By David Ramos
This weekend I was the guest speaker at a Leadership Summit in Lakewood, New Jersey. While my topic was “Engaging Models of Leadership for This Generation,” my focus was upon the Emergent Dialogue. The crowd was mixed with young and older Latino/a Pentecostals and other evangelicals. At certain points of my presentation I saw the crowd’s blank stares as they were trying to figure me out. I wasn’t quite saying anything heretical, but for many, I knew that this was the first time they heard about any “emergent church dialogue,” much less would they imagine the strides made regarding this discussion. I’m realizing just how utterly new this is for many in our circles. While this does not surprise me, I also wonder about how many are willing to suspend for a moment their theological categories long enough to discern if the Spirit is blowing in a new direction. Please understand, while I not quite baptizing all things “emergent” I am, as I have mentioned many times, extremely encouraged at the honesty, the integrity, and deliberate efforts of the emergent dialogue. As Latinos, particularly those in leadership, we should thoughtfully engage the dialogue with our sisters and brothers weaving our own contributions into this emergent tapestry.
As the emergent village seeks to be deliberate about asking the questions about diversity, we once again are forced to look deep inside ourselves to ask the difficult questions about identity, moving beyond superficial demarcations and pushing towards more profound and perhaps more intimate matters of ontological, linguistic, contextual and spiritual essence. Perhaps we should be speaking about the “convergence?” How do identities converge? What makes us Latino/a? Can one be absent of all the accouterments of “Hispanicity” yet have a Latin soul and perhaps a greater heart intimacy with things Latino? How do we navigate multiple identities within multiple cultures (i.e., ethnic, cultural, religious, contextual and professional)? Moreover, how do we negotiate various theological traditions of Catholic, Pentecostal, mainline etc, into our already rich mofongo?
Having worked many years with urban youth and witnessing how so many display the epochal realities of post-modernity while never having even heard the term, I am in likewise witnessing communities of faith demonstrate—through pain and groaning—elements of “emergence.” Within many Hispanic Pentecostal churches there is this palpable exhaustion and weariness of church as usual and a longing for authentic community and spirituality. What a wonderful combination of re-evaluating our humanity as well as our notions of what is spiritual. While religious constructs may impede authentic dialogue in many Pentecostal circles I am beginning to witness the cracks and fissures as religious cultural “systems” begin to collapse upon its own weight. I am witnessing a departure of some to other circles. (We cannot blame this exodus solely upon geographic and/or socioeconomic reasons; many are searching with agony for meaning)!
For many reasons, I think the time has come to define the contours of a broader emergent/Latino dialogue. This must be done with sensitivity as many of us have learned, quite adeptly to own multiple identities within multiple contexts. I am not speaking about a schizophrenic people with fractured identities, on the contrary, I am speaking about a strong, proud, holistic community who will not let go of their rich culture, language and identity and who realize that their culture is not only an important hermeneutical threshing ground by which to “theologize” but the “sala” where they live out their spirituality. Hermanos y hermanas, what would the contours of this discussion look like for you?