Thursday, March 27, 2008

1 Congreso de Teólogas Latinoamericanos y Alemanas

I've just got back from the Teologanda conference. It was an excellent three days with some major keynote speakers and a diverse programme of accompanying workshops.

What impressed me most, and in line with previous experiences of Teologanda, was the collaborative style of doing theology. The conference is just one part of a much wider process of developing the production of theology by Latin American women. Teologanda is training and nurturing women theologians, encouraging academic rigor and depth but within a supportive framework.

I presented a workshop paper on the motif of the home in Latin American feminist theologies. Fellow panelists were two theology students from Brazil exploring how the church might respond to domestic violence in light of a new law against domestic violence know as the Maria da Penha law, and a German student who presented a paper on the pastoral theology inscribed within the letters of Ita Ford, a Maryknoll sister murdered during the El Salvador conflict.

As ever, some of the most interesting discussions happened after the official presentations, outside over coffee taken in the sunshine, or around the book stall.

Teologanda are in the midst of publishing a five volume series on Latin American women theologians. Volumes 1 (an annotated bibliography) and 2 (key texts with introductory comments) are already available. Volume 3 (methodology) is set to be published at the end of the year.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

everyday resurrections

This picture was taken on a crisp autumnal morning in a park on the edge of a busy high street. A group of dancers hold the Jesus figure up in the air. She stands with her body arched, mirrored against the sky. It was a delicate and fragile posture to hold because she was effectively balanced on people’s upturned hands. The tableau suggests that Jesus’ reappearance from the dead was more tentative and hesitant than it is traditionally thought to be. In effect he needed to relearn how to think, feel, behave and engage with the world. He would not have bounced in with a boisterous “I am back”, but would have felt his way slowly, amazed at what had happened to him.*
In practice we must always begin again every day the search for salvation just as every day we have to begin again the actions of eating and drinking... this salvation is not a state one attains once and for all. It is there like a glass of water that quenches thirst for the moment, but thirst comes again, sometimes stronger than before... The moment of the hoped-for salvation comes, sometimes seen, sometimes unforeseen. No sooner it comes than it is gone: it escapes, flying away to prepare another and another. This fragile redemption is what we find in the everyday life of every person. (Gebara 2002: 123)
*The Resurrection (Dennis Morris/ Diocese of London/ CMS), accompanying words from Diocese of London study pack, available online.

Gebara, Ivone (2002) Out of the Depths: Women’s Experience of Evil and Salvation Minneapolis: Fortress Press

Friday, March 21, 2008

Please, no violence

At the heart of Christianity is the death of a man on a cross.

Faced with apparent failure, and seeking to hold on to belief in an all-powerful, all-loving God, the church has felt obliged to justify Jesus' death, claiming it was necessary for the reconciliation of humanity with God. 

But for many feminist theologians, it is Jesus’ life, not his death, which redeems. The cross is no more, and no less, than a violent crime. It is neither the will of God nor Jesus’ fate.

In Latin America, women theologians also challenge the violence of many redemption theories. Marcela Bosch (1992) considers how sacrificial theories of atonement legitimated the violence of the Argentine Doctrine of National Security, introduced during the military dictatorship. Marcella Althaus-Reid (2006) argues that Christ's story is not about payment, but about open solidarity and gift. Elsa Tamez (1993) also rejects "salvation by merit" and the unavoidable requirement to pay back debts. Instead, she reiterates God’s abundant grace, suggesting God’s justice is revealed not in the cross but in the resurrection of the condemned and excluded. 

Perhaps today, as Jesus is nailed to the cross once again, we need to turn our back on the crucifixion, and say, "No more."

No more taking up your cross.
No more suffering for others.
No more obedience unto death.

Althaus-Reid, Marcella (2006) "From feminist liberation theology to queer theology" in Cardoso Pereira, Nancy, Eggert Edla, and Musskopf, André Sidnei (2006) A Graca Do Mundo Transforma Deus : Diálogos Latino-Americanos Com a Ix Assembléia Do Cmi/ The Grace of the World Transforms God: Latin-American Dialogues with the 9th Assembly of the WCC, Colecão Valetas;. Porto Alegre, Brazil: Editora Universitária Metodista, pp. 64-8.
Bosch, Marcela (1992) Del Dios sacrificador de la Doctrina de la Seguridad Nacional al Dios de la Vida (Tesis de Licenciada) Buenos Aires: ISEDET
Tamez, Elsa (1993) The Amnesty of Grace: Justification by Faith from a Latin America Perspective trans. Sharon H. Ringe Nashville: Abingdon Press [translation of Contra Toda Condena]

Sunday, March 02, 2008

one day of life

When we arrived at Foz de Iguazu, Debbie and I took a taxi from the airport to the falls. She caught the park bus up to the start of the walk way, and began the climb down the path, with fresh vistas of the falls at every turn.

Having been to the falls once before, I waited at the entrance of the park. I ordered café com leite and sat at one of the plastic tables - bags and rucksacks surrounding me - and began Manlio Argueta's One Day of Life.

To be absolutely honest, I had begun to read it once before, on Ipanema beach. But beach volleyball and icecream sellers don't fit so well with a tale of torture and violence. But then, what does?

Manlio Argueta is a Salvadorean writer, exiled in the early 1970s for his writing and political activity to Costa Rica. He has now returned to Salvador and is Director of Art and Culture at the University of El Salvador.

The book is set in El Salvador in the period immediately prior to the complete outbreak of civil war (1981-1992). Published in 1980, the authorities immediately halted further print runs and ordered confiscation of all existing copies. In an undated interview (after 2000), Argueta comments:
The political tensions that surround my work have to do with my affinities concerning the rescue of historical memory. As such, they deal with the special circumstances of the prewar period that for me begins in 1932 and lasts until 1980; and later, to the references to the crisis of war (1972–92)...Well, I wrote One Day of Life before the civil war was declared (1981–92).

Un día en la vida /One Day of Life accompanies Lupe, a Salvadorean peasant, from the pre-dawn cry of the clarinero to the lighting of the candles as the day grows dark. The day and the memories of other days are broken by cruelty and violence. But Lupa sees beauty too:
When the hill begins to rise, the dawn's first rays appear. The color of a firebrand in the night. A burst of sparks that makes me say: How beautiful!As beautiful as the Virgin's mantel. Then the sky becomes as clear as well water at high noon. Little bits of colored glass. Chips from a broken bottle. And clouds floating under water. Clouds are the blankets of God. The sky is a Guatemalan weave of many colours. This is part of life. (Argueta 1984:5)

I read the book quickly, scanning the pages, and with one hand around my café for comfort. One day is how long I spent in El Salvador but in Lupe's voice I heard again the voices of friends and strangers who had described the trauma and loss of El Salvador, Guatemala and other Central American countries.

The climax of the story is the encounter between Lupe and her husband José, witnessed by her granddaughter and the soliders who bring José, tortured and unrecognizable to his grandchild, to their home. Lupe summons all her strength to deny José. In contrast to the passion narrative in which Peter's denial appears as an act of rejection that haunts him, Lupe's denial is an act of courage and an expression of love.
I saw that there was no other way out. And that's why you opened your eye when I had denied you, because I had already done the most difficult thing. I took it as a greeting, as if you were saying, "Thank you, Lupe," with that glance from your coffee-colored eye that had remained shut, shut by the same blood that bathed your head.. (Argueta 1984:192)

In poetry, in memory, in silence and in denial, there are acts of love.

Manlio Argueta (1984,[1980]) One Day of Life trans. Bill Brow, London: Chatto & Windus - The Hogarth Press

available at Amazon UK here.

a further note:
Thinking ahead to my reading on postcolonial theory and literature, I was interested in the interviewer's, Claudia M. Milian Arias, comment:
A common observation raised by some critics is of your particular use of Salvadoran vernacular. Rather than noting how the Spanish language has many regionalisms throughout Latin America––indeed, is Salvadoran speech any different than the other transformations Spanish has undergone throughout the Americas?––the mere "distinctiveness" of Salvadoran speech is posed through a binary of inferior and superior cultures and languages. It seems as though the significance of your literary enterprises gets fairly diminished. Can one say that your books are not only in solidarity with the struggles and everyday speech habits of the poor, but also with linguistic practices by other authors that displace colonial tongues? I am thinking of writers like Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe, India’s Salman Rushdie, and Gloria Anzaldúa, a Chicana.