‘Who You Calling Dawg?’
A Bible Study on Mark 7: 24-30
Dr Evie Vernon
Dr Evie Vernon is a lay theologian from Jamaica and Director of the Selly Oak Centre for Mission Studies.
The approach to Bible study that she uses here she calls ‘participative Nannyish Theology’, borrowing from Dr Anthony Reddie and Dr Marjorie Lewis. In “Is God Colour-blind”, Reddie speaks of Christians getting involved in people’s learning to change things – an activist, liberationist approach – while Lewis speaks of Nannyish Theology as a Liberation theology coming out of the experience of Jamaican women, named after Nanny, a Jamaican freedom fighter.
In this approach, the Bible is not a neutral text, and we do not read it in neutral ways. We use the text as a tool for liberation.
This Bible Study is best done in a small group taking time to reflect on the questions.
All of us, staff – George Wauchope, priest and freedom fighter from South Africa, Joshva Raja, scholar from South India, Robert Bruce, former mission partner from Scotland; and students from all the regions of the world- Africa, Asia, The Caribbean, the Pacific, North America, come with a weight of experience of churches, agencies and individuals coming into our spaces to ‘help’ us.
No-one could have been more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed than I was at 16 except for me when I turned 25, as I went about ‘helping’ the ‘less-fortunate’ – men, women and children to better themselves.
Only by God’s grace and their graciousness did I survive, as I tried too often to get them to do things I thought were good for them without finding out what they felt about it.
Let’s look at the relative social places of Jesus and the foreign woman.
Jesus was in a position of relative privilege. He was an educated male Jew (he was invited to read in the synagogue), who was leading a significant movement.
His privilege was not, however, absolute, because he was the subject of a colonising Roman power.
The woman, by contrast, was near the bottom of the society. She was a woman and a foreigner, classed by even the Jewish oppressed as a ‘pagan’.
It’s not easy to define one’s place in society. At home in Jamaica, for instance, I am a well educated person, which puts me up the scale, but I’m not wealthy, which puts me down, and I am a woman, which doesn’t help – and in terms of my church, I’m not a priest. In the UK, I’m a foreign black woman, which definitely lowers my place on the scale. I teach in a theological college, but it’s not a really big and famous one.
- What place do you occupy in your society, in your family/work place/community?
- What place do you occupy in your church community?
- How does your position relative to others influence your behaviour towards them?
Now we’re going to try to enter into the world of the foreign woman.
I’ve allowed you the option of intellectualising the exercise, so the questions are asking you to think how some un-named person would feel in this situation.
- How would it feel to ask for help and be refused?
- How would it feel to have to surrender your dignity to get help?
- How might this happen in mission?
Now we try to enter Jesus’ mind.
Let us forget all the clever arguments about why he may have said what he said and only look at this: he said one thing; the lady said something else; Jesus adjusted his statement as a result of what she said. I read that as Jesus being humble enough to publicly change his mind.
- How do we respond when we are challenged?
- How do we learn to listen to people’s needs?
Let me tell you a story. I love stories. The names have been changed to protect the innocent and the not-so innocent.
A young American from the Southern US, let’s say Atlanta, came to do mission among the black people of the Caribbean.
A Caribbean colleague looked at him and asked, “So do you work with the Black churches in Atlanta? How many black people come to your home church?”
The young man hung his head and didn’t answer, whereupon his Caribbean colleague said, “So why are you trying to do here what you can’t do at home? Try taking the plank out of your own eye before you tackle the speck in mine.”
Recently I was at a mission meeting in the UK and it was notable that of about twenty-four of us, only 3 were people of colour, and none of us were British-born. Think about who is absent from the committees of power in your churches.
- Where are the Syro-Phoenician women among you?
- What does it say about you mission if they are not here in meaningful numbers?
Let us hear the words of the foreign woman:
Who you calling Dawg?
Yes, you, preacher man.
I hear you is a healer,
So I push me way through this crowd
Of laughing, taunting men
Who see all like me as dirt;
Bitch and foreign bitch to boot
I snarl and growl me way through
I don’t mind them
I would do anything for me daughter
I force me way to you
And tell you me need
And you look on me and call me ‘Dawg.’
I bark right back,
“An Dawg an all eat the scrapses
from Massa table”
And you look me in the eye
An you laugh and say
“You right. You daughter heal.”
An is true.
And I thank you
and I follow you.
But I still don’t understand
Why you had was to call we “dawg.”
But I glad you tell me I right
Before de crowd of dem.
Musa W. Dube. Postcolonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. St Louis Missouri: Chalice Press. 2000.
Dwight V. Hopkins, Marjorie Lewis (eds.) Another World is Possible: Spiritualities and Religions of Global Darker Peoples. London: Equinox Publishing. 2009.
Faith Linton. What the Preacher Forgot to Tell Me: Identity and Gospel in Jamaica. Pickering, Ontario: Bay Ridge Books. 2009.
Anthony G. Reddie. Is God Colour-Blind:Insights from Black Theology for Christian Ministry. London:SPCK. 2009
Kathleen O’Brien Wicker, Althea Spencer Miller, and Musa W. Dube (eds.) Feminist New Testament Studies: Global and Future Perspectives. New York. Palgrave Macmillan. 2005