Back in September I attended the 2013 ION (International Orality Network) Conference near St. Louis where I learned more about the orality movement in missions, and the role that indigenous arts can play in the process. For an explanation of how indigenous arts can help support orality and missions, click here for a great article by Erica Logan called "The Arts: Effectively Packaging the Gospel for Oral Audiences." Kudos to Erica for organizing the arts focus at the ION conference, which I think made a great impact on everyone who attended (it certainly did for me!).
Above is an 11' banner I made for the Create Zone, a room at the conference dedicated entirely to the arts and their connection to orality (I apologize for the low quality of the photo- I hope to eventually get a better image of it). The banner is a visual comparison of the seven steps of CLAT (Creating Local Arts Together) with the work of missionary Ivan Jordan among the Warlpiri Aboriginal people of Northern Territory, Australia. I've written about him elsewhere in this blog (here and here), and if you are looking for a copy of his book Their Way: Towards an Indigenous Warlpiri Christianity, then click here for information on how to order it. His book (and 2002 EMQ journal article) were the sources I used for the banner, along with direct email correspondence with Ivan.
A wonderful aspect of creating the banner was that I able to collaborate on the painted design with Indigenous Australian artist Safina Stewart via email. I emailed her a black and white mock-up of my basic idea, and asked whether or not she thought it would be respectful for me to paint the Aboriginal-inspired design. She responded that she felt it was very important to maintain authenticity and to honor to the Indigenous Australians who would be represented through the design. In light of that and the limited time that I had to prepare the banner for the conference, she offered to paint a design for me to follow for the banner and emailed it to me a few days later (ideally she would have preferred to paint the banner herself). Through her generosity and kindness, the result was a much better-looking banner that told the story of Ivan Jordan's work and simultaneously showed respect for Indigenous Australians through Safina's design and granting of her permission to use it. Thank you Safina!
Here's a detail shot of the first two steps:
The banner shows each step in a circle. Each number is surrounded by symbols representing the Trinity sitting with a group of people while discussing that step. A rivers flows from one step to the next, with footprints on each side of the river. Safina's explanation for the symbols used in the painted area are as follows:
She also provided this theme for the painted image:
Come, let us meet together with God and learn from Him. Let us be unified and at peace. Let us soak in the River of Life and Freedom. Let us journey life together and tell others about this God of Life.
Lastly, I printed the text and black and white images for each step on an inkjet printer and then transferred them onto the banner (for a video of the process, click here). Below is the written text that accompanies each CLAT step, comparing it to Ivan Jordan's work with the Warlpiri:
Step 1-Meet a Community and its Arts: Get to know basic information about a community. Make relationships with people. List the kinds of arts that run through the community.Ivan Jordan and his wife began working as Baptist missionaries with the Warlpiri Aboriginal people of Central Australia in 1973. Early on he began to acquaint himself with the members of the Christian community in that area and their cultural art forms, specifically dance at first. He came to recognize that the Warlpiri are predominately oral communicators and that traditional Western forms and styles of communication didn't work well with them. Although Ivan did not create an inventory of the many art forms utilized by the Warlpiri, he writes:I began to understand that the Warlpiris did not learn by understanding and defining words as had been my experience but rather they learned by participating – by doing. And of course as they participated they became part of the drama... [I realized] that if I was to communicate anything to the Warlpiri either I had to teach them to learn ‘my way’ or I had to begin to learn “Their Way.” I also felt that it was important for me to continue to ‘bounce my thinking’ off others with missiological, anthropological and theological insights and experience.
Step 2-Specify Kingdom Goals: Which goals for a more heaven-like life does the community you’re working with want to work toward at this time?Ivan chose two primary Kingdom Goals in his work with the Warlpiri. These goals were: (1) to communicate the Gospel and foster biblical discipleship in ways that made sense to the Warlpiri Christians and would eventually empower them to do this for themselves; and (2) help Warlpiri Christians feel more valued and accepted by the greater Australian Church as well as secular society by offering something unique to both communities from their culture and Christian faith.
Step 3-Select Effects, Content, Genre, and Events: Once a community has identified a goal that they want to work toward, it’s time to figure out how their arts can help them get there. Each genre is particularly apt for communicating certain kinds of content and producing certain kinds of effects.Ivan asked respected members of the Christian community to have ongoing consultations with the local tribal elders to ensure that they understood what the church was wanting to do, and to gain their advise and approval. Ivan and the church leaders selected the following as ways to achieve the two Kingdom Goals from Step 2:Effects: Ivan hoped that the Warlpiri Christians would better understand the Bible and take a greater interest in it for their lives. He also wanted them to feel more connected to God, their traditions, their church, and the nation.Content: Ivan felt that this could be accomplished by teaching Biblical stories and truths in ways and art forms that were familiar to the Warlpiri.Genre: Ivan first identified Warlpiri visual art as the primary genre for teaching the Gospel story and biblical concepts. Later, music and dance were added as additional genres through which to accomplish this goal. All three genres would contribute to the valuing of Warlpiri people and culture by the greater Christian community and by secular society as well.Events: Ivan wanted to begin using Warlpiri visual art in the church's Sunday morning gatherings.
Step 4-Analyze an Event Containing the Chosen Art Form (Genre): Get to the details of the art form and its meaning so you and the community can identify the elements that will penetrate a community for the kingdom.Ivan attended one or more local (non-Christian) corroborees (traditional dances) and mentally analyzed them before mentioning the idea of doing Christian corroborees to some of the church men. He also learned a lot about their views and approaches to life, authority, religion, learning, tragedy, etc. He writes that his “research was done by ongoing discussions with church men. I very deliberately wanted them to determine, in consultation with the tribal leaders, what elements could and could not be used. I also worked very closely with my colleague, Ed Kingston, who at that time was working with the Yuendumu community and involved in the same exploration.”Step 5-Spark Creativity: This can be as simple as suggesting that someone carve a new mask or compose a new song for a celebration, or it may require more complex and time-consuming activities, like workshops, commissioning, apprenticeship, festivals, or developing a new version of an existing ritual or ceremony. In whatever activity is chosen, make sure to include all of the people who have an interest in or control over how new works will be integrated into the community.As far as the local Christian community was concerned, the ‘spark’ came when Ivan showed a few of the church leaders the drawings created by Wilf Douglas while working with the Western Desert people. Two or three of the church leaders approved this idea to Ivan, as long as some sacred symbols were omitted.Getting a positive response, Ivan then asked Aboriginal church leader Jerry Jangala to draw the Christmas story in Warlpiri style to use during the Christmas service at the church. Beforehand, Jerry Jangala gained the approval of tribal elders before proceeding.A nearby Warlpiri church decided to use the same approach and commissioned three artists to illustrate the life of Abraham from Genesis 12, as well as some stories from the Gospels. The two churches both utilized chalkboards and overhead projectors to present the visual stories to the church members.Ivan later casually mentioned the idea of Christian corroborees to one or two aboriginal men in the church. Eventually two Aboriginal church leaders and an SIL ethnomusicologist began the community process of creating songs for these performances. These songs were sung for several months until the church members felt ready to combine them with dance.Step 6-Improve New Works: We want communities to integrate creativity into their lives that truly results in them meeting their spiritual, social, and physical goals. Evaluation according to mutually agreed-upon criteria helps them make their imperfect artistic communication more effective.The visual images were checked closely to affirm that all of the biblical details were accurate for each story or concept. Over the years, the images and symbols were further refined and the number of Bible stories and concepts were expanded. Ivan and Warlpiri church leaders employed the following criteria to evaluate their use of the three genres:The satisfaction of the Warlpiri Christians: “Continual care has been taken to ensure that the Aboriginal people are satisfied with this use [of visual art] in the church” (95). “At the conclusion of the purlapa [a specific form of Warlpiri corroboree]... the people would disappear in to the darkness happy and excited that they had not just heard God's story but they had actually danced and sung it. They had danced and sung God's 'business.'” (120-121)Increased interest in Bible stories by Warlpiri congregations.The orthodoxy of the Warlpiri Christians' beliefs: “[Anthropologist] Tony Swain assessed that the Warlpiri were throughly orthodox in their beliefs and did not see any need to re-interpret Christian teaching from their perspective, although, he made the observation that some people view historical figures such as Moses, Abraham and Jesus as living at the same time because of the Aboriginal concept of time.” (112)The understanding and retention of biblical concepts by the Warlpiri Christians: The Bible teachings presented through visual art, songs and/or dance made sense to the Warlpiri and they were able to better understand and remember them. “[Theologically complex concepts] are more easily understood by traditional Aboriginal people of Central Australia in this form [i.e., visual art].”Step 7-Integrate and Celebrate for Continuity: Reflect with the community on the ways that they teach each other things like new songs, dances, and carving skills. If possible, their plans should include these means of transmission.Ivan is not closely involved with the Warlpiri church communities these days, but he says that the traditional iconographs are still being used to teach the faith, traditional style singing is still used at times as part of church services, and although it does not happen as often these days, the people still occasionally perform their Christmas and Easter coroborees.