In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI posed the question to Christian believers and scholars, “What has Jesus really brought…if he has not brought world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world?”. In response to the Pope’s challenge, a group of theologians from around the world gathered in Galilee to reflect about the significance of Jesus among the peoples of Africa, Asia, Latin America, Caribbean, United States, and Europe. The book under review is an outcome of that conversation.
The focus of the conversation is Jesus of Galilee: a re-visitation of the “quest for the historical Jesus”, but with an important specification. In the wake of what Ignacio Ellacuria called the “historical reality” of Jesus, the interest of the participants in the dialogue converged on the basic stance that Jesus’ words and deeds embody and on the faith commitments that they mediate in Jesus’ followers.
The social location from which the reflection is developed varies according to the specific socio-cultural context of each author, and yet all write from the specific “locus” of the poor and oppressed, might they be the Mestizos and US Latinos (Virgilio Elizondo, Roberto S. Goizueta), the victims of the African slave trade and their descendants (M. Shawn Copeland), the immigrants and refugees from North Africa or Central and Southern America (Robert Lassalle-Klein, Pablo Alonso), the Igbo tribeswomen of West Africa (Caroline N. Mbonu), the aboriginal Adivasi of India (Francis Minj), the Dalit of India or the Sozusa of Korea (Sophia Park), or the wasted lives of the globalization process throughout the world (Mary Doak).
The collection itself of the essays is organized in four blocks. First, some interpretive frameworks that are thought to be important for approaching and understanding Jesus are outlined. They include: the historical research on the Galilee of Jesus (Sean Freyne), Jesus’ option for the poor and the priority of the Other (Gustavo Gutierrez), attention to cultural and intercultural dynamic (Virgilio Elizondo), Jesus’ mission between Reign of God and the cross, as respectively its “weight and its hard edge” (Jon Sobrino) and the historical reality of Jesus as the object of the gospels and Christian faith (Robert Lassalle-Klein). From these guiding points, the collection moves to present three areas of reflection (Bible, theology, and spirituality), a division that sounds a bit artificial in that the three themes continue to overlap each other. As well, ethical issues run throughout the entire collection and represent a main thrust. The general approach of the various essays to Jesus is “from below”: intercultural, in the light of the preferential option for the poor, and “practical”.
My initial assessment is mixed. I find the reflection developed by the various essays stimulating and enriching for a contextual appropriation of Christian faith and mission. Some essays are in this regard more valuable than others. Altogether, the collection looks as a re-assessment of liberation theology in relation to today’s world, with a new understanding of the “poor” to comprehend women, culturally oppressed people, immigrants and refugees and victims of globalization even in the first world.
Does the collection outline a contextual Christology for the 21st century? The conversation concentrates more on exploring what it means to be followers of Jesus at the beginning of this century. In this sense, the essays in Jesus of Galilee do provide a partial but challenging answer to the question of Pope Benedict. But can we really consider them also as Christological, in that they put forward a shift of focus of Christology from doctrinal explication of whom and what Jesus was/is to understanding it as enacted discipleship?
Benito De Marchi
Robert Lassalle-Klein (ed.), Jesus of Galilee. Contextual Christology for the 21st Century, Maryknool/New York, Orbis Books, 2011.
The following story was created out of discussions with the Christians in Iramba Parish, Musoma Diocese, Tanzania on how to communicate the joyful and saving message of Christmas in a fresh and African way.
Once upon a time, all the people lived in one big valley, in large extended families. These people were ordinary human beings with both good and bad qualities. They followed all the seasons of human life:
A time for giving birth ... a time for dying.
A time for planting ... a time for uprooting.
A time for knocking down ... a time for building.
A time for tears ... a time for laughter.
A time for mourning ... a time for dancing.
A time for loving ... a time for hating.
A time for war ... a time for peace.
A man named Shayo lived in this large valley. He was a good man and helped the poor and needy. Shayo tried to fulfil all his responsibilities. From time to time he failed, but in general he was a very good person.
In this large valley there was jealousy, fighting, drunkenness and all kinds of discord. Thieves and tricksters walked about openly and regularly stole cows, goats and sheep. Families and villages lacked peace and harmony. Witchcraft and superstition were part of daily life. After patiently enduring this bad situation for a long time Shayo decided to move somewhere else. He said, "Certainly God isn’t present here. He is the "All Peaceful One" who doesn’t like fighting and discord. He wants peace and harmonious relationships in his human family."
Shayo saw a very high mountain far in the distance. It rose majestically in the clear tropical air. Shayo said, "Certainly God our "Great Ancestor" lives in peace and quiet on the top of that mountain. I will go there to find God who "Dwells on High With the Spirits of the Great." So Shayo set off on his long safari. At the end of the first day he reached the foot of the mountain. The burning equatorial sun had drained his energy. He rested. Very early the next morning he started out again. After three hours of difficult climbing he was tired and sat by the side of the rough footpath.
After a few minutes Shayo was startled to see a man making his way down the mountain. They greeted each other. "Hello. What is the news?" Shayo told the traveller that he was climbing to the top of the mountain to find God our "Creator and Source." The traveller said that his name was Emmanuel and that he was climbing down the mountain to live with the people in the large valley. After talking together for a few minutes they said good-bye to each other. Shayo continued his safari up the steep mountain, he said to himself: "That man is a fine person. He is very intelligent and speaks well. I wonder why he wants to go down to my former valley?"
Soon Shayo was engrossed in his arduous climb. The air grew thinner. He climbed more slowly. By late afternoon he reached the top of the mountain and said to himself: "There is peace and quiet here. Now I will surely find God." He looked everywhere. No one was around. Shayo was very disappointed and asked out loud, "Where is God?"
Suddenly a gaunt old man appeared and greeted Shayo. "Welcome. Relax after your long, hard safari." Shayo began to describe the arduous trip and his desire to meet God the "All Peaceful One." The old man said, "I’m sorry, but God isn’t here on the top of this high mountain. I live alone here. Surely you met God on the mountain path. He was going down to the big valley to live with the people there and to help them with their problems and difficulties." Shayo was astonished and exclaimed out loud, "You mean the traveler I met on the path was God. I didn’t recognize him. I thought that I would find him here on the top of the mountain."
The old man said, "I’m sorry. You see God doesn’t want to live here all by himself. He wants to join with the human beings he created. That’s the meaning of his name "Emmanuel. God is with us." Shayo exclaimed: "But in the valley there are arguments and fighting. Many of the people are thieves, tricksters, troublemakers and drunkards. Why does God want to live with them?"
Quietly the old man answered, "God knows the lives of his people and their problems and weaknesses. There is a myth about an East African hunter who disobeyed God’s command and shot an arrow into the clouds. The sky bled and God withdrew into the high heavens to get away from human beings. But God the "Great Elder" loved his human family and wanted to show his tender care. So God our "Great Chief" sent his Son to pitch his tent among us, to live with us, to share our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures, our strengths and weaknesses in order to save us. We celebrate this mystery of salvation on the feast of the birth of our "Eldest Brother." For this is how God loved the world: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."
Shayo was deeply moved by these words and listened intently as the old man continued. "Emmanuel" was born and lived among us human beings as an ordinary person. He surrounded himself with simple, needy people just like the farmers and herders in the villages of your valley. He helped the people with their daily problems. "Shayo, from time to time you can come to this mountain top to rest and pray, but know, my friend, that the heart of life is to live with the people in the valley and share their daily problems and difficulties."
Shayo suddenly felt that he had learned much wisdom on this mountaintop. Deeply touched he said, "I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided to go back to the large valley and live with the people." The wise old man put his hands on Shayo’s head and gave him a blessing.
Father Healey is a researcher who compiled several books of African proverbs and traditional stories.
In the shadow of the Tour Eiffel, skirted by the Seine, there is a museum dedicated to world culture. “This museum is the result of the merging of two older collections. The first came from the Museum of Ethnography at the Trocadero, the oldest French institution dedicated to Africa and other parts of the world created in 1878. The second collection was the colonial museum. Created during the colonial exhibition of 1931, and later changed into the Art museum after the colonial period. Those two collections came together at the Museum de Quai Branly, which opened in 2006” says Helene Joubert, head of African collection at the museum.
“The museum gathers objects from extra European countries. The idea is to create a dialogue between European culture and other cultures; to pass along knowledge of other cultures through objects. The African collection is mainly pre-colonial. The objects we have reflect a ‘traditional’ Africa”, she continues.
How do you introduce these objects to visitors?
The objects we have are presented with multimedia: films, documentaries, pictures and audio comments to document the meaning of these objects. We try to explain if these objects are still in use, what is their meaning for the people who created them, etc. We want the visitors to realize that the object give a vision of Africa that corresponds to our contact with those cultures and peoples. It is obvious that African cultures go beyond what we show both in time and scope.
What is the interaction with visitors?
It is a big challenge. The general public has little comprehension of Africa, starting with geography. We give information about countries, and peoples. Progressively we enter into deeper themes like the relationship with ancestors, initiation, notions that are not obvious to our culture. In many ways, when we think of our western culture, we realize we have many points in common with the African way of dealing with life. At the same time, there is a big divide and it is not always apparent to people what beliefs, rites and behaviours mean. We notice that many do come back to see the displays. They cannot absorb everything in one go. Here we deal with four continents, and so the public visit a little at a time.
The displays are complex and visitors can interact with what they see. During my visit, school children were shown around by a lady who engaged them with traditional storytelling. The museum all runs many projects like conferences, colloquia, events that focus on specific issues. The public is quite appreciative of temporary exhibitions and cultural events, and volunteers precious feedback. This allowed the curators to change the displays so to convey their message with ease.
Who is coming to participate to your events?
It is difficult to say. What I have noticed is the presence of scholars, students, many people either African or of African descent. There are also people who were clearly not specialized, but interested in learning more. Most of our events have a familiar taste, so people are not intimidated. People are attentive to what is going on.
The aim of the museum is to foster cultural exchange. What do you do to create a contact between European culture and the African cultures?
We make our exhibition hit the road. When we opened the museum we had an exhibition focusing on a type of headdress from Mali. This exhibition was small, using what we had in our collection. The display travelled back to Mali and was hosted by the national museum in Bamako. Malians were very receptive, happy to see objects that were going back to where they were created. Another exhibition was dedicated to Presence African, an exhibition of the publications of African authors. This exhibition had few objects, but many documents and photographs of early African authors. It travelled to the university in Dakar, in Senegal.
Did something surprise you?
We have been surprised by the attendance, compared to the attendance of the two former museums. Those were practically visited only by specialized people. With a new presentation, we attract two million people a year. This number has not dropped in time, which is unusual. We realize that each temporary exhibition attracts huge number of people. There is interest in the general public. People appreciate and respond to the diversity of the projects we run. The Museum has become an important feature in the museum landscape in Paris.
The very first Festival of African Cinema in Italy took place in Verona in 1981. Today, 31 years later, it is still going strong. It has also become one of the beacons of African cinema in Europe. The Festival has shown great vitality, going from the militant films of the 1980s to modern production, more open to explore issues and themes beyond culture and ‘Africanity’. The latest edition took place in November and proposed many short films and documentaries that sanction this departure from themes bases solely on Africa.
The XXXI African Film Festival of Verona was dedicated to ‘Revolutions, African springs and diaspora’. The festival offered a great variety of films, but also cultural activities, discussion groups and allowed the public to meet film directors and actors. The official jury – composed by film critic Giancarlo Beltrame, film director and poet Cleophas Adrien Dioma, and film producer Annabelle Alcazar, who also the Art Director of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival– chose the Kenyan production Togetherness Supreme of Natahan Collet. “The film, they said, proposes a strong story. It focuses on Kenya, but it reflects issues that are continent wide. The film takes us into le life and emotions of Kibera’s slum dwellers as they are in real life. The film is well edited, the cast excellent and the story well told”.
Best documentary was Ithemba. “A movie that, without hiding the tough side of disability – the jury said - broadcast with rhythm and music the joy of life and, as the title says, hope. Life is stronger than any handicap. The Jury wishes that the prize may be shared with the young people appearing in the movie”. The Festival proposed also sections on documentaries and specific themes. Notable the section dedicated to documentaries with an impressive group of production. The Festival was founded by the magazine Nigrizia, and the editorial board of the magazine assigns its own prize. This year, the Nigrizia prize went to 18 Jours, a documentary made up by 18 independent short films, each to celebrate one of the day of the Egyptian Revolution. 18 Jours is a real chronicle of what happened, and of the people’s commitment for change. The documentary is more than the sum of its parts. In no scene one has the impression of viewing a simple paste up of material from different sources. This is a plus for the directors who worked together to produce it.
The Film Festival presents a prize at the Zanzibar Film Festival. Earlier this year, the prize was assigned to The rugged priest, a Kenyan production. The film was also shown in Verona, premiere view in Europe, and received a warm welcome from the public. The rugged priest is the story of Father Anthony Kaiser, a missionary who worked among the Maasai in southern Kenya and who was killed for his commitment to human rights on August 23, 2000. Bob Nyanja, the film director, conducted a lively debate after the projection. He explained that the many technical shortcoming of the film were due to the little money, the short time available for shooting, shooting with only one camera and with non-professional actors. Put in other words, it is a miracle that the film was shot at all. Nyanja’s problems are typical of the African film industry. At the same time, The rugged priest and Togetherness Supreme are the example of a film industry, the Kenyan one, that wants to find a space in the African panorama.