Women & Theologies from the Global South, week 6

LATIN AMERICAN FEMINIST THEOLOGIES II: Ivone Gebara

Ritual leadership:
This week was my week to lead the morning ritual. Mine was a secular team-building game that I learned as a facilitator at Young Men’s Leadership Camp in Macedonia. I was reminded of this game from Mercy Amba Oduyoye’s Beads and Strands:

“…to be creative is to turn the power of evil, sin and suffering into the power of love. When things are not going well in a community, in order to restore harmony and mutuality of existence, [the Igbo of Nigeria] requires artists to camp together, to work together to heal the society by their sacrifice. The creativity of the artists is the sacrifice required for righting wrongs in the community. The artists fashion a model of a whole community and all that they have in a house (Mbari), and the house and its artifacts are left as a sacrifice, which will renew the community…The artist symbolically recreates the clan in its pristine state through artifacts and the result is salutary for the clan…This symbolic ‘new creation’ out of a chaotic old appears in the Bible in the stories of the flood, the replenishing of the world and the apocalyptic new creation of Revelation.” (p.14) 

The game can take an hour+ depending on modifications to the group’s goals. I had about 15-30 min so my goal was simply to introduce the framework of the game.

Act 1:
Each small group (we had about 4 groups of 4) has one piece of paper on (or other materials from) which they design their communities. The moderator gets the group’s attention to inform them of the incoming natural disaster. I read from Gebara’s Out of the Depths:

‘The great poet Parra descends to say:’
“I do not weep for the pleasure of weeping
But in order to have a little peace.
My tears are like a prayer
That no one wants to hear,
To see and consider
The sad disaster
In all it’s grandeur,
The lack of virtue,
That is what makes me weep.”
(Gebara, Out of the Depths, P. 28)  

‘Parra informed you of a great flood that will destroy all but one civilization! Parra is wise and powerful and will help evacuate everyone to the surviving civilization. The group must choose where they want to move.’

Act 2:
The whole group comes together. Each community has time to explain why their community can be the evacuation site or not. The group then decides which place will become their sanctuary.

Act 3:
Debrief. The Moderator prompts the team members with questions.
What was it like to create a community together?
What did you think when you found out it might be destroyed?
How did it feel to come back together as a whole group?
What challenges arose during the decision of which locations needed to evacuate?
(Specific to this group) After you all hypothetically arrive at your new home, what does the community feel like? What legal system or cultural systyems do you follow? How did it feel to shift from your academic mindset to a playful game oriented mindset?

Guest Speaker:
Ms. Yohana Junker, Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA; from Brazil

Brazilian-American Theologian Yohana Junker is researching Southwest Art for her Ph.D. Her combination of art and religion into Theopoetics stems from her understanding that poetic art holds spaces for experiences of solidarity and fluidity. Her work takes on the “response-ability” of “co-inspiring” to do serious theology through life-changing art forms. Her presentation explored the (literally) ground-breaking work of several South American artists.  

Readings

Ivone Gebara, Out of the Depths, Introduction and chs. 1, 4, 5.
Lila and Rebecca gave the lead online post of the material to which the rest of us respond.

From Lila,
“Ivone Gebara’s main argument in Out of the Depths is that the evils that women experience in domestic life are typically ignored in theological discussions of evil, and thus our societal understanding of and efforts to overcome evil are stunted. Whereas for men ‘evil’ is typically seen as monolithic and external, for women evil is seen as intrinsic to their character. Rejecting dualistic models that make women forever the “other,” Gebara argues for a doctrine of relatedness that redefines human community, incorporating women’s ‘ordinary’ experience into our collective understanding of suffering and salvation (142). Salvation becomes a daily practice that is accessible, life-affirming, realistic and revolutionary (120-124). Gebara ends by proposing a theology of God that is mystical and all-inclusive rather than limited to a historically-bound patriarchal narrative (173).

Gebara’s method is theological anthropology (as opposed to biblical exegesis) which she sees as essential to the struggle for justice because it exposes the gendered nature and limitations of theologies that perpetuate evil (8). For example, she exposes the doctrine of the cross’ complicity in making women powerless (114)…

…More male scholars and religious leaders must engage feminist theologies with humility and good faith, obviously. But even more, because of pervasive prejudices, feminist scholars need to REALLY know their ‘stuff’ and be able to engage this discussion at a high level in order that our collective voices might be heard, and our wider community redeemed. I as an Iliff student cannot afford the privilege of personal fragility. Ours is truly a communal calling and too much is at stake.

From Rebecca,
“Certainly, there is a need to divorce ourselves from dualistic theologies that promote male-ness as ideal/godly and female-ness as inherently evil, and Gebara’s liberative feminist approach gives plenty of evidence for that. Further, her phenomenological method which names “evils” not as one thing for which we can determine an origin, but as many things, disrupts the paradigm of patriarchal theological discourse which clings to reason and universal claims regarding the existence of evil (14).

I also appreciate her description of the human condition as neither exclusively good nor exclusively evil, but containing both, always and at once, acknowledging “the complexity and intersection of various evils, those always before us, in us, around us” (44). Her methodology is important in helping readers come to terms with the ever-increasing complexities and persistence of evil(s) in the lives of women particularly, but for all living beings universally. That said, it seems she is challenged by the persistence of evil, even as she wants to cling to some level of belief in the “good news” of a just world where “no evil can have the last word over life” (58).

Where I find her thesis most challenging is in her assertion that “evil does not exist without good…[and] likewise, good does not exist without evil” (137). While I concede that our human capacity does not allow us to fully understand or adequately articulate either concept without its foil, I’m not sure I’d agree that one can not/does not exist without the other, or that good does not exist “without some earlier bad situation that had to be overcome for good to appear” (137). It seems to me that, in this representation of good and evil, she comes close to recreating a dualistic model for understanding evil – the very thing she sets out to overcome in dismantling the patriarchal foundations of theological discourse.”

From Dr. Lee’s Lecture

Bio: Ivone Gebara was a Brazilian Catholic nun from Lebanon. In college, Ivone met radical nuns and saw a different life and a public sphere in which she could speak out. During her education, Father Joseph Comblin, a Dutch priest in Brazil, taught her critical thinking. In 1966, post-Vatican II, she studied and taught in Dutchland and then returned to Brazil to teach at Recife Institution of Theology. Her work, alongside others like Don Helder Camera, collaborated to help oppressed people seek social change. Their work was silenced by the Vatican because of her (and their) pioneering Latin American Feminist Theologian. She is an avid epistemologist who felt that knowledge is formed through a combination of perceptions (min 6ish) being outside and inside of which is both attractive and uncomfortable. (min 7)

Key Concepts & Contributions
1. Praxis theology
From both listening and observing people’s lived experiences.
Gebara said that her empathy was gained by being with birthing women, where it dawned on her that life is a gift.

2. Attention to the silent injustices experienced by women
Being in the room is the sense of being alive.
Listening to people became her methodology while using a reflective lens

3. Deconstructing knowledge and Ideologies from the Fem Liberation Theological perspective
Women’s voices need to be included in the collective consciousness. Like women have learned to ‘read’ men’s work/perspective. Men will have to learn to read women’s work.

4. Challenging Dualism of Sexism
Social class often determines our station in life, however, Gebara felt that social change is possible.

5. Issue of Immediacy
Salvation, as well as the immediacy of survival, need to be addressed simultaneously

6. Disproportionate Emphasis on Female Sexuality: and Abortion
Advocated the use of birth control and the decriminalization of abortion

7. Ecofeminism
Current discussions on ecology seem to be driven by Latin American feminists & womanists (Plenary address, min 50ish). We’ll see this topic pop up in other weeks, especially week 9. This topics material is dense. It takes time to understand it’s translations.

From my gut reaction–
I have always favored beavers,
a neighboring animal on the mississippi known for their ability to purify water, their family values, and their playfully temperamental attitude towards humanity.
(Where humans are also known as Trappers)
we learn from them that while we listen upstream,
(where the issue might begin with ice melting)
we also listen downstream
(Where the issue’s impacts of polluted water are found)
and we live accordingly in our channels and on our banks 

Thanks for reading,
Emily Nagle

Photography by Seth Nagle

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