ReThink Texts

Sawasdee from Chiang Mai, Thailand!

Usually in this blog each entry starts on the left side of the page and surrounds a picture placed at the right side of the screen. This one will break that mold-- on purpose.

I've just completed a two week worship training event with musicians, Christian educators and pastors from Laos, Thailand and Nepal in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This happened as a cooperative between the GBGM Global Praise Initiative, GBOD and GCFA, three agencies working together and each providing different gifts to the process. If the Call to Action Report suggests that we don't work together well, these two weeks are clear evidence otherwise. Not only can we do this, we do!

GBOD's gift to the process, in addition to myself as staff (I taught Wesleyan theology and practices-- we had covenant discipleship groups every day twice per day here!-- United Methodist worship, United Methodist sacramental theology and practice, and even acted as a theological consultant for a music composition class (something that just happened while we were here, but resulted in 5 brand new compositions by the students!), was to provide funding for the translation of key documents into Thai and Lao-- including This Holy Mystery, Living into the Mystery, By Water and the Spirit, and Accountable Discipleship, among five others.  

Lots of texts.

We also provided here translations of our basic communion and baptism rituals for the first time in either language. 

In the US, and perhaps more broadly in the West, ritual is often led and directed by a printed text.   What is written is exactly what we seek to perform, more or less. But in the predominantly oral cultures of Laos, printed texts are not used this way. They are not something one reads from aloud (except for the Bible, perhaps), but rather something one refers to as needed. They are more a record of what has been done than they are directives about what to do or what will be done in a given moment. 

Give someone from a predominantly oral culture a text to work from and the results may make them look less than competent. It's not because they can't read-- it's because they don't use texts that way for the most part!

But give them a text that provides guidance about what to do-- especially if you give these promptings orally-- and what results is a masterwork of creativity, passion and genius.

This is a reality we have already been working with in the Open Source Liturgy Project at GBOD. (You can learn more about it at our website-- ran into this head on in working on both the Prison Communion service and the Appalachian Communion services-- contexts where the cultural practices are still encoded primarily orally for real time use, and where writing happens to record what happened, not as a script for re-enactment per se.

But this event has made it much clearer to me that we need to ReThink texts on a much wider level. How can we create texts that prompt responses rather than script them? How do we create texts that help oral cultures offer worship with all their particular genius, so that the text actually helps rather than hinders them in worship?

I'll be exploring this in much greater depth in the coming years. Expect new texts and new kinds of texts to result-- and some not just for oral cultures. I've felt for years that texts for worship work best more as launching pads than destinations across most cultures, oral or otherwise. Now I have even more impetus to put that hunch into practice.

And if you have texts that already do this sort of thing you'd like to share-- don't hesitate to send them on to me!

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards