Thursday, March 22, 2012

We lift up our livers to the Lord: the richness of culture crossing

“There’s a PhD in this moment.”

On Monday I found myself crossing cultures. The occasion was a visit to a gathering of local Kaurna speakers at the University of Adelaide. The reason was that I was wanting to explore, in our College worship, the use of language indigenous to the First Peoples of the Adelaide plains, as a way of honouring those on whose land the College meets. (I’ve described how this came about here). There is also the national tri-ennial Uniting Church Assembly happening in Adelaide mid-year, so what might it look like to use indigenous language as part of that event?

So I trotted along, with some key phrases from one of the most common Uniting in Worship communion service. Phrases like –

The peace of the Lord be always with you: And also with you
The Lord be with you: And also with you
Lift up your hearts:We lift them to the Lord
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God: It is right to give our thanks and praise

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

And here was some of the the discussion.

The Lord. Well there is no word for Lord in the Kaurna language. The concept is foreign. Kaurna has a word like Ihowa. But that is a transliteration of what the early missionaries said. So it’s still, really an Anglo-Australian word. We also have a word for captain. But that was often used to related to the person who sailed the boats. (Do you want the word of the person who brought the colonisers to our shores to be linked with God?)

Kaurna does have a word of respect for an elder brother. And I know from my reading in global theology that Jesus as the elder brother is used in African theology. It is a lovely image, full of relationships and of Jesus humanity. But I’m also thinking about the Arian controversy – calling Jesus “Son” suggesting he is a lower state of being than God, and thus misrepresenting the Christian understanding of Trinity.

The Lord be with you: And also with you. Is it plural or singular? In English the word captures both. But not in Kaurna. Further complication is that it depends who says it in English. If the presider says it to all, then it is plural. But if the congregation then greet each other with the same phrase, it is singular, isn’t it!

It was at this point that one of those present got up and started taking pictures. “This moment needs to be recorded” he said after. “This is historic. There’s a PhD in this!”

Lift up your hearts. Well, in Kaurna culture, the centre of the person is their liver, not the heart. So, can we say “Lift up your livers.”

Let us give thanks. Well, thanks is not a concept in Kaurna culture. Why should you thank someone for something that just is? If you believe God is Creator, then of course the Creator will be giving life. So why do you need to say thanks for what, is, just, well, is?

And as we got up to leave, the best question of all. “You are aware that our language is 40,000 years old, while your understanding of Christianity is based on a person who lived 2,000 years ago. So how will you, in your communion respect this? Which of course links with the Uniting Church Preamble (“The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. Paragraph 3).

I left with my head reeling and the adrenaline flowing. In the space of 60 minutes I’ve been internally sifting ways of knowing and being human, how to understand Trinity and theologies of revelation. Simply because I asked some questions across cultures, found myself in spaces not my own. “There’s a PhD in this moment.”

There certainly is.

Posted by steve at 02:45 PM


  1. love it

    Comment by sally — March 22, 2012 @ 5:05 pm

  2. looking forward to what you do with that at Assembly

    Comment by Geoff — March 23, 2012 @ 4:51 pm

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