Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hangin' out with the Quakers

Here are just a few more photos from the last few days. This is The Hut--the small building used for campus ministry at Guilford College. I think I remember hearing that it's the oldest building on campus (mid-nineteenth century) and it's essentially a large room with sofas and old chairs and a rag rug and a big, woodburning fireplace. Students gather there and drink coffee and think deep thoughts and then discuss them. I was there for 25 minutes of silent Quaker worship, led a discussion on dating and marriage with about a dozen students, and attended a class on Quaker theology, contributing when the teacher asked me to.
This is a picture of another on-campus space for campus worship. You can see the simplicity of Quaker spaces--the pews are all hard and the walls are bare. I preached here on Sunday and attended a Taize service last night.
One of the things Mowgli loves best about this school is its outdoor space. I walked and talked with one of the students and this is where we went. It's a small lake a short walk away from campus (owned by the college) surrounded by woods. I don't know if you can tell, but parts of the lake are covered in ice. There are Canadian geese everywhere. Apparently they are nuisances but they're truly beautiful birds.
This morning, I slept til I woke up, worked for awhile, and will meet Mowgli in a few minutes to eat lunch, buy a few groceries (that's what moms do!) and head to the airport. It's been a good trip.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My most recent adventure

I'm in Greensboro, NC where Mowgli goes to school, as the guest for the Religious Emphasis Week for his school. Mowgli picked me up at the airport and said he was ready to just hang out with me for the rest of the day. I, however, knew that the Guilford College Fighting Quakers were playing the number two team in the nation, the undefeated Virginia Wesleyan somethings so I suggested that we go to the game. Guilford won the game with pure grit and teamwork in the last 6 seconds . . . and I get to be the hero for making sure Mowgli got to go.

This morning, I preached at First Friends Meeting in Guilford, a historic, semi-programmed, "Christ-Centered, universalist" Quaker meeting here. The pastor told me, "People tell me we feel Methodist" and I think she's right . . . Methodist 40 years ago! The people were absolutely lovely and I had a wonderful experience. There is as much dissent and disagreement among Quakers as you find in any other denomination and I've been told that First Friends is in the center of the continuum between conservative ("practically snake-handling," I've been told) and liberal (humanist, even nontheist).

Tonight, we had a wonderful, organic homemade dinner at the home of Max and Jane. Max is the Campus Minister at Guilford (a Quaker school) and is an answer to our prayers. He is joyful, brilliant, funny, spiritual, and he follows Jesus. Jane is all those things too and meeting them both--and knowing what a blessing they've been in Mowgli's life--was a wonderful privilege. After dinner, Jane popped popcorn on the stove, the old fashioned way and set out tea and homemade brownies and oranges for about a dozen students who came to talk about vocation and calling and leadership as part of their Quakerism class. They asked me to tell my story, which I did as authentically as I could and I think it was a rich blessing for all of us.

Monday, January 10, 2011

More thoughts

I'm reading a wonderful and disturbing book about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer right now. I'm reading it slowly because it is suspenseful (even though we all know how it ends) and because it holds up a mirror for me to evaluate my own courage, my own commitments, my own culture. I'm only up to 1938 but the writing is already on the wall--German culture finally slid into insanity because Christians were unwilling and unable to play the prophetic role that their times demanded.

In that light, I refer you back to one of my favorite blogs because, as she often does, Peacebang says what I want to say better than I can say it. Please read it here--it's worth two minutes of your time. And even if you don't read it, just let your mind linger on the painting. I've never seen this one before and I find it absolutely heartbreaking.

Life is political

Some people are reminding us that we don't yet know if the Arizona gunman's motives were political. We do know that he made political statements online and called his shooting an "assassination." At the same time, we know that his writings were incoherent and that he was mentally unstable.

That brings us to another way, however, that this whole thing is actually political: the way we care for the mentally ill. It's a complex problem that can't realistically be solved. At the same time, it could be so much better and the reason it isn't is completely political. We could have well-funded options for health-care for the mentally ill but we don't because funding for the weak and powerless is always the first to be cut--that's a political worldview that dominates in my state. I don't know who is more powerless than a person who is mentally ill unless maybe it's the loving family member of that person.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Some things just aren't okay

In light of the weekend tragedy in Arizona, one of my favorite bloggers (a UU pastor in Massachusetts) wrote, "In a world where all of us are interconnected, there is no such thing as a lone gunman."

I know many people who are big fans of Sarah Palin who would never advocate real violence but who are completely unfazed by the war-related and gun-related rhetoric. I've never understood it and now I really don't. I'll just leave you with this quote:

“Sarah Palin has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district and when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there are consequences to that action.” - Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Monday, January 3, 2011

A different view of Guatemala

I knew when I decided to go to Guatemala that I would see poverty at a level I had never seen before in person. I didn't know how it would affect me and I was fairly anxious about it. It's not that I'm not keenly aware of the poverty in my own city or around the world but there is a kind of poverty that I knew I had never seen personally.

Before I try to tell you about some of that, I want to stress something: Guatemala is a beautiful country. Its natural beauty is breathtaking. The people are beautiful, too. This is the view from the roof of the home where we were staying--the long distance view of the city and the mountains beyond. The way the story was told to me, this neighborhood was designed to be a working-class neighborhood, mainly for refugees from the US-backed civil war that convulsed Guatemala for decades. Homeowners are really homesteaders--anyone could have the land if they would build a home there, just like in the American West. The homes they built were concrete, built around a courtyard, comfortable, middle-class.

Unfortunately, there were several unintended consequences of this. One, there was not adequate infrastructure or systemic stability to support this community. You've seen this photo before but I'm using it again here to illustrate this lack of systemic community support.

This school is in utter ruin--and hundreds of children from kindergarten through 8th grade attend school there every day. Thanks to the fundraising efforts of my friend JTH and his partnership with Pastor Jorge, the school now has electricity paid for through the school year. However, the school can only accomodate a fraction of the children who live in the neighborhood and private schools are prohibitively expensive (although ridiculously cheap by US standards.)

Another thing that happened was that while many of the homesteaders built comfortable homes, others were unable to maintain the homes they built and still others came as squatters. Rusty corrugated tin is everywhere--forming the roofs of many concrete buildings and then erected between buildings to house squatters and the desperately poor. Remember, although city utilities are available, the people in these photos have neither electricity nor running water. (A government water truck comes along once a week and fills the barrel outside each door, providing water for the family that lives there for one week.) This photo was taken from the roof of the home where I stayed:

Although the home I stayed in was a comfortable two-story duplex, the photo above and the one below were taken one morning from the roof. Above, you can see the makeshift tin shacks that abut the concrete buildings. Below, you can see an old woman looking through the trash on a small hillside next to the home where we stayed. (Our photographer Juli stood behind a post to take this photo, not wanting to disturb her or objectify her.) She found several salvageable items (I don't know what) and put them in her plastic bag.

This photo was taken in the parking lot of a strip center. The boy is shining the shoes of a police officer. I was told that there are thousands of homeless children on the streets of Guatemala City and that they often shine shoes to make enough money to eat.

This is Brian. Brian is 15 years old, very bright (he won second-place in a city-wide contest to sit on the Guatemalan supreme court for a day). He plays in the church's praise band and is on the church's dance team. He is shy but likes to speak English with visitors when encouraged. He is one of the brightest spots in this story because although he and his three siblings were abandoned by their parents, he was "adopted" by the grandmother in my last post and has stayed in school and involved with his surrogate family in the church. However, free public education ended for Brian in December when he finished 8th grade. JTH put his story on Facebook and in one hour, a generous American had committed to pay for Brian to attend high school for four years--to the tune of $500 per year. Thanks to this benefactor, Brian will finish high school and have a chance at a different life.

The contrast between the kind of poverty that we saw in the slums of Guatemala and the surrounding, growing middle class is stark (as it is in our own country.) After decades of civil war, Guatemala is now a place where capitalism is given free reign (some great stories there) and where many people have a real chance at a better quality of life. This photo was taken on the edge of the slum where a local business has put up nice condominiums for its middle class workers to live in. The tin shacks and the new construction are separated by a fence, not a wall, which is both sad and hopeful.

It remains to be seen whether the emerging middle class will live in fear of the poor and isolate themselves or whether it will reach back and bring the rest of the country along with it. I guess that remains to be seen here, too.
I want to write about the emotional impact of these images but I'm not sure that I can yet. Although my heart felt very tender and I often felt melancholy, I never cried, although what I saw deserved tears. More feelings than words, more questions than answers . . .