Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Gates of Fort Benning – SOA 2012

The Gates of Fort Benning – SOA 2012 We remember martyrs so we can face the future… These are the words I jotted down in my notebook last night as I heard Kevin Burke, a Jesuit Priest, talk about the witness of the martyrs of El Salvador to a group of faculty, staff, and students at Loyola. He said these words, or something very much like them, and I thought to myself, “Wow, that sounds good!” However, the lived reality is so much harder to understand and LIVE. First a story, and then some thoughts about the story of the martyrs. So this summer, two of my aunts died. First it was Helen and then a month later, Elsie. Elsie was related to me by blood. She was my grandfather’s sister, and Helen was her companion for many, many years. Both in their 90’s, Elsie and Helen spent their lives building a home together. I remember when I was young, Elsie would cook and bake delicious food. Her blueberry pie has remained at the top of my list ever since I was a kid. Helen, a little more quiet, and unassuming, enjoyed working in the yard. Even in her 70’s and 80’s she raked leaves and shoveled snow! Elsie and Helen watched the birds and animals in their back yard, they went to church on Sunday, and throughout my entire childhood, they traveled all over the place together. They brought back little gifts, and I enjoyed looking at their pictures when they returned. When I got older, and started traveling myself, I made sure to show them some of my pictures, and share the journey with them. Elsie and Helen were tough cookies and had large hearts. They brought joy into every room that they walked into, and I always got the sense, that the simplicity of their life together, was something I would look for within my own life too. But even though I know what a good, simple, loving life could look like from their example, I still want them back in my life. It is hard to face the future when memories of what once was….or who was with us, is no longer. So how do we face the future when our reality has changed? In March of 1980, graduates of the School of the Americas assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero as he presided at Mass at a small cancer hospital in El Salvador. In December of 1980, graduates of the School of the Americas assassinated four churchwomen, returning from the airport in El Salvador. In November of 1989, graduates of the School of the Americas assassinated six Jesuit priests and two women who they shared their residence with in El Salvador. These three clips articulate the violent ending of life. They also demonstrate the ruthless, destructive power of US funded military force at the hands of human beings. However, what these three moments do not articulate, are the lives of these people! When faced with the future, we must focus on life. For those of us who have been returning to Fort Benning year after year, the lives of the martyrs, are held up as a testament of strength. Many of us know about the conversion process that Romero went through before he became “The voice of the voiceless”. We can tell you the stories of Maura, Dorothy, Ita, and Jean, because we’ve watched documentaries and read their letters as signs of joy and struggle. And we can show you just how courageous the Jesuits were, through their writing and work in the community, because today, we still honor their death and hold up the people they left behind. Their lives continue to mean something here and now, even when violence that brought death, tried to silence their memory. We remember the lives of martyrs so that we can face the future and continue the journey of building a better, more just world. When I return to Fort Benning every year, I remember the lives of individuals who were killed at the hands of SOA graduates. I also remember the lives of those who have survived. Afterall, it is LIFE, in all its fullness, that threatens the very nature of violence. It is LIFE, which fills our whole self with possibility. And it is LIFE, that I remember when I sing PRESENTE! And so, when I hold up my cross at the SOA vigil, I am saying YES to LIFE and I am holding possibility in my heart. I am saying YES to WHO the martyrs are, right here and now, because their story gets to the heart of things. And I am saying YES to being there in the first place, even when the journey is long, and the memories are painful, because that transformation helps me know more of WHO I AM. We are the ones who continue the journey of building a better, more just world. My own truth tells me that the lives and the stories of the martyrs live on within me. I know that the lives and stories of Elsie and Helen live on within me too. And together, I remember WHO they were so that I might live a life that is authentic, and relevant, and just.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Within the last week my Facebook feed has been blowing up about Chick-fil-A and the publicized thoughts of CEO Dan Cathy. I don’t know the man personally, but I have been aware of the flow of money, and some of his thoughts, for a while now. It is part of the basis of why I chose not to eat at the fast food establishment, long before friends urged me to consider boycotting the place. And so when the latest surge of media coverage began, I wasn’t surprised, and found myself eager to support the cause. I’ve been eager because I am gay and Christian and passionate about a lot of causes that need to be highlighted and discussed. Mainly, the issues I personally tend to focus on are related to poverty, immigration, war, torture, and yes, gay rights. I have a stake in each one of those issues and personal relationships that guide any activist work I engage in. However, the issues pertaining to gay rights often carry an added weight, because yes, it IS personal. I believe in free speech and I believe in dialogue. I try to engage in dialogue that is respectful, even when I am not respected. I try to be open and see the point of view of the other, even when the position is uncomfortable. And I try my very best to speak the truth placed in my heart, knowing that it is sometimes a vulnerable and courageous act, that may lead to pain (potentially mine or others). But I also know that I sometimes fall short of this, and that only on a very good day, am I composed enough to get it all just right. You see, I would like to say that comments like the ones that Dan Cathy spoke, are unimportant to me. I would like to say that they don’t matter, and maybe even ignore the whole thing just a little bit, because who really cares, it’s chicken and free speech we’re talking about. But it’s not. If I am really honest with myself, and others, I would say that Dan Cathy’s comments do matter. In fact, if his voice is the only one heard, and the opposition does not speak out, then the status quo of homophobia and inequality will continue. Furthermore, the comments of Dan Casey support a side of a debate that opposes civil rights, and there are plenty of people in this country that just can’t afford to be silent. However, it is the chicken that we buy at Chick-fil-A that funds a company fueling organizations that marginalize LGBTQ people in ways that are very damaging, even to the core of their humanity. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but the argument to speak out is pretty simple to me. However, the personal note is this: As a queer individual, it’s hard to hear the words of Dan Casey and not feel the pain of yet another voice out in the public world that says my rights are not as important or valid as his.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Joy in Lent

I’ve found that I have a certain gravitational pull to my thoughts, and reflections in general. I’ve perfected the skill of naval gazing and there is a part of me that resonates greatly in the search for depth and self-knowledge. I also know, that if left to my own devices, I will spend large quantities of time reflecting, even to the point of despair. This is both a gift and a growing edge. And so Lent proves to be both exciting and terrifying at the same time. Mining the depths of my selfhood in search of the nooks and crannies of wrong turns and wayward searching is what I do, in the hopes that glimmers of life and growth might come. I can say that growth does come, but oh boy, what a process. And Lent? Well, there is more to Lent than the darkness and so I try to find a balance.

This year I’ve been focusing on some soulful practices, in an effort to find some joy in the midst of the search. I can let myself get bogged down with deep thoughts that circle inward or I can focus on the root of the message and the meaning that spirals outward. So for this Lent, I am focusing on the spiral outward…at least just a little bit.

The following are some practices that I’ve been engaging in that have provided to be very soulful and even thought provoking.

• Reading at a bar. Try it sometime. Take a good book, go to a bar on a week day. Order yourself a drink and read. Stop every now and again to people watch. Savor each sip from your drink. Highlight special parts in your book. Soak in the moment. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the bar tender. Smile at other customers. Order a dessert or an appetizer. Marvel at how different…uncomfortable or life giving the experience is. Get your check. Leave a good tip. Wonder to yourself…was this nourishing? It sure was for me. I’ve been reading a book called Anam Cara at a neighborhood establishment in the middle of the week. I met neighbors and even some new folks. I tried a few new drinks. And I even found an hour in my week to just be…and read.

• Go to a soulful event….something that inspires you. Take some notes. Recline in your seat. Take some deep breaths. So far I’ve gone to an open mic poetry night and a lecture about women’s liberation while quilting. It sparked my interest in the creative world again and I’m already working on some things.

• Listen to some music that feeds you. I recently got a new record player and let me tell you, music on the record is just pure bliss. I’m instantly brought back to some really great memories in my childhood. I’ve bought some records at a thrift store and I just sit there…listening to the faint crackle of the needle on the record and the music.

• Cultivate silence in the day. I’ve made it a practice lately to just sit in my chair and be silent for a little while. Sometimes it’s only a few minutes but I try to get a few moments throughout the day to plug in. It’s been refreshing and the silence has brought some clarity as well.

• Do some dancing damn it. I can’t tell you how good it feels to let it all out on the dance floor. Closing my eyes…moving my body…even dancing with someone else has been so….healing. One thing I am learning this year is that body movement really does make a difference. Dancing is just a soulful, sexy way of doing it.

So far these are the practices that I’ve been focused on. I have a daily meditation routine, but these are moments that really make me feel alive and full. I’ve been inspired in these last few weeks and that has made all the difference. I share there here in the hopes that it might cultivate a little fire within someone else to find something that might work for you. Lent doesn’t have to be so depressing. In fact, going into the depth of your self is also finding the things that you like the most about who you’ve become. Continue to cultivate that because it’s important to like the company you keep.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Five Years Later: A Life of Solidarity

“The response from those who hope to advance the cause of humanity can only be to globalize solidarity, that is, to globalize the practice of love.” ¬ Dean Brackley

It all started when I was 20, with a two-week immersion trip to Guatemala. The next summer it was two months in Guatemala. The summer after that was two months in Belize. I got hooked. But really, I fell in love.

I followed my heart all over Central America and back again. I lost myself in crowded markets and in the rush of waves on a black sand beach. I learned some good Spanish slag while talking politics and adapted some new pick-up lines at a neighborhood bar. I walked dirt roads in rural areas, and crossed lanes of traffic, one at a time, to catch a bus in the city. I swam laps next to a police officer on Wednesdays and marched to the cathedral on Saturday evenings. I ate pupusas for breakfast and tacos for a snack. I went to international conferences in fancy hotels and shared a cup of coffee with a friend while sitting on the front stoop at dusk. I prayed at church, I prayed on the bus, I prayed at work, and I always prayed when my heart was stirred. This was just a taste of the fullness of my life as I lived in love.

Five years ago, almost to the day, I crossed a pedestrian bridge from one immigration check-point in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to another in El Paso, Texas. My friend Tom and I were on our last leg of a month-long pilgrimage through Mexico. The basic idea was to follow migrants through Mexico in an effort to understand the realities they faced while in transit to the US. The experience was intense and for me, this trip was the end of my life in Central America. I was on my way home.

The reality is, I didn’t know where home really was. After all, I had just spent the last 18 months living in El Salvador and I was returning to Connecticut, the place where I grew up. Where was my home anyway? And as I look back now, I can say that I was terrified of that time in my life. Afraid of the transitions that were about to take place, Mexico offered one last collection of memories to reflect on.

Here I am, five years later, and it feels like I was just there.
Here I am, five years later, and I am preparing for a new transition in my life.

The month of February marks a month of love for many. And that is true for me as well. On a sunny, February day in 2007, I crossed a border and began something new. I left Central America behind and tried my best to live in the present with every step forward. Cross-cultural living has become a part of my very soul. I fell in love at age 20 and that affair has continued ever since.

Living in solidarity with the poor, and for me, that means the poor of Central America, has changed my life. I learned how to love…and fall on my face in the process. It has been a humbling journey and one that I never cease to reflect on. The strings of my own humanity are tugged today as I remember that walk I took on that pedestrian bridge, straddling the two worlds that my heart still rests in.

With that, I leave you with the words of my friend and mentor Dean Brackley, as he shared some wisdom to a group of students embarking on their love affair in El Salvador. His words are so very true and important for anyone who is on a journey of solidarity.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The New Words

It’s the second week of Advent, and like many Catholics, I’m waiting. That’s what Advent is all about, preparing and waiting for the coming of Christ. Yet this year, with the new translation of the Roman Missal, there is a new twist to the wait. And quite frankly, I don’t know what I’m waiting for anymore.

Surely, the season of Advent speaks to my heart in so many ways. On a personal level, I am waiting for my heart to mend and understand as I reflect on a year full of both joy and heartbreak. I am also waiting for moments of clarity as I move steps closer in my vocation as a layperson. Meanwhile, my heart is being prepared for something new and life-giving, while my spirit is being carefully supported for the journey. But sometimes in this process, I find it so very hard to focus on what matters. Instead my heart is hijacked, momentarily, by realities that feel so contradictory to the real meaning within the coming of Christ. And despite my best efforts to go with the flow, my very humanity is vulnerable to change.

You see, as much as I know that the new Roman Missal is bullshit, my heart has not fully accepted the change, nor has my attitude adapted. Actually, today was my first experience with the new words and it didn’t go so smoothly. In fact, it was a much more painful process than I anticipated.

The mass began as expected and knowing that there would be some changes, I braced myself for the awkward transitions. Even the priest stumbled a few times and there was a sense of solidarity in the church, as we glanced at the mass cards, missed our mark, and recited new words to the old prayers. But despite the solidarity, my sense of authenticity began to slowly fade away. I didn’t know if I wanted to continue trying to say the new words, or call upon the phrases already imbedded in my heart. I didn’t know if I wanted to hold the card, or leave it in the shelf, ‘just in case’. And at times, I didn’t know if I wanted to stay for the whole celebration, or walk out and talk to God instead. It was a mess, and I almost held it together.

Actually, I held it together until the final personal prayer before we receive the Eucharist.

The new mass card said, “Lord, I am not worth that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

But what my heart wanted to say, the prayer always at the tip of my lips is, “Lord, I am not worth to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

For me, these are the most intimate words I’ve ever spoken to God. I say this prayer in a low, personal voice, so as not to simply say the words, but to really mean them. At this moment in the mass, I am preparing my heart with God. I am preparing to receive God. And even though these are just a few little changes, the fact is, these words have carried meaning for the last 31 years of my life. In fact, as I say these words, I remember my grandmother, standing next to me, whispering this humble prayer before she received the Eucharist. I thought of her as I stumbled over the new words, just like I think of her when I say this prayer. But today, as I stumbled, my memory could not reconcile this change and the tears began to fall.

I stood there in the pew completely surprised and overcome with grief. I will never hear that familiar prayer again, as my grandmother once spoke it.

I stood there in that reality, sobbing, as it all began to sink in.

I would like to say that receiving the Eucharist shortly after my meltdown had a more profound impact on me. I was hoping for that. But instead, I returned to my seat, offered my prayers to God, and cried some more.

I cursed some more too, but not at God. I cursed at the hierarchy, at men, who I do not know personally. And in the next breath I asked for forgiveness. I cursed them again and then asked for forgiveness. Because, in reality, it’s hard to know who to blame.

Who do I blame for this sadness and grief? Men with funny hats in Rome who make decisions? My parish priest and fellow laypeople who implement the change? Or do I blame myself, a glutton for punishment, who walks in the door of the church, hoping for renewal, but finds the same system with new words?

I am having such a hard time with these changes. I am having such a hard time with this church. And I ask God, what exactly am I waiting for during this Advent season? Am I waiting for the church to change or for the church to change me?

Is this moment of piercing vulnerability and pain my signal to take heart and go deeper into a faith community that is complicated and yet so very much a part of my idenity? Or is this the moment, when I leave the church, and the new words behind, to join a community that nourishes my soul and honors my voice?

At this point in the day, I just don’t know. And quite frankly, I am not sure I will know the answer next Sunday either. But I do know that this feeling of pain is much bigger than some “growing pains” due to an adjustment of change, as some would like to believe. And I also know that my relationship with God is much deeper than the pain I feel. And so I wait this Advent, like always, for my heart to be prepared for Christ.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Born This Way

(A picture of Pride in El Salvador. True Courage.)

In a few hours I will wake up. I will go to church, a progressive Catholic community, and worship with my friends. I will take public transport and head to the PRIDE Parade in Chicago. I am very fortunate.

I am very fortunate because I live in a place and time where my whole being can be celebrated. I am very fortunate because I belong to a faith community that does not judge me the moment I step in the doors. I am very fortunate that I can go to a parade that celebrates the richness of diversity, and feel like being ME, is the best and only option there is. I am very fortunate because my family, the people who I loved first in this world, have always supported me…even when I told them I was gay.

You see, twelve years ago I shared this revelation with them when I was in college, but it turns out they already knew. And with a little reflection on my behalf, I guess there were some signs. So while I was growing up, my family, like any other family, let me know that I was loved…no matter what. And by the time I was ready to “come out”, there wasn’t a whole lot of room for wonder.

I wrote my first love letter to my first grade teacher. I lived my younger years as a tomboy. I wore pants and hated dresses. I played football with the boys and blended in quite well. I made friends with all the girls and all the boys. I started fashion trends in school. I didn’t date until I was in college and have had my heart broken a few times along the way. And fortunately, I was supported because when it all comes down to it, I was born this way.

Given the Gaga reference, this sounds a little clique, but the reality is that I didn’t chose any of this. I didn’t choose to be a smitten kitten over Miss Ford. I simply preferred short hair and comfortable clothing. I had great athletic ability and needed an outlet to get my energy out. I was sociable and got along with everyone. And the reason my heart got broken was because I dared to love in the first place. I dared to live as authentically as I could.

But again, I am very fortunate. And so on this PRIDE weekend / month, I will be thinking about all those folks who struggle to live authentically in this world. I will be thinking about all my LGBTQ sisters and brothers that weep on the phone when they call their parents because the missed the boat on same sex attraction. I will be thinking about all the people who struggle to wear clothing that feels comfortable to them, but are compelled to dress in a “certain” way. I will be thinking about all the people who find it so very hard to be proud of who they are.

It is my belief that the vast majority of LGBTQ people do not choose to be this way or that. It is my belief that we are born this way. And after some time, living, we may develop a certain pride in who we are. And it takes time.

Today I am proud to be who I was created to be and it’s because of all the people who supported me along the way. And so I thank them…

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Churchwomen

Today is the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of the four churchwomen in El Salvador. Maura, Ita, Dorothy and Jean lived their lives in a full and real way, taking each day, joys and pains, as a part of their calling to live with the poor of Central America. They died at the hands of men trained at the School of the Americas and US tax dollars funded this endeavor. Today, 30 years later, these men have not been brought to justice.

Today I pray for the country of El Salvador, always present in my heart. I pray for the families of Maura, Ita, Dorothy and Jean as they remember these inspirational women. And I pray for a change in my own government, that the School of the Americas is closed, that assassins (in the US and abroad) are brought to justice, and that history is not repeated.