Friday, January 28, 2011

Week Three

Reading Reflections:
Hispanic/Latino Theology pp. 104-133
            This week’s reading focuses especially on the importance of cultural heritage in Hispanic theology. Chapter five, “The Oral Tradition of a People” by Ana Maria Pineda, explores the role of artistic and oral tradition in Hispanic theology. Pineda explains the traditional roles of tlacuilo and tlamatinime in the Aztec-Nahuatl culture (108). Tlacuilos were artists, charged with the task of “faithfully [drawing] the history of the people” (108). This task required that the tlacuilo “commune profoundly with his heart” as well as the heart of the people (108). Tlamatinimes were the “[masters] of the oral transmission of the people” (109). They were a source of wisdom in the Nahuatl culture, articulating the traditions as painted by the tlacuilos and shaping the rostro y corazon (face and heart) of the community (110). Understanding the history of these roles in Aztec-Nahuatl culture can help us better understand the importance of both art and wisdom in the Hispanic community today. Pineda points out the prominence of murals in Hispanic neighborhoods, noting that “the paintings combine symbols of the past…with scenes of current Hispanic/Latino reality” (113). These murals continue the tradition of the tlacuilo and serve as a source of strength, empowering “marginalized communities to take claim of their rightful place in society by publicly manifesting the diverse aspects of their life” (113). Also, continuing the traditional role of the tlamatinime, elderly members of Hispanic communities “faithfully transmit the wisdom they have guarded throughout their lives” (114). Pineda argues that in many ways, Hispanic theologians also take on these roles, by “[committing] their lives to the ‘articulation of the faith experience of United States Hispanics’” (115). Just as the tlacuilos and tlamatinimes lived alongside their people, seeing and reflecting the rostro y corazon of the community, today’s Hispanic theologians are called to the same task. And I would argue that all theologians of all cultures are called to this task, which Pineda rightly describes as a “lifelong process” and “daily pursuit” (115-116). I especially appreciated this reminder that my studies and my ministry (which are one and the same) call for both daily and lifelong commitment.
            Chapter six, “Sangre llama a sangre” (“Blood Cries Out to Blood”)by Jeanette Rodriguez, discusses the role of cultural memory in Hispanic theology (118). Specifically, she explores the role of Our Lady of Guadalupe in shaping Hispanic cultural memory and theology (118). Rodriguez defines cultural memory as something that “transmits an experience rooted in history that has reached a culturally definitive, transformative status” (122). Thus, specifically for the Mexican people, Our Lady of Guadalupe serves as a powerful cultural memory of their “once silenced” voice being restored along with their human dignity (123). Guadalupe does this by appearing to the conquered Nahuatl people and speaking in their own language rather than Spanish, the language of their conquerors (123). Thus, Guadalupe “[enters] into their history and [incarnates] their culture, symbols, and language” (123). In true liberatory fashion, Guadalupe frees the Mexican people from cultural oppression by “demanding that they participate in the reclaiming of their own voice” (123). Further affirming and appealing to the culture of the people, Guadalupe identifies herself in the language of the Aztec gods with whom the Nahuatl people would have been familiar (128). And finally, Guadalupe chooses Juan Diego as her messenger, indicating her care and even preference for the low class Indian people, the conquered (129). Rodriguez asserts that all these things come together to affirm the humanity of the Mexican people, proving that they are indeed “made in the image and likeness of their Creator” (132). As someone who has spent time in Mexico, I know the powerful role Guadalupe plays in Mexican culture even today. I have often wondered about/struggled with the popularity of Guadalupe since she is directly linked to Catholicism and most of my Mexican friends are very anti-Catholic due to their connections with the Methodist Church. However, this article gave me theological reasons to appreciate Guadalupe’s role in Mexican culture as a positive, affirming force in the collective cultural memory of the people.

Journal Article Reflections:
La organización de su iglesia- El Interprete
            This week, I read the article “La organizacion de su iglesia” (“The Organization of Your Church”) in El Interprete. I must admit, when I first saw the article on the front page, I actually thought that it was a joke. It proclaimed, “
Es muy importante que todos y cada uno de los ministerios hispanos estén perfectamente organizados” (“it is very important that each and every Hispanic ministry is perfectly organized”). I clicked on the article, which proved to be an explanation of how to (“perfectly”) organize Hispanic ministries in such a way as to be recognized as independent entities by the Book of Discipline of the UMC. The article stressed the importance of every Hispanic ministry being organized in this way, even listing possible consequences of remaining “unorganized” such as losing claim to the facility in which the ministry meets if the local church closes. After reading this article, my reaction to El Interprete proved exactly the opposite of last week— I was frustrated and reminded of the challenges that lie ahead for United Methodism if it is to move forward into the future. First of all, the requirements for Hispanic ministries to be independent and recognized include all of the requirements of full-fledged local congregations. This includes five committees, all functioning under the standards of the Discipline. These requirements must also be met in order for representatives to be sent to Annual Conference or records to be kept at the Conference level. These traditional standards of the UMC are not only unrealistic for Hispanic ministries, they also reflect an insensitivity to (or ignorance of) the Hispanic culture. The relational culture of the Hispanic people is marked by authenticity rather than organization, by true church families rather than committees; to withhold recognition and representation until Hispanic ministries organize themselves according to majority standards is to allow structural violence in the very place we call the Kingdom of God. If the Hispanic community is truly to become a part of the UMC, things must change. And if the UMC is to move forward singing “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,” it has no choice but to welcome the Hispanic community into its midst.

Vocational Discernment:
This week, my vocational discernment was fueled by Lisa Schirch’s forum on security and peacebuilding. As someone who is fairly new to the concept of peacebuilding as vocation, my understanding of what constitutes peacebuilding is expanding and changing almost every day. Her presentation further stretched my definition of peacebuilding and reminded me that building peace means interacting with, engaging, and inviting all people to come and learn God’s way of peace (Is 2.3-4). For Schirch, this means working very closely with the military, which is very different from the grassroots peacebuilding that I typically imagine. While I could not see myself working with the military, this example reminded me of the importance of intentionally stepping outside “peace” circles for the purpose of relationship, dialogue, and the transformation of all people.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Week Two

Reading Reflections:
Hispanic/Latino Theology pp. 73-103
            This week’s reading continued the theme of storytelling. Chapter four, “In the Image and Likeness of God” by Ana Maria Diaz-Stevens, focuses on the role of literature in Hispanic theology. Literature is framed as storytelling, and Diaz-Stevens asserts that “storytelling…transcends the personal worldview to reflect the values upon which a society is either maintained or transformed” (86).  Throughout the chapter, she discusses several works of Hispanic literature that have contributed to Hispanic theology, such as Don Quijote (92). She emphasizes the power of la palabra (the word) in Hispanic culture, explaining that words have “the power to cause movement and change” (90). She goes so far as to say that through their words, Hispanic authors have illustrated “a new way of being Hispanic” (101). Words have a tremendous capacity for transforming the world and building peace, if used wisely. And most of all, words, if heard, can be a source of unity: “everyone must articulate his or her own story so that out of many voices will come one harmonious story of humanity” (90).
Chapter three, “The Lesson of the Gibeonites” by Francisco Garcia-Treto, focuses on the dialogic nature of Scripture, particularly in the story of the Gibeonites in Joshua 9 (74). Even though God commands Israel to “utterly destroy” the people of the land, “[making] no covenant with them and [showing] them no mercy,” (Deut 7.2), the Gibeonites manage to trick Joshua and “obtain a covenant that protects them, albeit reduced to the status of ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ for the congregation of Israel’” (75). In this story, the biblical text clearly displays a dialogic nature. God’s command to Israel does not get the last word; rather, the creative (and deceptive) Gibeonites are given a voice that ultimately tricks Joshua into disobeying the command of God! This is a matter of survival for the Gibeonites, and they do “[succeed] in subverting the genocial project the Deuteronomic Yahweh promulgated” (83). This redefines the dialogue between Israel and the “outsider” (83). In Joshua 9, the one “first defined as an undesirable alien to be exterminated from the promised land, has been heard and once heard can no longer be denied humanity or the consequent right to exist” (83, emphasis mine). Once the voice of the Gibeonites is heard by Israel and given a place in the biblical narrative, it transforms the relationship between Israel and the “other,” the “outsider” (83). While the status granted to the Gibeonites in Joshua’s covenant is alarmingly low, it is a status of life, of humanity. This is the fruit of dialogue; to hear the voice of the outsider, of the other, is to affirm their humanity and walk with them on the path toward becoming “strangers no longer” (42).

Journal Article Reflections:
            This week, I read one article in The Latino Journal and two articles in El Interprete. The article in The Latino Journal focused on the reapportionment of congressional seats in relationship to Latino population. According to the article, Hispanic voters make up 15.2% of eligible voters in states that gained seats, while they make up only 5.4% of eligible voters in the states that lost seats. Thus, “Hispanic voters are nearly three times more prevalent” in the states gaining seats. The article also pointed out that there are more Hispanic U.S. citizens under 17 (15.5 million) than the total non-citizen population (12.8 million). While this article did not specifically focus on Hispanic ministry, in order to serve the Hispanic population in the U.S., it is important to understand these political dynamics. In the short term, it will be interesting to see how Hispanic voters will use their increased collective power in Congress. And in the long term, it will be fascinating to see how the 15.5 million Hispanic U.S. citizens under the age of 17 will impact both local and national politics as they become eligible to vote.
            The article I most appreciated this week was “Grupos pequeños: El eslabón perdido” in El Interprete. This article focused on the “missing link” in our United Methodist churches today: small groups. It discussed John Wesley’s use of small groups, or “classes,” early in the Methodist movement. These groups served as a means of grace, as well as a way to live the life of both personal and social holiness that Wesley taught. This theme fit well with the other article I read in El Interprete, “Mi pasión es la enseñanza,” in which Irma M. Garza, a member of IMU El Buen Pastor in the Rio Grande Annual Conference, described the joy she has found in teaching Disciple Bible Study and ESL classes at her church. Irma herself was an ESL student when she came to the U.S., so this story is an example of the power of small groups in the local church setting. Small groups not only create space for people to receive God’s grace, they also provide the opportunity to those people to give back to their church family and community as Irma is doing. Both of these articles in El Interprete reminded me of the thing I love the most about the Wesleyan life of faith: the connection between personal and social holiness, and the abundance of opportunities to make and live that connection. As it says in the Book of Discipline of the UMC, “We proclaim no personal gospel that fails to express itself in relevant social concerns; we proclaim no social gospel that does not include the personal transformation of sinners” (BOD 49). While the UMC does not always succeed at proclaiming this relevant gospel, the firm foundation of tradition has been laid. Stories like Irma’s are glimmers of hope that the “missing link” of social holiness in our church is not really missing— it just needs reconnected and renewed.

Vocational Discernment:
            This week was filled with many opportunities for vocational discernment— conversations, classes, and much time in prayer. In Peacemaking Seminar this week, my understanding of career and call were challenged in ways that had me thinking all week long. You asked me to think about where I draw the lines consistently in my life and how I intentionally live in solidarity with those whom I feel called to serve. And you talked about being called to serve the Hispanic community as something that transcends a career— something that I could (and will) live out even if I am not employed specifically in Hispanic ministry. This struck me as revolutionary, that my call could be about living in a certain way rather than doing a certain job. As I spent time in prayer about this, I realized that in my attempt to discern my vocation, I have been neglecting my call. I have spent far too much time discerning what God wants me to do and not enough time discerning who God wants me to be. And honestly, it seems to me that if I know who I am called to be, what I am called to do will flow naturally out of that. Last week when I listed all the possibilities I see for my vocation, I did so with the hope that by the end of the semester I would figure out which one was the “right” option. But after this week, I have a new hope: that by the end of the semester, I will have a better understanding of the person I am called to be in Christ. And through the lens of that calling— that identity—I pray that I “may discern what is the will of God— what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12.2).

Monday, January 17, 2011

Week One

Reading Reflections:
Hispanic/Latino Theology pp. 15-72
In the first three essays of Hispanic/Latino Theology, an overarching theme I noticed was storytelling. So, a question I would like to focus on as I reflect on my reading for this week is: how can the ritual of storytelling be used as a tool for building peace and community in the Hispanic context? The first essay, “Aliens in a Promised Land” by Fernando Segovia, focused on the importance of the U.S. Hispanic American population embracing and raising its voice, specifically in the field of theology, in order to become “strangers no longer” (28). For Segovia, until the voice of the Hispanic people is heard, they will remain strangers in the “promised land” of the United States (28). He also describes the unique voice of U.S. Hispanic American theologians as one of “devotion and commitment…to the highest ideals of our new country and the deepest yearnings of our home countries” (30). It is from this perspective and context that U.S. Hispanic American people must embrace their identities, raise their voices, tell their stories, and become “strangers no longer” (42).
In the second essay, “Judith Ortiz Cofer’s Silent Dancing” by Elena Olazagasti-Segovia, the role of storytelling in Ortiz Cofer’s childhood is highlighted; for Ortiz Cofer, it was the “family ritual: the telling of stories” that taught the young Puerto Rican girl “what it was like to be a woman, more specifically, a Puerto Rican woman” (54). In this instance, storytelling is used within a culture to maintain and celebrate identity and tradition. The third essay, “Kingdom Building in the Borderlands” by Daisy L. Machado, describes the way in which the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has “adopted and legitimized” the United States’ “melting pot” philosophy as it has done mission and ministry in the borderlands (64). Machado asserts that the church needs not to “remake a people in the image of the missionary,” but rather celebrate and affirm the culture of the borderlands (72). Ultimately, storytelling (or rather story-listening) is the means through which Machado envisions the people of the borderlands being included and affirmed in the life of the church. The church must listen, “so that their voice will no longer be ignored or denied its right to speak their story” (72).
What is clear from these readings is that storytelling plays a powerful role in the Hispanic context, and I would argue the human context in general. However, what is equally clear in these readings is that the power of storytelling lies in the willingness of the other party to listen. While storytelling can enable Hispanic people to become “strangers no longer” (42), if those in the center refuse to listen to the stories coming from the margins, the storytellers remain marginalized and oppressed. While storytelling can celebrate and pass on traditions within a culture, if the next generation will not listen, the melting pot will ultimately prevail (54). And while the church creating space for the stories of those in the borderlands to be heard is really an act of creating space for the people themselves, if the church turns a deaf ear to the unique context of these individuals, efforts to include them in the life of the church will continue to fail (72). Storytelling alone has no power; rather, it is the willingness to listen, to hear, and to celebrate these stories and the lives behind them that enables storytelling to create a new reality for “both the center and the margins” (30).

Journal Article Reflections:
            This week, I read three articles in El Interprete. At first, I was attracted to the articles “Desarrollo de lideres para hoy y el futuro” and “Un lider en formacion” since they shared the theme of next generation leadership development, an emphasis of the denomination and especially of my conference. So, I was curious to read more about the work being done specifically in the area of Hispanic next generation leadership development. I enjoyed the articles, and it turns out that many of the same buzz words and initiatives are being employed across cultural and linguistic divides as the United Methodist Church seeks to move forward and train up its next generation of leaders.
            However, the article I most enjoyed was “Un regalo de esperanza en la vina.” This was an article about the experience of two United Methodist pastors in Tulare Country, California who spent a day serving in the vineyards alongside farm workers. What originally sparked my curiosity about this article was the connection between farm workers and grapes, specifically thinking about connections to grape juice and communion. Before I even read the article, I found myself pondering the ethics of our use of grape juice as “the blood of Christ,” which has been produced by Hispanic farm workers likely under extremely difficult working conditions. Unfortunately, the article had nothing to do with the ethics of communion beyond my initial thoughts. However, the article was about the simple gift of presence— the presence of the pastors working alongside the farm workers, and the impact their willingness to be present had on the farm workers. Toward the end of the article, one of the pastors shares that the workers said to him, “Pastor, ahora usted es uno de nosotros” (“Pastor, now you are one of us”). Those of us in ministry must become one with those whom we serve— not only listening to their stories but living the stories alongside them. This is the model of the incarnation itself, that in Christ the people of God did not hear a sermon, see a commercial, or receive a flyer in the mail; rather, they experienced the “simple historical presence of Logos himself enfleshed in their (our) midst, so they could let their story be incorporated in his” (Early and Grimsrud 53). In the same way, it is through our presence—and Christ’s presence through us—in the fields and on the border that the stories of the Hispanic community will be heard and our Hispanic sisters and brothers will be incorporated into the stories of our churches.

Vocational Discernment:
            Over the course of the past year at Bluffton, my vocational aspirations have broadened greatly. While I came to Bluffton specifically wanting to serve in Hispanic ministry, at this point when asked what I want to do after college, I answer, “peace and justice ministry.” Of course, Hispanic ministry fits quite neatly into the category of peace and justice ministry. But my experiences at Bluffton have broadened my understanding of my call and vocation. I view this as a positive, since I see many possibilities for careers within the field of peace and justice ministry. These include Hispanic ministry in the U.S., mission work in Mexico, border justice/peace work, prison ministry, restorative justice work, church conflict transformation/mediation work, and advocacy work. In addition to these careers in peace and justice ministry, I could also see myself teaching in a university setting, though this is a relatively new development partially brought on by recent comments of people who know me well. So, as of the first week of the semester, these are my vocational thoughts…I look forward to much exploration and discernment throughout the course of the semester!

Early, Christian E. and Ted G. Grimsrud, eds. A Pacifist Way of Knowing: John Howard Yoder’s Nonviolent Epistemology. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2010.