Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Ninth Day of Christmas: Latin American reflection and appeal


The fund-raiser for the City of God ends on the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

This means we only have a few days left in which to give.

Dig deep, folks. Our sisters and brothers in Cidade de Deus could use some of our cash, hard-earned or easily won. It's all useful. Five dollars, five hundred dollars, seven euros, seven hundred euros, eighteen pounds sterling, eighteen hundred pounds sterling. No gift too small, no gift too large.

More dramatic appeals from cyber-friends friends here and here and here. With photos! And the occasional hard sell, complete with threat to cute puppies.

Please give! Details here.

Checks or cheques, however you prefer to spell the word. Also PayPal. Take your pick. Or do both!

And now, your theological reflection for the day.

One jargon theological word explanation: "eschatology" is the part of theology that deals with "the last things" i.e. the end of time, the goal of salvation, life beyond this life, the end of the world as we know it, the future of our lives. It is related to how Christians understand history, salvation, liberation, suffering, and the present.

Okay, now the reflection.

Ivone Gebara writes:

According to traditional eschatology, all humanity, corrupted by the fall, is in its entirely promised eternal salvation. To the universality of sin is opposed the universality of salvation, and this salvation is imposed by force or, as some Pentecostal churches do, by using radio and television to spread a simplistic and dangerous message. Salvation is offered; it is enough merely to accept it. These churches, like the global market, dominate people and encourage people to become dangerously alienated, often leading to their human damnation in concrete history. In the face of the actual manipulations of the salvation of the afterlife, I say that I prefer the known and unknown limits of this earth rather than to fly off to a heaven proposed by theologians but one whose substance I do not know. I prefer to stay enmeshed in the dust of the earth rather than to mount to a sky white and perfect. I prefer, for my last sigh and my last repose, the arms of the earth --which, according to the book of Genesis, is the place where God walks.

Beyond what is imagined by reason, there is something imagined by desire, poetry, beauty. This concept of the imagination bets on life without mathematical certitude; it bets simply because life is worth being loved and lived to the full. It is so little, but it is so beautiful! It is beautiful in its fragility, and everything beautiful has something fragile in it and something ephemeral. This eschatology commingled with earth --the cycle of life, the year's season, the bodies of animals, plants, and flowers-- this human and larger-than-human eschatology warms the heart a great deal. It matters in the being and thought of many women; it mobilizes their art, their politics, their philosophy, their cuisine, their tenderness, their history, and their theology.

I daresay that we women, while having respect for the "kingdom" of God, which epitomizes the ministry of Jesus, do not proclaim any kingdom, because even the notion of the kingdom of God seems to have a face too male and authoritative. We proclaim quite simply the deep desire and the urgent necessity of having our individual and collective body more widely respected. We dream of a tender justice; we yearn for democracy and respect for the res publica. Our theology is one of gratuitousness, one that goes beyond rationalist discourse, bypasses it, does not enter the prison of rigid concepts. We believe in the dimension of "not-knowing," a fundamental dimension of our being, a not-knowing that makes us more humble and at the same time more combative in order to gain respect for differences and the possibility of building an interdependent society. We look for a Wisdom in life, a Wisdom that teaches us to share our goods and the goods of the earth, so as not to have any "needy person" among us (Acts 4:34).

Beginning from this vision, which forms part of our daily life and of our body, we may recover an ethical, fundamental dimension for the life of every being. This is a matter of living an ethic that forms part of the core of the human being, of our body of our possibilities for tenderness and solidarity, of our questions of every day. This new vision, including both male and female, can be one contribution of feminist theology of Latin America to our Western theological tradition.

*****- Ivone Gebara, Out of the Depths: Women's Experience of Evil and Salvation (2002; original edition 1999, in French)

Ivone Gebara, a Brazilian Sister of Notre Dame, is one of Latin America's leading theologians. She holds doctorates in both philosophy and theology and taught for many years at the (now defunct) Theology Institute of Recife, where Dom Helder Camara was archbishop. She is the author of many books and articles including Mary: Mother of God, Mother of the Poor (1989, written with Maria Clara Bingemer) and Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation (1999). She ran into trouble with the Vatican for having favored the legalization of abortion in Brazil. From living in a poor neighborhood and daily contact with poor women, she knew the circumstances that drove women --many of them already devoted mothers-- to seek illegal abortions and the way in which these often resulted in maternal deaths. Legalization, writes Gebara's translator (for the book quoted above) Ann Patrick Ware, "was only one small aspect of a broader struggle in what she called 'an abortive society,' that is, a society that does not offer jobs, health care, housing, or education to poor women.

For a handy summary of the three phases of Latin American feminist theology according to Elsa Tamez (Costa Rica and Mexico) and Ivone Gebara (Brazil) --the summary is by Judy Ress (U.S. and Chile)-- see here.

How did Ivone Gebara, who lived for many years in a poor neighborhood of Recife, in Northeast Brazil, become involved in feminist theology? According to an article in U.S. Catholic (January 2003), Gebara said:

Let me tell you about a key event for me. I was leading a Bible study for a group of about a dozen workers in Recife, where I live. I was the only woman in the group.

The wife of the worker at whose home the meetings took place never joined the discussions. I kept asking her to join us, but she wouldn't. I felt really uncomfortable about that, so I decided to visit her one day. I asked her, "Why don't you want to study the gospel with us?"

She said, "You really want to know?"

I said, "Of course!"

And she said, "Because I do not understand what you are saying. You have a male language."

I said, "Me?" I was so upset! "No, I don't have a male language."

She said I did. I asked her for an example. So she said, "When you read the gospel, you always take examples from the life of industrial workers in the union. You analyze political issues. You talk about how the workers need to get together and discuss issues."

I said, "Yes, that's true."

"But you never talk about how we women are suffering. You never talk about Friday."

"Friday?" I asked. "Why Friday?"

She said, "Because Friday is the last day of the week, and it's the worst day for women because we have no money to buy our children food. And you never talk about our sexuality. You do not know about men and women's sexuality--what we can suffer. You never talk about children's education or the absence of men in our home. You never talk about the way we women want or need to be loved."

She was right, I didn't talk about these issues. So for me this was an eye-opening conversation. I began to become more aware of the questions in women's lives. Sure, unions and politics are also women's concerns, but they're not the only thing. I became more aware of the special suffering of women, and of how my own language wasn't inclusive....

[Actually posted at 1 p.m. on January 3, but I changed the time to late January 2 to keep with the Twelve Days of Christmas schedule.]

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