Reading the Bible with Karen Eyes
Posted by Lizz and Pete Maycock at 15:31 on 3rd January 2011
I wonder if you have made a New Year’s Resolution to spend more time reading your bible? I was recently challenged not just to read the bible more in 2011, but to read it differently.
A few weeks ago, fifty Karen church leaders from across the north of Thailand and Burma gathered together at the Siloam Bible School in Chiang Mai. The leaders, representing a wide range of denominations, came to take part in the 9th ‘Reading the Bible with Karen Eyes’ conference. The aim of the conference is to develop an authentically Karen understanding of God and his purposes in the world as revealed in the bible. It’s an attempt to move away from unquestioning acceptance of traditional theologies developed in the West, and instead to look afresh at the bible from a uniquely Karen perspective.
The Karen are a people group who have been struggling for survival for the past 60 years, facing violent oppression in the mountains of Burma, often forced to flee their homes and livelihoods, and with many now facing a bleak future inside refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border. So it is not surprising that key themes of the ‘Reading the Bible with Karen Eyes’ conference include justice and spiritual warfare, peace and reconciliation, suffering and sacrifice, and a particular interest in the Israelites’ long wilderness experience seeking for the promised land of Canaan.
Thramu Guthur, one of the key speakers at the conference, described the impact of the new approach in her keynote address:
‘Re-reading the book of Genesis with Karen eyes, we will identify with the outsider, the marginalized, the one done out of birthright and blessing. Denial of rights and dispossession of resources continues today as in the past. We read the Bible from the underside.’
Reading the bible like this does not come easily for me – I come from a privileged, wealthy background and I feel at home in the globally dominant Western culture. I have a passport, a home country, a bank account, an identity. So it’s easy to skip past the bible passages which speak of the marginalized, the outsiders and the dispossessed. Reading the bible with my British eyes, I don’t naturally identify with those denied rights and robbed of their birthrights. So the challenge for me in 2011 is to do what I can to join these Karen leaders in their attempt to re-read the bible with Karen eyes – in Thramu Guthur’s words, to ‘read the Bible from the underside.’