We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Friday, April 13, 2012

Mixed Message

You see the photo on the left?  I found it on a Presbyterian church website, which is neither here nor there except to explain where it originated.    On that website it illustrates an announcement concerning a small-group study opportunity being offered by the church during Lent.  Now,  viewed with American eyes it is a creative poster that combines the symbols of our traditional faith (the Bible) and our busy, helter-skelter modern day life (the shoes) with Jesus' call to follow him.

But, viewed from a Southeast Asian perspective this artful poster is an awful eyesore.  It combines images of what is holy (the Bible) and what is profane (the shoes) in a culturally offensive way.  The Bible represents what is high, holy, and respected.  It is associated bodily with the head, which is the highest part of the body physically and symbolically.  Shoes are associated with the feet, which are the lowest, dirtiest, and most objectionable part of the body physically and symbolically.

In Thailand, for example,  books in general are held in high regard and one never ever places a book of any kind, let alone a holy one, next to shoes.  I remember once having to gently remind a fellow Westerner to take his shoes off of a set of published materials where he placed them after having taken his shoes off to sit on a mat and share in a traditional northern Thai meal.  He blushed, as he should have.  The picture to the left is much worse than that.  it juxtaposes two dirty, probably smelly common shoes with the Bible.  "Follow Me"??  The intended message, you see, is totally lost.  Indeed, it is hard to convey just how offensive the picture is and how much it obscures that message.

There is not one thing wrong in our American context with the poster.  My point is nothing more than to remember that in matters of faith there are differing perspectives, ones that are linked to culture as well as religious heritage.  In our increasingly multicultural world, we need to stay sensitive to the fact that our way of seeing things is not the only way.  Other eyes, trained in other ways see things differently than we.