By: Patrick B. Reyes
April 19, 2016
I was formed by those who had deep theological convictions.
In 2014, FTE’s name changed to reflect its focus on young adults exploring theological questions and the partners who are accompanying them in their discernment and call to ministry. When I first became involved with FTE in 2015, theological exploration resonated deeply with my own educational journey.
I explored theology for one reason: Christians had saved my life. From the Christian Brothers, who took the time to be fully present with me during times of deep pain and sadness, which I hinted at in my last post sacred work, to Grandma Reyes, a devout Mexican Catholic, who held all the pains and joys of our incredible family, I was formed by those who had deep theological convictions.
When I began to explore theology vocationally, funding, as too many of us know, was not always easy to come by as top funding programs aren’t exactly recruiting in the “2nd least educated city in the US (Salinas).” Needless to say, I worked to pay for my education.
One job was hanging metal lath and drywall for my uncle’s company in Bakersfield, California. My uncle paired me with an angry and broken man named Andy. Andy had been to prison twice, was missing his front teeth, his dark leathered and weathered skin covered his 60-year-old skin and bone frame, and on certain days could barely walk because of his chemical dependency. I remember one afternoon in the 105 degree heat after I had finished the framing and lath on the corner of a building, Andy threw me off the scaffold, hit me with a piece of metal framing, and threatened to fight me over poor craftsmanship. Most days played out this way, and so I would return to my Grandparent’s home tired and frustrated from resisting retaliating against his broken body. Once home, I would help take care of my grandparents. My grandpa had dead feet from diabetes, which my Aunts and I would rub to create what circulation we could. He also had an open wound on one leg that we regularly had to change because of the smell of rotting flesh. He too had lived through a hard life of abuse both to himself and others.
I learned more about the power of theological exploration during my time in Bakersfield than I did during all my subsequent studies.
About half-way through the summer, I told both of these men about my interest in pursuing theological training: “God helped the hurting,” was my line. Sharing my desire to pursue theological training seemed to open a space for both of these men to share their own stories. I spent day after day listening to these two incredibly broken men share their deepest hurts, pains, struggles, regrets, and hopes. They explored deep theological questions: where is God in the suffering? Does God forgive the abusive? Will God have a place for them? Will God or I help them seek forgiveness with the loved ones they had wronged? These men, who had done so much damage to themselves and others, were barely alive, skeletons really, craving for someone to call their bones to rise. I learned more about the power of theological exploration during my time in Bakersfield than I did during all my subsequent studies.
Theological exploration is not just the pursuit of knowledge contained in books, but it is also an examination of the relationships that sustain our bodies and souls. In my own doctoral work, I returned to the fields that raised me and asked friends, family members, and my community what sustains them theologically through the suffering - through la lucha? They, like Andy and Grandpa Reyes, had hopes of resurrection, healing, and connection with others who had similar questions. Behind the doctorate is not just the intellectual works of past theologians, but the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain and suffering of my community, a sentiment shared by many scholars of color.
As I learned in my community, sharing narratives sustains us in this difficult work. Thus, I have to ask the following questions: what is behind your work? Why does theological exploration matter to you and your community? What can we offer as scholars to our communities?
Caption: Patrick Reyes (pictured above) leading a workshop at the 2015 Christian Leadership Forum.