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.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ballet in Belize

I went to the ballet last night with a group of friends,. The Quintana Roo Classic Dance Company came to the city through the Mexican embassy, as part of their cultural celebrations. This year is the Bicentennial celebration of Mexican Independence and the Centennial celebration of the Mexican Revolution. This prestigious dance company has recruited children from all over the southern region of Mexico to be trained in classic ballet techniques. There were a few modern pieces within the show as well, but from what I could tell, the majority of pieces were classical in nature.

There were two pieces that stood out to me. The first was a piece called “Dancing”. As one of the more modern pieces, this particular dancer, Ashanti Perez, was quite expressive and true to the nature of her body through the flow of the music. The music used was an English language piece that spoke of love, self expression and movement of self. I was struck by the emotion that Ashanti had in this piece and I found it to be quite moving.

The next piece that I paid particular attention to was a collection of vignettes called “Ellas” (meaning “women”). Each vignette depicted a celebration of a particular woman in Mexican history. Although I can’t remember each of the names of the women represented, there are images that stand out. There was a nun, a freedom fighter of the Mexican Revolution and another one depicting the life of a dance teacher. Yet the one that stood out he most was a piece that showed the two lives of Frida. As a big Frida fan, I found this vignette to be particularly inspiring. One dancer was the more butch version of Frida and the other was the more traditional, but frail version of Frida, just after her accident. The relationship between the two versions of Frida was like viewing one of her self-portraits and I felt myself wanting to spend more time with Frida and her images. In all, “Ellas” was very well done and I often found myself reflecting on the important women in US history…while thinking how they might be depicted in a dance format.

At any rate, it was a nice treat to go to the ballet last night. I’m not a regular at the ballet but I do appreciate the art and even though I was a bit hungry, hot and cramped, I was quite entertained and even inspired. The event was held at the Bliss Performing Arts Center and I was surprised to find that it was a full house. But I guess when things are free, it’s best to take advantage of the opportunity. I never thought I would be going to the ballet while I was in Belize, but in true travel fashion, one must be open to the array of possibilities.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Traveling Far from Home

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” – Frederick Buechener, Telling the Truth

I travel a lot, and even when I’m not traveling I am always apart from people I love. This was a reality taught to me at a very young age as I commuted from one parent’s home to the next. And maybe today that’s why I’m still on the move. But I’ve noticed a shift in me lately and I can’t quite put my finger on it just yet but I am realizing that saying good bye never gets any easier.

There are people that I love all around the world. I have moments when I think, “Oh I wish X were here…he/she would love this moment.” And there are other times when I have personal revelations and I want to share that with a specific person, but they are so far away.

Sometimes I write letters or emails. I’ve even made phone calls to stay connected. I think about these people in my life, many of them who cross my heart on a daily basis…and I pray…I pray that they are safe and well. But they are always with me.
On the one hand, it feels good to know that there are people who love me all over the place. It’s comforting to be surrounded by love because there are so many other instances in this world that can make us feel lonely. And yet, being separated from that same love also produces loneliness and longing….the kind that makes you want to turn back and change your life plan. But for someone like me…what would I change my plan to?

Through travel and life experience my identity has been aligned to the people and places of my daily existence. There are certain things about me that are true, with small variations, no matter where I am (I think). And yet, I try to remain open and permeable to the possibility of change in and through a new experience. And so, any one person or event can contribute to my evolving identity. There are societal markers that help people identify who I am and there are labels to pigeonhole me, or at least to help articulate pieces of me. But these words do not always identify my true character… only my family and friends have that ability, and I think that has something to do with this quote…this piece of family and friends “living in me”.
I am a live and evolving body…a collection of people that I try so very hard to be present too. These are the people who help articulate who I really am. And no matter how far I go, I am never so far that my memory of them is not also alive.
I think about this as I leave Belize in a week….as I go back to my childhood home and stomping grounds…and then travel back to Chicago where I now live. These are all places…and collections of people…each and every one of them, that I carry.

Children's Rights in Belize

Yesterday I had the opportunity and privilege to accompany a friend of mine as she presented a workshop on children’s rights to a group of girls at a summer camp. My friend Flo works for an organization called WIN Belize (Women’s Issues Network of Belize) and a lot of her job is give presentations and workshops all around the country. She is also a talented documentarian, but during the day she presents to groups about topics such as sexual health, gender issues, cultural adaptation to oppression and even children’s rights. And so yesterday she invited me to tag along.

The summer camp is run by an organization called YES (Youth Enhancement Services) and facilitated by two North American women. One woman is a new arrival from the Peace Corps and the other has been in the country for the last year through the Jesuit Volunteers International Program (the counterpart to the JVC domestic program that I was a part of back in Detroit).

In typical Belize fashion, Flo and I arrived late because….well time is different here. And we got to camp right before they were beginning an icebreaker activity. It was the one where each person holds part of a statement from an international proverb and you had to find your match and then decipher the meaning. I’ve played this game a few times before with college students and was wondering how well it would work out with 12-14 year old girls but I found that it just took a little extra time. I found that when I participated in the icebreaker I went right into “teacher mode”, taking on the demeanor and foundationally inquisitive attitude that I once had in a former life as a teacher. It was a relatively natural switch for me and I wondered to myself…why is that…

At any rate, even though some of the proverbs were difficult, the group as a whole was helpful. I must admit however, that there were a few very shy girls in the group and it took a lot to get them to speak. Part of that could be in relation to the new guests but I’m guessing that it went a little deeper than that.

After the ice breaker Flo began her presentation, chatting really briefly about the UN Declaration on Children’s Rights and what that looks like here in Belize, and then there was another activity. The object was for each group to compile a list of what rights children have, or should have. You could make a list, draw a picture, write a poem or some other variation. I spend some time with one group which included three of the older girls and then the two youngest girls who were sent to camp with their older sisters. To my surprise, even when I engaged them in the subject matter, they too had some good answers. Here are a few of the things that I took note of…

Children Have the Right…
• To Play and have fun
• To brush your teeth and pray to God (one statement)
• To eat good food
• To have a house
• To privacy
• To be punished but not hurt (this one was a challenge to articulate because they had the idea but not the words)
• To be sad and happy
• To go to the clinic
• To not talk to strangers
• To be safe from harm
• To go to church
• To get an education

Really, the list went on and on and there was even one poem which I found particularly striking (wish I wrote some of that down). But really what struck me the most was that they already knew their rights. And I think they also knew that they were not always receiving those rights either. Sure, there was some talk at the end about what one might do if they know their rights are being violated, but really, I wondered how tangible the suggestions really were. And given the cultural history of Belize and some of the current reality, children in here are particularly vulnerable the system and the families they live in.

As we left camp and drove back to Belize City I learned that these girls come by bus from all over the district. It’s free, which is good, and there are even field trips. I was impressed by that and excited for them as well. Given what they are up against, these girls need all the support they can get and free summer camp is a step in the right direction.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Driving in Belize

As it turns out, I actually like rules. But especially ones that pertain to driving. Stop signs mean stop and people actually stop…for bicycles to also follow rules…and for pedestrians to care enough out their lives that they wouldn’t walk in front a car in a moment of arrogance. I like that round-abouts are sort of fun but that they do have a natural regulated flow. I like that I can enter the round-about when there are no cars and signal to leave. It seems like a good system and I guess that’s why I stick to it….even here in Belize.

You see, here in Belize, the rules of the road are just a guideline. And depending on the time of day, people may or may not follow these guidelines. And its really no big deal because the traffic police don’t REALLY care. They simply stand in the middle of the road, blow their whistle, direct traffic and check for valid insurance and drivers licenses. But what do these plastic cards mean anyway?

I’ve spend some significant time in my life driving. I’ve driven in other states in the US and even other countries like Belize. Each place has a certain way of being when considering the rules of the road…but Belize…Belize is in a league of her own.
A friend commented to me the other day, “I can’t wait to get to Chetumal (Mexico) to drive because people actually follow the rules of the road there.”

Hmmm, what a concept….that others also look upon the law for consistency.
I am often one to look for consistency in my life….for people to say what they mean…for actions to follow…for a traffic light to actually dictate a stop or a go. It’s pretty simple really some folks haven’t really caught on just yet.

These are observations really, nothing major. I’ve been driving a lot you see….borrowing a friends car and exploring the city. I do errands, go to lunch, get a choli…and drive. I like it …I like the freedom. And, I must admit that it’s sort of an adventure. But I go slower here and I let people cross the street. I follow the rules of the road despite the honking horns and sometimes I have been known to add in a rule of my own.

Last year I heard a story of a man who hit a child while driving on the road. I can’t remember how the rest of the story went…if he got out of the car or took off and ran. But I heard that people in the neighborhood killed him. The whole reality of vigilantism in Belize is scary…which makes me think that rules should be followed so that people aren’t compelled to take the law into their own hands. That, and maybe the judicial system could be consistent and dependable as well…but that’s just a suggestion.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


The word independent has a lot of different meanings. Given my life, my current reality, and the passing of another 4th of July weekend, the varied meanings of this single word seem to resonate with me. Here are a few that I’ve been pondering…
• Politically autonomous; self-governing
• Free from the influence, guidance, or control of another or others; self-reliant
• Not determined or influenced by someone or something else; not contingent
Other phrases come to mind like, self-sufficient, self-supporting, not dependant, not affiliated or loyal to….and the list goes on.

So let’s talk politically just for a second and humor me on some of the meanderings of my brain. A little history: Columbus set sail on the ocean blue…yada yada…skip a bunch of years and there’s a “revolution”. People die, men come together and write some stuff down, they hide it in a tree in Connecticut (sorry I had to put that in there), and then this place that I am from, The United States of America, is now independent from England. We can even go on to say that the USA is independent from other nations as well. According to the definition, the US is “self-governing and politically autonomous.”

So I wonder, is this really true? Given the global reality, the way political decisions are made these days (I’ll give you this plutonium if you give me these guns and we’ll call it a day…then to fast forward 30 years…I’ll teach you how to vote and how to run a democracy if you continue to supply us with X, Y and Z for the rest of eternity), is this really independence or rather exercising a kind of control? Because as much as the US, or any other nation, claims itself as independent, there is still the reality of goods and services that needs to be factored into the deal. Plain and simple, when it comes down to it, the US NEEDS stuff…and really, we are DEPENDENT on other nations to sustain our life.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure this is not an original thought but it’s something I’ve been thinking about in relation to my own personal worldview.

One of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen once wrote in his journal, “I love Jesus but want to hold on to my own independence even when that independence brings no real freedom.”

Keep this quote in mind when you read on. It will be very telling.
So then here’s me and here’s my confession…

I am an only child.

I know, hard to believe. Some may even find this shocking, but it’s true. And even though I don’t regularly show some of the common characteristics of being an only child, there are certain realities that even the best performer couldn’t mask. And at the end of the day, the people who know me most understand that being an only child is a part of WHO I am in the world.

So what are those characteristics….well, sometimes I can be selfish, I tend to see the world as ME and then everyone else, I’m pretty confident and live as if I know what I’m doing (even when I don’t), and the kicker, I live as if I am independent. Actually, I seek to be independent….self-governing, self-reliant, self-supporting, not contingent on another and certainly not dependant on another. But the actual blow of the kick comes when I believe that the things I do are done in a void. When I believe that I have done something by myself, that I stand alone in my thoughts and actions, my personal confidence is fed and the illusion of this cycle continues.

I wish I could say that this realization was figured out a long time ago and that I’ve nipped it in the bud. I wish that I could say that I’m not as selfish as I used to be. I wish I could say that I’ve learned something important about being an only child and that is X….but…I’m still a work in progress. And actually, if I play my cards right, the ebb and flow of personal realizations can take me for a few more years on the wave self-knowing…or something like that, without ever changing my thinking or altering my illusions.

Ok, but here’s the redeeming quality of the whole shebang. Somewhere along the way I’ve figured out that I actually NEED. More simply I am needy.
I need food, shelter, clothing and other misc. things to sustain my body.
It turns out that I need people too. Not only do I like people, but I NEED them in my life. I need to feel welcomed, loved, supported and encouraged. I also need to feel like I can be that for others as well. I need to be put in my place sometimes and learn from those people and experiences. I need to feel like I’m contributing, that who I am matters to others. I need to feel like I have a place in this world and that there is something about ME that people want to know more about…or even love. Consequently, I have to leave the binds of my illusion of independence and suck it up because my internal desire to be self-reliant is counterproductive to fully entering into relationship with people and places. And really, any other version of life is only a portion of what could be. I know this to be true on many days, but I don’t always live it. Sometimes I need a jumpstart to get me out of a holding pattern. Sometimes I just have to surrender, to a place, to the reality in front of me and even to love, to jolt me into realizing that I am not as independent as I think that I am. And, that my grand notions of independence bring me further into myself and not into relationship with the world around me.

Let’s take an easy example of my time here in Belize….

I’ve been coming here for the last eight years and for the most part, I know my way around. But I still have to depend on my friends to keep me in line. Not only do they tell me where to eat, show me around the city and keep me out of trouble but they offer friendship, conversation and guidance when I need it most. Sure, there is some mutuality to my relationships here in Belize, but I can say for myself that my time here would not be so easy if I tried to assert my notion of independence. And really, because of my dependence and personal flexibility, I’ve been able to experience some profound openness in my own heart…the kind of openness that comes when you live as though you have nothing to lose.

For me, this is where the Nouwen quote comes in. I do believe that independence is important especially in terms of being a “free thinker”, a competent individual and being able to determine what you really want in life. Most day’s I am not lacking in this. But when my heart and life are so closed to the guidance of another….when I neglect to realize that others depend on my actions and decisions….when I forget that my own need for self-preservation creates boundaries in relationship…then…THEN, I have taken my own notion of independence too far. And like the Nouwen quote, being “free” doesn’t feel liberating.

Lately, I’ve been trying to live my life in such a way that honors the person that I am….as flawed as I am. I can willfully and joyfully say that I depend on my community (as a whole). I’m continuing to understand all the places I can shed my notion of personal independence to live more fully in those relationships. Personal pain and relational hiccups can serve as setbacks in continuous flow, but the more liberating piece of the pie is choosing to live in an interdependent way even when I know things won’t always go to plan. Exercising my freedom to live as if I have not been hurt…to live as if things will all work out…to live as if each moment is important and part of the plan…those are the pieces that capture me in all the right ways and legitimize my shift of being. (mind you, none of this is very easy)

When I think of the word freedom I find that the world independence is not too far behind. And for some, one idea feeds into the next. They are synonyms if you will. But when looking up the definition of freedom I have found these phrase that resonate with me, given the struggles that I face:
• Release from captivity
• Power to determine action without restraint
• Frankness of manner or speech

I’m guessing that Henri Nouwen was looking to be released from the captivity of his false notions that he was an “independent” man. I’m guessing that he wanted to live his life in such a way that did not give more power to this notion of independence, but more so to the way of his heart. I am guessing that he wanted his life to mean something and that his honest way of living might help him be more transparent and relational. I’m guessing he wanted to invite the same in others.

These are all just guesses….but I know this is true for me. And I know this is also difficult for me. Alas, I am still working on it…

Belizean Morning

I woke up an hour ago, sweating. It wasn’t from a bad dream but rather from the sheer fact that the sun came up again this morning. It’s damn hot here in Belize and even on a cloudy day like this one (so far), the sun lets you know her lingering presence. I certainly can’t forget it because I crave fans, AC and cold drinks on a daily basis. Nevertheless, I get up, take a shower, get dress properly and prepare myself to sweat it out. And maybe that’s ok…at least for now. For me, extreme heat and cold let me know that I am fully alive. I’m either sweating buckets or shivering my ass off but at least I know I can’t fake it. The reality cuts me to the core.

I’m sitting in front of a fan right now and looking out the window of the second story apartment that I’m staying in. The view is quite majestic if you consider everyday life something spectacular like I do. There are palm trees in between homes, greenery all around and a calm stillness that blankets this place. The roof of each house is covered with red tin that has been weathered by hurricanes and seasonal downpours. Even in the dead heat of the day birds won’t perch on the top, but today there are a few I can see. I can also see three yellow butterflies dancing in the backyard of our neighbor. The dance seems playful and as they round the bend towards the purple flowered tree, one might begin to think that this is paradise. A puppy barks in the distance and consequently a cat meows back (note: some cats have a strange meow here). There are men working on the roof of a high cement house on the next block and I’m sure from their height they can see the Caribbean, which is really just a block away from where I am now. Here in Belize City, the Caribbean is never too far away. And as the city itself sinks further below sea level that reminder is all too present. Homes flood every year during the rainy season, but like the sun coming up in the morning, it’s a reality not to be escaped…especially for the poor.

As much as I am surrounded by the everyday beauty of this place I still find it quite difficult to deny the raw counterpart of suffering amidst the backdrop of vulnerability. Poverty is insidious here just like any other place I’ve been but the global voice deems Belize to be fairing not too badly in comparison to her regional neighbors. And so, the global community can breathe a sigh of relief and neglect the everyday visions of children playing on the roadside, homes washed away by a flooded river, or meals that never quite make it to the table because the money was never there n the first place. “Oh, Belize might be developing but they aren’t as bad as _______.”

Apparently beauty comes at a price and that’s what I’ve been thinking about these past few days. I’ve been thinking about the face of a typical Belizean, the reality that they live in compared with the song and dance show that tourists see. I’ve driven past the tourist village, eaten as some of the typical tourist restaurants and even gone to some of the attractions. And I wonder if the bus drives cover the windows when they drive through the villages. I wonder how they can hide the vulnerability that is so very present. But then again I wonder, how people in places of power, in the government, can actively negate the poverty here or even chose to be blindfolded when deciding where to allocate funds. I wonder…

Granted, I am really just a tourist myself. And it’s easy for me to be critical of my own government and that of Belize. But I do spend a lot of time these days driving around, looking out the window and wondering. I’ve chosen not to be sheltered or barricaded up in the Radisson compound. Instead, I appreciate the sweat I wake up to, the sound of the birds in the palm trees, the men hammering outside my window at god awful hours and even the daily reminders that I receive to show me that my notion of paradise is a little more complicated by reality. Either way, something here still cuts me to the core.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

GLBTQ Belize

Today is the last day of June. Another month of “gay pride” has gone by and I’ve passed the time here in Belize. I did not go to any parades. I did not go to any “gay events”. I didn’t cloth myself in a rainbow flag for all to see. No, not this year…or the year before…or the year before that. Instead, I went to a place of paradox to rest in a world of unknowing. I left home to be home. And as complicated as that statement is, it too is a paradox. And so, I come to Belize for many reasons…reasons all my own, and I know well how privileged I am.

You see, I come to Belize to reconcile pieces of reality that don’t fit for me. I come to Belize to slow down and simply be. I come to Belize to see good people, eat good food and sweat it out. And I come to Belize to put things back together again. It’s a self-serving journey with moments of relational atunement and today Belize is a part of me.

Now I say all of this to help you understand that as much as Belize brings me to life, she also makes me pause in sadness and fear. And because of who I am, I look inward to find understanding. Sometimes I look to God hoping that she too will help me sort and feel all I need to hold.

So, back to the month of June.

I first came to Belize in June of 2002. I volunteered and did some stuff but mostly I tried not to get in the way of my inner transformation. I’ve come back several times since and almost always in June. Each time, I weigh my dual realities and call to mind all the pieces of the puzzle…some that fit and others that don’t. And because it’s June, I do a lot of reflecting on what it means to be gay.

I’ve been out of the closet for 11 years now. My family has know my whole life. At this point, all my friends know, even those here in Belize (or anywhere else for that matter). At school, being gay is a piece of me to add to the conversation, and at work, I don’t have to hide who I am or who I am in relationship with. I have loved women and some have loved me and I am a better person for those moments of care and struggle. And all the while, over the years, I have shared many conversations over cups of tea and caramel lattes….conversations to explore and enlighten and others that reveal and grieve. I have come into my own in so many ways and the process has been so very emotional. And yet, if you were to take the “gay” out of me, I would be less of who I am today. I know this to be true and so I try my best not to compromise my integrity or my identity in the process of living. But, there are times…

There have been times that I have chosen a path contrary to who I am as an out gay woman. And I say the word “choose” because I fully realize my freedom in making decisions, while also knowing the consequences. I try to embrace those moments as best as I can in an effort of self-preservation but a little piece of me hates to compromise in such a way. Nevertheless, I chose.

In the U.S. I don’t have to make these choices a lot, but sometimes I do. Here in Belize, I make these choices all the time, telling myself it’s temporary and wondering how true that really is.

I have chosen to be silent to hide relationships. I have chosen to avoid certain topics and overt the spotlight away from a person who is not out. I have chosen to hold hands with a man to pass as straight and I have chosen to dress in frilly lace to pass as feminine. I chosen to hold back my joy when in a relationship with someone and I have chosen to take deep breaths to hold back tears when I have been in the midst of breakups, lest I want to talk about it. I have chosen to speak of someone as my “friend” instead of my girlfriend and I have also chosen to “play it cool” so that no one suspects. And sometimes I have chosen to let people believe what they want to believe.

Each time I make a choice like this I feel stuck. It feels like I’m being dishonest even by omitting the truth. And I wonder how much of myself I can give away like this until I am a series of half-truths. You see, it’s not that I stop being gay, it’s more that I hide who I really am…to some people and in some circumstances.
Again, it doesn’t happen all the time…but enough for me to know and realize. It happens enough that the moments stay with me. And it happens enough that when I see someone else omitting their own truth, I feel pain for them too.

However, I do think things are getting better at least a little bit. In the US, my life is pretty protected relatively speaking. I have even been known to hold hands in church with the woman I may be dating. In Belize things are a bit different.
We get US television stations here. I watched my first episode of “The Real L Word” (or something like that). I also bought a lesbian themed movie the other day from our DVD guy. I walked into a women’s organization the other day and saw a poster for lesbian sexual health. One friend just asked his first boy out while another is “exploring the continuum”. I’m probably going to a bar in the next couple of days and although it’s not a “gay bar” it is a bar where you might see more gay people than straight ones. In the short time that I’ve been here, the topic of homosexuality has come up a great deal and I wasn’t the one who started the conversation. And sometimes I still catch a glimpse of a woman checking me out. These are all little things that add up.

I can’t say that I am fully comfortable here and I do worry about safety of self and heart. And as much as I feel more free in the US, there are other realities that tug at the strings of my being there as well. But at the end of the day, I know that I made a choice to come here and be for a little while because I know it’s good for me. I miss things like pot luck BBQs and gay pride marches back at home but I’m kind of ok with that. Because as much as I love being gay (and actually I really do) I would rather celebrate who I am in the context of relationships and in the context of working on the road less traveled than only using the excuse of a parade to really live who I am meant to be.

Today, on this last day of June I celebrate being gay with my friends and family. I celebrate with those who are working to muster up enough courage to come out to their family. I celebrate with those who lose loved ones to suicide, depression and substances to numb the pain of being dishonest. I celebrate with those remain silent to protect identities and reputations. And I celebrate with all our advocates who stand beside us in love and support as we fight the disease of homophobia.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Morning: Sabbath

Today is the day of the Sabbath and I am relishing in the morning chill and the silence that penetrates the core of my fears. Alone and restless, I breath in the freshness of a new day with ALL that it entails….joys and heartache. Morning poetry and church hymns fill my heart with anticipation as I wonder how life will be revealed today.

Will I gracefully jump from limb to power line like the squirrels near my porch or will I stumble like the almost confident toddler that didn’t quite calculate the magnitude of a curb?

I take this moment as my own, willing to share it with others as a gift, hopeful (although sometimes reluctant) to reveal the soul within.

This is morning on my Sabbath day.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

A Priest: A Woman

There is a woman at my church who I think is really beautiful. She catches my eye every week and when I see her, there is a sense of warmth that I feel as I rest in her presence. Sometimes at mass she sings or she will read and I delight in those moments. I don’t know this woman personally, but friends have pointed her out to me. One friend said that she is studying to be a priest, which in my church, is not unheard of, but in all of Catholicism, her vocational journey is rarely supported.

I don’t know why I am drawn to this woman but I suspect that I see a part of myself in her…and in really, I revel in that.

Yesterday evening I went to the Good Friday service with friends in my community. I saw this woman in the back of the church. A friend told me her name, mentioned that her ordination was coming up and he went over to shake her hand. There were others going over to shake her hand too. She was wearing simple white vestments, like and alter server would wear and I remember saying to myself, “we must be blessing her tonight.”

I had no idea that a simple ordination blessing (as revolutionary as that is) was not the only thing in store.

As custom in a Good Friday service, everything is stripped down. We are a church of the faithful, a cross and the holy Eucharist. Priests wear simple vestments, alter cloths have been put away and the incense comes out. The reverence about the evening is what I appreciate most and last night was a very powerful moment for me.

The procession began as normal and there….there she was again, at the back of the line, where the celebrant is accustomed to walking. Our parish priest was in front of her and he was carrying the foot of the cross while two other women lifted the sides. I smiled to a friend thinking that this symbolic gesture was really beautiful and in my heart of hearts I would have settled for that, hardly knowing that her presence could be so much more.

They processed to the alter, and this woman….this beautiful, God filled woman stood at the alter and began the service with some opening remarks. I remember melting, looking around in amazement thinking that what I was witnessing couldn’t be true. I wondered if I had missed a memo in the bulletin. And as I looked into the eyes of my friends around me I saw the same gaze of utter joy and amazement. We were witnessing something beyond our expectations…

We began, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

I took a very deep breath and smiled…relishing in the symbolism. And she continued on… and I continued to be completely struck with just how beautiful this moment was going to rest in my heart.

There were other women and men who did the first two readings and the passion of Christ, according to John was read. Three women read the passion, representing each part, and our priest….she represented the voice of Jesus. It was all so very moving…

After the Gospel was the sermon…done by ANOTHER WOMAN who carried herself with poise and dignity. She spoke and we were all glued to the importance of her words. And yet, I wondered if this was it. I wondered if the next piece of the service would also include women. I thought that maybe during the Eucharistic blessing things would change. I thought that a man might take over now….and then he didn’t.

Knowing that the Eucharist was already consecrated the night before, as per tradition in the church, I detected the loophole of the situation and thought of it as irrelevant during that time because the actual reality was right in front of me. And as she held up the small wafer for all of the congregation to see, I breathed deeply again.

I remember the words coming out of my mouth, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you but only say the words and I shall be healed.”

I shall be humbled
I shall be stripped of my assumptions
I shall be rid of the box that I sit in
I shall recognize the fear that stops me
I shall realize love in my life
I shall embrace the goodness of transformation
I shall be filled with spirit
I shall BE without counting the cost

I was humbled in so many ways yesterday evening…stripped to reveal pieces of my core and gestures of possibility. Joy might be a good word to explain my state of mind, reverence as I walked up to kiss the cross.

There was a woman who celebrated mass at my parish last night.
A beautiful, God filled woman celebrated mass at my parish last night.
Our priest celebrated mass with us last night and her presence was powerful.

Walking Justice: Good Friday 2010

I began yesterday morning in prayer, reflection and poetry, curled up in my blanket as I sat on the couch of our common room. The poetry of Mary Oliver seemed to comfort me as I began meditating on the day ahead. I even put one of her books in the bathroom as if to say that I needed a little more connection than usual. And so I asked myself, why today?

Today was Good Friday, the day that marks the death of Jesus, nailed to a cross. And like a typical Catholic, I went to a solemn event portraying the stations of the cross. Actually, I was a part of the stations…

I went downtown with my larger community of friends for the event. When we rode the El downtown, I meditated and talked very little. I’ve been sick for the last few days and my energy level has been low but mostly I was intentionally slow about my preparation. Like the Buddhist, I wanted my actions of the day to be fully mindful. I wanted to be reverent for the day that Good Friday is and for the respect that I would be representing with my body. I sat in my seat, breathing, watching the buildings go by, watching my friends have conversations, smiling…I thought about Mani al-Utaybi, the who died on June 10, 2006 while he was being detained in Guantanamo. He, and two other men, Salah Ahmed al-Salami and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani apparently committed suicide during their time of detention. I’m not sure that this is true, but I do know that their detention in Guantanamo was painful and lacking in justice and so with my body as a symbol, I represented Mani al-Utaybi.

When we arrived to the walk a few of us gathered. I slowly put on the orange jumpsuit, an outfit that characterizes prisoners in places like Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib. We took some moments for prayer and then I put the black hood over my head and became the silent symbolic representation of Mani al-Utaybi. There were others standing with me, representing more people who were tortured and died in pain. I became a mindful presence of a man I did not know and yet intimately connected with in his death.

We walked through the streets of Chicago with hundreds of others involved with the stations of the cross. They talked along the way about many things. I did not speak.

I walked and I heard people huff in disgust. I heard the curiosity of others. I heard the reverent understanding of how powerful the representation was. I found myself to have a sense of acceptance for all of this, a realization of the reality and then moving on. I didn’t dwell in any one comment but rather rested in the person that Mani al-Utaybi was.

At the ripe age of 25 years old, Mani al-Utaybi was committed to his faith. He desired to get married, have a family and continue his schooling and religious studies. I find that these are dreams that I too share for my own life. And in 2006, when he died, I remember processing my own hopes and dreams within the context of life. Mani al-Utaybi did not have the opportunity to live.

When we got to each station, each of us dressed in the jumpsuits stood in a straight line. We were still and connected. People looked on. Some took pictures and others simply glanced. Yet it was apparent that our role in this event was different. I was different.

We went through each station, each location was different. Friends were around us in solidarity. I could feel their caring presence. I wondered if Mani al-Utaybi knew that people cared for him. I wondered what he would think of this representation of his body.

And then the 9th station of the cross, the execution….

Kairos Chicago and the Witness Against Torture communities took the responsibility to bring the reality of modern day execution to the forefront of our minds. Using the bodies of those of us in jumpsuits, we reenacted the symbolic death of Salah Ahmed al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani. Each man died yesterday, rested on the ground with only a sheet for a cover. And I too died…just for a moment with Mani al-Utaybi.

With the death of Mani al-Utaybi and the others I couldn’t help but think of all the other things that died with them.
Their hopes and dreams.
The pieces of them that rest in the hearts of those they love.
The reality of a life not fully lived.
The stark realization of a detention never examined.
The understanding of a story never fully told.
The investigation into the reality of how they left this earth.

As Christians we read the passion of Christ on Good Friday and we wonder if Jesus will remember us when we die. We wonder if Jesus is really like us at all and if he is, how is it that people like Mani al-Utaybi are still being crucified today (literally and figuratively).

Mani al-Utaybi, through the representation of my body, was removed from the circle by six pall-bearers, and the action was done. Shortly after I took off the jumpsuit and became me again. I sat down and looked at all the same people that I had once seen through the black hood. I was grateful to be alive and humbled to be in the heartfelt presence of my brother, Mani al-Utaybi. It took me a while to transition into being me again and yet I never fully left.

Today as I write this, I remember Mani al-Utaybi and all the other in prisons across the world. People who are held in conditions that strip away dignity. People who yearn to be released…people who struggle to find meaning in their existence…people who desperately grasp at each day in order to hold on to what little they have left.

Today, there are men and women being held in prisons who do not belong there. They have not been tried in a court of law. They do not have access to attorneys. And for many of them, their reality rests in a state of torture and impending death.

I cry out for them in prayer and mourning.

Salah Ahmed al-Salami…PRESENTE

Yasser Talal al-Zahrani….PRESENTE

Mani al-Utaybi…..PRESENTE

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My 30th Year

Greetings on this day that celebrates the 30th year of my life. In the words of the Grateful Dead, "It's been a long strange trip."

Lately I find myself in a space of gratitude and a lot of introspection, which I guess isn't out of the ordinary but maybe to a greater degree than the norm. I certainly have a lot to be thankful for...a loving family, friends around every corner, my good health, a supportive community of accountability and care, a challenging work environment and a fulfilling academic life that is emerging into part of the work of my life. I am very blessed indeed.

When I reflect on the twists and turns, I remember those moments of uncertainty, the second thoughts and the holy jumping in that my heart has been provoked to do. I love the newness of a relationship, the gradual process of becoming and even the bitter edge of defeat reminds me that I am very alive.

Today as I sit by beautiful Lake Michigan (which isn't quite an ocean) I recall memories. I have no real words of wisdom to offer, but fragments of my life that have meant something to me....interactions that have changed me to my very core. Despite the fact that there are many of these (big and small), I will list a few that have been very present to me lately in the hopes that might know what a life well lived looks like from my perspective.

Moments of great importance:
* visits to the tide pools with friends and alone...soaking it in
* My time spent with the people who live near / in the Guatemala City dump
* Long New England drives
* Swimming to the rock and back again
* Drifting in Belize and getting lost in the essence of love
* The Island with the Adlers (my other family)
* Phone conversations in the weeee hours of the morning
* Chats with Dad on the back and forth
* Sailing, the cottage and the boat
* Ice cream chats in the parque
* Fiestas y comunidad
* Chicken bus revelations
* Remembering to breath deeply
* Moments of unexplainable honesty
* The Pilgrimage through Mexico with Tom y los migrantes
* Protest, vigil and resistance
* Las palabras de mi corazon: comunidad, amor, paz, libertad, confianza, compartir, solidaridad, justicia
* Heartbreak and liberation
* Butterflies in my stomach
* Sunrise...Sunset
* Belting out the words to the most beautiful music ever
* Sharing the Story
* Prayer...
* Walks on a dirt road to change
* Frog hunting in the rain
* "When Sunny Gets Blue" and others
* Milestones and Markers
* Family gatherings
* Irish tea, lemon meringue pie, cheese and crackers
* Long walks home
* The waves, crickets and gulls
* That day on the Quad
* Everything just clicking
* Falling apart
* Manifesto on a napkin
* Many moments of love...

The list goes on..and on...and on. My life goes on...with joy, thanksgiving and reflection.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Bread of Life

Lately I’ve been reflecting on my identity and the nature of my role in this world. Lent is sort of conducive to soul searching and desert treks of the heart and I have not been very far from that nature of questioning.

On Thursday I read the parable of the rich man and Lazarus at our Kairos meeting. I was struck by the tension inside me. The pull between my identity as an advocate for the poor and the actual reality of my life is a lived frustration that is hard to bare. I do admit that I readily practice the sin of cynical rationalism in this country where my heart is often buried below “higher” priorities rather than connecting with my neighbor. Yet I also know that I can hide between the cozy confines of carefully chosen rhetoric and a comfortable economic situation. Despite my concern for the poor on a global level, the more immediate evidence of a caring heart is often removed from the integrity of a situation. I fail to address needs right in front of me and worst of all, I don’t even make an effort to engage the poor right in front of me (think poor of spirit as well).

And so, when I walk past men like Lazarus on the street, I carefully prioritize my thoughts and actions into an interaction that is stale and often lacking heart. I reach into my pocket perhaps, exchange a smile, but I fail to see the complete reality that is so very apparent in hindsight and times of reflection.

You see, I am nothing more than a beggar myself (as pointed out in today’s homily at church). I crave to be seen and connect in meaningful ways. I find myself being attached to needs unfulfilled and dependencies that hold me back from fully growing. And certain pain and self-judgment might surely get the best of me if it wasn’t for the moments when I am reminded of the frailty of humanity.

Yes, the frailty of humanity is what ties Lazarus and me together. And all the cynical rationalizations in the word cannot negate this lived reality.

Lazarus and I drink of the same cup so to speak. We share experiences of community and are offered renewal and moments of understanding who we truly are. In many ways, I will never know the truth of my inner life without a profound conversion within the context of relationship. I will never know the nature of my soul without the challenging connections of agony, defeat, joy, wonder, admiration and patience all wrapped in one. And most importantly, I will never know my calling until I can embrace the discrepancies between who I am and what I do.

As much as I am a globe trotter, crossing boundaries, voluntarily breaking my heart and mending it again, I must succumb to the fact that my personal evolution and identity is found within the daily interactions that create the pilgrimage that I am on. Each day, I am finding myself. And hopefully I slowly let down my guard so that the mirror image of Lazarus does not provoke a tension within.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Patient Trust

Waking up to the reality ahead of me, the long journey and the tough conversations, I have to remind myself not to get too far ahead. I have to remind myself to be humble and live all the moments in between. You see, I sometimes have the tendency to get overwhelmed. I take my concerns to bed, dream them away for eight hours and when I wake up, the existence of the weight is still shocking. And yet, I feel that I am on the edge of transformation.

Yesterday I heard this piece (again) from a larger prayer by Pierre Teilhard De Chardin. I once read this poem every single day for about a year. Yesterday is was sort of like hearing it for the first time. I find that it is fitting for this time in lent and this place in my journey.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Save my life...or lose it

Somewhere in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?”

Recently I’ve been pondering my vocation…and not really that seriously because in my head, “I have time”. I actually thought I had some things figured out a few months ago before grad school hit me, and then some things changed. And really, what changed isn’t a matter of logistics or possibility, but more so a matter of scope.

I live in sin you see. Most specifically I live in the sin of giving from my profit. I give from my excess and not from my need when it comes to the work of my soul. And somehow I know that I can get away with it.

It’s a hard sin to live while being a so called “social justice advocate”. And yet, I still live within the realm of possibility, that I might change my ways and follow my source of authenticity. However, each day I keep choosing the well-traveled groove that is familiar…that is, what is planed, plotted and just edgy enough not to get called out on.

But there have been times, when I was closer to living fully while being lost in the process…

A few years ago, I lived in the small country of El Salvador. Before that I lived in Belize, Guatemala and even Detroit. There is something in me that loves an underdog, and each of these places takes a prize in my heart for being just that….

I could explain all the things I did in those places. I could recite stories, tell jokes about my friends, show pictures and even give a few lessons learned for the ride home. But few people hardly ever ask me what really happened to me there. They don’t even necessarily know that something DID happen. And sometimes I think that’s because I don’t always live as though I have been changed.

To put a statement on my experiences with the poor of those beautiful places would be trivializing. And yet, it all boils down to Jesus’ words in Luke.

I lost my life.

I lost the life I thought I might have, back when I was a little more than wet behind the ears. I lost my life as I rode busses in the countryside and ate food that I knew would make me sick. I lost my life in worship, the daily expression of my love for God and humanity AND the faith filled breaking of the bread on Sunday morning. I lost my life when talking to my taxi driver about human rights before he makes his trip to the US. I lost my life when I took deep breaths and realized that I was meant to struggle in the midst of suffering. And I really lost my life when I actually thought I could do something about it.
I am not trying to say that I am going to heaven. Nor am I trying to point out any good deeds worthy of praise. However, I am trying to hold myself accountable in some sort of authentic way. I am trying to reclaim my soul, which I apparently lost in transit…somewhere between here and arrogance.

I say “arrogance” because I thought I had my soul all along. I thought I was committing people, places and experiences to memory as if to continually lose my life. But I’ve been going through the motions of being a good…..(fill in the blank).

But I haven’t forfeit myself just yet.

I still have those moments of remembering. There are books that I am reading now that have been nudging at my heart. And there are people here who are starting to understand a little bit of the fabric of who I am and meant to be. And, like any good grad student, I am thinking about my future.

I think about working for change. I think about being present to people. I think about working with migrants and refugees…the poor…children who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. I think about working with the rich too. And I think about working with myself…letting my heart change for something greater than the parameters of these few thoughts.

Today I heard this Gospel in Luke four separate times. It wasn’t until the fourth time that I realized I heard it at least one other time earlier in the day….later to realized it was more. Apparently I wasn’t listening until just now, and I needed the extra emphasis.

I hope to consistently lose my life…even here in the comfortable confines of social justice graduate school living. And I hope that someday my soul will meet my praxis in the ways I have always dreamed.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent 2010

I am a pilgrim. I travel. I journey. I dig….deeper into the source of my being. I am lost. I am found. I am full of paradoxes. I am moving forward. I seek a challenge and run. I search for color and argue black and white. I pray. I find judgment in my soul. I lose myself in beauty. My affect is present. I cling to a past. I obsess about a future. I live in a present moment. I monopolize conversations in a stare. I quiet myself to understand. I grasp on to meaning. I listen intently. I leap for joy. I sink in sadness. I wake before my alarm. I appreciate many and say very little. I carry gratefulness in my head. I express deep thought in a breath. I dream of the ocean. I love many. I ignore some. I cry out for justice. I find mistakes daily. I forgive others. I condemn myself. I search for moments of clarity. I write, hoping truth will be revealed.

I go…on and on…in this pilgrimage.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Greetings to a New Year - 2010

I’m sitting here looking out the window at the snow-covered back yard sipping my Moroccan tea and reflecting on all the great things I am thankful for. It’s a new year and transitions like these are a good time to take stock.

Today I am grateful for the stillness in my heart, for the place of calm that I now rest in. Waking up to a lack of stress is a good thing. Living my day with hope and generosity is even better. I’m glad that these days I feel very centered and generally connected.

Today I am grateful for my family, as we have endured a great deal together. There is a sense of resilience about us, and some profound wisdom that we hold in our hearts. Even though I live far away from many of my family members, I think of them daily as part of the fabric of who I am in the world.

Today I am grateful for the people I share my daily life with, my friends, co-workers, classmates, community members and seemingly random individuals that I keep in my thoughts. These connections, however brief, are what sustain me as I look to find evidence in the world that I am not alone and that I am truly loved and capable of reciprocating that. Friendship and soulful interactions reach into the core of me.

Today I am grateful for my location in the world. I am glad that I call my Chicago life “home” and that this beautiful and difficult transition came with support and care from others. I am encouraged that Latin America is always in my thoughts and that one day I will return with great anticipation. And I continually yearn for the fresh breaths of New England ocean air, that even a glimpse in my dream can keep me going. I look forward to a new year of exploring the excitement of the city as well as the beauty of nature.

Today I am grateful for my journey of spirituality. I am glad that I do not settle for the story at hand but intentionally dig deeper to find soul. I am surprised to find that for as long as I left the church, my self still felt connected. That means something to me. Yet beyond a doubt, I am most grateful to find that I continue to grow in relationship despite my efforts of preoccupation and persistence at pushing away.

Today I am grateful for the relative safety that I live within. Despite a recession and these uncertain times, I do not spend my days looking over my shoulder. I do not live in a location where war, torture and occupation exist. And despite my involvement in these evils with tax dollars, I do not feel discouraged in using my voice. I will continue to work in resisting the oppression of the poor, the imprisoned, the tortured, the occupied, the violated, the bombed, the weak of heart and all those who daily face the product of humanity gone wrong.

As I begin to live my life in the year 2010 I look forward to the many surprises, challenges and connections that will be made. I’m eager to work on some goals (not resolutions) to expand my capacity to love and live well and I am happy to welcome a new year of life con muchos saludos, amor y paz!