I am here in Vancouver–spectacularly beautiful–for a conference on Pure Land Buddhism; and before the conference started this afternoon, my friend Richard and I visited the Museum of Anthropology. It was a gorgeous, interesting museum–most of it devoted to First Nations peoples. I am still thinking about all I saw, but this piece stayed with me the most:
It’s a mask, but it’s wrapped, and it’s meant to depict the tension First Nation peoples experience around the display of their sacred artifacts as “art,” when they actually have profound and particular spiritual significance, and are not meant to be seen outside the context of their use within a tribal
It reminded me of the serious challenges that face Christians (and others) when we engage other religious traditions: even when we have the best of intentions, we can offend, misinterpret and misrepresent. It takes so much knowledge, patience, and conversation–and humility! But, in that regard, the Museum is a good example, too–they have very intentionally and with great deliberation worked with the First Nations peoples themselves, cultivating a relationship with them, and being taught by them; and striving to protect and promote their cultures with respect and great care. The results are amazing–check it out: moa.ubc.ca.
It’s a lesson I’m taking with me into the conference, as I learn more about Pure Land Buddhism, and think about how better to teach it to Christians. It’s such an exciting, rewarding challenge.