Advent with Romero, Week 3

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The Word [lit. “Verb”] Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us
December 17th, 1978

Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

“One day we were explaining here a word that I tried to analyze: kenosis. You will remember, kenosis is humiliation, it is anonomizement, it is undoing oneself, disappearing. With that word is expressed this act of humility of the God that is infinite and eternal and is enclosed in the womb of a young virgin to be born flesh.” (67)

In lieu of writing a little bit about multiple themes in Monseñor Romero’s Advent III sermon (as I did for his Advent II sermon last week), I decided to tackle one particular theme: namely, his conception of kenosis and how it applies to Advent.

Stick with me while I get ever-so-slightly technical/nerdy. Kenosis is a Greek word meaning “emptiness.” The noun kenosis does not itself appear in the Bible, though its associated verb does appear on several occasions, most famously in Paul’s letter to the Phillipians :

Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form. [Phillipians 2:6-7][1]

Most theologians have an opinion about what kenosis is, what it means, and how it is supposed to theologically apply to our lives as Christians. Romero is no exception. He does not go into a major explanation of what he means by this term in this particular sermon, but he does do this in a later sermon that he preached two weeks later, on Christmas Eve[2]:

“Brothers [and sisters], this coming of Christ on the night of Christmas is a humble coming; humble to the point that theology calls it kenosis, that is to say, “humiliation”, that is to say, disappearing. It is when Saint Paul tells us that Christ, having God’s dignity, did not pay attention to this dignity, but rather that he humiliated himself to the point of being born as a man and, afterwards, live that life humble and poor, unto the most disgusting humiliation that history knows, a crucified one. For this Christ is born for his kenosis, for his humiliation.” (109)

To clarify: I do not think that Romero is saying that Jesus’ life, which was one of poverty and suffering, was “humiliating” in the usual English sense of the word. I think he means it in a broader sense of “the sensation one experiences when one suffers an offense caused by someone or something.” For Christ, to be humiliated was to be humiliated as the campesinos (rural people) of Romero’s El Salvador were (and are); they suffered unjustly at the hands of their government and they lived in desperate, wrenching, structurally-imposed poverty. Furthermore, Jesus disappears Godself into a human body, into human flesh, just as Salvadoran bodies were disappearing at the hands of the military, the death squads, and anonymous, inescapable poverty. As Romero says, if Jesus were to show up to Mass in the very Cathedral where he was preaching, he would look like one of the poor rural people visiting from the Salvadoran countryside. You would not be able to pick him out of the throng. This is solid, ancient Christian theology, applied quite blatantly and honestly in a context where it was politically dangerous to do so.

Romero’s understanding of kenosis leads to this theological question: if God emptied Godself into a poor, oppressed body, what does that say about poor, oppressed bodies?

And if God not only incarnated but also continues to incarnate in bodies like these, then what do you think God thinks about societies, about nations, that treat these bodies horribly? That continue to structurally and socially oppress the poor? That continue to oppress other groups of people?

These are important things to ponder during the third week of Advent, I think.

[1] Some biblical scholars believe that these verses were part of a very early Christian confession—something like the Apostles or Nicene Creed, but much older than either of them.

[2] From the Christmas Vigil (December 24th, 1978).

Top image retrieved from: https://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/learn-from-history-archive-posts-documents-to-remember-archbishop-oscar-romero/

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Advent with Romero, Week 2

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Poster/photo of Romero found  in the “Sala de los Martires” at the University of Central America (UCA).

“And for that reason, these three readings, that want to give Christian spirituality to this Sunday and to this week speak to us, precisely, of that destination of man that corresponds to the desire for God.” (47)

Before I get into dissecting this week’s sermon, which was not quite as theologically rich as last week’s (though still very powerful), I want to make a quick remark about Romero’s life. When Romero was named archbishop, the wealthy, elite, and military of El Salvador cheered because he was a quiet, bookish intellectual who was not going to involve himself in the brewing civil conflict. By choosing not to speak out against the structural injustices in his country, he was going to implicitly defend their use of wealth and power to oppress, kill, and destroy. Or so they thought.

But then his friend and fellow priest, Fr. Rutillio Grande, was killed for his liberating work with the poor, and Romero surprised everyone by becoming a defender of the poor, the oppressed, and the voiceless.

What’s my point? That Monseñor Romero could have stayed out of the mess and lived. He could have remained protected by the privilege and power that his position gave him. Instead, he chose not to remain safe. He chose to put his life on the line to defend others. He chose to speak out, despite the cost. Like Esther and Jesus and Bonhoeffer and so many heroes and saints that went before him, he relinquished the safety of his privilege in order to preach the Gospel, to tell the truth.

We have a lot to learn from him. #blacklivesmatter #icantbreathe

The Lord is Coming, Let Us Prepare the Way for Him
Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

As usual, there is so much going on in this homily that it is difficult to condense. The quote above honestly sums it up quite nicely: Romero argues that these readings are about humanity’s desire (or craving, as he puts it) for God—and how we try to satisfy that craving by worshiping things that are not God. If I had to boil it down to three main themes, however, it would be the three outlined below.

Human beings and God have a natural desire for unity with one another, and only this union with God can truly filly us.

Quoting a Vatican II document, Romero states that, “The highest reason for human dignity consists in the vocation of man to the union with God.”[1] Following from that, he argues that, “Man is only happy, and only a man that has this trust and that complete surrender to God possesses plentitude and truth and happiness.” (47) God and mankind have a “mutual attraction” towards one another because “God created us for Him” (47). As Saint Augustine wrote and Romero quotes here: “You created us for you and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

This is how Romero reads the passage from Isaiah: it is a poetic expression of every human being’s desperate longing to be with God, “the craving for God’s appearance, reclaiming the dignity of being an image of God” (47). Of course, it also represents the craving of an oppressed people—one that had lost the city and the temple where they believed their God literally resided—for the presence of God to return to them: “It was what Isaiah felt and wanted to express in this transformation of dryness to a garden…to express, in this way, the joy, the hope of a people that is returning from slavery, punishment, from oppression…” (48). [2]

Advent is about this longing for God to be with us, and for our longing to be with God, both personally and collectively.

If it is God that we truly long for, then we need to set aside our idols—particularly wealth and power—to follow the One True God.

“How sad is it that Christmas has become commercialized and has been profaned and we have not understood that Christmas is this longing of God to meet with man and from the man that he will not be happy while he does not meet with God!” (49)

Romero preached time and time again that the problems of his age (and really, every age) were rooted in idolatry: our tendency to value, prioritize, orient ourselves towards, and yes, worship, things that are not God. In this sermon, Romero is particularly concerned with the worship of money and material stuff over God and how that manifests during Christmastime; we deeply long for God, but we try to fill the spiritual hole in our hearts with things instead of Jesus. However, he does not hesitate to point out that power and violence are also idols that we worship in and over God:

“Dear brothers and sisters, who could put prophetic eloquence to my words to shake out the inertia of all of those who are as on their knees before the goods of the earth! Those that would like the gold, the money, the plantations, the power, the politics to be their eternal Gods! All of this is going to end!” (49)

In other words, worshiping the idols of money, power, and control of politics and land is an exercise in eschatological stupidity. These things will not last. Only God and the “satisfaction of having used [one’s gifts] to the service of the will of God” will endure (49).

God is already saving, and present in, human history.

As someone said, everything is in knowing Christ, regardless of the stories, the miracles, his words; what is important is discovering his identity: God that has come to the history of Israel in this humble son of the Virgin of Nazareth.” (51)

Romero believes that the most important thing one can know about Christ, about Advent, about Christmas, is that God has become flesh and dwelt among us. More importantly, God came in the form of a humble child: a poor one, an oppressed one, one that was marked for death by the authorities of his own people. That is the story of God we need to remember. Furthermore, “The Gospel is not telling us the life of Christ; the Gospel is the same force, the same presence of Christ that has come to the world” (51). God is present in history through the incarnation, through (as discussed last week) the bodies and people that are poor and oppressed, and through the very words and language of the Gospel.

Of course, our finding and encountering God, both as a people and as individuals, depends on our behavior, our conduct, our path. “If [the path] is poorly taken, if it has become materialist, if it abounds in injustice, these are not the paths of God” (51). God is coming and has come, but God cannot be found on unjust and materialist paths. We must prepare the way of God by conforming everything to God’s will. Yes, God is already here, but to encounter God, we need to prepare the way for God in our lives, communities, and nations.

[1] N.B. If you’re a real Reformed theology nerd, like an ordained Presbyterian clergyperson, for example, you’re probably asking yourself whether you can in good conscience preach that human beings have a “natural desire for God,” what with the whole Total Depravity thing we believe in, and all. I think we can, as long as we acknowledge that even our “natural desire for God” has become corrupted by sin. I really can’t see Calvin or Augustine or Romero disagreeing with this later point (it seems right up Augustine’s alley, really…), but you can fight me on it, if you want to. :-D

[2] This is a common theme/modus operandi for Romero: he doesn’t see our internal spirituality (or sin) and our external, public, collective, structural spirituality (or sin) to be separate. Our longing for God as individuals and as a Christian pueblo are always linked, just like our personal and collective sins are always linked.

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This Christmas, Buy Don Justo Coffee

I know that you are planning to buy gifts for your friends, family, and co-workers this holiday season. I know that, as a reader of this blog, you are dedicated to socially responsible gift-giving. So we, the Pastoral Team of Berlín, ask that you consider purchasing Don Justo Coffee this holiday season. Why?

This coffee will please coffee aficionados. Don Justo Coffee is organically produced, high-altitude, shade-grown pacamara coffee. It also has a smooth, well-balanced flavor that tends to please both discerning coffee drinkers and people who just want their caffeine fix.

This coffee will please social justice advocates. Don Justo Coffee is justly traded, meaning that everyone who cultivates, picks, and toasts the coffee is paid a living wage for their work. It is also directly traded–our mission contracts directly with a local coffee grower to cultivate, process, and ship the coffee. Many experts believe that direct trade is actually a more just and more sustainable trading system than fair trade. 

This coffee will please Christians seeking to support God’s work of liberation in the world. The proceeds from Don Justo Coffee help the Pastoral Team encourage, educate, and empower the people of Berlín as they seek to lift themselves out of poverty. What better way to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, the Man who declared that The Spirit of the Lord is on me/because he has anointed me/to proclaim good news to the poor…to set the oppressed free/to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” than to give a few dollars to a mission that strives to further His message and vision?

How do we use the proceeds from the Don Justo Coffee fund? Here are a few examples:

  • Purchase of 38 family packets for families in Loma Alta.
  • Assistance for community of Corozalito for their patron saint festival.
  • Purchase of cement and netting to fix the wall around the soccer field in Talpetates.
  • Purchase of 20 chairs for women’s group in Jícaro.

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  • Purchase of snacks for celebration in Rio de Los Bueyes.

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  • Purchase of 45 bags (100 lb) of fertilizer for 45 families in San Lorenzo.

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  • Donation for mother’s day celebration in San Lorenzo.

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Convinced? Ready to support our work and the work of the Kingdom? Ready to buy some friends, family members, and co-workers some excellent coffee? Then get your Don Justo coffee here. 

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Advent With Romero, Week 1

“When we say ‘terrorism’ we do not only think about those that persecute those in uniform, but also in uniformed terrorism that is also horrible and kills and fills with fear.” Monseñor Oscar A. Romero, December 3rd, 1978

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Romero, A Time of Joyful Hope, 1st Sunday in Advent, Year B (December 3rd, 1978)

Texts:

Isaiah 63: 16b-17; 64: 1.3b-6
Mark 13:33-37
1 Corinthians 1:3-9

As I already said yesterday, Romero is an incredibly eschatological preacher; he often preaches about Christ’s second coming and the End of All things. For Romero, Advent is a time to remember the future, so to speak—to look to the second coming of Christ and to actively anticipate it by “organizing a world according to the heart of God.” (30) This is not new or controversial thinking, though most modern Christian preaching has stopped thinking of and using eschatology this way.

However, Monseñor Romero also argues that Advent is not simply something that remembers the past (Christ’s first coming in 1st-century Palestine), or anticipates the future. Advent is continuously happening:

“For this reason, it is repugnant, brothers, that a Church that tries to make present amidst current sins, amidst current errors, that Christ that saves, that it is criticized, and some want to conserve a Gospel so desencarnado that it does not mix itself in anything with the world that it has to save. Christ is already in history, Christ is already in the entraña of the people, Christ is already operating “the new heaven and the new earth,” and the work of Advent is, precisely, this faith: to discover that Christ that is always coming. Advent is not just the four preparatory weeks of Christmas. Advent is the life of the Church!” (31-32)

A little on Romero’s very radical, and very poetic, language here. If you blink, you’ll miss how incredibly awesome it is.

Desencarnado is not a word that you will find in any Spanish-language dictionary. Most people translate this word “disembodied” or (slightly more accurately, I think) “disincarnated.” But the word, taken apart, literally means “un-fleshed” or “un-incarnated” or even more shockingly “de-fleshed” or “de-incarnated.” For me, this word carries with it a real sense of undoing something. Furthermore, the word entraña, which is often translated as “core,” literally means insides, entrails, or viscera. Christ is already inside the people in a very visceral way.

In other words, Romero argues that to preach a Gospel that has nothing to do with current realities and current sins is to literally “dis-incarnate” to “un-flesh” the Gospel. It is to literally, not figuratively, strip the Gospel of its flesh, to strip it of its body—or rather, its bodies.

This is where Romero turns Advent into something particularly liberationist and beautiful: he argues that Christ is literally present, is literally advent, in the least of these:

“And this is one of the spiritual overtones of our Advent: a vigilance of that Lord that will come one day, or better said, that will be discovered that he was already living amongst us and we did not know him. And it will be discovered, ‘Everything that you did with one of these poor brothers you did it with me!’ How close Christ has been that we have little known him! Advent ought to call us to attention to discover in every brother that we greet, in every friend to whom we lend our hand, in every beggar that asks me for bread, in every worker that wants to use the right to organization in a labor union, in every campesino that is looking for work in the coffee farms, the face of Christ; would not be capable of robbing him, cheating him, of denying him his rights; he is Christ and everything that you may do with him, Christ will take it as done to Him. This is Advent, Christ that lives amongst us.” (34)

Note that this is not (and this is for you real theology nerds) realized eschatology—Romero clearly does believe Christ will literally come again—but Romero also believes that Christ is continuously present in the least of these. For Romero, Christ’s presence is literally realized, is Advent, is incarnate, in the bodies and lives of the poor and oppressed. We don’t have to wait for Christ to show up in our world, because Christ is here and is calling us to action through real, oppressed, present bodies.

This is the question for us: how can we live into the future coming of Christ by “organizing a world according to the heart of God” (30)? And how can we truly see and respond to Christ as the one-who-advents-in-the-oppressed in our own context? Where is Christ coming into the world today? In whose bodies is Christ made manifest?

I think you know where this is going.

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Christ is coming and has come into the world in Michael Brown’s body, and Trayvon Martin’s body, and in the bodies of all the tortured, oppressed, and murdered bodies of African Americans and other people of color in the United States. To ignore these bodies—and ignore the systems of racism and power that destroy and oppress them—is to ignore Christ’s body, which is immanently present and Advent, literally coming into being, in these bodies.

To lose those bodies is to lose Advent, to lose Christ’s coming, to lose the Gospel. To lose these bodies is “de-flesh”, to “de-incarnate,” to skin the Gospel.

If we are going to preach and live into Christ’s coming, Christ’s advent, we cannot ignore what happened in Ferguson. We just can’t.

We absolutely must preach and live this Advent not just through and into history, into the sins and mistakes and issues of our time, but through and into bodies: African American bodies, immigrant bodies, poor bodies, female bodies, and other bodies subject to violent oppression—or at the intersection of multiple oppressions.

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Finally, we must pay special attention to those bodies subject to uniformed terrorism, both in the USA and elsewhere. This is a problem in our context (both within and at our borders), it was a problem in Romero’s context, and it was a problem in Jesus’ context.

This is where Christ is amongst us. This is Advent. We have to preach that. And we have to live that.

Other Resources:

To start listening and acting about race in the United States:

Black Girl Dangerous

Colorlines

Sojourners

12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson

The Baptism of Michael Brown, Sr.

Preaching While White: Why you need to preach on Ferguson and some ways to begin

If you’re interested in immigration, check out the links in my previous post.

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Random Thoughts, #Ferguson Thoughts, Advent Thoughts

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Idalia, being camera shy.

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Packing the coffee into bags to take to town.

Today, I went to pick coffee at the coffee farm owned and managed by Blanca and her family. That could have been a blog post in itself.

I picked coffee for three hours, and given what I managed to pick, I would have been paid $0.50 for those hours of work. This could have been another blog post in itself.

And after hearing about, and mourning, the decision of the Grand Jury in the case of Darren Wilson and his shooting of Michael Brown, I am struggling to write about it, and to do so in a way that lifts up oppressed voices and not my own (white, privileged) voice. This also should have been a blog post in itself. Yes, this is a blog about El Salvador, and not the United States. But as Christians, we believe that all lives are worth the same, and that means speaking out against oppressive systems of power and privilege—whether they be racist, classist, or both—wherever we see them taking and damaging lives. We can’t preach that Central American lives matter and ignore the fact that #blacklivesmatter, too. So please get educated about racial issues in the United States, and get educated about them from sources that lift up oppressed voices, like Colorlines and Black Girl Dangerous.

Finally, as a heads-up, I have decided to (attempt to) blog every week during the season of Advent. What am I going to be blogging about? Well, Advent. More specifically, I intend to blog about some of Monseñor Romero’s Year B sermons (the liturgical year that begins this Sunday) and how we might apply his theological thoughts to our own context. I’m probably going to fail at this consistent blogging thing, but I am going to give it a serious try, okay? The idea is to have each blog post done long before the Sunday in Advent that I am writing about so any preachers out there can take these thoughts and run with them, should they so please. But I really want to make Romero, and his beautiful thoughts on Advent, available to everyone—not just pastors. Why? Because his thoughts on Advent are freaking awesome, that’s why. In advance of said blog posts, a want to say a few things regarding Monseñor Romero’s preaching style, which (if you are a mainline Protestant, especially), might confuse you at first:

  1. Romero is not a particularly exegetical preacher. You will rarely find him picking apart the Greek or Hebrew behind a particular passage, and while you will sometimes find him doing other kinds of exegesis, you’ll find that he wanders from the text more than a Protestant preacher typically would. You’ll also find that he sometimes leans more on the tradition of interpretation regarding a text, a church season, a Papal encyclical, etc., than on the text itself. Just go with it. Be open. He’ll teach you something.
  1. Romero is an eschatological preacher. It is clear (this is my opinion, mind) that Romero believes Christ will literally return in glory someday and that this eventual return should motivate to act in this world in certain ways. This may seem strange to those of us who are not used to thinking about the return of Christ as something that will eventually happen in history—and end history. It is a refreshing perspective, however, and a theologically powerful and useful one.
  1. Romero is a sacramental preacher. He was a Catholic bishop for the last few years of his life, after all. Much of his theology is grounded deeply in his understanding of the Eucharist. Again, this is going to seem strange to Protestants who are accustomed to having scripture be the principal (or even only) source of knowledge about God. Again, go with it. He’ll teach you something about preaching not just out of The Book, but also about how to preach about, and from, Christ’s body.
  1. Romero is a contextual preacher. As we will see, he believes that any preaching or theology that does not touch the bleeding wounds of the world is not just lousy preaching or theology: it does not even qualify as real Christian preaching or theology at all.

Are you all ready? I hope so. The first post will go up first thing tomorrow. Yes, I know it’s Thanksgiving. But reading it will give you all a break from listening to your uncle ramble on about something you don’t care about. Or give you something to do during halftime.

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The Compañeros Delegation

It’s been a powerful week here at the Pastoral House. A group of representatives from Compañeros, the board that coordinates the work of the Iowa partner churches of our mission, was visiting us. We had some very intense moments, but we had some lighthearted ones, as well. Be sure to check out Alisha’s blog, which has far more pictures and details regarding this delegation than mine does!

Many thanks to the Compañeros folks who took time to visit us and to the Pastoral Team and communities who cared for them while they were here. And thanks to the delegation members who shared some of the photos below with me, because I was so busy this week that I barely took any pictures! Enjoy.

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Our chapel this week. Notice that the table is in the center, Romero is on the wall, and a Diedrich Bonhoeffer quote is on the door.

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The delegation attends the procession to honor the 25th anniversary of the murder of six Jesuit priests and two women–their housekeeper and her daughter–who were brutally killed in the early morning hours of November 16th, 1989 by the American-trained-and-armed soldiers of the Atlacatl battalion. You can read an excellent reflection on this awful moment in history and the theology that inspired these Jesuits here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice/2014/11/17/the-jesuit-martyrs-the-pueblo-crucificado-and-the-kingdom-of-god/.

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The delegation receives hugs from people in the community of Virginia. We also visited San Francisco, Caserío Mediagua, and  Caserío Casa de Zacate.

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The delegation visits Finca Santa Emilia, where Don Justo Coffee is grown, and watches the de-pulping machine in action.

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The delegation peels and slices potatoes for our Thanksgiving lunch. It was quite tasty.

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The former and current mission co-workers celebrate a time-honored Thanksgiving tradition: eating olives off of their fingers!

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The delegation and Pastoral Team of Berlín.

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Día de Los Difuntos In Pictures

This past Sunday we celebrated el Día de Los Difuntos–The Day of the Dead–here in Berlín. If you want to read more about this beautiful tradition, be sure to read my post from last year. Pictures from this year’s celebrations are below. Enjoy.

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The grave of Maria Angela, Blanca’s mother.

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