just its own corner.

 

Intercultural Counseling

It has been a slow process, but the book that Celia and I are working on is kind of done. That is, it is done in terms of content. It is called “Dynamics in Pastoral Counseling” and is to serve as a textbook for some of our training. Of course, there is still editing, adjusting format, and finishing bibliography and index. So don’t know when it will be done. But getting closer. Here is a pre-editing section.

 

Caring for those of another culture is a challenge. David Hesselgrave describes several dimensions of culture that impact effective communication.

 

  • Worldviews (How we perceive the world)
  • Cognitive Processes (How we think)
  • Linguistic Forms (How we express ideas)
  • Behavioral Forms (How we act)
  • Social Structures (How we interact)
  • Media Influences (How we channel the message)
  • Motivational Resources (How we decide)5

 

All of these (with the POSSIBLE exception of Media Influences) are very relevant in pastoral counseling. There are too many different combinations of cultural possibilities between the counselor and the client to list here (or anywhere). It is not the responsibility of the client. There are some basic rules.

Figure 10. Cultural Distance in the Counselor-Client Relationship

 

 

Rule #1. Lessening of the Gap is the Job of the Counselor, NOT the Client. Refer to Figure 10. This may seem obvious after one thinks about it for a bit. However, culture is not so much a matter of thought as much as habit. We develop habits of behaviors, interpretations of experiences, and ways of communicating that are reinforced by those we share a culture with. The counselor needs to make a conscious effort to override habit and adjust himself or herself to the client. The language used should be language comfortable to the client. The style and manner of the counselor should be correctly interpretable by the client.

 

Rule #2. The Gap is never erased. While it may be the job of the counselor to reduce the cultural gap, it is not realistic to reduce that distance to nothing. Sherwood Lingenfelter has suggested that a missionary serving in a cross-cultural setting for years probably will become acculturated perhaps only about 75%. If that is true, there would be a 25% cultural disconnect between the missionary and the host culture. The cultural distance between the counselor and client should be acknowledged. Identifying it is a good first step to be sure that there is good communication feedback to reduce miscommunication.

 

Rule #3. The Gap should be honored. People tend to have a natural reaction of rejecting the reasonableness of situations that are caused by cultural situations that they don’t understand or value. So if a counselor is talking to a young woman who is struggling with the fact that her parents are pressuring her to marry someone that she doesn’t like, much less love, it counselor may feel the temptation to say, “Well this seems simple. Just tell your parents that your are a grown woman and certainly don’t need their help to find a proper spouse.” Such a response is ill-considered when the woman is in a culture where family and shame are given more importance and the parents commonly arrange marriages, not just “bless” them. The counselor needs to bracket these feelings. On the other hand the counselor should not simply embrace the common ground approach. “I understand exactly what you are going through?” Attempts to minimize the differences can come of as condescending or manipulative. The differences should be honored, and even disclosed. It may be appropriate to say, “In my culture we tend to do things differently, so I struggle to understand your situation. Please help me understand.”

 

Rule #4. Healthy in the Client culture may appear different to healthy in the Counselor’s culture. A counselor speaking to someone in the military may struggle with the fact that a healthy person in the military places high priority on employment hierarchy and on subordination. A healthy person in a very family-centered culture or a healthy person from a very egalitarian open society may look considerably different from this.

 

This is not to say that all there is not room for challenges. A culture that establishes well-being or success in terms of accolades from strangers (as opposed to affirmation from loved ones or achieving a one’s own sense of calling) may need to be challenged. Challenge should, however, be cautious. The temptation to fall into judgmentalism of what one doesn’t understand can poison the therapeutic relationship between the counselor and the client.

 

Rule #5. Despite differences, there are universals. An enduring image in the West has fit under the label, “The Inscrutable Oriental.” The term “inscrutable” means “impossible to understand or interpret.” This was the stereotyped view of some that people from Asia think and behave in ways that are impossible to understand by Western minds. But were they really inscrutable? Most likely not. Rather, people of the West did not make the time and effort to understand. We are all human. Our commonality as humans allows us to understand, at least on some significant level, others even where there may be sizable cultural differences.

 

Rule #1. Lessening of the Gap is the Job of the Counselor, NOT the Client. Refer to Figure 10. This may seem obvious after one thinks about it for a bit. However, culture is not so much a matter of thought as much as habit. We develop habits of behaviors, interpretations of experiences, and ways of communicating that are reinforced by those we share a culture with. The counselor needs to make a conscious effort to override habit and adjust himself or herself to the client. The language used should be language comfortable to the client. The style and manner of the counselor should be correctly interpretable by the client.

 

Rule #2. The Gap is never erased. While it may be the job of the counselor to reduce the cultural gap, it is not realistic to reduce that distance to nothing. Sherwood Lingenfelter has suggested that a missionary serving in a cross-cultural setting for years probably will become acculturated perhaps only about 75%. If that is true, there would be a 25% cultural disconnect between the missionary and the host culture. The cultural distance between the counselor and client should be acknowledged. Identifying it is a good first step to be sure that there is good communication feedback to reduce miscommunication.

 

Rule #3. The Gap should be honored. People tend to have a natural reaction of rejecting the reasonableness of situations that are caused by cultural situations that they don’t understand or value. So if a counselor is talking to a young woman who is struggling with the fact that her parents are pressuring her to marry someone that she doesn’t like, much less love, it counselor may feel the temptation to say, “Well this seems simple. Just tell your parents that your are a grown woman and certainly don’t need their help to find a proper spouse.” Such a response is ill-considered when the woman is in a culture where family and shame are given more importance and the parents commonly arrange marriages, not just “bless” them. The counselor needs to bracket these feelings. On the other hand the counselor should not simply embrace the common ground approach. “I understand exactly what you are going through?” Attempts to minimize the differences can come of as condescending or manipulative. The differences should be honored, and even disclosed. It may be appropriate to say, “In my culture we tend to do things differently, so I struggle to understand your situation. Please help me understand.”

 

Rule #4. Healthy in the Client culture may appear different to healthy in the Counselor’s culture. A counselor speaking to someone in the military may struggle with the fact that a healthy person in the military places high priority on employment hierarchy and on subordination. A healthy person in a very family-centered culture or a healthy person from a very egalitarian open society may look considerably different from this.

 

This is not to say that all there is not room for challenges. A culture that establishes well-being or success in terms of accolades from strangers (as opposed to affirmation from loved ones or achieving a one’s own sense of calling) may need to be challenged. Challenge should, however, be cautious. The temptation to fall into judgmentalism of what one doesn’t understand can poison the therapeutic relationship between the counselor and the client.

 

Rule #5. Despite differences, there are universals. An enduring image in the West has fit under the label, “The Inscrutable Oriental.” The term “inscrutable” means “impossible to understand or interpret.” This was the stereotyped view of some that people from Asia think and behave in ways that are impossible to understand by Western minds. But were they really inscrutable? Most likely not. Rather, people of the West did not make the time and effort to understand. We are all human. Our commonality as humans allows us to understand, at least on some significant level, others even where there may be sizable cultural differences.

Translation, Localization, and Pokemon

I have two daughters who are into anime. One of them is especially interested in the process of bringing animated products from Japan to the US. She can talk at length about voice actors, translation companies, and more. While talking to her (mostly about Pokemon on this occasion) she began talking about the process of translation. She noted that really, translation companies that do this, do it in two primary steps. These are

  • Translation (in the classic sense of translating meaning from one language to another)
  • Localization (in the sense of translating cultural aspects)

I am no expert on translation. My language skills (in most any language is pretty meager). The most I have done is translate a missions journal article from Afrikaans to English. To do it, I (1) utilized Google Translate, then (2) went to online dictionaries for problem spots, then (3) looked up phrases on the Internet where the normal translation seemed dubious, then (4) used the work of a bilingual theologian who had translated the conceptual outline of the article into English previously for feedback, and finally (5) made logical guesses in a couple of places where none of these other steps helped. The end result was okay but still somewhat rough.

REAL translators like to speak of the importance of dynamic equivalence. I can hardly argue with that. Meaning is the most importance. I recall proponents of the ESV (English Standard Version) touting its more “literal” process of translation. That is hardly something to be proud of. The goal is to translate meaning, not words, and as Ricoeur notes, meaning is in sentences, not words, anyway.  <If you want to read a parody of a wooden literal translation of a work with no localization done, please read “The Pooh Perplex” by Frederick Crews. Actually read the second to the last chapter falsely attributed to a Karl Anschauung.  Again, it is a parody, but the humor points to problems that happen on a smaller-scale in real life situations.>

But with the translation of Japanese animation, the good translation services do localization. This is an attempt to subtitle or to dub so that the end result sounds or reads as if it could have been locally produced in the language and culture of the viewer.

Localization is tough and some do a good job of it, some do a poor job, and some really don’t try. Many foreign movies, such as Chinese movies that we see here in the Philippines, are subtitled using a voice-to-text translation program. Some of these are laughably bad. Anime can have the same trouble… but many do spend the extra money to create a well-localized product.  But even then, there are failures.

Here are a few examples of good and bad localization:

1.  In Pokemon, in the early years, the translators decided that they needed to have American sounding names for the key players. The main character was given the English-friendly name “Ash.” Nothing wrong with that in and of itself. However, The name of the character in Japanese is three syllables long (“Satoshi”). Trading a three syllable name with a one syllable name causes problems in synching the voice actors to the mouth movements of the animated characters. This is not impossible to overcome, but if you have watched anime where there was no real attempt to align or synch up the English voice actor with the mouth movements, you probably noticed a considerable loss of verisimilitude (losing seeming “realness” or creating obstacles to suspension of disbelief). Scripts had to be written carefully to minimize the syllable problem.

2.  A better example or localization is in the naming of some

Image result for flareon
Flareon, Volteon, Vaporeon

of the actual pokemon. One of them was a lizardlike creature that is fire-type. They chose for English language groups the name “Charzard.” It is not TOO ‘on the nose.’ It sounds like a creature name… and it can most likely be trademarked (unlike ‘lizard-like fire-type pokemon’). A weird example are the evolutions of Eevee. The Japanese names of three of the evolutions transliterate as “Booster” (fire-type), Thunders (electric-type), and Showers (water-type). These don’t need to be translated at all. However, really they do. These names to the Japanese audience are weirdly cool and foreign. To an English language audience, the names are very mundane. So they were localized by giving names that sound cool, a bit foreign, and still link to the type of pokemon. The names chosen are Flareon (fire-type), Jolteon (electric-type), and Vaporeon (water-type).

3.  Localizing foods can be tricky. In one episode of Pokemon, Brock was eating an “onigiri.” The translators decided that American kids are unlikely to know what onigiri is. Since they are starch-based treats with a tasty filling, the “localized” result was “jelly-filled donuts.” The problem is that the animation did not look like donuts at all. They looked like onigiri. Frankly, they did not need to do that at all. They probably could have just said “rice ball.” Even though some American kids may not totally connect with it, they would understand what was being discussed without a loss of verisimilitude (there is that weird word again). Pokemon is not the worst example. One character in Ace Attorney really liked eating ramen. The translators decided to change it to “hamburgers.” This did not make any sense at all, clashing with the visuals; and if “ramen” was thought to be too exotic, they could have just said “noodles.”

Localization is not just about making a message comfortable to the local viewer or reader. In fact, in translating the Bible, it is sometimes good for the reader to know that the passage was written for someone else in a different context. Far too many try to read, for example, Jeremiah 29:11 as if God was making that promise to them rather than to the grandchildren or great grandchildren of the original audience in the Middle East over two and a half millenia ago. Sometimes it is good for the foreigness to shine through. But it shouldn’t happen where it leads to confusion.

Take the English word “Sorry.” In the US, if I say “Sorry,” I commonly would be meaning “Hey, it makes me at least wee bit sad that your situation is not that great, although I had absolutely nothing to do with how you got into that situation.” If I go to another country and say “Sorry,” there is a pretty good chance that it will be understood in that local context as “Please forgive me for the harm I have done to you.” Localization is really needed. So if I go to India, how should I say things if a friend is not doing well? Perhaps I would say, “I am sad that you aren’t doing so well.” Or maybe not. Maybe I need to talk to someone locally and find out the most appropriate response would be. That’s localization.

So what is the result of all of this. Not much. Good translation is challenging, and should drive us to humility more than argument. Even Nintendo gets it wrong sometimes.