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.