About Tom Richards

I am an Australian pastor serving with the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu. I currently teach at Talua Theological Training Institute on Santo and formerly taught at Enefa on Tanna. Mi wan man Ostrelia be mi stap long Vanuatu we me wan pasta wetem PCV we me stap tij long Talua Theological Training Institute long Santo. Bifo me wok long ples ia be bin tij long Enefa long Tanna.

COMA and the Small Issue of Order

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Contextualising COMA for Vanuatu: Part 2 (background here)

When we use COMA in its original setting (western evangelical), we do “C” context before “O” observation, which makes sense because that is the logical conceptual order.  We need to think about where a passage is in the bigger picture before we hone in and analyse it.  We also can’t help coming to a text with some sense of the context.  If it is an article in a newspaper we might notice which paper it is in and in which section.

However, in reality there is a kind of cyclic relationship between context and content when it comes to a Bible passage.  Just as context helps us to understand the contents, so too what is in the passage helps us to think about what of all the possible context is relevant and enlightening.

This tension is solved with good readers by reading through the passage before thinking about the context and then coming back in ‘observe’ to take a better look at the passage.   However, I wonder with people who are not such good readers, whether they need to spend more time observing the passage before they have enough clues to think about what of the bigger picture is relevant and helpful.  They would then combine the insights of what they gained by looking into the passage with the insight gained from thinking about the big picture, to come up with the meaning.

So the question is: In a contextualized version of COMA for Vanuatu, which should come first, context or observation? 

Your thoughts?

Biblical Interpretation for Vanuatu: Contextualizing COMA

COMA for Vanuatu, Talking About Tanna

A puzzle for Bislama speakers

I’m wrestling with how to teach Biblical Interpretation at certificate level and have been trialing teaching students the COMA method with some (but limited) success. I think the method is really good and sound and I’m going to persevere with it, but try to further contextualize it in order to better support Ni-Vanuatu students and ministers. I’ll do this in Bislama. Want to help? I’d love your input. Continue reading

Book Throwing and the Mission of God: Part 3

Tom Richards, John Frum, Storytelling, Noah and ark

Tannese Noah and the ark story retold through song and dance at Jon celebrations (John Frum), Feb 2016

Interaction with Don’t Throw the Book at Them by Harry Box

Chapter 2

To live on Tanna is to live in the land of stories. Perhaps this is a familiar experience for other westerners living within oral societies. All people love stories; it seems we’re wired for them. But here, they carry out functions that are foreign to us. For example, stories can function somewhat like a title-deed for land ownership. Stories are also fundamental to all Tanna’s religious movements, conveying and reinforcing their ideals and values. When someone came to our closest village promoting a new movement, he came telling a story.

Box’s fundamental question in this chapter is: ‘Do oral societies have a system of communication that is adequate for receiving and passing on the Christian message?’ Box’s answer is, unsurprisingly an emphatic yes. I will summarize Box’s chapter and then add my own thoughts as to how we might answer Box’s question in relation to any particular oral culture with particular reference to oral communication on Tanna. Continue reading

Response to: Book Throwing and the Mission of God Part 2

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John Wilson was a resident missionary in Papua (Irian Jaya) from 1972 to 1991 and wrote his master’s dissertation on ‘Scripture in Oral Culture’ before orality was as trendy.  He was kind enough to add his thoughts to my application comments and I think they’re worth sharing.

Comments in italics by John D Wilson:

We must seek to understand the communication methods of our target culture; we need to have a good understanding of how the people communicate with each other and how their belief and plausibility systems are transferred. I think this point has been made clear by enough people in enough ways that we can no longer claim to be doing responsible mission if we don’t.

This does not mean that people are incapable of learning a different communication method. They may use it in a different way—in terms of logic and structure of thought.

Continue reading

Book Throwing and the Mission of God Part 2

Vanuatu, Tanna, Oral communication, Unity Movement, Tom Richards

Oral Communication: the Unity Movement, Tanna, Vanuatu

Interaction with Don’t Throw the Book at Them by Harry Box

Chapter 1

I was surprised the first time that I supervised ‘homework’ at college by a low and constant whispered murmur. What was it? Was everyone just chatting rather than getting on with their work? Where they collaborating? No, what they were doing was reading aloud to themselves.

Now, I could put that down to the students only just developing literacy skills, like children who have not yet learnt to read silently, and to an extent that may be true in the sense that they are not ‘literacy people.’ But on the other hand, it indicates a difference in the way that they think about ‘text’ and words, and it is this difference that Box discusses in this chapter.

Surely Box is right when he says that ‘…there are many possibilities for misunderstanding and miscommunication between oral and literacy-oriented people’ (p19), and this chapter is foundational to the book in that it seeks to help us to better understand oral (non-book) people. What I will do is summarise the chapter first, and then offer some of my own comments by way of opening a discussion. What I really want to question is the degree to which the difference between oral people and literacy-based people separates us and how we can best think about those differences and (perhaps) similarities. Continue reading