Olympic travelers were told to get to Rio’s Galeão airport 6 (yes that’s 6) hours ahead of their flights today. The airport is expected to be crowded today. But not as crowded as the streets of Rio. Rio traffic is notoriously congested, full of people who live there and want to get where they need to go.
Those airport instructions, just like the geography in my blog title, have little to do with Brazilians.
Rio is definitely not emptying out today. And if you identify with the idea that “the Olympics are over and I am going home”, then you aren’t from Rio.
But you did just get through an amazing 15 day opportunity to learn about Brazil, even if Brazil is not the place from which you enter and know the world.
In Rio, the party is over and for the moment, there is lots to clean up and put away. Life will probably go back to where it was. Back to work. The old rules apply again. Special, temporary rules let drunken American goldmedalist swimmers abuse Rio’s reputation to hide their own violence, irresposibility and arrogance. But now they are gone. The old rules are back. Brazilians can manage their own violence again along with daily lives of both victims and perpetrators, in big cities where many people struggle to survive.
For Cariocas Rio is home! Rio is not a place to go home from. It’s their starting place! It is a Brazilian place from which to know the world. And religion has a lot to do with the place from whence they start. I wrote four blogs at the beginning of the Olympics, in which I tried to point out what would not be visible in the media coverage.
I wrote four posts about how Brazilians enter the world from a uniquely religious place:
- Brazilians enter the world as religious innovators. Brazilians are much more diverse religiously than a pie chart can portray. They have created, and exported new varieties of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and Spiritism.
- Brazilian Christianity is perhaps more evangelical, protestant and pentecostal than it is Roman Catholic . But don’t get confused. You cannot map Brazilian Christianity to the same labels as American or European Christianity. Brazilians are so innovative. They transform anything they receive and make something Brazilian out of it. Evangelical, Protestant, Pentecostal and even Catholic mean something very different in Brazil from what they mean in the United States and Europe.
- Brazil is the world. Like Americans, Brazilians draw on a history of immigration, mixing of cultures, for their religious innovation and outreach. Differences in sources of migrants and relations between them go a long way toward explaining how they engage the the world with a different perspective on religion.
- In Brazil, evangelicalism is a form of resistance. In their attempt to follow Jesus into a world of exploitation and oppression, Brazilians are constantly inviting exploited and oppressed people to join them in following Jesus. I told one story about how they used the Olympics to resist the powerful global forces that perpetuate all kinds of injustice in Brazil.
In the global north, we don’t begin our relation to the rest of world from a perspective of intentional and outspoken religion. That would be too aggressive and show our lack respect for other cultures, religions and for non-religion. Instead we often begin from our geopolitical and commercial project. Our soldiers are ready to go anywhere in the world to fight for democracy.
In the humanitarian space, international institutions (like FIFA and the Olympic Committee), promote “tolerance” by managing or banning expressions of faith, as if faith were a performance enhancing drugs. The global north enters the world with post-colonial sensitivities. It wants to avoid a repeat of the time when a particular religion was associated with global (colonial) power. The result is a kind of secularism in which religion is a private, personal matter.
Not so with Brazilians. Religion is up front, it is a starting point for many. Not having the power to impose religion colonially or legally on the world (or on Brazil for that matter) they enter the world from a different perspective. Human flourishing is to be pursued in a world of religious diversity. Personally, I think theirs is a great foundation for finding a way and giving testimony about Christ in the religiously diverse global context. Life in the wide world involves making claims about God, and expecting to talk about the differences. Brazilians are happy to discuss and argue religion, beliefs and practices, and rarely will you hear of religion as a reason to kill people. Tolerance plays differently from Brazil. There it does not silence religion; and it does not have the power to surpress the claims of religious rivals.
Brazilian soccer superstar Neymar is outspoken about his Christian faith, despite pressure from FIFA to keep his religion out of the public view. He regularly celebrates his victories with a head band that says “100% Jesus.” But last year FIFA pictures of the Barcelona victory in the European Cup had airbrushed the words off of his headband.
For Cosme Rimoli a sports writer for R7 — a Brazilian media outlet that is tied to one very powerful, but marginal, religious group–FIFA is the one that is being intolerant. In his article he made a very important observation about religion in Brazil.
“The player is an evangelical. As a boy, he often used the same headband to thank Jesus Christ. But now Neymar is feeling the brunt of religious intolerance. It’s one thing to use the headband as a young man, in Santos. After all, Brazil is a secular country that accepts all faiths. It is common here for a Jew to be friends with a Palestinian. A spiritualist to be married to a Umbanda. There is tolerance. Crimes committed in the name of religion are rare.”
Just because he invokes Jesus, Neymar does not get a free pass, though. After the game, he was filmed in an ugly and aggressive exchange of words with a fan. Evangelical leaders responded today by calling themselves to greater integrity. Felipe Fulanetto wrote on his Facebook page:
Integral mission not concerned only with executing the entire mission of Christ in all of society, but also with the integrity of the evangelist in mission. Mission without holiness is like the wind, it emits sound, but it only lasts for a time.
Cassiano Luz, the leader of the Brazilian Cross-cultural missions association, posted:
A dichotomous perspective has grown in our midst that will produce a religion full of speech but lifeless. This is a warning first to myself. We need to think of how to address this issue in our families and churches.
So, after Brazilians hosts the world for the Olympics, Brazilian evangelicals who are thinking about the world do so with serious introspection. They want to pay attention to who they are and how they follow Jesus in the world.
The Olympics were a great opportunity to revisit their connection in the world. Flavio Ramos wrote about that connection, in light of the Neymar controversy, ” Jesus não quer marketing, ele quer testemunho e andar de modo digno do evangelho ~ Jesus doesn’t want better marketing, he wants (lived) testimony and living in a manner that is worthy of the gospel.” (my adaptation for clarity).
During the Olympics, the banner on the Martureo Facebook page asked “Rio 2016: what might this encounter of Brasil with the world mean in terms of the mission of Christ?”
For months to come, Brazilians will be working on this question. Indeed, they have already been working on it.
This is what we are talking about when we talk about “Missiological Reflection.” Missiological reflection is what we in Martureo want to see more of. That’s why we are the Brazilian Center for Missiological Reflection. If we do it right, when Brazilians reflect on the mission of Christ, it will make a positive difference in all the world, and in our own. In different ways, we are participating in Servo de Cristo Seminary and with South American Theological Seminary (SATS) during the the next couple months, as they focus Brazilian missiological reflection on the mission of Christ in two particular global contexts: first, seeking “new paradigms to giving testimony about Christ among Buddhists” and, then, following Christ into mission in the context of human movment and global diasporas.