America the Beautiful

As the semester comes to an end, I can’t help but to look back and meditate on everything I’ve learned, the fears I’ve conquered, the good and bad grades, the change of perspective, the growth in knowledge, the growth in love, and last but not least; the people I’ve met. Being my first time living in the United States, I was afraid all my presuppositions about Americans were going to be true. And you know what? They were true. They still are. I had a few experiences with discrimination, and people making fun of the way I say particular words, or that I can’t even say nor know what words mean. It has been tough, but it has been good. I have to admit my first year at Eternity has been more good than bad. It has been incredible.

Last month in our Foundations class we were asked how the class or school in general has helped us grow or change the way we view life/people, the Bible, and/or God. It took me a while to think about the ways my views have changed. It’s a very simple question, right? But the answer can be very complex. I came to the United States thinking that Americans thought of themselves as the center of the universe, as people who were above everyone else, as people who see immigrants as invaders, as people who put their trust in the government, as people who think God is for wars and revenge. Instead, I found a small group of students/faculty who love cultures and want to respect them, who challenge and love one another in ways I have never seen before, who strive to trust in God alone, and whose love for Jesus is above everything else.

Most of my presuppositions about Americans are still true, but my culture is not without fault. I used to be so proud because I’m not an American -even though I still enjoy the benefits of U.S. citizenship. I wanted everyone to know that I am different, and that I am not Mexican. The typical phrase, “They’re all Mexicans to me.” used to drive me insane. I can only laugh at myself and feel really stupid. WHO CARES?! Seriously, why is that so important? Aren’t I a citizen of the Kingdom of God? (Is this correct grammar? It sounds funny.) So I don’t care anymore. I don’t care if people get confused between Costa Rica and Puerto Rico. I don’t care if people see me as another Mexican invading their country.

The United States is so diverse, and I find that beautiful. I don’t fully understand yet what it means to be created in God’s image, but there is a beauty I can now see in people that I couldn’t see before. I’m not sure if I would be able to see that if I hadn’t come to the United States. Maybe I would’ve, but God decided to teach me that lesson here.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not exalting the United States. I don’t even like calling it “America.” I am just recognizing the fact that there is beauty in all peoples, and recognizing that God is a God who challenges culture, but is still able to find us and meet us wherever we are. I am aware of how your country impacts your worldview. I think the way I think because of where I grew up, and the family I’m a part of. I love colorful clothing, dancing and salsa music, mostly because of where I grew up, but none of those things determine who I am. The fact that I lived in Puerto Rico for 20 years is important, but the fact that I’m God’s child goes above and beyond. I am thankful God allowed me to learn my lesson and humble me in a country that is not known for humbleness. I am thankful God taught me to not fight fire with fire, pride with pride, but to love. 

See how great love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.                                                                                                                                                      – 1 John 3:1

 

 

Biased Theology

Paul G Hiebert wrote the book Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, where he builds up different scenarios and cases pertaining missionaries and the cultural baggage they encounter and bring along with them to their respective regions of ministry, and how to be better ministers of the gospel wherever we are. I love this book, and being already “culturally savvy,” I’ve been able to relate to many of the things mentioned in the book, and understand what I have been through and what I still am going through. As I explained in my previous post A Life of Pilgrimage, I’ve lived in Puerto Rico, Mexico and the United States. Moving to culturally different countries has helped me change my perspective in many ways. Life doesn’t look the same for everyone, and that’s okay (It’s actually better than okay, it’s pretty fascinating.)

Anthropological Insights for Missionaries should be called “Culture for Dummies.” Did I mention I love the book? Well, it’s been my favorite read so far. Ever since we started discussing the different things Hiebert talks about, I can see my classmates expanding their understanding on how to approach different cultures, the contextualization of the gospel, and even shining a light over the fact that our way of doing things is not always the only way and it doesn’t work for everyone. Culture is something I am very passionate about, and being able to study culture is not something I was expecting to do in Bible College. Needless to say how confident I feel leaving the classroom knowing I am learning all sorts of truths that impact my every-day life and not only focus on creating an intelligent religious robot. (P.S. Apparently the structure of this last sentence is not common, but remember I think in Spanish, so it makes sense to me. *smiles*)

In the book, Hiebert states:

“We think that our studies of the Bible are unbiased, that our own interpretations of the Scriptures are the only true ones. It disturbs us, therefore, when we begin to discover that our theologies are also influenced by culture… The fact is, all theologies developed by human beings are shaped by their particular historical and cultural contexts–by the language they use and the questions they ask.” (198)

Our theology is biased, and this is, firstly because we are sinners and our knowledge is incomplete; and second, because we live in a specific time and we are part of a specific culture. How is theology related to culture? In every way. Even the books of the Bible have been written in a specific historical and cultural context, and we study that context in order to understand the message being communicated. Yes, the gospel message transcends culture, but our theology is shaped by it. We are not asking the same questions about God, that the Christian community in China is asking. It’s pretty simple, and being aware of this has, in a way, made me feel less pressured about having the answers to every question being asked in today’s world, because I don’t even have knowledge of every single one of those questions.

Another big thing that hit me is the influence language has on our theology. As I was sitting in class today, I noticed we skipped through discussing how language impacts our theology, and I guess it is a tough concept to grasp. Speaking Spanish is different than speaking English. Sentences are structured differently and words may have other connotations and meanings when translated. So I don’t think like most of my classmates because I think in Spanish, and my language has influenced my theology. Ever since school started I don’t go a day without hearing a word for the first time. In many occasions there is no translation to Spanish for that word I just learned, or I have also never heard the word in Spanish nor know what it means. With this I only want to show that what Hiebert is talking about is true and we must be aware of it. I converse with God in Spanish, so I use words that English speakers may not use or don’t even exist in the English language. Can you imagine how different from ours Zambian’s conversations are with God? I think you get the idea.

To be honest, the fact that my theology is now being shaped in English makes me extremely nervous. I’m starting to think in English about theological matters, and go back to Spanish when it is a “less complicated” thought. I have no idea how this will affect me when I go back to Spanish speaking countries, but I guess I’ll find out soon!

-Lex

A Life of Pilgrimage

   014    Pilgrimage can be defined as a “journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.” Well, at least that is what Google says, and that is exactly what my life has been (for the most part). Ever since I became a Christian when I was 15, I have been searching for a place to call home as my way of living a life devoted to Christ. When the time came to pick which career to pursue, I was greatly influenced by my attraction to Evangelism and Missions, so I decided to go into Nursing School. What a journey that was, and what a great failure. My favorite part about it was people-watching in the cafeteria. I was confused, and thought I would never be able to find a way to live a life devoted to Christ.

    The time came to make a decision, so I changed majors and went into one of the things I am most passionate about: Anthropology. I thought I had finally found a way back to my journey of devotion to Christ. What a journey that was, and what a great failure. Again I was confused and felt stuck, but didn’t let anyone notice. How could I pretend to live a life of devotion if I showed signs of weakness and seemed disoriented? I was obviously looking at things from the wrong perspective. Feelings of shame started to overcome me, so I cried out to God and He heard me. With kindness the Lord showed me how my devotion to Him, was actually devotion to my own plans to “be someone.” Convicted of my distrust and unbelief in the Lord’s plans, I decided to leave everything and embark on another journey. I moved to Ensenada, Mexico without any specific plans, except to be with God and find myself in Him, not in my own accomplishments (which obviously wasn’t working.) What a journey that was, and what a great victory. Finally! I have a spiritual and emotional attachment to Ensenada because my life changed while I was there. I found a place to call home, and I feel the most at home when I find myself in Jesus.

     Finding myself in Jesus is a daily pursuit. My journey of devotion, aka. my life, makes sense only when I do His will, and His will is a day-to-day thing. Every morning I have to remind myself I am nothing without Jesus, and I ask Him to help me live according to His will. It has always amazed me how we need the Lord’s help to love Him more. God has been so good to me, and so kind in affirming my desire to live for Him. I have always struggled with wanting to “be someone” and judging my success by my accomplishments, but in Mexico I learned that success is overrated. I am committed to be successful in the act of surrendering my life to Christ.

     My Pilgrimage continues in California. I came to Eternity Bible College again without an agenda. My only desire is to know more about this God I proclaim. Funny to say that the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Slowly but surely God is making things clear, bringing down walls, opening my heart, taking me out of my bubble, making me new. For now I have found a home in Jesus; in His presence dwelling inside me, but the reality is I can’t wait to build my eternal home with Jesus in a new earth, and under new heavens. My Pilgrimage will end with the restoration of all things, and Eternity Bible College is giving me a firm and steady foundation to remain faithful in the journey.

-Lex