by Raymond Lopez-Adorno
Most people have encountered the power and intensity behind the inflection of the imperatives words “Get Up, Stand Up.” Some of you may have experienced it with a parent yelling at you to get up and stand up from your bed to get ready for school, an alarm set up to wake you up at a certain time, or perhaps that day when you were just tired of a state of passiveness and commanded yourself to get up, to stand up. Either way, the imperatives, get up and stand up, are followed by an action that affects your previous state of being.
Likewise, the same actions can be traced to the theological realm, specifically in theologies categorized as contextual, such as black liberation theology, Latin American liberation theology, feminist theology, womanist theology, etc. Although all theologies emerge within a context, in this sense, contextual theologies among many common variables are rooted in the collective experience of an individual, a group, or a community under oppression and injustices.[i] Since these theologies emerge from a passive and dominated state of being the presence of liberation and revolution are central to their methodologies. Following the idea of reacting towards oppressive and unjust systems, this essay will use the action of getting up and standing up from a previous position into a direct confrontation with any form of tyranny as a spirituality of resistance and action.
Part I: “Get Up, Stand Up!” as a Spirituality of Resistance and Action
In 1973 a song titled, “Get Up, Stand Up” written by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh appeared on the Wailers albums Burnin.[ii] After becoming an eyewitness to the inhumane conditions and state of poverty of the Haitian people, Bob Marley`s song shows his reflection on issues of oppression and the urgency to take action, as the song states, “get up, stand up.” If you listen carefully to the song, you will notice that right from the beginning there is the presence of long notes played by the bass and the constant bit played by the drums. The long notes and the constant bit in combination with Bob Marley’s peculiar voice and revolutionary lyrics somehow make this song an imperative message that brings consciousness to get up and stand up for your rights.[iii] In this sense, “get up, stand up” becomes an intrinsic reality and provides individuals under oppression to become aware of and critique oppressive systems that restrict humans to living in a state of passiveness and acceptance.
Like the experience of Bob Marley during his time in Haiti and the lyrics of “Get Up, Stand Up,” liberating theologies must clash with theologies that alienate themselves from the realities of the oppressed and marginalized. As Gustavo Gutierrez says, “It is no longer possible for someone to say, ‘Well, I didn’t know’ about the suffering of the poor. Poverty has a visibility today that it did not have in the past. The faces of the poor must now be confronted.”[iv] The urgency enclosed in the words “get up and stand up” together with the visibility of poverty mentioned by Gutierrez challenges theologies and any form of spirituality that uses liberation as a preceding adjective rather than placing the act of liberation at the core of their methodologies. On the one hand, if the former is preserved it perpetuates theological systems built upon social stratification, colonization, and all sorts of injustices that affect humans and the rest of the world. On the other hand, if the latter is endorsed, it must become an intrinsic part of people’s life-giving and life-sustaining realities. This is to say that theology can only be liberating if it is capable of tracing the genealogy of systems of oppression while simultaneously speaking out from present experiences that have been periodically disintegrating traditions and the self-identity of oppressed communities.[v] Therefore, implementing a theological method that gets up and stands up as a theological and spiritual discourse of resistance and action challenges the social-economic realities and loss of identity of community under constant oppression. In addition, by exposing the mechanisms used by the oppressors it will provide educational and social tools to prevent further colonization and cultural appropriation among disadvantaged communities. On the contrary, by not getting and standing up as acts of resistance and social action it will end up destroying sacred places and traditions while perpetuating the presence of colonialism. As George E. Thinker claims speaking from American Indian liberation theology, “Our liberation, our healing depends on our not allowing someone else to remember or dream on our behalf.”[vi]
Part II: Solidarity as a Source of Resistance and Action
A current example that illustrates “get up, stand up” as a spirituality of resistance and action is the slogan “Puerto Rico se levanta,” which translated to English means, “Puerto Rico gets up.” This phrase has been used by Puerto Ricans during the aftermath of Hurricane María as a phrase that expresses the urgency of solidarity and self-identity as the sources of resistance and action necessary for the emotional and psychological state of the Puerto Rican people. Although there is an urgency for financial aid that will help Puerto Rico rebuild its infrastructure, it is important to find ways to uplift the Puerto Rican spirit. The term “Puerto Rico se levanta” serves as a unifying language that carries the spiritual state of Puerto Ricans taking ownership and autonomy of the reconstruction of the country while denouncing the oppression and unequal treatment in citizenship disparity.
Because the immediate assistance was delayed due to variables like the Jones Acts, the delay of an executive decision, geographical location, and the intensity of the Hurricane,[vii] Puerto Ricans were moved to depend upon the assistance provided by individuals and religious communities. In the case of Puerto Rico, solidarity communities have become the engine for Puerto Ricans to get up and stand up against the lack of political autonomy. Jules Martínez-Olivieri during a panel titled, “Puerto Rico and María: History and Vulnerabilities in the Eye of the Storm,” expressed the way Christian communities saw, judged, and acted to aide other Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane María. Martínez-Oliveri then argues, “this a basic elemental intuition of Latin American Liberation Theology.”[viii] His expression of “the basic element of Latin America Liberation Theology” is the act of a community that decides to practice a spirituality of resistance and action by getting up and standing up as an act of liberation.
The example mentioned above is an example of contextual theology. It is within these parameters that liberation becomes once again the central piece of methodologies working together to develop communities under social, political, and economic oppression. In these situations, a passive state of being is almost impossible for theologians and people seeking a spirituality that provides the framework for a better and just world. By the same token, solidarity communities must create a spirituality of resistance and agency towards those that remain in a passive state of domination by implementing discourses of hope and justice that makes it possible for oppressed communities to believe that hope can become real and that it is possible to overcome racial, social, and economic barriers. This is not an impossible or theoretical idea that cannot be implemented in the battle against disparity. In fact, it has been done by States such as New York, Florida, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and others that decided to get up and stand up during moments when their co-citizens in Puerto Rico were going through devastation and suffering. For these States, being Hispanic, geographical distance, and even economic factors were not considered when they decided to gather their efforts and send aide to Puerto Rico before any executive order was made from the federal government.
Part III: Spirituality of Resistance and Action
If there is something that has kept Bob Marley’s music alive several decades after his death it is its intrinsic power that is capable of generating social movements, revolutions, and fights for justice. The spirituality of resistance and action endorsed by communities and individuals that dream and hope for a place where justice and equality prevail can be transferred the same way notes can be transferred and played by different instruments. Resistance and action are vital organs to any theological and spiritual system that seeks to liberate humanity as well as the ecosystem from those exercising tyranny.
This spirituality of resistance and action connects violence with nonviolent actions. On the one hand, if we think about violence in a holistic way it can be argued that it cannot be avoided. To explain this better it will be beneficial to provide three of the definitions provided by Mariam-Webster dictionary which defines violence as (a) an intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force, (b) as a vehement feeling or expression, and (c) an instance of such action or feeling, and a clashing or jarring quality.[ix] All of these definitions are connected to feelings or emotional states that are common to humans. For this reason, developing a spirituality of resistance and action can inspire people to get up and stand up by generating at least an internal act of violence. This internal act of violence can become the source of courage, meaning, and purpose that will sustain movements of consciousness and self-awareness. The presence of internal violence within individuals can easily be transferable to nonviolence movements such as boycotts or protests. On the other hand, internal violence guided by feelings and emotions without a vision of civil and legal transformation can easily result in riots and failure movements. The main difference relies on the fact that the one using external violence as a tool for liberation can easily use the mechanisms of oppression for their own benefit. Nevertheless, both internal and external violence that manifests itself as nonviolent and violent movements are both reactions that are founded on imperative actions such as “get up, stand up.”
In conclusion, globalization creates the illusion that progress has been made in communities under oppression. However, examples such as Bob Marley’s song, “Get Up, Stand Up” and Puerto Rican’s slogan after Hurricane María “Puerto Rico se levanta” serve as inspiration for other communities to emulate the power of solidarity as a fundamental source of resistance and action. Subsequently, the imperative action such as get up and stand up are simultaneously an act of resistance and action capable of changing communities from a passive to an active state of consciousness that seeks liberation. Although this theology and spirituality of resistance and action may sound utopic for some people, utopic ideas allow oppressed communities to hold on to their dreams, hopes, and continue to step forward towards liberation. In the words of Eduardo Galeano, “Utopia lies at the horizon. When I draw nearer by two steps, it retreats two steps. If I proceed ten steps forward, it swiftly slips ten steps ahead. No matter how far I go, I can never reach it. What, then, is the purpose of utopia? It is to cause us to advance.”[x]
[i] Gustavo Gutierrez, “Remembering the Poor: An Interview with Gustavo Gutierrez,” http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/420/article/remembering-poor-interview-gustavo-gutirrez
[ii] Bill Leigh, “Woodshed: Beginner – Learn to Play: Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up”.” Bass Player 17, no. 3 (03, 2006): 72. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.bu.edu/docview/1492627?accountid=9676.
[iv] Gustavo Gutierrez, “Remembering the Poor: An Interview with Gustavo Gutierrez,” http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/420/article/remembering-poor-interview-gustavo-gutirrez
[v] George E. Tinker, Spirit and Resistance: Political Theology and American Indian Liberation, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2004), 3.
[vi] Ibid, 4.
[vii] Niraj Choskshi, “Trump Waives Jones Act for Puerto Rico, Easing Hurricane Aid Shipments.” New York Times, September 28, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/28/us/jones-act-waived.html.
[viii] Jules Martínez-Olivieri, “Puerto Rico and María: History and Vulnerabilities in the Eye of the Storm,” Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature. Boston, Ma, November 19th, 2017.
Raymond Lopez-Adorno is an Army combat veteran and is a first-year Master of Theological Studies (MTS ’19) student at the Boston University School of Theology. Raymond’s academic interests are history of Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations, Semitic languages, and the Hebrew Bible. He also works as a Chaplain Candidate for the US Army providing spiritual mentorship for soldiers and their family members. In his free time Raymond enjoys practicing Brazilian Jujitsu, hiking, camping, and rock climbing with his family of four.