By David Ramos
Last Sunday I ministered at a Spanish Eastern District Hispanic Assemblies of God Church in West New York, New Jersey. The pastor of the church, the Rev. Eleazer Garcia was a dear old friend of mine who watched me grow up, not only on my block as a youth, but also as a minister throughout the years. I recounted how the neighbors would witness me get home in the morning from clubbing while they were already washing their cars. Eleazer was one of those neighbors who witnessed this but also my transformation into a Christian youth leader, an AG sectional leader, and move up the ranks until now, an ordained minister.
The worship service was ablaze with music, praise, dramas, etc. I ran into people I had not seen for over a decade and even strangers I did not know came to tell me that they remembered me from years ago. God moved that evening in a special way as both young and old cried on the altar and gave their hearts to the Lord. I felt a nostalgia for my people, for my culture, for my movement, for a time gone by, and remembered the mighty acts of God throughout that time period.
After the service I was told an interesting comment, that I supposedly still ministered, “con la uncion.” What they meant was that I was still “anointed.” Their concern was that after all the years, and after attending the classical anointing killer—seminary—that I still apparently “had it.” I understood their concerns having witnessed many friends somehow “lose faith” throughout their academic process. While I knew this comment was meant as a compliment, nevertheless, I was amazed how the age old dichotomy of head and heart, order and ardor, reason and pathos still remains entrenched within the psyche and understanding of so many. Why is it that so many years later some hold the litmus test for high octane Christianity to be speaking in tongues while for others it is the memorization of certain parts of the Westminster Catechisms? Why must we do violence to a more fully-orbed humanity seeking to bring harmony to various elements of our soul?
As young Latinos increasingly become more educated, upwardly mobile, and analytical, how will the “old guard” negotiate the newer generation’s natural thirst for new fountains of knowledge and its effortless and often unconscious accelerated hybridity? Will the younger generation make the effort to honor traditions, and make the effort at intergenerational dialogue, or will they just jettison the past for an apparent “new upgrade in software?” With the increased popularity of post-modernist, post-colonialist, and even post-Christian dialogues, are new generation thinkers merely “afterburners” defining itself over and against the past? I find the emergent movement’s deliberate effort of melding both ancient and contemporary forms of Christianity refreshing and hopeful when conducted responsibly; its effort at authentic community is also to be commended in an age when corporate entrepreneurial models for church reign supreme. Yet even in the emergent movement it seems that we produce a cognitive elite with shamans around the campfire while others remain outside the tee-pee.
What about issues of race and class? Where are the people of color in the emergent movement? Is Pentecostalism brutally egalitarian and hence one of the reasons for its wildfire spread and success throughout the two-thirds world? What I think we are witnessing and what is so desperately needed is a Christianity that transcends race, class, sex, social location, and ethnicity—a new advent of the Spirit. I can hear my academic colleagues’ scorn mixed with laughter saying, “all theology is contextual! What you ask for does not exist, you cannot separate folk from their social location or their epochal moment.” Yet I find a wonderful model of Kingdom transcendence in the second chapter of Acts. Perhaps we can move forward (in spiritual/theological breakthroughs) by going backwards (by acknowledging, affirming and practicing historical contributions and import). Perhaps what we need is an accordion effect, a movement that goes forward and backward if we are ever going to get this right.
As technology pushes our cognitive abilities by providing us new templates for processing greater data at faster speeds, what we need are more fluid, organic, interdisciplinary and creative models of community, church and communication not more brittle, limiting, and/or hierarchal ones. Life and meaning are crafted in communities and we must be willing to move and experiment with our church models factoring social, cultural and spiritual shifts if we are to remain relevant.
As I wiped my sweat off my brow while I prayed for people in that church and they prayed for me, I realized that I was not seeking the elixir of mere intellectual ascent, but the humbling and filling of the presence of God. I long for a balance of head and heart, I long for spaces that celebrate my mind and my passion, I long for theological communities that allow you to struggle and contribute. I find moments of this with close friends but these moments are erratic, episodic and at times chaotic. Like a good cup of coffee with the Sunday Times I savor these moments while I remember with fondness what was and long for what can be.