I rediscovered a book hidden on my bookshelf behind other books entitled Feet-on-the-Ground-Theology. It is written by Clodovis Boff, a Brazilian Servite, with whom I spent some time at an international conference quite a few years ago. I was impressed at the time I met Clodovis and the book fascinates me. It is Boff’s diary or log of a missionary journey into Amazonas, Brazil. The author captures faith patterns of people very much removed from civilization and who seldom have the ministry of professional clergy. He uses their perception of life to create new parables. He challenges their concept of baptism with a parable based on their experience of preparing the land. Baptizing children and then letting them grow up like pagans is similar to carving out a piece of ground in the jungle and then doing nothing with it so that the vegetation can grow back and reclaim their piece of land for the jungle. This is contrary to their work ethic and value system. The land is so valuable and visible; it is cared for with diligence and dedication. Religious faith, which people claim to be valuable, but not visibly so, is easily neglected. This is precisely the reason why pastors ask for a commitment from parents to provide religious education to children whom they want to be baptized. Baptism is a commitment to clear out the pagan jungle that surrounds the life of the believer. Religious education is not only the clearing process, but it is also the tilling, the weeding, nurturing of that precious piece of ground claimed from a surrounding world of pagan values. Clearing the land and caring for it becomes easier when it is done together in a community effort. Church is the community effort of keeping precious faith alive despite the creeping weeds of temptation. This is a parable. Jesus taught in parables because parables speak more directly to life than do theological concepts. It’s Boff’s parables that make the book so fascinating—and equally applicable in the Amazon jungle or the urban jungle.
Father Michael Doyle, O.S.M.