Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Place-based theology (updated) with the children of Parihaka

This is a helpful introduction to place-based theology by Richard Twiss.

In five minutes he provides a number of explicit theological resources that might encourage a place-based theology. He draws on culture, that of the Navaho people, to suggest the importance of a relationship with earth as part of identity and belonging. He then turns to Scripture. First, 2 Chronicles 7:14, and the phrase “heal their land.” Which, he notes, means land can be broken. Second, he references 2 Samuel 21:1-14,

While both are Old Testament Scriptures, they do offer an understanding of connection between place and identity. Next, Twiss turns to place-based education, which immerses students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, using these as a foundation for the study. Drawing these threads together, Twiss encourages place-based theology.

Twiss is not alone. In Australia, indigenous woman, Denise Champion has written Yarta Wandatha,
(see my review here). The title is Adnyamathanha for “land is speaking, people are speaking.” It offers an wonderful example of place-based theology, telling stories of land, in order that “ngakarra nguniangkulu,” God is revealing so that we can see (Yarta Wandatha, 28). I also see links with Celtic theology, for example in the understanding of thin places, a Celtic understanding of physical locations in which God is especially present. It has academic rigour, for example in Philip Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity and Living Between Worlds: Place and Journey in Celtic Spirituality.

I have experimented with place-based theology by taking students to places. I have reflected on the potential in walking the art, which then became a floor talk at the launch of an art festival. I have wondered about teaching New Zealand mission by going to places – to Bay of Islands, Waitangi, Rotorua, Parihaka, Anzac day memorials. Now I’m wondering what an assignment might look like, in which students not only engage with place, but seek to construct their own place-based theology.

Updated: This is another example of place-based education, and thus potentially place-based theology (a review here).

It is about place; places from history in which people lived. The places remain today and can be visited, as part of remembering. In remembering (an act at the heart of identity formation for the people of Israel) respect is paid, identity is formed and connections are made.

This has links with one of the rich insights from Yarta Wandatha, in which Aunty Denise uses story, of her father, to introduce Anhangha idla ngukanandhakai (28) – “living in the memories.” This becomes a way to understand tradition, and to connect that to place. Is this what is happening in Tatarakihi – The Children of Parihaka and in place-based theology?

Posted by steve at 03:07 PM

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