Thursday, August 31, 2006

leaving and living

My friend Patricia left for the States yesterday where she will be working as a hospital chaplain. I'll miss her, just as I'll miss the other friends who have left over the past few months. Right now, this airplane-skype-blog-transitory life seems a bit mad. These great distances more and more of us live at can seem easily breachable when a funny postcard or parcel packed with love arrive in eager hands. But then so so wide when someone you love is not doing so well.

My situation is such that I have video phones and plane tickets and visitors but many migrants lack regular contact with home alongside little security in their place of arrival.
Migration "is one of the main features of the changing global context, with decisive consequences for the ecumenical movement locally and globally," Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia noted in his opening address to the WCC's central committee, meeting in Geneva 30 August-6 September 2006.

The UN estimates that over 175 million people are on the move worldwide, and the trend is growing as economic globalization, civil conflicts and transport links transform traditional societies.

In the face of such complex change, churches in all places are called to live out the biblical ideal of hospitality towards the stranger and accepting change, Kobia said.

"In today’s world, welcoming strangers is a justice issue, and often a political statement," Kobia underlined. "Practising true hospitality involves recognizing our own vulnerability and being open to transformation...Standing with migrants is politically unpopular in most regions of the world. The risks are very real, yet so is our calling," he said.
The full text of Kobia's report is available on the WCC website

Argentina's recent (post-conquest) history is of migration. Bruce Chatwin spun fantastical tales about the isolated communities of Patagonia, clinging to old traditions, language and dignity. My favourite story begins and ends like this:
The hotel in Río Pico was painted a pale turquoise and run by a Jewish family who lacked even the most elementary notions of profit...
In the morning I had a tremendous row about the bill.
'How much was the room?'
'Nothing. If you hadn't slept in it, nobody would.'
'How much was dinner?'
'Nothing. How could we know you were coming? We cooked for ourselves.'
'Then how much was the wine?'
'We always give wine to visitors.'
'What about maté?'
'Nobody pays for maté.'
'What can I pay for then? There's only bread and coffee left.'
'I can't charge you for bread, but café au lait is a gringo drink and I shall make you pay.' (In Patagonia [1977] 2003:55-6)

Back and forth between my two rooms this week, I noticed a poster for a film night at the local Mennonite church. The film advertised is about the expectations and realities of a Bolivian immigrant to Argentina. If I make it on Saturday, I'll tell you more.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Conference report - with photos

Here's my daily reflections from last week's conference, now with a couple more photos.

I’m worn out from a day of Portuguese. It may look similar to Spanish, but those important little words like no and if (and much more besides) are catching me out. In conversation, I talk in Spanish and they reply in Portuguese and we get by. But presentations are tough going.

Ivone Gebara kicked off proceedings with a challenge to move away from the notion of systematic theology, which she views as a method of control and intimidation over ordinary people. Do we really have everything wrapped up in a neat package? Or do we need to admit our incomplete and inadequate understanding of God, which is ever-changing?

Wanda Deifelt explored the impact of having an instrument of torture and death as the symbol of Christianity. She noted how violence placed at the heart of faith has manifested itself in the reality of church life. There is an implicit demand for violence – through ‘holy suffering,’ retributive punishment, or the trivialization of pain and injustice on the pay-off of heaven. But she said, all symbols have the potential to help as well as harm; and that is the task at hand.

This evening I chatted with two women who I knew from my time in Lima. Irene I met briefly after an evening service in Collique, a poor area of Lima. Luzmilla, we remembered, I knew from weekly visits to a Pentecostal women’s group. The group where I was once asked whether I was married (casada) but I thought the women wanted to know if I was tired (cansada). ‘Un poco, a little’ I replied.

It’s cold. I’ve packed summer clothes. I need to watch some rubbish telly. I’m theologied out and it’s only the first day.

Today the theme turned to violence. Luis Mott of the University of Bahia outlined the history of the church’s attitude to homosexuality in Brazil. References to homosexual practices in Brazil can be found in colonial writings as early as 1549, often restricting such activity to marginal groups such as Amazonian or African communities. Luis noted the denouncement and denial of homosexuality within the church, including the assassination of gay priests in their homes or on the streets. In contrast, the African-Brazilian religion of Candomblé seems to have a more inclusive attitude to diversity, e.g. two of the gods appear as male half the year, and female the other.

In carnivals, pray and protests, San Sebastian has been adopted as the patron saint of gays. This builds on the tradition that he was a Roman solider and lover of the emperor Diocletian in the 3rd century but converted to Christianity, thus renouncing paganism and committment to the empire, resulting in his execution (first by arrows, which legend has it he survived, only to be clubbed to death).

Wikipedia's entry notes,
According to Brazilian anthropologist Luiz Mott, Saint Sebastian (in Portuguese, São Sebastião) is considered by many homosexuals, especially in Brazil's lower and marginalized classes, the Patron Saint of Gays. Officially Saint Sebastian is the Patron Saint of the city of Rio de Janeiro. In the tradition of the Afro-Brazilian religious syncretism Saint Sebastian is often associated with Ogum, especially in the state of Bahia, in the northeast of the country (while Ogum in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul is more likely to be associated with Saint George).

Los Angeles artist, Tony de Carlo has produced a series of paintings on San Sebastian. Here's one, entitles, San Sebastian in my home.

Today's theme was sexuality and we heard from Lilian Celiberti, Italian-Uruguayan woman who was a political prisoner in Uruguay during the 1970s and is active in the campaign for women's rights.

She showed a video called An Upside-down World is Possible which included images of some imaginary headlines:
Bush takes up yoga
Iraq elects a female president
an accessible cure for AIDS
first gay marriages celebrated at St Peter’s Basilica
disarmament enables worldwide primary education.

Think, question, denounce, change.

Lilian went on to talk about what she described as a war against women, their bodies and sexuality. One of the afternoon presentations took up this theme, asking why 'family values' translated as protection of male control over women and their behaviour.

Knowledge, violence, sexuality were the conference themes and over the three days complex connections between them were revealed in numerous discussions and examples. In response to my presentation on violence and worship, the group discussed the traditional contrast between the life-giving holiness of Jesus' sacrifical blood made present during communion, and women's monthly bleeding often regarded as impure and weakening, still excluding women from sacred spaces.

I enjoyed working on my presentation but it was good to have it done and it's nice to be back in Buenos Aires, settling into the routine of the new term.

Monday, August 14, 2006

2nd Latin American Conference of Gender and Religion

Tomorrow I'm packing my bag once more (using the well known rule that packing takes as long as you have, which in my case will be 5 minutes) and heading off this time to Brazil (and on a plane not by bus. It'll be some time before I can look a bus in the face). I'll be attending the above conference for the rest of the week.

The theme of this year's conference is Epistemology, Violence, Sexuality and amongst the keynote speakers are Nancy Cardoso and Ivone Gebara. STETS readers will know Ivone from her book, Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation which is on the reading list for the ethics module. I will try not to be too star-struck.

The conference is held at Escola Superior de Teologia (The Graduate School of Theology), São Leopoldo, Brazil. EST is a Lutheran theological institution and one of the most important Latin America. I have discovered:
1. I shall be staying at a home for elderly people (no comment)
2. Every other paper being given is in Portuguese (I really really hope there is translation).

São Leopoldo is on the outskirts of Porto Alegre where the World Council of Churches Assembly was held in February. I'm hoping to make at least one return visit to the most beautiful cafe in the world, if I can find it's new location without Tamara's help.

My paper (currently well over an hour, to be cut down to ten minutes) is about how church worship can be experienced as violence by women. Violence in terms of:
the exclusion of women from key roles within the service (such as presiding at communion),
the negation of women's experiences or concerns (such as an unwillingness to preach on domestic violence for example),
the over-use of male metaphors for God and faith,
a lack of critical interpretation of biblical texts that portray women in a negative or stereotypical manner,
violent theology (such as the constant demand for self-sacrifice, especially for women.)

I have sung songs that women have written,
but seldom in church on a Sunday.
I have even prayed to my Mother God,
but not in the sacred rites.
(Miriam Therese Winter (1991) WomanWord: A Feminist Lectionary and Psaltar. Women of the New Testament. New York: Crossroad, p.266)

I've been reading various articles as well as interviewing women at my church here about their experience of worship. One thing that's emerged strongly is the connection between the marginalization of women and that of people for other reasons such as ethnicity, age or sexuality.

Some of the strategies for resisiting violence and surviving the Sunday service are:
making space for women during the service, and being willing to step into that space
ensuring women's ordination and leadership continues to grow and be supported
rethinking the model of one leader or preacher each Sunday and developing more participative liturgies
sharing stories
welcoming diversity in language, metaphors, voices, theologies
making use of senses and symbols
peace-making and justice-creating
speaking about the reality of everyday life joys and struggles, and everybody's bodies.

Rebeca Montemayor, an ordained baptist from Mexico offers her alternative creed spoken at her ordination service as an example of such work. Here is a brief extract.
Creo en la santa Cena
La santa Cena es un recordatorio de las mujeres solas, abandonadas, que trabajan duro para poner en la mesa el pan cotidiano; por sus cuerpos cansados, violentados, rotos; a la vez, se recuerda la mesa de las mujeres que sirven con cariño, alegría y solicitud; esto es esperanza de resurrección.

I believe in Holy Communion.
The Holy Supper is a reminder of the single, abandoned women who work hard to put food on the table each day; by their tired, violated, broken bodies; each time remember the table of the women that served with love, joy and attention; this is the hope of resurrection.

(Rebeca Montemayor (2004) “Espacios Sagrados Negados. Ministerios Ordenados de Mujeres, un Proceso Inconcluso en Iglesias Protestantes de América Latina.” in Sylvia Marcos (ed) (2004) Religión y Género Enciclopedia Iberoamericana de Religiones EIR 03 Madrid: Editorial Trotta, p.200)

I was going to also add something about the women-church movement but this post is getting long so I'll end now and maybe return to that some other day.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

praying for work

Monday saw a line of people 14 blocks long outside the church of San Cayetano in Liniers, Bs As. They come each year to petition the saint for work, or for a better job. The priests blessed the faithful with holy water as they waited in hope to touch the statue of the saint. This year, the general feeling is that the economy is improving and of those present, many had come to give thanks for a better year. But the struggle to control inflation and high unemployment levels continue to make life difficult for many Argentines. (you can read The Boston Globe's report here)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Peru ten years on

Well I didn't manage to blog while on the road, but I'm now back in Bs As, albeit in temporary accommodation following an impressive flood in my apartment last week.

First stop on my trip was Santiago de Chile where I visited the Con-spirando Collectivo for a coffee and chat with Andrea, one of the team. They publish a journal on women, spirituality and ecology and have just produced a 'best of' collection in English called 'Circling In, Circling Out' and edited by Mary Judith Ress. It's not available on Amazon but her book Ecofeminism from Latin America is.

After Santiago it was a mere seven hours up the coast to La Serena and a night time visit to one of the observatories in the Atacama Desert. I did take pictures of the stars but unsurprisingly seeing as I haven't a clue how to take pictures in the dark, these didn't turn out to be anything but black. But here's one of the observatory to give you a sense of place. And I can tell you about
dying planets smoldering in red,
a mess of galaxies layers upon layers,
and one brilliant blue shooting star, sharing its elements with us.

From stars to smog in Lima. And once I had got myself re-orientated to the city and the mad mad combis (minibus-buses) it was great to be back. I had a fantastic few days visiting old haunts and meeting up with friends and my Peruvian 'family' who so graciously let me into their house and lives ten years ago. I also spend a few mornings in the resource centre of the Bartolome de las Casas institute where I used to, I would say work, but it was really more hanging around and pestering people to let me tag along.

I'd been told Lima was much improved. There were fanciful stories that the River Rimac had been cleaned of rubbish and the waters flowed clear blue one more. I didn't get to check out the river, but certainly the historic centre of the city had been spruced and secured up. Yet the smog remained - thick pieces of ash and dirt streaked across my face at the end of each day. From conversations, I had a sense that Lima was a little safer and wealthier, at least the areas the tourists visited. And the tourists were certainly much more in evidence than before. People seemed positive about the tourist industry and the income it generated - outside of the multi-national hotel firms. One thing I never thought I would see in Lima - a Starbucks next to the very upmarket Wongs supermarket which I remember wandering round in amazement many years ago.

I then flew to Iquitos right in the heart of the Amazon and closer to Brazil and Columbia than the rest of Peru in many ways. I spent a week with my friend Katharine, a minister in the Peruvian Lutheran Church (ILEP) since 1994, and recently awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree by the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon. Well done Katharine!

The Amazon region is amazing, even overwhelming, in its riches. I sampled a host of delicious fruits, spotted bright yellow birds and fuzzy black caterpillars, walked through lush forests and sailed along the vast Amazon river. One evening on the boat ride home, we were joined by two river dolphins jumping and diving close by.

It was a real priviledge to spend time with the church 'God is Faithful' in Cardozo, a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city. We met for prayer, worship and discussion, youth club games and sunday school lunch. The church is in the midst of a building project and there are many possibilities for the future.

My favorite times were going visiting as the sun set. We visited members with only a small oil lamp for light, in humid hot evenings or tropical downpours, amidst children's toys, the evening meal and mending taken in from a neighbour. Back on the street, a child's voice would call out, '¡Hola Hermana Rachel!' and a little hand wave in greeting.