Sunday, October 21, 2007

What is Love?

Love is when my father listens to my step mother recount the latest character and plot developments in her favorite soap opera just before she goes to work. Love is when my father listens to every word and doesn't need the "filler" information because he's been hearing these stories for years now. Love is when he still sends her off to work, accompanying her to the door and kissing her goodnight and never mentioning to me about how much he doesn't really care about soap operas.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pace of Life

I’ve been back in the US for 8 months now. There is still a certain amount of culture shock to be had and cognitive / emotional dissonance to go through. Most days I wake up with memories from the south…of Salvador, Guate, Mexico, Nica , Honduras and Belize in my head. I can’t really escape it. This morning I had the memory of those cream filled Chinese cookies that were sold on the corner by where I lived and how I use to buy them to surprise friends. And I also remembered what it felt like to walk from my home to the bus stop…all the exact places that I would cross the street and the people I said “hello” to on my daily routine. It was that kind of simplicity that filled my day. Choice encounters, random surprises, choreographed spontaneity…meeting with friends, riding the busses. Those are the moments that filled my existence down there. And here is just different.

About a week ago I realized why I felt so off. I realized that my pace of life changed so quickly that I had no idea what really hit me. Even though I love my job, I didn’t realize that it had begun to consume me in such a way that I have begun ignoring the simple pleasures that I once relished in just a few short months ago. As a person who values contemplation, intentionality and quality of time, my world has now changed to be chaotic and impulsive to the point of doing things because they need to get done and not concentrating on the act itself. And despite my morning and evening reflections, my daily life has little room for extra self-centering.

I’m not trying to say that my life in Central America wasn’t busy. But rather, the things I kept my life busy with were life-giving events of nourishment and self-enhancement. My life in El Salvador was full and healthy with a balance of work, play and sport…love and loss and real challenges. Here I have all of that, but the mere pace of things throws the balance off in a direction that leans more towards a certain point of no return.

In this day and age, productivity is what is encouraged…but I would rather cultivate the simplicity of soulfulness in the hopes that real productivity would become a product of a happy and healthy ME.

Paul Rusesabagina

There are times I life when exposure to greatness catches us in awe and we may not even realize the moment until it passes. When I met Rufina Amaya, I hung on every word she said. I never swayed from the conversation and the passing of those few moments has remained with me since.

Just yesterday I had the opportunity to listen to Paul Rusesabagina speak. He is the person that Hotel Rawanda is based on. He spoke about what it was like in Rawanda during that horrible time of genocide. He spoke of his own fears and his own reactions. And he talked about what is happening in Darfur now. How can genocide continue to happen? Did we not learn anything from Rawanda?

However, what struck me most about Paul is that he was so normal. If you didn’t know who he was, one might even say “average”. And really, that’s what he is. The son of a farmer, Paul is just a regular guy who listened to his heart and did something extraordinary. And despite the violence and oppression he has lived through, he still manages to have a certain hope about him.

Rufina also lived through the horrible reality of war and mass killing. She listened to the sound of her family being tortured and killed and she remained hidden so that she might tell the story one day. And even still, she had hope until the day she died (this past February).

I am struck by average people who have such conviction in their heart that they continue to tell a story of their life that the oppressors refuse to hear but struggle to silence on a daily basis. These “normal” people…campasinos, farmers, hotel workers…they are the prophets of our day. They are the ones we should be listening to because they have the experience that speaks to us without the need for words.

However, it was Paul who said last night, “I will never fight with a gun…I will fight with my best weapons…with words.”

The lives of great people have been spared so that they might speak out for those who died voiceless in the face of oppression. But as long as we turn away from the cries of injustice, we too muffle their words of hope, compassion and a real form of social justice.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Don't Polarize Me!

Al Gore just won the Nobel Peace Prize. If he runs for President again he will polarize the issue of the earth’s wellness even more than it already is. There are so many things in this world that we are forced to take a stand on. To not have an opinion or to still be discerning your personal belief is seen as weak or less credible. But there is a part of me that thinks about the importance of relationships and bridge building when it comes to taking a stand. Because in some ways, ever time I take a stand, I also begin to alienate someone else who believes differently or I sway someone prematurely.

Now I’m not saying that being opinionated is bad, but what if belief in anything was based on a continuum? What if I could change my mind over time and experience? Would I lose my credibility or would I even be taken seriously anymore?

In the last few years I have thought about this a great deal. Those who know me, understand that taking a stand on social issues is what I do. People know where my heart rests even if I am comfortable with those who oppose me. However, through the years, I have also alienated people because my beliefs were strong and at times, felt I would never budge. However, I have….on many issues.

There have been moments when I have been forced to take a stand on a particular issue in a conversation even though I wasn’t passionate about it. The mistake I have made is that I argued the point as if I had passion about it. Thus, creating the illusion that my thoughts were set I stone. I became a statistic of the polarization of the issue without ever really needing to. I never built the bridges in the relationships and never allowed myself or others to simply change their minds.

Really, I should know better.

When I was in college and realized that I was gay, I thought that all homophobic people were crazy and they instantly lost credibility in my mind. There were some people that I never even gave a second glace. I wrote them off as ignorant and never worked to understand where their thoughts were coming from. Thankfully, I learned over the years, that this kind of behavior is not in line with my larger principles of building community and loving people for where they are at. To this day, I have friends that believe quite differently than I do….and I realize that they, like myself, are in a state of becoming and understanding.

I say this only because, the same has happened to me on the reverse. I have been written off for the belief I professed and the conversation closed for my “ignorance” on a particular issue. However, what some might find surprising, is that I since changed my mind.

Today as we ponder the larger questions in life, I wonder what it would look like if we simply allowed humanity to BE in the state of becoming rather than chart the course we see fit? What if we said, I believe ______ because of my experiences…but if I had another experience, I might change? Would we build relationships and community with these kinds of statements or would be seen as lacking credibility?

For myself, I maintain the beliefs I hold today…but today is all I have and tomorrow could be very different.