Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Practice of Unlearning

I love to see my children learn, they are like little sponges. Sophia, our 4 year-old, will diligently repeat every new word we teach her sometimes with her own pronunciation. This is quite an exercise for her as we are teaching her to speak words in two languages. She is great with one or two syllable words but has more difficulty with anything larger. So chocolate, becomes “chocate” and so forth.

There is however one advantage she has over us: she learning most things anew. At this point she is only learning while we adults are doing a whole lot of unlearning while attempting to learn new things. In an age where is information is so readily accessible, true learning requires a good amount of un-learning first. Let me explain. While we have a tremendous capacity to process (or digest which is a more humane way of seeing this process) information, most of it does not really stay with us. There is only a limited amount of information, skills and habits we can retain and use on a day-to-day basis. Thus, in order to truly learn something new we must first let go of the old.

This season has been on of unlearning for me. As I worked in business for over a decade (and got a MBA along the way), I am now starting to un-learn the business mindset. While this may not be evident to many, many business practices are grossly incompatible with the spiritual life. Ideas like efficiency, expediency, drive for success, pursuit of profit now have to be re-evaluated if not thrown away altogether. Not that they are intrinsically evil, yet an unquestioning adoption of them can be deadly to the soul. One remarkable new concept is the idea that the best things are formed slowly through time which is completely at odds with a culture that drives for speed and instant results.

Another unlearning I am going through is the idea that it is best to lead life and make decisions through reason. This is a hard one to let go. While I always recognized the role of the Spirit in life major decisions, my main default was reason and rationality. A cool, well articulated argument was always to be preferred over an emotion-filled plea. Through years, I learned to suppress and ignore emotions in the altar of reason. To go through life thinking that it was all about making the right choices that only can be arrived through by careful reasoning and deliberation. I am learning that the Spiritual way is altogether different and a lot less by ideas an a lot more by feelings and hunches.

From the beginning, I suspected that the most important aspect of this time would be what God would be doing in me. That is, it would not be about what I learned but what I was to become. Part of becoming is slow, long and arduous process of un-learning.

The biggest aim of the Spiritual life is not success, knowledge or even wisdom but discernment. Yet, how can we discern if our very mindset is bent on suppressing the very channels God wants to speak to us through. Do we have ears to listen to what the Spirit is saying? May our emotions, reasoning, and all our senses be open to capture the wind of the Spirit? 


The Privilege of Church-lessness: a Donald Miller post-script

Could not have said any better.

the long way home

donaldmiller-bw-2 Donald Miller put up another post  sort of talking more about his church attendance thoughts, this time talking about how the doctrine of the “priesthood of believers” means he does sacraments on his own and whenever he wants because God has given us all “agency” in this world to do that kind of stuff. He longs that pastors would empower their people to feel free to do these sort of things as well.

I made my thoughts clear last week about how wrong I think he is on this stuff (especially so with the sacraments. He even says he does baptisms for other people even though he himself has never been baptized). I won’t rehash that here. I did want to bring up one thing I noticed in his other posts that was more explicit in this last post. He writes:

To be fair, I’m wired a bit differently…

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A Call For Public Theologians (or 1,000 reasons why a MDiv matters)

I am reading Desmond Tutu’s “No Future Without Forgiveness” for one of my classes this quarter where he re-tells the story of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. By the way, this is a must-read for anyone interested in how South Africa came together to heal the wounds of apartheid. What struck me the most was how Tutu, an Anglican priest, became the chairperson of a commission of tremendous political consequence. He did this in full-garb, bringing his whole “religious” self to it unapologetic and gained the respect and agreement of Hindus, Agnostics, Blacks and Whites in the commission. His life example shows how theology can make a difference in the world in ways I haven’t seen happen often in the Western world. From the beginning, the work of the commission was recognized as very spiritual as it focused on forgiveness and therefore needed clergy to be involved in it. Woudn’t be great if our pastors/priests could lead peacemaking and reconciliation rather than just endorsing candidates or policies that have little to do with the kingdom of God?

 This brings me back to my current experience. As you know I work as a marketing professional in my day job (partially to pay for my seminary education at night). So I find myself straddling these two worlds of business and theology producing some interesting reflections to bear.  Reading about Desmond Tutu in the evening at times expose the sheer meaninglessness of my employer’s drive for profit.  It has also heightened my sensitivity to the people around me and how in the midst of that, God is using people daily to affirm each other’s humanity and do good on this Earth. In other words, it is forcing me to theologize about the business world and work relationships in ways I never imagined. One thing is true, corporate America is starving for some honest theological reflection to help guide its way through an ever changing world.

 I don’t necessarily believe that building a successful business is spiritual work. Yet, because it affects the lives of employees and customers, I am 100% sure that God is interested in it. Because of that, I believe t public theologians need to insert themselves into the conversation by asking different questions. Are our practices fair? Do we promote life-affirming patterns in our employees’ routine or do we undermine their families by unrealistic demands? Do we respect our customer’s privacy or do we use every means necessary to gain an extra buck? Do we treat subordinates with respect or do we just expect them to do as they are told? Suddenly, a whole world opens up by the simple act of asking new questions.

 Part of our problem is a failure of theology. Our God is too small to address the complexities of this world. Instead, we occupy ourselves drumming up business practices to feed the church-planting industrial complex. While that is certainly important work, it does not comprise the totality of the God’s kingdom.  We  need to enlarge our theology beyond filling church pews to filling the world with God’s goodness. Let it be in a political commission, business meeting or daily relationship with others. The vastness of God can only be limited by our understanding of Him. Isn’t time we honor Him in all our endeavors?

 Now, in order to do that, we theologians will have to re-think our language.  Can we translate terms like hermeneutics, soteriology, exegesis, hybridity and pneumatology in terms that the average person can understand?  Can we bring the God language to a pluralistic world beset by violence and division?  I hope many of us inside seminaries and outside of it will hear the call to theologize in the public sphere. Creation groans for it…


Doing Theology in (truly) Global Contexts

I haven’t been doing much blog lately as classes, work and life are a little overwhelming. Yet, I wanted to leave a quick imprint of this time for those of you who are praying and thinking of us from afar. Our time here has been quite an adventure and I am grateful every day for the gift of being here.

In the beginning of every quarter, I put myself through this grueling ordeal. I attend three classes and then force myself to drop one (as keeping 3 with a full-time job would be simply insane). The difficult part is having to drop a class after being there for the first day. So far, this is the second quarter and in both quarters I ended up changing my mind in the first week. “Doing theology in Global Context” was a wildcard class, an elective, that I added just because it sounded interesting. In my mind I was set on taking Biblical studies class and a Spiritual practices class (both that were required for

 my degree). Yet, after my first visit to DTGC, I was undone. I HAD to take that class. The professor was good and topic interesting but the real gift of the class was my fellow students.

Let me describe my class yesterday. In the first part, we gathered in groups to discuss our readings. We had 5 people in our group, literally representing almost every continent on the Earth. We weren’t just discussing theology in a global context; we were DOING theology right there in a very global context. It was beautiful to see how God’s Spirit was weaving common themes in the narratives of our very different lives. The only bad part was that after 15 minutes we had to stop.

In the second part, we watched a video of Asian-American theologian reflecting in his experience within Western theological circles. His main argument was to encourage Asian-Americans to start reflecting theologically WITH their cultural heritage rather than in spite of it. This resonated well with me as I struggle to do theology as a Brazilian-American-Charismatic-with-Anglican-leanings in a Western seminary like Fuller.

In the last part, we actually divided in groups based on geographical region to discuss a reading on Philippine Catholic theology. I felt at home sitting with a fellow Brazilian, a Uruguyan and a Chilean brother as we discussed what it meant to be evangelical in our cultures and our relationship with Catholicism. At the end we mused about what would it mean to develop a theology around “El Chavo / Chaves”(a Mexican comedy show that is known by just about every Latin American that grew up in the 80’s).

This is WHY we moved to California to be at Fuller. It is not just to get an education but be immersed in Global Christianity with fellow believers from all the parts of the world. This is where I feel most alive, right there basking in the beauty of the diversity of God’s people as we grapple with what it means to theologize in an ever changing world.  As our world gets bigger, we also catch a glimpse of the vastness of our boundless God.