Tuesday, June 12, 2012

missiology and salt-making

I’ve been slowly plowing my way through Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. (One of the upsides of Kindle – it was going free a few months ago. It’s one of the things I love about e-readers, the way I’ve started reading things I never normally would, simply because books are now paper-less). At 486 pages, it’s taken a few months. (One of the downsides of Kindle – there are no visual clues for how big a book is!)

It takes that everyday household – salt – and explores it through history, it’s role as currency, as instigator or wars, in shaping empires and inspiring revolutions. It’s a fascinating walk through human cultures, as seen through something we all take for granted. I couldn’t help reading it with a missiology eye. (For more on a missiology of salt, see here, insights from Marianne Sawicki’s Crossing Galilee: Architectures of Contact in the Occupied Land of Jesus).

The importance of social action

Soon after that, a cleric named de la Marche distributed potatoes to poor parishioners and was nicknamed d’eskop ar patatez, the potato bishop.

Imagine being known, honoured even, as the “potato bishop.” Yes to mission as social action, as care for the poor.

The importance of listening

At the time of the American invention of the jar, a western missionary, one Father Imbert, had gone to China to study the ancient wells of Sichuan. He reported on more than 1,000 ancient wells drilled to great depths and brine lifted in long bamboo buckets. He also observed that the Chinese had elaborate techniques for recovering broken drill shafts. In the West, such obstructions were often the cause of a well being abandoned.

Here is the missionary as learner, as researcher, as culture explorer. In so doing, we are reminded of the creativity of Chinese culture.

The colonising impact of cultures

Unlike the French and the Spanish, English settlers and their American descendants tended to bring salt with them rather than find it where they went.

Might there be something in English/American cultures that prefers to impart rather than contextualise, import rather than nourish what is? Yet in contrast, in the midst of a recipe, the following made me think.

silphium root [a rare plant from Libya much loved and consequently pushed to extinction by the Romans]

Yet here is a Roman culture that is responsible for not nourishing what is local. We often hear Western industrialised cultures blamed for environmental damage, yet here is an early culture killing a plant species.

The contemporary cultural shift

The book finishes with our contemporary world. It describes the rise of monopolies, the two global multinationals that now dominate world salt production. Yet it notes a shift, first in young people moving back to traditional salt-making areas to farm their own salt and second, in consumer demand.

Unlike with the big companies, here the future is quality, not quantity. They command high prices for their salt because it is a product that is handmade and traditional in a world increasingly hungry for a sense of artisans.

It all resonated for me with John Drane’s, After McDonaldization: Mission, Ministry, and Christian Discipleship in an Age of Uncertainty

Uniformity was a remarkable innovation in its day, but it was so successful that today consumers seem to be excited by any salt that is different.

The place of contextualisation. The potential for artisan church.

Posted by steve at 10:16 AM

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