Academic Adventures - Liturgy

Trip Start Jun 29, 2012
Trip End Dec 23, 2012

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Flag of Brazil  , São Paulo,
Thursday, November 15, 2012

"For me, from the start theology has been an adventure with an uncertain outcome, a voyage of discovery into an inviting mystery. My theological virtue has not been humility, but only curiosity and imagination for the kingdom of God." - Jurgen Moltmann

I love the way that Moltmann frames theological study in this quote. Discovery, mystery, imagination, and curiosity are not the first words that I would have chosen to describe seminary or theology before I started. However, from the point of view year two, those adjectives are fairly accurate. This semester abroad has been particularly filled with adventures of the academic, cultural, culinary, and touristic kind! As I have neglected the academic exploits, let me give them a bit of attention...

Liturgy Class
I would say that the class is divided into three parts: biblical-historical foundations of Christian liturgy, survey of religious services in São Paulo, liturgy practicums. My favorite parts have been the more interactive sections, site visits and practicum.

 My group for the religious service visit was Buddhism. Unfortunately, they were not having a meditation service/reunion at the regularly scheduled time. We did however receive a tour and delightful question-answer session with a monk. This community's tradition was from the Mahayana line. The temple was beautiful and located in the Liberdade neighborhood of São Paulo. I was not allowed to take photos in many spots and I don't think she wanted them posted on the internet. Here is a shot of my group outside of the temple. 

 Also fascinating was the presentation on the Igreja Universal Reino de Deus (IRUD)/Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. It is a neo-pentecostal church founded here in Brasil. The theology draws heavily from the Old Testament, particularly the theme of God as King and spiritual warfare. The church also draws upon the Prosperity Gospel. During the presentation, students commented on syncretistic practices that draw from some of the other religions here (such as Candomblé and Umbanda and Catholicism). Interestingly enough, some of the post-grad students are studying this church to suggest that this church is so different from Orthodox Christianity that it is actually a new religion. It would be more or less the same status as Mormonism in the US. Here in São Paulo they are constructing a temple to be an accurate replica of the Temple of Solomon on the outside. 

 A very interesting observation arose from the presentation on the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. The class was significantly more critical of this service than of any other presented. One student mention that he found it much easier to be respectful to Candomblé than to this church. I think this is a learning point for many in the religious studies world. I have observed that we don't include pentecostalism much in theological discussions. (I realize that this is, at least in part, due to the pentacostal tradition to rely more on inspiration and emotion and the Spirit, rather than theological discourse. Even acknowledging that there are ways for the Pentecostal movement to open for true dialogue to happen, I hope that my colleagues and I can reflect on ways to be kinder and more inclusive to the Pentecostal tradition) l think this is a weakness of our studies. particularly in the aspect that we can respect other religions more than our brothers and sisters in more conservative-charasmatic christian traditions.  Here's a link to the live footage of the construction of the replica of the Temple of Solomon: There is also a video on youtube that shows the proposed finished product.

Then, there are the practicums. We were divided into four groups and given a service to plan. The first group performed a baptism and communion service. My group performed a wedding ceremony. The third group performed a funeral. And the final group will perform a service of Gratitude (truly, it is a thanksgiving service, but not in the American history-legend of Thanksgiving sense of Thanksgiving). The practicum is performed as if it is a real service. Everyone in the group dresses for the occasion and performs a specific part, almost like a dress rehearsal for a play. It is also in these critical points where cultural differences are more distinct. For example, here funerals generally occur within 24hrs of the death. This amazed me. I'm still not sure how everything gets taken care of in 24hrs. Also, the family (and close friends) generally stays with the body from the time it is made ready until the interment. From what I understand, this would be somewhat equivalent to our 'visitation' time. As morbid as it sounds, I was fascinated by the funeral ceremony and the traditions that come with it. I'm grateful that my pew neighbor wasn't terribly annoyed by my curiosity. 

More to come as the adventure continues...Grace and peace friends!

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