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I just went and saw Invictus. It made me miss South Africa. Thought I’d share a video from my friend Ryan who is living there for now.
I wrote this for class, but thought it might make for some conversation…Jason…
At Convention last Spring, the Diocese of San Diego heard Phyllis Tickle talk about “The Emergent Church” and cite one of my seminary professors, Bishop Mark Dyer, to say that every 500 years or so the church has “a rummage sale.” What exactly is emerging? The answer is up for grabs. As we shift from the “Modern” to the “Post-Modern” era some argue that we need a leader like Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western Monasticism. They say we need someone who can draw us into small communities which preserve Christianity as the world crumbles. I want to briefly examine this call for a renewed Church through a “new monasticism,” arguing not for a new Benedict but for a new Ignatius of Loyola.
The call for a “new Benedict” came perhaps most famously in the finals words of After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre, who argues that Western ethics is crumbling, but the idea is older. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “The restoration of the church will surely come from a sort of new monasticism.” Wilson-Hartgrove has founded a “new monastic community,” a small group of people who share common property and a rule of life. Some are married, some not. All are working for justice and sharing a Christian journey together. Such communities exist all over our country. The question is: how will these communities relate to the wider Church? Most are led and populated by pioneering young adults not attached to any denomination or structural body. If the Church to emerge anew, to be “restored” in the words of Bonhoeffer, the relationship of these communities to the wider body of Christ must be considered.
I don’t believe the Church is really looking for a new Benedict to draw up a plan to safeguard culture and faith in the storm. The search is for a new Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius was a contemporary of Martin Luther and lived in the midst of the great fights of the Reformation. The antithesis of Luther, Ignatius advocated total allegiance to the Church. He famously said, “I will believe that the white that I see is black, if the hierarchical Church so defines it.” Such a suspension of reason rightfully bothers members of the Protestant Episcopal Church, but it is a spirit of absolute commitment to the ongoing life of the Church which animates the statement. Ignatius founded an order, the Jesuits, whose members like Karl Rahner and Jon Sobrino have famously helped reshape the Roman Church. Francis Xavier, one of the first seven Jesuits, set a pattern for missionary service in the order that continues to this day. The ongoing commitment to the hierarchical life of the Church comes with a drive out into the world.
The principle difference I see between Benedict, as understood and called for by some in the discussion around “emergence,” and Ignatius, is directional. Those who argue for a “new Benedict” envision a Church behind monastic walls, guarding the valuable faith from the stormy future. A new Ignatius would call us out to engage in the world, with a strong commitment to the apostolic Church (hopefully with more room for independent thought.) An article in The Christian Century describes the new monastics saying “Each of the communities I visited seeks also to serve the wider church—and even to convert it.” If the goal of “the emergence” is to convert, reform, and engage the present Church, to help it to engage missionally in the world around it, we need not a new Benedict, but a new Ignatius.
The recent events in Honduras have gotten me re-mincing about my year there.
A late evening in November of 2005 my friends Lyra, Linda, and I drove back to San Pedro Sula from Tela, winding through banana plantations and the aftermath of tropical storm Gamma. The main bridge was out, so the trip took an extra hour. We listened to Maná as we passed by wooden shacks where a single light bulb glowed blue green in that distinctly Latin American way. We’d come to Tela to pass the day as the country voted for the next president. We were upset when we discovered that the elections meant that no beer was for sale, but contented ourselves with some great seafood and an incredible sunset.
The run up to the elections had been loud and fascinating. Every morning around 6:30am the trucks began driving outside my windows at El Hogar orphanage in Tegucigalpa, where I was serving as a year-long volunteer. The trucks were mounted with loudspeakers which played a short jingle and then urged voters to select either Mel or Pepe for president. There seemed to be very few formal debates, but every imaginable surface was covered with political posters, and the air was thick with campaign promises. The choice seemed to be between a corrupt socio-path (Pepe wanted to enforce the death penalty for seemingly any suspected gang member) and a corrupt mafia boss (Mel supposedly had ties to crime rings and covered up murders). Hondurans figured that whichever president was elected, they would embezzle a large portion of the aid that flows to the Western Hemisphere’s second poorest nation.
Honduras is not a left wing country. I remember my surprise at the incredible words of praise that Hondurans spoke about Presidente Bush. The US Military operates a huge military base in the center of the country which was used to manipulate wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua during the 1970s and 80s. Before that Honduras had largely been run by US banana companies, giving rise to the terminology “banana republic.” The power of the US military and business influence has made a small portion of the population very wealthy, and meant that many Hondurans uphold a strong capitalist, pro-US political voice.
Lyra and I used to joke that Hondurans were a people in need of a revolution. Compared to our travels in El Salvador, where there was a sense that the poor could rise up from their situation through education and working to change the governmental and social systems, Hondurans were downtrodden. They lacked a sense of drive and commitment to change. “Yes We Can” were not commonly chanted words in a culture that had constantly been subject to someone else’s military business.
This is partly why I find this week’s events so puzzling and sad. It seems that so few Hondurans are in support of President Mel Zelaya’s supposed swing leftward toward empowering the masses. I suspect this is because Hondurans do not trust their elected leadership. They figured the president would rob the people, and it seems from the reports of embezzling that he has been.
Even more puzzling to me is the international response. As we continue to hear calls from the US, UN, Organization of American States, and Chavez to reinstate the democratically elected president I wonder about the sincerity of the desire to help the Honduran people. Realistically the livelihood of the average Honduran took its most drastic downturn when the North American and Central American Free Trade Agreements and the subsidized prices of US agricultural products came together in a perfect storm that drove thousands of campesinos away from farming. Over 50% of Hondurans are unemployed and 1 out of every 6 Honduran citizens live in the United States legally or illegally sending money home to their families.
If we really wanted to help the Honduran people we would do more than try to reinstate a questionable leader. We would work to create a market situation in Central America where the family farmers could earn enough to provide housing, food, health care, and education for their families. We would force our companies who employ thousands of Hondurans in maquilas (assembly factories) to pay a living wage.
As Lyra, Linda, and I tumbled down the winding back roads on the way back to San Pedro the night of the election I was amazed by the stark beauty and stark poverty of Honduras. I remember a great feeling of gratitude to have the opportunity to get to know these people and this place. I gave thanks to God for the joys and challenges I was facing. Today my prayer is that the people I got to know in Honduras come forward from these challenging times with a chance to dream for a better future.
Context: I’ve been enrolled in a course this January looking at the Theology and Practice of Ministry. Part of the coursework involves Service Learning, basically working with a local non-profit and reflecting on the experience like any of the other text books. I’ve been assigned to the group at Martha’s Table, a major non-profit in DC focusing on education and poverty. Our particular ministry, McKenna’s Wagon, involves vans that head out into DC 365 days a year to serve dinner to the homeless.
While I’ve not experienced too much depth while filling bowls of soup, I can say the experience has caused me to think about the context of ministry, really the context of all we do. Our location social, cultural, geographic, economic and otherwise greatly shapes how we interact with the world. Back at UCSD a good 1/5 of my ministry occured online on facebook. Students regularly posed questions, organized meetings, even requested prayer online. Social networking happens in an entirely different way on the streets. The homeless of DC have different ways of communicating, different codes, different expectations of those who come among them as “ministers.”
Awareness of our own context, listening to our own lenses and the realities that shape our worldview helps us to understand the diverse perspectives from which humans interact. What would be considered effective and important ministry at UCSD would be useless to the men on the corner of New York Avenue. How much do we miss of one anothers communication because we are listening with ears attuned to another worldview?
At the same time, if action is to be called “ministry” it must be directional. It must point toward the Kingdom of God. While we begin with different tools and start from different places, we are all learning to walk in the same direction. The great unifier across great socio-cultural divides is the hope of Christ. That hope harmonizes with all of the different possible rhythms of human life. Still, we must be aware whether we are dancing the Mambo or Tango. We must not be tone-deaf to the needs of those around us. Expecting my model of service or ministry to function in any context is arrogance. If we are to serve others, we best ask what they need and truly listen.
The dynamic attention of living in the particularity of human life with a bend toward the ultimate reality of God has been lived in its completeness in the incarnation. Jesus was both incredibly contextual and completely subversive. Learning to both and, to live out of our human particularness and celebrate that particularness in others while doing our best to bend the world in the direction of God’s Reign is the art of Christian ministry, it belongs to each and every follower.
The highlights were definitely the elephant and lions. Our guide William was entertaining. Afrikaaner to the core, he listened to Rugby on the radio and told us stories of when he was a riot police officer in the Soweto Township during the Apartheid era. The physical beauty of South Africa was an important part of our trip, and the Kruger and surrounding area were a good introduction to this.
of it reading “The Horizontal World: Growing Up in the Middle of Nowhere,” a book Sam was required to read so he can discuss it with the incoming freshmen at his college. The book was a disaster of a thing, but we barreled through and finished before we arrived at the monastery late that night. We spent the next day touring the Cathedral and town of Grahamstown with Cortney Dale, a new YASC volunteer in Grahamstown. It was fun to compare notes based on my YASC year in Honduras. We had a good time with the monks and even got to meet some of my new seminary classmates who were in town for a contextual theology class at the College of the Transformation, South Africa’s only residential seminary.
what was endured by so many for the hope of freedom. The next morning we met up with two of my former residents, Ryan again and his freshmen roommate Anderson who happened to be visiting at the same time. We finished our time in South Africa with Eucharist at the Cathedral in Capetown before getting back on the plane to head home to Colorado.