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Monday, May 14, 2012

Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz: A two-edged song

I learned, just yesterday afternoon, of the death of Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, one of my 'sheroes' in the Church and Academy.

Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz was, by title, Professor of Ethics and Theology. She had escaped from Castro's Cuba and had been a postulant as an Ursaline nun.

She remained a Roman Catholic - not an easy thing to do as a woman and a feminist, but especially so as a tenured faculty member at The Theological School at Drew University, where there are at least as many Baptists and non-denominational Evangelicals as there are Methodists at the school with deep roots in the theology of John and Charles Wesley.

Beneath that disarming smile beat the heart of a fiercely passionate mujarista feminist who loved Jesus so much, she was bold enough to share with the rest of the world the image of him which is shared by Hispanic Christian feminists. In so doing, she helped us all clarify for ourselves our own Christology and theology.

She could be tough - real tough - in the classroom, insisting on and, indeed, demanding academic and theological excellence from every one of her students. No exceptions.

You didn't complete the assigned reading for today's class? You didn't just read it but consider it carefully and reflect on what it had to say to your own understanding thus far and how this might change what you do and how you do it? Then, sit down and shut up because you have nothing of any importance to say.

No joke. I remember taking a class with her years ago and her saying to me, "You have, I believe, read the assignment, but I do not think you have reflected on it enough. Until you do, please refrain from speaking in this class. You are taking valuable time from those of us who have."

Yes, Sister.

You can bet I never came to class again without fully preparing myself. Or, I sat down and shut up and just listened. And, I learned. And, was deeply, profoundly grateful.

I know this sounds like hyperbole, but that class really changed my life and the way I approached ministry. I began to utilize the idea of praxis - a reflection/action model of ministry - and  began to consider that change in community could not be something I thought of and others must buy into. It must be something I inspire - predominantly by soliciting and encouraging the voices on the margin and trust that they have their own inherent wisdom - and then assist in the birthing process.

It is an approach and methodology which I continue to use today.

Mujarista theology brings together elements of feminist theology, Latin American liberation theology and cultural theology, three perspectives which critique and challenge each other, giving birth to new elements, a new reality, a new whole.  

The term was coined by Dr. Isasi-Diaz ,which, she admits was greatly influenced by Black feminist theologians who named their perspective "Womanist Theology".

Back in the mid to late 1980s, when the Mujarista Theology was first beginning to emerge, Dr. Isasi-Diaz explained it in this way:
To be able to name oneself is one of the most powerful abilities a person can have. A name is not just a word by which one is identified. A name provides the conceptual framework and the mental constructs that are used in thinking, understanding and relating to a person......

.....Feministas hispanas have been consistently marginalized in the white, Anglo feminist community because of our critique of its ethnic and racial prejudice and lack of class analysis. At the same time, when we have insisted on calling ourselves feministas, we have been rejected by many in the Hispanic community because they consider feminism a preoccupation of white, Anglo women.....

....In our search we have turned to our music, part of the soul of our culture. In love songs as well as in protest songs we are simply called rnujer -- woman. " Yo soy mujer en busca de igualdad, no aguantar abuso ni maldad. Yo soy mujer y tengo dignidad, y pronto la justicia serd una realidad" ("I am a woman searching for equality; I will not put up with abuse and wickedness. I am a woman and I have dignity, and justice will soon be a reality") , proclaims a song composed by women in the South Bronx.
"Mujer, tú eres mujer, porque supiste ver, la realidad de tu poder" ("Woman, you are woman, because you have known how to recognize the fact that you are powerful") , sings Rosie Sanchez.
"Hoy canto al Dios del Pueblo en mi guitarra, un canto de mujer que se libera" ("Today I sing to the God of my people with my guitar, I sing a song of a woman who liberates herself’) , sings Rosa Marta Zárate. She continues, "God listened to the cry of our people, became an ally of the poor and the exploited, and frees woman from the chains imposed on her with cruelty for centuries." And the song ends by repeating time and again, "la mujer, la mujer la mujer." 

.... As Rosa Marta’s song says so clearly, a mujerista is one who struggles to liberate herself, who is consecrated by God as proclaimer of the hope of her people. Mujerista is one who knows how to be faithful to the task of making justice and peace flourish, who opts for God’s cause and the law of love. In the mujerista God revindicates the divine image and likeness of women. The mujerista is called to gestate new women and men: a strong people. Mujeristas are anointed by God as servants, prophets and witnesses of redemption. Mujeristas will echo God’s reconciling love; their song will be a two-edged sword, and they will proclaim the gospel of liberation.
"Their song will be a two-edged sword." Yup, that was Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz. It was her genius and, in some ways, her genius was her cross.

She was passionate about praxis and considered any attempt to separate action from reflection as false and evil. She wrote: "Hispanic women are seldom invited to reflect on the reasons and motivations for their actions. But mujeristas will always insist on the need to be actively involved, in the reflective moment of praxis. Without reflection there is no critical awareness, no conscientization, and therefore no possibility of self-definition and liberation."

Somebody give the woman an "Amen!"

One of the most pervasive themes of mujerista theology is the preferential option for the poor and oppressed - not because the poor are morally superior. Rather, they have epistemological privilege because of their poverty and oppression  - because their point of view is not distorted by power and riches and they see differently. 

She spoke about things like 'Jesuchristo' not Jesus Christ as two separate entities, but Jesus who was - make no mistake about it - the Christ. Always was. Always will be.

She also talked about 'Identificate con Nosotras', 'Dios mio', 'Familia', 'Esperanza' and 'Kin-dom' as integral components to mujerista theology

I admit - the first time I went to a chapel service at Drew and heard the use of the word "Kin-dom" I sighed and thought to myself, "Can we get more politically correct?".  

It wasn't until I took that life-changing class with Dr. Isasi-Diaz that I began to understand that she was far from trying to be 'politically correct'. This, in fact, was a radical idea about liberation in communities that are committed to the liberation promised in the Gospel. 

It is the mujerista idea of the 'Beloved Community' which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached about and dreamed about and gave his life to usher in.

Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz has now entered that Kin-dom.

Her death is a huge loss to the church and the academy in general and to feminist Christians in particular.  I'm sure her little 'store front' church in the South Bronx is deeply grieving her loss even as they rejoice in her entrance into a heaven where all are loved, all are cherished, all are part of the 'familia' of God where their 'esperanza' (hope) is realized with the One who 'identifies with us'.

May she rest in peace and rise in glory and continue to sing that two-edged song from heaven throughout eternity.


Lyn G. Brakeman said...

Thanks for this memorial Elizabeth. I remember Isasi Diaz well from the Re-Imagining Conference. It was long ago but her voice still rings in my head. The patriarchal church thinks the issues are all "settled." Grin. We need more voices, mujerista, feminist, womanist. Thanks Lyn

Sharon D. Smith said...

Thank you for posting this memory. Three years ago I had the pleasure of fellowshipping with Dr. Isasi-Diaz at a pre-EATWOT dinner. Her passion and commitment shone through a gentle and giving spirit. Our ministries are enriched for having her pass this way.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lyn - As long as people continue to read Ada's books, her voice will continue to be heard.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sharon - I know she changed many lives. May she be blessed in death as she blessed in life.