Sunday, April 29, 2007

dorcas who was also called tabitha

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, "Please come to us without delay." So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, "Tabitha, get up." Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. (Acts 9:36-42)
The Seamstress by Australian painter, Nerida de Jong

Maybe my suspicions distract me at times; it’s undeniable I have ‘issues’ with authority figures; and I confess here and now my weakness for marginal characters and off-hand references. What I’m trying to tell you is my reflection on Acts 9, one of today's set readings, takes a different tack.

The problem is Peter. Well, to be honest, not just Peter but Paul too, in fact the whole of Acts. I’ve never clicked with Acts. It’s so mono, and there’s a whiff of propaganda about it. So many model examples, so much careful reasoning, wondrous miracles and high-profile conversations. And I hate the incident with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). It suggests a community that cannot deal with division and dispute except by exclusion and violence (or as The Brick Testament paraphrases, Accept Communism or Die.)

I stop liking Peter once he became ‘perfect’. When he was naïve and enthusiastic, a fisherman caught up in the buzz and friendship surrounding Jesus, he made me smiled. When he heard the cock crow for the second time and wept, I wept too. But that need to clarify that the disciples weren't early morning drunks – since when did Jesus worry about that? Or the blatant struggle for power recorded in Acts around the Jerusalem assembly? It turned me right off.

In the passage chosen for today, Peter raises Dorcas/Tabitha from recent death. The event alludes to Jesus’ raising of Jarius’ daughter. But you get the sense that Peter’s aping of Jesus is done not so much out of compassion but out of a thirst for recognition. (I warned you I was suspicious!) Here’s the thing. Did her friends ask Peter to bring Dorcas/ Tabitha back from the dead? Let’s imagine she was a widow and saint, like those who gathered at her bedside to rejoice in her life and work. Death is a fundamental rupture that is most often unspeakably painful and premature. But not always. What if Dorcas/ Tabitha had felt her life drawing to a close. She had loved and been loved, she had contributed to the life of the community and her contributions had been valued and praised. She was tired from her needlework and her role at the heart of the house church. She was ready, yes, ready, to put aside her scraps of material and cloth, rest her head against the pillow and drift away. She wanted to see again those who had been lost to her: lovers, parents and dear friends. She was glad to be welcomed by God’s kind embrace.

She must have been not a little frustrated to find herself the latest proof of Peter’s spiritual authority.

Perhaps my interpretation is connected to my almost complete paper on the Falklands/ Malvinas conflict. I’ve been trying to figure out how we deal with our past and what makes us question accepted truths. Who helps us grow and change? Who gives us the courage to become truly, madly, deeply ourselves? The temptation is to present ourselves as completed. As if we were always, and will always be, the people we are now. But this is never so. Like Peter, we have been naïve and innocent; we have failed and are ashamed. We would do well to remember this. For we cannot live only now. None of us are one dimensional rigid caricatures. Everyone of us are flawed, sorrowing, rejoicing, hoping people of God.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

like a beggar sitting on a gold mine

Peru is like a beggar sitting on a gold mine.
...was an analogy I heard a lot following my stay in Peru, back in 1995-6. It suggests the bitter irony of mass poverty in a resource rich country. But the choice of analogy, the gold mine, is particularly significant.

Living in Lima, I was unaware of the impact of mining and foreign mining companies on rural communities. But the environmental devastation of large scale mining, issues of worker safety and security, the human rights abuses against opponents - particularly amongst the indigenous communities, and extraction of Peru's wealth by multi-nationals, have ment Peru's mines remain a critical problem.

The Peru Support Group's latest report considers the role of British companies in Peru's mines, particularly the Rio Blanco project.
The Rio Blanco project in the Piura district has provoked a long-running and violent dispute involving the company, the Peruvian authorities, and the local Segunda y Cajas and Yanta communities on whose land the mining project lies...
The report...discusses ways in which the objectives of large mining projects can be made to mesh with those of local development. This would involve better and more economic opportunities, improving human security and empowering local populations. As PSG’s research shows, mining in Peru has not historically respected the interests of peasant communities – depriving them of their land, ignoring their rights and causing environmental and social degradation.

More details via the Peru Support Group website. I recommend PSG and similar organizations as excellent ways to keep in touch with Latin America, which tends to get less British news coverage than other regions.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

mauricio lopez was here

Blessed is she who see the day breaking clear through the rain.
Blessed is he who cares for a flower although it has withered.
Blessed is the one who sheds tears for another's sorrow.
(liturgy of the Methodist Church of La Boca)


Lesson of the week. Thursday evening, The Mauricio Lopez classroom, ISEDET


Mauricio Lopez was an Argentine theologian and minister, who worked for the Latin American and World Council of Churches. In 1976 he accepted the position of Dean of Studies at ISEDET. But he never took up the post. As 1977 dawned, Lopez was kidnapped by military personal in the town of Mendoza.

The portrait that hangs on the wall of Aula 1 is not this one. It is a small modest picture of an unassuming professor standing next to a bookshelf, teaching or talking. Night after night for over a year, I have looked at that picture. I imagined Prof. Lopez to be an esteemed, long-serving member of the faculty, honored at his retirement by the dedication of this classroom, when the walls were freshly painted and the wooden chairs comfortable.

But this week in our theology and society class we looked at the role of the churches during the dictatorship. Acknowledging grievous failings, self serving silence and denial, we remembered also courage and its costs.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

who are the public theologians?

I've been preparing a summary of this article for my theology and society class:
E. Harold Breitenburg, Jr. (2003) “To Tell the Truth: Will the Real Public Theology Please Stand Up?” in Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, 23, 2 (2003) pp.55-96.

Breitenburg notes three main uses of the term 'public theology':
1. To apply to a wide range of theologians who have a public presence, including: Martin Luther King Jr, Reinhold Niebuhr, Dorothy Day, Karl Barth, John Howard Yoder etc.
2. To do with theological issues that apply to the faith community and wider community (such as justice).
3. To refer to the use of non-religious, more accessible sources and language that are accessible to wider group than a specific faith community. And the process of explaining the relevance of a theological belief for a social issue (e.g. creation and the need to care for the environment), and perhaps thus motivate action by faith community and wider community (e.g. the biblical idea of jubilee and the Jubilee 2000 movement.)

Turning to the UK, I was interested to discover that there are at least four centres for public theology: Manchester, Kings College, London,
Edinburgh and Exeter.

I confess that I can't drum up much enthusiasm for debates about what public theology is and whether the church should be doing it, or not (as theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas - STETS students alert! - argue). But the 'who?' question has caught my eye. The majority of examples of public theologians in the article (used here to refer to theologians who have a public presence) are white men, generally from the Protestant tradition.

In my view, the situation in England is different to the North American context the article describes. Academic theologians seem to have a greater public presence in the USA than they do in the UK. Those who are asked to speak about God on TV or radio, or in the House of Lords, tend to be members of the Anglican hierarchy (sometimes the Roman Catholic or other faith leaders get a look in too) such as Rowan Williams. In religious columns or programming, such as BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day or The Times religious column, mainstream Christian religious leaders continue to dominate (although a glance at Thought for the Day contributors shows a wider range of faith traditions, and 15 female contributers - if out of a total of around 70).

How do we select and legitimate these public theologians? And which voices are missing?

Mark Lawson recently suggested in The Guardian that Robert Beckford "may be the future of religious broadcasting on television." Does that make Beckford a public theologian, with the accompanying legitimacy or does he remain something like a media theologian, less likely to be called on to speak about God and God's ways?

Why does it matter who gets to speak about God to the wider society? Let me give you an example from Argentina. The Roman Catholic church has a significant public presence here. Church appointments and statements are reported on daily. The Argentine Constitution (although upholding freedom of religious expression) sets down the state's responsibility to sustain Roman Catholic worship, which leads to state wages for bishops and state maintenance of church buildings. Unsurprisingly, other denominations and faith groups argue for parity in treatment.

The lack of public presence by non-Catholic groups (as well as liberal Catholics and Catholic women's groups) is best illustrated by the debates on abortion (still illegal in almost all cases; see also this interview of an Argentine feminist.). When representatives of other Christian perspectives on abortion speak out, their authority is undermined.

Public discussion of God needs to represent the diversity of God's people, within and beyond the church. Those who have a public voice need to take on the responsibility of bringing others into the conversation, even if that requires them to shut up for a while.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

name change

I've been thinking this blog may outlast my time in Argentina and if I was going to change names, the sooner the better.

I used to live at the top of a long, steep hill. Walking home with my bike late at night, I would reach the gate breathless. In the summer a jumble of roses, clematis and honeysuckle filled the air. Through the gate into the garden, I would take off my shoes and stand on the sloping grass, dew drenched. Breathing out the day and in the night, I stretched my arms to the stars, my head and heart also. And gave thanks.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

feliz pascua

christ is the morning star
who when the night of this world is past
brings to his saints
the promise of the light of life
and opens everlasting day
Bede

Easter Day. I celebrated with the crowds at the Catholic Basilica on Plaza Flores. Squeezing past the latecomers group at the door, I moved up the side of the church until I was lost in the body(s) of Christ. I rested against a marble pillar singing alleluias. Next to me, the last confessional post received a steady stream of penitents. The priest robed in white and purple, lent to listen as the crowds stood and kneeled, praised and prayed. We kissed peace, strangers all: an woman with bleached-yellow hair, an old man with a firm grip, two flower girls smiling with delight.

This is my body.

Friday, April 06, 2007

not so good friday

I hate that we still call it good.

I only recently read Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker's “For God So Loved the World?” (in Violence Against Women and Children: A Christian Theological Sourcebook. Ed. Carol J. Adams and Marie M. Fortune. New York: Continuum, 1995, 36–59) which discloses the violence we sing, say and believe in our churches.

I read rapidly, on the train back and forth, with horror and gratefulness, Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker's Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us. Boston: Beacon, 2001.

This bad friday six years ago, I spoke words like this:
Jesus,
who at my need
his life did spend


If we desire to be like Christ, must we also suffer like him? Must we go cheerfully to suffering? Over time, much of the Christian community has interpreted the love displayed on the cross as the only way love can be revealed. We make suffering the means of loving. Believing that we are becoming more like Christ, we bear much in patient silence.

But Jesus’ suffering does not save us.

No one is saved through suffering. Christ offers us not suffering but life in all its fullness. And it is this, our commitment to life, that will cost us.

You can continue reading my reflection here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

malvinas/falklands: iluminados por el fuego

Iluminados por el fuego or Enlightened by Fire narrates the memories of a 40-year-old man, Esteban Leguizamon, who was sent to fight on the Malvinas Islands in 1982 at the age of 18. A friend’s attempted suicide triggers off the memories of the war times he shared with two young privates: Vargas, the suicide, and Juan, who was killed on the battlefield.

This is the film I went to see on Sunday afternoon as part of a long weekend of attempting to understand Argentine takes on the conflict.

I tried to take a few notes during the film but only had a ticket stub to hand, leaving me with disconnected phrases and words scrawled at random:

going to the front, Varges' face is grey and bloated and haggard; fear and mud like 1 WW trenches but just 25 years ago for f sake; night battle - dead illuminated by explosions; punishment for stealing a sheep; fog; dirty frozen water in tin cup; Varges kept saying he wanted to go back to the islands tenemos que volver; his son; don't be afraid of the dark, listen if you can't see.; i can't watch cruelty and violence; che!; Varges owed garage, then worked in a factory, then had to beg; emerging from burrows; just one letter from Marta; there is no hunger, there is no cold, only God and the homeland! says the general as they shake with cold; I'm from Missiones (in the rural tropical north of Argentina); boat firing or exploding; no welcome home; Leguizamon returns to Argentina - wide blue sky and gentle hospitality; uncontrollable grief.

Trailer and clip can be viewed here.

Monday, April 02, 2007

malvinas/falklands: media coverage today

The Guardian online has done my job for me! There is a summary of today's coverage of the conflict in the three leading newspapers in Argentina.

I'm off to spanish class later - my Argentine tutor and I may then go together to visit the 'memorial to the fallen' in Recoleta.

UPDATE (Tuesday)
I did make it to the memorial late yesterday afternoon. As you can see from the photo, many flowers and a small military presence. The memorial was crowded with families, watching the flag ceremony or reading some of the names of the dead soldiers.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

malvinas/falklands: islas de la memoria

Yesterday afternoon I went to the Centro Cultural Recoleta in downtown Buenos Aires to see the new exhibition Imagenes Publicas Ojectos Privados: Malvinas Islas de la memoria. (Public Images Private Objects: Malvinas - Islands of Memory) - click on photo below to see more images.
islas de la memoria
I didn't expect it to be such a tough experience, and at times I was sickened with contrasting emotions.

I felt shame at being seen (for the first time since I've been here) as the enemy, an aggressor country with a pirate history (in Chile the English are referred to as los piratas because of their actions in these waters), a country that had attacked an Argentine ship in disputed circumstance (the sinking of the Belgrano was described as a war crime - thankfully there was no shot of the infamous Sun headline), a country led by the hated Thatcher and in cahoots with the equally hated Reagan, a country accused of mistreating, even killing, prisoners (sound familiar?)

I was confused by side-by-side remembrance of the violent repression of the Argentine military regime and the violence of the war, but with no connection made (unlike in conversations with Argentines).

I bristled a little at any suggestion of Argentine's claim on the islands, or more - since of course Spain, England and Argentina all invaded the islands at some point and none have any natural claim whatsoever - that the preferences of the current inhabitants of the islands should be overlooked.

I grieved for the youthful faces and letters home, the emergency sachets of water (with instructions to drink no water for the first 24 hours and then only mouthfuls at intervals), the soiled boots and bulky overcoats, the mass of flower strewed crosses.

And I was angry at the problems faced by Argentines visiting their loved ones' island graves - their trips dependent on changeable political support.

The accompanying leaflet begins by stating the widely held view of the war as the foolish adventure of a drunken general that turned out to be significant step towards his downfall. But it also notes the continued ambiguity in Argentine-English relationships and the ongoing grief of soldiers and their families.

Nuestro norte está mirando el Sur 'Our north is looking south,' says the poster.
Once more the world turns and my vista reveals another sky.