Sand Castles and Creative Community

“Very little creativity was allowed the faith that, lived and tested in our milieu, could have expressed itself naturally and with greater liberty within the structures having peculiarly Latin American characteristics. The general horizon was one that dogmatically interpreted dogma. This basically impeded healthy attempts to create a new incarnation of the church outside the inherited traditional framework of a Greco-Roman understanding of the world.”

Jesus Christ Liberator, p.44

IMG_20160628_141618321_HDRThis past Tuesday I took sand toys to the apartment complex I visit. I took them because the kids asked me to bring sand toys. They played and raked and built castles.

I gave them the freedom to create what they wanted to, to imagine what could be.

As I look at transplanting liberation theology in a rural setting, I have to let the new setting dictate the shape of my children’s ministry. The kids determine what I bring, when I come, and how far into the community I can come.

Just as Boff says above,  if I go in with set structures and expectations, I limit the potential in the community. Two scholars come to mind as I look at focusing on the anthropological nature of a liberative children’s ministry.

The first is Michael Corbett. In his chapter in the edited volume Dynamics of Social Class, Race, and Place in Rural Education, (Howley, Howley, and Johnson, 2014), he speaks of rural virtues. He names these rural virtues as (1)stewardship, (2)deep place sensitive knowledge and (3)making do as one sees fit on known and loved land and sea. These virtues give me some understanding of the community I am working with. Stewardship – using resources in the best and most helpful way. Place sensitive knowledge- knowing the ins and outs of one’s community. Making do as one sees fit – self-explanatory. These three virtues appear present in most rural communities, even if they are dealing with some very different experiences from the traditional ideal of rural communities.

Sure, an apartment complex appears much different from a rural home place, and living in a community for two years is more common than living in a community for four generations here. Still, there seems to be some carry over. Kids know who to ask for help, they know how to help each other. They share games, toys, and freeze-pops. They know which door to go to (front or back) to know if their friends can come play. They know that sand bees get agitated if you throw sand at them, where the path to the trash dump is, and just how far they can ride their bikes without getting in trouble. Making do as one sees fit, is just that, as the children and their families see fit, not as I see fit, or you see fit, as they see fit in the space and place they know.

The second scholar I think of is Yolanda Smith and her book Reclaiming the Spirituals: New Possibilities for African American Christian Education. In this book–which of course I am transplanting as well, because while some of the kids I work with are black, others are white, latinx, and other ethnic backgrounds (also, I am white, which is not unnoticed)–Smith sees the Spirituals as a means of reclaiming faith formation in the community. She highlights the fact that the Spirituals were based on the rhythm of the community and work in which they were created. The spirituals also arose spontaneously, just as faith formation my arise spontaneously. Spirituals were often call and response and dialogue centered, just as spiritual based faith formation can be. Finally, Spirituals grew out imagination deeply rooted in a very specific place.

Smith’s work calls me to learn the rhythms of the community. I already know that several kids are not there or do not come out for lunch. As the afternoon comes, more and more kids are home, either because school is out or parents are home from work. I also know that some of them already attend church, so traditional church times (Sunday and Wednesday) may not be the best time for creating a space. Spontaneity seems key, as impromptu bike races, games with sand, and door knocks have occurred almost every time I’ve been there. Dialogue is crucial. I first asked the kids what they wanted. I was told sand toys. I asked if they would come if I had something at night, they said yes. I asked a grandmother if she thought evening might be better, she said yes. I then began to throw out ideas: games, reading groups, singing, etc. These were well received. I now have to begin talking to parents and guardians about what they might want to see. Finally, imagination is it. I have to allow the space we create to be imaginatively named, formed, and led.

With Corbett and Smith, I see the really interesting insights into the possibility for allowing this community, through its rural virtues and its natural rhythms and spontaneity to create a new iteration of children’s ministry for the church and community I serve.

Next, we will move on to Boff’s next image of a liberation Christology: The Primacy of the Utopian Element Over the Factual.




Bubbles and the Space to Be Human

“The special focus in Latin America is not so much the church but the human person that it should help, raise up, and humanize.” – Jesus Christ Liberator, 44.

The Primacy of the Anthropological Element over the Ecclesiastical


Today, I spent time at a local apartment complex with a bubble machine. Now, I’ve been to this complex before, but it’s been under the pretenses of providing lunches for children in the community. We’ve done that every weekday since June 9th.

Today was different, I packed up a bubble machine, chenille stems (pipe cleaners), and some freeze pops. I went with no expectations, a book in my bag in case no one came over to my table, and I turned on the bubble machine.

Within minutes a child came running. This child jumped into the bubbles. He leapt with joy on his face. I recognized (I won’t say I knew) this child from the lunches we had been feeding. I did recognize that he had not been there that day.

He asked why I was there, and I said, “Because I wanted to play with bubbles and give out freeze pops.” I then offered him both. I twisted a pipe cleaner (the word I will now use) into a bubble wand, gave him a small cup of bubble solution, and he played. I then gave him a freeze pop. A blue one.

He played some more. I asked him a few questions, like where he went to school, why he missed lunch that day, where his friends were (the school system is doing a new summer reading initiative and I assumed that they were there — they were). I learned his grade in school and that he goes to church on Sunday. We played in the bubbles some more.

I realized, in the five minutes I had spent with this child, creating a space for him to come and play with bubbles–which quickly became a fun game and a time of wonder–I had learned more about this child than in the several days I had been feeding. At first, I thought: Why am I cooking all this food, searching for volunteers, and dragging it all over here and then having a ton leftover (I cook like a Methodist, so if Jesus, John Wesley, and the Twelve Disciples show up I can feed them)? Then, I realized, he would not have run over to me had I not already had that material relationship.

We played in the bubbles some more. It was mix of dancing, some sort of made up martial arts, and guessing where the bubbles were going to go. I met his mama. I learned where she worked, who lived with her, and that she wanted to put her son in some sort of fun program over the summer. She appreciated both the lunch and fun times, and told her son that when I left (in about 30 minutes) that he needed to come home.

Before he left he asked for another freeze pop–and one for his mama. She wanted a pink one. He wanted a red one. I said bye and that I would see him for lunch tomorrow.

What does this have to do with liberation theology, and the anthropological over the ecclesiastical? Quite a bit. As Boff states in my quote earlier, the focus in Latin America is not the church, but the human it should help raise up, and humanize. For this I will draw first from two sources. Paulo Freire and a book called So Sexy So Soon. In his work, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed,  Freire talks quite a bit about humanization. To be human is to be able to name the world, that is to create and recreate reality with space and community.

So Sexy So Soon, a book exploring the oversexualization of childhood in the United State, highlights the lack of problem-solving skills in children. The authors (Levin and Kilbourne) fault over programmed and technologically saturated childhoods. Children are no longer given the space to be children. They are expected to conform in the classroom, whether it standing straight lines, sitting completely still, waiting until lunch to go to be bathroom, not asking friends for help on assignments, and getting the correct answers the first time. I don’t do any of these things in real life, well, I will stand in a line at a check out counter or when I am waiting for the bathroom (which I find when I need to go).

Instead of playing pretend, making up games, and exploring the wonders of creation, children find themselves in front of tablets, TVs, and video games. Games and media which have distinct and unchangeable objectives. In the book, they reference a little girl who cannot detour from the exact story of Cinderella, even if it gave Cinderella a cape and horse to save people from a fire. The story had to be the same.

These things are dehumanizing. As a Methodist, I solidly believe each human being is made in the image of God. To be human means to grow in the image of God. My concern becomes not getting children to my church. If they want to come to our programs and activities all the better, but my concern is how can the church create a space for them to become human. Thus, I created a space for this child to play in the bubbles, with no objective or goal. I don’t expect him to come to church, ever. I just wanted him to have a good time, be a child. In that opening, I began a relationship.

My next post will speak to the distinctly rural aspects, and how this tenant of Boff’s Christology fits into this. Let’s see what comes next.




Hydrangeas and Liberation Theology

IMG_20160614_101729444_HDRA few weeks after we moved to Glen Alpine, I bought a hydrangea from the 18 Produce Market. Hydrangeas are really interesting plants because their blooms change colors based on the pH levels of the soil. This one is mainly a lavender color with the back side of it leaning more toward blue.

The practice of transplanting plants and flowers is intriguing to me. The soil, sunlight, flow of air, and many other things impact whether the plant thrives, what color it is, and how it grows.

The same seems true for ideas. When an idea developed in one context is engaged within another, several factors go into whether the idea thrives, adapts, grows, and impacts the new context. I want to explore this notion. I intend to spend some time thinking about the possibilities of reading liberation theology in the context of children’s ministry in rural, North Carolina. Particularly, I plan to explore portions of Leonardo Boff’s Christology, found within Jesus Christ Liberator: A Critical Christology for Our Time. 

I draw my inspiration for this from Boff himself in his reading of theology within his context. He writes:

“The predominantly foreign literature that we cite ought not to delude anyone. It is with preoccupations that are ours alone, taken for our Latin American context, that we will reread not only the old texts of the New Testament but also the the most recent commentaries written in Europe. The facts will be situated within other coordinates and will be projected within an appropriate horizon. Our sky possesses different stars that form different figures of the zodiac by which we orient ourselves in the adventures of faith and of life.” –Jesus Christ Liberator, 43.

For the sake of simplicity, I will use Boff’s characteristics of a Christology, that is, an understanding of Jesus Christ, for Latin America. They are:

  1. The Primacy of the Anthropological Element over the Ecclesiastical
  2. The Primacy of the Utopian Element over the Factual
  3. The Primacy of the Critical Element over the Dogmatic
  4. The Primacy of the Social Over the Personal
  5. The Primacy of Orthopraxis over Orthodoxy

                                                                               –Jesus Christ Liberator, 44-46

Now, this will not be perfect, it is an experiment that I hope can help people. I am passionate about the rural communities of the United States, and want to explore any possibility which might open up the Kingdom of God within these communities. My current role in ministry is an outward looking Children’s minister and a dissertating doctoral candidate. This seems to allow me to overlap the two nicely.

My goal with this to be both theoretical and practical. To play with ideas and concepts within the context, and also to provide real ideas for children’s ministry in rural communities. Let’s see what comes next.