Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Week Sixteen

            The primary objectives of this course include connecting Peace & Conflict studies with my major, exploring peace issues in United Methodist Hispanic ministry, researching graduate schools and career options, and vocational discernment. So, for the last journal of the semester, I would like to reflect on how these objectives have been achieved (or not).
1. Connecting PCS with Biblical Studies
            This course has been an intentional time of synthesizing my two great passions— peace and Bible. Having two credits worth of time and responsibility to carry out this task has been a tremendous opportunity, and I hope to continue this work even after this semester. This class has given me a framework for thinking about the relationship between my theology and my commitment to peace, my study of Scripture and my vision of shalom. What I have come to see is that life-giving biblical scholarship is, in fact, an act of symbolic peacebuilding. So, peace and Bible are certainly connected— in my life, my gifts, and my call.
2. Exploring peace issues in United Methodist Hispanic ministry
            Reading Hispanic/Latino Theology throughout the semester and discussing it with a focus on peacebuilding has helped me articulate an understanding of Hispanic ministry shaped by my commitment to peace. Reading the articles in El Interprete has enabled me to focus on United Methodist Hispanic ministry in particular, identifying the ways in which the UMC is already building peace through Hispanic ministry as well as some things that could be improved. This summer as a Hispanic ministry intern, I will have the opportunity to engage in peacebuilding through Hispanic ministry, putting the theories of this semester into practice. My term paper for this course critiques the use of Scripture in Hispanic ministry and proposes a nonviolent hermeneutic for the context of United Methodist Hispanic ministry; this summer as I lead Bible studies in Hispanic ministry, I will be putting my paper into practice and embodying the broad scope of this course— the connections between Bible and peacebuilding, as well as my increased knowledge of Hispanic ministry in the UMC.
3. Researching graduate schools and career options
            I have done research on graduate schools this semester, and I visited two seminaries over spring break, but the most significant contribution of this class has been the opportunity for intentional discernment; this has helped me create a description of the type of seminary I would like to attend. Ultimately, my seminary choice comes down to four factors: first, academic excellence and a strong Bible program; second, a sense of community on campus and preferably on-campus housing; third, peace & justice opportunities; fourth, scholarships and financial aid. I realize that there is no perfect place, but these are helpful indicators of the right place for me. This summer, I have plans to visit seven seminaries, and I look forward to seeing where God is leading me after Bluffton!
4. Vocational Discernment
            This category seems to encompass all of the others, because this entire course has been an opportunity for intentional discernment. Each week in my reading journals, I have pushed myself to reflect somehow on my vocational discernment, and this has been one of my favorite parts of this course and my entire semester. Writing is an empowering practice that enables me to process my thoughts, so it has been a powerful tool for discernment that I hope to keep using in the future. Looking back over my blog posts for the semester, I can see how God has been leading me day by day and week by week, which helps me see the broad patterns of discernment over the course of the semester.
            Just as I began the semester with a vocational “inventory,” so to speak, I would like to end the semester in the same way. This semester in Theories of Peace & Conflict, I have learned that I am called to do the work of building capacity; specifically, I am drawn to the work of symbolic peacebuilding. I believe that by transforming minds for peace, we can transform the world for peace; this is why at the end of this semester, I am more seriously considering going into education than I was at the beginning. In January, I was willing to entertain the idea of teaching, but at this point I see it as a strong possibility. This is because my classes and experiences this semester have consistently pointed me toward education as a form of peacebuilding and as a potential vocation. As of right now, I would love to continue my work in biblical studies with a focus on issues of violence & peace in the Bible. At the beginning of the semester, I listed peacebuilding and biblical scholarship/teaching as two separate vocational options, but now I see them as one calling, one gift, and one identity. This semester I have learned to stand at the intersection of Scripture and shalom, and it feels a lot like home.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Week Fifteen

Reading Reflections:
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, 71-86
            One of the books I have been reading for my research paper is Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. I encountered this book for the first time last semester in my Social Justice & Social Change class while studying education as a means of social change, but this semester I am reading it with a focus on Bible study as symbolic peacebuilding. For this journal, however, I will be reflecting on chapter 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, in which Freire contrasts the banking method and the problem-posing method of education (83).
            Freire describes the banking method of education as “an act of depositing” (72), in which the teacher is all-knowing and all-powerful and the students simply comply and receive the knowledge the teacher deposits in their minds (73). He argues that this type of education “serves the interests of oppression” and that it reduces students to mere objects rather than humans in relationship with the teacher (77). However, Freire proposes an alternative to the banking method of education, which he calls problem-posing education (79). This method of education “embodies communication” between the teacher and student with the goal of both the student and the teacher learning from the dialogue that is education (79-80). In the problem-posing method, the teacher is “engaging in dialogue with the students” at every point in the educational process (80). Freire describes this as “education as the practice of freedom— as opposed to education as the practice of domination,” noting that this liberating and relational form of education enables “authentic reflection” by drawing on the resources of people, relationships, and community (81).
Most interesting in this chapter was the idea of consciousness as a result of education— that problem-posing education fosters consciousness of and reflection on the world (83). By and large, I have experienced my education at Bluffton as problem-posing, dialogic, liberating education, and it has certainly resulted in this type of consciousness and reflection. Freire says that “in problem-posing education, people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation” (83). I have been a student in educational settings using the banking method, but ultimately I have found my home in a place that is largely characterized by problem-posing education. In many ways, it is easier as a student to simply receive, remember, and repeat information— this type of education does not shift worldviews or lead to deep life questions (and crises). Problem-posing education, on the other hand, does exactly what its name implies— it poses problems. As a student, I find myself wrestling with these problems, asking big questions, and discovering answers that change my life and worldview. Problem-posing education simply demands more of students (and teachers!), but Freire is right— it is a liberating experience, and best of all, it is an experience shaped by relationship, dialogue, and community.
Journal Article Reflections:
            First, I read a poem in El Interprete called “Lavatorio,” which is a poem about washing the feet of our brothers and sisters who have crossed borders and journeyed across this strange land. The poem expresses the reversal in God’s Kingdom, and serves as a reminder that acts of humility are the way of the Kingdom. Looking forward to my summer, which will be filled with opportunities to welcome and serve my Hispanic neighbors, this poem was a great poem to read and reflect on as I begin the transition into this time of service and peacebuilding in my church and community.
            Next, I read an article called “Sacrificing the Sacrifices of War” by Stanley Hauerwas in the Journal of Religion, Conflict, and Peace. In this article, Hauerwas argues that “war is a sacrificial system and any alternative to war must be one that sacrifices the sacrifices of war,” the greatest of which is “the sacrifice of our unwillingness to kill” (2). He explores how war creates meaning in life, and argues that building a sustainable peace requires the identification and creation of new avenues of purpose (3). Ultimately, Hauerwas suggests that “the Christian alternative to war is worship” (8). He argues that it is not the church’s responsibility to articulate a plan to end war, but to be the end of war (8-9). For Hauerwas, Christ’s sacrifice is the alternative to the sacrifices of war— this is where meaning is located for Christians, and for this reason “war has been abolished” (9). On the whole, this article was a fascinating read. For me, this tied together two major concepts from my Christian Theology and Theories of Peace & Conflict classes this semester. First, learning about pure sacrifice versus scapegoating in Christian Theology gave me a framework for thinking about sacrifices of war in addition to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Second, Hauerwas’ argument for an alternative to war that “sacrifices the sacrifices of war” (2) reminded me of the concept of replacement rituals in symbolic peacebuilding. Christ’s sacrifice is at the core of Christian peacebuilding, replacing and transforming the cheap sacrifices of war.
Vocational Discernment:
            This week, my vocational discernment has been fueled by everyday educational experiences such as reading Hauerwas’ article. As I near the end of the semester, I am seeing something more than light at the end of the tunnel— I am seeing an integrated and synthesized vision of the things I have learned over the past fifteen weeks. Reading Hauerwas’ article for this class prompted discussion of concept from two other courses, and this is far from an isolated incident. My research paper for this class will likely include sources from nearly all of my other classes, precisely because each one has impacted the way I understand peacebuilding and my own identity and gifts as a peacebuilder. So, what does this have to do with vocation? For me, it has to do with vocation because this semester is proof that my many passions such as peace, Hispanic ministry, biblical studies, and even public speaking really can come together in surprising and exciting ways.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Week Fourteen

Journal Article Reflections:
            This week, I read two articles in Spanish about church planting in the UMC. The first article, “Los Muros Fueron Derribados,” was about a Hispanic faith community in Dallas, TX that has broken ground for their own church building. The article highlighted the difficulties in the neighborhood as well as the congregation’s hope for God’s work in the future of the community. This article about a Hispanic faith community breaking ground for a church caught my eye because typically the UMC has focused on fostering and supporting Hispanic faith communities, not standalone churches. These faith communities have typically been small groups meeting in established UM churches, and there has not typically been a stated goal of these faith communities becoming independent churches. While it is convenient to do Hispanic ministry this way, it leaves the Hispanic constituency of the UMC in a subordinate position to the dominant majority. This is especially the case in terms of the polity of the UMC, which grants power (through delegates, etc) to established churches. So, I am happy to see at least one faith community taking this step toward becoming an established United Methodist Church, with its own influence and power.
            The second article, “‘Path 1’ Entrena Plantadores de Iglesias,” describes what seems to be the next step in the National Plan for Hispanic Ministry— “Path 1” programs to train leaders to plant Hispanic churches. It seems that the UMC is looking to expand its definition of Hispanic ministry to include church planting, not simply supporting faith communities. This is exciting, and it also explains the publicity about the faith community turned church in Dallas!

Vocational Discernment:
            If there is anything I have discerned over the past couple weeks, it is this: I love preaching. There are few phrases that feel so uncomfortable and unlikely, but at the same time there are few phrases that feel so true. First, speaking in the C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest turned out to be a source of great joy in the midst of a stressful semester. While I was technically speaking and not preaching, the opportunity to proclaim the gospel especially in the context of contemporary peace & justice issues was exciting. My speech flowed naturally out of my engagement with the biblical text, and the entire process of writing and delivering the speech was in a very real way a process of discerning and moving along with the Spirit. As I was speaking, I felt myself settle into the task of proclamation and was keenly aware of God’s presence with and moving through me. This week, I gave a persuasive speech on nonviolence in my Public Speaking class, and one of my main points focused on Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. In the midst of a larger speech, when I arrived at the point of teaching and proclaiming the message of Scripture, I once again felt the feeling of sinking in to the place where I am called to be and where God is with me. While I do not feel called to the work of a pastor in a local church, these experiences confirm my call to engage and proclaim the message of Scripture. I look forward to seeing where these gifts take me, but in the meantime, I am grateful for this confirmation and the joy that comes with trusting in the creating and sustaining Spirit of God.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Week Thirteen

Reading Reflections:
“Unresolved Tensions and the Way Forward” in Through the Eyes of Another
In his chapter on unresolved tensions in intercultural readings of Scripture, Eric Anum discusses “transcendental theology” (181). This type of theology is based on the belief that “Christ…transcends every culture, and therefore every cultural practice or norm has to be subjected to Christ” (Anum 181). Anum gives the example of polygamy in the particular cultural context he is discussing— that Christ’s call for monogamy transcends the cultural norm of polygamy. This entire discussion got me thinking about Christ, culture, and incarnation— how do these things come together to form the good news? For me, this transcendental theology called into question the meaning of the incarnation; it led me to ask the question, “what about the culture in which Christ lived?” It is not the good news that Jesus comes and lives among  us, meeting us in our culture? These concepts have been central to my understanding of the incarnation. So, thinking about Christ transcending all cultures is difficult to me because understanding the culture in which Christ lived has been central to my ability to understand Christ’s message. This type of transcendental theology also calls into question the concept of contextual theology; if Christ transcends all cultures and speaks one truth above instead of into one’s cultural context, then contextualized theology is simply a distortion of Christ’s message.
            After pondering and engaging the concept of transcendental theology, I have found that it does not resonate with my theology or my experience of Christ. With that being said, it has been helpful to engage the concept because I think it is a fairly common one. However, to claim that the good news is that Christ transcends one’s culture is to miss the contextual beauty and brilliance of the incarnation. For me, the good news is not that Christ is the same for all people, but that he meets each and every one of us where we are, taking on the human condition and meeting us in the midst of our culture, our reality, and our suffering…not beyond it.

Journal Article Reflections:
            The final article in the NPR series on Operation Streamline focuses on the cost of the program. The answer to this question is a shocking one: no one knows how much the program currently costs. And even more shocking is the fact that the government is looking to expand it in spite of the unknown cost. One estimate states that meeting the program’s goal of prosecuting every person who crosses illegally would cost close to $1 billion a year in Tuscon alone. With only estimates of the cost, and with much doubt about the practices of the program, it seems that the government could find more responsible and just ways of confronting the issue of illegal immigration.
            I also read a review by Geth Allison of the book Justice: Rights and Wrongs by Nicholas Wolterstorff. In the book, Wolterstorff argues that justice is about inherent human rights rather than right order. He roots his vision of justice firmly in the Christian faith, and it is dependent on the sacred worth of every individual bestowed upon them by God. Allison gives high praise to the book, saying that it is “accessible and captivating” and that it “reads like an energetic and engaging conversation with bold and provocative arguments.” I hope to read this book in the near future; as someone who has always been drawn to the concept of justice, I enjoy learning about different perspectives on justice and coming to a clearer vision of God’s justice. One thing that would be interesting to think about in this book is Wolterstorff’s argument for justice as human rights against the argument of justice as right order; while I have not read the book, I do not think I would place human rights and right order against one another. Rather, I would likely describe right order as the kind of order where human rights do flourish. Thus, I look forward to reading Justice: Rights and Wrongs in the future and exploring these questions in more depth.