I’m traveling back from Israel & Palestine Monday, but not before the Rev. Sara Porter Keeling continues her guest hosting with a post on anthropology, theology, and the continuing journey of discerning the Word. Many thanks to Sara for bringing her rural soul to Heartlands while I’ve been away…
Does loving our neighbors look like being politically correct and choosing our language for each other carefully? Does wanting access to health care and child care and equal pay and education make me a snowflake?
It goes without saying that we have trouble hearing one another and talking to each other. But it seems to be helpful to try to understand why we may think and feel the way that we do: particularly about social and political issues.
I used to be concerned that The UMC might allow for the full inclusion of LGBT persons. Now I’m much more deeply concerned that we never will.
It doesn’t feel right that people who are gifted for ministry, called by God, should not be ordained because of who they are attracted to and who they commit their lives to.
It doesn’t feel right that that is the number one issue, life choice, character trait, even as we allow for outright, named, unquestionable sins to exist amongst our clergy. We pick and choose what we want out of the Bible. We pick and choose what we want out of the Book of Discipline. Are we all so blameless and striving for perfection? We don’t mind sinful clergy so long as they are not gay. And there’s nothing else to say except that we are fascinated and grossed out and consumed by sex.
I managed to leave the town of Orange, Virginia as a moderate conservative. I confess that I voted for a Republican my first election. Shortly thereafter, my liberal arts education lived up to its name. That’s what happens to all small town girls right? We go off to college, cut our hair short, and become raging feminists. That was true for me.
I majored in Anthropology and English at UVA. And yes, since you asked, my first paying job—post diploma—was making coffee.
My intro-level anthropology classes started with an apology tour of the oppression the discipline had caused. I barely understood what anthropology was in those days. (It’s the study of human culture—“anthro” referring to human beings, “ology” to the study thereof.) But before we could fully understand cultural criticism or current archaeological methods, we had to take a look at the history of the discipline.
It turns out that the study of human culture was a very euro-centric, very 19th-century way of documenting and cataloging other cultures–the non-European, therefore non-civilized, generally inferior and primitive cultures. This way of study was often to prove such inferiority and primitiveness in the first place. To document cultural aspects as they “vanished” in the march of progress, civilization, colonization, slavery. Often proving along the way exactly why these cultures and groups of people were so “easily” destroyed and obliterated or assimilated or enslaved.
In general, keeping bones, and other sacred objects that were acquired through “discovery.” Despicable things such as keeping skulls in museums to measure was also a practice. Which is why many indigenous peoples are dubious, even unwelcoming, to an anthropologist in their midst—to an outsider attempting to tell their story or stealing their ancestral heirlooms.
Now done differently, of course, anthropology is a way of actually understanding how very different and unique and valuable each culture is—how so many things that we consider natural and normal are really our cultural ways of understanding.
To uncover the lost stories and different perspectives that were lost to the written history books. To challenge our assumptions about race, class, gender, sexuality, and on and on.
I took all of this and thought what does God have to say about this? About indigenous cultures, minorities, colonists and the colonized? Aren’t we all God’s children no matter the winners and losers of history?
I had taken a bit of a break from church at that point, but I returned and picked up at the Wesley Foundation. Where Alex was serving as director. (It all comes back to Alex, like it’s his blog or something.) I discovered that the language of Wesley and our Social Principles aligned quite nicely with my social conscience. My academic language and the native language of my religious upbringing were not at all at odds.
As a minister, I bring cultural understanding to the scriptures. Realizing that our stories as the people of God are so highly tribal and interwoven with all of the stories of God. From other times and places and cultures and understandings. Sometimes the people of Israel were the oppressed and downtrodden. And sometimes they were the mighty victor and the oppressor. Both slaves and slave holders throughout history. Sometimes with God on their side and sometimes not. Words that were not written for us in 21st Century America, and yet words that still speak to us and guide us.