Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bible, whole lot of love, and transformative potential

Today we had one of our Hunger Coalition meetings in Tippecanoe county. The meeting went extremely well, much along the lines of how one might expect a community-grounded CCA process to unfold. The food insecure participants who experience hunger in their everyday lives came together today to lay out the steps of the coalition as well as the objectives of the coalition. I was incredibly impressed by how fast this project seems to be moving toward accomplishing multiple tangible goals.

But I am going to spend my blog today about an event that happened toward the end of the meeting. As we were wrapping up the meeting and I started packing my bag, Sara (we will use her pseudonym here) walked up to me in trepidation and stood by me as other community members were leaving the room. I felt she needed to share something with me. When I looked at her, she walked up somewhat nervously and asked me if I would not be offended to accept a Bible written in Arabic (now I can't really read Arabic although I can indeed read the English portion of the Bible) that she had picked up thinking that the Bible would be useful for me. She repeated multiple times about how she hoped that she did not offend me by giving me the gift of the Bible.

For those of you that know me, you know how I find it offensive to be handed over Bibles by everzealous missionaries.

I grew up following the ideals of my Marxist father, in a family that loosely followed Hindu rituals mixed into a broadly socialist ideology, and as I got older and came to the US, learned to really dislike the experiences of the Bible being shoved down my throat by narrow-minded White folks who believed that their way was the only pathway to spiritual salvation. For a long stretch of my adult life in the US, I grew to associate Christianity with parochialism, cultural arrogance, and imperialism.

But there was something so very different in Sara's gesture today. The warmth and openness with which she wanted to share her spiritual reading of the Bible with me came from a moment of solidarity, as a sojourner. Her invitation for me to read the Bible, albeit very subtly, was an offering of hope and camarederie, not one filled with the arrogance of needing to "save my Brown soul."

Increasingly as I have spent over the last few years working with the subaternized sectors in the US, I have grown to see the value that the Church holds for the marginalized, in offering them hope and entry points for social action. Although I understood this conceptually and have gradually worked on renegotiating my worldviews, none of these cognitive experiences were similar to the one I had today. For the first time I felt the power of solidarity to move me beyond the ideological constraints of specific worldviews. For the first time in many years, I wanted to open up the Bible and set it beside my summer reading of Marxist Theory. For the first time in many years, I actually picked up a verse and read it.

PS: For those of you getting ideas of saving my soul though, this is not an invitation!


boyd2 said...

1) Bragging mom moment: Kinley worked in the food pantry at our chuirch last night without Josh or me with her. I'm so proud of her.
2) The Arabic part cracks me up.
3) I am struck by the courage it took for Sara (with whom, I assume, you've developed a friendship) to make that offer to you. Wow. It's so much easier as a Christian to share your faith with strangers. There's been no previous investment, no fear of losing that investment in the friendship. But sharing your faith with someone you like, someone you hope will like you, that's scary. I mean, I've known you for years and you KNOW how I feel about my faith. We've been in each other's homes. We've met each other's families. We've held each other's babies. And I've never offered you a Bible (though I wouldn't have offered an Arabic version!) What did I expect you to do if I had? I guess I thoght you'd think I was pushy. Or arrogant. Or pathetic. So I am humbled by Sara's courage and by your compassionate response.

Mohan J. Dutta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mohan J. Dutta said...

Thanks for posting this comment Gina. It is one of those moments where I did not have an easy answer (there are many of those!) and needed me to spend some time thinking, to at least try to be authentic to how I feel about this issue and at the same time do respect to your courage in putting yourself in a vulnerable moment.

First, the easy part! Re Kinley, That is indeed such a proud moment Gina for both you and Josh as well as for her grandparents! That you have nurtured her with the kind of values that teach her to have compassion and act on the basis of this compassion are a reflection of you as parents...this question of how you embody good values for your child is a question that keeps occuring to us as Shloke gets older. This is where my sense is that both you and I both see eye-to-eye perhaps on many issues.

Second, your point about Sara's courage is so well put. Indeed, the courage it took her to put forth that gesture amidst the realization that she might be violating my worldviews was what struck me as the beautiful part of the interaction. It also was perhaps a difficult moment given the nature of the interaction and the relationship of power written into it (I as an academic from the ivory tower and she as a participant in the Hunger Coalition).

And indeed, I admire the courage it took you to write this post Gina! I am humbled by your gesture of posting this comment. As you say in your comment, we have been good friends over the last decade. We have met each other's families, held each other's kids, and held each other in a special place. You have been there for me, and I think I have been there for you. And yet "our faith" is a topic that we have not really broached directly although it might indirectly have come up and my sense is that each of us have thought of this (I know I have).

I do think that I would probably have reacted with the feeling of being violated had you passed on a Bible to me. I know this is how I have reacted in the past. I don't think however that would have affected our friendship although I am not sure how might I have expressed that sense of being violated to you, given how culturally I have been conditioned to save face. (To be continued as the comment section will not take more than 4,096 characters)

Mohan J. Dutta said...


How we negotiate our faces in friendships, remain authentic to our inherent values as human beings that we hold so dearly, and yet create openings for fostering authentic relationships is a difficult question, one to which I don't have an easy answer. I probably would not have thought about the amount of courage it would have taken you to participate in such a gesture because what would have been salient to me are my lived experiences negotiating the cultural arrogance that underlies much of Western-styled imperialism which I believe is at the root of many of the oppressions of the world today. And yet, it is perhaps that gesture and your posting now that has created an opportunity for dialogue, where we could come to the discourse with our different worldviews and explore opportunities for mutual learning. Through that dialogue perhaps we can both hope to develop compassion for each other's worldviews and perhaps even appreciate each other's worldviews, developing a sense of understanding of where the other is coming from.

Now for us I would think part of this is quite easy because we have cared for each other and have known for each other for so long as friends. But perhaps it is also because of this that the dialogue is difficult, because it threatens the loss of face. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we explored the grounds for conversation between your Bible and my Marx/Gita in a way that was sincere and honest in the same way that our friendship has tried to be?

I appreciate your honesty in making yourself vulnerable Gina, particularly in a forum that is public. I look forward to many more years of friendship with you and Josh. May be, this is an issue that we will not discuss again, but may be, we will. And may be, some day, we will read these verses from the Gita, the Bible, Das Kapital and so on, and explore spaces for provocative conversations that heal our souls and offer us guidance about how to be in this world!

boyd2 said...

What a fascinating way for this conversation between us to come about after all these years! And thank you for being willing to engage and post your feelings so publicly, too. I'd love to explore these ideas further with you some time, and I'd also like to know more about the conditioning in face-saving you received growing up. And how are you (or are you not) passing that on to Shloke? And how is that similar to or different from the rural southern United States conditioning that I received? (I think that face-saving in Asia is a lot more complex and layered than it is in the rural south, but it would still be an interesting thing to compare.)

And I'm intrigued that my post led you to consider the courage it takes for Christians with strong beliefs (but who also have friends from varied backgrounds in an academic setting) to even mention their faith. It's certainly not PC to be a Christian, and that makes it difficult to have any kind of dialogue with anyone outside my faith circle. But I guess it had never occured to me that other people wouldn't realize what a risk it is to share your faith with someone you value.

Thank you for respecting me enough to think about my ideas and respond so thoughtfully. I will continue thinking about this, and I look forward to future conversations!