Thursday, June 25, 2009

Third Term

It's a bit difficult to sum up the entire term in one post. But I'll see what I can do. Basically, this term has been all about student council. That's where I put my time, focus and energy. For a few weeks it was on my mind constantly, like every waking moment. I have found that as secretary, I have rather a lot of responsibilities. I have also discovered that there are a lot of things the student council does that could be done better. Many times I have felt that if I could be a full time secretary, 40 hours a week, then I could do a decent job. One of my responsibilities is for our secretary office, which offers typing, binding, and printing services. Unfortunately, most month the office only makes about half of the salary of our administrative secretary that we do employ full time to run the office. So we have to subside that office with our more profitable divisions, such as the farm. I have been trying to think of ways to make more money, and also how to incorporate a writing center into our secretary office. NEGST really needs a writing center, and getting that started, and sustainable, is one of my goals while I'm here.

I also have a lot of meetings and consultations, and of course it can be boring, but actually I have found that I do enjoy a lot of it. I like knowing how the school runs and hearing the inside story on things. Most meeting have actually been okay as far as length, but then the Senate meeting yesterday was seven and half hours, and I found that a bit long! I've researched such diverse topics as asbestos and GPA policies, and met with so many people over these issues. Raising money for the school to get charted by the Kenyan government, figuring out how to include all students in the graduation banquet, approving the leave of our employees, working on our financial systems and guidelines, handling various requests of the student council--these are all things I've had to do over the last few months. Leadership in a cross-cultural setting is really interesting, and presents a lot more challenges. Most things that are communicated are misunderstood. I've engaged in so much interpretation over what things really mean, the fine art of reading between the lines.

Since I am still a full time student, I have also had some classes to attend and assignments to do. This term I only took 14 hours, my lightest load yet, and I have had more difficult getting papers done this term than ever. At one point or another I was behind in each class, the first time I've turned in papers late at NEGST. I'm taking African Church History, Matthew 1-13, Introduction to Missions, and Introductions to Urban Missions. Matthew was the best, and hearing Dr. Wood's theology of justice was fascinating. Each term so far I've experienced a paradigm shift in my theology: 1st term, contextualization; 2nd term, power encounter; and 3rd term, Matthew and how justice is a huge theme in the Bible, and especially in the teachings of Jesus. I see it all over the place now. Justice really has never been emphasized much until I went to Wheaton, and then it was primarily social justice, which is obviously a big part of it, and really important, but I don't think its all there is to justice. This is something I certainly hope to continue studying in future.

Matthew has also taught me to be much more curious about what I read in the Bible. I've realized that there are so many things I've accepted at face value and never questioned, and when I think about why or what exactly it means, I have no idea. Like why was Jesus baptized? I found out that I really don't know, and I don't remember ever really considering that question. I wrote a paper on it and I still don't think I know. I mean, I do have some thoughts and ideas about it, its not completely meaningless, but there is a lot about it I think I'm missing.

Second term I was largely focused on my ministry involvement in Kibera, but I became too frustrated and had too many problems with the church and at the end of the term decided I could no longer continue there as an "assistant" pastor. Since then, I've been attending NPC (Nairobi Pentecostal Church) Woodley but I haven't really gotten involved. I hope to when I return in September.

I would also like to buy a motorcycle, and was planning to do so but the process of finding one and buying was just too difficult and I didn't have time to really shop around and find one. That's something else I will do in September, and although I must admit I am rather nervous about driving a motorcycle around here, I'm also really excited! It will be so awesome, and to have my own transportation... amazing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Postmodernism and Development

Lest any of you doubt that I am actually in graduate school, and think that my life consists purely of vacationing and the excitement of exotic travel, this more academic post should help to disabuse you of that notion.

As I’ve been researching my term paper for Intro to Urban Ministry, looking at development and urban ministry, I was somewhat surprised to find such a philosophical element to the development debate. There are many ways to understand and do development work, but one of the most prevalent is the modernization paradigm, currently being espoused as neoliberalism (according to David Simon, see below). I assume modernization in this context would be basically countries such as Kenya becoming “modern,” like the West, in the sense of getting electricity, roads, media, etc. The postmodern perspective critiques this idea as being problematic on many levels, such as the assumption that we are more “advanced” than others, and we then merely duplicate our lifestyles and impose them on others. Such issues as environmental sustainability also point to the consequences if everyone were to have an American standard of living: not good. Even looking at the current economic crisis, from my devout reading of NY Times columnists I get the impression that there is a systemic shift going on in American attitudes towards consumption and having a lot of “stuff”—most of which they don’t need. Showing off wealth by going shopping and buying ridiculously overpriced clothes and other things doesn’t seem quite as cool anymore.

Back to postmodernism, I hadn’t thought of its implications in this specific aspect; but I realize now that this “movement,” if it can be organized to that extent, affects all academic disciplines. Some of the conclusions arising from the postmodern critique of development end up in the realm of anti-development: it shouldn’t be done at all. Well, that is probably not the most helpful way to go about this issue! I found the following quote quite fascinating:

Most postmodernists and postcolonialists have great difficulty in embracing the concrete development aspirations of the poor in practice, despite their theoretical sophistication. Part of this trend is a growing retreat to the cosy Northern pavement cafĂ©—a favoured haunt of those with panoptic vision(s)!—from the rigours and challenges of field research in the South, by hiding behind the conveniently hyped 'crisis of representation' of who has a/the right to speak or write on behalf of Third World 'others'. (Simon, 185)

This sounds quite a bit like the conversation going on theology concerning African identity and the nature of authentic, African theology (or theologies). Of course, it is true that we as outsiders cannot make their decisions or speak on their behalf, but in terms of development, does that mean we do nothing? And then of course there’s the whole debate over dependency and all its related problems, but I won’t be able to solve that here! I suppose I should get back to actually writing the paper, but I thought this was quite an interesting idea. I’ll leave you with this:

What I am suggesting is the importance of a healthy scepticism towards some of the more sweeping and emotive formulations of post-everything, which may universalize from particular case studies in a manner reminiscent of modernist theorizing, be elitist as practised by its advocates despite the supposed concern with precisely the opposite, and may actually be of little practical use in addressing poverty and providing basic needs. Moreover, critiques of conventional developmentalism and the search for more meaningful, appropriate and socially grounded and bottom-up alternatives are not new. As with the different definitions of development and the examples of basic needs and environmental sustainability given above, there is a long pedigree of initiatives and theoretical formulations stretching back decades… (Simon, 190)

(from David Simon, “Development Reconsidered; New Directions in Development Thinking,” Geografiska Annaler, Series B, Human Geography 79, no. 4 (1997): 183-201.)