Base Communities

Every so often I get to writing something that’s a little bigger than my brain can hold together in a single piece. And then I don’t know quite how to go about writing on it. That’s where a blog comes in handy. I can make handy notes here, all tied together with a category tag, sketch out some thoughts and approaches as I get going, and otherwise make a public notebook for my topic, that might even get some helpful outside input.

I’m working now on tying together the recent emerging/missional thought with the older, but no less controversial, liberation theology.

So what? Why does this matter other than being an insulated academic endeavor?

Part of my goal in academic effort is to do what actually can matter. Not from the practical side of developing leadership practices, or putting together a liturgy, but by poking at Christian theology and see what fits, what rubs, what causes problems and solutions in unexpected ways. Theology affects how we act, and its my contention that while emerging/missional thought has done quite a lot in pushing for practical changes there has not been significant movement theologically, or at least this movement has not been as influential or as public as it should be. Except, of course, for those theological movements which seem to reflect more of an older turn towards less fruitful forms of theology that then force the rest of us to say, ‘he’s not speaking for me even if we share the same label.’

Learning how one similar approach is pursued and criticized helps hone another approach, making it so that emerging and missional thought can learn from what has been almost 40 years of liberation theological development. Meanwhile, a new context can help illumine old problems and even offer some solutions. At the same time, placing a newer theology within an established theological framework can help avoid false criticisms and misunderstandings. There might still be criticisms, and sometimes even accurate ones. But they will at least have the right picture to work with and build from.

And maybe this is my form of being missional, being where God has me, doing what God has called me to do, not directly on the front lines as much as working to hone the tools that can be best utilized by those in the trenches. Honing theology, focusing on what Christianity is and should be according to Divine revelation in Spirit and Scripture, undermines the religious chaos that cripples spiritual conversation and practice.

That’s a preliminary wandering of my mind in this direction and not really the goal of this post. The goal is to start adding to my pile of considerations on liberation and emerging thoughts. Compiling a little of what I know with new additions and connections.

First off an interesting little precursor. One way to tie together method and thoughts is to explore practices. If two contexts are illustrating a shared response, then maybe there’s a shared method and emphasis that requires deeper examination.

And indeed there’s a shared ecclesial response. One that I’ve know about, and want to make note of here so I remember to mention it when I keep sketching my thoughts. Base Communities. As wikipedia defines them:

Christian Base communities are autonomous religious groups often associated with Liberation Theology. The 1968 Medellin, Colombia meeting of Latin American Council of Bishops played a major role in popularizing them.

Created in both rural and urban areas, the Christian Base Community, organized often illiterate peasants and proletarians into self-reliant worshiping communities through the tutelage of a priest or local lay member. Because established Christian parishes with active priests were often miles away and because high level church officials rarely visited even their own parishes these “base communities” were often the only direct exposure to the church for people in rural areas or those for whom a “local” church may be miles away. Thus, the base community was significant in changing popular interpretations of Catholicism for multiple reasons. Initially, their very structure encouraged discussion and solidarity within the community over submission to church authority and, as their very name suggests, made power seem to flow from the bottom or base upward. The influence of liberation theology meant that discussions within the church were oriented toward material conditions and issues of class interests. Through this process of consciousness raising, evangeliszation turned into class consciousness.

Other Base Communities came into existence in the East Bloc, but with a different theological emphasis. They did not subscribe to Liberation Theology, as they were being persecuted by Marxists themselves.One of the best-known groups was Father György Bulányi’s “Bokor” (Bush) movement, which sought to save the teachings of the Christian Church and resist the increasing persecution by the Communists. The movement’s ideals were simple, namely to express Christian love in three ways, giving; service and non-violence. Bulányi was jailed for life by the Communist régime of Mátyás Rákosi in 1952, and was amnestied in 1960. However, he was not allowed to work as a priest. He continued to start small base communities illegally, and wrote illegal samizdat articles.

They are in some ways similar to Western cell groups (small groups), a notable component of many Pentecostal and some Protestant churches. Base Christian communities believe in helping people whose lives have been destroyed. Over 120,000 new churches have been set up to help the poor. The Base Christian communities follow the word of God and stand by the poor, they believe in helping the helpless. The Base Christian communities work to fulfill Christ’s purpose to proclaim good news to the poor, tell them of hope, and to remind all people that there is always someone loving them somewhere, and that they still have a chance in life.

A Base Christian community is a group of people who join together to study the Bible, and then act according to social justice oriented from of Christianity especially popular among the third world and the poor.

This post reminds me of a passage from my book. No, not that one. The new one, which should be out… sometime this year.

“He talked about what he found,” Nate continues, “but more specifically we talked about Abraham. How God worked in his life and the path he had for him.”
“For four days? This is what you talked about?”
“That’s what I said!” Karl exclaims.
“Basically. I mean we talked about other things too. And I took part in a gathering he has every week with some others in the area.”
“What kind of gathering?” Karl asks.
“Well, apparently about two years after he moved up there he realized he kept running into people who were fed up with a lot of church stuff, but really were seeking God. They felt alone and lost. Joe and these people started having a weekly conversation at McDonalds. These conversations kind of took shape. Joe doesn’t call it a church or anything special, but it sounds a lot like what we’re doing with the Upper Room. They’ve been meeting for about fifteen years or so.”
“Fifteen years.” Lisa says. “I thought we were doing something new.”
“Ha!” Nate laughed. “New to us I guess. I made the same point. Joe laughed and said, ‘What? You think you’re the first one the Spirit has ever worked in? God works, Nate, in a lot of places, even if he doesn’t always get newspaper and magazine advertisements about the work.’ I laughed.”

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