Tag Archives: Peace

What Will Come…

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(I wrote this poem as a reaction to the recent events of terror and homophobia that have taken from us 49 of our siblings in the city of Orlando, FL.)

What will come
When the lights of the candles are extinguished
When the rage of the moment has passed
When the strength we have found
In community tonight
Has faded into the memory land

What will come
When the queers are once more
Pushed into hiding
When our voices are
Once more overwhelmed
By the money and power
Of the radical hate

What will come
When our tears are silenced
And when our pain is ignored
And when our strength faints
And our wounds are too deep but forgotten

What will happen
When the deafening silence
Of our so-called allies
Becomes once again
The norm

What will happen
When the prayers are fading
When the hugs are no more
When the lights are shut down
And the cold of the night
Overcomes our fickle souls
When the next attention-grabbing
Political squabble
Erases forever
The names and the faces
Of the saints that lay down
In a desecrated sanctuary
That our kisses once housed

What will happen
Once that all is forgotten
Once that their names are not mentioned
For ever no more

What will happen
When I will look at the mirror
And realized once again
That this is not the largest
Nor the last of them
Violence
Against people like me

What will happen
Tomorrow
I wonder
What will happen
I dream.

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Yes, I Am Mad as Hell!

A few years ago, while working on a predominantly white environment, I experience much racially and ethnically based discrimination. Some of this discrimination came in the form of what scholars now call “microaggressions”, while other was more overt such as questioning my abilities, my qualifications for the job or the like solely based on my ethnicity and accent. For some time I just shrugged it off as ignorance and lack of education on the part of the people who did it. At the same time, I would do an effort to educate.

fist-md However, the discrimination continued. Not only that, but I started to meet with other people of color who were also involved with this organization and heard their own stories of rejection, discrimination and paternalistic attitudes towards them because of their national origin, their accents, their skin color and the like. The pressure continued to mount inside me. I felt like a pressure cooker… until it exploded. The event that marked my anger explosion was the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Trayvon Martin’s untimely death and its circumstances touched me in a way that I was not expecting. However, many things coalesced at once. On the one hand, another young, unarmed, black human being was being gunned down for no reason. On the other hand, the murderer was a white, Hispanic man who had let his white-privilege rule his life and how he connected with the world around him. Listening and reading the reports of this tragic death, made me even angrier. The media outlets could not grasp the idea that a Hispanic person could possibly be the perpetrator of a racial crime. They also had troubles understanding the complexities of race within the Hispanic communities. But more than that, they totally misunderstood the intricate layers of relationships among the different minority groups in the United States. All of this was too much for me at the time; and I exploded in rage.

I was mad – still am. For years I had tried to understand the historical realities that have made the United States the dangerous place for people of color that this country is today. I had tried to understand that not all white people were responsible for racism. I had tried to justify many actions of racism as ignorance and lack of education on the perpetrators. I had tried to understand that my own Hispanic community was dealing with our own prejudices on top of being the target of discrimination. I had tried and tried and tried to understand and keep my composure. But I could not do it any longer.

At some point I shared my feelings with the community. I told them how it was tiring to be trying all the time to make people understand that we – people in the minority – were not the enemy. I was getting tired of being an educator at all times. I was getting tired of pretending that the words and the actions of white people didn’t hurt me. I was getting tired of pretending that I was going to understand their historical and sociological circumstance. I was getting tired… and this feeling was making me mad and angry.

As I look around and see that things have not changed a bit since the murder of Trayvon, and that black human beings continue to be murdered and their assassins walk free… As I look around and notice that other members of minority groups stay silent… As I look around and notice that the white “supporters” keep calling for what I call a “Kumbayah moment” without acknowledging the centuries of oppression that have brought us to this place… As I look around and see that even the President keeps silence when everyone is waiting for him to talk, to speak up, to raise his voice and use his power… As I look around and notice that the violence on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri are becoming just another excuse for the white majority to justify their oppression… As I look around and continue to notice all of this oppression… the only thing I can say is that I am fucking mad as hell!

Yes. Yes, I am mad. It is not a rage that started yesterday or the day before or the day I experienced racism at that institution I mentioned earlier. It is a rage that comes from a deeper, way deeper place. It is a rage that comes from fourteen years of living in a country that treats me as less than my white counterparts. It is a rage that comes the time that my country was invaded by a white, US navy that tried to impose on my ancestors their language, their religion, their way of life. It is a rage that comes from knowing that half of this country was built on lies and stealing from the natives peoples and when that was not enough, of the other settlers who lived there and spoke my language and shared my customs. It is a rage that comes from knowing that millions of my sisters and brothers’ ancestors – and I am sure mine too – were forced out of their Motherland to be brought here in chains and by force. It is a rage that comes from all the rage accumulated throughout the centuries… throughout the generations… throughout the ancestors who still live in me and within me… Yes, we are mad, and yes, we are going to continue being angry for as long as it takes for the systems to change. And yes, that anger is going to be at times violent and at times peaceful. But I do not care anymore about what the white majority thinks of my anger. I don’t care about what my Hispanic community thinks of the anger that makes me be in solidarity with my black sisters and brothers. I don’t care that my white friends – even those who are close to me and whom I love – hear me saying that I often doubt their good intentions.

I am mad as hell, and I am not going to apologize for it.

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A New Reading of Luke 2.1-7

It has been a very long time since that last time I wrote something for my blog. I hope that I can keep a better schedule of posting for next year and perhaps even have a few readers! =) In the meantime, I came up with this new reading of the story of Christmas as it is found on Luke 2.1-7. It is based on recent news about Israel’s building of new settlements on Palestinian territory. As a Christian theologian, it is my hope and my prayer that both the Palestinians and the Israeli could find a way of living peacefully and recognizing each other’s humanity. May peace reign in Palestine and Israel for Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze, atheists, Humanists, and every other person of faith or of no faith that lives on this part of the wonderful Mother Earth.

——

That December, while Palestinian Christians were celebrating the Nativity of Christ, and in a move that could jeopardize the US-brokered peace talks, the Israeli government decided to build even more settlements on Palestinian territory. This happened while Benjamin Netanyahu was Prime Minister of Israel, and the Palestinian National Authority was still debating the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas as its President.

Many people decided to move to safer communities. Among them was a couple that lived in Nazareth. Yusuf, a Muslim man from the town of Bethlehem, had married Miriam, a Jewish woman from Tel-Aviv. It was not uncommon for men and women from different faith traditions to fall in love and get married, although it was frown upon by the government officials and religious authorities who put a lot of hurdles for such couples to get married. Miriam was eight months pregnant by now and Yusuf thought that it would be best for them to travel to the town of his forebears, thinking that the Christian majority in Bethlehem will protectthem from any violence that might ignite due to the building of the new settlements.

As Yusuf was driving his old car, they came upon one of the check-points that dot the border between the State of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.There, Yusuf and Miriam were stopped and asked to exit the vehicle while the guards searched it. Upon noticing that Miriam was Jewish, one of the guards was suspicious of Yusuf and took him into custody. Miriam pleaded with the guard but he did not want to hear her. She was so nervous and stressed that she went into labor before the baby was due. The guards didn’t want to pay attention to Miriam’s pleads and told her that there wasn’t a place for them or for the baby to come on either one of the countries. The guards kept telling the family that there was no space for them anywhere within Palestine or Israel. They had both betrayed their faith, their people and their ancestors by loving each other and building a family…

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The Problem of Religious Violence in Puerto Rico

Religious violence and fanaticism is nothing new. Both of these have had many manifestations throughout the centuries. In the history of the Church in the West – both Roman Catholic and Protestant expressions – we have seen and experienced religious violence. Within Roman Catholicism this violence was manifested in the institution of the Office of the Holy Inquisition, which accused thousands of people of heresy and brought them to death by horrible means. At the same time, Roman Catholicism fostered the religious wars of the Crusades, which were used to regain control of Jerusalem and Palestine, taking these lands from the Muslim faithful.

Less known are the manifestations of religious intolerance and violence within Protestantism. In the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, as the Protestant faith was taking shape, pretty much every country had to overcome religious violence. Even the Martin Luther, the main reformer of the church in the West, was guilty of persecution when he condoned the execution of hundreds of peasants who wanted to take his reforms too far in his native Germany. In England, thousands of Catholic martyrs were killed because of religious persecution thanks to the actions of Queen Elizabeth, who sought to keep her political and religious stability through bloodshed.

More recently, in the Americas, we have seen religious wars between Roman Catholics and Protestants in the Mexican state of Chiapas, where faithful from both parties accuse each other of having desecrated the Christian faith. Puerto Rico has not been exempt from these manifestations of violence, especially expressed through the work of self-proclaimed religious leaders who frame their religious sermons in war rhetoric. For instance, often times during religious meetings in Puerto Rico, the term “spiritual warfare” is used to describe the relationship between those who profess the Christian faith on any given way and those who have a different understanding of the faith or those who have no faith. The problem with these manifestations of religious intolerance is that bring us to demonize “the other” thus taking away their personhood and transforming them into objects of hate.

Religious intolerance in Puerto Rico has much to do with the little theological education of the religious leadership. More often than not, this lack of theological education is more evident in those institutions that are not related to an established denomination. In Puerto Rico we have seen a sprouting of faith communities of charismatic theology and many “independent”  churches where the leadership role is filled by people who have proclaimed themselves “Apostles”, “pastors”, or “bishops” without having gone through the rigorous theological training required by many established denominations.

The proliferation of independent and charismatic/Pentecostal churches has also left a deep imprint in those faith communities that have traditionally been theologically educated. This is so, I believe, because those churches that require theological training do not have the resources to compete with those who send out without theological training to the pastoral field. Because of this lack of resources – particularly economic resources to send people to theological schools – both Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant communities are very often led by lay people without any or very little theological training.  This creates an environment where the leaders bring their own theological interpretations with multiple local biblical interpretations based on the social mores and understandings of the leaders. Unfortunately, these local interpretations of Scripture either dismiss or do not take into consideration the evolutionary reality of the development of the dogma and doctrine. There is no attention to how one belief is developed and why it exists.

Although the Puerto Rican people have tried to dismiss our Latino history and identity, preferring a pseudo-Americanization based on a myth, the truth is that we still show our plantain stain[i]. We are a Latin/Hispanic country. As such, we tend to grant power to those people who show greater charisma and personality. Church communities in Puerto Rico show this reality when they (us) grant leadership positions to those who claim to have received a direct message from God appointed them – or rather, self-appointing – as “God’s chosen and sent.” This is in spite of their lack of theological education for the most part. It is in this context where most religious leaders whose congregants are also voters come to be the perfect place for the political elite of all stripes to gain support.

Politics in Puerto Rico is also a manifestation of our latinidad, and thus it grants power and authority to those with more charisma and personality. The political ideas or platforms are irrelevant if a political party has enough money to buy the conscience of the people who watch sparkly TV and newspapers ads. Religious leaders are the perfect people to bring voters to the voting booths, regardless of the policy positions of the political parties. This is even more evident when we see in Puerto Rico the overwhelming support that Roman Catholic, conservative candidates receive from Pentecostal, charismatic, and conservative evangelical leaders in spite of these leaders’ violent and open anti-Catholic rhetoric. This makes for very interesting bedfellows, and to my knowledge, is not very common in other democratic societies, with the exception of the USA, country to which Puerto Rico belongs. These alliances are, perhaps, just a way for conservative religious leaders to gain access to power and prestige in order to impose their own religiously-motivated policy agendas.

Church-State separation in Puerto Rico is but a historical footnote printed in our Constitution. This separation is not practiced because it does not favor the establishment of political-religious elites. Historically, this separation was brought up with the idea of keeping the Church safe from the intervention of the State. The Baptist community, of which I am a part, fought incessantly to protect this separation. There are thousands of Baptist martyrs who died because of their position on this particular theological principle. Unfortunately, within the greater Baptist family, the principle of Church-State separation is but a mantra that is repeated without understanding what it means or how much it cost us to gain. It is even more unfortunate to see how a multitude of religious groups with a charismatic and Pentecostal tendency have influenced in the way in which our Baptist faith communities interpret this Biblical principle of separation.

Recent manifestations from self-appointed religious leaders in Puerto Rico are also a testimony to the lack of theological education that these people have been exposed to. Often, when any form of theological education has taken place, is in the form of a “Bible institute” in which you are taught how to memorize Scriptural texts but any contextual interpretation of the Bible is dismissed. These institutes tend to prefer a so-called “literal” approach. What the people trained in these institutes do not realize is that their “literal” reading of the Bible is actually a way of interpretation, in which their own mores and socialization is read into the text. Moreover, these literal readings of the Sacred Text lead people to the sin of idolatry, putting the Sacred Text en par and often times above the Triune expression of the Divine Mystery.  This form of idolatry, bibliolatry, has been extensively studied in recent years.

In more concrete ways, we note how the religious leadership in Puerto Rico has tried – often times very successfully – to influence the creation of public policy. By implanting laws that take away rights from the LGBT communities and protections to women in particular, the religious leaders have demonstrated that their interest goes beyond religious intolerance. These actions are actually a representation of these people’s desires to establish a form of “constitutional theocracy” where only those deemed “right” should have rights and be protected. This is an extension of their erroneous eschatological theologies in which the Reign of God is to be established by all means necessary.

This, of course, does not contribute to create a peaceful environment. These are in fact the roots of the cultural wars we are continually exposed to. What the religious leaders forget, though, is our call as people of faith to imitate Christ and to open stop closing the doors to those who are different from us/them. Interestingly, if these leaders paid any attention to the New Testament, they will see that it is filled with instances in which Jesus rebuked those religious leaders who wanted to implement their own interpretations of the Sacred Scriptures upon others. Again, we note how the religious leaders in Puerto Rico put the laws of the Bible above the example of Jesus, committing bibliolatry.

Ecumenical conversations in the Island are – from my perspective – not very useful either. Ecumenism in Puerto Rico is reduced to a series of liturgical celebrations and very few, watered-down, and sporadic round-tables. Even these ecumenical instances are marked by their lack of diversity. In Puerto Rico, ecumenism often takes place in one of three ways:

– Roman Catholic “ecumenism” that tries to bring the lost back to Rome.

– Mainline Protestant ecumenism that is watered-down and downplays the role of difference in Biblical interpretation in the name of “peace” and “unity.”

– Conservative evangelical and Pentecostal ecumenism that is more often than not a way of “saving” those lost Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants who have let theological education and church history “rot their minds.”

Perhaps it is time for ecumenical conversations in Puerto Rico to start anew, bringing to the table both what unites us and what separates us. Perhaps it is time to revive those ecumenical actions that happened during the people of Vieques’ fight to get the US Marine out of their island-municipality. Perhaps it is time for religious people in Puerto Rico to finally acknowledge the presence of Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Santero, Espiritist, and other forms of religions that are widely practiced in the Island and invite them to the conversation.

When Puerto Rico suffered the recent systematic killing of gay, lesbian, and especially transgender individuals, no church, to my knowledge, raised their voice of protest to denounce these atrocities. Yet, when a great Puerto Rican humanitarian like Ricky Martin brings his concert, a myriad of religious leaders came to protest. Why? Perhaps because Ricky is doing exactly what they are not: saving children from the hands of unscrupulous predators through his foundation to stop human trafficking. This is something that the churches in Puerto Rico are not doing. The shame that these religious leaders must be feeling might have moved them to raise their voices… These religious leaders are often more interested in “saving the souls” of the little kids while ignoring their current oppressed realities. This is certainly deplorable.

Many of us have already experienced the pain of having been excluded because of our theological leanings, our sexualities, our socio-economic realities and even our racial backgrounds. I was one of this people who suffered this pain both from society at-large but more painfully from the church. I believe that if there is any hope for the Church in Puerto Rico to be redeemed it will be when the Church – in all its expressions – publicly confesses its sins of rejecting God’s diversity in creation. In the meantime, the violent environment they have created from their hostile pulpits will continue to foster violence, deaths, murders, attacks to LGBT people, oppression to women and the working class, and a plethora of other social ills. This hostility from the pulpit has also reached the Legislature and the Executive branch and it is the primary responsible for bringing about the pain of death and violence in our Island. It is time to put an end to the bully pulpit of the Puerto Rican Church, and to begin living out the blessing of having God’s diversity in creation recognized. Until them, a peaceful living will be hard to achieve.


[i] There is a saying in Puerto Rico, “se te nota la mancha de plátano”, which translates to “you show your plantain stain”, making reference to the difficulty of hiding our identity as a historically rural-based and farming country.

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