Be brave and strong

Teaching a workshop on the sacraments to pastors and elders of the Presbyterian Church of Honduras.

Written as a reflection for a mission connections letter.

I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because THE LORD your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9, Common English Bible

This verse was read before I knelt and prayed before the Presbyterian congregations of Honduras, their pastors’ hands laid on me, and I was installed as the mission co-worker assigned to work with them for the next four-year term.

The commandment to be “brave and strong,” to not be afraid, was particularly meaningful to me because I arrived in Honduras immediately after a time of political turmoil and violence. At the time of my installation, I had spent the previous month heeding my Honduran colleagues’ advice on where to go and not go, whether to drive alone, whether to visit strange neighborhoods for the first time. I had chosen a rental home and a car with safety and security as my primary goals. I had watched news of political protesters killed by military forces, police officers killed by gang members, bus drivers extorted for “taxes” to thugs, a corporate executive arrested for masterminding the assassination of an environmental activist. There is plenty to fear in Honduras.

I am used to being independent and bold — as a journalist and as a chaplain, I went into places where others feared to tread. I am not used to heeding the fears and worries of others: I travel alone, I live alone, I have driven cross-country alone, I have accompanied the dying alone in their hospital rooms.

Blessed by pastors in Honduras as I am installed as mission coworker.

“Be brave and strong.” “Don’t be terrified.” I mulled over those words as I knelt on Pastor Edin Samayoa’s sweater — he had taken it off and put it on the floor to cushion my knees. Pastor Edin leads a church in a neighborhood where I am not allowed to go alone, or at night, and where newcomers have to announce their presence, roll down the car windows, and get permission from gang members to enter.

Your God goes with you wherever you go. Those words were made flesh to me as I was helped to my feet, and dozens of people, everyone in the congregation, came forward to embrace me and hug me tight, and whisper in my ear their blessings and prayers. “I’m with you, you’re not alone.” “I pray God’s blessing on you.” “You are already a blessing to us, and we are so happy you’re here.” “Whatever you need, we will be there for you.” “We love you.” I felt their hands on my shoulders, their lips on my cheek, their tears of joy and welcome on my shoulder.

They are with me, and I am with them, and God is among us, wherever we are. In my short time in Honduras, I have seen the flowering of new projects and ideas, sparks of the Holy Spirit’s movement — among lay pastors studying to improve their care of their congregations, among women working to take over and renovate a spiritual retreat center for the benefit of all 26 Presbyterian churches here. I am learning also to reach out towards the warm spirit of caring that has been offered to me here. Nothing I do here will be alone. The Holy Spirit will be with me, embodied in the care and concern of hundreds of church members, the hospitality of strangers who have become family. I am learning to leave “alone” behind.

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Ends of the earth or center of the world?

“El Horno, Comayagua, Honduras. A small community of indigenous Lenca descendants. Located in the mountains in the area of Comayagua. A place that is difficult to get to, so no church was willing to go there. A pastor said one day ‘I have come to the end of the earth.'”

https://www.livingwatersfortheworld.org/single-post/2018/03/23/Challenges-Overcome-in-Honduras?bbejrid=581264432&bbemailid=7553904&bblinkid=88462739

Relieved hostess

Renting my body
Shall I be joyfully debilitated?
I am the house, not the guest
The faith is in joy

Shall I be joyfully debilitated?
Each has been sent as a guide from beyond
The faith is in joy
Turning away my depression

Each has been sent as a guide from beyond
I am the house, not the guest
Turning away my depression
Renting my body

Written at a Companions on the Inner Way retreat, this is a response to Rumi’s “The Guest House” using French pantoum technique from “The Artist’s Rule” by Christine Valters Paintner.

I’m usually goo-goo for Gaga, but …

I’m mulling these lyrics from Lady Gaga’s new album, Artpop, and trying to decide how upset I should be. I usually appreciate the Lady’s message about ownership of our identity and our bodies, and her own love-hate relationship with fame. This song, Do What U Want, opens with an indictment of the press for its attitude of ownership of stars.

And in the chorus, Gaga sings:

“You can’t have my heart
And you won’t use my mind but
Do what you want (with my body)
Do what you want with my body
You can’t stop my voice cause
You don’t own my life but
Do what you want (with my body)
Do what you want (with my body)”

I appreciate the ownership of mind, heart and voice that Gaga is celebrating, but I disagree that our bodies, women’s bodies, can be sacrificed with no consequences to psyche or emotional well-being. I think women must claim as much ownership of our bodies as we do of our minds and hearts. The one is as valuable as the others.

Will the message of the song be received in the “F-U” spirit is is given, or will the chorus be sung over and over with no sense of irony and attitude that is usually evident in Gaga offerings? I’m not sure. If her performance on Saturday Night Live with duet partner R. Kelly is any indication, Gaga is morphing the line between public and private life, and public and private bodily behavior. That conversation is one that needs to happen more often. I hope that women are encouraged to strive for harmony and not damaging disconnection between body and psyche.

Embodiment for Lent: Isaiah speaks today

Filling up the place with some more embodiment: My assignment for the seminary’s Lent devotional series was Isaiah 58:3-9. My Old Testament professor made my heart go pitter-patter when she said she liked what I did. I shall recreate it here:

“Why do we give up chocolate, but you do not see?
Why do we Occupy, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest when you fast,
and loudly shout that you are the 99 percent.
I know you do it just to pick fights and make noise
and to let out some aggression.
This kind of self-righteousness
is lost in the din of the world.
Do I ask for indignation and self-pity?
Do I ask for blog posts and Tweets?
Is this really honoring me: Facebook memes?
Driving a hybrid? Shopping at Whole Foods?
Tagboard signs? Election bumper stickers?
Does God enjoy these outward symbols?

Doesn’t God seek this in our hearts:
to seek the just treatment of those enslaved by poverty, incarceration,
homophobia, xenophobia, violence, addiction, sexism, and hunger?
And not only that, but to end these scourges?
Isn’t this the right way, to give your best organic seven-grain loaf to the hungry,
and to bring the homeless poor into your home so they may sleep on your 1,200
thread-count sheets;
to give your REI-bought Marmot rainjacket to the cold, instead of crossing the
street when you meet a homeless brother or sister?
Only then will you truly see God
and be healed in your soul.
Your fears shall leave you, and you shall walk confidently in God’s presence.
You shall call, and God will answer in the voice of the poor;
you shall seek, and God will say, “Here I am.”

What Harry Potter means to me

My experience with Harry Potter last summer got me thinking about how far I’ve come since I read “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”over Christmas 2001.

The movie by the same name came out the fall of my senior year in college. Having been  too old and studying abroad for most of the Harry Potter mania, I had to take a crash course in the spelling of Dumbledore and Expelliarmus before covering the movie’s opening for the university newspaper. My roommate gifted me with the first three books in the series.

In one of my favorite interactions in the first book, the wise old headmaster Dumbledore advises Harry that “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” In the final installment of the series, which came more than ten years after the first, Harry meets Dumbledore in a dream-like state. “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry,” Dumbledore responds to a question. “But why should that mean it’s not real?”

One of “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling’s great gifts is understanding and describing the process of growing up. Our heads when we are children are filled with wonder and wishes and dreams, and we are subtly taught, or at least I was, that dreams are little more than an escape from reality and we should remember to stay grounded.

Over the past semester, my first in seminary, I have come to realize that my normal mode of existence is inside my head. I forget to express in words and actions my innermost emotions, feelings and reactions to the world around me. Somehow this makes the emotions seem unreal or unimportant, and if I think my emotions and experiences are unimportant, then I think others’ emotions and experiences are unimportant — that’s not good.

My practice for the semester has been to dwell on dreams — and feelings and intangible thoughts — and embody them. Say them, act on them, claim them, without fear. They’re real! Dumbledore told me so.