Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Come To Jesus

My mother has this thing she calls a "Come to Jesus." Though she says it's "just one of those sayings," because I've never heard it before, I attribute its creation to her. If and when someone else ever says it, I will think of my mother. And I'll probably say something like, "My mom used to say that a lot."

I love that, in essence, it makes conservative Christian tactics into every day tools. It both mocks and gives credit to evangelism. I have learned, through my endless fascination with Latter Day Saints, that Mormons will visit a potential convert many times, slowly explaining the religion, getting personal with how the faith could help the potential convert's life, and discussing things in detail. Once, when I had a meeting with Mormon Missionaries, they explained the whole "Jesus visits America" thing to me for about 10 minutes and then basically asked, "Now, what did I just say?" They make sure their potential convert is hearing them. And then, after the many meetings and many, many prayers, they have the "Come to Jesus."

I'm sure not all Mormons use this device, and there are many other evangelicals that do this or don't do this. But step out of the door-to-door Christian realm and into a Best Buy or a Used Car Lot. What if sales was like the "Come to Jesus" concept? Instead of high-pressure, right now deals, the sales people slowly convinced you, over months and months. Partially by working you down and partially by actually making you believe, you find yourself wanting the product. Then, when you are so enthused that the earthly part of you starts talking you out of it, they have the final meeting. The ultimatum, if you will. And they make you think that if you don't buy this 6.1 mega pixel digital camera right now, it might be lost forever. YOU might be lost forever.

Then, there are the Christians that use the "Jesus Now, Or Else" sales strategy that many companies use. For me, these are the Christians that use tracts, those little comic books that talk about eternal damnation, etc. I pulled one of those off a 1st grader the other day (she was playing with it during class). When I asked her who gave this to her, she said, "My babysitter. She says I have two days to decide." Or else...

Regardless of the origin of these tactics, or even the bad taste they leave in my mouth when it comes to Christianity, I have found them extraordinarily useful in the classroom. Children in grades Kindergarten through Four respond to the "Come to Jesus" like no other. I don't exactly call it that, but that's what it is. Over time I remind them, "Stay on task," and "Please don't talk when I'm talking," and then one day, after several weeks of quiet reminders and patience, I have the "Come to Jesus." I tell them how much trouble I've been having and how this has got to stop. I use words like "disappointed" and "hurt". I talk about how I feel and often become very sad right in front of them. This is effective because even in a school like mine where compassion is as rare as gold, young children can't help but have a little of it every once in a while. They realize that this is more than one class to the next, it is a relationship. And in a relationship people care about each other.

With the Fifth through Eighth grades, I use the "Jesus Now, Or Else" strategy. When they start to act out, I put my foot down. "You have one chance," I tell them. And then, I write them up, I call their parents, I put them in time out, and I make them wish they had never, ever crossed me. It may sound mean and unnecessary to some, but I assure you that if I let anything slide, anything at all, the next week they will be throwing chairs, books, nails, cussing up a storm, and, my biggest pet peeve, calling each other "gay." So I give them that one chance and then there are no more chances. A few weeks ago, a class was so mean to me (this was the nail-throwing class), that I wanted to quit my job. I listed six people that were not part of the hysteria and put the rest in In-School Suspension. Though a few are angry with me, most seemed to somehow appreciate it. They try harder to treat me with respect, they tell me about their home-life, in essence, in a completely different way, they "Come to Jesus."

Jesus is, of course, never mentioned in my escapades of discipline. I am a fairly firm believer in separation of Church and State. But I think of Christ often when I am dealing with these kids. Sometimes Jesus was polite, sincere, and full of explanation. But sometimes He asked His disciples to drop everything and follow looking back. I am far from Christ-like, I know, as I am still working on the "following" part myself. My actions are sometimes exaggerated and I admit that sometimes I get it wrong. But it is in this vulnerability that I take one more step towards Christ and finally come to Jesus.

Monday, March 26, 2007

on the effects of hanging out with emily and her friends

So, I spent the last week or so hanging out with Emily and various permutations of her friends. I had a great time. I also realized an interesting side effect of hanging out with this crowd.

This morning I woke up to a terribly loud crashing sound. "Oh, good," I thought, "the coming class war has finally begun. Now the revolution is underway."

As I woke up a little more, I realized that somebody was emptying the dumpster down the street into the back of a garbage truck. However, I was pleased and amused by my first reaction.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

christian peace witness for iraq


I was arrested in Washington DC, late Friday night at the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. They arrested about 220 other folks as well, though it's being under-reported in media accounts. Here are some of those accounts:

I might post more about this later.


ps- They just held me for a few hours and fined me. I'm not in jail or anything. Basically, the whole time, I was in much better shape than anyone in Iraq.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Guatemala #7: Various Topics and International News

I went to El Salvador this past weekend with the MCC team for a team meeting. One huge difference between Guatemala City and El Salvador is that it's hot in El Salvador. Hot and humid. But I really enjoyed the little bit of El Salvador that I saw. We stayed at a farm that is owned and run by an organization called Nuevo Amanecer (New Dawn Association of El Salvador). The farm is an income generation project for the Association; they produce organic coffee, honey and jam among other things, as well as being a place for eco-tourism. It also provides a home and income for the five families that live there and work on the farm.

One of the nights the sky was incredibly clear, and I saw the stars the brightest I had ever seen them before. I have always wondered how on earth the people who first saw and named the constellations could have picked out the shape of a bear, or a dipper or what have you from the stars that I always saw, which were nothing more than faint points of light. However, seeing the sky without "light pollution" from the lights of cities, the brighter stars jump out at you so clearly, it would be hard not to see shapes and patterns. It was really beautiful. It was also a good reminder of our connection to creation. It helped me to step out of the very real and hard context of life (in Guatemala, and/or in the US) and remember that these realities are a small part of a huge and very old universe that gives us life and sustains us.

On a rather opposite note, one unforeseen consequence of me moving to Guatemala (of the many more I will surely discover) is that I've started killing bugs...with surprising ferocity! My sister was a bit shocked. (You have to realize that I have always been the type of person that gets the bug to walk onto a little slip of paper and then I carry it outside to live its life happily....or die in the cold, as the case may well be.) If you have thoughts on the deeper meaning of this, feel free to share!

One of the first things we did in El Salvador was to take a short tour of several churches in San Salvador (the capital city). We first went to the church where Oscar Romero is buried. Then we went to a beautiful church nearby. There were tiny glass windows of different colors on the walls and the ceiling, which were incredible to look at as the light shone through. In the front of the church, there was a sign that said: Dios no es Justiciero. (Roughly translated, including the connotation of the word Justiciero, it would be, God is not a harsh judge) After this, we went to the church and house where Oscar Romero lived and worked during the last several years of his life.

You might be wondering about Oscar Romero.
Oscar Romero was a catholic priest and Archbishop in El Salvador who was murdered while giving mass during the 1980’s. Through his faith he was a passionate advocate for the poor, for peace, and for the responsibility of Christians to live as followers of Jesus. It was especially interesting to visit the house where he lived for the last year and a half of his life. A young nun was there receiving visitors, and we spent a good half an hour or more talking to her, not only about Romero, but about some of the recent news stories that I’ll mention below. She was so committed and energetic about Romero’s teachings, it was inspiring to talk to her. There's a movie about his life, called Romero, that I would recommend if you are interested and haven't seen it. Here's also another link about his life: Oscar Romero

"Cuesta conseguir trabajo ahora en Guatemala"
"It's really hard to get a job right now in Guatemala"
Here's an approximation of a job application process in Guatemala: Say you want to find a job and you hear that, for example, PEPSI, is hiring people to be distributors of products to small stores. So you go, and spend most of your day (it's a Wednesday) there. You go through various exams, including a complete medical examination where they also check for tattoos (a common sign of involvement in gangs.) They get rid of a bunch of people. They tell you to come back on Monday. So you go (it takes about one and a half hours by bus to get there). They have you take a bunch of written tests. Come back on Friday. On Friday there's an interview. The next Tuesday you go back and are given a driving test and are required to show proof that you graduated from 3rd Basico (more or less the equivalent of 9th grade) and proof that you've never been imprisoned or brought to court. Later that week people from PEPSI show up in your neighborhood to ask your neighbors if they know you, if you ever get drunk, if you are who you say you are and in general if you're a decent person or not. If you make it this far, you finally begin training and during the process are given a series of exams based on the training sessions. On Monday is the final exam. If you pass you start work on Tuesday. If not, no job. As in many places in the world, it’s a hard economy right now.

International News Stories
You might have seen Guatemala in the news recently for 3 reasons. I'll try to give some local insights on these three stories, but I'm definitely not the expert.

#1: Giant hole opens up in Zone 6 of Guatemala City

The sinkhole measures 330 feet deep and 130 feet in diameter. It’s definitely scary. Apparently it happened because of the erosion of large water and sewage pipes, and the subsequent erosion of the earth around the pipes, until the pipes burst and everything fell. Some locally felt consequences are:
-Many people who were evacuated have not been able to return to their homes.
-Lack of water in the surrounding communities.
-Some schools have been closed because of the lack of water.

#2: Salvadoran Politicians killed in Guatemala

This is a chilling story. If you don’t want to think gruesome thoughts, I would recommend skipping down to International News Story #3.

For those of you still reading, here’s a brief summary of events. 3 Salvadoran senators and their driver were brutally killed while in their car driving to an event in Guatemala. Several days later, 4 Guatemalan high level police officers (including the Chief of the Unit Against Organized Crime) were arrested for the murders. The police officers were imprisoned, and later moved to another prison. Soon after, but before the police were heavily interrogated, they were brutally killed in prison.

There are tons of questions, and very few answers, such as: why did it happen?; who might have hired the police to kill the Salvadorans?; who killed the police officers?; who has the power to enter a prison, kill 4 prisoners and leave unharmed?; or was it prisoners that killed them? People here see it as awful, and a sad, embarrassing and shameful reflection of how things are in Guatemala today. A friend told me, “It’s even in the name of our country, Guate-mala” (Mala is the Spanish adjective meaning “bad”).

Comments: Although these two stories have a pretty big shock value, they have made me think pretty hard about the way news is distributed, and what is "newsworthy" on an international level. For example, these two stories are rather strange, out of the ordinary, and in the case of the Salvadoran senators, involve politically important people. But, there are other issues and realities that affect many more people that we in general aren’t aware of on an international level. For example, it's not international news that Guatemala's economy is barely scraping by, that 2 important banks went bankrupt in the past 6 months, that while murders and armed robberies are a daily occurrence here, there's very little investigation of crime and it's very rare that a murder case actually comes to trial. These things affect many more people and are problems on a huge systemic level, but most of the time the news focuses only on the out of the ordinary.

As I heard in a sermon several months ago, “we have lost our capacity to be amazed.” So, news has to be particularly strange, or particularly gruesome to capture our attention and/or spark our anger. So, while in Guatemala people being murdered without investigation has become normal, in Iraq it’s become normal for 30-60 people to be killed every couple of days in suicide attacks, and in the US it’s become normal for people to live in the midst of emotional and spiritual emptiness and/or violence, to name a few examples. This also ties in to feelings of helplessness in the face of such big problems; what can we do about it? But if we can’t be amazed, it’s less likely that we’ll be able to be creative enough to think about taking action.

#3: President Bush visits Guatemala
A local newspaper headline said something like this:

Much talk, few accomplishments as a result of Bush’s visit

The issue of immigration is a big one here, and it was disappointing for many people that Bush didn’t budge on his position, and also deferred the responsibility to do something to the US Congress to find a solution to the “problem.” This has been highlighted recently as a result of raids on employers in the US, resulting in hundreds of Guatemalans being deported in the past several months.

Bush made a visit to an indigenous agricultural collective. The people quoted who were able to talk to Bush were pleased with the visit, although there were also protests. I found it amusing that a group of protesters, knowing the countryside much better than the security officials were able to find a way to get to where Bush was without being stopped by security. All in all, I think Bush spent about 24 hours in Guatemala, which was more than I had first heard.
As this post and the last one have been very much focused on large, complicated and hard issues, my next one in a couple of weeks will be more descriptive about what I’ve actually been doing with myself here! We’re planning to start music classes at the end of April, and it’s continuing to be an interesting process in organizing everything. I’m having the unique and challenging experience of starting a project from scratch, so will try to focus on what we have so far in terms of vision, and how we’ve been trying to implement that in the context of the Mennonite churches here in Guatemala City.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Cluster bomb ban in the works!

My dad went to a meeting in Oslo, Norway several weeks ago. If you click on the title of this post, you'll get to a press release about the agreement of 46 countries, as a result of this meeting, to start a process to ban cluster bombs. Along with governments, there were also many NGO's present, and my Dad said that many people there recognized MCC as one of the first organizations that began to push this issue on an international level 10 or so years ago.

If you've never heard anything about cluster bombs before, check out these websites.

MCC cluster bomb page

Cluster Munitions Coalition

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

fanon on storytelling

Hey, I think that this quote from Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth has something to say to us liberationist artist types. Which is to say, everybody who reads this blog.

here's something awesome from frantz fanon's the wretched of the earth: (he's talking about culture and national liberation movements)
"On another level, the oral tradition- stories, epics, and songs of the people- which formerly were filed away as set pieces are now beginning to change. The storytellers who used to relate inert episodes now bring them alive and introduce into them modifications which are increasingly fundamental. There is a tendency to bring conflicts up to date and to modernize the kinds of struggle which the stoires evoke, together with the names of heroes and the types of weapons. The method of allusion is more and more widely used. The formula "This all happened long ago" is substituted with that of "What we are going to speak of happened somewhere else, but it might well have happened here today, and it might happen tomorrow." The example of Algeria is significant in this context. From 1952-3 on, the storytellers, who were before that time stereotyped and tedious to listen to, completley over0turned their traditional methods of storytelling and the contents of their tales. Their public, which was formerly scattered, became compact. The epic, with its typified categories, reappeared; it became an authentic form of entertainment which took on once more a cultural value. Colonialism made no mistake when from 1955 on it proceeded to arrest these storytellers systematically.
The contact of the people with the new movement gives rise to a new rhythm of life and to forgotten muscular tensions, and develops the imagination; he makes innovations and he creates a work of art. It even happens that the characters, which are barely ready for such a transformation- highway robbers or more or less anti-social vagabonds- are taken up and remodeled. The emergence of the imagination and of the creative urge in the songs and epic stories of a colonized country is worth following. The storyteller replies to the expectant people by successive approximations, and makes his way, apparently alone but in fact helped on by his public, toward the seeking out of new patterns, that is to say national patterns. Comedy and farce disappeal, or lose their attraction. As for dramatization, it is no longer placed on the plane of the troubled intellectual and his tormented conscience. By losing its characteristics of despair and revolt, the drama becomes part of the common lot of the people and forms part of an action in preparation or already in progress."


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Nicaragua 15: hard and good

There´s this book called Eva, I think, and it´s a young adult science fiction book where a girl´s brain is put into the body of a chimpanzee. She has to take drugs so her mind won´t go into shock and reject its new body. But in some ways she loves being a chimp.

That´s how I feel. I´m in a new world that I on the whole I really enjoy and feel called to, but it´s just so dramatically different from what I´ve known that every now and then I supress panic. As David just ariculated on the phone, in some ways my experience here is very abundant and in other ways there´s just enough. Just enough help, hope, stamina, Spanish, friendship, resources, contact with home, adjustment to a new culture. On the other hand, gorgeous scenery, delicious fruit, inspiring stories, a loving host family, and the over-abundant hope, joy, trust, power, peace, strenth, faith, love, and community that come from God.

I just re-read part of the discernment book (Enter By the Gate by Flora Slossen Wuellner) that helped me decide to come here, and all 7 of the discernment criteria in the book point to God´s call for me to be here right now. I´ve noticed that consistently over my weeks here, when I feel that I am slipping to the end of my rope, help always comes. I can almost set my clock to it. I woke up on Thursday missing home, missing English, counting down the days til December, and fantasizing about leaving early. During the day, a small delegation from the U.S. spoke to me in English; Gabriel showed up after 2 weeks of absence and gave me a nice little unsolicited pep talk about homesickness being super normal and how I´m doing fine; my kids cheered me up; I got an unexpected ride home; Isaac told me to sit down and let him dish up my dinner; and choir rehearsal that night went really well.

I get the urge to go home just for a weekend or something, just for a little relief from everything being strange all the time. Sometimes the best things are the hardest things.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Copy Machines that Staple

World Music is my favorite lesson plan to teach. I've been altering and changing the same lesson since my freshman year of college. Adding and deleting countries, switching maps, changing versions, adding details--this is all part of my ultimate goal to create a world culture of music in my classroom.

At my last school, the students were mesmerized by this. When I put a to-scale map of the world on the board and pointed to the U.S. they gasped and exclaimed, "Look how small we are! Look how big Africa is!" They asked to take lyric sheets home and worked hard to memorize words in hopes that we could learn dance. They watched my Japan home-video in amazement and kept asking, "Is this China?" We'd look at the map again.

I believe that the school in Lorain was full of compassion. The students saw the teachers, all different cultures and colors, treat students and each other with respect. I hardly ever heard a joke or a poke at someone's appearance by students. Bullying was a problem, but not an all-school dilemma. I wasn't worried that tomorrow might be the day when gang #1 decides to bring their issues with gang #2 to school and allow us all to experience what they call "loyalty." In Lorain, the students yearned for non-English songs and loved looking at the map.

This place is different, and I'm having trouble breaking the barriers, or perhaps, even bridging the gaps. I have students refusing to sing "Mexican crap" and others saying hip-hop is "all trash anyway." I have students yelling at their classmates for speaking Spanish, screaming things like, "Illegal Spanish! Illegal Spanish!"

Then, there is the bullying that stems from all of that. Calling each other fat, gay, and stupid (usually in that order). Starting fights, making threats, and choosing one quiet person to push around every day until that person ultimately snaps and ends up in the office for violently responding to weeks, probably years, of torment.

Suddenly world music has become a difficult lesson for me. The lesson is full of anti. I talk about the origins of Hava Nagila and before I know it, some fourth-grader is off on a rant about how her mama says that "those people" don't believe in Jesus Christ and so she isn't allowed to sing that song. Another says, "I don't sing Mexican crap. My mama says I don't have to sing Mexican crap." Everybody's parents are apparently part of the game. The word "racist" is being thrown around the room like a common insult and I am yelling at them. Yelling that if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. walked through this door right now he would be so disappointed. Yelling at them telling them that we can divide up into race and see what this classroom would look like without African-Americans, or Mexicans, or European-Americans. I yell about my upbringing and tell them how lucky they should feel that they don't walk into school every day seeing the same color. How lucky they are that they won't go to high schools with people who think poor is not getting a new car every year. And I always come back to King. Sometimes I even want to say that if he weren't dead, the site of this school would kill him. He would die of heartbreak and disappointment. I want to tell them that God would crying, because of them. I never say anything like that, but I want to sometimes.

When I yell, when things get out of hand, I become part of the destruction. I say, "Move!" instead of "Move, please." I find myself speaking louder, without thought. There is no kindness in my voice. I am being as defiant as them. It has become a battle.

I'm in a place where I am dividing blame. It's not a good place, but it's somewhere. I'm dividing it between the teachers and administrators who have let the bullying go on for so long, it's a way of life. I am dividing it between the community that encourages them to call out non-English and torment each other. I'm blaming the government, the school district, President Bush. And myself. I blame it on myself.

Compassion, respect, honesty, character, do we give these things to these kids when the lack thereof is so toxic?