Sunday, November 26, 2006

bernardo campos

In a small simple church near Nazca on the arid coastal plains of Peru, I saw the holy spirit sweeping low and protectively over the earth, like a condor rising in the morning on the mountain thermals, soaring towards the sun before returning to her young ones.

Peruvian artist Maximo Laura draws on Wari culture and methods inherited from five generations of weavers in his family, teasing out:
his own gods,
his own ghosts
voices in the wind,
fiery sunsets
and horizons made of a thousand colored fibers.

In dreams and visions, the condor lends its sight and courage to those who will meet with it. And, as I discovered in the Nazca desert, for some Peruvian Christians, it has become a powerful symbol of the holy spirit.

This week's class reading was from Bernardo Campos (2002) Experiencia del Espíritu: Claves para una interpretación del Pentecostalismo, Quito: CLAI. He is a Peruvian theologian, researching pentecostal and indigenous religious movements. What interests me most is the variant connections (total rejection to syncretistic acceptance) between the spirit-focused Pentecostal movement and indigenous religious traditions that make space for communication with spirits, ecstatic experiences, trances, shamanism and prophecy.

I know very little about the Latin American Pentecostal movement. Here's what:

1. Pentecostalism has experienced tremendous growth on the continent. There has also been significant 'drop out' rates as well. It is a dynamic social movement:
Pentecostalism thus expresses a religiosity in mutation, a "culture movement" in constant transformation...Its dynamic lives in a constant process of "evolution and involution" and we find it now in a "charismatic" stage, now in an "institutional" one, or again "latent" in bureaucratic religious societies, and "manifest" in religious societies open to change or in process of transformation. (Campos in WCC discussion group, 2005/6)

2. Political and economic crisis have contributed to the growth of Pentecostalism as a way of escaping and/or dealing with poverty and political oppression. At the same time, some strands of Pentecostalism preach the prosperity gospel (faith will lead to material wealth). While it has traditionally been socially conservative (due to an apocalyptic world view and subsequent rejection of the world, and a suspicion of the predominately Catholic liberation theology movement), there are many sectors that are actively engaged in grassroots social action.

3. The evangelism of North American Pentecostal churches has generated suspicion. Some see Pentecostalism as a tool of American capitalist expansion, others as a genuine force for authentic self-expression and discovery. Many Pentecostal churches retain strong ties with their founding churches in the USA, some are effectively run from North American offices.

4. In some countries, such as Guatemala, Pentecostal churches were manipulated and set against Catholic communities during the civil war. Campos also acknowledges this:
In Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, for example, some local Pentecostals have been used by U.S. neo-conservative and fundamentalist groups to escalate and/or control the political tensions of the region. Often ideological battles are carried out under the guise of religious conflict. What is really at stake is the defense of social identities, political power, and the attempted consolidation of old and new hegemonies. (Campos 1996)

5.In most parts of Buenos Aires, and many other Latin American cities, it is possible to walk past a number of enormous shiny new church buildings paid for in American dollars. The nearest one to me is four blocks away and the glossy posters advertise groups for children, young couples and women's prayer meetings, mimicking the design of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, or Harry Potter book.

6. Pentecostal churches tend to be socially and religiously conservative, for example regarding the roles of women and men. At the same time, their focus on lay participation creates spaces for women to speak and participate.

6.There is a general belief that Pentecostals are marginalized in the wider church community and political sphere. In the classrooms and churches, the tradition is often (gently) mocked or stereotyped. And in our discussion, it was only after many generalizations that someone thought to ask the one Pentecostal student present to offer her views.

7.While some conservative Pentecostal churches reject any form of indigenous spirituality, other smaller (and poorer) independent churches have embraced popular religious practices. Campos sees it as a creative movement, liberating Christians from restrictive Western religious practices and hierarchies.
Pentecostalism is the only branch of Protestantism rooted in Latin American "popular religiosity." Witness, for example, the new movement that I call "iso-Pentecostalism" in that it takes its image from Pentecostalism but has a different form of organization. Antonio Gouvea Mendonça in Brazil calls it the "movement of the divine cure." "Iso-Pentecostalism" does away with ecclesiastical organization, teaching of the Bible, the participation of the faithful in worship, even hymnals, in order to focus exclusively on healing, and the sale of "healing objects," quite common in popular Afro-Brazilian religiosity, whence it comes. (Campos 1996)

8. Community and experience are central to Campos’ interpretation of Pentecostal theology. The experience of the presence and work of the holy spirit sustains the life of the community and individual believers. Campos suggests that such ecstatic experiences take the worshiper out of everyday life, but not as a form of escape. Rather, as with mystical prophetic traditions, the dizzying awareness of God’s presence becomes a sustaining, motivating force in the everyday reality of the believer. This intense experience of love offers a new vision, but the path towards the vision is firmly on the ground.
Pentecostal spirituality is the everyday faith experience of real communities whose very identity is wrapped up in the Pentecost. In Latin America, these communities' daily experience is born of crisis, the product of a long process of economic, political and cultural domination; however, this same crisis is perceived as the starting point of a process of hopeful transformation. (Campos 1996)

Back in the desert church, I take a last look at the condor. God's spirit strong and true, nurturing us under soft wings and with piercing vision.

Further resources: Bernardo Campos has a blog but it's in Spanish and has not been updated recently. There is an overview of Pentecostalism in Latin American by Campos on the World Council of Churches website, and a chapter "Pentecostalism, Theology and Social Ethics" by him at religion online - the complete book on Pentecostalism in Latin America, In the Power of the Spirit, Dennis A. Smith and B.F. Gutierrez eds.(1996) is available.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

the note

On Monday morning

The phone rang,
but I decided it was my daily sales pitch from Telefonica.

There was a knock at the door,
but I imagined it was Nora and Lilli beginning to clean the bedrooms.

Later on, I left my apartment to go for a coffee fix at Café Nacho. Someone had left the bathroom light on. Annoyed I stuck my head round the corner to find the switch. There was a note taped to the mirror.

"Rachel", read the note, "The reading for class today is pages 21-9 (underlined)."

I felt like Alice in Wonderland, or Challenge Anneka at least!

This week, I've been thinking about that note a lot. Not only that someone was kind enough to try three times to warn me about a change in the class reading, but also how the note interrupted my view of myself, reflected in the mirror. It put me in a relationship with someone else who was looking out for me.

It's the same with text messages, or scribble post-its. They too can connect us, remind us of the people we share our lives with, who make us who we are.

Desmond Tutu describes Jesus as God's graffiti: scribbled, stenciled or spray-painted onto a wall. Bs As is a city covered in graffiti. The majority are anti-Bush slogans but alongside are declarations of love and shared jokes, the voices of those who find little official space in which to speak.

Graffiti speaks of things we prefer to ignore, or wish to forget. It offers us new perspectives on the world and our place within it. And yet, our instinct is to paint over the messages, restoring order from messy uncertainty.

Jesus graffiti shouts from the walls, reminding of what we are and hope to be, of the realities of our world, and those who share it with us.

During their visit, Mum and I went to an exhibition on remembrance at the Centro Cultural Recoleta One of the exhibitions was a series of photos from Rosario. They showed the same stenciled bike repeatedly sprayed across the city.

During the military dictatorship in Argentina, Fernando Traverso worked in the resistance until he was forced to go into exile. Bicycles were a common form of travel for members of the resistance. An abandoned bicycle was often the first sign that its owner had been kidnapped, or disappeared.

Three-hundred-and-fifty citizens of Rosario were disappeared during the Dirty War, as it was known in Argentina. Traverso spray-painted that same number of bicycle images throughout the city of Rosario, acting after midnight or at noon when most residents were in their homes for the noon meal and a siesta.

Walking through the streets of Rosario and seeing a bicycle leaning against a wall does not seem strange. Except, when one gets closer one can tell that it’s the black silhouette of a bicycle, a memory of a life erased.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

white poppy

Writing the Church Times, director of Ekklesia, Jonathan Bartley, suggests that the white poppy is more in keeping with Christianity than the red variety.
Read more at Ekklesia

Peace Pledge Union runs the white poppy campaign. You can also buy them at Friends Meeting Houses, online at Quakers or in other education and community centres.

Since I don't have a white poppy to wear on Saturday, I'm going to try to wear other signs of peace this week:

1. Pray for both peacemakers and warmongers, on the terrace each evening (with bubbles - thanks Caz)
2. Remain calm during transport related stress (usually because I haven't allowed enough time, but ignoring that, I mutter and sometimes even yell at bus drivers, ticket collectors, supermarket checkout staff who don't have's all true I'm afraid!)
3. Be truthful in my time and conversations
4. Seek points of connection with each person I talk with, no matter how different they seem
5. Eat peace with thanksgiving

What about you?

I had a paint box
but it didn't have the color red for the blood of the wounded
nor the white for the hearts and faces of the dead.
It didn't have yellow either for the burning sands of the desert.

Instead it had orange for the dawn and the sunset
and blue for new skies
and pink for the dreams of young people.

I sat down and painted peace.

(attributed to an anonymous Latin American child)

Friday, November 03, 2006

muriel's book

My good friend Muriel has her book published in the UK next month. Here's the link at Amazon

She and I were computer lab study-buddies, both without computers 'back in the day' and typing away frantically during our time at Union. Muriel stayed on to complete her doctorate and is now back in the Philippines teaching at Silliman University Divinity School and generally being amazing. Hurray Muriel!!

The release notes read:
This critical survey of Asian christologies focuses on the need to recognize and end the oppressed condition of Asian women. Orevillo-Montenegro shows how the christologies brought to Asia by Western missionaries failed to take into account the reality of Asia with its great diversity of cultures and traditional religions. She then describes christologies developed by male Asian theologians and those developed by women in India, Korea, the Philippines, and Hong Kong, concluding that any Asian christology must liberate Asian women who suffer from poverty, oppressive cultural traditions, a lack of basic human rights such as education, and gender discrimination.

At Orbis Books you can read the introductory chapter.

Another Union STM graduate and great friend, Scott Rennie, has just returned from a visit with the Church of Scotland to Palestine/Israel. You can read more in his new blog.

STM graduates of 1999 wouldn't be complete without Storm, similarly in a highly creative stage - go Storm and bump!

Finally for this week's post, listening to Radio Four's Front Row podcast (a happy side effect of not being able to listen to Radio 1 online is the discovery of some Radio Four (horror!) arts and news programmes. That said, I'm straight back to Jo Whiley and Mark Radcliffe once I'm reunited with a radio.) I was delighted to hear that Ian Rankin's new book, The Naming of the Dead is dedicated to 'all those who marched on 2nd July.' I don't know anything about Rankin's work but it turns out he was at the Make Poverty History march and comments,
The Meadows was full of people smiling at each other, 225,000 people there and almost no police needed.

A fantastic event, quickly forgotten in the days that followed. Make Poverty History continues via the work of Christian Aid and many other organizations.

PS: This November is Will Aid month - if you haven't made a will, this is your chance to make one while donating to nine international development agencies and UK children's charities, including Christian Aid and NSPCC.