Living at the Intersections: Reflections of a Restless Latina on Theology and Identity

I live at the intersections. My physical features retell the stories of the oppressed and the oppressor. That is, stories of Conquista and colonialism; genocide and slavery; forced assimilation and revolución. The languages of those who came dance in my tongue, taking turns until they mix into that we call Spanglish. And now I find myself navigating the multilayered reality of being a woman of color with an accent, studying theology at a conservative evangelical seminary in the USA.

But how do you do theology when your life is torn between countries, languages, and communities? How do you “speak of God from more than one place?”[1] How do you do theology when you are simultaneously an immigrant and a U.S. citizen? These are the questions that constantly plague my mind. Although I do not pretend to know the answers, there are three notions that have been helpful as I navigate my identity, history, and theological vocation.

When the locus theologicus is a way and not a place

Those of us living aquí y allá (here and there) do theology on the way, and from more than one place. In this sense the notion of locus theologicus is insufficient to describe our theologizing.[2] We move between places, communities, languages, and countries. And sometimes this via theologica feels more like a via crucis. Because in us the painful realities of our communities collapse all at once. You feel your body been pulled into all different directions: feminicidios in Argentina, México, and Colombia; racism and the indifference of the evangelical church in the United States; corruption, machismo, and colonialism in Puerto Rico; and the list never ends. There is no ivory tower in sight. There are caminos por recorrer (paths to be traveled). Because, as many Latin American theologians have argued, we do theology as part of our life of seguimiento (following as disciples). In the words of Peruvian theologian Samuel Escobar,

[…] as Latin American thinkers we chose to do our theology not contemplating Christ from the comfortable distance of the balcony, a secure and easily received orthodoxy, but following him on the troubled roads of our Latin American lands.[3]

And I… I do theology mientras cruzo el charco (as I cross the Atlantic Ocean).

Doing teología en conjunto

But doing theology is not only about the path -or paths- we walk. It is also about those who walk with us. This is why Latino/a theologians have coined the term en conjunto. Our context as a people born from and in the struggle gives rise to a way of doing theology that is collaborative and dialogical. As Cuban theologian Luis G. Pedraja states,

Theology is not the possession of a few intellectuals, but the reflection and work of the community as a whole.[4]

This is why in my theology you will hear the voices of San Agustín, Archbishop Óscar Romero, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Amos Yong, Julia Esquivel, Richard Twiss, Residente, Lin Manuel Miranda, mamiabuela, and tías. Because the only way I conceive of the task of theologizing is as the communal effort of the church catholic.

My theology sounds different. Spanish words and phrases interrupt your reading, like intruders. You hear the loudness, and you feel the warmth. Because I refuse to write a theology without heart. It is not exclusive, but aims to show hospitality to you all. Because at the end we are la comunidad (the community).

The need for a middle space 

And as you do theology on the way in the company of la comunidad, you need to remember that you are as orthodox as any other white evangelical person. Even when they question it, because of your accent, or how you look, or your concern for orthopraxis. I describe myself as “too conservative for the liberals, and too liberal for the conservatives.” I do not call myself an evangelical -whatever that term has come to mean. I am evangélica, and I believe that consensual orthodoxy necessarily needs orthopraxis. My theological intersectionality requires a middle space, that escapes the polarizations of the evangelical/conservative-liberal binary. A space that acknowledges that the good news of the Kingdom is not only about life after death, but life in this life. A space where people who care for the “least of these” are not called Marxists or Socialists, but Christians. A space where commitment to Scripture and love for people are not dichotomized, but brought together.

I live at the intersections… and so do you. (Hebrews 11:13-16; Philippians 3:20)


Bibliography

[1] See Nancy E. Bedford, “To Speak of God from More Than One Place: Theological Reflections from the Experience of Migration,” in Latin American Liberation Theology: The Next Generation, edited by Ivan Petrella (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005), 95-118.

[2] In this section I am following Nancy E. Bedford’s elaboration on the “Merits and Limits of the Metaphor of the Locus Theologicus.” See Ibid, 102-105.

[3] Samuel Escobar, “Doing Theology on Christ’s Road,” in Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective: Exploring the Contextual Nature of Theology and Mission (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 71.

[4] Luis G. Pedraja, Teología: An Introduction to Hispanic Theology (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2003), 71.

 

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