Sunday, July 29, 2007

Elsa Tamez - Through Her Eyes

Originally published as Las Mujeres Toman la Palabra, this collection of interviews with Latin American women theologians is a response to Elsa Tamez' earlier interviews with the heavy-weights of the liberation theology movement, published in Against Machism.

For each of the interviews in Through Her Eyes, carried out 1987-8, the scene is set: 'we met in the kitchen while the children slept and José watched TV next door; we spoke over sips of coffee and breakfast rolls; we talked late into the night in our room at the conference.' On many occasions, Tamez notes the struggle to find time to meet, the hectic schedule and passionate commitment of each women.

This collection was one of the earliest published record of the Latin American feminist theology movement. Twenty years on, the arguments are more complex, and the sources more diverse. But re-reading this book, I noted critical insights and connections that continue to be central to the debate. Primarily, and in direct contrast to early liberation theology, that ‘the category of class is necessary but insufficient for an analysis of women's situations.'(10)

The women remained cautious of the male theologians' vocal support, asking instead for practical support at conferences, seminaries and in the parishes. They would not be satisfied by talk of complimentary roles or equal partnership in a male system. On women's ordination, for example, many commented that while important, it alone will not be enough to heal the church. Many challenged the male theologians talk of woman as mystery, noting that all life is mystery, most of all, God is mystery. Woman is no more other, strange or unfathomable.

Alongside the wider feminist theology movement, the interviewees challenged the private/ public division of the world. Julia Esquivel called theology that relates only to public life a 'mutilated theology.' Women's roles in church and society should not be limited to motherhood and domestic tasks. Nancy Cardoso Pereira and Tania Mara Vieira Sampaio commented on the failure of liberation theologians to challenge the institution of the family. The sanctity of the family had, 'displaced the discussion towards a prioritizing of economic liberation, that is said to be most urgent, without being detained in the demands of the revolution of daily life.'(102)

Continuing this critique, Maria José Rosado Nuñez highlighted the importance of the fiesta in the midst of daily realities. All our struggles are connected, she commented:
All this about 'priorities' and 'basic necessities,'...the parties of the poor make me think beyond this. A family spends all its money for the son's baptism party, for example. They know that they won't have money for the kids' milk in the morning, but they will not give up their right to joy, to party, to escape, to gratitude. Isn't this also a basic need? (42)

Elsa Tamez Against machismo: Rubem Alves, Leonardo Boff, Gustavo Gutiérrez, José Miguez Bonino, Juan Luis Segundo…and others talk about the struggle of women: interviews.Yorktown Heights, NY: Meyer-Stone Books, 1987.
Elsa Tamez (1989) Las Mujeres Toman La Palabra San José, Costa Rica: Editorial DEI
Through her eyes: women’s theology from Latin America. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1989.

A final note: Off to Salta, so unlikely to post this week.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Cristina Garcia - Dreaming in Cuban

January 11, 1959
My dearest Gustavo,
The revolution is eleven days old. My granddaughter, Pilar Puente del Pin, was born today. It is also my birthday. I am fifty years old. I will no longer write to you, mi amor. She will remember everything,
My love always,

So ends Cristina Garcia's novel, Dreaming in Cuban. Like many contemporary Cuban-America novels, at the heart of the
story is separation, the resultant confusions and misunderstandings, and the remarkable efforts taken to reconnect lives and loved ones. The distances created by the embargo, forbidden love, and even death, are overcome through secret letters, visions and apparitions, prayers and trances. Many are the mediators and go-betweens. Garcia suggests it is our dreams and desires that we speak freely. And that we draw strength from those who give it, who are not always the ones expected to protect us.

Religions and spiritualities are part of these coping mechanisms. The women in the book commit themselves to Catholicism, Santeria, and the revolution. Often faith of one is rejected by another, while certain beliefs must always be expressed in secret, amongst the poor.

The violence of loss and separation is evident, as is that of the Cuban exiles loss of identity. The intrinsic violence of the revolution (and pre-revolution dictatorship) receives little mention. But the fear of attack haunts the lives of the Cuban islanders, and even those exiled, who see communism in every shadow. And in lives marked by restriction and frustration, violence is enacted to punish, revenge, and escape.

I read this book accompanied by memories of Cuba and my own mixed emotions about the revolution. Can a forty year revolution remain revolutionary, or has the daily struggle for physical and ideological survival trampled down creativity and individual freedoms?
"The leaders forget what they looked like themselves fifteen years ago," the only young man in the group pronounces. "Today, they'd be thrown in a Social Disgrace Unit with drug addicts and maricones. Look at me. They say I'm rebellious, but it was rebels who made the revolution!" (108-9)

I thought about the scarcity of food (even with my privileged tourist status), the shells of once grand buildings along the Malecon, cheap seats at the ballet, black hens ready for sacrifice, an old woman's kiss goodbye, sunset through the banana leaves, the dancers of the gods, fresh orange juice and coconut palms. Most of all I thought about the blue of the sea. And how we all paint Cuba in our own colours, illustrating our ideologies and utopias.

"I can paint you any way you like," Pilar tells her grandmother (232). So she paints the elderly Celia, 'dancing flamenco with whirling red skirts and castanets and a tight satin bodice'(233). But mostly, she paints her as she sees her, in blue.

Until I returned to Cuba, I never realized how many blues exist. The aquamarines near the shoreline, the azures of deeper waters, the eggshell blues beneath by grandmother's eyes, the fragile indigos tracking her hands. There's a blue, too, in the curves of the palms, and the edges of the words we speak, a blue tinge to the sand and the seashells and the plump gulls on the beach. (233)
Cristina Garcia (1992) Dreaming in Cuban New York; Ballentine Books. Photo: Varadero beach, by Alison Mann.

Monday, July 16, 2007

nunca más

I've just finished reading extracts of the report on the disappeared written in 1984, immediately after the end of the military dictatorship in Argentina. I was suppose to read more than I did but I confess I was unable to continue. The report is online in English here.

Every other week I wait at the gates of Avellaneda Cemetery on my way to a meeting. And today I read:
File N° 7316
The municipal administration of Avellaneda decided on 19 January 1983 to start legal proceedings to determine whether there had been irregularities in the burial of unidentified bodies in the town cemetery...up to May 1976 there had been few unmarked graves and these belonged to old people. From that date there was an abrupt increase, and the average age of the dead was much lower, about twenty-five. This continued until 1978, when the number went down again and things returned to normal, including the age of the dead. The director of the cemetery himself cannot be sure that all the burials in the common graves in the morgue area were registered in the appropriate records, and he explains this by the fact that the morgue was totally under police control, with entry confined to their personnel.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

and the ongoing energy crisis

The current cold spell has highlighted Argentina's energy crisis. I don't know all the statistics, the whys and wherefores, but I can tell you it is cold here and part of the reason is the shortage in gas and electricity.

At the women's group today, one woman reported she had had no light (I think meaning also, no electricity) all monday, the day of the snow, and tuesday. In the college where I live, the heating is rationed for want of a better word. No central heating weekends and holidays (such as monday, the day of the snow). Coming home yesterday the bus passed a snake's tail of a queue leading towards the petrol station, as cab drivers stood alongside their black and yellow taxis complaining about the rise in petrol prices. The shortage of fuel has increased other prices too - bread is up 15%. There have been calls to conserve energy, and government has restricted supplies to some industries in order to ensure domestic gas supply (this apparently because if the gas gets cut off, each house has to be reconnected separately).

Last night there were notably fewer crowds out to watch the Argentina v Mexico match, as people stayed at home and tried to keep warm.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

snowy Buenos Aires

This was the scene yesterday. The first snow in the capital for 89 years. It hasn't helped Argentina's energy crisis but many porteños were enjoying the weather - snowballs, photos and lots of shrieks of excitement.

BBC report here, and
more photos here.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

at the refuge

When they arrived they were very withdrawn. They didn't have much energy. They were quiet and on edge. But slowly, they've begun to talk and to play, they've started to plan for the future.

In a quiet backstreet, there is a hidden place of safety for women and children who have gathered their courage to leave a violent home. It is one of a number of refuges across Buenos Aires, Argentina and the world. Because domestic violence continues in every country: in cities and villages, in wealthy homes and poor ones.

For the women and children at the refuge, the process of recovery is long and with no guarantees. They need to draw on their desires for a new life and the support of the shelter's workers. And they need that gift of space.

In the biblical tradition, a refuge can be a shady tree, the wings of a bird or a designated city. It is linked with the strength and protection of a rock, a great tower or a shield. Most of all, the Bible claims it is God who is our refuge.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

God should be a safe space, a place of welcome and inclusion. A place where we can rest and find our way again. With God, we should be able to recover from hurts and find strength to re-create ourselves.

The images of God we grow up with are varied. Not all are good for us. Not all are graceful. Sometimes our images of God collude with violence, leading us to accept violence in our lives. Can we ever say God is a women's refuge, knowing how much harm has been caused by patriarchal teaching about God? Perhaps.
God seeks us out,
a whisper from a friend,
"He should not hit you.
There is a place I know about."

God nurtures our gasp of courage,
as we lie in the dark and promise,
"Enough, I must go.
I must leave."

God mets us at the door,
with warm drinks and fresh clothes.
"You will be safe here,
You are not alone."

God laughs and smiles
playing catch, painting bright colours.
We recast our dreams,
and renew our hope.

This God is my strong refuge, and has made my way safe.(2 Samuel 22.33)
May it be so.

Refuge and Women's Aid support those suffering from domestic violence in the UK.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

i am the god of hell fire and i bring you...

When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him; but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village. (Luke 9.51-55)

Maybe I'm a bit slow, but I've only just noticed the connection of today's reading to Pentecost. There, the fire is a symbol of God's spirit, empowering Jesus' friends and followers. But James and John's fire is more of the destructive kind.

Many of us readers of the Bible are far from Samaria. We forget that 'Samaritan' has not yet come to mean, 'A kind stranger.' It means 'enemy.' James and John are angry at their political and religious rivals. They are offended by the lack of common courtesy shown them. And they are hot, tired and dusty. Burning hell-fire is very much in their thoughts.

Did it bother you too that the reflex of bystanders at Glasgow Airport was to hit, not help, a man on fire? Jesus does not let James and John divide the world into us and them. We too must resist giving ourselves that luxury. In demonstrations at the start of the Iraq, I saw a placard asking, Who would Jesus bomb? There is no answer because the answer is no-one. So why do we?