Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Decolonization and the Language of the Presence-Driven Church

Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya

I was flying from Detroit to Nairobi, Kenya, to preach in a church and lead a conference for pastors from Kenya and Uganda. I like to read as much as I can about the culture I’m going to, so I’d bought a few books to read on the plane. One was Decolonizing the Mind, by radical Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o.

His challenge to African peoples is to abandon the languages of the cultures that colonized them, and return to full adoption of their native dialects. This is because: in a language there is an embodied worldview.

From my linguistic studies background,
[1] Wa Thiong'o's ideas reconnected me with "the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis," which is: a worldview colonizes every language. Wa Thiong'o is indebted to linguists Edmund Sapir and Benjamin Whorf.

Samuel Gyasi Obeng
[2] connects Whorfian linguistics to Wa Thiong'o's African appeal. Obeng writes: "According to Whorf, the structure of human language influences the manner in which human beings understand reality and behave with respect to it."[3]

Obeng cites
Abiola Irele's argument in favor of returning to African languages. Irele writes:

"For even if it is true that all languages are systems whose reference to reality is arbitrary, there is a naturalization of particular languages to specific environments which plays an important role in the process by which they not only come to signify but to achieve a correspondence with the total configuration of the perceived and experienced reality within the environment."

In a lecture at the University of Dar es Salaam, Wa Thiong'o said that "African leaders and scholars have become captives of their foreign languages, and so maintain colonial ideals to the detriment of fellow citizens."

The African continent, says Thiong’o, continues to suffer from "language slavery." His proposal is that “our local universities should translate the knowledge from foreign languages to local dialects for the benefits of all communities."

How deep, how radical (latin radix; "root"), does this go? Wa Thiong'o "warned Africans against wasting their time and skills trying to change their accents to English; instead, they should spend their time and skills to protect African resources and language."[7]

My thesis is that: 1) language shapes reality; 2) the language we use delimits what we experience; 3) the Western Church has been colonized by the languages of entertainment, programs, “happiness,” and quantitative-numerical ideas of “success”; and thus 4) the Presence-Driven Church decolonizes the culture; which leads to 5) increase in experiential knowledge of the presence of God.

In this way we of the Church will no longer waste our time emulating American culture, and will reintroduce and release Emmanuel, God-with us, as experienced reality.

I am currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

In Ch. 5 I will develop points 1-5, in detail.

[1] My doctoral dissertation at Northwestern University was on metaphor theory (1986).
[2] African Studies and Linguistics, University of Indiana
[4] In Ib.
[5] “Foreign Tongues: Today’s Slave Drivers,” 11/23/13
[6] Ib.
[7] Ib.