By Nora O. Lozano
I have been a Baptist since I was born, and due to location changes I have had the privilege of relating to different Baptist groups: the Mexican National Baptist Convention during my early years; the American Baptist Churches USA during my seminary and doctoral years; the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas, the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship during my time in Texas. My denominational experience has also been marked by interactions with different Baptists through the Baptist World Alliance as well as some international ministerial service.
As I reflect on all these groups, I think about the vast diversity among Baptists. Yet, this summer these groups have one thing in common: the desire to gather to celebrate their common Baptist life and heritage under “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 13:14).
So, following this celebratory trait, this summer will be one of Baptist fiestas: assemblies, gatherings and conventions.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will have its annual General Assembly next week in Dallas (June 15-19). The following week (June 26-28) the American Baptist Churches (whom I miss dearly) will have their Biennial Mission Summit in Overland Park, Kan. On June 28-30, the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas will have its annual meeting in Austin, Texas. On July 20-24, the Convención Nacional Bautista de México (Mexican National Baptist Convention) will have its yearly reunion in Veracruz. Around the same time, Baptists will have two major events that happen every five years: the Baptist World Congress sponsored by the Baptist World Alliance, and the Baptist Women’s Leadership Conference sponsored by the BWA Women’s Department, both to be held in South Africa. (These last two events will take place during South Africa’s winter months, so those attending from the Northern hemisphere better pack their heavy clothes).
All these Baptist fiestas sound promising in that they offer opportunities for fellowship, spiritual renewal, education, worship, service as well as a chance to get involved in the decision-making process of many of these organizations.
I like to use the Spanish word fiesta for these Baptist gatherings because it has multiple meanings and connotations. It may be used for a private birthday party (fiesta de cumpleaños), for religious events such as the Feast of the Epiphany (Fiesta de la Epifanía) or for a communal event like Fiesta San Antonio. (This last one is a local 10-day spring festival in my current city, San Antonio, Texas, that celebrates the independence of the Republic of Texas in 1836, with parades, carnivals, dance, food and much fun).
In its richness and breadth, the word fiesta allows for a sense of fluidity that simultaneously embraces the religious and secular, the private and public, the individual and communal, permeating then all areas of people’s lives.
In addition, Mexican-American theologian Virgilio Elizondo highlights the importance of fiestas among the people of Mexican descent and other Latinas/os (“Elements for a Mexican American Mestizo Christology” in Jesus in the Hispanic Community). After recounting the oppression that these people have faced due to unjust systems characterized by discrimination and rejection, he describes that fiestas (religious and civic) provide an opportunity to celebrate the most valuable elements in their present lives: first and foremost, a meaningful relationship with God, and second, a strong sense of identity that asserts that they belong to God and to each other.
But fiestas, Elizondo affirms, have also eschatological elements that are prophetic and represent a call to action. While these fiestas may be used in some settings as a sort of drug to pacify the people, a true fiesta is a celebration of a new future in God. “In these fiestas, we rise above our daily living experiences of death to experience life beyond death. They are the moments of life that enable us to survive, to come together, to rally, and to begin anew. … Fiesta is a foretaste and experience, even if for a brief moment, of the ultimate accomplishment (eschatological banquet)” (p.15).
For Elizondo, fiestas are then a prophetic proclamation that this new future is coming, one where diversity in unity will be truly celebrated, not division. But this treasured future requires action. Thus, these fiestas are also a call to act. In the same way that Jesus worked to bring the Reign of God among us, we are called, as his followers, to continue working on God’s project of liberation, love, peace, and justice.
As I think of all the Baptist fiestas this summer, (and these are only from the Baptist groups that I am related to, I am sure there will be many more around the world), and following the rich concept of fiesta in Latino/a theology, I pray that:
• They will offer an opportunity to celebrate and deepen our common identity as Christians and Baptists.
• They will bring a sense of hope, renewal, and unity to Baptist life worldwide (individually and communally).
• We may renew our commitment to holy and faithful lives that will fructify in a powerful and effective Christian witnessing.
We, covered with the strength and power of the Holy Spirit, and following Jesus’ example, will become courageous enough to proclaim that there is a new future coming, and even more, that we will be sufficiently brave to get deeply involved in its actualization.
A summer of Baptist fiestas provides a unique opportunity to celebrate our common life, renew our commitments to God, each other, and our neighbors, dream about a better future, and obey a call to action.
May we seize the moment in the love and wisdom of God, the grace and courage of Jesus, and the power and communion of the Holy Spirit! Amen!
Happy and blessed Baptist fiestas!