Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Education for -- what? More reflections on Luther and Ignatius

We leave for Mexico City in less than a week, and this will be one of our stops: the city dump, a food source for too many of the city's poor. This exposure will be part of our education, and images like this will unsettle our first-world lives.

That's the task of immersion: disorientation.

Some recent travel gave me the experience to reflect on how immersion gets packaged in undergraduate, graduate, and -- in our case, faculty -- experiences. In mid-December I had the opportunity to visit the college that pioneered global immersion through its Center for Global Education (CGE), the Lutheran Augsburg College in downtown Minneapolis. Augsburg states its purpose boldly: "education for service." Contrast that with the mission of the Jesuit Santa Clara University, whose immersion program in El Salvador at the Casa de la Solidaridad Lisa and I will visit in March: "education for justice."

Education for service, education for justice: is there a difference?

I think there is, and it might play into some of the differences between Lutheran and Ignatian spiritualities.

First, Luther understood vocation as a place of one's calling, and he maintained that all positions in life -- brewer, baker, mother -- were important places where God calls people to serve, not just the places of monastery or abbey. It was an pointed correction to the late-medieval valorization of religious life, but it resulted in a somewhat static sense of vocation.

For Ignatius, calling is a path -- Ignatius even called himself as a "pilgrim." Vocation is more kinetic, more in motion. You're on the move, and you're looking for direction. Discernment is crucial.

But the distinction between educating for service and educating for justice comes out of a difference between static and kinetic notions of vocation.

Second -- and related, Luther's attention to place corresponds to an emphasis on context. After all, if you find yourself inhabiting a particular space, you have time to look around. Contextual analysis is crucial.

Ignatius' attention to path and motion allows for a bigger picture. Indeed, the emphasis on justice illumines the systems and structures in which particular places are located, analysis of which is both important and natural from that angle of vision.

The distinction between educating for service and educating for justice highlights a difference between contextual and systemic analysis, between understanding a specific setting and situating that setting in a bigger picture.

Finally, Luther's emphasis on service always has the neighbor as its focus. For Luther, all the world's a neighbor. He's adamant that we bear the face of Christ to the neighbor, that the neighbor bears the face of Christ to us. I wish sometimes the neighbor just bore the face of -- the neighbor. But that's another post. Nonetheless, there's a deeply personal thrust here.

The Ignatian push for justice, almost because of its systemic nature, is more encompassing, but also less personal. I'm always struck with how abstract the "preferential option for the poor" can sound, though that is not at all its intent. Lest the tag "impersonal" seem negative, remember how easily the personal obscures good judgment -- and you see the positive sides of this emphasis.

The difference between educating for service and educating for justice may also be marked by a difference between more personal and more impersonal approaches to poverty.

Of course, we need both angles of vision, Lutheran and Ignatian, for a fuller view. And while the typology above could be contested, I offer it as an heuristic tool to sort differing emphases in the two spiritualities. Each informs a personal and social ethic; each reminds us how closely woven are spirituality and ethics in these two figures -- and the traditions they shaped.

Again, I'm so lucky to have Lisa as a colleague in this venture: she's as thoroughly Ignatian as I am Lutheran. For better and for worse, we're "stuck" in these traditions, and we're often overly critical of our roots. I wind up defending Ignatius, and she'll wave the flag for Luther. So we remind each other of the gifts of the other's tradition. That's been a grace, as well as grist for good conversation!

We carried backpacks along the Camino; we'll carry our traditions with us in the next phases of the grant. Thanks to Kim Erno and Ariadna at the Lutheran Center in Mexico City for all their advance planning. We hope to connect with Anne Lutterman-Aguilar on the faculty of Augsburg's CGE in Cuernavaca. Anne is doing some terrific work on the phenomenology of vocation: the one being called, the one calling, and the one being served. And thanks to Doug Schuurman who elegantly unpacks the difference between vocation as path and as place in his book "Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life" (Eerdmans, 2004).

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The "O"'s have it!

I second Lisa's observation that the Advent/Christmas time is a seasonal pilgrimage. We make the pilgrimage in trips home, visits to family and friends, and we mark the time in visits to churches and holy sites.

We also make the pilgrimage in texts, as we contemplate the appointed readings for the season. The Advent lectionary is my favorite. Words of the prophets register longing and loss, anticipation and hope. They fall like sheer poetry on the ear, partly because of their familiarity but mostly because they rank as some of most lyrical writing in scripture.

As mentioned, we started our pilgrimage to Santiago in Pamplona, staying at a hotel on the tiny Plaza de la Virgin de la O. Although Lisa and I spent miles imagining what that "O" might have stood for, liturgical geographer Dan Johnson pointed us to a website that clarified our confusion: the Virgen de la O referred to the virgin celebrated in the "O" antiphons, a series of readings for seven days immediately preceding Christmas Eve.

I wasn't aware that these "O" antiphons had anything to do with the Virgin Mary. They name Christ in the many and various ways that the prophets anticipate him: as Wisdom from on High, Ruler of Might, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring from on high, Ruler of all nations, and finally, as Emmanuel. You'll recognize these as verses of the ancient Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."

There's the O, but where's the Virgin?

That was the question I brought to these readings this year. And lo! reference to the virgin was somewhere in every one of the days' readings. The "O"s begin on December 17th, and this year's reading was the magnificent genealogy from Matthew's gospel, full of long and largely unpronounceable male names -- but interrupted by four women, most of whom were not "good Jewish girls." There's Tamar, who wrestled the justice she was due from her thoughtless father-in-law, Judah. There's Rahab, a Canaanite "prostitute," who nonetheless saved the young nation of the Hebrew peoples. There's "the wife of Uriah," Bathsheba, probably a Hittite like her husband. There's Ruth, the Moabite woman and wife of Boaz. Finally, there's Mary. These women are important breaks in the male lineage: they signal the good news is for all people.

Another of the readings for one of the "O" days comes from the gospel of Matthew, who echoes Isaiah (7:14), "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel" (Matthew 1:18-25). Then, there's the story of the barren wife of Manoah, who had no children -- and suddenly became pregnant with Samson (Judges 13). Other readings during the season of the "O"s tell the story of Elizabeth, a much older, childless woman who becomes pregant with a child who will grow up to be John the Baptist. Hannah, the mother of Samuel, makes appearance in another reading: another woman without any children, who suddenly finds herself pregnant. Mary's song in Luke's gospel, the Magnificat, is only a little less militaristic version of Hannah's song from 1 Samuel 2.

The readings prescribed for these final days before the birth of Christ celebrate unexpected and thoroughly momentous pregnancies that issue in powerful figures to both the Jewish and the Christian faiths.

But most of all these readings celebrate the women who bore them -- perhaps the only time in the church year we cheer them on.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Seasonal Pilgrimage

This time of year, of course, we note a famous pilgrimage without generally calling it such.

The Christmas story we celebrate begins with two crises: first the dangerous pregnancy of a very young girl, maybe 13 or 14 years old. Pregnant by--whom? An over-eager, insufficiently cautious finace? A Roman soldier committing another rape because he can? Or was it...God? Mary is vulnerable to Jewish law, and could be stoned to death for what would be assumed to be her transgression. The second crisis, nearly 9 months later, when the young couple heads to Bethlehem under pressure of the government's need to take a census. Now. Of all times. So, the story goes, Joseph and Mary head to Bethlehem.

Historicity? Doubtful at best. The Romans only counted their own in censuses. Even though there was a census in 6 b.c, they wouldn't bother to count the Jews. Second, not even the most bone-headed administrator would send people back to their birthplaces to be counted. It was only a little less stupid then than it would be now to do such a thing. The story of Jesus' birth in a cave in Bethlehem is most likely a fiction added later in order to fit his life story with Micah's prophecy of a savior's birth in Bethlehem.

Or...perhaps...remember who this girl is. When the angel told her she was to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit (if she consented,) first she argued with the angel on matters of biology. No sex, no baby, she said. When the angel said that wouldn't be a problem, she responded by echoing a great Hebrew Bible song of the triumph of the lowly over the powerful. To latch onto this song revealed Mary as something of a middle-school-age political firebrand. In this child, God would "cast down the mighty from their thrones." The rich would be "sent away empty." Mary was a girl with attitude.

It is possible that it was Mary herself who wanted to take the dangerous trip to Bethlehem. She was raised on scripture, and knew very well of Micah's prophecy. And her child, by God, would be that messiah. So she and Joseph saddled up and headed off. This is an act of some determination: 9 months pregnant, joints loosening in preparation for birth, ankles swollen, belly sore, unable to sleep anyway, she hops a donkey for a weeklong pilgrimage, a transformative journey to a holy place. Or she'd make it holy, anyway. Perhaps they intended to go stay for a week or two, get settled a little, but the very jostling of the trip brought on the birth a little early. But no, her water broke early, they found a stable, and Jesus arrived on his own schedule.

I've been focused on pilgrimage not as about the end but the walking, the step by step by step. The character of a pilgrim is in the walking. Here we have a young girl making her pilgrimage into the danger of giving birth without relatives to help (and where do you find a midwife in a strange town?) She did so, perhaps, in order to fulfill a minor prophet's whim, that this unimportant town might have some claim to fame. What do you suppose they chatted about on the road? What stories did they tell? What fears did they share? What hopes? Who did they meet on the way? Who was kind to them the nights they stayed en route to Bethlehem?

Another pilgrimage, another transformation, this time a transformation of all creation.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Luther and Ignatius: Reluctant colleagues?

As part of our grant, Lisa and I will be teaching a course on comparative spiritualities, Lutheran and Ignatian. To prepare myself visually, I tried to find an image of Luther and Ignatius together. After all, they were roughly contemporary, one from the Basque country of Spain, the other from Germany. Theologically, they had lots in common.

1. Both focused on the person and work of Jesus Christ, though Ignatius gravitated to the life of Jesus, while Luther remained in awe of Christ, his righteousness, and how he conferred it freely upon humans.

2. Each discovered divine mystery in everyday life, something Ignatius called "finding God in all things," while Luther marveled on the infinite God capable of the most finite expression.

3. Finally, both emphasized vocation, or calling, though in Ignatian spirituality, one is called to a path or pilgrimage, which entailed ongoing discovery and discernment. For Luther, vocation was more static, God calls everyone to his or her place in life, even the most humble baker or brewer. Vocation was not just for those in religious life, nuns, monks, and priests.

If Luther and Ignatius could agree on all this good stuff, you'd' think there would be an image of them together, arms encircled, lifting a glass to the mystery.

This is all I could find: Pierre Le Gros' statue (c. 1695-1699)in the Ignatian Church of The Gesu in Rome, "Religion Overthrowing Heresy and Hatred." It's located near the tomb of Ignatius, who is buried underneath one of the world's largest slabs of lapis lazuli, an opulence he would have abhorred. That's as close as Ignatius gets to Luther.

Truth is the female figure, lashing out at the male heretics writhing in fear at her feet, while malevolent little angels tear out pages of books. We could easily imagine the men to be Luther and his Genevan counterpart, John Calvin. If that's the case, we can almost read the title of the books, Calvin's "Institutes" or Luther's polemical, provocative treatises.

Close in time to the invention of the printing press and a general uptick in literacy, the Reformation was all about words, words, words. Hymns, tracts, even bibles in the common language were suddenly widely available for dissemination, and the common people could read them.

The Catholic Counter-Reformation's protest was visual: baroque and rococco (baroque on steroids!) images of salvation, grace, and, as depicted here, damnation. Particularly to the Reformers.

How will we parse all this conflict in a class offered more than four hundred years later, when the similarities seem greater than the differences, particularly at a time when religions swing wildly between expressive individualism and fundamentalisms of left and right?

Maybe in the end, it doesn't matter. We'll take the wheat -- and leave the chaff behind.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Immersion and pilgrimage: Setting my face toward Mexico City

Part two of this pilgrimage grant takes us to Mexico City, one of the world's largest cities. With six other students from Chicago and Berkeley, we'll be involved in a sixteen-day immersion in another culture. We'll learn a lot about Mexican culture, but the dominant culture we'll be immersed in is the culture of poverty.

I've been to Mexico City before several times. My initial visit was to an academic conference on "Justice and Justification" in 1985, and the dominant culture was the culture of the academy. To our cost, we had very little to do with our surroundings. I was in Mexico City again several years later, taking a break from language school in Cuernavaca. Then I was immersed in the culture of Polanco, a beautiful, upscale urban neighborhood bordering Chapultepec Park. I was immersed in the culture of some of the best art museums in the world.

This time will be different: we will be immersed in the culture of the poor.

Immersion and pilgrimage are alike in some ways -- and very different in others. I'm trying to count the ways.

1. Happily, we won't be walking! My feet are glad about that. Yet, because of the City's danger, our movement will be restricted. We'll reside in a gated community. It won't be safe to simply get up early and run around the stadium of the nearby uniersity, as I did during the academic conference. We'll have to watch out for one another. And that prompts me to wonder: how will I "watch out" for the people we'll be meeting, particularly when I return to El Norte? They live in the daily danger of poverty and hunger.

2. "You walk your own Camino," a fellow pilgrim counseled. He was right. Pilgrimage is solitary. In contrast, immersion happens in and with a group. Indeed, our first experience of immersion will be in the group with whom we're traveling. Scout camp was the last time any of us were herded around like we will be in Mexico City. Our behavior will revert to that chronological age: I'll be fifty-something going on fourteen! On the Camino you can act fifty-something going on fourteen -- and no one would be around to notice!

3. Pilgrims carry everything they need on their backs: each carries her own. Immersion, in contrast, creates a situation of interdependence. Between us, we'll need to cover our bases. For the fiercely independent among us, that will be hard. Interdependence, even dependence, though, is far more the reality of a global world, where what I buy, what I eat, what I wear affects people far away whose lives and livelihoods depend on unthinking habits of First Sorld consumers.

4. Like on the Camino, we'll be dependent upon the kindness of strangers, and like the Camino, they'll all be speaking Spanish. There the similarity ends. Our hosts this time will be sharing from scarcity, not abundance. They'll share what little they have -- and like the widow's cruse of oil, it will be enough.

5. As with pilgrimage, we'll need to prepare. But we'll need more than great, lightweight gear for this trek. We'll need openness, sensitivity, and simplicity in our backpacks. Indeed, for our next immersion trip in March to Santa Clara University's Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador, these three traits as listed as requirements. They come right after a qualifying GPA, language skills, and maturity. (

6. Finally, as with pilgrimage, we'll go as beggars. There's nothing we can do or fix or change. We will simply need to be -- and be present. Like pilgrimage, immersion is about receptivity, not productivity. We'll go with empty hands -- and return with full hearts.

I don't expect this to be easy, but it needs to be done. Poverty is the reality of the majority of the world's population. We need to be there to experience it.

Then we need to let it change our lives in ways we cannot yet fathom.

Then comes the doing.