The Heartland Presbyterian Delegation

We just finished up a four-day visit to the communities of Tablón Cerna and Tablón Centro with the delegates of Heartland Presbyterian Church. We held a lot of important meetings, visited many family homes, and learned a lot about the amazing things happening in these caseríos.

Many thanks to the delegates for taking a week of their time to visit us, the communities of Tablón Centro and Cerna for receiving us with such warmth, hospitality, and openness, and the Pastoral Team for all of their hard work!

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A delegate poses with members of the Pastoral Team–who may or may not have been incredibly excited about the Monseñor Romero announcement of the day before!

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Children at the school in Tablón Centro play with the jump ropes and other toys that the delegation gave them.

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The vice president of Tablón Centro addresses his community.

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The delegation visits homes to discuss the needs, hopes, and dreams of the communities’ families–and to take some pictures, of course.

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The delegation visited homes that had need of dignified toilets, including this family, who had their toilet collapse. 

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Delegates play with some of the children in Tablón Cerna.

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The delegates meet with the community of Tablón Cerna during their final afternoon with them. The community made juice for everyone in the community to drink!

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Monseñor Romero: Martyr

romero

When I have more time, I want to write about this announcement in more depth.

But the news is too big not to share.

On February 3rd, 2015, on the anniversary of his appointment as Archbishop of San Salvador, Papa Francisco formally recognized that Monseñor Romero was killed “in hatred of the faith” and proclaimed him to be a martyr. 

This means that there are no more official barriers to Monseñor Romero’s beatification. None. The date of the ceremony could be announced anytime–and we hope and pray that it will be announced soon. Maybe in time for the ceremony to take place on March 24th, 2015–the anniversary of what is now his officially recognized martyrdom?! I don’t want to jinx it, but we sure hope so. Most of this nation hopes so.

Keep hoping and praying that the beatification will be announced soon.

And just in case you’re reading this Papa Francisco… I just want to say please go through with this and please do it soon. This pueblo has waited long enough. And they’ve already planned a huge celebration in San Salvador to mark the 35th anniversary–beatifying him at that Mass would be no problem! Really! No extra trouble at all!

In hope and joy,

The Pastoral Team of Berlin and La Iglesia Popular de El Salvador [and a crazy Presbyterian pastor who lives with them]

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The Southwest Partnership Delegation

Hello, friends.

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted anything–but we’ve been incredibly busy here!  Between the holidays, internet connectivity issues, scholarship disbursements, deliveries, and other things, I haven’t updated you all as often as I should.

For my first blog post of 2015 , I want to give a huge thank you to the wonderful people of the Southwest Partnership for visiting us last week, and to their partner community of Alejandría and the Pastoral Team for taking such good care of us. We had a wonderful time sharing food, stories, and balloon animals. We even serendipitously ran into a member of the community–a soldier serving in the Honor Guard of the Salvadoran Army–while visiting the Military Museum in San Salvador! God works such odd and wonderful little miracles sometimes.

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The delegation ran into member of the Alejandría community while visiting the Military Museum in San Salvador. How weird and awesome is that?!

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It was one delegate’s birthday on our first day visiting the community. Alejandria gave her a cake–and lots of hugs!

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The delegation tours the community’s water project.

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The delegates get ready to leave for the community.

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The delegation visited all the community’s homes and brought them each a gift basket. It required a lot of walking, but the visits–and the view–were all worth it. 

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Many families in Alejandría gifted us with chickens. One delegate was kind enough to carry them around for us!

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Balmore helps the delegates stuff piñatas for the goodbye celebration on the last day in the community.

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The balloon swords were a huge hit.

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Cecilia usually hides from the camera–but I caught her with her tongue sticking out this time!

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Advent with Romero, Week 4/Christmas Eve

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We will see that since redemption is operative throughout history, God desires to continue to operate in this way and save people through history. Therefore the proclamation of the gospel has to be a prolongation of the salvific plan of Christ, an application of this plan to our history, people and reality. A proclamation of the gospel and a celebration of Christmas that simply recounts a romantic story that occurred twenty centuries ago and that does not incarnate the saving plan of God in the tragic and painful realities of our history or in the hopes of our people — such a proclamation would not be an authentic Christian message. (1)

Mary, Sign of the Fullness of Time
December 24, 1978

2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

We have finally arrived at the last week of Advent, and our final Romero sermon in this series. Unless I actually get around to writing something while visiting my family. Stranger things have happened…

Again, we are faced with a long and beautiful sermon (Romero is the type of preacher to share pretty much every thought that he has about a text/theme when he steps into the pulpit) but one theme sticks out to me: the idea that preachers are meant to incarnate Christ in history in a similar way to how Mary incarnated Christ in history.

So you will understand, my dear brothers and sisters, why in the Sunday homily the archbishop is concerned to apply the message of the secret of eternal ages in the concrete reality of history. You can understand then, even though you might not like it, that this eternal light illuminates the evil features of our history and denounces them: history should not be lived in this way! On the other hand, those who are laboring well are told: history should be lived in this way! Therefore, in the light of God who comes to us at this Christmas time through the beautiful presence of Mary, sign of the fullness of times–my sisters and brothers, in this light we analyze our reality and we do this with Mary who lived in the best way the reality of our people. Indeed this was Mary’s duty: to incarnate Christ in history. Mary becomes a Salvadoran and incarnates Christ in the history of El Salvador. (7)

In other words, the preacher has a duty to apply the teachings of scripture to the concrete reality of history in the same way that Mary incarnates Christ in history. 

The reading of Mary as a priest/preacher is actually an ancient one in Catholic theology (that interestingly never lead to the acceptance of women as ordained clergy–but I’ll stay away from that soapbox for now). However, Romero is using it in a uniquely creative and liberative way here, encouraging people to live and preach into the truths and trials of current reality–to incarnate the Word in the world–in the same way Mary did. Good preachers do what Mary did in a different way–incarnate the Word in history, apply it to real circumstances, to have it touch real bodies and real lives.

How can we incarnate the Word this Christmas? How can we make the message of the incarnation more liberative, more embodied, whether we are preachers or in the pews?

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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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