Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mystical me, TTC faculty, mysterious faculty of life, the administrator and a theology of mission as power negotiation

Yesterday we were taught the way of mysticism and how usually this practice will lead to pluralism. If I am going to practice mysticism, I will have to make sure I will not come to the path of pluralism, not because I resist but that it is simply a wrong and self-contradicting position. And pluralist can't correct me on this as if they do, they are simply defeating their own conviction.

On a not related note, I have been wondering what does the life of the faculty like at Trinity Theological College? At that, how do we understand the faculties of life? The former refers to the lecturers while the latter about one aspect of life.

From the students' point of view, the faculty members are teachers. From among faculty members, they are colleagues. From the Principal's point of view, they are subordinates. From the religious community, they are either someone highly regarded by those among mainstream circles or simply confused hypocrites by those insular sectarian communities.

Each one of us play many roles when relating to different people and context. Everyone who are related to us know only part of us. Our spouse knows us as a different person from our colleagues. Our lecturers know us as a different person from the Principal. It is not a fragmented aspect of our character that is only known by particular people but we are known as an entirely different person according to the different people we relate to.

The context aspect introduces another layer of personality to us. Perhaps in a college setting that is managed corporately (contrast to some secluded monasteries), the students are not really students per se but customers; the lecturers are not educators per se but service providers; the Principal is not an administrator per se but a CEO with the supporting churches as shareholders.

This show that there exists various contrasting narratives within one single context. Just as no one person possesses only one faculty of life, no one context possesses one narrative.

Within this multi-narratival context, there will be tension of power as each narrative has its own structure of power. Take TTC for example. The context is a college. The two highlighted narratives are that of education institution and market economy (there are more but we will stick to only these two in this post).

Within the narrative of religious educational institution, the students are to submit to the will of the faculty members. Whatever the lecturers require, the students have to comply. While within the narrative of market economy, the students are the customers. If the provided services are not up to the customers' satisfaction, the corporation will lose its competitive edge. In this case, the faculty members are to submit to the will of the students, to please the customers so to speak.

Now the question on power that lies before us is this: How then do these differing narratives interact with one prevailing over the other?

We do not know extensively how they interact. Yet one thing certain is that it has to do with the source that empowers both narratives. And the source is a mixture of financial resources, academic expectation, churches' expectation and obligation, community's impression, and many other variables. And the responsibility to negotiate all these belongs to the administrator. All of us are administrators. Yet the role of administrator itself is only an aspect of life and is known only as a person who is different from another person he/she is known by other people at other context.

You may wonder how then do we trust that this administrator (i.e. ourselves) who is also caught up within the negotiation of narratives to be able to administer in the best interest of the entire power-tensed structure? We cannot know. Life when experienced for itself is overwhelming, like a mystical experience.

"...this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things." (Eph 3.8-9)

Paul saw evangelism as an administration of a mystery. To put Paul into our current discourse on power, his missionary work was in fact a negotiation between narratives. A theology of mission is here understood as negotiating powers; which structure of power should be elevated and which eliminated.

Seeing evangelism in this way places us within a power contest; how is mission a political act.


pearlie said...

Interestingly, we are called to be political mystics (Donald Messer, Contemporary Images of Christian Ministry, Abingdon, 1989).

"A theology of mission is here understood as negotiating powers; which structure of power should be elevated and which eliminated."
Doesn't that be the same for others as well? Theology of the Church especially.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Pearlie,

Thank you for your reference. That's interesting!

Yes, negotiation of power exists everywhere, in the church; even in marriage.

pearlie said...

Messer gives 5 contemporary images - wounded healer and servant leader, which we are common with, political mystic, enslaved liberators and practical theologians.

Anyway, I must correct my English in my previous comment, which is embarrassing :) I meant to write "Wouldn't that be the same for others as well?"

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Pearlie,

That's fine :) That happens to the best of us.