Friday, August 31, 2007

prayer and solidarity

I was in charge of facilitating our monthly staff meeting today, and I shared the following quote as part of our opening reflection. Many times we might think of standing in solidarity with others as involving our external behavior (and it certainly does), but what is the spiritual or moral basis of such solidarity? Henri Nouwen suggests it is nothing less than our common standing as beings made in the image of God--and that it is only as we recognize that our own value comes from WHO we are (not our wordly credentials or what we can produce) that we will be able to rightly relate to others with true solidarity and compassion.

“One of the discoveries we make in prayer is that the closer we come to God, the closer we come to all our brothers and sisters in the human family. God is not a private God. The God who dwells in our inner sanctuary is also the God who dwells in the inner sanctuary of each human being. As we recognize God’s presence in our own hearts, we can also recognize that presence in the hearts of others, because the God who has chosen us as a dwelling place gives us the eyes to see the God who dwells in others. When we see only demons within ourselves, we can see only demons in others, but when we see God within ourselves, we can see God also in others.

We often wonder what we can do for others, especially for those in greatest need. It is not a sign of powerlessness to say, “We must pray for one another.” To pray for one another is, first of all, to acknowledge, in the presence of God, that we belong to each other as children of the same God. Without this acknowledgement of human solidarity, what we do for one another does not flow from who we truly are. We are brothers and sisters, not competitors or rivals.

To pray, then, is to listen to the voice of the One who calls us “the beloved”, is to learn that voice excludes no one. Where I dwell, God dwells with me and where God dwells with me I find all my sisters and brothers. And so intimacy with God and solidarity with all people are two aspects of living in the present moment that can never be separated.”Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

who am i, where is home, & other questions

There are days here in Nicaragua when I don't recognize myself. And it's not because my hair is shorter or because I'm a size or two smaller. It's because I'm saying things I've never heard myself say. I'm doing things I never thought I'd do. I'm considering potential futures for my life that I never would have considered a year ago. I'm allowing some of my longly held convictions to be challenged, and others to be cemented.

I'm more critical of my home culture than I have ever been, and yet at the same time can't stand to hear someone outside my culture slam my government as the source of all the world's evil. I'm more engaged and in love with the Latin American experience that I was living in a city that was half Latino, and at the same time cling with a passion to certain northamerican comforts (like pizza and Patty Griffin). I'm as committed as ever to the gospel of Christ, and yet totally uncomfortable with some aspects of the evangelical church's theology and practice here-and I wonder where I really belong in the family of God.

And so I am wondering, as I prepare for a trip back to San Antonio next month...Who am I? Will my friends recognize and accept (and love?) the person I have become (and am becoming)? Where is my home? Will I still love Broadway St. and McCullough Ave, Taco Cabana and The Quarry? Will my heart still find its rest in the quiet sanctuary at 404 N. Alamo?

Will I still feel that I belong in the culture into which I was born--or perhaps I do not "belong" to any one culture--only to certain individuals in a variety of contexts with whom I have shared meaningful experiences.

Will I feel hopelessly out of place for the rest of my life, or will I discover a new definition of "home"?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

this week's big story [the latest]

MANAGUA (Reuters) - A Nicaraguan judge has embargoed assets of U.S. oil company Esso Standard Oil in a tax payment dispute between the government of leftist President Daniel Ortega and the unit of giant ExxonMobil Corp, a government aide said on Tuesday.

As of Sunday news coverage here in Managua, conflicting reports of various kinds of negociations were available online, but the most Esso will say is that they have received "positive signals" that the oil storage facilities taken over by the government will be returned as early as tomorrow. Also reported was an agreement between Esso and Venezuela to buy and refine its crude oil.

More English coverage here and here.

In the local papers, it was reported Wednesday that the organization of private business owners COSEP has sent a letter to President Ortega urging quick resolution of the matter.

An editorial written by a member of the Liberal Constitutional Party in the more conservative daily La Prensa calling this situation "Nicaragua's category 5 hurricane," describing the judicial action taken to allow the embargo as a political move which will hurt foreign corporate investment in the country.

The US ambassador's own office here was quoted as saying, "The actions taken by Nicaraguan authorities have the potential to seriously harm economic relations between the US and Nicaragua."

This morning (Thursday) La Prensa led with the following:
"La desesperación del Gobierno por obtener combustible barato o recursos para operar las generadoras estatales de energía y evitar que la situación de los cortes se empeore, fue lo que hizo que la Dirección General de Servicios Aduaneros (DGA) y el sistema judicial trabajaran en conjunto para ejecutar la toma del plantel Corinto Uno de la empresa Esso Standard Oil, según fuentes que han participado en las frenéticas negociaciones ..."

"The desperation of the government to obtain cheap combustible or resources to operate state energy generators and avoid the worsening of the power outages was what caused ADUANAS (customs) and the judicial system to work together to execute the takeover of the Esso Standard Oil storage facility, according to sources participating in the negotiations."

The article goes on to describe how apparently a ship with a large quantity of oil from Venezuela arrived at the Corinto port last week, but there was not enough storage space in the other oil storage facilities in the port town for all of it without ExxonMobil's agreement to store some of the oil. This is where the charges of unpaid taxes comes in. ExxonMobil says they did not want to be storing Venezuelan oil that their company themselves did not transport, so the government took them over on a judicial order saying the company had not paid the proper importation taxes. However, the company itself claims that no such taxes are required, as the crude they imported can be imported tax-free.

And so the plot thickens.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

(incomplete) thoughts about the global church

"All the believers were together, and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." -Acts 2:44-45

I've had a number of conversations lately with various folks that I work with that have boiled down to this: how can we justify the lifestyle of the North American church, given what we expect our brothers and sisters around the world in the body of Christ to make due with? How can we justify building campaigns and new organ purchases and paying professional staff to do the work of the North American church and then pinch pennies in ministry in the developing world? Is it is really biblical to expect all the community leaders and pastors we work with to serve joyfully (and for the most past voluntarily) while eating once a day, walking miles for water and lacking funds to pay for the health care of their children, while the majority of us (N.A.) don't even feel the pinch of a tithe? Instead, we create fancy rhetoric about "empowering" people, about the disasterous consequences of "handout" how God has given all people capacity to develop and become co-creators with God in the building of the Kingdom; all of this is true, of course, but we talk about having an integrated, biblical world and life view like it's something just the people we work with need to internalize, when in fact the North American church needs this message just as much or more as anyone I know here in Nicaragua. The message that everything you have belongs to God, and all the talents and resources we've been given are meant to serve His purposes of justice and mercy in the world--whether you are a pastor, a teacher, a businessman, an artist, a community leader, or a student.

Maybe if we all really got this message a little better, the global church might start to look a little more like the Acts 2 church described above, which, accompanied by signs and wonders, genuine community and worship, also sold their "own" possessions and gave to anyone who had need. And what was the result of the integrated world and life view in the early church?

"Praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people...and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

in the land of never ending summer

That's my roommate and I (aren't we cute?...humildemente orgullosa, of course) on the shores of Lake Managua in Mateare, with the famous volcanoes Mombotombo and Mombotombito behind us, on a beautiful August morning. No, summer never really ends here, even if the rain has come with a vengeance every afternoon lately.

Monday, August 13, 2007

she tells it like it is

"Without a depth of discipleship or a depth of understanding of the social and ethical implications of the gospel, the evangelical record has been disastrous."
-Ruth Padilla DeBorst, Latin American theologian and educator

Read the interview.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

coffee comedy

If I didn't actually get my coffee at the end of the story, I'd call it a tragedy. But since all's well that ends well, comedy it is.

The backstory is that Andrea and I ran out of coffee at our house about 5 days ago, and have each forgotten on various occasions when we have been at the store or in our office to buy more. Now, I am not what I would call an addict, but I do need a good 12 ounzes of caffeine in the morning to jumpstart my batteries.

So yesterday was SUPER hot, and after coming home from visiting friends in Mateare, there was nothing I wanted more than to sit in air conditioning and drink an ice-cold frappaccino. So around 4pm, Andrea and I headed out to this Starbucks like coffeeshop called El Coche. Which on any other day would have been nothing worth writing about.

Except that Friday was no ordinary day. August 10th is a holiday here in Managua, celebrating the city's patron saint, Santo Domingo; as part of the festivities, there is a huge horse parade that goes through the center of town, which attracts a large crowd of people, and about a million food and beverage vendors.

So said parade passed right by the El Coche--and the traffic was so bad that our taxi driver had to drop us about 3 blocks away. After navigating through a sea of Flor de Cana drinkers and delicious pollo asado, we arrived, only to find out that they were closed. Undeterred from our quest, we pressed on, contra la via of revelry looking for a salida (exit), and eventually got another taxi to one of the main malls nearby, Metrocentro, where we were certain that Casa de Cafe (our other favorite coffee hangout) would provide us the caffeine fix we needed.

Alas, no dice. Also closed. Apparently not enough customers on a holiday to be open. Now, practically salivating imagining the cold milky coffee mixture we were craving, we walked downstairs to a solitary coffee bar, which, aleluia, offered frappaccinos (for $1.50!). Unfortunately, there was no air-conditioning, but there was a fan and decent airflow, so we could not complain. And our frappaccinos came in HUGE glasses, and were a perfect blend of coffee, milk, and sugar. Just heavenly.

This could just be culture stress talking, but I think that frappaccino is one of the very best I have tasted in my life.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

"familia es familia"

I mentioned Friday that I was headed out of town to be with the family of a good friend D. whose paternal grandmother was dying; the abuelita had sent word that she wanted to see all her grandchildren one last time.

And so it was that I found myself behind the wheel with D and a carful of brothers and nieces and nephews Friday afternoon on our way to a rural area in the department of Leon 2 hours away. D's parents separated when she was young, and all of the children were raised by their mother. Over the years, D tells me that they have gone to visit a handful of times, but never has their dad's family come to visit them. It is clear there is a painful story here, and I ask why they continue to maintain this relationship if it so one-sided.

"Familia es familia," they say.

"Even though they have never done right by us, we feel a responsibility to do what is right." How humbling it is to witness grace like this.

I try to imagine if I would still go visit my dad's relatives if they had never lifted a finger to help me or my family. I think about the difference between D's family, where the 5 siblings have stuck together, fiercely loyal to each other and their mom, and my own, where my siblings and I have gone our separate ways and barely maintain monthly phone contact.

"We have formed our own system of protection," they tell me. I pause and consider where I think my protection comes from. It is not my family. My bank account? My education? My friends? I'd like to say that I always live like my protection comes from my God, but that would be overspiritualizing my reality.

I find myself thinking that I could learn a lot by being part of a family like this.

I already have.

Friday, August 03, 2007

i'm still here.

It's been a busy week, but I promise to get back the business of blogging before the weekend ends. In the meantime, here's the Cliff's Notes on my past week:

-I was invaded by parasites and cured. Yippee for suero and mysterious carbon pills.
-I house sat for a night at my boss' house, where the lights went out at 5pm...I went to sleep at 6pm. (The bonus was in the morning, when Nicaragua's national bird the Guardabarranco sang its song sitting on a tree less than 10 feet from me.)
-We had a "dia feriado" (vacation day) Wednesday for the celebration of Santo Domingo, the patron saint of Managua.
-I finished a major report on our ministry's work for the entire last year in the region of Chinandega.
-I've become a fan of the Cuban band Grupo Moncada.
-The paternal grandmother of a good friend is dying and I am headed out of town today to be with the family.

More when I return. Love to all.