Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Liberation Theology

This is the third post I have started. The first one turned into a rant about my job, Kafka, and being a cog in a complex system I serve. The second one just got too big. So this one I am just going to write one quote that sums it up.

“Where oppression and the liberation of man seem to make God irrelevant – a God filtered by our longtime indifference to these problems – there must blossom faith and hope in Him who comes to root out injustice and to offer, in an unforeseen way, total liberation.”

Solidarity with the poor means asking new questions and finding new answers (theology). This experience of solidarity results from an encounter with God and with the reality of poverty.

The result is an understanding of God's preference for the poor, and intrinsic opposition to injustice and death.

Poverty means death because of hunger and sickness and often state repression. To extend the kingdom of God is to be in solidarity with the poor.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Liberation Theology; PAR and empowerment

I recently read Gustavo Gutierrez's "We Drink from Our Own Wells". It is an introductory book to liberation theology.

The crux of this theology really rests on highly developed concepts of life and death.

Think of all the things that make you feel alive, and lead to life.
Then think of all the things that make you feel/lead to death.

Christ came to set us free and offer us life. Things that draw us into self-destruction and institutions that do not promote life are sinful and against the kingdom of God.

I feel alive in conversation with a friend, when I wake up and go outside on a misty morning and enjoy the quite before the day. Moments that slow me down and make me appreciate life and feel a sense of awe.

I feel dead after watching TV for multiple hours and wasting time; "escaping". After stressing about the work I have to do, and trying to figure out ways to get ahead in life. In spending hours of my time desiring a product. I look back on these experiences with a sense of weariness.

Right now my job is making me feel dead. My job is for a downtown shelter, but I am not given an opportunity to get to know people. I start work when they are relaxing and going to bed and end work when they wake up. My job is to enforce the rules. Make sure everyone is in on time, they do their chores, they get up on time, etc.

Yesterday I was reading a short description of The Trial by Kafka. The story is about a man who is informed that he is being arrested. He is never actually arrested, and people keep coming up to him and telling him that his case is going badly. No one actually knows anything about the case or about how he can influence it at all. They just know that this is what they had to tell him. (They got an email telling them that this was their job for the day). He eventually ends up at a church under the pretext of showing a client around and there the chapalain tells him that he lost his case and when he leaves he will be executed. During this conversation he tells him the story of a man from a village that came up to the castle of law but the gate keeper wouldn't let him through. So this man disempowers himself and waits for permission. He waits so long that he eventually dies. As he is dying he sees the door close and asks the guard why and the guard replies that this door was only for him to enter and now that he is dying it can be closed. The guard also says that it is probably good that he never tried to get past the guard because there are further guards that even this guard is scared of.

I feel like I am a guard whose job it is to make people obey the system that has been established, no matter how arcane it is for the individual circumstance. As a guard people are allowed to go above my head and challenge my boss, but it is also my job (so I can save face and seem productive) to prevent them, unless it is something very serious. When it comes down to it, my job is to disempower people and empower the complex system. The idea is that once the people get through the system they will be off the street. It works for a few, but I just feel like it is making it way harder than it has to be.

This is where Participatory Action Research (PAR) comes in. Liberation theology is a root of PAR. The idea is that people know their own reality and are able to come up with causes of why they are struggling with the problems they are much better than proffessionals. The idea is to put the first last and the last first. It values service instead of leadership, collaboration instead of top-down answers. Empowering people to use systems instead of empowering systems by subordinating people to rules (systems, institutions).

I want to learn how to bring people life, not the feeling of disempowerment and insignificance that massive complex systems are prone to bring.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A rant on Development Studies; community formation and the internet

One of the leaders of the development studies club ( sent out an email about indifference and how people should get involved in issues. The personal and ranting tone his email adopted inspired me to respond: (note: dest = development studies)

Hey Mike,

I appreciated your email.

It's about indifference and laziness. We (in dest) all get that the issues are important, and have indicated so with our professional lives. Which I guess is huge. But I think that Dest isn't a career it is a paradigm. EWB is a great example. These are people with a different education, but do development.

I guess the point is that from a dest student's perspective, getting involved in grassroots issues is - at the most superficial level - career development. And at the deepest level, finding an identity.

I am in my 5th year and what I am finding as I am faced with venturing out into the world and leaving the cacoon of university is exactly what you are talking about. I am finding it necessary to get involved in issues because I need to figure out my identity and what I want to fight for. I am doing this by volunteering with different campaigns, and doing the things you identified as being so important.

So...what came to mind for me when I read your letter is that it would be great to have a website that can allow discussion between dest students and the uofc crowd (ie.linked to the dest club) focused on issues. One thing that I think is tough to overcome in our program is the generational gap between years. Maybe a central forum for discussion would help overcome this. (or at least be part of the package of the dest community)

side note: I think a discussion forum/blog/website is a good idea because dest students have a lot of issues to work out.

I guess the internet could be a way of exposing the underside of the dest club and make it easier to be involved. Not everyone knows/feels comfortable coming out to events and maybe if there was a way to make it easier to take the first step more people would get involved. (it is a theory - but ??).

Dest community is what I expected and was looking for, but didn't find until my fourth year.

An office/lounge would be awsome where people could go and discuss issues and connect with people that are in the same program.

I guess I am talking about points of entry into the club now. Currently, entry points into the dest community are: classes, dest events/planning and attending. I guess it would be great if there were more.

What you gues have done is great. It is already a much different dest student community than in my 1st year.


Maybe if there was a link from the dest website to a blog on dest issues and as it grew from a general topic it could split off into specifics, and kind of have a natural life of its own, reflecting the thinking of the community.

I guess we all struggle with the same question: What the hell do I do? Where do I fit in it all? Those can be pretty paralyzing questions if they are held on to alone, but they can be empowering if they are asked in the context of a community and answers can be found - however temporary - leading to action instead of the dest depression.

I think I have said this before, but I think getting involved is better for ending up with an issue/job than a dest degree.

Thanks for listening to my rant.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Career Councillors and aptitude tests are evil

I had a friend share a thought that was profound. It was that before we go and change something, we have to wait.

At the time this didn't really make sense to me. I guess I think there are a lot of people that are just not doing anything to figure out who they are. Which I think is also a valid point, but not the idea that is contained in the concept of waiting.

Waiting doesn't mean stop trying to figure out what your doing, it means stop doing and start thinking.

The times in my life that I have really figured out what I want to do, and there have been two of them, have come during times in my life where I don't have a plan. There is no way forward. The first time was when I got back from overseas and needed to figure out what I wanted to do because I had nothing to do. The second was within the last month and I am finishing university and need to find something to do.

Both of these decisions have been deep, gut decisions. Actually, the word finding is more acurate than decision in describing the experience. Further, they have been when I am not on a track or as I like to call it, in an institution.

What I mean by institution is the Orwellien idea of taking an aptitude test in junior high and having that tell you what you will do with the rest of your life, then go to school for that thing and when school is done, have a job, paycheck, house, car, etc. waiting for you. Essentially, having all of your life planned out and not having to struggle with identity.

But that struggle is what makes us who we are. It is a journey of self creation. We have the freedom to creat something devine or evil. But that is another discussion (existentialism/creation theology).

The point is that waiting is an important part of the journey of creating/figuring out who we are. And it is off the institutional track.

So career councillors and aptitude tests are evil because they tell us who we are (external authority) and allow people to avoid the proccess of self creation.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Indigenous Knowledge and Liberation Theology

Think of an aboriginal man out in the bush, tracking a deer or taking part in a ceremonial dance. Or if those images are too romanticized then taking a walk with his family. That wasn't the aboriginal man I met this evening. He was exhausted, a little drunk and was confined to a wheel chair. I assume he lost his foot to either the cold or disease.

This made me sad and it made me think of a quote from a book I am reading about liberation theology "We Drink from Our Own Wells" by Gustavo Gutierrez talking about what poverty really means: "It means physical death to which is added cultural death, inasmuch as those in power seek to do away with everything that gives unity and strenght to the dispossesed of this world. In this way those in power hope to make the dispossessed an easier prey for the machinery of oppression."

In an interview with Phil Fontaine he told a story of Canadian Aboriginal Youth. You can't get a job, any experience with the economic and social systems of Canada have been frustrating and simply unproductive. What is left? What's the point? Some reserves have resisted the "cultural death" perpetrated against them, and have found social success, but there are 150 reserves without potable water, there are 600 outstanding land claims which will take an average of about 20-30 years to settle. If they get through the federal and provincial departments that settle an average of 4-7 land claims per year.

Land claims aren't about a cash grab, they are about municipal power. So the reserve can decide where they can put a speed bump to protect their children.

Unemployment and alcoholism aren't characteristics of the native population. They are characteristics of marginalization and oppression. It is the only response to a system that keeps you from attaining any goals and eventually kills any dreams and aspirations. These social problems are found throughout the world, in the land mine survivors of Georgia and Azerbijan (sp?). The unemployed rural men of Ghana.

Oppression kills the spirit. then the oppressors can have moral superiority and say if they only got their act together and got a job then they could do something with their lives instead of wasting away. But the oppressors won't give them a job. And both groups fathers were in the same position.

You are in an alien land when you face "unending criticism, false accusations, insults, arbitrary arrests, plundering, pressure, threats, lack of control and certainty about the future, problems in making oneself understood"

Christ welcomes us home from an alien land, he stand for life and justice and against death. Take that message to a Canadian church! (not just the part about justice either, but the whole thing, because the message of Christ is incomplete if you ignore the people it was spoken for). And its ok if the name Creator is substituted for the name of Christ. Its not syncratism, it is contextualizing.

The point is that people deserve to have hope, and the name of Christ should represent bringing justice to unjust structures and institutions. Not the opposite.