(Dis)unity and Protestant Theology

Should I be I surprised when good Christians argue over theology — over who God is and how he relates to humans?    Jesus said that unity should characterize his followers.  But we Protestants have long been divided, and continue to divide more.

A history of dividing, not of unity, is built into the label “Protestant”. European Continue reading “(Dis)unity and Protestant Theology”

Martureo

In late April, I started a new job in Brazil.  I am now the Executive Coordinator for Martureo:  the Brazilian Center for Missiological Reflection.

Marcos Amado founded Martureo to produce resources Brazilians need to assess their experience in global mission and chart a course for the future.

When Lois and I went as missionaries to Brazil in the 70’s we believed Brazilians should not so much receive missionaries as send them.  Over the next few decades that is exactly what happened.  A movement of Brazilians in global mission emerged and grew. Continue reading “Martureo”

Immigrants, take America back!

The cover of Atlantic Magazine this month asks if America can put itself back together again. Convoluted thinker that I am, I wondered where this “again” came from and where (or who) some people want to take America “back” from (of course some of us know that it is on the brink).

When was America “together” in the first place?  If there was a time when this country was not on the brink, your ancestors may have missed it.  Some of mine were in “the home country” until the Gold Rush, and others didn’t come until the 20th Century.  On the other hand, maybe some of yours were already here.  That’s possible if you are from an old California or Texas family with a Spanish last name family, but then maybe “America” was about to invade them. Continue reading “Immigrants, take America back!”

On living a charmed life—gift #1—thanks to you!

Lois and I have been entrusted with gifts and privileges over the years.  Such things may come ultimately from God, but they are delivered through people like you.  Two special gifts  came this month and reminded me why we say “entrusted.”  We get gifts so we can use them responsibly.
The first gift was when we found an old recipe book of Brazilian recipes from a women’s meeting on our first visit back from from Brasil.
Let’s go back a few steps:  Before we got married, we decided to be missionaries.  A year after tying the knot, we moved to Brazil — 25 and 23 years old!
Leaving for Brazil

We started our family in Brazil, and then raised our daughters in Guatemala.  Some people thought we were really dedicated—giving away our lives—but we always thought we were on the receiving end, getting many more good things than we ever gave up.

The recipe book, and the prayers of friends
The first gift I got this month was an old recipe book with only five recipes.  It’s old, and typed on a typewriter.  We aren’t exactly sure when this little booklet was made. The introduction includes language that often made us feel uncomfortable because it implied that we were doing something particularly special.  It also made Brazilians out to be poor and needy, and our friends in Brazil were very much like us.  Sometimes our friends nurtured ideas of Brazil that was might have been more consistent with the Amazon jungle than with the very urban context of the two cities we lived in.  Not only was the jungle 5 hours away by plane, the cities we lived in were amazingly modern, in some ways beyond what we had experienced in the USA.  São Paulo (15 million people then) was enormous and an industrial powerhouse .  Curitiba (3 million) was a great city to live in, and a global standard setter for good urban planning.
What made this booklet a gift was also in the introduction.
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Something more important than the mis-conceptions about who we were and where we lived, was the willingness of our friends to make special efforts to pray for us.  We were the privileged ones because we were on the receiving end of the prayers of many more people than anyone we knew.  Many still pray for us.  We get all the benefits.
Its mysterious to some, but God seems to pay attention when people turn to him and cry out for help on behalf of others.  We were those “others” for whom our friends cried out to God.  It’s not like bad things never happened to us.  But it is true that the bad things never STAYED bad.  People we hardly knew kept talking to Him about us.
I have attached a link to the entire cookbook.  It has five great, and simple, recipes for Brazilian food that we still love to this day.
How to use this gift responsibly?  I think the answer is hidden behind the second gift I received recently, and I will post about that in the next couple of days.
But using this gift responsibly begins by saying THANK YOU!
You have made a huge difference in our lives.  All the joyful pictures and family joys that we post on Facebook, are because of you.  The skills we have now and use to serve others — Lois helping students at the High School to find their way to College, and me, standing as an ally for Latin Americans as they enter a world of conflict, oppression and need in the name of Jesus , so that they can offer blessing and well-being and encourage others to follow Jesus—these are special skills and we have them because you gave us a context in which to grow and develop them.  Thank you.

Learning to Listen to the Bible

From time to time I get to teach a class at ELET (Escuela Latinoamericana de Estudios Teológicos) in El Cerrito, California.  Most of my students are immigrants.  They are hard workers who, after a hard day of work, come to spend a couple of hours and work hard to pay close attention to the text and let the Bible examine them.

I am learning to keep a blog where I hope to keep my Students engaged.  To be honest, I still can’t figure out if it helps them, but it sure helps me gather my scattered thoughts and focuses me on helping them listen to the Bible.

One of the things that has surprised me Continue reading “Learning to Listen to the Bible”

Christian targets.

Last week I overheard a conversation between Kenyan Christians and Nigerian Christians about decisions they would have had to make when people they know are targetted to die because they are Christians. What kind of world they want to create by their response?

A lot of Christians in the United States claim that they are also targeted by opponents.  Some see in this a growing “persecution.” Continue reading “Christian targets.”

Language of the colonialists

Reflections on my way back from Southern Africa.

While I was in Zambia, I visited the village of Mantanyani with Johanna Rohde, a long-time friend of our daughter Emily who is working there with Peace Corps.  I was struck with the gentle leadership of the village provided by Elliot the Headman, who appears here with his wife Silvia.  IMG_3461His job and heartfelt commitment is the well-being of the people of his village.

Johanna and I took a side trip to Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River, where I was struck by the huge contrast between the everyday live of Mantanyani compared to the very European/American tourist life around Victoria Falls. IMG_3470It is easy o see here how Colonialism has enduring effects on the the lives of people even though the legal formations of the colonial empire have been removed.

In my visit to Zambia and Victoria Falls, I witnessed first-hand how the enduring power of colonialism continues to define the relation of people to other people, and to keep us Northern Europeans in positions of power (and being waited upon). I felt ashamed that I have not worked harder for justice. What will it take to make it possible for the world to be enriched by the contributions of people and their languages that have been pushed to the margins? Their marginalization is colored by those who have claimed to be at the center or by those who, like me, are located in a “center” we were born into. Our experiences of the world are supported by others who were born at the “margins” as defined by that center.

Victoria Falls appears more like a site in European History, than as a location in African geography. It’s full of white people enjoying the Falls and the stories about Livingstone and the colonial period, while being served by Zambians who cannot afford to enjoy the place.

I am hoping someday humanity will find a way to communicate with each other that will reflect better the languages in which humans know and serve the King of all the earth. Meanwhile we seem to be stuck using the language of the colonialists. Here I am writing in English.