Thursday, March 31, 2011

Week Twelve

Reading Reflections & Vocational Discernment:
Rhetoric and Ethic: The Politics of Biblical Studies
           This week, I would like to focus on the concept as biblical scholarship as “critical public discourse” (Schussler Fiorenza 45). This seems like a natural move after discussing the scholar as citizen last week, since that identity certainly plays into biblical scholars’ contributions the discourse of the field. Schussler Fiorenza lays out a liberating vision of biblical scholarship echoing from the community of the ekklesia to every part of the cosmopolis (62), and this vision helps me imagine what she means by the term “critical public discourse” (45). First of all, biblical studies must be critical of the biblical text, not in a negative sense, but for the purpose of the liberation of all people. It is the responsibility of biblical studies to question, to explore, and to seek the liberating message of Scripture; further, biblical scholars also must work to dismantle oppressive structures in the biblical text and seek out opportunities in the text for transformation and liberation. Further, biblical scholarship is a public and therefore political affair. If biblical scholarship fails to proclaim its liberating message outside the walls of academia and the church, it has missed the point of its public proclamation to cosmopolis. This public aspect of biblical studies requires scholars to be connected and accountable to the wider world, and its proclamation must be for the liberation of all people. Finally, biblical scholarship is a form of discourse. Engaging in biblical scholarship means attending to and participating in many levels of dialogue within the biblical text, with the biblical text, and with others. Thus, biblical scholarship is a multifaceted, dialogic discipline. On the whole, this vision of biblical studies as critical public discourse is an exciting one for me because it provides a framework to think about what biblical scholarship does. I think about these three words— critical, public, and discourse— as characteristics by which I can test my own scholarship. Ultimately, if my work does not contain these elements, I have missed the mark for which I strive.
Journal Article Reflections:
Claims Of Border Program Success Are Unproven- NPR

Book Review- Justpeace Ethics: A Guide to Restorative Justice and Peacebuilding- Journal of Religion, Conflict, and Peace
            First, I read the second article in the NPR series about Operation Sreamline, a border patrol program pushing the limits of the criminal justice system in the United States. This article, by Ted Robbins, explores the so-called successes of Operation Streamline according to the Border Patrol. First, they claim that the rate of recidivism is very low after being convicted in this program. Second, they claim that illegal immigration in general has decreased as a result of the program. And third, they claim that this program has freed time and resources so the criminal justice system can focus on more serious issues. Interestingly, NPR interviewed individuals in Nogales who had been convicted in Operation Streamline, and 85 percent of them claimed they would cross the border again. Further, NPR points out that while some areas in which Operation Streamline is in effect have seen a decrease in serious crime, others have seen an increase. Thus, the statistics do not tell a clear story of these so-called “successes” of the program, and the costs (especially in terms of human rights) may well be outweighing the benefits.
            Next, I read a book review by Sebastian Garaycoa on the book Justpeace Ethics: A Guide to Restorative Justice and Peacebuilding, which is written by Jarem Sawatsky. I chose to read this book review because we have it in our library at Bluffton, so it is available for me to read and/or use as a source if I so choose. In Justpeace Ethics, Sawatsky “[creates] an ethical framework for justice and peace,” outlining specific virtues that create a framework for thinking about justpeace. The term justpeace is used to describe the fact that “justice and peace are intrinsically linked in a value-framework and should be studied as one concept.” This idea resonates with me, and it sounds like Sawatsky expands on the concept of Schirch’s values for peacebuilding (Schirch 13). These connections are likely, as Sawatsky holds a M.A. from the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding at EMU. On the whole, Justpeace Ethics sounds like a great book for me to engage as I am interested both in symbolic peacebuilding and the concept of justpeace.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Week Eleven

Reading Reflections & Vocational Discernment:
Rhetoric and Ethic: The Politics of Biblical Studies
(part one)
            This semester, I had the opportunity to read and review Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s Rhetoric and Ethic: The Politics of Biblical Studies. I was introduced to Schussler Fiorenza’s work in Methods of Biblical Interpretation, and chose to review Rhetoric and Ethic for Introduction to New Testament. While I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing the book, a book review was not the proper context for me to reflect on the vocational discernment that was fueled by my interaction with Schussler Fiorenza’s work. Thus, I would like to spend the next couple weeks reflecting on different aspects of Rhetoric and Ethic. For this week, I would like to discuss the concept of biblical scholarship as responsible citizenship (Schussler Fiorenza 61).
            As an undergraduate student of biblical studies who is considering a career in the field, I found Schussler Fiorenza’s description of the scholar as citizen to be a refreshing one for two reasons. First, her discussion about the current state of biblical studies as obsessed with scientific objectivity and value neutrality rather than ethical responsibility made me realize that my experience of biblical studies at Bluffton is an extremely limited one (Schussler Fiorenza 1). In many ways, I think the biblical studies program here is a small example of the type of scholarship for which Schussler Fiorenza calls. So, first and foremost, reading her arguments in Rhetoric and Ethic was refreshing because it reminded me once again of the unique opportunity I have to engage in politically and ethically responsible scholarship here at Bluffton. Second, her description of scholarship as citizenship is appealing to me because it is a vision of biblical scholarship as a way of life and identity; further, citizen scholars are to engage the biblical text in politically and ethically responsible ways for the liberation of all people (Schussler Fiorenza 102). Schussler Fiorenza’s vision of the biblical scholar as citizen in Rhetoric and Ethic is not only what I want to do, but who I hope to become. Ultimately, that is what biblical scholarship is about— not only proclaiming, but becoming.

            This week I read two articles from the Journal of Religion, Conflict, and Peace. In her article, “Building a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence in a Context of Oppression,” Palestinian peace activist Jean Zaru reflects on her experiences working for peace in her homeland for the past 40 years. Specifically, she shares the ways in which her experiences have given her great hope that it is possible to create a culture of peace even in the midst of great oppression. She also reflects on the ways in which her religious commitment has interacted with her political activism and work for peace; she says, “for more than forty years, I have been walking that edge where the spiritual meets the political. For me, the two have always been integrated” (Zaru 2). She also says that for her, religion is “to re-link…to bind one to the other” (Zaru 2). I especially appreciated these reflections, as my faith commitment is both the foundation and sustaining force of my commitment to nonviolence. Finally, she reflected a great deal on the power of nonviolence, and I especially appreciated this succinct statement that goes a long way in explaining the overall concept: “the peculiar strength of nonviolence comes from the dual natures of its approach: the offering of respect and concern on the one hand while meeting injustice with noncooperation and with defiance on the other. These seemingly contradictory impulses— to rage against while simultaneously refusing to destroy— combine to create a force worthy of nothing less than a revolution” (Zaru 6). So far, in all my reading on nonviolence, this quote is likely the most complete and accessible explanation I have read about how nonviolence works. On the whole, this was a helpful look at nonviolence from a very different perspective than my own.
            I also read a book review of Understanding World Religions: A Road Map for Justice and Peace by David Whitten Smith and Elizabeth Geraldine Burr. The book was reviewed by Andria Wisler and Bethany Haworth, and while it is a textbook, it sounds like an interesting read. I chose to read this book review because I am interested in religion as a resource for common ground and peace, so a book about world religions specifically as a “map for justice and peace” is very appealing to me. While it sounds like the majority of the chapters are on the worldviews of each religion, Wisler and Haworth noted valuable chapters on active nonviolence and the just war theory, exploring each of these concepts through the lens of the major world religions. Overall, this is not a book I am likely to own in the near future as I already own one textbook on world religions, but reading the chapters on nonviolence and just war could be interesting and valuable for me as I think about religion and peacebuilding.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Week Ten

Reading Reflections:
Hispanic/Latino Theology pp. 351-374
            Chapter 19, “Confessing Our Faith in Spanish” by Jose David Rodriguez, explores the significance of the confession of faith “in Spanish,” meaning both in the Spanish language and from the perspective of the Hispanic people (359). Rodriguez argues that “the affirmation of faith from a Hispanic perspective” enables the church to both recover the “sociohistorical reality” of the Hispanic people and affirm the “basic dimensions of the church’s faith that have made possible a continuous renewal of our understanding and confession of the gospel” (352). Rodriguez demonstrates these points by exploring historical and cultural elements that contribute to a confession of faith not only in Spanish and from the Hispanic perspective. First, he acknowledges the “cultural, historical, and racial” diversity of the Hispanic people, saying that the Hispanic race is a “cosmic” one (355). This diversity influences the task and proclamation of Hispanic theologians if the theology is to be authentically Hispanic. Next, he discusses Hispanic religious history, contrasting the faith of the Hispanic people with the “religion of faith imposed by the conquistadores” (357). From here, Rodriguez explores the centrality of confession in Christianity throughout history (356), emphasizing the political power of confession (357) and highlighting the political practice of confession during the conquest (362). Rodriquez acknowledges the “theological grounding” of the conquest, which he rightly calls “shocking” (363). Ultimately, Rodriguez points to the “challenge and promise” of a confession of faith in the Spanish language and from the Hispanic perspective (365), saying that it has been and will be “instrumental for challenging the church to remain faithful to God’s word in the context of our social reality” (366). The thing I most appreciated about this chapter was its emphasis on Scripture— the key element of the confession of faith—being available and engaged in the Spanish language and from the Hispanic context. This quote especially resonated with my belief in the potential for Scripture to be used as a tool for liberation: “When the Bible becomes a resource accessible to the people and the people discover in the Bible their own particular perspective, then the Bible becomes the people’s book, that is, a subversive book no longer under the control of the dominant groups in society” (359).
            Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz concludes the book with “Strangers No Longer,” which brings together this collection of Hispanic theology by highlighting three features of the field: maturity, ecumenism, and community (367). According to Isasi-Diaz, the maturity of the field is demonstrated by its distinct identity, diversity, openness to dialogue, unique contributions to theology, and recognition of limitations and need for development (368-69). Creating space for this development to take place, she provides some questions for further reflection, such as, “what do we clearly understand liberation to be?” (370) Next, she highlights the ecumenical nature of the field of Hispanic theology, noting the ecumenical reality of Hispanic culture as one that often encompasses many denominations at once (371). Thus, true Hispanic theology is also ecumenical, which holds both challenge and promise; Isasi-Diaz notes that one task of Hispanic theologians is to “continue to insist on the possibility of diversity without divisions” (371). Finally, she highlights the role of community and praxis in Hispanic theology, saying that “we do not write theology; we do theology” (371). Hispanic theology for Isasi-Diaz, as evidenced by the theological reflections in this book, “is not only for the people but also by the people” (372).While Hispanic theology is mature, ecumenical, and community-driven, most of all, it is invitational— calling for engagement and dialogue that transcends the walls of the Hispanic church and academy. It is “a theology from which others can learn much” (373), which has certainly been the case in my own experience.

Journal Article Reflections:
            The first article, “La Primera Impresion” in El Interprete, discusses the issue of hospitality to visitors in local churches. It stresses the importance of the first impressions of visitors, and the general argument is that it is better for visitors to feel valued in our churches rather than impressed by them. Since “radical hospitality” is one of the UMC’s “five practices of fruitful congregations,” it is often emphasized (as it should be) at Annual Conference and other denominational events. On the whole, hospitality is not a strength of the UMC, which is why it is stressed in denominational materials. This article was helpful in distinguishing between valuing visitors and impressing them, and ultimately valuing visitors is a more sustainable and positive form of hospitality.
            The second article, “Border Patrol Program Raises Due Process Concerns” on NPR, is the first of a series of three articles that a friend suggested to me. Though the series is from the fall, it is still a relevant issue in general but especially for me as someone who is interested in border justice issues. This article exposes Operation Streamline, a government initiative on the border that began in 2005 and enables mass convictions in the U.S. court system each day. The article tells of courts convicting 70 individuals on any given day, with little to no individual legal counsel; they simply line up and plead “guilty” in unison, while lawyers are often paid by the case. This is a disturbing and alarming violation of human rights as well as the Constitution, and serves as a reminder that the borderlands are the margins of our nation in a very real sense, both geographically and politically. It is shocking that these kinds of programs exist on the margins of society without any type of national awareness or outcry. Over the next few weeks I plan to read the other articles in this series, educating myself on the realities of the criminal justice system in the borderlands.

Vocational Discernment:
            I believe that discernment is a task to be done in community, and I believe that God’s voice is often echoed most clearly in the voices of the people who God has placed in our lives. Last week, I had a strange experience in which two different people expressed the exact same vision and call for my life. The first person was my mentor, Diane, who after our visit to AMBS told me that she sees God leading me to pursue Peace Studies beyond Bluffton and eventually teaching peace in the UMC, which she said would be my “contribution to the denomination.” Later that same day, during our visit to MTSO, we met with the admissions director there, who I have known through the conference for a while now. While she is not part of my daily journey, she knows me fairly well, especially since we both share a call to ministry as deacons in the UMC. During the conversation, she said something I had heard just a couple hours before— that getting a masters degree in Peace Studies and teaching peace would be my “contribution to the denomination.” This “contribution,” this call, though, comes with its risks— risks that the admissions director clearly expressed to me during that conversation, the kind of risks that come with acting outside of the norms and expectations of the powerful majority. The greatest risk, however, is silence.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Week Nine (Spring Break)

Reading Reflections:
Hispanic/Latino Theology pp. 325-350
            In chapter 17, “Un Poquito de Justicia,” Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz shares a mujerista vision of justice that emerges from Latin American women’s experience of oppression. First, she points out five ways in which Latin American women are oppressed (327). Then, she goes on to present the eight elements that come together to form “a mujerista account of justice” (332).  The five forms of oppression include exploitation (328), marginalization (329), powerlessness (330), cultural imperialism (330), and systemic violence (331). These elements all contribute to the oppression of Latin American women, and it is from this experience that mujerista theology and specifically a mujerista theology of justice emerges. The mujerista vision of justice is marked by eight elements: a goal of establishing justice (332), contextualization (333), discontinuity of the past and present oppressive reality (333), engaging differences (334), an understanding of the positive and negative potential of power (335), a “belief that justice cannot be achieved at the expense of justice for others” (336), an insistence on both socioeconomic and political rights (337), and effectiveness (338). The mujerista vision of justice is driven by the practical task of doing justice; Isasi-Diaz makes this clear by saying, “the reason for articulation a mujerista understanding of justice is to bring about justice” (332). Ultimately, a vision of justice that is not useful is no vision of justice at all. As a whole, this chapter provided a good way to measure not only the mujerista vision of justice, but all visions of justice. I also especially appreciated Isasi-Diaz’s ideas about the transformative potential of learning in the context of a give-and-take relationship (335). This resonated with my own experiences and confirmed my belief in the power of learning in community.
             Chapter 18, “Metamodern Aliens in Postmodern Jerusalem” by Justo L. Gonzalez, explores the effect of postmodernism on Hispanic theology. Gonzalez makes the connection between modernism and colonialism, drawing from Ashis Nandy who calls colonialism “the armed version of modernism” (344). Thus, Gonzalez holds modernism responsible for much of the oppression of the Hispanic people. From this viewpoint, he is grateful for the postmodern perspective which dismantles modern principles, but he also voices concerns about the postmodern belief that “there is no metanarrative”; if no metanarratives have the “power to demand allegiance,” then “no new metanarrative [has] the power to change the status quo” (346). Though the postmodern metanarrative is more positive than the oppressive modern metanarrative, it does not provide a framework in which the existing oppressive power structures can be transformed. Therefore, Gonzalez introduces the concept of “metamodernity,” or a framework that is beyond modernity (347). While postmodern thinking is completely separate from modern thinking, metamodern thinking acknowledges that the Hispanic perspective both emerges from the oppression of modernism and seeks to transform the oppressive modern power structures (347). Metamodern Hispanic theology seeks both to affirm the authority of liberating texts and to read Scripture with an openness to God’s mystery and activity (348); this stands in contrast to a postmodern reading, which “[discounts] the authority of all texts and all metanarratives” (348). Ultimately, these theological differences between postmodernism and metamodernism illustrate the ways in which Hispanic theology has been impacted by and has responded to the oppression of colonialism, fueled by modernism.
Journal Article Reflections:
            The first article, “Que es una comunidad de fe?” in El Interprete, defines “faith communities” and describes their role in the National Plan for Hispanic Ministry of the UMC. The National Plan articulates the UMC’s unique approach to Hispanic ministry, which is fueled by “faith communities” rather than churches. While many denominations seek to establish Hispanic churches, the UMC seeks to establish an active network of “faith communities.” This article describes the life of these faith communities; essentially, the vision is that each faith community will be like a small house church. This was a helpful and interesting article as someone who is technically certified as a “lay missioner,” which is the National Plan’s terminology for the leader of a “faith community.”
            The second article, “Latino Groups to Oppose Union Attacks” in The Latino Journal, describes the role of unions in ensuring fair pay for Latino workers and highlights the efforts of nineteen Latino organizations working to protect the right to collective bargaining in several states, including Ohio. Most notable is the statistic that “unionized Latinos earn approximately 51 percent more than their nonunion counterparts.” While I have mostly heard about the changes these laws would make for teachers, this article reminded me that the issue of collective bargaining also has a great impact on the Hispanic community. So, while it may not be my issue, it is an issue of great importance to the Hispanic community and many others with whom I live in community and solidarity.

Vocational Discernment:
            So, I spent my spring break visiting two seminaries—AMBS and MTSO. I had two good, but very different, experiences. I was very impressed by everything about AMBS, especially the combination of community and academic challenge. The interactions in class and on campus were engaging, and it felt like a balanced place where I would be pushed academically but also supported personally. In many ways, AMBS seems to be everything I am looking for in a seminary. I also had a good visit at MTSO, but I have trouble seeing myself as a student there for several reasons. While this is disappointing since MTSO was my #1 United Methodist seminary, I am glad that I am coming to this realization now, with two years left until I have to make a decision. I hope that AMBS will gain United Methodist University Senate approval in the next two years! However, even if it does not, I have the option of going to an approved seminary for a Bible degree and then going to AMBS to study Peace Studies once my ordination requirements are met. Overall, this week resulted in two things: a more complicated seminary search, and a clearer vision of the kind of seminary I am looking for— a seminary where I can engage in serious academic study and the life of the church, a seminary shaped by community and challenge and the creating Spirit of God.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Week Eight

Reading Reflections:
Hispanic/Latino Theology pp. 289-324
            In chapter 15, “A Theological-Ethical Analysis of Hispanic Struggles for Community Building in the United States,” Ismael Garcia explores both diversity and solidarity within the U.S. Hispanic community. His argument in this chapter is that the shared Christian faith of the Hispanic community is a tool for building solidarity and overcoming divisions caused by different value orientations (290). Garcia explores three spheres which have been the dominant location of the struggle for U.S. Hispanic emancipation: “the political sphere, the social sphere, and the cultural sphere” (291). He explains the values and priorities of each of these spheres at length, but ultimately the difference between the three spheres is not the values they uphold, but the priority they place on these values (302). All three of the spheres value equality, order, and power, with each one prioritizing these values in a different order (302). The political sphere places the greatest value on power, the social sphere emphasizes order, and the cultural sphere focuses on equality (302). After discussing the three social spheres and their respective values, Garcia moves on to his main argument, that “the Christian tradition might provide a way out of this impasse,” the impasse of division between the three spheres (302). Drawing on the fact that all three spheres share the three values of equality, order, and power, Garcia discusses each of these values “from a theological point of view” (303). He uses theology to affirm each of these values, ultimately affirming each of the three spheres (303). He explains that “this transfiguration of foundational human values can make the struggle for the emancipation of the Hispanic community more inclusive, synthesizing the values and goals that are presently being fought for within the different spheres” (305). In other words, Garcia argues here that theology can and should be used as common ground, a tool for the affirmation and harmonization of the Hispanic struggle for emancipation. On the whole, I appreciated Garcia’s analysis of the prominent value orientations in the U.S. Hispanic community, especially his argument that religion can be a source of common ground; this resonates with my ideas about peacebuilding, especially peacebuilding in the Hispanic context.
            In chapter 16, “Popular Catholicism,” Orlando Espin explores the positive and negative potential of Popular Catholicism in the U.S. Hispanic context (313-15). To set up this analysis, he discusses the interdisciplinary nature of the study of religion, particularly pointing out the interdependence of sociohistorical and theological study (308). Espin claims that “the experience of the divine always occurs in human culture” (309), and culture “only [occurs] in society” (310). Thus, an understanding of Hispanic culture and society is necessary for an understanding of Hispanic theology. After establishing this foundation, Espin moves on to discuss the two roles played by Catholicism: the legitimizing role (313) and the rebellious role (315). While Espin is writing from the Catholic context, I would argue that these roles are actually undertaken by religion in general, not only Catholicism. Essentially, these roles signify the church’s choice between legitimizing or rebelling against the status quo, the “hegemony in society” (313). Espin explains that while the Catholic Church in many ways has legitimized the status quo (318), it also has the potential to rebel and act as a force for change. He calls this the “rebellious hope,” a term which serves as a reminder that “today’s social and ecclesiastical realities are not final” (323). Overall, Espin’s reflections on the role of the Catholic Church were insightful and helped me think more about the way my own tradition legitimizes and rebels against the status quo. I especially appreciated his comments about how the church “trains and controls the ordained ministers,” which gives it “a powerful means of control and suppression of Latino hopes for justice and change and thereby a powerful means of enforcing compliance with the current hegemonic social formation and ideology in the United States” (320). These are strong but true words, which echo far beyond the Hispanic/Latino context. It is my prayer that the power of the church would be used for justice and change and against hegemonic structures and ideologies, not vice versa.

Journal Article Reflections:
The first journal article I read this week, “Latino Education Experts to Gather in Texas,” told of the upcoming meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), which will take place in Austin, TX. The event will be focused on “budgeting strategies for student success,” which is especially relevant as Texas tries to balance its budget and support their students, half of which are Latino. I am interested to see what comes of this gathering, especially since education is one of my highest priorities in peacebuilding and in general. The gathering is coming up March 4-6, 2011, so in the coming weeks I will be sure to investigate the outcomes.
The second article I read, “Cuban Facebook Friend Shares Joys, Struggles,” focused on the power of social media in bridging the gap between cultures and contexts. Alicia Almanza-Leyva, the administrative assistant for the Rio Grande Conference, told her story of becoming Facebook friends with Rev. Onay Lopez-Diaz of Cuba. In the article, Almanza-Leyva shares the story of Rev. Lopez-Diaz’s congregation in Cuba, Consolacion Methodist Church. I have met a few Cuban Methodist ministers through Module I & II Hispanic Ministry training events, so hearing the story of this Cuban congregation and some of the challenges of ministry in Cuba was interesting for me.

Vocational Discernment:
            This week, I hardly know where to begin with vocational discernment! This Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at my church, which exceeded my expectations and confirmed my call to proclaim God’s message of peace in the UMC. While I was home over the weekend, I was also offered a Hispanic ministry internship through the Maumee Watershed District, which is my home district in the West Ohio Conference. I will be working with Puente de Esperanza (Bridge of Hope) Hispanic Ministry Partnership, of which my home church is a part. In addition, I will be available as a resource to other churches and ministries throughout the district. My specific job description is still being shaped; actually, over spring break I will be spending time in prayer discerning how God is calling me to serve specifically within this internship. The people I am working with are very flexible and excited to shape this internship around my gifts and interests, so I am excited to see where the Spirit will lead us together in ministry!