Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Examining Text in Context. (Further Reflections of Orientation)

The order of each day was in a similar format; opening worship, morning devotion, presentation covering a wide range of topics, and usually a time to separate into the small groups we created to reflect and share our personal positions. Then we'd meet back up for evening worship.Out of the whole week, I’ll take a little time sharing some of the key discussion that moved inside me personally.
First I must make mention of Rick Chase, who alongside his wife and a crew of wonderful of employees run the Stony Point Retreat Center in Stony Point, New York. Rick’s call to the life of ministry through activism and global peace alliances, took a big start when He came to Tucson, Arizona in 80's to help aid the humanitarian crisis of South and Central American refugees who were escaping civil war. He unexpectedly stayed for many years and founded the Border Links organization, which to this day is a thriving force of education and activism for social issues alongside the US/Mexico Border. He has extensive experience in global  peace-building alliances working alongside the Presbyterian Church (PC USA).Through all these experiences, Rick has grown to identify the importance of human relationships and the power of Love that allows men and women to rise beyond violence.
The Stony Point Retreat Center is home to a multifaith community of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim members. The community lives to embody love and hospitality; seeking to find common grounded relationships among people of  different faith backgrounds. There are several large gardens on site where volunteers and members of the community work to produce food for the main kitchen… which I must say, was some of the best food I've eaten in my life. It was a refreshing experience for me to see that even in all the current engagements of dominance and overpowering in the world, there are communities such as this one, engaging and confronting the true conflict of reconciliation, peace, and acceptance through humility. 
Rick lead our morning devotions with some pretty insightful studies. From the beginning he showed us a few very useful tools he's picked up from a dear friend named Ched Myers, who takes a radically alternative route in digesting scriptures and learning how to examine the words of Jesus in political context. Every passage we examined there was a direct link to the political and social inequality that Jesus was, from interpretation, throwing on the conversation table. This specific tool comes from an exercise Rick learned working alongside activist in south america. It's a full circle procedure in response to real life situations; in this case the biblical text.
  First, "Ver", which means, " to see"; and that goes beyond the physical ability of sight and more about notices specific words and phrases that stand out. Second is "Pensar", or "to think"; meditate on the situation and the context it has for the place or time it occurred in. And this is often where outside sources of information about the location and cultural can be used to find a completely new perspective. Third is, "Actuar" or "to Act"; what call of action does this text or situation compel us not to ignore. From my  personal perspective, when this tool is applied, especially in context to understanding the passages of Jesus' teachings, there is a new depth of perception that we can find. I appreciate the way Rick would read the text for each procedure, so that by the end of study we had heard it at least three times,  and I would encourage the same for anyone interested. So... ready to practice? This was one of my favorite passages he talked about; Matthew 25:14-30 the story of the wealthy land owner. 

14 “‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. 15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. 16 Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. 18 But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. 19 After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
20 “‘So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, “Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.” 21 His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” 22 He also who had received two talents came and said, “Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.” 23 His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”
24 “‘Then he who had received the one talent came and said, “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.”
26 “‘But his lord answered and said to him, “You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.
29 “‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”
Who is the wealthy land owner representing, and what does it mean for the servants to working so hard to seek his approval? Is there a role in this parable that we feel/ought to feel we identify with? And what is Jesus attempting to convey about the kingdom of heaven by comparing it to a poor servant who at the point of confronting abusive and unjust power, is rob of all his resources and brutally punished?...... Sure made me put my thinking cap on. 

   Combating White racial dominance with Anti-Racism (The Corn in the Foot)

  The presentation was called, “Critical Cultural Competency”, and it was led by two extremely transparent and empowering women one of which is Jessica Vazquez Torres and they are  members of a national group Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. The goal as I now see it was to examine and dispel the current racial Binary (white/non-white), created through the existence of Cultural Dominance in today’s society. Racism has a deeply complex story in America specifically, and understanding the connection of collective thinking, brings new light to personal experiences and their role in a much larger system .What first hand evidence of racial discrimination lives around us even to this day? And have the systems that are at play, between public policies, separations of resources, and the complexity of global relations allowed us all to become complacent to this system of injustice? This presentation was all day long, so of course I can’t cover the entire conversation but  there were several keys points that I personally began wrestling with. 
 By far one of her main illustration stayed in my head for a while. Jessica explained how several years ago she had formed a corn on the heel of her foot. At first, she just lived with the minimal pain and figured it would deal with itself. But after some time, she started getting some severe pain in her shoulders, and decided to see some professional help. The muscle therapist asked the usual questions, them came to the understanding that she was a individual  that carried the emotional and physical wait of most of her problems right on her shoulders. At first, she had nothing much to mention that seemed significant, but she recalled the corn that had formed. The pain of the corn had been displaced into her shoulders and she knew she could no longer ignore it. But unfortunately she informed that there was little that could be done because even after the surgically removal, it would most likely just grow back again.
  Now, here's the importance. Jess has come to see the social injustice of the current Racial Binary; "white's/non-whites", as the corn in the foot. The understanding there is a system at play, that is only a reflection of the mass illusion being sold everyday that trust comes in the color of one's skin and destiny follows race, and it's often times winning and we all end up taking it's side, consciously or unconsciously. It  is the reality of a broken system of injustice we ourselves live in, and the only way to acknowledge it, is to embrace the pain it causes, which in turn creates of unavoidable presence in our lives. This was her ultimate call of encouragement  for all of us this year and further on, to allow the presence of this pain in the world to be the very thing that keeps us from coping, growing accustom, and ignoring it. 
   There were several other speakers through out the week, and each of them offered critical information to digest through out this next year. I am excited for the experiences ahead and the growth that is bound to unfold. One of the main lines of encouragement they gave was, "A YAV year is not about doing, but rather learning how to be." The accomplishments are not in the built things, or all the food I attempt to grow, but rather the constant conscious decision to be present with people making a presence in their lives. Thanks again for all ya'll continuous support, and please continue to keep me  in your thoughts and prayers. 

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