I learned from Marcus Boon, in his article “Spring Comes to New Jersey” in the October 2009 issue of The Sun magazine, that the word eccentric comes from a Greek word that describes objects in space that don’t revolve around the earth.
Ancient Greeks saw Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and observed that they wandered through the sky moving in a seemingly aimless way. They called these planets asteres planetai (wandering stars).
The planets were not, however, wandering. They were revolving around the sun. It was the finite view of human beings that made them seem like wanderers.
Human eccentrics move in a seemingly aimless way, too. Their movements make them seem like wanderers to other human beings with finite views. They don’t wander aimlessly, though. They revolve around a different center.
One such human eccentric is Gustavo Gutiérrez. He is often asked how it feels to have started a new theological movement, how it feels to be the creator of liberation theology.
He answers: “Some of you have learned about theology of liberation through my writings but I did not start this theology. I only express what I learn from others, especially the poor.”
It is this answer that moves him in a seemingly aimless way, a movement that makes him seem like a wanderer.
I am part of a culture that aims to “start something new,” to “create.” There is something inherently good about “starting something new” and “creating” if these things are used to make the world a more human place to live, especially more human for the smallest and most forgotten of our world.
There is something inherently bad, however, about “starting something new” and “creating” when the aim of these things is a social, economic or political power that dominates and controls. I am also part of a culture that revolves around this sort of power.
Gutiérrez is part of a people who revolve around a different center. He is part of the poor people who aim to organize themselves in the defense of their right to life, in the struggle for dignity and social justice, and in a commitment to their own liberation.
He is in solidarity with poor people embracing every effort to bring about authentic fellowship and authentic justice.
He is “being with” those who struggle against racism, machismo, the marginalization of the elderly, children and other “unimportant” persons in society.
This “being with” leads to liberation – social, economic and political liberation. He is part of a people who revolve around liberation. He is part of a people who revolve around Jesus.
Gutiérrez is one of the asteres planetai who demand life and dignity in the midst of death and humiliation of the “unimportant” persons, of the poor.
He is a part of their lives, sharing their sufferings and joys, their concerns and their struggles, as well as the faith and hope that they live.
Gutiérrez’s greatest joy is not in being the “father” of liberation theology. His greatest joy is feeding breakfast to the children in Rimac, a desperately poor area on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, where he serves as priest and friend.
I choose to wander with him, to revolve around his center, and to be eccentric with him. I hope you’ll wander with us. Be eccentric!
Trevor Barton teaches second grade and is a member of First Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C.