So, how might we go about the work of moving beyond single stories and really engaging in the kind of translation we are talking about? Translation not only stretches us, but it can lead to our own transformation – if we allow it.
The scientist Ian Barbour wrote,
We do not simply see, we only ‘see as.'
Which is a nice way of saying that we each have our own filters. We come from different backgrounds and experiences that shape our lives, understandings of the world, human relationships, and theology. Our contexts are inescapable.
Context - which includes family, identity (gender, race, sexuality, religion, class, etc), country of origin/raising, educational status, social change we've lived through, and so much more - plays an essential roles in who we are and who we are becoming. When we sit together with a group of friends from varied backgrounds we are given the opportunity to practice contextual theology.
We have the opportunity to experience the history and tradition that this person has been influenced by — whether they Quakers from different backgrounds, or people with broader religious differences — and how that historical perspective is being contextualized within that person’s present experience.
When we encounter a person with this in mind, then we recognize that they are more than any single-story we have laid on them. No one is simply a “Liberal Quaker” or an “Evangelical Quaker” or an “Atheist,” there is always more to the story. A Christ-centered Quaker is more than what I think I know about “all Christians.” An unprogrammed Quaker’s faith becomes something I can learn from and be changed by.
So when you are doing the work of translation within context here are a few things to listen for: (See #2) What are this person’s individual and communal experiences? This includes work, family, faith experiences, successes, physical abilities, orientation, deaths, births, education. Anything that either enabled to have experiences or got in the way of them from experiencing things the way others have. What was this person’s cultural framework or “that system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which people communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about attitudes toward life” (Bevans 6). That’s a mouthful, but consider this question: what images, symbols, and other cultural artifacts show up with this person that seem to be important to them? How have those things become important? What do they symbolize to them (not you)? What social location or systems have shaped this person? This is a question about privilege, gender, class, and ethnicity. Power makes a difference, and your ethnicity, gender, orientation, class and geographical location all play into who we are, what you have had access to, and what you kinds of experiences you had or did not have. The Orphan Annie was an orphan, but she also was adopted by a super wealthy man named with the last name "Warbucks." He access and experiences were different from other orphans never adopted, or adopted by poor families. This is essential not only to understand where others are coming from, but to be self-aware of our our own social locations and how that determines and “filters” our interactions with others.
One more concept that I have found helpful comes from the University of Michigan: Multipartiality. ( #3)
Multipariality deals with power imbalances in spaces, as well as in the narratives that have shaped us as people. The main point of this is that not everyone comes to the table on equal footing because of power imbalances and dominate narratives. This does not invalidate perspectives but helps us to be aware of places where dominate narratives are being held in place/reinforced and where there may be imbalances in power in dialogue. Naming how a certain perspective or personal narrative reinforces a more dominant narrative can be a helpful shift - it is not demonizing the person with the view so much as helping to reveal how we are all impacted in different ways by dominant narratives. It also recognizes that we have all been formed by dominate narratives and that we may not yet be fully aware of how those narratives influence and affect us. A spiritual community is one place where this work of awareness and unlearning harmful dominate narratives can and should take place.