Thursday, March 24, 2011

All Our Central American Nightmares

On this day, 31 years ago, Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated as he celebrated Mass; for those of you who would like to read a more theological meditation on this event, go to this post on my theology blog.

Central America was part of the fabric of my college years, much the same as Iraq/Afghanistan region must be for recent college grads. There was real talk of invading Nicaragua during the 1980's, which led to many late-night discussions about what we would do if a draft was enacted. I met many Central American refugees during that time, some here legally, most here illegally. Like many Americans, at first I had difficulty understanding why we would support one Central American country and not another one.

I remember that Ronald Reagan said we had to be ever more deeply involved in Central America, because if we weren't, we would wake up one morning to find Communists invading the country from the south. And I thought, Communists crossing the Rio Grande? Well, let the Texans handle that; they're well-armed, and I have faith in them.

In the midst of the geo-political arguments, I also got my first hearing/reading of liberation theology, a pattern of thought that would change my life. Liberation Theology introduced me to a radical Jesus, a Jesus who demanded justice for the poor and the oppressed, a Jesus who was crucified not because of my individual sin but because he challenged the Roman power structure. This Jesus was not one I had met in the suburban, Southern churches of my youth.

Henri Nouwen was also inspired by the liberation movements in Latin America. As part of my Lenten discipline, I'm reading Show Me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent. Here's a quote from today's reading, which originally appeared in his book Out of Solitude: "When we start being too impressed by the results of our work, we slowly come to the erroneous conviction that life is one large scoreboard where someone is listing points to measure our worth. And before we are fully aware of it, we have sold our soul to the many grade-givers" (page 52).

Those of us who have a vision of social justice must remember that the world is not set up to reward those of us who call for a more just word. Sure, some of us may get acclaim, but the world tends to reward social justice visionaries with jail or martyrdom. But the vision is important, and it's vital that we demand it. Think of how different the world would be if people like Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Romero, Martin Luther King, the Mirabal sisters--if these people had just sat idly by and said, "Well, I have my nice comfortable life. I'm not going to look out for the poor and the oppressed. Let them help themselves."

My favorite Oliver Stone movie is Salvador, a movie which isn't always faithful to the facts, but is faithful to the truth. It's a movie that manages to have a serious conversation about faith and the demands of faith--and I use that word faith in its many-dimensioned splendor. It's a movie with a graphic rape scene that is one of the few rape scenes I can think of that doesn't eroticize the act, not one bit. I tend not to watch movies with rape scenes these days because they disgust me on so many levels, and they make me afraid to live in this world as a woman, and I can't afford that fear. I'm not foolish about my safety, don't get me wrong. But I don't need those violent images in my head as I move around in the world. If you're like me, and you'd like to watch the movie, but the rape scene is a stumbling block, just know that it's about to happen when the van of nuns sets out from the airport; close your eyes and hit fast forward. It's a great movie, and you shouldn't miss it.

Below is an inspiration card that I made back in January, when I was having fun with collage. I have always viewed Romero as one of my heroes, and it was fun to make this card.

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