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.

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