Monday, April 30, 2007

Trust in God/Lock Your Doors

I received my first death threat on Thursday. I say that like it's some sort of right of passage or a common occurrence, but it's not, and I hope it never is. A 14-year-old 7th grader said he was bringing a gun to school Friday just for me. I was so shocked that I blocked it out of my mind, went through my routine (which included kicking him out of my classroom) and tried to blow it off.

Blowing it off wasn't easy when his classroom teacher warned me of his fascination with guns. "He goes to shooting ranges," she said. "He knows more about guns than any student I've ever had. He explained how to shoot an automatic weapon." The scariest statement she made: "He has access. And he's very, very dangerous." The teachers encouraged me to call the police, to cover my bases, to make an official report. I knew the administration would prefer me to go through the traditional line of authority: office referral, follow-up with the principal, etc. But I just kept blowing it off, for the last 15 minutes of the day, as I drove home, as I ate dinner. It wasn't until I sat in opera pit orchestra rehearsal that it hit me. I could imagine him walking into school, following me home, and worst of all, I could imagine him with a gun. Then, I started to realize the seriousness of the situation, and I completely lost it.

The administration responded with a careless, "We'll probably suspend him if he's finished with state testing. If not, he needs to come in and finish it and then we'll suspend him." They did not call the parents, nor did they voluntarily follow-up with me. My co-teachers responded that I need to take my own action. I need to protect myself. State testing is more important to these administrators than the safety of their school. Because, of course, we can't leave any child behind.

The boy didn't come to school on Friday, which was an initial relief. Around noon, the para in his classroom gave me some less relieving news--the boy's mother had called...and she didn't know where he was. "Is he at school?" She asked. "Because I have no idea where he is." This is when I called the police.

I can't say reporting a 14-year-old for threatening me was my finest moment. It made me feel weak and it made me feel like I'd failed him somehow. I felt like I was overreacting and under reacting at the same time. I spoke to the para about my fear as she sat with a sixth grade teacher eating lunch. "I am too afraid," I told her. "We should never assume this much fear of our children." The art teacher supported my statement, "It is fear that protects us sometimes. It makes us lock our doors." Then, the sixth grade teacher said something that both amazed and angered me, "I don't know what you're talking about," she said. "But all I can say is 'Trust in God.'" The art teacher, a devout Christian, chuckled, "But God isn't going to lock your doors for you."

As I thought more about the sixth grade teacher's simple comment, I became more angry and confused. God ISN'T going to lock my doors...I need to feel like I have MORE control, not LESS control. Trust in diminishing is that...tell that to the people at Virginia Tech or the soldiers and citizens in Iraq. Is she saying that if I trust in God I will be safe? Is she saying that if they would have trusted in God than they would have been safe? I dare to use a term spouted off at Oberlin so often that I became tired of it...but I just feel like "Trust in God" sounds so privileged.

I've never been one who is able to give it all up to God. I have trouble believing in God's will and God's plan. If I don't feel some control, some responsibility, then I end up feeling like God has failed me. So I take the failure aspect of things and lock my own doors. I trust the people and the resources God has given me. I try to trust God's creation.

The fact that I cannot stop thinking about the "Trust in God" statement makes me think that I'm missing something. I know that these words were supposed to help me, touch me in some way and last night, I started to figure out what I need them to signify. I need to trust that people are praying for me and for the boy. I need to trust that God created a child and that child is still somewhere inside this boy. I need to trust myself and my faith, and the things that bring me closer to God. The things that bring me closer to God are the things that make me feel safe. Things that I have lost site of because of work and stress and lack of time.

So last night I sat comfortably in opera rehearsal and enjoyed playing my violin. In church yesterday I lost myself in the service. I hugged my friends and thought about my college-friends. I pulled my crochet bag out of the closet and watched "Grey's Anatomy" while I started my first crochet project in 6 months. And when I was ready to sleep, I packed my crochet materials to bring them to school this morning. If I can't be safe at work, then I will bring some sort of safety with me. I have started trusting in the things that kept me going during some of my most difficult struggles. Though they are not God, they are God-related, and maybe that's what that teacher meant...or at least what I need her to mean.

But I still have to lock my doors and live in a little bit of fear. God will not do that for me, but I know that it is what God wants me to do. God wants us to do everything possible to save God's children. The boy and I both fit into that category.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Nicaragua: February 13

I´m pretty embarrassed at how behind I am in my photo posting. Here are two guys from the church sharing a bike when they came to volunteer at Chacocente with me one day. This is the old long slightly dangerous badly repaired road I used to take. Now the teachers and I take a new short safer more beatiful less dusty and hole-y path (yay!).

When we got to Doña Tina´s I took a picture of our bikes stored in her kitchen, then swiveled the camera 20 degrees to show her kitchen. Not much room to walk, but the bikes are supplemental income for her family. We pay two dollars per bike per month.

Also I took a picture of her latrine because of the cool cactuses around it, and here are Rafa and Isaac next to her washing station where I always washed my hands and she washes clothes. While we waited for the bus, Charito and Gabriel drove up in the truck. While I ran over to talk with them, one of the guys stole my camera and took this photo.

Nicaragua: bus related photos or just old ones

Here are the first two photos I took in Nicaragua. Heaven knows why I hadn´t posted them yet. The first one is Mary and Ted Andersen, in Nicaragua with the Mission of Peace delegation, and Charito (Cheryl Avery), the director of Project Chacocente. They are in her favorite restaurant in Granada, Nicaragua. After we ate there, we went to Mombacho, a volcano. Here is me and Isaac, my host brother, on the bus taking us up the steep road to the crater.

And bus related: the view of Volcano Masaya from the bus as I see it when I take the bus route to Huembes market on the way home from work; an example of the interior decorating of busses here(this is pretty modest), and an example of how incredibly crowded busses routinely are. Only one of my daily 6 busses is this crowded, though: the one taking folks to their jobs in the nearby sweatshop, where Isaac´s uncle has worked for 15 years. People work 10 to 12 hour days with no break except 45 minutes or an hour to eat lunch. Totally barbaric, inhumane, and unjust. If your reaction is to boycott, please instead or in addition make your outrage known with a letter to the company or something.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Okay, so this is really, really long.

It's also not very pleasant, I'm afraid. But it's something I feel I need to talk about. If you don't feel like reading this one, I have a somewhat lighter one below.

It's come to my attention that I can't find God. It's been a long time since I really felt God was there... I always just kind of assumed He(/She/It) was there, somewhere, and now I'm not so sure why.

I never even asked myself these kinds of questions before I went to college. It was only after leaving home and the church where I couldn't dissent against the idea at all that I started calling all the dogmas of Christianity into question.

And one by one, I explained the contradictions, the hate and intolerance, the ignorance in the Bible away (As I write, that "The Bible is totally literally true" song is playing in my head). Then I came to ask myself why read the Bible at all? Ultimately, if you eliminate the stuff that's not "totally literally true", what do you have left that doesn't exist in every other religion? What, other than God, does it leave that isn't in just about every secular philosophy? Furthermore, what, other than my having always been raised to believe in Him(/Her/It), makes me look for God?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against religion in what it stands for or what it promises. I do want what it promises. I do want to believe in a God who cares about the universe and cares about me. I do want there to be more to life than just this earthly existence. I want the religion I was taught all my life to be true. But wanting it to be true doesn't make it true.

My big problem, as I think I mentioned in my very first post here, when I was talking about "God bestaat niet", is that I'm so easily talked into things, and to compensate for that, I get paranoid and suspicious of everybody. I've always been the kind of guy who reads C. S. Lewis (his "serious" books, not just the Chronicles of Narnia, which I never finished), and I haven't given up this habit (although I really haven't read much more from Lewis than Mere Christianity, that's more do to with lack of time for it than lack of interest). Only in the last couple months, however, have I also been the type to read Richard Dawkins, who up until then just repulsed me with his (admittedly near-)certainty that there was no God (again, because it made me feel personally attacked).

I'm surrounded with simple and reasonable explanations against religion, based on observable behavior of religious groups or people, and believable statements against theism in general, to which the only rebuttals, when they are even coherent, which is distressingly rare, are all either taken right out of the Bible or based entirely on the speaker's "feeling God's presence" or something similarly subjective and impossible to demonstrate in a way that means anything to me. I won't state categorically that these people don't feel God (I realize that I probably am addressing some of the people of whom I speak), because I can't prove that they don't; in fact, I hope they really do. The problem is, what they feel, what you feel, stays with them, with you. I can't feel it, and I can't let myself simply take their word for it.

If I've gained respect for intellectuals like Dawkins, there's still one thing I can't pardon in them, or at least in Dawkins himself: when I've heard him speak and someone would ask him about how to deal with the pain and stress of abandoning long-held religious beliefs, he seems utterly bewildered that this could go beyond a simple concern for how this will affect their relations with believing family and friends. He seems to take for granted that religious beliefs are some kind of crushing burden from which one would be glad to be liberated, rather than the order and structure of the world that is violently shaken and blown away. Yes, I am deeply concerned for how this can and will affect my relations with my parents, friends at church, my girlfriend (the only one of the aforementioned to whom I have mentioned this, and I would appreciate that it remain so for a while longer)... but the idea that my life is worth nothing more than its face value just terrifies me. I see nothing inspiring or liberating about the fact that whatever freak occurrence could kill me tomorrow would be the end.

I have never, and will never, have any respect for the gleeful God-bashers who scream "God bestaat niet" and call believers "delusional apes". I refer in the latter case to a certain Brett Keane, who manages run a fairly impressive network of free-hosted websites, including a YouTube channel. He's rude, crude, and barely appears functionally literate (he can't pronounces the word "on", and admittedly appeals to the pro-wrestling mentality in his debating style). The link I just provided is pretty characteristic of his style. Even so, when they do actually address an issue (even Brett Keane on occasion), they can make substantial arguments against it, and the response is never very strong.

Again, I'm trying to avoid just going with who wins a debate, but it seems that if there were reasons to believe in God that didn't come out of the Bible, they'd be pretty obvious.

The complexity of nature has been something I've used for a while to support my version of the idea of "intelligent design"... not the neocon antithesis to evolution, since I've long been able to accept that idea, just that the whole thing wasn't left to chance... but even if there is some supreme intellect that put the whole universe in motion (which Dawkins argues would have had to have evolved from something less complex anyway, but that's beside the point), what guarantees that It(/She/He) has any interest whatsoever in what happens to the world afterwards?

It's funny... I'm not used to the idea of not believing in God yet. Maybe just because I still want to believe in God, maybe because it's just such a deeply ingrained habit. I'm still always looking over my shoulder for God to be there, and when He(/She/It) isn't obviously (not "obviously isn't") there, I feel that letdown all over again.

I want to believe in God, but I want to believe for real. I don't want to make up a God to believe in, and I don't want to believe in a God that somebody told me about or that I read about in a book. I don't even really want to "believe", I want to know.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Spoons heat up when you bend them, until they break.

For those of you who don't know, I am a French and Spanish major, about to graduate from college. That presumes that I pass my comprehensive exams for both majors of course, each requiring a ten-page paper about the respective literatures of those languages, only one of which have I even started writing.

I've been working on the paper for my Spanish comps for well over a month. I've written about two pages of it, and none of it is exceptionally good. I haven't even figured out what to write in French yet; the only reason I have a topic in Spanish is because my adviser proposed one when the topic I had chosen (a fairly complicated literary analysis that I wouldn't have been able to handle) was something nobody at my school would be competent to evaluate, even assuming I could produce something sensible.

The thing is, none of it interests me in the least.

So I ask myself, why do I do it?

The short answer is that I want my bachelor's degree. I need it to go on to the next step: teaching English in France next year, maybe in Japan after that, or even if not, eventually going on to grad school... where I can study more crap that probably won't interest me.

I learned when I was in high school that I was good at learning and using languages... at least to the extent that I picked up French, Spanish, and a little bit of Esperanto without much difficulty. The problem is, I've never really known what to do with this gift. I continue studying literature at Nazareth because I don't have any other ideas, and because I can't really afford to change schools... not that there would be any point in changing schools just a few months before graduation.

So, what do I really need a bachelor's degree for, other than to avoid the mountain of debt that will materialize when I suddenly have to pay back all my scholarships when I drop out of school a month and a half before graduation? Because I don't have any real skills, other than learning languages, and I like to think I'll be able to get a job that allows me to move out of my parents' house someday. So, basically, I'm doing it out of a sense of obligation. I feel like I'm just following the beaten path because I don't know how to blaze my own trail.

[Update: Both of these papers have been finished and turned in, but I preserved the above text, because the underlying question of what it's all good for remains unanswered.]

Even if the topic of my final papers did interest me, though, it's hard to concentrate when I have so much else on my mind.

This was the post that I'd been working on since this time last month. I actually had this much written, but much more to say. The rest follows in a separate post, since the rest turned out to be quite long and upstaged this vein of thought.

Happy Birthday David!

I can't sing to you, but this is almost as good:

So, I'm sorry I've been neglecting to contribute to this blog since two days after I joined... some of you may have noticed that I started working on a post a month and a half ago... I just haven't had time to finish it. I haven't given up on it.


Monday, April 16, 2007

two for easter two

Yesterday was "Easter Two", according to the Revised Common Lectionary. I know this refers to the number of Sundays in the season, but I prefer to think of it as a kind of sequel, as in "Easter II: The Legend Continues", or "Easter II: Electric Bugaloo."

Anyway, here are the promised two:

a poem about me and jesus

some days we box
some days we dance
some days we just cry together.


As many of you know, I carried around a sledgehammer all through Lent. It was to remind me about all the things that needed to be smashed, and to give me a chance to reflect on power and violence. It did all those things, and a few more. I even got to use it to pound a stake into the ground, one time. On Easter, I put it down.

A couple days later, I was reading the daily lectionary reading, and realized this: sledgehammers are good for breaking down walls. Really good. That might even be what they're designed for. However. The Risen Christ: walks through walls.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Nicaragua: my bedroom

For three months I had my own room. Two walls are concrete, one wall is wooden board with tiny drilled holes in it, and one wall is curtains. There is no need for the house to be sealed so there is a space between wall and ceiling where light and air come in. All that´s necessary here is for it to be waterproof. Spiders are good because they eat disease-spreading mosquitos.

Now I am sharing my room with another volunteer, from Vermont (the same town Topher´s from). I believe I am currently the tidiest I have ever been. I don´t know why. Normally in my life my room has been a site of apparent disaster. Ken once said that if they threw a grenade into my room it would make it cleaner. But right now my room looks the same all the time. As Grandma Jean said, a place for everything and everything in its place.

Nicaragua: piñatas

For four Saturdays, a woman from another church came over to our church to teach a bunch of women how to make piñatas. I was usually at a cyber cafe during most of the class, but I was there for enough snatches of classes that I think I could probably fumble my way through making one myself. One Saturday instead of making piñatas I washed my clothes on the nearby washboard and then made lunch! I made rice all by myself, beans with help, and chicken with potatoes almost by myself. I want to be able to cook Nicaraguan food by the time I go back to the states, because I predict that as happy as I´ll be to eat whole grain bread, lasagne, cake, cheddar cheese, casserole, brownies, stir fry, and Mexican burritos, I will miss the food from here.

Anyway, here is Belen making Barney, Yanina working on Tweety bird´s legs, and various other women and piñatas. Fun! Afterward they sold them. Oh, and the glue they use for the paper mache is made from water and a flour made from yuca which is a root. You just boil it, and voilá! It is this great gooey gelly textured stuff, and pleasantly warm from sitting out congealing after being boiled. Also it´s better for the environment I bet.

Nicaragua: baby animals

In the last 4 weeks, Chacocente has gained six new baby animals. One puppy in one house, three in another, and two kittens were born in the preschool! Brenda says I´m their grandmother. The 3-puppy house is also due for a baby person soon! Apparently Rosaura´s due date is this Sunday (tomorrow!). So even though technically in Nicaragua right now it´s the end of summer with winter to arrive in May, it´s feeling like spring! I would also like to announce proudly that the kitten pictured up close opened one eye yesterday (the right one)!

Nicaragua: my classroom and kids

This is the stuff that makes me feel gooey: showing you my kids and my classroom.

In these photos, Nelson plays with blocks, four kids color at a little table, and Albaro reads a book to Eva. We have this book that counts from 1 to 20, each time displaying that number of animals. I can say it from memory by this point: one moose, two crabs, four whales, seventeen dogs, etc. In each picture there´s a cat hiding behind the number or hidden in with the animals, so when we read the book I always have them say what animal it is, count how many, and find the cat. Well, one day Albaro was just sitting looking at the book and Eva was playing with blocks. Albaro is little, like 4 years old or maybe 3, but Eva is littler. She has a tiny vocabulary. So Albaro plays teacher. He turns the page and asks her what animal it is. He turns the page and asks where the cat is. This is the kind of thing that encourages me that they are actually learning even when it seems like they haven´t been paying attention. Because normally Albaro is not paying attention. Oh, and these are morning photos.

One day we were doing clay and Edwin (I am so proud) got the idea to make letters out of clay all by himself. So he commenced making his name but needed help. I made a model and Nelson, pictured here, copied it. Later Nelson and Tatiana got bored with clay so (joy of joys for me to see!) they got out some books and started reading to themselves!!! Yay!

One day Isaac (my host brother) came to school to do community service for a school scholarship by helping in Chacocente. Here he is reading a book to my kids at the end of the day. These were taken on February 12, a few weeks after school started, and I remember feeling so much longing to speak as fluently as he could with the kids. My Spanish has definitely improved since then. I can talk to them more quickly, and understand them more often. Just imagine my situation- it´s hard enough to understand preschoolers when they talk in the listener´s native language!

Since this picture was taken, we have gotten one new student, so 10 kids are pictured but there are now 11. These are my 3rd level kids from 10:30 to 2:30. In the morning I have levels 1 and 2 from 8:00 to 10:30.

Nicaragua around the school

After school I let non preschool kids come in to play with the toys. One day Margarita made these two beautiful flowers out of clay so I took her outside to take a picture. Aren´t they great?

Here are Topher and Nancy, each captured at a different time sitting in the school library. Topher is here since September until this June, teaching English and art in the school (across grade levels). Nancy was here for the first six weeks I was here, so she left at the end of February. Some of these pictures, ahem, I have been meaning to post for a while.

Standing in a row against the wall/window of the cafeteria are Marbel (2nd grade teacher), Omar (official translator for Chacocente), and Jacqueline (3rd and 4th grade teacher, and Omar´s younger sister).

These empty rooms are very old pictures of what will be the 2nd grade room (they used to share a room with 3rd and 4th), and my preschool!

Here is an old picture of one side of the future main room of the school. You can see someone working on the roof. In the other doorway to the future main room are Ted Andersen, Calin (23 year old president of the Chacocente Committe) and Tim (of Chatauqua, NY). This space in real life now has a roof and will be our multi-purpose room and also a space for church to be held.

Taken weeks later, you can see the developments in the construction of the two new school rooms. It´s not completely obvious, but the walls have been finished with a layer of cementish stuff covering the blocks and mortar, the floor has been spread with new materials, and there is a roof. For several weeks 2nd grade has been meeting in its room although it isn´t finished.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Nicaragua Campamento (easter)

On Wednesday afternoon, maybe 40 or 50 people from our church, many of them the youth in my choir which are basically the youth of the church, piled into a rented bus and drove an hour or two to the less hot nearby city of Nandaime. There we pitched tents in the grass and commenced going to church about most of every day until we left on Friday night. The whole time we were celebrating Easter, with of course the story leading up to Easter thrown in, but not separated out into beforeEaster and afterEaster like I´m used to. Apparently the Catholic churches use no instruments until midnight Saturday night, when suddenly all the instruments are brought out and everyone celebrates! Christ is risen!

Anyway, here is the roofed area where 300 could sit at a time while the other 100 or so roamed around eating or cooking or chatting or sitting or napping or whatever. And here is a fresh picked palm branch from a nearby tree I presume, garnished with fake flowers. In Ohio we had fresh flowers and not fresh palms! And here are the tents, and my host sister Belen playing a clapping game with little Nadiesca who is 9 and whose mom is so cool.

Overall, I´d say I would not go again, at least not for the whole time, mostly because the sound system was so loud that I felt physically attacked by sound and my poor ears are still a little sensitive, and also because there was not enough silence throughout the day. I felt exhausted by the end.

On Easter I went to sunrise normal Sunday worship, then to a mass, then to normal 5pm worship.