Thursday, August 23, 2007

Listening Into Each Others Lives: Recovering Our Lost Stories

The first three women from left to right are all seminarians. The one on the end worked for a non-profit and is I believe a minister. Forgive me for forgetting names.

We took a trip to the Seminario Engelico de Puerto Rico and the President, Dr. Sergio Ojda-Carcamo, brought greetings to us in the chapel. Afterwards we took a tour of their beautiful facility.
Chancellor of the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Dr. Marilina Wayland, welcomed the conference participants. The chests in front of the podium contain books that conference authors gifted the Chancellor with for their library. What a great idea! I donated two books.

L-R Zorina and a local Rev. that presented the morning worship. She was just recently ordained.

L-R Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman, Dr. Luis N.Rivera-Pagan (Princeton Theological Seminary) and Zarina from NYC.
L-R Brother Dr. Jesus Rodriguez Sanchez and Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman. Brother Jesus was an incredible host and addressed all of our needs.

A view from the hotel!


Today is my day for random reflections and telling stories. So if you are expecting something profound you might want to look elsewhere today. Because, as my daughters' ESL hip hop client says when he is not prepared for his session, "I ain't got nothing for you." (smile)

Well, that is not totally accurate. What I am saying is that I feel the need to express myself without worrying whether it all makes sense when it comes out. Sometimes I simply like to be the vehicle for my "Inner Teacher" the "Divine" to speak through me. So I am channeling so to speak. I am partly channeling some of the voices at the Post Colonial Pastoral Theology in Puerto Rico Conference along with some random thoughts and reactions. I am listening to the voices that want to speak and trusting that you all can receive at least some of what is given.

Pastoral Theology
In a previous blog I talked about my theology of pastoral counseling and my sense of calling from the space of being able to be with others in their pain. Why not times of joy and celebration you might ask? Because there are others that can do that. Not everyone can be present with someone in their darkest hours of loss and emotional devastation and grief. That is what chaplains, ministers and those in pastoral counseling do. But even so pastoral theology is a little different. It is the river from which it all flows. Many pastoral theologians teach even though they are also ordained by their denominational leaders.

Pastoral theology is a theology that emerges out of a theology of care and conversation. It is a reflexive process. It is about the care of the soul. Pastoral theology is a praxis based theology. In pastoral theology much of what we have come to understand is that we intersect and deconstruct the pain of people's lives. We also pay attention to and help them to claim and create community because we have learned over time that people can't be healthy without community. When I begin to speak more about colonialism then you will understand the relevance of healthy community. Suffice it to say that colonialism seeks to destroy any ties that stabilize people.

For years, much of what I will be speaking about was so complex because it is simply how things are. So it is not easily discernible. I used to think black folks were crazy. I was so happy to learn about things like capitalism, racism, oppression. I could better understand the things I was seeing. It was like someone had turned on the light after I had been journeying in the dark so long. I knew something was wrong but I assumed we were what was wrong! It was like someone gave me the play card. Then I could watch the game of life and understand what was going on.

So when others that seek to control groups of people attempt to conflate ideas and concepts, like culture, like race, class, gender etc. - these complex phenomenon are rendered pale in the face of their actual realities. Reality becomes distorted. Yet, I believe now that there are so many points of affinity that can open up if we pay attention and nurture different ways of being in the world so that we are not dependent on others that would seek to manipulate us.

Post Colonial Pastoral Theology
As I was typing in the above subheading my fingers typed "post colonial theology"and when I realized that I had made a mistake I corrected it. However, it was not a mistake. It would be a mistake to attempt to discuss post colonial pastoral theology without first deconstructing post colonial theology because theology is born of practice. Thus, post colonial theology by virtue of the lived realities of oppressed peoples would have to out of good conscience be about healing and recovery of people. Post colonial pastoral theology would have to be about identity recovery and formation. If post colonial theology is to be a legitimate discipline it has to be about the business of demystifying colonialism and its the systemic oppression that it historically subjects on people. It would be still another crime to leave people reeling from the effects of colonialism and not challenge the pathology and dysfunction that is produced as a result of colonialism. Just as I was relieved to know that my people, black people were not crazy, but that there were some factors at play that no one had bothered to point out to me. As a matter of fact, some individuals were dedicated and appointed to see that I along with many others stayed in the dark.

While colonialism is not monolithic it can be characterized by some of the following:

Dominance Model - Colonialism is usually based on a dominance model that seeks to gain power and control of another group of people. While the tactics and strategies may range from very sophisticated to brute force, the outcome is virtually the same - the enslavement of people's minds and the motive is a need to assert superiority or ethnocentrism and the need for greed. In order to assert ones authority over others one hasto render them "other." Thus, they are not like "me" and therefore it is alright to mistreat, exploit, manipulate, displace, kill, etc. Relationships of domination are privileged in such conditions.

Cultural Imperialism - In order to establish and maintain order and control the dominant power must disavow existing culture and assert its own as the normative reality. Over time it completely dominates all other cultural realities. Sometimes in order to survive, the remnants of cultural expressions are driven underground and will surface by way of militantancy or cooptation into the consumer market. Rap, particularly ganga rap is an example of this.

Matrix of Oppression - The systemic nature of oppression/colonialism is all consuming and overrides most efforts to claim a different reality. Thus most people are content or too weary to "fight the power" and without very intentional counter cultural campaigns of resistance waged by oppressed peoples life goes on for generations with few changes that are not accommodated by the matrix of oppression that serves as social controls at every step of the way.

Psychological Devastation
The psychological warfare and mental disorders that Franz Fanon articulated in his book, Wretched of the Earth, was one of the pivotal works that resounded around the world. Activists in the civil rights movement and black power movement in the USA and the national liberation struggles in Africa, Asia and Central and South America gained an understanding from Fanon's work that recognized and named the effects of colonized peoples living under colonialism and the resulting mental illnesses. His works provided a manifesto of sorts for revolutionaries and activists in their recognition that the battlefield and its casualties were not merely relegated to physical injuries but that the weapons of war were non- traditional that could not always be seen or confronted directly. Such enemies use stealth weapons. Jaco Hammond, professor at Western Theological Seminary contends that persons shapeby colonialism have an undeveloped heart that is life depriving. Hammond, having grown up in South Africa during apartheid speaks from his life experiences. He further contends that hyper masculinity and different manifestatins of manliness are emphasized under colonialism. While he did not clarify whether this was the case for oppressor and oppressed males it appears in my estimate that it affects both.

Distorted Reality - Only the most primitive form of colonialism operates on brute force. That is a limited existence and depends on resources to staff a military and a constant reign of terror. Thus, colonialism seeks to immobilize the ability of people to think clearly. It manipulates te decision making abilities of people. If people can't think straight they can't clearly understand what is going on nor see where the oppression is coming from. Thus they will always be like the boxer in training, that shadow boxes with an imaginary opponent. Nothing is as it appears under colonialism. Besides, they have built everything around the lie that they are somehow entitled to more than others. And that this is the way things just naturally are. "Common sense" is rendered invalid and replaced with "group think."Even when our gut tells us something ain't right, we still go for the okey dokey. This gets at the next factor.

Internalized Oppression - The nature of colonialism is that must rob people of their way of life, that is, their identity. Then, in a weakened state, colonialism replaces their existing identity with a consumer mentality that supports and promotes the coloial life style. With nothing left that fosters a sense of constructive identity, oppressed peoples are forced to operate from a sense of "less than" "not good enough" that is, a deficit model of self. It is no accident that oppressed and marginalized peoples live in areas that have depressed incomes, substandard housing, education, poor or no health care and high crime rates. Then society blames them for their situation and justifies its law enforcement campaigns to clean up the "lawlessness." The dehumanization and alienation that the colonized people endure desensitizes them and creates a disconnect between what they feel and their ability to respond to stimuli until it is almost impossible to discern between those that desire to help and those intent to harm. The level of hopelessness, rage and futility remind me of the Jews plaintive cry when asked to sing their songs in Babylon by their captures. And they cryed, "How canwe sing our sings in a strange land?"

I have attempted to lay out a few key aspect of the colonial process in order to provide a context for talking about post colonial pastoral theology. Given the scenario that I have just laid out it should be clear that the role of post colonial pastoral theology is to demystify oppression and help transform society and its citizens to heal and recover from the colonial experience. Listening becomes more than a passive exercise learned a seminary. It becomes a listening for the places of both brokenness and health in order to be able to hold up as a model of encouragement, while at the same time the mirror offers up the pain of brokenness.

Accountability is another important element for working with oppressed peoples. The colonial mentality has encouraged destructive behaviors such as violence, lack of compassion, and other predatorial behaviors. Challenging these behaviors while working towards healing is critical. We must be knowledgable about systems of oppression and capable of critical critiques of injustice. Let us look for opportunities to pay attention to ways that we can build bridges with our clients and oppressed peoples.

Also, engaging in theological reflections in our personal lives allows us to name the places of brokennes within. We must be creators of safe spaces while creating vulnerability for ourselves. So that at the same time tha we serve as lament vessels for people we are ablet to sit with their pain without being too quick to move to the praise and to comfort them because our need for comfort requires it even more.

Engaging the Voices of the Oppressed
As seminarians, ministers, chaplains, people serving others, we are in key positions to raise our prophetic voices and to hold our faith community relevant to the world. Valuing ourselves as change agents we must think about diverse venues for our work and to think about multiple ways that we can channel our academic work, our community work, etc. It is critical that our formation tasks of being pastoral emphasizes our doing and looking at everything that we do, the papers we write, the sermons we craft, the way we speak to others, or not speak!

We must interrogate our multiple identities and be at home in our own and diverse skins. Trying to be someone else and neglecting to do our own work with our own ethnic group or our own faith community is not healthy or productive.

Bringing a post colonial framework to oppressed communities means that we are intentional about what we do and why we do it and that we take the time to understand the history of our clients and that we listen to their stories as we help them to recover. Becoing border people means going where they are - at the borders. Our priviledges afford us the luxury of moving back and forth from the margins to the center. Helping to connect them with resource to translate the storys of people we engagewe can help provide the "gift of tongue" while learning to speak from diverse perspectives.

How do pastoral theologians make a difference outside the classroom? Outside the sanctuary? We can make a difference by focusing on the recovery of self and acts of restoration for our clients and for ourselves. We can learn to listen to those on the bottom who in the eyes of society have been marginalized as we also try to eliminate the bottom. We can identify sacred texts utilizing motifs that are empowering. We can develop comfort for ambiguity. We can become ranscultural and most of all we can become border people.

All is Known and All is Forgiven - Let Us Begin Anew Each Day!

Blessed Be!

Puerto Rican Pentecostal Feminista

Workshop presenter, Rev. Miriam E. Figueroa-Aponte, on June 14, 2007 espousing on her topic, a Puerto Rican Pentecostal Women's Pastoral Theology.

Rev. Miriam E. Figueroa-Aponte on right - Luncheon on final day of the conference. That is sister Zorina the third from the right. We discovered that we both were participants of the Venceramous Brigade back in the early 1970s.

The Voice of a Pentecostal Woman in San Juan, Puerto Rico
By Qiyamah A. Rahman

I attended a conference sponsored by the Society for Pastoral Theology, June 14-16, 2007 in San Juan, Puerto Rico titled, Doing Pastoral Theology in a Post-Colonial Context: Intercultural Models of Pastoral Care and Theology. I listened with great interest to a two hour workshop conducted by the Reverend Miriam E. Figueroa–Aponte, B.S., M.Div..

Figueroa-Aponte is the first woman admitted into the doctoral program at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico – School of Theology in 2002. She has served eight years as co-pastor with her husband at a local Church of God congregation in San Juan. Figueroa-Aponte’s dissertation title is, Towards a Reconstruction of the Theological Understanding of the Pastoral Ministry of the Puerto Rican Pentecostal Woman: A Documentary and Ethnographic Study of Four Female Pastors of the Church of God, Mission Board in Puerto Rico. Figueroa-Aponte contends that, “the theological and the denominational policy on the pastoral ministry of the Church of God-Mission Board (CG-MB) in general and, in Puerto Rico in particular, allows women to exert positions of pastoral ministry, which are limited to the second level of credentials, according to the administrative system of the CG-MB.” Furthermore, Figueroa-Aponte asserts the following: “the CG-MB has surpassed many limitations, such credential policies are influenced by prejudiced theological constructs against women in the ministry and therefore, this is not simply an administrative problem but a theological issue.” Figueroa-Aponte’s research employs document analysis to establish historical and denominational manuals data. In addition her research will include ethnographic interviews with four key Pentecostal female subjects.
Figueroa-Aponte defies the stereotypes of Pentecostal women as passive, docile and submissive. From the onset of her presentation she declared to the audience that she was a feminist. Furthermore, if any further trepidations were harbored she contends that, “sexism is a sin. . . . It is an oppressive structure (the church). They should be modeling change to society. . . But as you know the church is always behind,” she asserted. She believes that women in the Pentecostal church struggle because they are marginalized. The third level of credentials required by the church apparently does not allow women to become recognized pastors. They can serve the church at the first level and be ordained at the second level. But only males can become Bishops and licensed at the third level. Nevertheless, women can minister, baptize and bury in Puerto Rico. Initially, women were ministers in Puerto Rico and Figueroa-Aponte reminisces about her earlier childhood days when she saw women functioning in all sorts of roles. “Initially women were ministers, but now, years later they are not allowed to be ministers,” she states. Even now, it is only in Puerto Rico that women can be ministers. In the States it is not permitted. “I feel so different. When I was growing up it was not like this. Women could talk, she said. “Women are in the struggle for survival. . . We have done so much in just forty years.”
“I feel an obligation to do things for Pentecostal women. . . . But I know I have to knock on doors at a higher level. . . I joined with me and women that believe in the ministry of women ministers,” she said.
There has to be an analysis of the oppression, she says. What is my struggle as a Puerto Rican woman? “We are dealing with the cure of the soul and we are convinced that God has called us by our name. We women have responded to the call,” she declares with passion. Figueroa-Aponte’s bishop has sometimes felt the need to curtail her enthusiasm and advocacy. On more than one occasion he has told her, “Miriam, you have to take it slow.” On still another occasion Bishop asked the following question as she approached the podium, “Mariam, are you going to take your earrings off?” Marian replied, “not really” and headed to the podium. “No one ever asked me about the earrings” she tells the audience. She sometimes poses the rhetorical question to those who would challenge her commitment and authority, “Do you believe I am a servant of God?” This question usually silences any opposition.
“Sometimes I am angry. Sometimes this anger helps me. I try to be polite and sometimes I am angry.” As for what she is learning she has this to say, “I am learning. Men seem to know abut the politics, but I am learning. I keep learning.
During her research Figueroa-Aponte was exposed to womanist theology after reading Sisters in the Wilderness by Delores Williams. She stated, “I began to understand the struggle of African American women.” As pentecostal women they consider the Bible to be the word of God. “Womanist theology gave a new meaning to the story of Hagar for example. Womanists have a slave heritage culture that transmitted to the liberating message of the Bible,” she explained. “Womanist theology extracted from the Bible those things that assured Blacks awareness and understanding of Gods love for the downtrodden. Pentecostalism is rooted deeply among the poor. They took the Bible stories and began to understand that God was the provider and healer.
Figueroa-Aponte explained her strategies for changing the policies of the church. “ I began talking at General Assembly years ago. The women used to have to sit in the back. Now they’re sitting in the front row,” she stated with a mischieveous grin on her face. “I am not in competition with men. We are in a complementary relationship. We complement each other.”
While the denominational headquarters in Cleveland, Tennessee does not allow female ministers, Figueroa-Aponte states matter of factly, “We convinced the (Puerto Rican) Assembly to allow women to be “counselors.” They have a council of twelve. Not surprisingly, Figuero-Aponte was elected as the first women council. A Latin American Bishop told Figueroa-Aponte, “I can’t believe we are arguing about women being a part of the council.” In the USA women are still not allowed on the council. However, Figueroa-Aponte maintains that many of the Caribbean and Latin American people are open to women being ministers.

The solutions that Figueroa-Aponte proposes are as follows: 1) women must begin to be theologians; 2) reread the Bible with suspicion; 3) reconstruction of ecclesiology and theology; 4) establish a center for the study of Puerto Rico and 5) consciousness of oppression

Figueroa-Aponte concluded the lecture with the following reminder, “to be silent is the worst sin.

Let us heed Rev. Miriam's words and not be silent in the face of oppression!

Blessed Be!