Saturday, January 27, 2007

Nicaragua 2: my house

I should probably say that I got to Nicaragua on Jan 9 and I´m planning on living here til mid December. I´m living with a host family in Sabana Grande, Managua, and I´m teaching preschool for free at a school in rural Masaya. The school is at Project Chacocente, which you can learn more about at
Short version of very long story: the families living at Chacocente moved there from the Managua dump.

Here are pictures of my house, my clean laundry which I washed myself in the tub pictured below, a barrel of water for using when the running water isn´t, shall we say, running, the purple church pastored by my host dad, and the bus parked often in our little area. There is a gate opening onto a driveway/yard which leads to a little nook of about 7 or so houses.

Nicaragua 1: palm tree and basketball

Here are three pictures taken from the plastic chair I dragged out to the patio this morning. I was reading With Open Hands which Emily sent Beth who sent it to me. I looked up and saw that my host brother Isaac had dragged his chair, and little Derek´s little chair, over to have a better view of kids playing basketball in our yard/driveway. It was so cute to see the normal chair and the little chair carefully placed at a good viewing angle together that I went and got my camera. And while I was at it, I thought I would share the beautiful view of trees and sky from our patio. By the way, it´s possible that Derek is related to Isaac in some way, but the kids around here pass from caretaker to caretaker pretty fluidly, so as far as I know, Isaac was just hanging out with him for a while. :)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dungeons and Dragons Theology

I'm a little embarrassed (but not very) to say that I've been playing D&D again. However, it has recently given me a profound and powerful theological insight, and it's only fitting that I share it with the internet.

So, in Dungeons and Dragons, one person tells the story of what happens to you, and you decide what you want your character to do. It takes place in your imagination, and in your friends' imaginations, but you roll dice to see how well you do at a given task.

You get to roll a 20-sided die. When you get a "1", you do really, really poorly at a given task. When you roll a "20", you do really, really well. For example, I tried to hit a giant ant with my mace, rolled a 1, and knocked myself out.

So, our party of adventurers, "played" by myself and a couple of friends, found ourselves at the end of our two-night adventure. We were facing a huge monstrosity, namely "PRAETOR, TITAN OF THE UNDERDARK!" This guy was like, 25 feet tall, had crazy magical powers, and wielded a giant, flaming battle-ax. Whoa. I was pretty sure that we were all going to die. Which would've been a real bummer to finish a couple of nights of great adventuring.

In the first round of combat, my character ran madly towards the giant beast, foolishly trying to him him with her mace.

I rolled a twenty. It hurt him a lot. Huge, angry mace to the abdomen.

Then, my friend rolled a twenty as well, and it hurt him even more. Crossbow bolt to the face.

Then, it was his turn to attack. The first time he attacked, he took hurt us all with a magical wall of un-dodge-able fire. He tried to hit me with his fire-ax, which would have probably killed me.

He rolled a one. And hit himself in the leg.

We defeated him within, like, thirty seconds, and the crowd of rabble we brought with us surged over him with their pitchforks and hoes.

That was not supposed to happen.

So, here's the important theological point, and I think the reason why I woke up this morning feeling pretty darn happy.

In the struggle against the forces of evil and oppression and empire, it often looks like they have the upper hand. Indeed, it seems that when I and my allies go in against the forces of empire, we often, well, lose.

But sometimes.

Every once in a while.

When you dare to confront the forces of empire and oppression, on behalf of liberation and justice:

You roll twenties. And they roll ones.

And that's all it takes.

And things come together in ways you didn't expect, and your crazy ideas work, and their old ideas fail, and the Spirit moves, and walls crumble and people change, and transformation happens.

May you roll twenties.



I got to do the "words" part of communion for the first time on Sunday. At a lot of churches, those words of institution are reserved for ordained clergy, so though I have helped serve communion many times, I've never done that part. In fact, in some traditions, that part is seen as the sacramentally significant part; once those words have been said by a clergy-person, the now-ontologically or symbolically changed bread can be served by anybody.

Fortunately, (in my mind) Grace Baptist Church is serious about the priesthood of all believers, so the folks organizing worship invited me to help with communion. I emailed that pastor, Jacki, to see what I should say. (In many traditions, those words are pretty strictly scripted.) Jacki said I could say whatever I wanted to, up to a minute long.


I thought about it quite a bit, and finally wrote decided. I was influenced by the week's liturgy (the baptism of the Lord), and a conversation about relationships with Nate Dannison. I was also inspired by this essay, from "Days of War, Nights of Love": And Episcopalian liturgy.

I decided to speak in a loud, clear, excited voice, as if what we were doing actually mattered. And was potentially dangerous, and a whole lot of fun. Here is what I said, for my first words of institution, on January 21, 2006, while raising the bread and tearing it in half, and making a crummy mess on the floor:

"Sisters and Brothers: You are the beloved children of God, in whom God is well pleased.

Come join the revolution!

Come fall in love!

Come keep the feast!"

Hells yeah.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

MLK Day etc

so, I spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day playing Nintendo. At first, I was a little bit ambivalent about this: shouldn't I have gone to one of the many rallies/ memorial services around?

But then I remembered that Dr. King was happy to spend a day shooting pool in a bar. And that immediately before his assassination, he had a pillow fight with his friends. So, I think he'd approved.

Plus, I pretty much figure that a lot of my education now is about getting better at pursuing justice and undermining empire, and I am therefore entitled to a day of playing. Because what good is anti-imperial work if it precludes play? (This goes back to a conversation I had with Emily, about unionizing workers needing time off too!)

Besides, we played cooperative Mario Soccer. It was lovely.

This week I've been in a course called "Legal Issues in Contemporary Parish Ministry." It was a great, praxis-oriented course, taught by the general counsel for the UCC. I did learn a few disturbing things, among them: there seems to be no constitutional basis for defending conscientious objectors. The former interpretation of the freedom of religion clause has been updated, and under its current understanding, it would probably not defend the rights of CO's.

I'm going to prison!

Keep your eyes out for the ent-wives,

Friday, January 12, 2007

Things I do when I'm bored

...Even when I don't have the right to be bored.

So, to atone for a dark, long-winded first post, here's a short, somewhat nonsensical one.
The photograph at the right is the suit I bought at the Salvation Army yesterday to go with the top hat and pocketwatch. Needs a cane. If I can find some more cheap old clothes of similar style, I'm considering dressing like that all the time this semester, or as much as I can manage.
The following represents approximately four hours of screwing around a few months ago:

Oh, what I forgot to mention was that I just spent the evening researching the evolution of the Umlaut and the usage of diacritical marks in Dutch. I should probably have been doing homework (finishing the script for a film about France) but this was much more interesting.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hi, I'm Dan. I'm a senior in college, and I'm not looking forward to my last semester at all.

My head is still spinning from a whirlwind trip to Europe, from which I've been back three days after being gone ten...

I met up with my girlfriend Anna in Paris and we went back to her place in Cambrai (Nord-Pas-de-Calais) where she teaches English. Nord-Pas-de-Calais is the region I want to be next year for the same job, when she'll be back here. From there we went to Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam and the Hague all in five days. I'd already been to our principal destinations (Brussels, Amsterdam), and spoke all the local languages at least well enough to get around (not that you really need to know Dutch in Amsterdam, but it's helpful), which gave me more time to reflect on what I saw around me.

That's all just the setting, though. A lot of stuff happened while we were there. There were the random encounters with people on the street, such as the guy in Antwerp who told me in three languages that I was "lucky" for reasons he didn't explain, or the guy who asked me whether he was in Amsterdam (he was, and I told him so; I answered in Dutch, which I am convinced is the reason he left me alone after that, since I was less likely to be a clueless tourist). Then there were the beggars. The woman who followed us down the street for three blocks in Brussels, calling, "S'il vous plaît, monsieur... S'il vous plaît...", or the woman who cornered us in the cathedral there and wouldn't leave us alone until I gave her something. Here was the real problem. I never quite know what to do when a beggar approaches me. Whether I give to them or not, I always feel conflicted about it: on the one hand, I've heard it advised that it's not a good idea, and I can't reasonably be expected to give anything meaningful to every beggar I see on the street... there are just so many in the big cities. On the other hand, when I don't... I just feel so terribly selfish.

In Amsterdam, on the big square in front of Centraal Station there's a house three or four doors up from the Sint-Nikolaaskerk with a blinking neon sign that reads GOD BESTAAT NIET ("God doesn't exist"). It's continuously lit, and I don't think its proximity to a huge Catholic church is coincidental. I have a kind of dark fascination with this sign, ever since the first time I saw and understood it. I find myself wondering what motivates its owner to put forward what I perceive as such an angry, hateful message. I recognize the fallacy in equating atheism with a necessary antipathy toward religious people, but it's nevertheless my most immediate reaction on seeing or hearing a statement like that: I feel personally affronted by it, even when I have my own doubts about the nature and existence of God.
I similarly wonder whether an atheist would feel the same way seeing an even bigger neon sign on the same square, which reads "Jesus loves you" in Dutch and English, visible as soon as you step out of the train station. I never used to really think that religious statements, or at least "happy" ones like "God loves you", would actually offend an atheist, just that they claimed they were offensive for the sake of making an argument against them. I'm not so sure about that anymore.

I have long been opposed to the statement made by vocal atheists that religion depends on the rejection of reason or intelligence; I find it nauseatingly arrogant and fairly naïve. I am, however, somewhat alarmed by my tendency to take that kind of criticism, or even a simple statement with no further implications like the one I mentioned above, so personally.

This is turning into a really long post. Especially for my first.

Anyway, the atheism question: I think I'm afraid of atheism, because I find myself easily talked into things. I'm not good at producing counterarguments, and I tend to be a poor judge of character. Furthermore, once I outgrew my "this-is-what-the-Bible-says-and-the-Bible-can't-ever-be-anything-but-literally-true" mentality and started actually thinking about religion for myself, by which point I was finishing high school, I realized I had no idea what to accept and what not to. I want so desperately for God to be what I was always taught, but I have trouble finding reasons to believe it outside of the Bible... and you can't use the Bible to prove itself. So, I look at signs that say "God roept U" (God is calling you) and "Lees de Bijbel - het boek voor U" ("Read the Bible, the book for you", in big, black letters on the façade of a white house by a canal) and I smile for a moment and then shake my head and wish I could be sure of it.

Monday, January 08, 2007

here's the back

Some new folks

Hi. We're inviting some people to join the blog. Maybe they will. One who already has is Rachael's friend A.C., who I've met once. I think she'll make the blog approximately 25% more awesome. If somebody else new joins, I think we'll be 50% more awesome, but I've never been good with fractions.

Also, here's a picture I took of myself, while riding a unicycle. It's a shame that you can't really tell that part about the picture from the picture itself, because that's definitely the best part of the picture. Picture.

Rachael's quilt for Steve and Mary

Now that it's no longer a surprise, I feel okay publishing this photo of Rachael's groovy quilt, which represents the way Steve and Mary have been with her through the seasons of her life. (It was a gift to them this Christmas.)

Friday, January 05, 2007

cuando el pobre lyrics

verso: Cuando el pobre nada tiene y aun reparte, cuando el hombre pasa sed y agua nos da, cuando el débil a su hermano fortalece,

verse: When the poor ones who have nothing share with strangers, when the thirsty water give unto us all, when the crippled in their weakness strengthen others,

refrain: then we know that God still goes that road with us, then we know that God still goes that road with us.

estribillo: va Dios mismo en nuestro mismo caminar, va Dios mismo en nuestro mismo caminar.

2: When at last all those who suffer find their comfort, when they hope though even hope seems hopelessness, when we love though hate at times seems all around us,
2: Cuando sufre un hombre y logra su consuelo, cuando espera y no se cansa de esperar, cuando amamos, aunque el odio nos rodee,
3. Cuando crece la alegría y nos inunda, cuando dicen nuestros labios la verdad, cuando amamos el sentir de los sensillos,
3. When our joy fills up our cup to overflowing, when our lips can speak no words other than true, when we know that love for simple things is better,
4. Cuando abunda el bien y llena los hogares, cuando un hombre donde hay guerra pone paz, cuando "hermano" le llamamos al extraño,
4. When our homes are filled with goodness in abundance, when we learn how to make peace instead of war, when each stranger that we meet is called a neighbor,

let me know if you want the chords too. Actually, here:
Dm A7 Bb D7 Gm C7 F F E7 A7 Dm
Bb A7 Dm D7 Gm A7 Dm Gm Dm

By the way, this hymn sings the message that makes me want to be a Christian!!! Yay Unspeakable Mystery!