Saturday, February 26, 2011

Week Seven

Reading Reflections:
Hispanic/Latino Theology pp. 240-288
            In chapter 13, “The Collective ‘Dis-covery’ of Our Own Power,” Maria Pilar Aquino discusses the conquest of Latin America and its relation to Latin American liberation theology, particularly feminist theology (240). Aquino says that “it is radically impossible to disregard the fact that we sprang from a conquered and colonized continent” (240). It is from within this reality that Latin American feminist theology emerges, choosing and articulating a different future (241-42). She creatively subverts the word “discovery,” used so often to describe the conquest of Latin America; instead of the discovering, Aquino says that the conquest was actually the covering of the Latin American people (241). Thus, it is the task of Latin American feminist theology to dis-cover, to uncover, the strength and beauty of Latin American women (242). Aquino lays out the “fundamental principles” of Latin American feminist theology, a list that comes together to create a radical egalitarian vision for the church (252). She also lists three features of this theology: 1) creative participation in theology (254), 2) an understanding of woman as both “subjects and objects of theology” (255), and 3) a relevance for daily life (256). This theology is rooted in the daily realities and struggles of Latin American women, and working actively for transformation, “convinced that things should and can change” (257). The thing that was most significant for me in this chapter was the strong connection Aquino made between the conquest and Latin American liberation theology, especially her strong words about the institution of the church in relation to this. A few of her comments hit home for me, such as “the institutional church arrives late, does so at a snail’s pace, or simply does not arrive at all” and “the behavior of the institutional church can only indicate a systemic resistance to the re-creating activity of the Spirit of God in the world” (242). These are harsh but prophetic comments, and I have experienced them to be true firsthand in my own context. For me, this served as a reminder that the church has the choice to arrive, to welcome and seek the Spirit…or not.
            In chapter 14, “U.S. Hispanic Popular Catholicism as Theopoetics,” Roberto S. Goizueta explores the theological form and expression of popular Catholicism, particularly in the images of the crucifix (271) and Our Lady of Guadalupe (280). Goizueta points to these images as places where theology comes to life in vibrantly meaningful ways, standing in contrast to much of today’s “increasingly irrelevant” academic theology (262). The crucifix is a central image of Hispanic theology because in it, the suffering of the Hispanic community is reflected in the suffering of Christ (275). Goizueta explains that it is “within the context of [Hispanic] historical praxis as a community” that the crucifix becomes a “symbol of hope— a hope born of the crucified Jesus’ identification with us in our own crucifixion” (272-73). The significance of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Hispanic theology also emerges from the historical praxis of the Hispanic community (282). Guadalupe meets the Hispanic community where they are, in the midst of their “abandonment,” and affirms their humanity (284-85). Thus, the images of Christ’s suffering on the cross and Our Lady of Guadalupe are two primary expressions of Hispanic theology, reflecting the reality of the Hispanic experience in both content and form (269). Particularly interesting for me in this chapter were Goizueta’s comments about the content and form of theology (269) as well as his distinction that “Latinos and Latinas live in a world where God is revealed primarily in flesh and blood, in symbols and images; in Anglo society and its form of Christianity, we are faced with a God who is revealed primarily in clear and distinct ideas” (267). This reminded me of Marshall McLuhan’s idea that “the medium is the message,” which we have been discussing in Methods of Biblical Interpretation. In a very real way, God is who (and how) our theology portrays God to be. So, what does it mean for Hispanic theology to be primarily tangible and Anglo theology to be primarily theoretical? Well, if the medium is the message, if the form is the content (267), then these differences are far from minor.

Journal Article Reflections:
            In the first article, “Called to Be a Bridge Person,” Marigene Chamberlain reflects on her call and role to build bridges between cultures. She describes the dimensions of cross-cultural communication, pointing to differences such as high-context and low-context communication. She also describes the gifts that enable people to be bridge builders, such as the “ability to live comfortably in ambiguity” and “having a sense of humor.” Ultimately, Chamberlain points to God as the Creator of diverse cultures, “the One who calls us to be in covenant with one another.” As someone who feels called to build bridges in many different ways, this article helped me think more about the gifts God has given me according to my call.
The article “Justice For Our Neighbors: Dallas/Fort Worth” discusses the work of Justice For Our Neighbors (JFON), a ministry of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). The article highlights the ministry of Amy Spaur, one of GBGM’s Church and Community Workers. Amy serves at JFON in Dallas/ Fort Worth, which provides free legal services to immigrants and seeks to build community and dialogue across cultures. JFON has eight core values: expression of faith, quality free legal services, cross-cultural community, hospitality, congregation-based, volunteer-based, education, and advocacy. Overall, these core values painted a balanced and holistic picture of Hispanic ministry, which helped me think about the core values of my own vision for Hispanic ministry.

Vocational Discernment:
            This week was filled with opportunities to explore vocation and discern the Holy Spirit’s leading. First, Marcia Riggs’ presentation helped me think more about the kind of leader God is calling me to be in the church and beyond. Specifically, I appreciated her comments about living into the “energy” of conflict and being open to the Holy Spirit’s creating power in the midst of conflict in the body of Christ. This put what we have been learning in Theories of Peace & Conflict about the positive potential of conflict into the context of church leadership, which was helpful for me. I also really appreciated the opportunity in Theories of Peace & Conflict this week to fill out a personal theory-practice template. This for me turned out to be an intentional time of reflecting, making connections, and ultimately aligning myself with the vision God has for me as a peacemaker. One thing I took from the theory-practice template was the fact that education and peacemaking are undeniably linked for me. This is an invaluable insight for me, that education for me is an act of peace and a tool for peace. Finally, even New Testament this week was an opportunity for me to think about how the Holy Spirit is guiding me in my vocation; I appreciated Friday’s discussion about discernment, about listening to the Holy Spirit in community and being willing to follow in the unexpected directions it leads. I love the way the Jerusalem Council words its letter to the Gentile Christians in Acts, describing their decision making process by saying, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15.28). For me, this statement is a powerful example of the gentle, natural leading of the Holy Spirit. Together in community, it is my prayer that my vocational discernment will be this way— not a stressful experience, but an affirming process in which every step simply seems good to the Holy Spirit and to the community of people God has placed in my life.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Week Six

Reading Reflections:
Hispanic/Latino Theology pp. 195-239
            In chapter 11, “In the World but Not of It,” Fernando F. Segovia discusses the role of exile in U.S. Hispanic American theology and shares his personal experience of exile and diaspora, reflecting on its theological significance (198). He explains that most U.S. Hispanic Americans end up in the U.S. either by birth, acquisition, or immigration, and these paths “ultimately account…for different experiences with and within the country itself” (201). I appreciated these categories for thinking about how U.S. Hispanic Americans end up in the U.S. to begin with, especially since these different paths to the U.S. impact their experiences and ultimately their theology of exile (201). Segovia’s personal experience was that of immigration, specifically with his family as political refugees from Cuba (202). His theology has been shaped by this experience of exile and living in diaspora, although originally he expected his stay in the U.S. to be short term (211). For Segovia, like many others, “the journey [proved] to be too long and exile [settled] into a permanent condition” (203). He explains that living in diaspora causes the lines to be blurred between the sense of feeling like the “other” and the sense of belonging (203). This shapes Segovia’s theology, which seems quite paradoxical much like his experience; just as living in diaspora means living in the reality of otherness and belonging (203), for Segovia living with God means living in a world “beyond reformation and crying for reformation…a world of profound ambiguity” (214). I appreciated Segovia’s reflection on the ambiguity of his theology, intertwined with his experience of exile and diaspora. While I was uncomfortable with some of his reflections on God, such as his statement that God is “in charge of creation but forgetful of it” (215), I very much respect the context from which these statements emerge. After all, Segovia himself admits that “the God that emerges out of my diaspora [is] a profoundly ambiguous God” (215).
            Chapter 12, “Theologizing from a Puerto Rican Context” by Yamina Apolinaris and Sandra Mangual-Rodriguez, discusses the cultural contexts of Latin America, the Carribbean, and Puerto Rico, and explores the unique theology of Puerto Rico (219). I appreciated these brief overviews of history and culture, specifically their focus on the involvement of the United States in all of these contexts. I was unaware of the militaristic presence of the U.S. in Puerto Rico (232), so that was alarming new information. I have been almost exclusively interested in and focused on Mexico, so I appreciate that this text is expanding my horizons and painting a larger picture of the history and culture of Latin America.  As for the theology of Puerto Rico, I found it fascinating that prominent Puerto Rican theologians have identified Puerto Rican identity as the “primary subject” of Puerto Rican theology, with Puerto Rico as “the optimal locus” for this theology to take place (234). It seems logical to me that this would be the case, but this type of highly contextualized theology stands in stark contrast to much academic theology. This semester I have had the opportunity to read this text alongside great theologians such as Augustine, Origen, and Barth, and the difference between systematic theology and contextualized, culture-affirming theology such as this Hispanic theology is striking. I must admit that for me, there is something incredibly life-giving about this theology, rooted in the heart and experience of a people rather than in the minds of scholars. But ultimately, I do not see this as a choice between heart and mind, church and academy— these scholars in Puerto Rico seem to be firmly rooted in both, and the results are refreshing.

Journal Article Reflections:
            This week, my “journal article” readings were a bit less academic and a bit more focused on the stories and experiences of people, both in the United Methodist Church and in Mexico. The first article, “The Sweetest Sound” in El Interprete, was a reflection on call to ministry by Christina Saenz, a young woman now serving as a youth pastor in Texas. She reflected on being called, being distracted by the noise in her life, and God ultimately reminding her of the call on her life. As a young woman pursuing and discerning a call to ministry in the UMC, I appreciated her thoughts and very much related to the difficulty of remembering and following God’s call in the midst of life’s noise. The second article, “Remember Jesus,” also from El Interprete by Rev. Lorenza Andrade, is a prophetic call to “remember Jesus” in the face of all people, specifically “the poor, the stranger, the undocumented immigrant.” I was especially interested in this article, as Rev. Andrade was the Texas pastor arrested for DREAM Act nonviolent action in November. I followed her story and analyzed it as my final project for Social Justice & Social Change; I am inspired by her prophetic work within the UMC on issues of immigration, and find her story fascinating especially as she is currently in the candidacy process for ordination.
            The final “article” I read was really a video on BBC World called “The Many Faces of Mexico,” which I stumbled upon while looking for an article. However, it turned out to be an excellent glimpse into Mexican culture and it even connected with some readings and discussions from this class! For example, it discussed the women and their role in carrying on the traditions within the communities, which reminded me of chapter five of Hispanic/Latino Theology, “The Oral Tradition of a People.” And the most striking thing about the video, besides the images themselves, was the reciprocal relationship between the photographer and the people of the villages. I thought it was great that he not only wanted to capture the beauty of the culture and people, but also visit the communities again with prints of the photos. This reminded me of our conversation in class about ministry being about giving and receiving genuinely and equally; it seems that this photographer and his work can serve as an example for our churches, giving and receiving, celebrating and affirming culture, and ultimately understanding that these (and all) relationships are gifts from God.

Vocational Discernment:
            This week, I visited the UMC website and reacquainted myself with the order of deacon, to which I am called and pursuing ordination. This actually began because I was beginning to question whether I really need to, or should, pursue ordination. In thinking about my vocation, most of what I am exploring could be done perfectly well without being ordained, such as pursuing further study in Biblical Studies. I had always been particularly drawn to deacon’s orders as ordination to service, but as I read the description on the UMC website this week, I was struck by the first part of the description of the call of deacons, the part I always used to skim over— ordination to Word. Specifically, deacons are called to teach the Bible both inside and outside the church, transcending the boundaries of church and world, church and academy. It seems that even as life changes, God’s call remains the same. Word and service? Sometimes for a moment, everything makes sense.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Week Five

Reading Reflections:
Hispanic/Latino Theology pp. 167-194
            Chapter nine, “The Social Location of Liberation Theology” by Gilbert R. Cadena, explores the emergence and relationship of liberation theology in Latin American and the United States (167). He argues that liberation theology emerged in both contexts primarily as a result of “traditional Catholic hegemony and conflicts in civil society” (167). What struck me was that in both contexts, struggle and discrimination were primary factors in the emergence of the movement (174). Of course, this is what led to the emergence of liberation theology in particular. But this particular similarity in the midst of other differences signified that liberation theology is relevant anywhere that struggle is taking place; while other factors may differ greatly, it is out of the experience of struggle that liberation theology emerges. I was also interested in the chart entitled “Influences and Relationship between Latin American and U.S. Latino Theologies” (180). This chart shows that even though the religious and social conditions of Latin American and the U.S. do not directly interact, their theologies serve as a connecting point between cultures. The social conditions of Latin America influence Latin American Liberation Theology, which in turn influences U.S. Latino Theology, which influences and is influenced by the social conditions of the U.S. This chart illustrated well how the theology is both influences and is influenced by social and religious conditions, as well as how theology can be a form of communication and influence within and between cultures.
            In chapter ten, “The Barrio as the Locus of a New Church,” Harold J. Recinos proclaims that the Kingdom has come and is coming to the barrios of both Latin America and the United States. He describes a liberation theology born of struggle and suffering in which the good news is that Jesus’ new way of life will and does come to the barrio (185). For Recinos, following “the liberator Christ” means being willing to participate in “a unique and visible community of just struggle,” seeking to transform oppressive structures and live in solidarity with the poor (186). Recinos also points to the presence of Salvadorian refugees in Washington, D.C. as a situation that has enabled this message to be proclaimed and practiced in the U.S. (190). The refugees’ experience of great violence and struggle in their home country has led to the formation of radical, liberation-centered communities of faith in the barrios of D.C. (192). These communities are “inextricably linked to the agony of the barrio and the crucified people of global history” (193), but they are also characterized by renewal, liberation, and prophetic struggle for a more just society (194). Overall, this was an inspiring read that serves as a reminder that God’s Kingdom is present and coming to the margins of society; only if we live in solidarity with the marginalized will we be able to say, “God’s reign is truly near” (194).

Journal Article Reflections:
            This week, I read a book review on Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas. Overall, it sounds like a great overview of the history of peace movements as well as theories. I am especially interested in the book’s focus on peace as a “pragmatic and realistic” choice rather than an “ideological” one. As someone whose interest in peace came as a direct result of religious and moral beliefs, arguments for the practicality of peace intrigue me. This reminded me of the book A Force More Powerful, which I own and started reading over Christmas break. It also discusses nonviolence as a practical choice, as a “force more powerful” than using violence. Since I am curious to learn more about these concepts, I might get this book and read it after I finish A Force More Powerful.
            I also read two articles about health issues and health ministry in the Hispanic community. First, “Older Hispanics Go Un-Immunized” in The Latino Journal discussed the fact that immunization rates are often low among the Hispanic population. For example, only 40% of Spanish-speaking Hispanics over the age of 65 got the pneumonia vaccine compared with 74% of white seniors. This article told of a clear inequality and need in the Hispanic community; on the other hand, the article, “Reaching Hispanics Through Health Ministry” in El Interprete described how churches can meet these needs through health ministry. The article described the health ministry of El Buen Pastor United Methodist Church, which includes health classes and a community garden. This ministry was the result of a partnership with the county health department, which serves as a model for Hispanic ministries everywhere to make connections and meet the needs of the Hispanic community.

Vocational Discernment:
            This week, I have been striving to remember that vocation is not an end goal, but rather a journey that I am already on. Right now, my vocation is that of a student, which will be the case for at least the next 5-6 years. It is exciting to think about vocation beyond that, but it is even more exciting to take joy in where and who I am now. I feel strongly that I am called to be a student at Bluffton, particularly in the religion program. Two years ago, I would have rejected that idea completely; it seems likely that two years from now, I will be equally called and equally surprised. What is important is that I live into my calling and vocation as a student today, trusting that it will lead to my calling and vocation tomorrow.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Week Four

Reading Reflections:
Hispanic/Latino Theology pp. 134-166
            Chapter seven, “Sources of a Hispanic/Latino American Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective” by Samuel Solivan, is quite possibly my favorite reading in Hispanic/Latino Theology so far. At the very least, it is the most practical. Solivan outlines the foundation of Hispanic/Latino Pentecostal theology, specifically focusing on the five main sources of theological truth in the Hispanic community (140). He begins by acknowledging the unique location of Hispanic/Latino theology, which is not a theology for the marginalized from the center, but rather a theology that “emerges from the margins and speaks on behalf of those on the periphery to those at the centers of power” (137). He contrasts this with many popular liberation theology movements, saying that the “premodern perspective [of Hispanic Pentecostals] often offends the ideological sensibilities of the elite who seek to liberate the poor” (139). Solivan points out that the unique premodern hermeneutic of the “disenfranchised” often stands in stark contrast to that of professional theologians, even liberation theologians (139). Yet he is hopeful that an exploration of theology through this premodern perspective will be fruitful (140).
            As the article continues, Solivan lists five sources of Hispanic/Latino Pentecostal theology. In my experience, Hispanic/Latino religious expression is largely Pentecostal even in mainline denominations such as The Methodist Church of Mexico (which is a different denomination than The United Methodist Church). So, this theology seems to be accurate for a wide range of denominations, not simply a small percentage of “Pentecostal” ones. The five sources are spirituality (140), personal and communal experience (142), Scripture (143), preaching/pastoring/teaching (144), and the Holy Spirit (148). The first source, spirituality, emphasized the importance of el culto, the weekly worship service as the place that ties together all sources of Hispanic theology (140). Next, personal and communal experience, including “the experience of life in the Spirit” (143), is foundational in Hispanic theological understanding. Further, Scripture “[constitutes] the highest norm” (143) in Hispanic theology, and Scripture is interpreted, taught, and lived by the pastor(s) and leader(s) of the church (145). Yet ultimately, all of these things are guided by and the Holy Spirit, which “illuminates, directs, and discerns the sources used” in Hispanic theology (148).
            Solivan’s chapter reminded me very much of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which shapes the theology of my tradition. For United Methodists, Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience serve as our sources of theology, with Scripture being primary. I saw many commonalities between Solivan’s five sources and the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, with Scripture and experience being the most obvious two. His statement that “in light of [Scripture] one’s religious experience is informed and interpreted” sounded like something straight from the Quadrilateral. And our Wesleyan emphasis on tradition relates to Solivan’s sources of spirituality and preaching/pastoring/teaching— these are the experiences and the people that make up our tradition. While the commonalities are interesting, perhaps most telling are the differences: the Wesleyan Quadrilateral’s source of reason in contrast with Solivan’s source of the Holy Spirit. This difference illuminates the contrast between the premodern theological perspective of Hispanic Pentecostals and the modern (or even postmodern) perspective of United Methodist theology. While Hispanic Pentecostals trust in the Holy Spirit to interpret Scripture and guide theology, United Methodists have chosen to emphasize and affirm reason as a source for theological insight. As someone who enjoys the rigorous academic study of religion, I am very comfortable with reason as a source of United Methodist theology. However, I realize that my perspective places me in Solivan’s category of the “elite” and ultimately at odds with the way that Hispanic Pentecostals understand theology (139). I do not view this as a negative thing; this is who I am, and acknowledging that is the first step toward building bridges and doing theology with, not for, the Hispanic community.
            Chapter eight, “Notes toward a Sociology of Latina/o Religious Empowerment” by Otto Maduro, turned out to be one of my least favorite readings in the book so far. The chapter explored the “actual and potential role of religious tradition in the empowerment of Latino/a communities in the United States” (166). While Maduro made several interesting points throughout the chapter, I struggled with the basis for his overarching argument. For example, he says things such as, “we are a people, but not quite yet,” and describes the identity of Hispanic people as “vulnerable and frail” (162). Further, he states that the “individual and collective, material and spiritual” existence of Hispanic people is “possibly more endangered than ever before” (163). These statements strike me as a rather negative place to begin an argument for the church’s role in Hispanic empowerment. First, it seems like he wants to create one “Hispanic” culture, one “people” (162), which is not practical let alone empowering. Next, he focuses far too much on the “weaknesses” of the Hispanic culture instead of emphasizing the unique gifts and strengths of the Hispanic community. It seems to me that a theology of empowerment should begin in an affirming place, and Maduro instead focuses on oppression and weakness.
            The one part of the Maduro reading that I really appreciated was his discussion of “see/judge/act” circles (160). The UMC uses the see-judge-act method in its national plan for Hispanic ministry, and I have been through extensive training for that program. One thing that I learned from the Maduro reading, however, was the idea of this process being cyclical, not linear. He emphasized the fact that “research and action are likely to stimulate and influence each other” (161), which was a reminder of this continuous, cyclical process of seeing, judging, acting, and repeating.

Journal Article Reflections:
            This article, by Gilberto Ruiz, focuses on the themes of movement and migration as embodied by Jesus in the Gospel of John. Ruiz argues that “John articulates fundamental aspects of Jesus’ mission and identity in terms of movement and migration.” Ruiz uses Segovia’s “hermeneutical model of otherness,” and thus allows the text to “be an independent and self-defining construct.” He describes the incarnation of John 1.14 in terms of migration, saying that “the Logos/Son…is a migratory being who leaves his home to reside elsewhere, at least for a time.” He also points out that in the Gospel of John depicts Jesus traveling oven, “more…than he does in the Synoptic Gospels.” For Ruiz, this is an argument for movement and migration as a central theme of Jesus’ life. Finally, he discusses “the alienation or disconnectedness that the Johannine Jesus experiences in the world,” illustrated by Jesus’ cleansing of the temple in John 2.13-22. Jesus not only experiences this alienation, but his followers do also, as they “become like Jesus, not quite ‘fitting in’ the world, the world they formerly took to be their home.” All of these factors lead Ruiz to argue against the popular belief that John’s Gospel is concerned with religion rather than social and political issues; rather, he “[insists] on the political and social ramifications of John’s Christology.”
            Overall, this article pointed out many patterns in Johannine Christology that are worth exploring and applying to Hispanic ministry. While Ruiz approaches the text with a definite bias, he acknowledges his bias throughout the article. I especially appreciated the connection he made between incarnation and immigration, which proved for me to be a fruitful way to think more about both issues. Also, I enjoyed his pointing out that the word “way” in “I am the way” (John 14.6) can also be translated as “road, path, highway, trip, or journey.” I am especially drawn to the concept of Christ as “the journey,” which I suppose emphasizes movement and migration! Ultimately, this serves as a reminder that faith in Christ is a journey, not a one-stop, one-time event.

Vocational Discernment:
            This week, I thought I would reflect a bit on internship options. My hope is that whatever I do this summer will grow out of this class; just as I am exploring peacemaking as vocation this semester, I hope to continue that exploration through the summer. So far, I have looked at many options, and will start applying soon. Some of the options I am most excited about include internships at the Metta Center for Nonviolence, Prison Fellowship International, and opportunities to create internship/discernment programs through the Lilly Summer Discernment Institute or Bluffton’s summer dreaming grant. I have also looked at the possibility of interning in DC through either GBCS (UMC) or MCC, but these options are a bit more complicated since it is not an internship program with housing arrangements, etc. Another option would be the West Ohio Conference Next Generation internship, but this is focused rather narrowly on pastoral/local church ministry, which is not where I feel God calling me. These are options— good options— but I am also open to suggestions! Ultimately, my hope is that this summer I will have the opportunity to not just study peace, but to engage in peacebuilding and explore vocational calling.