Professor Orlando Espín teaches theology at the University of San Diego, and at the diocesan School for Ministry. He specializes in the theological study of popular religion as well as in the theologies of culture and traditioning. He is one of the founders of U.S. Latino/a theology. In his most recent book, Idol and Grace: On Traditioning and Subversive Hope, he emphasizes the need for Christians to engage with the disposables of our society, precisely because our Lord Jesus Christ was a disposable, a Jewish peasant, what would be the equivalent of a day laborer in our time. We spoke with him about how these provocative ideas intersect with pragmatic church ministry.
What is the most important thing when discussing intercultural dialogue and connecting with people our society considers disposable? “In dealing with human realities there are no recipes. We do not come with an instruction book when we are born, individually or collectively. Every congregation and every community has to figure out how themselves to be Christians. There is no content to Christian tradition except that which Christian traditioning says is the content. Before the 1800s, you didn’t find the notion of Christian marriage that we find now. If we believe that Christian marriage is a traditional value that has been handed down over the generations, what do we do with the Middle Ages when they used to buy their brides? It’s very important not to be naïve in our history or theology.”
How can an Episcopal church in the Diocese of San Diego help the marginalized find their voices? Remember the passage in Philippians (2:5-7), a pre-Pauline hymn, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of man.” How do we empty ourselves of thinking that THEY are the disposables? How do we empty ourselves of thinking that we have something THEY need? How did the son of God do it? The only way to find an answer is to just walk with them, be with them, be like them, experience, in our own skin and life, what it means to be like the majority of the world. God reached out to human history and that reaching out is a human being. The majority of the people on this planet are treated as disposable. They have their voices. They know how to survive. They’re very, very smart. If we want to help them find their voices, we need to find our ears. They have their voices.
What actions can a church take to be more inclusive and to lift up the voices of the marginalized? Stand in solidarity with the marginalized. It’s not charity. It’s not that we decide what they need. It’s not that they are objects of our charity or we know better than they do or we have more resources. No, no, no, no. It’s: ask them, work with them, endure with them, be in solidarity with them. Love them even if it’s difficult. Keep in mind what African-American philosopher, Cornell West, once said that “justice is what love looks like in public.” If we cannot promote justice in the public square, we stink of hypocrisy. All our love, charity and whatever else we claim to do – stinks.
Is there anything else people should consider about intercultural dialogue or the church in 2015? Get out of the church buildings. The worst thing to happen to the church was to build churche instead of being churches. We would not even be recognizable to early Christians. If celebrating the Eucharist with regular folks in regular places is not sacred enough, we have missed the point of the incarnation. What if we didn’t have full-time priests? We found a way of doing seminary without being a seminary (School for Ministry). We can find a way of being church without church buildings and full-time priests.
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