I managed to catch the Lure of the East exhibition at the Tate Britain last week.
The guide to the exhibition starts:
Private travel from Britain to the Middle East was rare before the 1830s, but travel for warfare, diplomacy, trade and religion had been going on for centuries. While outside Europe, these early travellers and residents assumed ‘Oriental costume’ for different reasons. Many believed themselves to be safer when dressed similarly to local people, while more academic visitors often wished to appear incognito in order to facilitate their researches; others did so out of a love of ‘fancy dress’, while still others wished to signal a committed solidarity with the culture whose clothes they put on.
After visiting the exhibition and being terribly civilised with a pot of tea in the members room, I reflected upon those words and got to thinking on mission and the church. Seeking to be in culture but not of culture puts us in the same position as these early traders.
It causes me to ask ‘Do we ‘wear’ culture to feel safe, to be unnoticed as we carry out research, because we wish to appear trendy or because we feel a solidarity with the culture we seek to reach?
It’s an interesting and necessary question – and its a question where I hope my answer is the last one, but how can I be sure it is none of the other three, which seem pretty negative and/or lack integrity for me. To ‘wear the dress’ of culture to fel safe, to be incognito, or to look good do not sit easily with me as I seek to reach the people of this culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As I contemplate this ministry (10 weeks and counting to ‘O’ day) I was planning to be thinking a lot about how to be in but not of culture – I need to add to that the question of why I want to wear the culture at all.