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.