Monday, March 27, 2006

liberation theology: unity not uniformity

In my church history class we've made it to the twentieth century. Now, there are many things not to be proud of in twentieth century church history, but there are some to be proud of as well. One of those is liberation theology. We're not reading much for my theology class (although apparently next semester for theology we'll have profs who are more interested in liberation theology, which is nice), but at least we're reading some in church history. This week we're reading the introduction to Gustavo Gutierrez's "A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation."

I really like his perspective on liberation theology. He's talking about balancing the themes of love and liberation, freedom for all people, with the admonition to remain focused on the fact that it is from the teaching of Christ--and therefore the Bible and the God of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures--out of which this doctrine has arisen. I'm glad (I think I'm glad, anyway...) it's not just Quakers that struggle with retaining this balance. It seems like so many Friends fall off this tight-rope one direction or the other so easily. But it is from the overwhelming power of liberation through Life-which-has-overcome in the life and teaching of Jesus that the power of our doctrine of peace and justice gets its meaning. This is where the early Quakers got the doctrine from, and it's the spring out of which I attempt to live in as just and peaceful a manner as I can.

This does not mean, however, that we all have to use the same language to describe what we're doing, and that's something else I appreciate about Gutierrez's piece that we're reading. He suggests that theology needs to be created out of the context in which the people who practice it are embedded. So when Christianity was brought to Latin America and church leaders attempted to cause it to continue in the form which had developed in its European setting, it became empty--a bunch of disconnected ideas with no meaning in their Latin American context. Until those in Latin America began to make Christian theology their own, to see the strong emphasis in the Christian message for the poor and marginalized, until they saw their own situation and lifted their own voices to feel and share this message, it was meaningless for that group of cultures.

Now they are speaking a prophetic word to the world, a word that says, "Listen! Hear God through the disenfranchised." This is the gospel message, in their own language, a message that is for the whole world but again must not be applied directly to every other context. Instead it must be molded to the context which receives it, while the truth of the message still remains intact. This is where the problem lies, because how do we know we're being true to the message unless we speak the same "language" (and I'm not really talking about Spanish here)?

Gutierrez says, "Authentic universality does not consist in speaking precisely the same language but rather in achieving a full understanding within the setting of each language." It's not that we all have to speak and act exactly the same way--this is uniformity. But instead we are called to take the time to understand one another, and see the Light of God in one another, and to allow that Light to inform how we live in our own context. This is true unity, a universality that allows for diversity and truth.

One of my favorite singer/songwriters, David Wilcox (who I've quoted on here before), has a song about listening for understanding. When he explained it in a concert (and on his Live Songs and Stories CD) he said that this unity is like having a disagreement with someone you love: if you take the time to listen, sometimes you get so far into their perspective that you can hardly remember what your own argument was! He says he loves it when that happens--it's like a figure-ground picture. "Same dots, same data, different picture!"

Kinda' like the blind men and the elephant...

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