Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chacocente Well Celebration

Rachael asked me to post this video of a celebration of Chacocente's new well. It's still Advent, and Jesus is coming. (Chacocente is the project where Rachael worked in Nicaragua. There's a lot more information about it elsewhere in the blog.)

bonus: cepillarse los dientes

Monday, November 05, 2007

come thou fount of revolution

I was singing Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing in the shower yesterday. It made me want to write some new words. So I did.

Here's what I have so far: (in no particular order)

Come thou fount of every blessing, give me courage to resist.
Oh dear God they came and killed you, to stay dead you were too pissed.
Make me clever like the steward, make me angry like the poor,
teach me to unbind the captive, teach me to unbar the door.

O dear God, I have such power, that I never toiled to earn
Help me wield it for liberation, may the fires of your justice burn
Guide me God to read you truly, give me your truth like a sword
When I read the holy scripture, help me God to hear your Word.

Moving Wind, your seed of justice, grows into a mustard tree-
it is so big, and obnoxious, is there room there, God, for me?
O my Jesus, come like leaven, infiltrate our hearts and minds
as we struggle to be human, help us to decolonize.

When the powers stand against us, when we join hands with the meek,
help us God against their fury; reveal the weapons of the weak.
As we stand up to oppression, as we speak the truth to power-
Holy One, you walk beside us: we need you every hour.

While I struggle with my hatred, with my fear and bigotry:
help me Lord to join your struggle, help me dance this way with thee.
Give me prophets to confront me, give me comrades in the call!
Give me visions of that day when we will see the powers fall!

Let me know if you try it in church. Take it easy but take it.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

a word from claus

Last night, on the advice of my spiritual direction group (no kidding) rachael and i went on a date. We later figured out that it was the first time we went out to dinner (just the two of us) in over a year. Too long.

Anyway, first we went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which was great. If you live in Chicago: it's free til November 14th, and after that you can get a pass from the Chicago Public Library. I suppose you could even pay, if you had to.

The thing I want to post is a quote from Claus Oldenberg, which was the body of one of the descriptive plates by a work of his in the museum.

Here goes:

"I am for an art that is political-erotic-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum.
I am for an art that grows up not knowing it is art at all, an art given the chance to have a starting point of zero.
I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap & still comes out on top.
I am for an art that imitates the human, that is comic, if necessary, or violent, or whatever is necessary.
I am for an art that takes its form from the lines of life itself, that twists, and extends, and accumulates, and spits and drips, and is heavy and coarse and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself."

So: swap "theology" for "art", and that's pretty much how I'm feeling these days.

Below: Rachael with my favorite Oldenberg piece. Oberlin, Ohio.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Nicaragua: flooding by my house

One Sunday afternoon in late August or early September, a young woman about my age in my church invited me over to do my nails. While she was giving me a home-done French manicure (!), it started to rain. By the time she was done, not only was it raining hard, but the neighborhood dirt paths outside her house were filling with puddles. The family suggested I stay until the water went down, and having spent several months in Nicaragua by that point, I took their advice without quite understanding why. In the United States, a few puddles wouldn't stop anyone from walking home.

When Nanieska and I finally did walk back to the church/my host family's house, I saw why we had waited. The street in front of my house had flooded to knee level and was flowing in a strong current. A neighbor let us cut through her backyard so we wouldn't have to wade home through the current.

When I had picked my way home, being careful not to ruin Nanieska's work on my feet, I learned that the church had flooded. This turned out to mean that a passing truck had caused water to splash through the gate and sweep across the tiled floor of the church, all the way to the altar. Lots of youth in the church were helping move pews and sweep or mop the water out. Norvin posed in front of the make-shift barricades that had been placed instead of sandbags in front of the gate. In addition to mopping and sweeping, they were sliding on their knees across the slick floor, and as you can see, dog-piling.

In order to cross the 20 feet from house to church, we had to go all the way around on a little bridge of higher ground. Worship was canceled, but there were tacos already prepared for the after-church youth fundraiser dinner (an almost every Sunday event). When my host sister told me that sometimes they stayed up all night to make sure the house didn't flood, I got nervous. Her grandmother was fretting over her two sons who were out in their trucks. We called them to tell them not to drive home by the front road. Some kids were caught on the other side of the rushing water, so some of our youth waded across and carried them over. A man in an ox-cart pulled up on the opposite bank to wait for the water to go down. A car floated by, maybe touching its wheels down every so often. Our neighbors sent coffee and food across to the ox-cart driver. "He drives by every afternoon," they said to me.

Thanks be to God, the rain stopped and the water went down. The ox-cart driver passed by, my grandmother's sons came home safely (albeit not by the road), and we were able to go to sleep.

PS Another time, a lightning and rain storm came up during a Sunday evening church. The power came on and off, the sermon was occasionally drowned out by thunder... and my awe at the storm was colored by my knowledge that flooding was a real possibility. Much to my own relief, the water never reached ankle level.

an american liturgy

I wrote this little liturgy for a group project on Matthew and Empire, by Warren Carter. It came after two other liturgies: first a reconstructed/made up Roman liturgy, which featured readings from Virgil and the like about the greatness of Rome and its Emperors. The second was a counter-imperial liturgy drawing on language and ideas from the Gospel of Matthew (and a little of the Gospel of Luke, because I wanted to use the Canticle of the Turning.) This third liturgy was designed to underscore the ways that contemporary political theologies, implicit and explicit, mirror that of the Romans, that Jesus directly challenges in the Gospel of Matthew.

It begins with a reading from Romans, ch. 13: 1-7. The liturgy should be read alternating between one speaker and several/many speakers. All of the speakers should be straight white men. American flag backdrop is optional.

We lift our eyes up, up to your standard.

Where does our help come from?

Our help comes from you, the sweet land of liberty, to thee we sing praises.

Who will guide us through the darkness? Who will lead us through our fear?

Only you, our nation, our protector. You have the power and the might to disrupt the forces of evil, to turn our weeping into dancing.

You have bathed the world in peace; your power has assured the righteous of their safety.

You protect us from the wicked, you save us from the time of trial.

For this safety, for our homes, we remember you and turn to you. We give you offerings; not just a tithe but more than a tithe we provide back to you. You bless us so that we may bless you; you provide us with the security to earn, to start families: we return our blessings to you, to help house your children, to help fill your armies. It is our duty and our right to support you.

These are the benefits you offer the children of light, and the children of darkness you will vanquish. You will undo their evil deeds by your power and might. You will fill their lands with the light of your liberty and justice.

You were chosen by God, you are the anointed nation, to lead the world to a new era of justice and peace. And God appoints your leaders; they are the ambassadors of God to us. We do not worship you; we worship God through you.

The gathered community will repeat the words of our creed:

You, the state, will save us.

You will save your people from their sin.

You will protect us and secure us.

You fulfill our hope.

Your leader is our leader; in our land and in our hearts.

We submit to your will; in you we place our trust.

Glory to you, and to God, who protects and sustains our nation.

God bless America.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Nicaragua: the new preschool teacher

This is a picture of Miguel, the new preschool teacher. He's reading to Eva while Michael puts a yellow ring on his head. He just left it there after she climbed down and wandered off to play. I think this communicates what a great companion and guide I think he is for my students. He has studied teaching in Nicaragua (he lives in the same community as the 5th & 6th grade teacher), so he knew some things I didn't about early childhood development. I feel great about him taking over with my kids. He was able to start on the first of September, so the kids had both of us in the classroom for two weeks before I left. That way they could get used to him and he could get used to our schedule. He is very respectful and patient with them. I am thankful to God for providing such a wonderful teacher for those 14 beautiful children.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Student Lost

I was folding laundry and calling Leah when my phone beeped. I quickly finished my message on Leah’s voicemail and flashed over to the other call. It was Adam.

“How are you?” He said hastily.

“Fine,” I replied. It wasn’t odd that he was calling me after being out of touch for several weeks. We call each other to check-in every once in a while. He tells me what’s going on at my old school and we exchange advice and encouragement.

“You busy?” He asked.

“Nope,” I responded.

“Really?” He questioned.

“Really,” I said. “I just got home, took a shower, and now I’m folding laundry. I’m actually not busy, it’s amazing.” I laughed.

He hesitated.

“What is it?” I pushed.

“Do you remember Brittany Jaques? White girl, kind of nerdy…”

I went through the Rolodex of my former students’ pictures in my head.

“I think so,” I said, unsure of her exact identity.

“You know, white girl,” he knew that if he pushed, I could narrow it down just by race. “Glasses, she’s a 7th grader now.”

“Brittany,” I thought to myself. Then her picture flashed into my head. “Yea, Brittany!” I exclaimed. “I used to drive her home sometimes.” The truth is, sometimes is an understatement. By the end of the school year, she and Luis talked me into giving them a ride almost every day. Other teachers took students home, so I always agreed. It was a good chance to get to know them as they were both in the most difficult class in the school. Their presence in class was always overshadowed by the behavior problems of the other students.

“Well, she’s dead now.” He said solemnly.

“She’s what?” I stopped what I was doing.

“She’d dead, Megan.”

I was worried this would happen. That school is in such a rough area, I was sure that one day I would turn on the television and see that one of my students had been killed in gang activity or armed robbery. But of all the students on my mental Rolodex, she would be the last I would expect to be killed. Some of these students made me believe that they were safe…that they would make it through and go to college. Brittany and Luis were two of these students. I learned this about them while I drove them home every day. Their parents, teachers, the principal, we weren’t worried about them.

At 3:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, Brittany, still in pink pajamas, put on her tennis shoes and her glasses and walked out her front door. She took nothing but house keys, locking the door behind her, and ventured 2-3 miles through empty lots and fields or busy roads to the highway. Around 3:30 a.m. she stepped in front of a car that had just entered the highway and was hit and killed instantly.

I was silent. “I’m sorry to ruin your evening,” Adam said.

I ran down the stairs and grabbed my computer. “I don’t understand,” I said, assuming Adam had the details wrong. This didn’t make sense. I scanned local news websites and read the short stories finally identifying the child that on the 5:00 a.m. news was listed as “unidentified.” Adam’s details matched the news.

“How are things?” He tried to change the subject.

“I’m sorry, I don’t feel like talking anymore.” I said bluntly. “I’ll call you later this week. I’ll text you or something,” I said, afraid to break into tears on the phone.

“Okay,” he said.

I watched the online video of the 5:00 a.m. news that broke the story about Brittany. They were still saying that a “woman” or possibly a “late adolescent” was killed on the highway early this morning. This must have been what Brittany’s mom was watching, shaking her head sadly and thanking God for her own child. It wasn’t until she opened her daughter’s bedroom door to wake her up that she realized this unidentified “woman” might be her daughter.

After rereading the stories online, I sat and stared at the computer. I tried to remember every memory of her. Every moment she was in my car. Did I take her home in my car? No, not always. Sometimes it was my dad’s truck or my grandpa’s car. She and Luis couldn’t stop talking about how they thought my grandpa’s 10-year-old Grand Marquee was the nicest car they had ever seen. I thought about where she sat in my class. Three seats in on the long row. In a class full of students throwing chairs, fighting, saying and doing terrible things, she sat there and followed directions. While her friends, mostly boys, were somewhat bullied, the students seemed to like her. She never seemed frustrated or unhappy. Though I might classify her as an outcast, it seemed that she was mostly an introvert. She was comfortable in her awkwardness. As I got to know her in the car, her sarcastic sense of humor made her seem well adjusted and able-to-cope. She talked about a loving mother encouraging her to do her homework. She spoke fondly about her brother.

This is why the details didn’t make sense. Was she sleepwalking? Then why did she put on her shoes and glasses, and lock the front door behind her. Was she going somewhere? All of her friends and family lived away from the highway. Was she committing suicide? Honestly, she was too smart to use that as a method of killing herself. Was she running away? This seems likely, but she took nothing with her. No clothes, no money, and she stayed in her pajamas.

The details of how she got there don’t make sense either. The distance she had to walk in addition to the pathway she had to take. Did she take the bridge that didn’t accommodate walkers or did she work her way through fields?

I cried without knowing if I had a right to cry. For some reason, I felt guilty, like I wasn’t allowed to be upset because I was not her teacher anymore. But I could still see her in my car, in my classroom. And now her face is all over the internet, television and newspaper. I miss her, even though I had already left her.

This morning, I looked at all of my students differently. I looked at each one and began to memorize their faces. I thought about how they are all so much like Brittany, searching for something I don’t understand. Part of me has lost hope that my students are going to be all right. I look at the faces of those that I am sure will live forever, though now I am not so sure. But mostly, I look into their eyes and see the children, my children, that give so much to my classroom every day. I try to file away every moment, remember every time they make me laugh. Through my students, I celebrate Brittany’s memory, and I get to know each of them a little bit better.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


The following is a text version of the story I told for today's storytelling class. The assignment was "How I Got to Be This Way: A Story About my Origins."

Begin by reading Mark 5: 1-13.

where i grew up, everybody was white. there were maybe five asian kids in my high school, and one puerto rican kid. all of the asian kids had been adopted by white families.

somebody had to tell me that i was white. i didn’t really know there was any other option. i knew some people of color, i guess, and i saw them on tv. but to think of myself as having a race: this was a new idea. I wasn’t white so much as i was “normal.”

where i grew up, everybody was American. I didn’t even think of myself as being a US citizen. It was just something everybody was, in the same way that I don’t think of myself as someone who breathes. Somebody had to tell me I was a US citizen. I didn’t really know there was any other option. I met some people from outside the US, but to think of myself as having nationality: this was a new idea. I wasn’t American so much as I was “normal.”

where i grew up, everybody was straight. a few kids came out in my high school, and my dad came out to my family in middle school. that helped me realize a little, but i never much thought of myself as “straight.” I dated girls in high school; I’m dating a girl right now. I wasn’t “straight” so much as I was “normal.”

where i grew up, everybody was middle class. i once went to a friend’s house, and there were not that many nice things there; there were some kids in my school who got the free lunches. I knew about poverty, kind of. I saw it on tv, read about it in books. We talked about it in church. But I never thought of myself as poor or not, never thought of myself as being a member of a class. I wasn’t ‘middle class’ so much as I was ‘normal.’

where i grew up, everybody was male. There were women in my school, at my church, in my family. But I didn’t have to think of myself as having gender. I wasn’t male, so much as I was normal.

my friend calls us swags: straight white american guys. Nobody tried to teach me that all these things were normal, with the possible exception of the advertising industry. None of my teachers wrote out a lesson plan that said, “today, teach david that white people are better than other people.” Or, “today, teach David that he is better than Becca because of his genitals.”

But, friends, I grew up in a small town in the United States of America, where most everybody learns these things. Particularly the swags.

I catch myself, sometimes. Catch myself acting in a way that shows I think US citizens are better than others, that I am better than others for my whiteness, my maleness, my straightness, or for some other imaginary thing.

But most of the time I don’t catch myself; I just go on acting in racist and sexist ways.

Last week, I was talking with a friend and colleague about original sin. Original sin, see… not something that I would list as something i believe in. This sin that is inexorably passed down to us from our sinful parents. That we cannot escape without the grace of God.

But, I, my friends, am a straight white American guy, and this is the story of how i got to be this way. Trying to get better, but still racist, sexist, homophobic and nationalist at my core. Only able to escape from this mire with the help of traveling companions who will call me out. And with the grace of God, calling me out of my hatred into solidarity, into struggle, into wholeness.

...original sin.

End by reading Mark 5: 1-13.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Back from Nicaragua

I arrived in the United States on Thursday afternoon. First shock: people speak English. Second shock: the incredible variety and diversity of foods. Third shock: you flush the toilet paper, you don't toss it in a little garbage can in the stall. Fourth shock: all the soap smells unnecessarily great.

My godmother was waiting for me at the very edge of the security line. I hugged her. It felt so good. She has known me since I was 3 or 4. That is longer than anyone in Nicaragua has known me. She brought me a piece of chocolate cake and a fork. It was really, really good chocolate cake.

My dad came in on the Marin shuttle and met us in the baggage claim. He hugged me. He's my dad. It was wonderful.

On Friday my godmother and I went to all these Burts Bees-selling funky rich grocery stores and a Mexican grocery store, buying raw milk and plantains and cabbage and poblano pepper, which FYI is the closest thing to Nicaraguan chiltoma I found. We went to the post office on behalf of one of Beth's friends in Guatemala who needed some mail sent. Another shock: stamp prices passed the 40 cents mark while I was away.

I made the following Nicaraguan foods for my family: rice, beans, guacamole, tortillas (from scratch), cheese (yes, I made cheese with a Nicaraguan cheese pill and raw milk from the store), tostones (fried plantains), cabbage salad, and jamaica-flavored Tang. I wanted to bring jamaica flowers from Nicaragua and boil them to make the beverage, but I thought customs would give me a hard time. Thanks to the Nicaraguan cooks who trained me, everything turned out delicious. It was way more food than we usually ate in a meal in Nicaragua, though. They thought I couldn't find salsa inglesa here. But thanks to the power of the Bay Area, it was easy.

I called Benjamin, of the Benjamin's piƱata blog post, who lives in San Francisco. I needed some information while I was on the phone but couldn't find Dad's laptop. When I called for Dad, Benjamin interrupted me. I have the information highway right here, he said. Another shock: lots of people have computers.

Today I wanted to mail a letter to David. Did I rush out of Chacocente to make it to a far-off and out-of-the-way post office before its obsenely early closing time? Did I bike to the bus stop and take the bus and buy a couple baggies of water and readjust my backpack for the walk from the bus to the post office? Did I get whistled at, did men I passed make kissing noises, did they say they loved me in Spanish, did they call me white girl? Did I weave in between vegetable stalls to stay out of the hot hot punishing sun? Were my feet tired and dirty? Did I have to have remembered to pack an envelope, did I have to buy stamps at the post office?

No. Dad had an envelope. There were stamps IN THE HOUSE (!). I addressed the letter without specifying "USA" in David's address. Then, get this. I CLIPPED THE LETTER TO THE OUTSIDE OF THE MAIL SLOT ON OUR FRONT DOOR, AND THE MAIL CARRIER JUST PICKED UP THE LETTER RIGHT FROM OUR HOUSE.


I felt nervous and sad or a little overwhelmed or something this afternoon. Praying for my friends in Chacocente helped. I prayed that their planting would go well, that working together in the fields would increase their sense of community, that they would work together well and enjoy fellowship. I prayed that Wilma's body will nurture the baby it carries, that being parents again will strengthen her marriage, that her seven-year-old will welcome the baby and feel just as loved as when he was an only child. I prayed that Esperanza and Wilma and Calin and Nelson will be transformed and ignited by their upcoming Walk to Emaus retreat. I pray that right now, as I write this, Charito's wedding to her Costa Rican fiance will be a blessing to them both and to their community. At this very moment they are a half hour into the ceremony. Or, knowing Nicaragua, ten minutes into the ceremony. I pray that her dress fits her well and the food tastes delicious and that the skies are clear beyond the palm branches on the street my church is on in Nicaragua.

I owe you posts on the following subjects:
1. the well
2. the teacher who is with my students now
3. my street flooding
4. leaving Nicaragua
5. visiting Beth in Guatemala.

So, stay posted! Get it?

Friday, September 28, 2007

managing empire

I preached at Grace Baptist Church last Sunday. My friend Lisa the animator videotaped it and put it up on youtube. It's in three parts.

Here's how Lisa described them:
"It is in three parts, because of the length being too long for youtube
to allow one cut of it. Part one is the introduction complete with the
taking down of Jesus. Part duex is talking about our privaleges and
using them, as well as David's experiences with the face of God in the
hospital. Part three has a lovely song."

I was following the revised common lectionary, so the gospel reading is the first part of Luke 16, and some doom and gloom stuff from Jeremiah and Psalms.

Part III has a recording of that song I posted here a while ago.

take it easy but take it,

Sunday, September 02, 2007

the most amazing thing anyone has ever done ever

So, on Friday I stopped by Lisa's room. Lisa is a cool new member of my co-op, and she had been animating on her chalkboard wall. Yes, that's right.

Anyway, we decided to make a music video of the Gentle Revolution song I wrote for Emily's birthday this spring.

Then we played with chalk for the next eight hours. While I was working my last shift at the hospital yesterday, she edited it.

I just can't say enough about how awesome this is. Basically, you have to see it for yourself. Thank you Jesus for inventing Youtube. And to Josh for recording the song. And to Lisa for making (much of) the movie.

Some of you might know that I tried to do stop-motion animation in middle school, and loved it, but had really, really crappy equipment. I've always wanted to do more. Long live my new home, where amazing stuff like this is happening all the time.

Can't stop the Spirit.

(If it doesn't work above you can go see it on youtube:

Monday, August 27, 2007

all kinds of love

Last week I finished my summer hospital chaplaincy internship, and this weekend I flew down to Atlanta to officiate at my sister's wedding.

I saw a lot of love in the hospital, and a lot of marriages. Often, I saw this love, and these marriages, in moments of incredible crisis: either the sharp moments surrounding death, or the long slow suffer of walking with someone through illness and surgery.

Eventually, I came to see the face of grief as the same face of love, filtered through pain and anguish; I guess it's like what that book said that I quoted here a few days ago- every lament is a love song.

But it was pretty powerful to come out of the hospital, to take a step back from husbands standing constant vigil over sick wives, from the wife I saw trying to pray her husband back to life, from the man who rushed in to the hospital in the middle of the night because his wife coded, and then just looked at her. Because, the thing of it is, that man who came in looked at his wife, lying wordless and trached, in the intensive care bed, and she looked back. And it was the same look that Kate and Kenneth shared, as they stood in front of me, as I performed their wedding. This love is the same. And it is as strong as death.

The first song they danced to, at the reception, when I could finally cry my wedding tears and wasn't so caught up in my role that I had to take appropriate distance from my emotions, was this ben folds song, 'the luckiest.' The amazing bluegrass band that played there learned it just for them. The last verse pretty much says it.

"Next door there's an old man who lived to his nineties
And one day passed away in his sleep
And his wife; she stayed for a couple of days
And passed away

I'm sorry, I know that's a strange way to tell you that I know we belong..."

There it is.

And I am pained and proud to carry my identity as a lover into the hospital room and into the wedding feast. I got to write the pronouncement part of their wedding. I'll close with what I said there:

"This world is often full of struggle and hardship. We walk daily amidst sickness, amidst news of wars and death and tragedy, amidst injustices on a grand and intimate scale.
In the face of this, the greatest gift that one of us can give to another is a constant, faithful, loving presence.
Therefore, it is my great pleasure, to stand before the gathered community today, and to stand before Kenneth and Kate. I do not only stand for myself, but also for the gathered and the scattered Loved Ones, and for the Spirit.
Then, on behalf of all of these, here amidst these pines and these witnesses, I pronounce you Kate and Kenneth McGuinness, husband and wife."


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Prayer request

A statement which might sound strange coming from me, given my last serious post, but I'd appreciate your help and support.

Fr. Greg Brennan, a friend of David's and mine, drowned in a boating accident in the Allegheny Reservoir last Friday. As near as we can tell, he was out boating by himself and ran into a storm and must have been knocked out of the boat.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Guatemala #10

My friend Pablo (my landlady's grandson) asked me the other day: "What does Guatemala have that the U.S. doesn't have?" I thought it was a very interesting question, and even more interesting was thinking of answers. Here's a sample of the list we came up with.

-Volcanos (or at least not many outside of Hawaii)
-Tortillas (tortillas in the US are not the same)
-lots of different kinds of birds
-some kinds of fruit
-some kinds of vegetables
-cheap public transportation
-open-air markets
-a large percentage of the population comprised of indigenous people
-huge stone ruins from previous civilizations
-traditional Guatemalan marimba music
-cloud forests
-colorful, handmade woven cloth
-gringo tourists
-black beans, in three styles (enteros, colados y volteados)
-pastel de tres leches (3 milks cake)
-upside down question and exclamation marks (¿¡)
-Pollo Campero (a chain of fried chicken restaurants...I was later corrected on this as Pollo Campero has recently opened restaurants in some southern US states, as well as Indonesia, and possibly China)

That's a start...feel free to add to the list if you've been to Guatemala.

Volcan Tajumulco, San Marcos Guatemala

I liked his question because people are always talking about what the U.S. has and what "developing countries" don't have, but Pablo's question takes it from another angle!

Snake in a hollow tree, Costa Rica

This post is taking a lot of different turns, so, I hope you can keep up. My friend Ruth asked me in a letter what people call me here. It's kind of a funny story, so I think I'll share it. At first I began introducing myself as Beth. However, the way that went was,

Person- What's your name?
Me- Beth
Person- Huh?
Me- Beth
Person- (hesitatingly) Bet?
Me- Yes, Bet.

(In Spanish, the "th" sound doesn't exist:)

Then, because diminutives are the rule rather than the exception, and because Bet, isn't really a name on it's own, everyone began calling me Betty. I might have gotten used to hearing that, but I couldn't bring myself to introduce myself as Betty. It just wouldn't come out. Especially not with my last name, too, Betty Peachey. So, at the end of my first week here, I decided to go with my middle name, Anne, and become Ana. Everyone I had met the first week became very confused, but it all got sorted out, kind of. At the moment, some people call me Ana, others Anita or Ani (using diminutives), still others, maybe one or two hang on to Betty, and some people put the two together to make AnaBeth (pronounced AnaBet). I decided that out of all of those, I like AnaBeth the most. So, now I introduce myself as AnaBeth. This has produced a new confusion because on official documents, my name is Beth Anne. So now, the question is, why do we call you AnaBeth, if your name is Beth Anne? Unfortunately my only answer is that I have some inexplicable bias against the name Betty. So, that is the story of my name. A good strategy is to try not to confuse people. Don't do it like I did!

Volcan de Agua, photo taken by Melissa Engle, MCC photographer

How am I? I was telling my parents the other evening that I'm both feeling better than I have the whole time I've been here (more comfortable with language, life in general, logistics, culture, the churches, work, etc.) and feeling more homesick than I have the whole time I've been here....all at the same time! It makes for an interesting combination. So, really I'm doing great, but I just get these pangs of homesickness for funny things like pickles, or the season of summer as it is in Pennsylvania, and of course family and friends.

I'll try to outline a bit of what we've been doing so far, in the past 6 months that I've really been working, as opposed to just studying Spanish. I am somewhat nervous about writing about this, because I want to communicate it as it is, and not give false impressions. Almost all of MCC's workers are placed with local organizations. So, in general MCC doesn't create it's own projects, but supports local organizations with service workers, capacity building and economic support. I'm working with the local Mennonite church conference. We've started a school of music, using as a base the 9 Mennonite churches, and the hope is to add other arts, sports, and skills in years to come. But those are long term goals. Right now we're still trying to figure out how to best do what we've got, which is Saturday music classes at two of the 9 churches.

The classes are group classes, in the areas of singing/choir, keyboard, guitar, music theory (learning to read music) and in one of the locations, a special class for young children. I've had a fun, and somewhat frustrating time figuring out how to be a good teacher in Spanish, and in a different cultural context. By now, I'm definitely on my way, which is a lot closer than I was at first! I'm teaching keyboard, to about 45 students (thankfully, not all at one time!) whose ages span from 9 to 65 years old. The students can choose between studying guitar or keyboard, and then also have to take the singing and music theory classes. There are also several who chose only to study singing and theory.

Children's recorder class, in Zone 11

What I've been most excited about recently, is realizing the diversity in ages, walks of life and gender that exists among the students. There are kids, adolescents, youth, young adults, middle aged and older adults, and in each age and instrument group, a good mix of men and women.

So, that's a bit of a taste. We've got many challenges ahead; more activities, concerts with the students, improving the program of study, trying to begin the process of sustainability, both economic and in the sense that people are committed to the project, and willing to make it continue, planning next year, etc. But, for the meanwhile, things have calmed down a bit to a nice routine, which is a welcome change from the hectic beginning of planning, implementing the plan, and the first two months of classes, with little experience to guide us!

Woven wall hanging, Chichicastenango

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A 20-Year Journey

O the Raggedy Man! He works fer Pa;
An' he's the goodest man ever you saw!
He comes to our house every day,
An' waters the horses, an' feeds 'em hay;
An' he opens the shed -- an' we all ist laugh
When he drives out our little old wobble-ly calf;
An' nen -- ef our hired girl says he can --
He milks the cow fer 'Lizabuth Ann. --
Ain't he a' awful good Raggedy Man?
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!
--James Whitcomb Riley, “The Raggedy Man”

“It’s about diversity,” my dad would say as he closed the giant book of Children’s Literature. Reading this poem often was one of my father’s several attempts to keep my brother and I thinking about a world bigger than the one children create in their heads. Though my parents taught us life’s lessons through conversation, television, and the computer, the avenue used most often for dialogue was my father reading aloud from a book nearly every night of my childhood.

The giant book of Children’s Literature had stories and poems that had deeper meaning than the R.L. Stine books I checked out from the library. When my father read, he had the full attention of the whole family, that is, until my mother ultimately fell asleep, a tradition she carries on to this day. I realized later that my father came from a family of readers, of educators. I knew that the Highfills were first and foremost teachers, but their profession extended into the home. My granddaddy read from the gospel every Christmas, perhaps the only time I ever heard the bible read. When I was in grade school, I lived too far away to visit my grandparents, so my grandmother recorded herself reading stories so that I’d have something to listen to at bedtime.

As my brother and I grew older, my parents’ reading choices matured with us. “Watership Down” was the first true chapter book I remember. On my own, I would have thought that the entertaining novel was just a cute story about a bunch of rabbits. My father explained the social and economic implications behind the exciting humor and eloquence of the story.

We went on to read Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” and Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Books such as “Sounder” and a couple of John Steinbeck’s shorter stories were added to our repertoire. One time, we read “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and each family member read a character or two. And then came Harry Potter.

I was worried I wouldn’t like Harry Potter. I didn’t get into the craze at first, being rebellious and “different”. I was very skeptical to add that book to the ranks, when so far we had read Shakespeare and Mark Twain…could some woman from England really meet my family’s standards? I don’t even like fantasy or science fiction. Surely this idea was way off the mark.

I was wrong from the very beginning; from the first chapter I knew I was so wrong. Though we started reading Potter when I was in high school, I felt like a young child again. I had never felt so enthralled, so mesmerized by a book, though our previous reading experiences always left me wanting more. We read the first two books in the series consecutively, before the third was released. I gladly joined Pottermania. The rest of my family fell just as hard as I did.

When the third book was released, I was in 10th grade. By this point the entire muggle world was taken over by a new obsession—reading. When I went to the midnight release party at Barnes & Noble, I realized the impact that these books had on children and adults everywhere. People were reading, and for once, children put aside video games and cartoons to pick up a book. My father read aloud as my brother and I were on the edge of our seats, along with my mother before she fell asleep.

We went to the midnight releases for books four and five, and every time my father had to read longer and faster as our interest grew more intense. There were nights we stayed up until the early morning, listening to the very end of each book. Crying and laughing, and of course discussing. By the time book six rolled around, I’m sure my father welcomed a break. Though we were disappointed, my brother was away in California and I was back at college in the fall. My brother suggested we read it over the phone, but in the end, I bought two copies and my brother bought his own and for the first time in Potter history, we read to ourselves.

With every book came more media attention and spoilers were beginning to be published on CNN the day after the release. I was worried about book seven. Could we really take the time to listen to the book and finish before we accidentally heard the end? What horror if after so many years of dedication we caught the final pages in a careless comment on the Today Show. At this point, my brother and I were both in our 20s, and my whole family was working. Did we have enough time to sit down like we had for the past 20 years and read a book?

Many of you have heard about our Harry Potter/Bill Clinton vacation. It was my mom’s idea to vacation with the specific goal of reading Harry Potter. We knew that if we stayed at home, even if we took off work, there would be too many distractions for us to really concentrate. If we were going to succeed, and finish the series the same way we started it, we needed to think out a plan, a book seven-intense plan.

We were able to read over half of the book in our few days in Little Rock, mostly in the car to and from. We blocked out all news and conversation for several days after our vacation and ended up finishing almost a week, to the minute, after the book was purchased. My dad read for six hours that Friday night.

I have never been prouder of my family than in the moment that my father closed the last book. Though it was never mentioned, we all knew that this was likely our last book together. It was hard to say goodbye to the Harry Potter series, but what was even more difficult, was saying goodbye to the endless hours I spent listening to my father’s amazing voice. When I review the list of things we have read over the years, dating from Shakespeare’s England to Rowling’s England, I know that a huge part of who I have become is etched in memories on the pages of those books. I am so blessed to have been born into a family that valued literature, but I am more blessed to have a family that values being a family. I hope that I can carry on this tradition with my own children, not only reading aloud, but creating an environment full of imagination and diversity.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

every lament is a love song

In his book, 'Lament for a Son', (which I commend to anyone who wants to think about grief and God and love) Nicholas Wolterstorff tells us that 'every lament is a love-song.'

I wrote a song to accompany my final self-evaluation for my Clinical Pastoral Education program. It's pasted below.

Every lament is a love song: a song about cpe.

What kind of God are you that you want my worship
What kind of God are you that you want my prayer
Who am I to criticize your method?
Who am I to question your care?

Did you promise me abundance?
Did you promise me light?
I'm not getting a dawning.
I'm getting walking with me through the night.

I've been asking, all the old questions.
Children dying, all of the time.
I want you God, to get here and transform us
I want you God, to make the verses rhyme

I want you, to heal my patients
I want you to end the war
I want you, but that's not what you tell me
All you promise is that you will show up.

I've stopped looking to you for victory
I've seen too much pain, for a time
I'm not looking to you for abundance
O God my God I'm looking to you for enough.

Sometimes, I don't think you are trying
When the world seems like one big bruise.
But I believe that you cry the hardest;
This is some kind of awful good news

Bridgey stuff

One bed's laughing, one bed's cursing, one bed's crying
All together
One at a time

I believe you are there, in the blood, in the bread
I believe that you move, in the wind and in the wine

This world feels like missing a lover
This world feels like dancing in a cast
All I can give them is some love and space and presence
I just show up; I believe that's all you ask.

I can't offer them abundance
I can't give them any truth or joy or light.
Somehow, I just give them what you promise.
I show up, and walk with them through the night.

It's not much, this grace we have to share.
It's not much, but it's enough, it's enough.

(repeat last two lines.)

-I think there might be another verse in me, about how we show up, and a few other people show up, and they're never perfect, and often they're deeply flawed, but their showing up enables our continuing showing up. So, yeah. I'll put up a link to a recording if I ever get that together. I told Beth that you can just sing it to the tune of Yankee Doodle, but that was a lie.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Nicaragua: My new preschool classroom

You may remember pictures I took toward the beginning of my time here, of the unfinished rooms in the school. I posted pictures of the same rooms with the grass cleared out, roof and electricity installed. Last month, they finally finished the floors, which meant that I could move in! Tuesday was my first day in the new room. Right now I have just the essentials moved in; sometime soon we´ll move in the other furniture and the backup supplies and materials.

I love the new space. It´s bigger, there´s more light, and best of all, it isn´t isolated. I have already enjoyed a hundred tiny ways that I am more included in the school faculty, in the school schedule and rhythm. There is more collaboration between the other teachers and me, sharing ideas that wouldn´t have been worth the old trek to the old preschool but which can now easily take place. After school it´s nice to plan for the next day knowing that in the adjoining classrooms the other teachers are doing the same. There´s a synergy to my new location that encourages me to feel part of the school community, and it´s really making a difference.

In these photos, three of my younger kids are in a bus headed for Masaya. This is one of their favorite things to play. At the table, Noelia is fitting a square into the square-shaped hole. Lately she is really getting good at this shape-matching toy. On the wall are the alphabet and a calendar. I took these photos on Tuesday and even four days later, things are a little more decorated and spiffy. I´m very happy.


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Nicaragua: where is the Before part?

The ¨Before¨ portion of the following two posts is found in the July archive, and is titled, ¨The path from Chacocente to the highway¨

-And, here's a link.

-helpful editor david

Nicaragua: the view from the edge of the Project (another After of a Before/After set)

Back in February or so, I biked to the edge of the Project, stopped, and took photographs in panoramic fashion. The countryside has changed so dramatically since the rains came (and the corn was planted and grew), that I have taken approximately the same shots again today to share with you the contrast.

The old path out is now a corn field, along the edge of a fence. That´s Diane standing on the other side of the barbed wire, because behind her is the new, non-corn-field exit. Diane is a volunteer teaching English in the school, and exercise classes after school.

Nicaragua: the path to Chacocente in winter (now)

Nicaraguan winters are defined as the rainy season between May and October. All the dust from the summer turns into mud of various textures, some of it the kind that most ideally cakes onto bike tires. Let´s just say that I took my fenders off because the mud caked so much between tire and fender that the wheel would not turn. That´s right, it was completely braked by mud. In which cases a woman pushes her braked bike through the mud, a more aerobic workout than normal bike riding, although not the ideal prelude to a day teaching school. It´s very humid.

And completely beautiful. I tried to take the same shots I did in the summer so that you can see the contrast. I just love the way the countryside looks right now. Not pictured are little yellow, white, and orange butterflies. It´s absolutely beautiful here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harry Potter+Bill Clinton=awesomeness

I know I haven’t updated in a while and I think it is because I depend on these simplistic yet deep experiences to inspire my writing. I can’t just write about the amazing Mission Trip I took this summer, or my summer job, or the nervousness/excitement for my new teaching job…I have to find something deeper, something interesting, something…story-like and maybe even preachy.

With friends abroad and in seminary, I often feel like I have to be amazingly thoughtful or witty in order to hold some interest. Well, working at a theater and building a deck isn’t that thoughtful or interesting. But I’m going to talk about it anyway. Welcome to a blog entry I like to call “The First Summer Megan Is Not Anticipating Returning to Oberlin.”

I would have to say that my summer started back in April. Though I was far from finishing my semester of hell in the Kansas City Missouri School District, I had orientation for my summer job working at a theater. I work in ticket-sales with many other teachers, school nurses, and other seasonal employees. It’s a very positive environment and I have had very few “bad” days. It’s also very flexible which has been good for all of my summer activities.

In early May, I was hired for an opera pit orchestra. Gilbert & Sullivan’s production of “The Mikado” was sung by opera singers but acted with life-size puppets. It was an amazingly fun experience and really put my playing to the test. Though the music wasn’t too difficult, I had never been hired to play in an orchestra and I felt the pressure of needing to play to perfection to really “earn” my money. The best result of this experience is that I am now a part of that orchestra and should get hired several times a year to play.

June 12, I served my last day as Music Teacher of K-8 at Trailwoods Elementary. I know I will miss the children, but I left on good terms and I am really glad that I did. I appreciate my cooperating teacher’s advice when I was student teaching in Ohio: Never stay where you are unhappy. Get out as soon as you can, because otherwise it’s not fair to the children.

After June 12 I went back to having one job. I realized that since I started college, I’ve always had more than one thing going at once…school + job, school + job + job, job + job…never had I really spent time just doing one thing. And I entered into a state of mind that was foreign to me: boredom. Not that I didn’t still have tons to do to prepare for the Mission Trip and help with my family, but I wasn’t running from place to place nor was I anticipating returning to Oberlin to be a busy college student. I don’t know if this is how summer is supposed to feel, but I feel healthier and more frustrated. I’m well-rested, well-fed, and there are days, horribly dull days, when I don’t even have a set schedule. I watch Primetime in the Daytime on TNT and ::gasp:: read for fun.

On June 30 I left with 11 other members of my church to do a Mission Trip in Cosby, Tennessee. It’s a Presbyterian run mission really addressing issues of economic justice and poverty. The project we chose was the help a woman with a degenerative disease build a wheelchair ramp on her deck and paint her house. When we arrived, the project became bigger as we chose to build her a brand new deck and bleach her house because it wasn’t of a material that could be painted. It was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done in most uncomfortable circumstances. I am not used to being in 100 degree heat around bugs and trees…heck, I’m not used to being outside much at all. However, it ended up being an incredible experience, both difficult and enjoyable. The finished product is something I am very proud of…not really because I helped build the deck, but more because I’ve been planning this trip since last June and considered this a big accomplishment. This was the first Mission Trip my church had taken in several years and now we are on a quest to make it an annual event.

I wasn’t home for long before I was immersed into the fabulous world of Harry Potter. My parents, brother, two church friends and I saw the movie in 3D at the IMAX theater which was so worth the extra money and the two-hour wait in line. The book came out so soon afterwards that I barely had time to process the movie. My father has read books aloud to us since I was a young child and Harry Potter is no exception. He read the first through fifth books out loud, but my brother was in California for the sixth, so we read that one on our own. We were determined to read the last of the series of a family but were worried that we wouldn’t be able to afford enough time to read a good amount and beat the media hype that was likely to come after people started reaching the end. Thus came the Harry Potter/Bill Clinton Vacation.

I got the book at midnight on Friday and we got up early the next morning to drive seven hours towards Little Rock, Arkansas. My dad read aloud in the car, at the hotel, at restaurants downtown, and in between beer-tastings. My favorite reading spot was right outside the Clinton Presidential Library where I admired both Harry Potter and President Clinton at the same time. My dad had to leave on a business trip for the Monday of our vacation and it was all my mother, brother and I could do to avoid reading ahead in the book. We resisted the urge and during the entire vacation, my father read over half of the 700+ page book. He is continuing to read at least two chapters every evening and we hope to finish this weekend. No spoilers on this blog, please.

I start at my new job on August 8. I really feel like this is my dream job (for now) but am trying not to expect too much. It’s one of the best districts in the region and still amazingly diverse. I will still be at a school with a high Spanish-speaking population only this time, I won’t have to speak Spanish in secret. The district encourages the children to speak their native tongue while also learning English. I will be back teaching K-6 and I’m sad to say I don’t think I’ll miss teaching middle school that much. One of my mother’s best friends works in the building and I know several other teachers in the district. I’m trying to force myself to take the GRE so I can apply to an Educational Administration graduate program next summer, but I keep thinking of better things to do with my time.

No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, I miss you (yes, I stole that from the UCC). Please feel free to email me at to stay in touch. I’ll post some pictures from my Mission Trip soon and I hope everyone is well.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Nicaragua: not enough

I just found out that the reason the families didn´t receive groceries on Friday, and why there was no school lunch for 6 days, is because Chacocente was scraping the bottom of the donations that keep it afloat. It just makes me want to go home, get a job, and eat only peanut butter and tuna fish to be able to afford to send all kinds of money back here.

On the other hand, I´ve discovered how important self-care is. The Bible says that if we sell all we have and give it to the poor, but have not love, we are nothing. And the Bible says, love your neighbor AS YOURSELF.

So I am planning to eat tuna fish, peanut butter, and also go out to the movies and for ice cream... and send as much as possible back to Chacocente.

Folks have been raising money for my kids and I´ve been telling them, we can buy chapter books, we can buy legos; but now I´m going to say, send it to general funds and they´ll use it to buy food. Some of my kids live far enough from the school that there isn´t time for them to walk home during the one-hour lunch period, eat lunch, and walk back in time for school. So they just go hungry. Or they buy a bag of chips, which costs one cordoba.

I biked and walked the bike and pulled the bike through the mud on the way from Chacocente to the highway today. The rain ran down my face and felt so appropriate. Everything was so beautiful, green and grey and rich dark earth. New tender plants are thriving in the winter storms, Nicaraguans are repainting their internet cafes and buying refrigerators. Benjamin bought me peanut M&Ms, and one of my students was absent on Monday because there was no food in the house.

It just does not compute.

I don´t have answers, but I truly do feel amidst my grief, anger, frustration, and disquiet, the peace that passes understanding. God´s presence is a real mystery. Which is to say that in my life, God´s presence is REAL. And it is mysterious.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Costa Rica

Here are pictures taken in March of my weekend trip to Costa Rica to visit Beth Peachey´s sister Rachel. My host brother came with me, and when we went to the beach Rachel brought her Guatemalan friend living in Germany but visiting Costa Rica. I had a grand time.

Here are views of the hills between the Costa Rican capital and the coast, a shot of a volcano in Nicaragua on our way south by bus, a picture of the actual bus we took to Costa Rica, photos of us eating dinner on the beach and of the sunset afterward, of Isaac´s Costa Rican passport stamp, of my passport stamp, an iguana, a monkey, a shot of the sunset back in the hills in Heredia on the last day, and pictures of the beach looking like the movie set of Pirates of the Carribean. It was the most beautiful beach I´ve seen in my life.

One of the coolest things about my time there was that all four of us were bilingual. We could switch between English and Spanish as wanted or needed, which was really fun. Rachel´s friend actually spoke four languages: Spanish, English, French, and German. Once we got through the gates of the national park on the beach (where all the iguanas and monkeys and sloths are protected), I asked a man to take a photo of us. He was pale skinned and we were around a lot of tourists, so I asked in English. He said something I didn´t catch, so I tried again in Spanish. Again he replied, and she smoothly intercepted in another language, in which the man instantly understood her. He was German. How cool is it to be able to flip through that many languages and end up successfully communicating in the third one?

The photo the man took of the four of us is included as well.