Thursday, December 29, 2005


I have been so blessed over this Christmas holiday (despite a brief bout with sickness on Christmas Eve). I hardly know where to begin.

Perhaps with the girls night out birthday present from my friend Cara (manicure, A French dinner, a live nativity, and trimming the tree--so fun!).

Perhaps with the delicious dinner on Christmas day, spent with dear church friends and their extended family.

Perhaps with the sweet and fascinating group international students who have been staying at our church for the last 2 weeks, who put on an amazing dinner and show last night--a veritable feast of Asian cuisine and musical/dramatic talent!

Perhaps with my delightful niece and nephew, who actually know who I am now!

Perhaps with the joy of singing carols of praise Christmas morning among my church family.

Perhaps with the generous and thoughtful gifts I received from family and friends.

Or perhaps I will simply treasure all of these things in my heart.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

just bee

I just finished reading one of the zillion books on my current "to read list"--The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. All of the women in my life have been telling me for months that I should read this book, and after putting it down several days ago, all I can say is, WOW. The plot, in short, involves a teenage girl who runs away from an abusive father in the 1960s with an African American woman in search of information about her mother who died when she was 4. In South Carolina, Lily (the girl) and Rosaleen (the black woman) meet these 3 other black women sisters, one of whom is a beekeeper and sells honey. Most of the novel is about what happens while Lily lives with these women...

What makes this book so wonderful is its beautifully honest articulation of the yearning for a mother that Lily has, and how that longing is fulfilled in the most unexpected (and for that time period, countercultural) of places and ways. But in the end, it's more than a coming of age story; it's a tale about regret, forgiveness, violence, grace, desire, dreams, politics, religion, power, nature, pain, healing, fear, courage, and Love.

If for some reason you, like me, have been hiding under a rock and not had a chance to read this book, I recommend adding it to your bedside table as soon as possible.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

home [ ] home

All I remember are the pine trees and rose bushes
The thrill of sledding down its street in winter
And sucking icicles broken off its roof
Sky blue outside and sunshine yellow in the kitchen

Then one day, uprooted and flying
Across rivers and mountains
to the suburbs of the Alamo City
and a two story building with a chocolate brown door
piles of newspaper where the bar should be
the yellow cabinet that needed rubber bands to close
and an ancient coffeetable breaking under the
weight of Reader’s Digests and Astrology Monthly
eight years of peanut butter and banana sandwiches,
homework on the floor, spurs games on AM 1200
and papers typed on a commodore 64

until an invitation comes from a red brick city on a hill
to live and learn and blossom
in the care of manicured greens and an 11:1 ratio,
a secret garden and magic stones
for inspiration

finally, culmination and starting over
four blocks west and two to the north
with scratched wood floors, window units and dear sisters
six months of memories to cherish

before a painful mid-winter move
to a cavernous white space with cold empty walls and
plates of isolation eaten up by activity and independence
for 525,600 minutes

and then packing and driving my life to
another second story space, a haven shared with
sea green dishes, Bono, eggrolls, and Ireland
(gifts of common life with Amy)
until another November, another search for abode
leads me to a yellow castle nestled on a downtown island
two years of bliss where plants reminiscent of youth
grace a forest green porch
mosaic tile on the bathroom wall
And a cream colored door won’t lock on its own
Keys thrown on a bureau that’s seen better days
Laying on a couch colored with all the emotions of life
Memories envelope my heart. -pjn 12/22/05

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


I should have known. Apple IS my favorite kind of pie (and not a bad scent for candles either!).

You Are Apple Pie

You're the perfect combo of comforting and traditional
Those who like you crave security

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

enough with the word wars

"The War on Christmas is a little like Santa Claus, in that it (a) comes to us from the sky, beamed down by the satellites of cable news, and (b) does not, in the boringly empirical sense, exist. What does exist is the idea of the War on Christmas, which, though forever new, is a venerable tradition, older even than strip malls and plastic mistletoe." -The New Yorker
"How silently, how silently the wondrous Gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still
The dear Christ enters in

Monday, December 19, 2005

weekend whirlwind/weary world waits

Highlights: seeing the Vatican exhibit, watching Good Night and Good Luck (film about CBS, Edward Murrow and the McCarthy era), the mini-Trinity reunion at a friend’s birthday dinner, baking pumpkin bread, Voci di Sorelle’s (women’s ensemble) Christmas concert (which included several songs in Spanish, including a Nicaraguan carol!), wrapping presents for a needy family my Sunday School class adopted this year, listening to long-time missionary and humanitarian John Farmer talk about his work with Medair...

Lowlights: feeling irritated about the excessive wealth the historic church used for itself, burning my first pumpkin bread (my oven is so finicky!), searching for hours for gifts for family members (my parents are almost impossible to shop for), realizing there are 6 days until Christmas and I’ve only read about 1 week’s worth of Advent devotionals, and feeling wearied by the endless pain and suffering of the world (the latest being flooding in Thailand)...

Last night President Bush closed a national address with these words from a well-known carol:
“Then peeled the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead nor doth he sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men”
Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

civil disobedience for christ

If you watched NBC news last night you might have seen a brief mention of the 40+ people who were arrested in the Capitol for protesting a House budget bill cutting funding for programs that protect the poor. Below, the words of Jim Wallis, one of the leaders of this vigil, regarding their acts of civil disobedience:
There is a Christmas scandal this year, but it's not the controversy at shopping malls and retail stores about whether their displays say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." The real Christmas scandal is the budget proposed by the House of Representatives that cuts food stamps, health care, child support, and educational assistance to low-income families - while further lowering taxes for the wealthiest Americans and increasing the deficit for all of our grandchildren.

That was the message we brought to the steps of the House office buildings yesterday. The day was cold but the message was clear, as hundreds of religious leaders and faith-based organizers who daily serve the poor joined for what became a revival and prayer meeting in the United States capital.

After some powerful preaching on the steps and a press conference that was more like a revival, we continued our praying and singing in front of the entrance, symbolizing the denial of access to Congress for low-income people. "Come walk with us!" we said as we invited members of Congress into our neighborhoods to meet the people who will be most impacted by their votes on a budget that virtually assaults low-income families. We sounded like a choir (and a good one at that) as we sang Christmas carols while being arrested, handcuffed, put into buses, and taken to a large holding cell roughly a mile away.

Many of those who took part in the prayerful and nonviolent civil disobedience were from groups such as the Christian Community Development Association, whose member organizations around the country live and work alongside poor people every day. Their founder, John Perkins - who at 75 was one of the oldest people arrested - inspired us all as he has for 40 years of faithful ministry among the poor. The text we kept repeating at the Capitol Christmas vigil was from the book of Luke - the best words ever about the true meaning of the coming of the Christ child.

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."

Though today on Capitol Hill Mary would be accused of class warfare for uttering such words, they still bear the true meaning of Christmas. So yesterday, on the House office steps, we tried to put Christ back into Christmas…[and] the story of the faith-inspired action in Washington was in dozens of newspapers around the country.

We prayed for a change of heart in our Washington leaders, we prayed for the poor families we serve, and we prayed that those elected to represent us act to protect the common good in ways consistent with the Christmas message of hope.
Amen, Amen and Amen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

EB for DA

My friend, fellow church member, skilled violin player, and local attorney Eddie Bravenec announced last night at a Southtown restaurant his intent to challenge incumbent Susan Reed in the upcoming race for Bexar County District Attorney.

It's not every day you get to attend the campaign announcement of a personal friend, so I was glad to be there to support him.

'tis the gift to be simple

There's posts all over the blogosphere about the commercialization of Christmas, so what's one more?

I just read a fabulous idea in the comments of a blog from this guy about helping children develop the spirit of giving at Christmastime. He said that his family gives a gift to each child and then they each give up one of their favorite used toys to donate to a needy family. Fabulous. If I had kids I would totally do that.

For a whole slew of ideas that require more time than money, check this out. One interesting (and sad) fact mentioned in this article:
Together, Canadians and Americans make up 5.2 per cent of the world’s population, but their portion of private consumption expenditures (the amount spent on goods and services per household level) is 31.5 per cent, or more than six times what constitutes a fair share, according to the Worldwatch Institute.
I feel guilty even though I've probably only spent 10% of what most people spend on Christmas. So I am baking gifts for several people this year instead of giving them trinkets they don't need or could buy for themselves. I don't know if I could ever go this far, but I hope that over time my faith and life will be marked more and more by radical commitment to the needs of others, not just at Christmas, but all year long.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

temp, temper, tempest

so i drove to kinkos after work last night to pick up some things i ordered and discovered that they had done my order completely wrong and it would be thursday before i could have it redone. i was quite put out by this turn of events, but since i was already in alamo heights, i decided to go to the quarry and pick up a few small gifts for friends and family.

lesson #1: i should never go shopping when i am stewing about something. it made me incredibly indecisive as well as greedy. i couldn't walk out of the store without buying something for myself.

lesson #2: i should never talk to my sister when i am stewing about something. my sister and i have an annual tradition of doing one shopping trip together to pick out gifts for our parents, and when i called her to ask her about it she told me she needed to reschedule for a date closer to christmas. i was already on edge, so i practically yelled at her as i tried to explain how i hate shopping at the last minute. i'm sorry, sis.

lesson #3: i should never talk to people or do anything at night until i've had dinner. i got home around 8:30pm at which time i threw a frozen lasagna in the oven, wishing bitterly that i had put in the oven earlier so it would have been ready when i came home. so i ate a bowl of cereal while i was waiting, all the while annoyed with myself for planning so poorly and eating so late.

the one bright spot in my evening of misery-inducing mistakes was a lovely conversation with my mom, which is no small thing in my life. however, as a result, the sink is still full of dishes and no presents got wrapped. oh, well. there's always tomorrow...
when my temper flares
your grace is there
to calm the waters
and soothe my cares

serenity in the fire
is what i desire
to remember what is real
and avoid misplaced ire

refine me into pure gold
i'd rather your fire than the cold
for everything will crumble
except your love and truth of old
-pjn 12/13/05

Monday, December 12, 2005


I rarely go see movies on opening weekend. But The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is such a beloved C.S. Lewis classic that I felt compelled to do so. (My church bought out an entire theater at the Quarry, but even so I wound up going to a different showing due to a ticket shortage.) I recently reread LW&W so that I could better enjoy the film adaptation, but I think I became a stronger critic instead. But first, the positive.

I was pleased that the film is framed by the realities of Germany’s aerial assault on London and through an initial sequence fully establishes the tension between Peter and Edmund that climaxes with his betrayal of his siblings much later in Narnia. I was delighted with Lucy, whose sense of wonder and appreciation of the new and mysterious is captured nicely on screen—along with her special relationship with Mr. Tumnus, which was enhanced beautifully in the film (though his artificial nose is obvious in some places). The technological feat of making animals appear lifelike was definitely achieved in the case of Aslan—not only does he look amazingly real, but even his eyes are expressive during the course of the film. The White Witch is, quite rightly, cold but beautiful, a dark evil concealed by her pale features and light colored apparel. Father Christmas is bright-eyed and plays a wonderfully prophetic role in the film—and does his part to signal what should be a pivotal moment in the story. The musical score is magnificent (producing some teary-eyed moments for this writer), and there are some impressive parts in the battle sequence.

Now, the disappointment(s).

First, drastic changes to the plot were made. So as not to ruin this for future viewers, I won’t elaborate too much, except to say that from the children’s encounter with the beavers until they meet Aslan, very little of Lewis’ narrative is maintained. Everything is condensed, of course—so the children find themselves in a very different race to avoid danger than in the book. The changing of seasons from winter to spring does not elicit any problems for the White Witch, and actually creates peril for the children. The depth of the White Witch’s cruelty to Edmund is never exposed, though Edmund does clearly change his mind about her as he watches her treatment of others.

Second, the degree of character transformation in each of the children is meager, at best. There is much too much hesitation, even late in the film, by Peter who is supposed to be the brave leader of the bunch. Edmund fully redeems himself, but Susan’s “gentleness” appears very late; she is mostly a nervous, mother-like figure who continually wants to turn back and go home. Lucy is the most sympathetic character, of course, as she is in the novel, and seems to grow up the most. One of the best (though too short) moments in the film is at the end of the battle after she restores Edmund with a drop of her miracle cordial, and then sees Aslan breathe life into one of the stone creatures. Immediately they show Aslan look at Lucy and she realizes she has a life-saving mission of her own to accomplish and runs off to use her gift for good.

As for the film’s integrity to Lewis’ allegorical message, it would be impossible for the story to hold together without a few lines in the film that attest to the spiritual realities at work, the “deep magic” governing Narnia’s existence. Aslan maintains his Christ-like qualities, and there is tragic beauty in the scene where Lucy and Susan walk with him towards the Stone Table.

Overall, I appreciated the film, but I think the literary version far exceeds the rendering I witnessed yesterday afternoon on the big screen.

Friday, December 09, 2005

reality check

By now the whole world knows about the 4 members of Christian PeaceMaker Teams who are being held hostage by the so-called Swords of Righteousness Brigade and that their execution is scheduled for tomorrow unless U.S. forces release all detainees held in Iraq.

Most people may have also head Rush Limbaugh's comment about being glad these "leftist feel-good hand-wringers" are being "shown reality." What follows are some comments by Ryan Beiler of Sojourners on the matter:
"To follow [Limbaugh's] version of the parable [of the Good Samaritan], they'd never have fallen among thieves if they hadn't been walking on the road to Jericho in the first place. His reference to reality is intriguing, coming in support of an administration now widely regarded as out of touch with the reality in Iraq. Promises that we would be greeted as liberators, that Iraq would pay for its own invasion with oil revenue, that we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were, that only a few troops would be needed - all evaporated in the face of a reality that the likes of Limbaugh can only imagine, while the men and women of the armed forces, CPT members, and the people of Iraq experience its horror on a daily basis...Tom Fox had no illusions about the dangers he would face in Iraq. 'I am to stand firm against the kidnapper as I am to stand firm against the soldier,' he wrote more than a year ago. 'Does that mean I walk into a raging battle to confront the soldiers? Does that mean I walk the streets of Baghdad with a sign saying ‘American for the Taking?' No to both counts. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am asked to risk my life, and if I lose it to be as forgiving as they were when murdered by the forces of Satan'...Far from "feel-good hand-wringers," these men knew the difference between good and evil, and that living out Christ's call is costly."
May the CPT hostages' witness of costly devotion strengthen all whose seeking of peace has been filled with sacrifice, grief, or pain.

Dios de tierra y cielo, favor de dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman, los que han sido llamados de acuerdo con su propósito. Amen.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

a Day to remember

I encountered Dorothy Day in my independent study of civil rights activists post-college, and she immediately became a source of inspiration to me. Day’s most lasting legacy, Catholic Worker Houses, have continued despite her death 25 years ago. The New York Times had this to say about CWHs today:
“Lots of organizations want to lift up the poor, oppose war and reshape society, but few try to do so with no governing structure, no official means of support, no paid staff members and - since Day's death on Nov. 29, 1980 - no leader.
Members still dedicate themselves to voluntary poverty, nonviolence and hard work. They make soup, give away coats, visit prisoners and the sick, protest against war and publish a newspaper that sells, as it did in the 1930's, for a penny.
Catholic Worker houses have sprung up in cities and rural areas across the country and in Canada and Europe. In keeping with Day's pacifism and cranky independence, the group has no income, so sends no taxes to the military. It is not a registered non-profit…the place worked because it stayed small - about 30 people, both street people and volunteers, live in each house, sharing food and chores. Prayers and meetings are optional, and being Catholic or even Christian is not required.”
May the work of these humble and persistent people continue as long there is need.

ice capades

To celebrate the end of the semester, the college girls in the bible study I lead had dinner at Olive Garden last night. For anyone who has never had their “sausage and pepper rustica”, I highly recommend it. The dish consists of penne pasta mixed with sliced sausage, green peppers and onions and a marinara sauce. Add a little bit of fresh parmesan, and presto! Instant culinary masterpiece.

Between the Chardonnay, delectable dinner, and mix of lighthearted/meaningful conversation, I was feeling quite content as I drove out of the parking lot towards the highway at the end of the evening. Little did I know...

For anyone reading who doesn’t live in San Antonio, yesterday was a bitterly cold, rainy, and windy day. The temperature dropped below freezing in the early afternoon, and ice was expected to be a problem on the roadways. With all of this in mind, I drove especially carefully on my way to the restaurant. However, the drive home was a different story. I had just turned onto the southbound access road of 281 and was slowly increasing speed to enter the freeway. Out of the corner of my right eye, I noticed a minivan pull into traffic, but did not think much of it until I realized they were attempting to cross all three lanes in order to cut in front of me just 30 feet from the entrance to the highway.

Immediately I realized at my rate of speed (about 45) I was going to hit them. I slammed on my brakes and began to skid forward on the icy road surface. Simultaneously, the minivan slowed down and was almost parallel to me in the road. Before I could even think, I pulled my car over to the left into the small patch of grass that separated the onramp lane from the rest of the highway and came to a stop. My heart was racing. As soon as the minivan realized I had stopped, it continued onto the highway. Meanwhile, all of the other cars attempting to enter the highway behind me had stopped. Graciously, they all waited for me to pull out of the grass and back onto the onramp and merge into traffic.

A few minutes later, one of my girls called me and asked if I was okay (they had seen the whole thing from behind me). I was fine, and my car was fine, thank God. I am thankful that I was not further north last night where others in our city were not so fortunate. But I hope I never have to drive late at night on icy roads again.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

trading spaces in india

I wrote this after reading this article in the NY Times today.

Your fathers toiled in fields of grain
under the watchful eye of the sun
and loan shark lords who held you captive
with high interest and low wages
year after year

But now you’ve traded in your plow
for diamond cutters in the city
a hope of a better life drives you
though you live in crowded squalor
and your rights are hardly guaranteed

Money in your hands yet
Freedom still out of reach

Yet, as Caedmon's Call sings:
"There's a land where our shackles turn to diamonds
Where we trade in our rags for a royal crown
In that place, our oppressors hold no power
And the doors of the King are thrown wide"

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

rent (the movie)

I don’t normally go see movies by myself, but two weeks ago on “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving) I decided to do just that and decided on Jonathan Larson’s musical-turned-movie Rent. Rent, for anyone not familiar with the story, portrays/celebrates the Bohemian culture of New York’s East Village in the 1980s through the lives of 7 friends, most of who live on the margins of society. This group of friends is mostly poor and artistic, and several of them are gay/lesbian/bisexual and/or current/recovering drug-addicts.

Since I never saw Rent on the stage, I can’t comment on how well it translated from that venue to the screen. What I can say that the music powerfully drove the story forward and the characters were generally well-developed and appropriately complex. My one complaint in the area of character development is that I felt like Angel (Wilson Heredia), did not get enough screen time to establish the strength of “her” relationship to Tom Collins (played by Jesse Martin—most well known for his role in L&O), though her dramatic personality, love of life, and bond with the group as a whole came shining through.

The movie does not romanticize the lifestyle(s) chosen by these friends—rather, it explores the universal qualities of their experiences; their questions of meaning, finding their place in the world, the complexities of love and friendship, loyalty and betrayal, and the pain of dying. Their struggle against “the man” in the film is simultaneously political/philosophical and relational without being overly ideological. For example, Benny (Taye Dibbs), who is trying to get Mark (Anthony Rapp), Roger (Adam Pascal), Maureen (Idina Menzel) and Mimi (Rosario Dawson) out of their apartments is an old friend who wants to help them by involving them in the new development possibilities. And Maureen’s girlfriend Joanne (Trace Thomas) is a successful attorney who helps Mark get his film career started. Thus, instead of glorifying/demonizing individuals because of their group identity or career, the film causes the viewer to consider the false ways we classify ourselves, and suggests (not so subtly, but still beautifully in its theme song lyrics) that love is the only thing by which one should measure one’s quality of life.

Monday, December 05, 2005

vintage vespers

With my hands curled up in the pockets of my grey wool coat, I walked briskly through the bone-chilling breeze toward the magnificent Margaret B. Parker Chapel. The first Sunday in December is the night of the oldest and most popular tradition on Trinity’s campus: Christmas Vespers. I hadn’t participated in Vespers since my last year of college, but marking my fifth year as an alum and mentoring several current seniors made me nostalgic and eager to attend.

With 30 minutes remaining before the prelude music began, the chapel was bustling with rosy-cheeked collegiate women, dapperly dressed gents, and a smattering of faculty and staff and alumni like me. Clutching my program with anticipation, I searched the crowd for my seat-saving friend—and took my place next to her about eight rows from the front on the left side of the sanctuary. [I’ve always preferred the left side because of its view of the choir loft.]

After a few minutes of small talk and crowd-watching, I fixed my eyes on the tapestry that graces the front of the sanctuary. It seemed to have faded since the last time I saw it. Finally the organist welcomed everyone and requested our silence during the musical prelude. After an a cappella soloist rendering of O Holy Night came a series of instrumental selections, including pieces featuring the violin, cello, and organ. I tried to focus on the texture of the melodies, the intricacies of the harmonies between instruments, but I was distracted by the cacophony wafting down from the balcony —and the conversation of three people in the row behind me. As my irritation grew, I feared that the sacred moments would be lost from this time of worship and I wondered if I had chosen the right way to spend my evening.

At that moment, the organ’s toccata rose in exultation to a fanfare that signaled the opening processional—following the bearers of the banners and the crèche were the chapel choir members, whose voices joined with ours to fill the air with the familiar words of “O Come All Ye Faithful” as they entered. I was startled to discover my vision growing blurry as we reached, “come and behold him” and it took all my strength to continue to sing without my voice cracking with emotion.

Not once in 4 years had the beauty of 800 people united in joyous, reverent song over the birth of Christ moved me like it did last night. And as the sanctuary dimmed for the lighting of the candles and the singing of Silent Night, my heart soared with fullness of hope for the coming year—for though the darkness in our world is great, the true Light shines and darkness shall not overcome it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

blurry december

December passes every year in a blur. I don't want it to be that way this year, but it seems my calendar and my choices are leading that direction and it's only Day 2 in this, my favorite of months! (Case in point: tonight I will be attending two different parties, and tomorrow a third.) Quiet, stillness, and reflection always seem to get the leftovers of my life rather than the firstfruits. Why is this?

Is it because I have too many friends and I overcommit my schedule to see them all? Is it because I crave activity to produce meaning and a sense of purpose in my life? Is it because I have succombed to the commercialistic culture that says that Christmas time is about shopping and gifts and parties? Is it because no one holds me accountable for how I spend my time?

As I ponder the whirlwind of engagements that await me in this month of merriment, I fear that lost in the endless laughter, small talk, toasts, gift-giving, decorations, desserts, carols, and entertainment will be a genuine encounter with my Creator-made-flesh, Emmanuel. During this season of Advent, I echo the prayer of the psalmist:
"Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

World AIDS Day

Support World AIDS Day

If you want to do something, visit these kindred spirits for some ideas. Say a prayer for the millions of AIDS orphans in Africa. Rent Philadelphia or another movie that portrays the struggles of people living with this disease. Wear a red ribbon to raise awareness. Volunteer.

pan integral

Pan del mundo
No hay nada que quiero hacer
Solamente conocerle y compartirle
Mi corazón desea su presencia, su paz, su poder
Para vivir, crecer, y servir

Pan integral del mundo
Ájala que venga a todos lugares
Donde la gente tiene hambre
En cuerpo o alma,
Donde la gente esta enferma
En cuerpo o alma,
Donde la gente esta cansada
En cuerpo o alma

Pan de vida eterna
Favor de llénanos con todo que necesitan
y prepáranos para misión integral
todos los días

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

convergence: persuasion and poverty

Two nights ago, Brian McLaren made an insightful comment about how many people have sought to effect change in this country by appealing to legislators and the courts rather than other means such as persuasion or civil disobedience, the marks of great historical movements around the world.

Last night John Edwards gave a talk at Trinity University about how poverty is the greatest moral issue of this generation, and he appealed with very persuasive words, stories, and charisma to those of us who were present to see this issue as the test of American character and leadership for a watching world. He is trying to start a movement no less significant than the ones my parents' generation started in the 60s that radically improved civil rights for minorities and lifted millions out of poverty.

Sen. Edwards made the oft-cited observation that poverty is not racially neutral in the US--in fact, according to a study he cited, the average net worth of an African-American is $6K, Latinos $8K, while for whites it is almost $80K!! He also made several specific suggestions for policy changes that would not only support the efforts of the poor to find and keep work, but also change the complexion of our communities. He argued that if we truly believe that all people have equal inherent worth, we cannot allow the poor to live segregated from the rest of society. So, he proposed that instead of building separate Section 8 housing, we ought to allow people to use those housing vouchers to move into existing middle class communities. I don't actually know the current rules for Section 8 vouchers, but this to me seems like a logical yet radical step in the process of addressing the problem of poverty, which, as I have written in this space before, is often profoundly relational.

Sen. Edwards made another point worth repeating, which is that many of us (including me) sometimes make the mistake of seeing our help for the poor simply as charity rather than justice. Charity might be the appropriate word in a few situations, but if for people who are able and willing to work to be unable to provide for their families because their wages are too low is simply unjust and should not be tolerated.

I agree, and I hope the people who heard Edwards speak listened and will respond.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

amahoro: a prayer for peace

for the small boy with a sign
standing where cars stop and go
“homeless please help”
amahoro, amahoro

where rains come crashing down
and sliding mud kills those below
in a jungle far away
amahoro, amahoro

when a virus takes the parents
of African children with nowhere to go
they have less than nothing
amahoro, amahoro

where a heavy heart weeps alone
so burdened by sorrow
where has hope gone?
amahoro, amahoro

for the calloused hands trembling
after years of hard labor
yet no rest for the weary
amahoro, amahoro

for an untouchable people
the “lowest of low”
unaware of their value
amahoro, amahoro


Disarming, visionary, thoughtful. Those are the words I would use to describe Brian McLaren after sitting next to him at dinner last night and listening to him speak later at Viva Books. He’s a prominent and controversial face of a conversation/movement within the Christian church (and quickly expanding outside of it) called Emergent—and the author of several books that I very much resonated with when I read them last year.

The goals and vision of Emergent are diverse and wide-ranging, but one thing the people in the Emergent conversation seem to have in common is their desire to see the church (that is, the body of people who proclaim Christ) achieve its potential and purpose as the instrument through which God demonstrates His love and grace to the entire world. Some people pursue this aim through the formation of new “churches” that look nothing like the “institutional church” or the “seeker sensitive” church—but are more like intentional communities that embrace a form of monasticism characterized by contemporary forms of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Others pursue this aim by developing “new” forms of worship that are experiential and contemplative within existing church structures. Others are drawn to the idea of the “missional church”, a concept widely embraced by the Emergent conversation and seek to bring this intentional outward focus into their communities. And still others see the Emergent conversation as an opportunity to dialogue with and learn from different streams within the Christian faith (Orthodox, Anabaptist, Catholic, Calvinist, etc) in order to increase unity in the body of Christ across the liberal/conservative divide that often polarizes people these days.

Even as I try to encapsulate what I have learned about Emergent over the last year, I confess my inability to paint a complete landscape of this “thing”, whatever it is. I think the quality that cuts across the Emergent folks I know is the willingness to ask questions. For some, asking questions is dangerous, for we all like certainty. Yet there is very little that is truly certain in the world or in our faith. (That is, after all, why it is called faith.) There is a real sense of appreciation for mystery among the folks I know in the Emergent realm, and I am grateful for what I have learned from them because of their approach to ambiguity and devotion to knowing and following Christ, wherever He leads.

Monday, November 28, 2005


my pastor shannon preached an incredibly stirring and convicting sermon yesterday. it might have been heavier fare than some folks might have been expecting on the first sunday of advent, but i thought he was right on the money. his text was isaiah 42:1-4, where God's chosen servant is described as a bringer of "justice to the nations"--yet "a bruised reed he will not break"--a prophetic word about the loving compassion that would characterize Jesus' justice-bringing on the earth.

the bulk of his sermon was spent identifying the ways in which our lives of affluence do not reflect God's concern for justice--for we eat our fill and go the mall, and forget about the rest of the world: Darfur, Pakistan, India, Iraq. The juxtaposition of our wealth with Christ's poverty, our apathy with Christ's passion, our callousness with Christ's compassion was piercing, to say the least.

i was inspired and convicted, but i am not so sure about the people sitting behind me that morning. the first words i heard one of them speak as i stood up were, "so, how are your decorations changing this year?"

juxtaposition, indeed.

the last 4 days

Giving thanks at a feast-filled table
Filled with sadness over the needs of the globe
Making Advent wreaths with kids of all ages
Turning the pages of Vanier and Loeb

Cats purring with delight
Tuna cans stacked high to recycle
Celebrity Taboo into the night
Neighborhood rides on my bicycle

Watching the Horns overcome their fears
Sorting and shredding papers from years ago—
Which to keep and which to throw
A production of Rent moves me to tears

Telling my story in Español
Enchiladas and theology at El Mirador
Mixing pumpkin and spice cake in a large bowl
Trying to stifle my false need for more

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

my gratitude casserole

In honor of Thanksgiving.

Ingredients: sunshine, bike rides, Vanier, colored leaves, gingerbread lattes, Dios, sweaters, Keane, road trips, couch, Sojourners, poetry, hikes, español, banana bread, Emergent/SA, fajitas, Madhatter’s, swimming, West Wing, babies, Viva, letters, porch, CWS, blankets, chicken lasagna, Barack, core group, salsa, Caedmon’s Call, hugs, symphony

Instructions: Mix ingredients well. Give thanks. Enjoy with friends.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

i'm practically a socialist.

or so this website says.
You are a

Social Liberal
(68% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(18% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

the u.n. & the media

In the avalanche of bad news released by the United Nations this week about AIDS, poverty, and world hunger, a ray of light in this report highlighting the effectiveness breastfeeding has had in saving millions of children’s lives.

Almost as disturbing as the news in these reports is how they were buried in nearly all of our country’s major newspapers. A quick perusal of 20 of the U.S.’s dailies today yielded only 2 (Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle) where a link to any of these stories/reports even made the homepage.

Monday, November 21, 2005

elvish it is

in Middle Earth, that is. Elvish

To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
brought to you by Quizilla

a vital blend

Great article in Sojourners Magazine about congregations that are "blending ancient traditions and contemporary action".

hope & fear

in whispered praise
in cover of night
you risk your life
to lift up the King
while in pure sunlight
i walk in freedom
Yet my [silence] is [deafening]

your courage makes you willing
to face death for Truth

“give me liberty or give me death”
cried my forefathers
and they prevailed
for their vision gave them hope
and courage

yet what fear engulfs us now
for we know not liberty

at the brink of the chasm between
hope and fear
a moment of truth
a Socratic examination of the heart
a step of faith across the chasm

will He catch me when I fall?

And yet even if He does not—do I not still believe?

May hope rise with the morning sun
bringing word of unfailing love
and perfect freedom from


Geometric shapes of many colors
Float before my eyes
The mosaic of Truth
Written upon my heart and in the skies

Love of my heart
Living inside of me
Would You interpret this mosaic
Pieces still remain a mystery

esperanza para hoy

Espero que mi corazon es abierta a la vida
que Dios quiere para mi todos los dias.
Que no tenia miedo cuando la vida es dificil o incluye problemas. Quiero aceptar todo que Dios dame.
Porque yo se que todo de Dios es
Completamente bien.

Cristo, mi esperanza hoy y siempre.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

finding freedom

Freedom is a big theme in my life these I pay attention when I find quotes about it.
"People reach greater maturity as they find the freedom to be themselves and to claim, accept, and love their own personal story, with all its brokenness and beauty." -Jean Vanier, in Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus Through the Gospel of John

a paradox

As disillusioned as I am with democracy, I still cannot help myself from reading books about the subject. (Once a political scientist, always a political scientist, I guess). Cornel West's book Democracy Matters (Winning the Fight Against Imperialism) addresses a crisis facing our country--the supremacy of wealth and power over moral principles in determining the actions of our country--and suggests the remedies for this crisis (Socratic questioning, prophetic voices, and tragicomic hope). But before he gets there, he points out a fundamental paradox in the American identity, which I find revealing.
"It [the U.S.] gallantly emerged as a fragile democractic experiment over and against an oppressive British empire--and aided by the French and Dutch empires--even while harboring its own imperial visions of westward expansion, with more than 20% of its population consisting of enslaved Africans. In short, we are a nation of rebels who nonetheless re-created in our own new nation many of the oppressions we had rebelled against."
I guess it's really true--history never stops repeating itself.

Friday, November 18, 2005

"pomo" to "poco"?

i love theological shorthand. it seems like the further in you get to any topic, the more abbreviations people create that are only understandable if you've read widely in that area and have regular conversations with other people who think about the same stuff.

anyway, author and pastor brian mclaren recently spoke at fuller seminary where he presented the draft of paper arguing that the "church emerging" conversation ought to shift from discussing postmodernity to post-colonialism, in order to decrease the amount of "academic rooms where westernerns talk to other westerners about western things and ultimately reinforce western domination" (brian's words) and increase the discussion of practical concerns like violence, domination, injustice, and the misuse of power, a discussion best conducted not among westerners but collaborately with those in the global south in order to work out the implications of our faith in the context of a post-colonial world (wherein we must face the facts of how our colonialist mindset has made the west rich in resources gained primarily at the expense of the rest of the world). you can listen to the whole presentation (and the response of some seminary faculty) here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

democracy, capitalism, & global lament

From Newsweek:
"Democracy, it turns out, is not in and of itself enough to enfranchise the poorest or to knit fragmented societies together. Not even when linked with freer markets. Not even when tied to stirrings of growth, albeit sporadic growth. What's more, the frustrations of the Mar del Plata marchers—the latest wave in a backlash against globalization and the American-style capitalism it's associated with—is not limited to the streets of the Americas. Read your newspapers regardless of where you may live. Theirs is a global lament."
What? Democracy and Capitalism can't save us? Stop the presses!

i can still pass 8th grade math...

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 9/10 correct!

"worst place to be a woman"

We all know that it's tough being a woman in most places in Africa--the endless violence, poverty, and lack of equality between the genders. In a column in the NY Times Op-Ed pages today, Helene Cooper brought that home with her commentary on the recent elections in Liberia and the daily realities for women in Bukavu, Congo. She writes:
"Ever since the voting results started coming in a few days ago, showing what the Liberian women had done, I've been unable to get one image from Bukavu out of my mind. It is of an old woman, in her 30's. It was almost twilight when I saw her, walking up the hill out of the city as I drove in. She carried so many logs that her chest almost seemed to touch the ground, so stooped was her back. Still, she trudged on, up the hill toward her home. Her husband was walking just in front of her. He carried nothing. Nothing in his hand, nothing on his shoulder, nothing on his back. He kept looking back at her, telling her to hurry up. I want to go back to Bukavu to find that woman, and to tell her what just happened in Liberia. I want to tell her this: Your time will come, too."
But how long, O Lord? How long?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

pride & prejudice

"Was it Miss Bennett who was prejudiced, or Mr. Darcy who was too proud?" -Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail (he obviously got it all wrong--as anyone who has read the book knows, it is quite the opposite)
At the risk of offending Austen purists with the ampersand in my subject line and my frivolous movie reference, I want to commend the recent production of Pride and Prejudice that opened last Friday (btw, the performances were sold out all day...they actually moved the film to a bigger theater to accommodate the demand). At just over 2 hours, it was a witty, gutsy, and enjoyable interpretation (albeit condensed and lacking in 18th century subtlety--the humor is palpable) of Jane Austen's beloved novel.

Monday, November 14, 2005

seize the day

Do you know anyone who wakes up every morning thinking about how s/he can change the world? Erwin McManus says he does. Here, two of my favorite quotes from one of his books, Seizing Your Divine Moment.
Seizing your divine moment is not simply about opportunity; at the core it is about essence. It’s about the kind of life you live as a result of the person you are becoming. The challenges you are willing to face will rise in proportion to the character you are willing to develop.

And speaking of challenges:

God rarely shows you the problem so that you can tell someone else about it…He burdens the heart that He calls.

The whole concept of McManus's book reminds me of an old Carolyn Arends song that I love. Some of the lyrics:
"Well one thing I've noticed wherever I wander/Everyone's got a dream he can follow or squander/You can do what you will with the days you are given/I'm trying to spend mine on the business of living"

Saturday, November 12, 2005

from sieve to cup

In a short but poignant moment in a conversation with my former roommate amy last night, I made the observation that I have ceased to be a sieve. To me, a sieve represents a vessel that is often poured into, but contains very little. In my life as a sieve, the gifts of love/hope/peace/joy ran right through, for there were so many holes, you see. Holes made by broken promises, disappointments, pain, sin, bitterness, anger. People poured beautiful gifts into my life, but they disappeared before I could even recognize or appreciate them--never mind share them with someone else.

Over time, however, I have begun to notice that these beautiful gifts no longer slip so readily out of my life--many of the holes in my heart have closed, have healed, through the tender work of God in my life. As these holes have mended, my life has begun to feel less like a sieve and more like a cup (albeit chipped and cracked in places)--and the beauty and abundance of God's love have filled this earthen vessel with warmth and affection that I now desire to pour out to others...truly with the Psalmist I affirm, "my cup runneth over."

Friday, November 11, 2005

justice and community

From Jean Vanier's Becoming Human:
"Justice means more than just following the law, not hurting people; it also means respecting and valuing each individual. Justice flows from the heart. If human beings are crying out for justice, if we are all deeply moved by deeds of injustice, do not our cries reveal our humanity? Our basic needs are the same as those of all other human beings..."
He continues,
"When we ally ourselves with the excluded in society, not only are we able to see people as people and to join them in their struggle for justice, to work for community and places of belonging, but we develop the critical tools for seeing what is wrong in our own society....wisdom grows when we cast a critical eye not only on ourselves but also on the group to which we belong. It is only then that we begin to want to work for change."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

my threadbare life

I love my couch. It’s the most comfortable piece of furniture in my apartment. I eat, read, watch TV, and even fall asleep on it. I inherited this couch from my friend Beth after we lived together several years ago. Her family owned it for 20 years before I did. It’s seen quite a bit over the years and has its share of stains and tears on the exterior blue textured fabric (so much so that I’ve flipped the cushions over—twice). Most of the things I own have similar hand-me-down qualities—scratches, missing pieces, discolorations.

I’ve grown quite happy with the imperfect domesticity that surrounds me—perhaps because I feel it complements me better than a picture-perfect Cindy Crawford inspired Room-to-Go ensemble ever could. I’m well aware of my own threadbare qualities, my flawed self, my inability to project a “put together” image for more than a few minutes at a time. It would be perpetuating an illusion were I to occupy a space that required Martha Stewart-like care.

I may not be able to confess in words all the ways I go astray, but there’s not enough pixie dust in the world to keep me from revealing who I am symbolically, through the place I call home.

talmudic wisdom

I ran into this quote from the Talmud today in a column by Rabbi Marc Gullman from Newsweek about his attempts to teach his young students the importance of purity.
"Be very careful if you make a woman cry, because God counts her tears. The woman came out of a man’s rib: Not from his feet to be walked on. Not from his head to be superior, but from the side to be equal. Under the arm to be protected, and next to the heart to be loved.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité?

Some insightful comments from Washington Post columnists on the violence in France. From Jim Hoagland:
“France and its beautiful, troubled capital are proxies for all affluent nations that have elevated into an art form the habit of ignoring the world's poor, desperate and criminally inclined…Our collective neglect lumps them all together, and it helps make the disadvantaged become prey or accomplice for criminals and Islamist fanatics. In that sense, we are all French right now. It is not just Paris that is burning. It is Africa, and the Middle East, and parts of Asia and Latin America, that are burning and showering flames on the Paris ghettos. And on London, Madrid, New York, Bali and Casablanca.”
And from David Ignatius:
“The average (white) French person believes fiercely in the country's revolutionary traditions of liberty, equality and fraternity -- to the point of pretending that these virtues exist for everyone when they clearly don't. France's prized educational meritocracy -- a gulag of tests and exams that prepare the way for the best and brightest to enter elite national schools -- is in fact gamed by the existing elite.”
Throughout history, when the poor, marginalized, and discriminated against are denied a voice for long enough, they will rise up and demand to be heard. May France and the world hear the wake-up call and respond not only by listening, but by addressing the inequities that make liberty and fraternity impossible...and may the violence cease.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

my life, according to a quiz

This Is My Life, Rated
Take the Rate My Life Quiz

s p r a w l

i hate sprawl. congested highways, 30+ minute commutes, cookie-cutter houses and yards, mini-malls, massive parking lots, gas consumption...ugh. i moved downtown 2 years ago to avoid all of that stuff. i learned today on Slate, however, that the urban sprawl phenomenon is not only not new, it's not even unique to the United States! i don't know if this should make me feel better or worse.

Monday, November 07, 2005

collision preventable?

Whatever you think about Al Gore, the man is as environmentally astute as they come. He wrote a book back in 1993 called Earth in the Balance, which I read in high school. Even though he’s out of the political limelight these days, he’s still calling us to account for the ways we are triggering a collision between our civilization and the planet.

Below, excerpts from his recent piece on
“[T]he relationship between humankind and the Earth has been utterly transformed. To begin with, we have quadrupled the population of our planet in the past hundred years. And secondly, the power of the technologies now at our disposal vastly magnifies the impact each individual can have on the natural world. Multiply that by six and a half billion people, and then stir into that toxic mixture a mind-set and an attitude that say it's OK to ignore scientific evidence -- that we don't have to take responsibility for the future consequences of present actions -- and you get this violent and destructive collision between our civilization and the Earth.

But there is no time to wait. In the 1930s, Winston Churchill also wrote of those leaders who refused to acknowledge the clear and present danger: "They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent. The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences."

This is a moral moment. This is not ultimately about any scientific debate or political dialogue. Ultimately it is about who we are as human beings.

We have everything we need to face this urgent challenge. All it takes is political will. And in our democracy, political will is a renewable resource.”

I hope it is.

faith + life = risk

It’s amazing sometimes how people that don’t even know you (or each other) speak into your life in the same way.

Two weeks ago my pastor Rich gave a sermon entitled “Just Jump In” as part of the annual stewardship season series. He began with a hilarious illustration from his youth of encountering the high diving board for the first time, and how his fear almost deprived him of the exhilarating experience of jumping. Once his knees stopped knocking and he gathered his courage to take the plunge, he was so excited that he couldn’t wait to do it again.

This past Saturday I was in Dallas, listening to Dan Kimball and Marcus Goodloe talk about the challenge of accepting God’s call and being willing to go wherever he leads. Dan shared a personal story of letting go of a relationship and trusting God to meet his needs. Marcus passionately articulated the need for disciples of Christ to truly listen to God in the way that the prophet Samuel did early in his life, to hear what God desires for us in our lives.

Last night I had dinner with my friend Susie who expressed admiration when I told how I was led away from my intended career path in law into the realm of community development and service, and how I accepted that change without fear or hesitation. I was humbled by the way that simple story encouraged my friend. We talked about how difficult it can be to change course after making plans, even if we feel like God is showing us the way.

Then, this morning in my email box came this profound thought from the mouth of Martin Luther (via Bruderhof Daily Dig):
Discipleship is not limited to what you can understand – it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own understanding, and I will help you to comprehend. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. In this way Abraham went forth from his father, not knowing where he was going. That is the way of the cross. You cannot find it in yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is contrary to all that you choose or contrive or desire – that is the road you must take. It is to this path that I call you, and in this sense that you must be my disciple.
I frequently feel I do not know where I am going. Even when I have specific plans (like going to Nicaragua for 3 years), I still have this abiding sense that I have no idea where my life is going. But I am listening…willing to jump…willing to take the road as a blind child in faith.

Friday, November 04, 2005

on hospitality

I live in a small apartment with a couch, a coffeetable, a fireplace, and lots of books. There’s not a lot of seating, nor is there a dinner table (not enough space for one, really). The porch that graces the front of my fourplex is actually larger than my living room, and subsequently becomes the location of choice when I have people over. Which is not that often, though I did host a lively New Year’s Eve party last winter—I have a great view of the downtown fireworks from my front yard (I use the term “yard” loosely).

Given my living situation, I’ve never considered myself to be one with the “gift” of hospitality. Yet in this book I am reading (Schools for Conversion), the author of one essay suggests that hospitality is not meant to be considered a “spiritual gift”, but a command to all Christians. The challenge is seeing hospitality as more than inviting people into your home and sharing your food with them. True hospitality is about being welcoming, creating a sense of comfort and belonging for people who are “strangers” or “aliens” to us. We can do that in word or deed, at home, work, or the middle of the street.

This command is a challenge to me and my standard modus operandi in life. This morning as I walked out my front door, I glanced at the small white index card taped to its surface. On it were written these words:
“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt...” (Deut 10:17-19)
Lord, help me follow in your footsteps by lovingly welcoming everyone I encounter today.

embracing insecurity

in the words of jean vanier...
"It's a sad secret of Jesus, is that he's hidden in a very special way in the poor, and in the broken, and in the suffering. Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, the smallest of my brethren, the most broken of my brethren, you've done unto me. When I was in prison you visited me, when I was sick you visited me, when I was hungry, thirsty you gave me to drink and to eat, when I was a stranger you welcomed me, when I was naked you clothed me. The mystery that Jesus is hidden in the poorest and the weakest. But then also the mystery that he is hidden in the poverty of my own being, that he is hidden in my poverty. To believe that he is hidden in the poorest, but to believe also that he is hidden in the poverty of my own being. At one moment Jesus taking a little child, and maybe it was a child with a handicap we don't know, but he said: Whoever welcomes one of these little ones in my name, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the Father--that God is hidden in the face of that little child, that that little child is Jesus. There again, there is fear in our hearts, because if this is true, if Jesus is hidden in the hearts of the smallest and the weakest and the suffering, if he's hidden in my poverty, well then its a revolution. It's a revolution. The poor are at the heart of the church, the poor are at the heart of humanity. They are not meant to be pushed aside. And of course this revolution means a completely disordering of the order. It's the breaking down of the fortress of prejudice, it's bringing humanity into one, it's breaking down the walls, and of course all these walls that have been created are the walls of security. It's the security of prejudice: I know who I am and I'm powerful. But in some way Jesus is breaking all this down to bring us into the insecurity of communion, the insecurity of love, the insecurity where God is present and calling us all forth. . . "

and dostoevsky, via the bruderhof daily dig:
"Everywhere in these days people have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort. But this terrible state of affairs must inevitably have an end, and all will suddenly understand how unnaturally they are separated from one another."

Thursday, November 03, 2005

what can (mike) brown do for you?

Apparently nothing. The former FEMA director's emails were just released. Below, an excerpt from an MSNBC story:

On Aug. 31, FEMA official Marty Bahamonde sent Brown a desperate e-mail from New Orleans, calling the situation “past critical.” Describing patients in temporary emergency shelters, Bahamonde wrote, “Estimates are many will die within hours.”

He also wrote, “We are out of food and running out of water at the dome, plans in works to address the critical need.”

Brown’s reply to the e-mail was: “Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?”
I can think of a few things.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

color by number

From an article in the 10/31/05 Christian Science Monitor:

98 - Percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs who are white.
95 - Percentage of Fortune 500 top earners who are white.
40 - Percentage of minority women who feel excluded and constrained by the need to "act white."
More than 1/3 - Portion of minority men who feel similarly limited by "style compliance."
1/4 - Portion of businesswomen who worry they're perceived as "affirmative action" employees.
Almost 1/3 - Portion of minority female executives who are concerned that their speaking style labels them as lacking leadership potential.

And some people say racism is no longer a problem in America...

narnia is near

In anticipation of the cinematic release of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe on 12/9, First Presbyterian Church is hosting a 4 week course exploring C.S. Lewis' beloved classic. The trailer for the upcoming film can be viewed here.

November 9 (6:45pm-7:45pm)
Finding the Wardrobe (chapters 1–4)
November 16 (6:45pm-7:45pm)
Choosing Sides (chapters 5–8)
November 30 (6:45pm-7:45pm)
Aslan is Nearer (chapters 9–12)
December 7 (6:45pm-7:45pm)
Deep Magic (chapters 13–17)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

redemptive relationships (part 2)

Perhaps it’s easy to see how redemptive relationships can be for the poor. Like threading a needle with a camel, though, it may be hard for the nonpoor to recognize the importance of relationships with the poor. We are so conditioned to see ourselves as self-sufficient and sophisticated—what in the world do we need to learn from the poor?

In the words of friends with whom I have shared experiences overseas in communities of poor people: “humility”—“generosity”—“hospitality”—“kindness”—“slowing down”—“acceptance”—“patience”—“joy”. These are all worthwhile lessons…but there is so much more.

There is a strong temptation for the nonpoor is to glorify poverty as a state of opportunity to learn about simplicity and priorities. This is a tragic and costly mistake. For as long as our experience with poverty leads us to think only that the poor have figured out how to live richly, we will be unable to see the pain beneath the coping mechanisms poor communities have developed to survive. We need to enter into the stories of the poor to learn that there is a complex blend of joy and pain, laughter and tears, strength and suffering, love and longing in their individual and corporate life.

We need to learn about our common humanity, our common need, our common struggle. We need to learn about being a loving neighbor—the 2nd highest priority for all of Christ’s disciples—one that flows out of the 1st priority—loving God. We need to learn compassion for those who are suffering on the margins. We need to learn to hate injustice and oppression the way God does. We need to learn to rely on God and not ourselves.

Monday, October 31, 2005

redemptive relationships

According to Bryant Myers, relationships are the key to transformation in the Kingdom—for the poor and the nonpoor. In order to illustrate this idea, I’ll share a little bit of my own transformation.

I grew up in the suburbs but I was always aware that I did not fit the middle class mold that most of my friends fell into. My family struggled to make ends meet—there were times we went without telephone service, relied on public transportation, and even faced eviction. These experiences gave me a small glimpse of what poverty is like…in my narrow experience, I found poverty to be profoundly relational; the financial situation of my family created a real sense of isolation and disconnect (physically and emotionally) from our neighbors and classmates. My parents spent so much time and energy just trying to keep our family afloat that they were unable to build friendships with other people in the community—and for my part, I did everything possible to avoid acknowledging to my peers that anything was amiss.

When I responded to the gospel and joined my first Christian community in 1995, remarkable things happened. Suddenly I found myself embraced by people who wanted to know everything about me and did not judge my worth by the economic status of my family—they cared about my family’s hardships, brought us groceries on holidays, and helped me go to college. My spiritual gifts and contributions to the community were encouraged, nurtured and celebrated. People treated me as someone who bore God’s image in the same way that they did. My family’s poverty, which had previously isolated me in fear and shame, no longer defined me.. My sense of value and purpose as a child of God has subsequently transformed my life, worldview and vocation.

This is the power of relationships in the kingdom of God.

beautiful big bend

my muscles are sore but my heart is full after an amazing weekend at big bend national park. 13 of us made the 6+ hour journey across the southwest texas desert friday night, through the border town of del rio, where i had the best entomatadas ever for dinner, and then onward through counties more populated by cactus and sage than people until we reached the entrance to the park. 45 minutes later we found our home for the night--the basin campground. it was pitch black but the stars were bright and beautiful company as we set up our tents and prepared for bed.

the sun rose early on us the next morning and an amazing site greeted us. tall, reddish brown mountains on every side, and trees, lots and lots of trees. we packed in our gear for the trip up to the south rim, where we would be spending the night. it was a long, long, uphill climb (6.5 miles) on the pinnacle trail that took us up and around the mountain. we left our base camp at 11am and 5 hours later reached the first of many amazing sites along the south rim. from the rim you can see down into the valley endless hills, the rio grande, and the mountains of mexico in the distance. it was breathtaking and exhilirating. after a brief rest, we journeyed on to a higher cliff where we rested and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset and a delicious dinner-szechuan chicken (it's amazing what can be done with a small fire, a pot, and some canned chicken and couscous)! after dinner, we hiked a little further (in the dark) to a wooded camping area where we spent the night.

sunday morning came too soon, but the prospect of finishing the journey gave us all momentum and we made the downhill trip in just under 3 hours. every step of the way there was beauty to soak in, company to cherish, and moments to savor. i remember talking with a girl friend as we meandered down the mountain--this is the kind of thing that teaches you about yourself--handling adversity and challenge, learning to accept help from others, stretching beyond one's comfort zone. for every lesson learned and friendship created or renewed, i am grateful.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

what i'm learning (part one)

I learn best when I write about what I'm learning. Right now a lot of my learning is on the subject of transformational development. Below is a reflective summary of what I've taken away from my reading on that topic lately (part one).

Both the poor and the non-poor have an ontological problem—a “marred identity”, in the words of Bryant Myers. The poor’s sense of identity has been marred by the lack of value they perceive that they have in the eyes of the world and, in turn, their Creator. The non-poor’s identity has been marred by an accumulation of wealth and power that has developed within them an internalized belief in their right to behave as gods themselves. So, even when the non-poor try to address the problems facing the poor, there is a significant danger that the manner in which these problems are addressed will actually cause further damage (for both parties).

Because the poor are so used to being ignored, belittled, or oppressed, if they are not actively encouraged to use their knowledge and skills to contribute to solving community problems, they may never recognize their inherent value as fellow stewards of the earth, called to be fruitful in God’s economy. Simultaneously, if the non-poor’s methods of “helping the poor” involve dictating to them how they should address various issues in their community, creating the infrastructure, pouring assets into the community, etc., the non-poor will perpetuate the damaging effects of their power and privilege on the poor, as well as further ingrain the non-poor’s own assumptions of the superiority of their wisdom and methodology.

This cycle cannot be broken as long as the poor and the non-poor’s stories do not intersect or overlap in any way, for without shared stories there is no opportunity for relationship. And relationship is the key to transformation. The Biblical narrative reveals that God’s relationship with us, our relationship with one another, creation, and ourselves, while all created beautifully, have been broken over the course of time, and are in need of redemption. These relationships can all be restored as we (both the poor and the non-poor) locate ourselves in God’s wider story, and embrace our common need for Him and each other. More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

2,000 and counting

The total number of US soldiers killed in Iraq reached 2,000 today. The total number of civilian deaths are over 26,000 (minimum).

Lord have mercy.


A new Nichole Nordeman CD recently came out, and I really resonate with the title song, Brave. Some lyrical highlights:
"The gate is wide/The road is paved in moderation/The crowd is kind and quick to pull you in"
How easy is it to just go with the flow in life? Accept society's definition of everything? Build your life on worldly security?
"'Cause it's been fear that ties me down to everything/But it's been love, Your love, that cuts the strings"
People ask me a lot if I am afraid to leave the United States for so long--or if I am afraid of what may happen to me while living in another country. It's true I have some fears--but the greater truth in my life is God's love is much stronger than those fears--and the strings that might tie me here have lost their power over me.
"So long status quo/I think I just let go/You make me want to be brave/The way it always was/Is no longer good enough/You make me want to be brave"
Not only does Jesus make me want to be brave, but he is the source of my courage and the well that give me life.

Monday, October 24, 2005


i wrote this poem upon returning from the Dominican Republic last year. i reread it periodically to remind myself how i felt about the glorification of excess in our culture after a time away from it.

aisle after aisle of colorful displays
compete for my attention
playing on emotion
so much more than what I really need
sign after sign drawing my attention
advertising more stuff than I have breath to mention
causing me to question, "am I missing out?"
shiny paper in my mailbox,
alluring pictures in the black box
images all screaming at me
"don't you know that money talks?"
a convincing oasis disintegrates into a pile of sand
no thirst can be quenched in this barren land
yet an eternal spring of water lies undiscovered in our midst
waiting for us to open our hearts and unclench our fists
where we hold treasures days away from rust
rather than steadfast love for the One who created us from dust
if only we could let go of all the glitter and gold
and fully embrace the living hope that in JesusChrist we hold

five years and counting

This past Saturday I attended my 5-year college reunion. About 50 of my classmates gathered in the twilight under the watchful eye of the landmark Trinity tower to reminisce, share stories from our evolving personal and professional lives, and marvel at how much has changed on the campus that was our home from 1996 to 2000 (or in some cases, ‘til 2001). President Brazil made a cameo appearance to welcome us back and thank us for our “class gift”. For someone like me who has yet to have or implement a career plan of any kind, it was comforting to converse with classmates whose careers have been characterized by confusion, change, or chaos so far…(wow, that was a lot of alliteration). Many people are avoiding grad school because of indecision or lack of motivation, leaving their original fields of interest in favor of new pursuits, or biding their time in one job until they figure out what it is they really want to do with their lives. What a great reality check. Somehow I had managed to convince myself that I was in the minority in experiencing all of those things—and that not having a clear direction and a Masters by age 30 would be a terrible waste of the talent my professors told me I had back in the day. Despite my confidence in my current vocational calling to Nicaragua, I still find it difficult sometimes to avoid measuring the quality of my life by the standards of others. I wonder if it’s any easier to avoid such unhelpful comparisons in developing countries…

Friday, October 21, 2005

viva books and bonhoeffer

I admit it: I am a bookaholic. I have 5 books sitting on my table at home, only 2 of which I am actually reading. I visit every week to see what’s been added to my recommended list. And I love going to the bookstore. I could spend hours there. Last night I was at Viva Books (one of my new favorite places on earth) perusing the shelves before a talk on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The gentleman who came to talk about Bonhoeffer, Dean Skelley, brought an impressive collection of books about the German theologian with him to share with his audience. In quick but thorough fashion, Dean shared with us the unique features of each work dedicated to various aspects of Bonhoeffer’s life, theology, and legacy. He also gave us an extensive handout, summarizing Bonhoeffer’s life from his childhood in Berlin to the sequence of events that led to his death at the hands of Nazis in 1945. Although I had read two of Bonhoeffer’s most well known works, Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, I knew little about his personal background and how he was influenced by his experiences abroad, including time in Barcelona, New York, and London. Bonhoeffer’s theology is as captivating and relevant today as it was in the 1930-40s. His five problems with religion (overemphasis on individualism, portraying God as distant, dividing life into sacred and secular, seeking religious protection through societal privilege, and false dependence on God) still exist in various forms today. Perhaps the most controversial element of Bonhoeffer’s theology, however, was his commitment to pacificism.

“There can only be a community of peace when it does not rest on lies and injustice…there can only be a community of peace for Christians when people choose to forgive each other for their sins. This forgiveness of sins still remains the sole ground of all peace, even where the order of external peace remains preserved in truth and justice.” (Bonhoeffer)

In 1934, Bonhoeffer gave a speech at a conference in Denmark, in which he said:

“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture, and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security…peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes…[Battles] are won when the way leads to the cross.”

This is a remarkable statement for a man who deeply loved his country, but also recognized that unless it was destroyed, it could never become beautiful again. Often patriotism is defined today as support for the military, the actions of the government, or national interests. As an American, I feel an intense love for my country and want the best for it. As a Christian, my final loyalty is not to any kingdom on this earth, but to Christ’s eternal kingdom. Therefore, I hold loosely to the security and privilege that comes from my earthly citizenship and prayerfully lay the destiny of my country in the hands of God alone.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

of traffic tickets and theology

Thanks to my impatience while driving and the untimely appearance of a policeman several weeks ago, I had my first encounter with the legal system today. After walking through the obligatory metal detector, I made my way down a dimly lit hallway to what I thought was my destination—the cashier. After waiting 20 minutes to pay my fine, I was told I actually needed to appear before a judge first. Being poked and prodded like cattle in and out of the appearance docket room are a cross section of San Antonio’s population—defiant teenagers, working women, past offenders, families with small children, elderly men. I join the dozens of people seated on the wooden benches and wait for my name to be called. A tall man in a blue pin striped suit walks into the room, picks up a handful of forms, and calls out a list of names, mine included. Off we go into Court 2. It turns out the man in the suit is the Judge. Shuffling through papers, he calls each person up to the bench, quickly renders a judgment or passes on an administrative task to the clerk beside him. “Your case is dismissed.” “Are you able to pay anything on this today?” “Take this form outside to the prosecutor.” After being ushered in and out of Court 2 twice, I am sent to Court 1 for instructions on documenting my defensive driving course. Finally I am back where I started—the cashier—paying my debt to society for poor decision-making (intentional law breaking). As I walk out the exit, I find myself very unsettled. Not only because of the financial drain (though that does hurt), but because justice seems so cold, so indifferent, so incomplete. The thought crosses my mind: what if there were only justice, and never mercy? What if there were only the law, and no grace? All hope would surely perish from the earth.

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail”
(Lamentations 3:21-22)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

a world without hunger

is it possible? people over at the united nations think so.

"During FAO's lifetime, the planet's population has almost tripled to more than six billion people. Thanks to the efforts of millions of farmers, to the creativity of scientists and to the growth of industry, trade and communications, we now produce more than enough food to feed everyone. Average daily food intake per person has risen by 23 percent since 1945."

so if we produce enough for food for everyone, what is the problem? in a word, distribution. that's the simple answer. a complex answer would involve an in-depth study of politics, economics, natural resources, history, and more. but i think the deepest answer lies within the human heart and in the reality of our fallen world.

"Today, with the continued existence of world hunger -- 852 million persons still suffer from chronic undernutrition -- and increasingly frequent globalized food emergencies, it is more necessary than ever to have a global forum where consensus can be reached on the international dimensions of food security, including food production, safety, trade and consumption."

a global forum is good, but what can i do today? how can individuals like me who care but have limited resources respond to this issue? perhaps buying fair trade products...which help many independent farmers make a living to support their own families. perhaps seeking discipline in my consumption of food and other products. "reduce, reuse, recycle." i learned about that green triangle in middle school and i think it's still useful. perhaps giving away books and other things that i am no longer using to people who might benefit from them. perhaps borrowing books instead of always buying (ouch, that one hurts me). perhaps volunteering at the local food pantries in town to meet the needs of neighbors we may not know. perhaps writing to elected officials and sharing my concerns with them.

"That nations invest some $975 billion each year in military spending and spend just under $80 billion in aid that could reduce the hunger and poverty that breeds conflict confounds common sense."

Perhaps, most important, praying to the Lord of heaven and earth for "daily bread" to be given to all, and that the day would quickly come when nations would beat their swords into plowshares and not train for war anymore.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

why poverty persists

Jim Wallis gives us two reasons.

"THERE ARE TWO obstacles to making real progress against poverty: the lack of priority and the lack of agreement on strategy. The poor have been near the bottom of our priority list, if they are on the list at all. It will take a moral and even religious imperative to change our priorities, but the time has come to do so. But we have also been paralyzed by the debate between liberals and conservatives on what solutions to pursue, with the Right favoring cultural changes and the Left endorsing policy changes."

hearts set on pilgrimage

Have you ever been in the presence of people who made you feel warm inside and deeply loved, simply by being among them? I had that kind of experience this past Sunday when I spent about 30 minutes with some friends who are starting a missional community known as Trinity House. I was there to share a little bit about the journey that had led me to commit 3 years of my life to living and serving among the poor of Nicaragua. Their community meets in an inviting, colorful space on the inner west side of San Antonio. Couches and large easy chairs form a semi circle around a coffee table adorned with a simple embroidered runner, tea light candles, and the sacramental elements of communion. As the community gathers that morning, children are playing, women are sharing stories of joy and meaning from their lives, men are playing guitar and preparing for the time of worship and learning Truly, the presence of God is in this place. The gathering begins with a short reading for reflection and then I am invited to share. As my words tumble out, I glance around the room, seeking connection with my brothers and sisters, hoping they can see my heart. I am humbled by their nods of understanding, their affirming looks of encouragement, and their heartfelt prayers. Truly, the Trinity abides with us. Finally, I bid my friends a temporary farewell, but I know we are united in spirit, for all of our hearts are set on pilgrimage…sojourning with these kindred spirits over the last several months through common reading and discussions about faith and practice has drawn me deeper into the mystery of knowing Jesus and following Him in the world…I can think of no better fruit for a community to bear.