In an excellent new book, Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with Young Clergywomen of Color, Ruth-Aimée Belonni-Rosario writes about the promises and pitfalls of colonialism in her own spiritual journey. She is Afro-Caribbean, with parents from Martinique and Puerto Rico. She was raised speaking her father’s French, her mother’s Spanish, and the English they saw as a symbol of progress and opportunity. She writes, “Colonialism is ever-present in my formation, as the two countries that influenced me are, to this day, imperial endeavors of the United States of America (Puerto Rico) and France (Martinique).”
The presence of colonialism at the heart of her identity raises challenging questions for Belonni-Rosario. She observes, “[A]s a result of this history and my experience in the United States, I find myself having to fight against my own colonized mind every day…while religion has undeniably been a part of this colonialism, it is nevertheless key to my faith formation.” Colonialism erodes her ability to trust her own experiences of God. It puts a question at the heart of her faith that will not go away easily.
Belonni-Rosario’s voice is just one of the many lifted up in Streams Run Uphill. The book is edited by Mihee Kim-Kort, a Presbyterian minister, blogger, and author (pictured left). Her previous book, Making Paper Cranes, developed a feminist account of God with roots in the lives and theologies of Asian American women. Streams Run Uphill is equally theological, even as it pursues a more practical line of enquiry. The contributors write individually and together, at times, and Kim-Kort offers asides within the text signed “MKK.” These are conversations, as the subtitle suggests, with clergywomen of color from Presbyterian, Baptist and Orthodox Christian traditions. Together they explore a number of challenges to the contemporary church, including sexism, tokenism, ageism, and racism. They also offer constructive theological resources for clergy and laity – all clergy and laity, not just women – for transforming the church in a more peaceable community.
The book is challenging, especially for those who occupy traditional positions of power in the church. There are stories of racism and sexism that will make you cringe. The book is uplifting, especially for those whose voices have been silenced and whose backs have been forced to carry heavy burdens. There are stories of triumph and redemption. The book is welcoming, especially for those who are daunted by the “journey of otherness” at the heart of the Christian life, as one author puts it. There are stories of encounter and embrace. Most importantly, the book is a wonderful, hopeful glimpse into the future of the church. This stems from the refusal of the authors to capitulate to the challenges they face. It stems from their belief that God is not done with us yet.
In this respect, Belonni-Rosario’s reflections are emblematic of the book as a whole, and they offer an appropriate way to close this review. She is honest and conflicted about the realities of her life as a clergywoman and a Christian. But she refuses to despair. Instead, she asks near the end of her essay:
“Should I feel proud and content with myself, my accomplishments, and where I have arrived, despite realizing that my life has been conditioned by the dominant culture, those powers and principalities? I have to respond that despite all I have discovered and felt especially in recent seasons, that the hope of Christ drives me to say a resounding yes. My story may have been one that has been conditioned by negative structures of religious colonialism, but by the same familiar composition a kernel of the gospel has taken root and risen above the soil, and it is growing and giving me the power and spirit to work to abolish what is in opposition to God’s true kingdom.”
Author photo provided by and used with the permission of Judson Press.