Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Christian faith: Against oppression and religious privilege

Hello my dear reader.

I hope you are well. With the semester winding down come final exams, papers, essays, and other last minute things that can drive you crazy. If you are not a college student, perhaps deadlines at work or other issues may be in your mind. In any case, it is quite possible that you may be feeling some stress. I hope you will be feeling better soon and I also apologize for not writing much lately...asi es la vida.

During an extensive conversation with a couple of my Atheist brothers and sisters it was implied that my plans of going to seminary and one day becoming an Episcopal priest may turn me into the following: an agent of a system of oppression. The system in question is Christianity and my faith connected to this religion. Now, my friends were clear and honest enough to say that after knowing me they know that I myself don't want to be an agent of oppression but, this is unavoidable if I continue on a path that will lead me to be a religious leader. There were other interesting exchange of ideas surrounding this conversation but for this post I will just concentrate my reflection on this: becoming an agent of oppression. Is this true?

When it comes to religion and oppression, I have found that when I speak to some of my Atheist friends I bring a different perspective and experience from their own; this is not only because I am religious and I will get to that in a bit. Also, when I hear certain claims about religious freedom from some of my Christian friends and how the "anti-Christian agenda" is trying to destroy it, I also bring a different perspective to that conversation.

My perspective is shaped by my existence, by my experience, and by my Christian faith. And when it comes to my faith, Liberation Theology and the Latin American experience behind it plays a role in my reflection and in my answers to this...and play a role in looking for answers to the questions that come to my mind.

When I think of religion and its role in supporting oppression I don't only think of the unavoidable scars of history found in so many points in time: from the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders (tragically ironic since the city was the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire and the crusaders were under the orders of Rome) to the also unavoidable fact of the brutal treatment of the natives of America by the Christian European powers of England, Spain, and other colonial powers.

So indeed, I am very familiar with the role religion has played in fostering and/or supporting oppression. My Christian brothers and sisters, we should never run away from this truth. However, I am also familiar with some less well known efforts (during the those days and all the way to 2012) to combat oppression in the name of Christianity.

Here are some names you may or may not know...if you do not, you should google these names. They are the name of people who fought oppression and were killed for such efforts...killed by government soldiers and/or paramilitary units supported by the government or rebels factions, by fanatics, etc. It is usually at this point when some do not want to hear again of people like Gandhi or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr since "yeah, yeah, I know about them"...oh no, these are different names:

1) Archbishop Oscar Romero. Probably you may have heard of him, in a small part because I have written about him here before...but he is not the only name.
2) Father Ignacio Ellacuría
3) Father Ignacio Martín-Baró
4) Father Segundo Montes
5) Father Arnando Lopez
6) Father Juan Ramón Moreno
7) Father Joaquin López y López

All of these people (and many more including other priests, nuns, and other members of religious orders) were killed because they fought oppression. So when I hear that my Christian faith and my religion, along with me becoming a priest will turn me into an agent of oppression...well, I think of these names and many others who did quite the opposite and lost their lives. Unfortunately this continues even today.

It is at this moment (specially if I am thinking of the tragic end of the lives of these people) when I hear a Christian brother or sister complaining that his/her religious freedom is being threatened because a plaque of the 10 commandments has (once again) been ordered to be removed from a public space somewhere...or the debate about birth control, etc.

A few years ago I met Bishop Christopher Seyonjo....yes, google his name as well. He is one of my role models. In his own words I heard how back in his native Uganda he has to be careful, because he has received death threats. I heard how he is harassed by the government and his own Anglican Church of Uganda. His crime? He supports and fights for the rights of the LGTBQ community.

Right here at Purdue, during my pastoral work, I have heard far too many stories of people that come to me for counseling and how Christians students told them some horrible things. I have heard stories (sometimes in tears) of how pastors and other religious people have treated, harassed, and abused them (sometimes physically and sexually) and I am asked "Why Mario?" "Why did they do this to me?"

I finished this post quite abruptly (and without much editing) to keep as much as possible the emotion behind the words that I write to you my dear reader. I apologize for this and apologize for how the flow of words and the way I have written may be confusing to you. Unfortunately this is quite personal to me. There is far too much pain and suffering in this world, and I have either seen it or have been told about in moments of confidence. I do not pretend to compare myself to the people I listed. But I do try my best to remember the example of their lives, even to the point where their example was sealed with their own blood.

If you my Atheist brother/sister tell me that I may become an agent of oppression please remember this: be wary of generalizations and/or sweeping statements about religious people. I will never deny that religion has been an agent of oppression, but I also know that religion has also been an agent of liberation. Remember that life and people are simply more complicated than we realize.

If you my Christian brother/sister tell me that your religious freedom is being threatened, ask yourself: are you talking about religious freedom or religious privilege? Have you ever wondered if we have been in a position of privilege for so long that we have forgotten our own history? Have we forgotten that there was a time when we were the minority? And remember: as of right now, the law of the land is that the plaque of the 10th commandments (regardless of the debatable argument that it only represents the Judeo-Christian principles found in our laws) is STILL a religious symbol and cannot be displayed in a public space. This is more helpful than you may realize.

And don't be upset if you hear me say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas: I am in fact correct from the point of view of my Christian faith (Christmas does not start until Dec 25th) and the Advent Season starts this Sunday. So again by saying 'Happy Holidays' I am following my faith AND I am being respectful of others who are non-Christians and being mindful that the very mention of the word Christmas makes them cringe...and here is the question: what is more important, to say the word or to spread the love of Christ by your smile as you say Happy Holidays? Just a thought...

Again, my apologies if this post was a bit crude in writing style and form. My passion got the best of me. But my Christian faith pushes me to fight oppression, pushes me to fight religious privilege, and pushes me to fight prejudice and discrimination in all forms; I feel pushed to ask questions and to challenge my own assumptions about what I know and/or think I know. My Christian faith, along with knowledge of history, and the cry of our fellow human beings demands it.



Monday, November 5, 2012

During and after the elections...

Hello my dear reader.

The following is my adaptation of a prayer found in the Book of Common Prayer. I hope that regardless of who wins this election, that we can move on and work together in the spirit of sophia (wisdom) and compassion with those that we see as our rivals and who disagree with our political ideas. In the end we are and will continue to be one country:

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit, may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land in this political season and imminent election], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through the Holy One and the Word, our teacher, our brother, and our friend, Jesus Son of Man who said ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself' and 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God' his name, his spirit, his peace, and his love, we pray, Amen.



Thursday, November 1, 2012

Of Saints and Friends: Thoughts on 'All Saints Day'

 ...I believe in the Holy Spirit, 
    the holy catholic Church, 
    the communion of saints...
      (from the "Apostle's Creed")

Lord, how I want to be in that number
Oh when the saints go marching in
(from the lyrics to "When The Saints Go Marching In")

...a friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature
                                                        (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Hello my dear reader.

I was thinking of writing a short entry in regards to All Saints Day when I came to the following questions: what is a saint? Who do we call a saint? What makes a person a saint? These questions (while important) came to a halt when the following thought crossed my mind: if I want to know what a saint is, I should look at a good friend.

St. Teresa of Avila
Saints are first of all human beings like you, like me, like everyone else. Now it is true, in Christianity we have many ways to call someone a saint. The late Anglican theologian John Macquarrie (in his book "Principles of Christian Theology") explains that when we talk of saints in the Church there are two principal ways. In the New Testament it was applied to any Christians. They formed in each city the community of the Holy Spirit  and so they were thought of as the "saints at Jerusalem " or wherever it might be. But in the later and more common usage, the expression stands for those whom the Church recognizes as having signally manifested the Holy Spirit and as having been conformed to Christ...the central characteristic held up before us is self-giving love. (page 358)

In the Roman Catholic Church there is the act of canonization where the Church can canonizes (or beatify) men and women that become "models of holiness".  Lumen Gentium, the "Dogmatic Constitution of the Church" and one of the most important documents of the Second Vatican Council, states:

"It is not only through their example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; rather we seek, by devotion to them, to exercise that bond of fraternal charity which unites and strengthens the whole Church in the Spirit (cf. Eph 4:1-6). Just as Christian charity brings us closer to Christ on our earthly journey, so does the communion of saints join the People of God to Christ, the fountainhead of all grace and life, on their eternal journey" (LG 50).

[the meeting of] St. Clare and St. Francis

From our historical ties to the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church still celebrates the lives of many of the same saints recognized before the Protestant Reformation. After the Reformation, with the separation of the Church of England from Rome, and now in the present, we celebrate the lives of men and women that we believe personify the example of love and faith that Christians should celebrate and share with the world in the spirit of compassion and wisdom.

There is one important factor about saints that brings me to something very important in our lives: friends. Friends (including all saints and of course all human beings) are not perfect. As Macquarrie correctly points out: The extraordinary variety of those whom the Church calls "saints" is sufficient warning against any rigidly narrow idea of the Church, which must rather be comprehensive enough to contain and encourage withing itself the manifold potentiality of existence. Saints (like friends) come from all sort of different places and backgrounds, and they truly have a knack for surprising us and defying expectations.

Harriet Beecher Stowe
In a world were sometimes it appears that the individual is what matters and where it seems that we just need to look after ourselves, saints and friends are there to remind us that this is not the case.

If we are lucky to have good friends, then we will see that they (like us) have faults and are willing to put up with our own faults. Friends are willing to make sacrifices for us without being asked, and sometimes when we are in dire need. They listen to us when we are sad and they celebrate with us when we are happy. And if we are real lucky, some of our friends will change the world with their love and sacrifice...that is, if they have not done so already.

It is "All Saints Days" and in this day when the Church remembers those who were capable of the sort of love that would not make them hesitate to put their own lives on the line for the sake of others, let us celebrate the memory of the friends (past, present, and future) in our own lives. To the saints that we meet every day and to my friends: thank you and happy "All Saints Day".

Mario one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends...