Sunday, November 16, 2008

Conversation Recap for November 9, 2008

We met at Evergreen and checked in.

We went around the circle with stories about where we were when he heard about the election outcome. Participants found a wide range of things to appreciate about the Obama victory. This is a time to remember for participants of the Conversation.

Several participants reported having friends from beyond our borders who offered congratulations and more—the whole world seems to be ecstatic about the election outcome.

We also discussed some expectations about political outcomes in the Congress, whose final makeup is not yet known—a couple of recounts are underway.

One participant observed that our joy for the election outcome needs to be tempered by a practical awareness of what happens after elections. A political machine exists, and the people who voted are not directly involved in exercising influence. Officials in the government, including appointees, and interest groups are the ones who are there day in and day out. The election is just a start. We were reminded that the post civil-war hope of overturning slavery, seriously reconstructing the country, quickly was swamped by the conservative counter-movement. Is a new reconstruction possible?

One observation shared by several people, was that this is a time to help articulate a progressive vision. We can help with that right now. Staying engaged might mean keeping in contact with elected officials. It might mean taking opportunities to speak, write and publish political visions that reduce the influence of the right wing dominated talk radio, along with its influence over the mainstream media.

Another topic that arose: to what extent is this an inherently conservative country? It is something we hear repeated. Yet ask for clarifications on what that means.

We continue today with a discussion of liberation theology (LT). We were guided by Dexter’s powerpoint presentation. For people looking for summaries of liberation theology, check these summaries: (an emphasis on development of the ideas, and its historical stages); (an emphasis on how liberation theology did not bring about the institutional and social changes initially pursued, but that the movement still is evolving and has much to offer). For an academic treatment of liberation theology applied to the special case of Africa and decolonization, see Dibinga Wa Said, “An African Theory of Decolonization,” at As a note, you may be interested in the obituary of Hugo Assmann, in March of this year, in the Times of London, at

Theologically, LT includes the idea that God needs to be seen as more than transcendent. The divine mysteries are clarified when we can see the suffering of others, in particular the plight of the poor. The evangelical quest, in LT, is not just to proclaim the good news, but to actually change the world. God becomes less mysterious if we see it moving us to live better, liberated from oppression and injustice. When peace comes, that is good news.

We were invited to consider the work of evangelism, worldwide and in our personal lives. There are opportunities to point out ideas about peace, and justice.

LT is partly grounded in the Old Testament, in the story of the liberation of Israel. It is also grounded in the New Testament, in Jesus as a liberator. The news to the poor is not merely salvation after death, but freedom from poverty and from oppression due to race, sex and class. The worldly examples of the message are many, such as Luke 1:51-3.

The LT construction of faith, hope and love speaks to the work people do here on earth, as well—fidelity to history, confidence about the future here on earth, and opting for doing something about poverty. The ‘end times’ vision of Christianity that is popular these days is precisely the opposite interpretation as LT—a giving up on this world, and for some actually promoting a last battle, starting in the Middle East, with an eye toward hastening the end of this world.

We grouped to discuss three questions: implications of LT for our (referring to the United States, not just us personally) religious practices, how LT affects our concept of God, and how it affects our work for social justice.

We heard of some experiences from Central America in the 1980s, when death squads targeted priests and teachers as a tactic directly aimed at LT and what it offered to the poor. And historically it turned out that parallel structures were required to carry the movement, because if it is just in the church its opponents have clear targets.

We heard some observations on the divisions among Christian churches with regard to the message offered on engagement in the world.

One report on the period from the mid-1970s Central America suggested that the movement during the time toward governments more on the left was part of that, and that the construction of it officially offered by our government, and generally supported in the media, was that this was evil communism.

One participant suggested that this is a version of a larger issue. For all of us, we can ask ourselves what is our relationship to people in poverty. It is not just something that people with a strong religious faith have to work with.

What does it mean to have a revolution without violence that targets poverty? LT asks people to fundamentally change many things. It asks for major changes in institutional priorities, in government policies.

One suggested we have a serious discussion of redistributing the wealth. One participant observed that we have trouble discussing this publicly because, in practice, we currently do redistribute wealth—through the tax code, through subsidies and legal support of various economic activities, we redistribute wealth upwards.

We heard a couple of observations about the quality of political arguments in the United States. The venom of talk radio (one person reported hearing a claim that Obama will be a “dictatorial socialist”) is repeated by people on the street. A participant told a story of seeing a couple of them at a Veterans for Peace march the other day.

One participant told an interesting story of how the state of Arkansas restored its usury laws and thereby kicked the check cashing businesses out.

The arguments for the plight of the poor seem to lose in this country, at least for the last 28 years. We can perhaps do something about this, and keep the pressure on.

It is possible that something like 85% of Washingtonians eligible to vote did so in this last election, which makes it the closest thing we have seen to an election expressing the genuine will of the people. Well, a continuation of these levels of engagement will make us look back at this election as genuinely transformative.

Involving at-risk youth in gardening: Thurs, 9 am