“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.