lunes, 22 de marzo de 2010

embracing a new thing

I can't lie. The last few weeks have been tough for a lot of reasons--which would take hours to share--and I have cried a lot. A few brave and loving souls have been there to share my worst moments with me and for that I am so grateful. What is the meaning of friendship, if not to bear one another's burdens?

But I don't want to write about that. I want to write about what I've learned. I've learned that maybe I expect too much of some people. I've learned that the only way I know how to live is transparently. I've learned that I can't share all of my heart with everyone, but I CAN share it with some people--and it will be embraced, in all its grittiness. And I've learned that the darkness is much easier to bear when I do.

The darkness is there. It competes with the light and joy for control of my heart. But it doesn't win. It will not win. I've been reminded this week--though the wise words of some old souls-- that the Light wins. Love and hope and peace and justice and kindness and mercy win. And even when the shadows threaten to overwhelm me, the work of God will still be revealed in my life.

Yesterday I read these words--and then they appeared on a church billboard across the street from my house. "Behold, I am doing a new thing; it springs up, do you not perceive it?" I think it is the message I need to hear in this season.

And so, I will rejoice. I will rejoice despite my pain--which lingers in the shadows like a scar that won't quite heal. And I will embrace the new thing that God is doing in my heart, even if I don't understand it or can't see it. And, in my own imperfect way, I will seek to--as Heatherlyn sang last night--be the love.

miércoles, 20 de enero de 2010

for a friend

Over the course of my time in Nicaragua, I heard numerous stories from a wide range of people. With the Revolution (1979) and the Contra War (1982-1990) still fresh in everyone's mind, it wasn't hard to uncover the wounds, the deep violence inflicted by the dictator (Somoza). Before long, though, it also became clear that for other sectors of Nicaragua society, the rise of the Sandinistas had brought its own challenges. While the Sandinista program ostensibly did a lot of good for marginalized sectors of the population (through literacy campaigns, improved health care access, etc), in the process many hard-working people (not only the extremely wealthy, but also the middle class) also lost jobs and/or land. The later economic scarcity and recruitment of young men for battles in the mountains (from which many never came home) that ensued during the Contra period (obviously not the fault of the rojinegros, but rather the US intervention) led more than one Nicaraguan (including taxi drivers, gardeners, and people of all economic levels) to tell me frankly: "Things were better under Somoza!"

During this period, many people with the option to leave did so--whether to avoid sending their sons off to war or to pursue new economic opportunities elsewhere, as their country became increasingly torn apart by war. Beyond the politics of their departures, there were deeply personal and emotional reasons behind these decisions--a desire to protect their children and their families, a desire to work, to use the skills provided by their education, to survive what must have surely seemed like the complete destruction of their beloved country.

I always listened to these stories with a lump in my throat. Hearing so many diverse voices drove home the point that for every official political event that goes into the history books, there are myriad personal consequences that can never been seen or understood just by reading the "facts." The same event can produce a variety of effects for different people in a society. At the end of the day, therefore, any attempt by analysts or scholars to coldly ("objectively") interpret political events and policies can never capture the fullness or intensity of the reality that is lived by those in that context in the moment.

In the course of a few hours this week, I forgot this last truth, long ago learned and filed away in the recesses of my mind. In my exuberant desire to offer an academic opinion of a political situation far from my own, I forgot that the political is first of all personal. I forgot that more than a scholar, I am a human being. I was quick to offer analysis when all that was called for was the listening and sympathetic ear of a friend.

I feel humbled and contrite. What good is all the knowledge of the world without love?

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." -1 Corinthians 13:1

domingo, 22 de noviembre de 2009

in which music and poetry renew my soul

Thanks to my dear friend Brie’s husband, Daniel and I were able to go the Austin Symphony last night, during which we were graced and inspired by the works of Mendehlssohn (Midsummer Night’s Dream), and Cary Ratcliff’s “Ode to Common Things”, which involved the Conspirare Symphonic choir's singing of selected poems within the eponymous work by Chilean writer Pablo Neruda.

There is really no way to capture the power, majesty, and profundity of the vocal and musical arrangements that wafted through the Long Center concert hall….the notes and words did not just resonate in my ears, but in my soul. Words that began by creatively describing the beauty of common things like scissors, a bed, a guitar, bread…were transformed into extended metaphors about the intensity of human longing, joy, birth and death, and the struggle for justice and the meaning of its arrival for humanity.

In the spaces between quiet solemnity and crescendos of emotion, my heart—lately hardened and burdened by the frenetic pace of grad school demands—grew tender and rapt. Important things that had become blurry came into clear focus once again. Why I am here? What is all of this striving for? What is the meaning of these days, these words on a page? When I heard these words sung last night, my eyes glistened with tears, and my soul remembered.

we will make our own bread/out of sea and soil/we will plant wheat/on our earth and the planets/bread for every mouth, for every person, our daily bread. Because we plant its seed and grow it not for one man but for all, there will be enough: there will be bread for all the peoples of the earth. And we will also share with one another whatever has the shape and the flavor of bread: the earth itself, beauty and love—all taste like bread and have its shape, the germination of wheat. Everything exists to be shared, to be freely given, to multiply.

Crowned with sheaves of wheat, we will win earth and bread for everyone.
Then life itself will have the shape of bread, deep and simple, immeasurable and pure.
Every living thing will have its share of soil and life,
and the bread we eat each morning, everyone's daily bread,
will be hallowed and sacred, because it will have been won
by the longest and costliest of human struggles.

This earthly Victory does not have wings:
she wears bread on her shoulders instead.
Courageously she soars, setting the world free,
like a baker born aloft on the wind.
–Neruda, Oda al Pan

My mind has been active and engaged, and yet my spirit has gone relatively undernourished over the last few months. I find there is a never ending tension between being who I am and projecting the image of a competent professional and intellectual. What is more, I live in a liminal space--a borderland, if you will--because of the way my identity has been shaped and changed through living overseas. And yet also, in the university, there is another borderland to be crossed as I try to follow this path, faithful to my highest principles and values, my spiritual formation and convictions, into the world of analysis, critique, deconstruction.

As the stress escalates in these final weeks of the semester, I am determined that I must not lose sight of these things--that at the end of it all, I desire to be relevant, for my learning to serve a higher purpose than a grade, that it would promote the good of others. I will cling to my Maker and seek His strength and peace. I cannot and will not define success by anyone else's standard. I will not forfeit my soul in this place. I will NOT.


In no particular order….some recent happenings and reflections.

THE HALF MARATHON: The most major event of my life this month other than the daily routine of studying passed without any mention on this blog—my first ½ marathon (13.1 miles, or 21km) last Sunday morning, which I completed in just over 3 hours. It wasn’t as fast as I was hoping for, but considering a late October foot injury, I’m just glad I finished. I learned important things about myself—namely, that I can do things I never imagined I would ever do—but also, that I should be certain of the reasons for which I pursue any goal or activity. The truth is, I love to run. I’ve been running for the better part of a year, and even though I have never been an athlete (and still don’t look like one), I have discovered the running makes me happy (hasta cierto punto—after 6 miles, not so much).

PEOPLE: While I was in San Antonio, I also took my sister out for her birthday, hung out with the rest of my family, saw some old friends from Trinity and met part of my good Venezuelan friend Daniel’s family. Daniel is part of my Latin American Studies program and we carpooled down together for the weekend (which turned out to be a huge blessing, because after the marathon Sunday, I was in no shape to drive anywhere. I was exhausted.)

PAPERS: One of the papers I am writing this semester comparing U.S. and Cuban feminism (1965-1975) was accepted for UT’s student conference in February. My first academic paper presentation ever! My U.S.-Cuban relations class has been the most interesting of the 4 this semester, especially because it is being taught by a Cuban professor, and also because there is so much I just never knew about Cuba before.

martes, 20 de octubre de 2009

cambia, todo cambia

"Cambia lo superficial/Cambia también lo profundo
Cambia el modo de pensar/Cambia todo en este mundo....

Cambia el rumbo el caminante/Aúnque esto le cause daño
Y así como todo cambia/Que yo cambie no es extraño....

Pero no cambia mi amor/Por mas lejos que me encuentre
Ni el recuerdo ni el dolor/De mi pueblo y de mi gente

Lo que cambió ayer/Tendrá que cambiar mañana
Así como cambio yo/En esta tierra lejana"

The lyrics above come from a famous song by Argentinian Mercedes Sosa called Todo Cambia (everything changes). Mercedes passed away two weeks ago--actually the same weekend that I went home to San Antonio to see some old friends and attend a concert where another song she made famous (Alfonsina y el Mar) was sung by a vocal ensemble called Voci di Sorelle (which includes my dear friend Cara!).

My life has changed a lot since I last posted on this blog (I realize that my two month absence means that no one is reading, but...). This past week was the hardest of my grad school life to date. I had to write a 12-page midterm exam synthesizing 400 pages of reading from the last seven weeks. And then I had to turn around and write 4 more pages for another class the next day. Not surprisingly, it took a toll, and I got sick. Sometimes it seems that's all my life consists of--read, study, write, eat, (and sleep...but not enough).

For that reason, I cherish all the more the brief spaces where I find companionship and conversation here. Some of those more memorable moments from the last two months include the party my roommates and I threw on Labor Day weekend, walking along Town Lake with my friend Leti, a shared coffee at Medici with Jake, UT games with Cory and Tony, a late lunch with a small group of friends from my Latin American studies program, small group on Tuesday nights, running with Meg, and talking politics with my Benedictine monk friend Paul.

Slowly but surely I am forming a small network of new relationships here in Austin--and it's good, but it's also hard. Starting over always is, and I know that. Even more so when everyone's level of busyness is way over the top. It means some days I really miss the tranquilo-ness that characterized even my most stressful periods of life in Nicaragua. I still think about those days and those friends every day. And I don't think that will ever change.

martes, 18 de agosto de 2009

nica church reflections

I meant to post these thoughts ages ago, but well, with moving and all, my mind and energy have been elsewhere.

Several weeks ago I was talking to some friends who are still living in Nicaragua, and we were discussing what the North American church might be able to learn from the Nicaraguan church (side note: I am thinking specifically about the evangelical/protestant manifestations thereof, with whom I had the most contact-I believe there are things to be learned from the Catholic church too, but unfortunately in Nicaragua a cultural form of Catholicism tends to dominate rather than the authentic faith and expression of a smaller remnant).

I remember that my initial impressions of many evangelical churches (pentecostal and charismatic for the most part) was that they tended toward the legalistic side of the spectrum. Rules about dress, hair, makeup, jewelry, drinking, dancing, etc abounded. Having developed a strong theology of grace over the years, I admit I found these rules excessive and unhelpful for the most part, and for that reason sought out a more relaxed church while I lived there.

Back in the USA however, I found myself more sympathetic toward the attitudes and practices of the Nica church. I was able to see how those rules were an attempt to "set themselves apart", to take a stand in a culture where a cultural form of Christianity that involves drunkenness and idolatry has taken hold. I could see more clearly the rationale for wanting to adopt a lifestyle that was so clearly different, even if I didn't think the particular rules that some evangelicals lived by were necessarily the ones I would adopt myself.

I found this line of thinking much more compelling because I realized I have the same desire to live a life different than the culture around me, one that clearly points to my personal values regarding simplicity, justice, and hospitality...and their roots in my faith in Christ. Maybe I don't go so far as to call them "rules" but I have standards for my own life, ways of thinking about wants and needs, ways of making decisions about how to spend money and time and energy, etc. I desire consistency, even if I don't always succeed at maintaining it.

And this is what I realized that motivated my Nica brothers and sisters as well. And it caused me to wonder whether in our rush to be "seeker sensitive" in this culture (USA), if the idea of being "set apart" and "different", a lamp on a stand as believers, has not been sort of neglected. Certainly I am speaking in broad strokes, glittering generalities, if you will. But I realized the global northern church now tends to opt not only for "grace" (which is good), but also in many places (not all), "blending in". And I wonder if maybe there is something to be learned from our southern brothers and sisters...

martes, 11 de agosto de 2009

after one week in my new digs

+ I'm really happy that my new bedroom is finally decorated, even though it hurts sometimes to see all my Nica art and pictures and be so far away. But it's nice to have a place of my own after house hopping for 3 months.

+ My new condo-mates Christie and Jody are fun, extroverted, food and exercising loving, and frugal! Example of the week: they came home with a bunch of stuff my second night here and told me they had just gone "dumpster diving" (not literally of course) and picked up a bunch of other people's rejected stuff (still in great condition). I followed suit the other day and picked up a lamp someone left in their yard a few blocks from my place.

+ I really love jogging in Hyde Park, my new reparto. I stopped for about 3 weeks after my accident but am back into it and almost up to 3 miles again. I signed up for my first 5k next month and a half marathon in November. I think I'm getting serious about this running thing, and I'm excited to be disciplined about something in my life.

+ There's so much to love about Austin, I hardly know where to begin. Related to the above, I love the respect I get as a pedestrian/runner (people stop for me!). I love all the parks and green spaces. I love all the hole in the wall restaurants and coffeeshops everywhere (not that I can afford most of them, but it makes me happy to see independent business flourishing somewhere, instead of just chains.). I love that there is a decent (free for students) bus system (that I still need to figure out). I don't think I can really love skyscrapers, but I like that the architecture downtown is artsy not boxy. I love that a river runs through Austin too (just like San Antonio, only here they've made in a hike and bike trail rather than a commercial center).

+ I'm glad SA is only an hour away and I can be a more involved aunt and big sister again. I went back this past Sunday to see Alex and Robbie sing at church and then was able to hang out with my sister and brother for a while afterwards.

+ Some days, I am really glad to be here. Other days, it still feels like a dream.