Monday, October 29, 2007

Happy New Year!

Yes, it's true, I am jumping the gun a little here but I am so excited to return to Chicago and start another year. This is not in an unhealthy I hate my life and want to get to the next stage as quickly as possible sort of way as it may have been in previous years of my life. But for once I love my life now, can look back and say I loved my life then, and can even look forward and see that it will continue to get better.

It is strange I think that I miss school so much. I was able to look up my tenative spring course schedule which got me thinking about going back to work. These things got me thinking about living with more wonderful families from Via Christus. The thought of that went to snow and commuting which drove my thoughts to when will I ever have time to cook these amazing Brazilian dinners and how wonderful it will be to work out at the Wheaton sports center again. Oh, how I long to run again.

Last night I mapped out a budget. I will stick to it this time even if I have to share it with the people I live with and make a poster on the wall in an easy to see location so they can check up on me often. I was also thinking about getting healthy again. Running regularly, doing strenth training so I don't injure and give up. Eating well balanced instead of eating crap food because I'm vegitarian and nobody has well balanced veggi food that doesn't require hours of prep and cooking time.

All in all I am so excited about the disciplined life I have mapped out for myself to return to. It will be fun. It will include lots of people time, me time, and make money and get out of debt time. I will also be taking wonderful classes about urban issues, ministry, and the Holy Spirit.

I have less then 7 weeks remaining in Brazil. The time here is running out but it's not yet over. I am truly loving being here but I will not be upset to return. I have learned so much here and I will continue to learn in these next several weeks. But the learning doesn't stop here. I'll go on to other phases of life and God will continue to teach me things. Alright, I'll stop writing so I can go rejoin the rythems of life in Rio.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Asphalt Angels

Asphalt Angels
Ineke Holtwijk

This book is based on the life of a real child living in Rio de Janeiro. The Asphalt Angels are a gang of street kids. The book recounts the story of one 13 year old boy, Alex (not his real name), how he ended up on the streets, how he learned to survive, and how he came to be part of the Asphalt Angels.

It is a terribly sad story for the most part. Incredibly inciteful and relavant to our work here. I knew all the places they went to, I can put faces on the kids and cops, and in a way it gave some perspective as to why the people of Rio are so afraid of the kids and look at me like I am a circus freak when I am casually hanging out with the kids. For details read blog from last week "circus freak."

I am really glad Holtwijk put for the effort to capture this young man's story. The lives of these kids are not dispensible and their story needs to be made known.

A Quote: "We are not criminals. Criminals are the rich steal and the police who kill. We steal to live. And the street belongs to everybody. We aren't leaving, because this is our home. We have just as much right as everybody else. Nobody has to worry about us because we take care of ourselves. We help one another. We, the Asphalt Angels don't die. Because when we die, There'll be new Asphalt Angels." (pg. 131)

One of the ways to get to Christ

Just so you know...

Beasts of No Nation

Beasts of No Nation
-a novel-
by Uxodinma Iweala

This book was not as informative regarding child soldiers as "A Long Way Gone" was but this book was also more artistically written and on my part more artistically read.

Here is a quote for an example of the artistic language: "It is night. It is day. It is light. It is too hot. It is too cold. It is raining. It is too much sunshine. It is too dry. It is too wet. But all the time we are fighting. No matter what, we are always fighting. All the time bullet is just eating everything, leaf, tree, ground, person--eating them--just making person to bleed everywhere and there is so much blood flooding all over the bush everywhere and there is so much blood flooding all over the bush. The bleeding is making people to be screaming and shouting all the time, shouting to father and to mother, shouting to God or to Devil, shouting one language that nobody is really knowing at all. Sometimes I am covering my ear so I am not hearing bullet and shouting, and sometimes I am shouting and screaming also so I am not hearing anything but my own voice. Sometimes I am wanting to cry very loud, but nobody is crying in this place. If I am crying, they will be looking at me because soldier is not supposed to be crying." (pg. 117)

What I mean by artistic reading is in a different way I read parts of this book, for instance on the battlegrounds of an actual war involving a type of child soldiers. As I read through this book I heard the sounds of guns, helicopters, screaming, trucks, and motorcycles.

When I read "A Long Way Gone" I read at Harrik lake. The only identifying I had with the child was the fear of bugs. We simutaneously fought off mosquitos. But in this book, Agu and I both shuttered at the sounds of bullets flying through the air.

As a novel, "Beasts of No Nation" was brilliant. However, if you desire facts about the occurances of child soldiers, there are better resources available. If you like beautiful and creative language don't pass this book up.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Good News About Injustice

Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World
Gary A. Haugen

Gary is the International Justice Mission guy. He thinks like a lawyer and has seen terrible brokenness all over the world from the Rwandan Massacre to 13 year olds in brothels to child bonded labor in Indian mudalali cigarette factories to many other situations of terrible oppression. His writing is orderly and logical (he is a lawyer after all) and the book serves to remind the body of Christ that we all play a role in fighting global injustices. The book includes the anatomy of injustice and what you can do to combat it.

Quote: Overtime I have come to see questions about suffering in the world not so much as questions of God's character but as questions about the obedience and faith of God's people" (pg. 100). "Why O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? God may be asking similar questions--not of himself but of his people: 'And the LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene.' 'Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' (Isaiah 6:8; 59:15-16)" (pg. 140-141).

When Toasters Fly...

I haven't seen a toaster (or a microwave come to think of it) in more than two months, but today I saw a sardine can on wheels.

On a day like today, after it's been raining for 3 days and considering the present condition of road construction, it likely would have taken us three hours to travel from Jacaré to Candelaria (look these places up on Google Earth, they are not that far). But what would take three hours by omnibus (bus) managed to take about 20 minutes by sardine can (Metro Train).

Story: We (Heather, Lisa, and I) arrived at the Metro station and the train approached. It was covered by an advertisement like the Lubbock Citybusses in such a way that we couldn't even see through the windows. When the doors slid open, we looked at each other and groaned, "Uh oh." Somehow we managed to squeeze in among the mass of people and it wasn't too bad.

Three stops later we are at the main station terminal. Everyone exists to get on the next train which will take us downtown. We can see into this one as it pulls to a stop. It's worse. People were practically falling out as the doors slid open. I force my body in. Heather's not so sure we can all fit. I hold the door as one might hold an elevator door and say "come on." It's really tight. We can't move. The man behind Heather and I needs off at the next stop. As he tried to move, I try to fill the area his body previously occupied. It's like human tetris.

Next challenge, we don't know which side of the train the doors will open on when it gets to our stop. Only two stops left. Should we force ourselves to the other side of the train or should we stay put? What to do? So I attempt to speak to the friendly looking man beside me (I think he's friendly because he chuckled as I rolled my eyes trying to board the train). In Portuguese I say, "You Know Door." Pathetic, I know. In our broken Portuguese, his broken English, and only one stop to go we manage to communicate which stop we want off on and he tells us which side. We wiggle a couple feet towards the other side of the train and push our way out.

As the train is pulling away, we turn around to bid it farewell and observe just how full each car is.

Everybody knows the train is reliable during the rainy season, EVERYBODY.

Ragamuffin Gospel

The Ragamuffin Gospel
By Brennan Manning

This book is about Grace. I don't remember Manning's exact quote but a couple times he writes something to the effect of 'God expects more failure from you than you allow yourself.' And in the context of the writing he's talking about this unconditional love and it doesn't matter what we do or how many times we mess up, we are loved. This is good news indeed.

Sometimes I have a hard time forgiving myself. This book spoke to that tendency I have to remind me of the potency of God's love.

Quote: "We settle in and settle down to lives of comfortable piety and well-fed virtue. We grow complacent and lead practical lives. Our feeble attempts at prayer are filled with stitched phrases addressed to an impassive deity. Even times of worship become trivialized.
This is the victorious limp often lived by this writer. At different times on the journey I have tried to fill the emptiness that frequently comes with God's presence through a variety of substitutes--writing, preaching, traveling, television, movies, ice cream, shallow relationships, sports, music, daydreaming, alcohol, etc. As Annie Dillard says, "There is always an enormous temptation to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end." Along the way I opted for slavery and lost the desire for freedom. I loved my captivity and I imprisoned myself in the desire for things I hated. I hardened my heart against true love. I abandoned prayer and took flight from the simple sacredness of my life. On some given day when grace overtook me and I returned to prayer, I half-expected Jesus to ask, "Who dat?" (pg. 180)

Egg = Grape

This is the longest I haven't been in school since I was 5 years old and starting Kindergarten. Isn't that crazy? I think so.

Tuesday, Heather and I went to Projecto Vidinha and found H at the lunch table doing homework. How convenient. I was hoping for an excuse to pull out my Portuguese homework at work and sucker some unsuspecting kid into helping me out a bit.

After calling a grape (uva) and egg (ovo), H decides I need a vocab lesson. So he points to everything on the table. Apple (maça), banana (banana), grape (uva), cup (copo), plate (plata), bowl--stop--this is where I crash head first. He says, bacia (pronounced bas-E-a) I repeat bas-I-E. Over and over I make this mistake. We would repeat the whole sequence beginning with the fruit and ending with the bowl and without fail the only word my brain could conjure was bas-I-E.

Eventually, we got to my homework which was writing sentences with -er verbs conjugated correctly. I showed them to my teacher Wednesday night and she was pleased because it was perfect. Little did she know about my struggle to associate bacia with bowl. Thank you H, C, and A for your patience with me Tuesday.

Naked Before God

Naked Before God: The Return of a Broken Disciple
By Bill Williams with Martha Williams

This book was very creatively written. After just reading the first two chapters I already had to step away from the book because it was intense. Not only is the writing style creative, the story is captivating and the theology requires reconsideration. It seems to cover all the ground McLaren hits in "A New Kind of Christian" trilogy but not in such a defensive tone. Williams seems to very lovingly ask the reader to rethink our presuppositions about God, about people, about grace, and about a whole host of other things. I especially want to recommend this book to anyone with chronic medical conditions all the way from arthritis to MS to cancer to diabetes. You will know why after the first pace. Great book, great thoughts. This one touched my heart not just my intellect.

But why evangelize, if it doesn't leverage people into New Jerusalem?
Because the reward of faith is on earth, not in heaven. Those that receive it will find strength and endurance for their other wounds--as Christ says, faith makes you well. That's reason enough isn't it?
We do it for the reason we pursue all healing acts; because we're called to be healers. And if the soil is rocky and the seed dies, this is no more of a judgement on a person than cancer or Tourette's syndrome. It is yet another expressing of the Not Yet: the waiting for healing that we all endure. (pg 181)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Circus Freaks

I am a circus freak.

We were downtown Monday, hanging out with the street kids under the bridge and the eyes in every bus, taxi, personal vehicle, and motorcycle were glued on myself and my friends.

I turned to Jenna and asked, "Jenna, why are they staring at me?" Jenna says, "I don't know if you know this or not, but you are in a very dirty place and you are a gringa." I am used to being stared at because I am a gringa but not like this. These stares were painful.

I turned to Will Smith (pronounced "Wiw Smitchy") and asked, "Why are they staring at me?" He responds, "I don't know if you know this or not but they think you are about to be mugged or worse at any moment. They think you are in a very unsafe place." But Wiw and his friends aren't about to harm me in any way. They are my friends. We now have two months of history together. They have guarded my purse many times through the time we have spent together. They have in fact given me priceless gifts including pictures to illustrate their love for me and Portuguese tips. These people are my friends. They are not about to harm me. This must not be why the people are staring so violently.

I turned to Lisa and asked, "Why are they staring at me?" She gently put her hand on my sholder and said, "I don't know if you are aware of this, but you have a second face growing out of your back. They are staring at you because you are a circus freak. I would stare at you to."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Newsletter 5

Hello again family and friends!!!
Sorry I have not written for quite a long time. I hope you are all well and enjoying the summer turning into fall. I heard that Colorado is already getting dumped on by snow. Burrrr! The other day it got up to 36 degrees here. I don't really know what that means but I think it was in the 90s. I got a good sunburn the other day at the beach and was reminded that I need to be really careful, it's still early spring. In fact we just sprung forward so I am now 3 hours before CST zone.
These past three weeks we have been invited to many incredible places. The Brazilians are incredibly hospitable. They share everything they have including food and home with us, gringos they have only known for a very short amount of time. If you want to know where all we have been go on Google maps and look up: Mangaratiba, Mendes, Barra de Tijuca, and Floresta de Tijuca. At Mangaratiba we spent a weekend at a friend's beach house. It was awesome! And incredibly relaxing. It was exactly what we needed at that time. The following weekend we went to Mendes, the home of the leaders of Timonis (the after school program in the neighboring favela). It was up in the jungle/mountains and was the first time we have really been away from all the people. The floresta de Tijuca we have been to a couple times now. It is the national forest located on the mountain we see from our bedroom window. Beautiful place. And Barra is the less touristy beach that we have also used a couple times. These places have been great retreats from the taxing life that we get engrossed in. However, we still haven't made it up to the Christ Statue. Our updated plans are to go early in November. It is difficult to get there and a bit pricy so that's how I have lived here for over two months and not gone to such a well known national symbol. And one thing I learned from all this travels is that grilled pineapple is to-die-for! Don't believe me? I challenge you to go fire up the grill, slice a pineapple and throw it one for a bit on each side to toasty it up. Ummmmm! Delicious.
On a more serious note, while in Rio I am required to do some kind of project to benefit to staff in Rio or Word Made Flesh staff around the world. My idea is to put together a book a prayers (and other stuff) that will remind the missionaries why they do what they do. But I need your help. I need to collect a ton of prayers, poems, art, short stories, or anything else that might be useful for reminding the staff why they do what they do which is serve the poor, encourage/refresh/rejuvenate, or stimulate thinking for fresh ways of dealing with corruption/violence/poverty/abuse/etc... also including theological works of justice, peace, and poverty. If you know of any of these articles that we could use please email them along so we can be partners and this work.
Half of our stay here is already up and everyday I find myself loving Brazil more and more. I love the work so much more now too because I know and love the children, the nuns, and others we daily interact with. My life here reminds me of what I used to idealize and tried to make my life at LCU. For a short time there I was invited to serve in groups that fed the hungry and cared for the orphans. These two services are essentially what I do in Rio, but I'm having a blast all the while. I'm fairly certain this is what I want to do with my life. But I still don't know where. There are children's shelters all over the States that I probably will work with until God sends me out again. But for now, I'm here for another two months. It's exciting to be doing the thing I love so much. This prayer has taken on new meaning for us here:
Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

One more thing, we keep getting emails saying, "keep up the Lord's work." which sounds good but it's not really true. The interns talked and agreed that we aren't doing the Lord's work but he is doing his work in us and hopefully through us as well. My prayer for you these next couple weeks is that God will be working on and in you as well.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

casa dulce casa

I never get tired of this view.

Yesterday we went to the Brasil vs. Equador game at Maracana. It was awesome. They dominated with a final score of 5-0. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLL!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton Essential Writings
Christine M. Bochen

humm... what to say. Four parts to this book. 1 biography, 2 contemplation, 3 compassion (justice), 4 unity. All the sections were so relative to the place of the U.S. church. Merton didn't write very long ago but his writing did predate the current Terrorism terror/war.
We are a people of activism. Merton describes contemplation as true prayer where in silence we allow the true God to seek our true selves. He suggests that we do not often know our silent true self because we are activists acting out our religious activities trying to fill all silence and when loneliness and silence confront us, our true self is often not welcome. We are uncomfortable with it. But in this silence God speaks to our silent self.
Reading this section esspecially frustrated me because unless I am alone I don't feel like can access this silence to process what God is teaching me and I don't feel like any of us are able to go to that place of silence. I want all of us to learn from Psalm 46:10 to be still and seek/know God. This is important. We are too activistic. How do we got beyond that. Do we all need to be contemplative?
The third part of compassion included many of Mertons essays and poetry in reference to Auschwitz and how terribly normal and sane the people were who accomplished the atrochious deeds. Merton said that God isn't calling us to be sane at all but insane, not conforming, radicle, revolutionary, odd, silly, childlike, compassionate. We are not to blindly follow as the world leads but through the silence of contemplation to listen to God's silent voice and follow the shephard.
And the final section on unity is not to be confussed as pragmatism but as a loving and discerning ecuminism that in no way robs truth or creates a weaker all embrasing unitarian religion. Merton participated in dialogue across religious barriers including Sufism, Zen Buddhism, Hasidism Raja Yoga, and Tibetan Buddhism. May we see and may we seek truth in people all over the world. People are all made in the image of God, are they not?

Now for a prayer and a poem that I loved from this book:
"Merciful Lord, who prayed that we might be one, who died that we might be one, show us the true path to Unity. Bless, we beseech you, the sincere, devoted efforts of the Churches and their Shepherds, to come together in one. Bless above all and enlighten our own hearts to know and understand the power of silence, prayer, and fasting, so that we may more perfectly obey your hidden and mysterious will by which alone we can become truly one. For the glory of the Father, in the Word, through the Holy Spirit. Amen" (pg. 185)

"Life is on our side.
The silence and the Cross of which we know
are forces that cannot be defeated.
In silence and suffering,
in the heartbreaking effort to be honest
in the midst of dishonesty (mot of all our own dishonesty).
in all these is victory.
It is Christ in us who drives us through darkness
to a light of which we have no conception
and which can only be found
by passing through apparent despair.
Everything has to be tested.
All relationships have to be tried.
All loyalties have to pass through the fire.
Much has to be lost.
Much in us has to be killed,
even much that is best in us.
But Victory is certain.
The Resurrection is the only light,
and with that light there is no error."
(pg. 187)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Saint Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi
By G. K. Chesterton

I finished this one a couple weeks ago so I have already forgotten what I wanted to write about it. Please forgive me for this error of procrastination. I do remember how enthralled I was by the use of language by Mr. Chesterton. He is so lyrical and deliberate about the use of each individual word. Each sentence is so flooded with meaning that this book was best read in a quiet well light uncluttered room so that I wasn't distracted by the common happenings around me. If I began to daydream even for only a moment I owed it to myself to backtrack and try once again to soak in what Chesterton was trying to document about the life of the beloved Saint.

Saint Francis is by far my favorite saint. He was a man completely in love with God. His love was for God was Innocent and sincere. Many people misunderstand Francis and his asceticism because they cannot understand the passionate love Francis had for his savior. Francis was glad to give up everything (family, possessions, money, prominent future, popularity) all to follow his lover (Christ). And truly he lived a beautiful life. One thing I learned about Francis is that he would chase beggars and thieves in order to give them what little he had not sparing anything for himself. Crazy man. Crazy in love. wow

I want to love like that. I want to see Christ in people like that. Francis is cool! You are cool. Read about Francis and let his life change yours.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving From Affluence to Generosity.
Ronald J. Sider

"We each have our own unique gifts and calling. God wants many of us to fast and pray about social sin. Most should study, and many should write and speak out. Some should join and support organizations promoting social justice. Others should run for political office. All of us should ask how changes in our personal lifestyle could help model a better world. But God does not want anyone to feel guilty for not doing everything--or for taking time off for relaxation and recreation....Correct[ing] social sin is not a heavy burden. It is an invitation to joy and meaning in life, an occasion for blessing our neighbors, and a wondrous opportunity to be a coworker with the Lord of history." (pg 117, emphasis mine)

This is a really insightful book. I recommend it to all Christians especially those with big hearts who have not yet been handed a thanksgiving sized platter of the realities of international inequalities and injustices. This book will help a person grow their social consciouses. It is a difficult read because many of the things contained in it are not pretty and the lifestyle alterations recommended are not always easy or entirely comfortable. But compared to the alternative (countless lives lost often due to our abundances and neglect) I think it's worth while.

The book has four parts. The first part focuses on the division between rich and poor. It is chalked full of stats and numbers to make the distinction tangible. This section gives of history or how the rich got rich and how the poor became poor. It also defines rich and poor.

Part two is a biblical perspective on poverty and possessions. This section makes clear God's preferential treatment on the poor. But more than that it expounds upon God's desire for justice and those that are oppressing are struck down and those being oppressed are cared for. Israel has been on both sides of that coin and we can read about that all we want in the Old Testament through the Exodus and then through the divided kingdom and the prophets. Some questions posed in this section: "Have we allowed our economic self-interest to distort our interpretation of Scripture?" "Are the people who call themselves by Christ's name truly God's people if they neglect the poor? Is the church really the church if it does not work to free the oppressed?" A quick summation of the conclusion of this section would be, "God is not biased. Material poverty is not a biblical ideal. Being poor and oppressed does not make people members of the church.... God actively seeks justice for those who are oppressed and neglected. (In fact, by pulling down oppressors and lifting up the oppressed, God does what is good for both groups.)" Then there is a big part of the jubilee. One painful quote reads, "Christians in the United States spent $15.7 billion on new church construction alone in the six years between 1984 and 1989. Would we go on building lavishly furnished expensive church buildings if members of our own congregations were starving? Do we not flatly contradict Paul if we live as if African or Latin American Christians are not also part of Christ's one body along with those in our home congregations. The division between the haves and the have nots in the body of Christ is a major hindrance to world evangelism. Hungry people in the Third World have difficulty accepting a Christ preached by People who symbolize (and often defend the materialism of) the richest societies on earth." (pg 87) "It is not because food, clothes, wealth, and property are inherently evil that Christians today must lower their standards of living. It is because others are starving." (pg. 98)

Part Three is on what causes poverty. This is probably the best section but it is difficult to read. So I will leave that up to you. Check it out from the library and soak that reality in!

Part four is on our reaction as individuals, as community (church or otherwise), and as a society to reign in justice. My favorite quote which also arguably an ideal from Charles Wesley is, "Christians should give away all but the plain necessaries of life that is, plain, wholesome food, clean clothes, and enough to carry on one's business." Wesley wanted all income given to the poor after bare necessities were met. This reminds me of the early church. There are lots of good suggestions for other personal changes some that are simple and some that will take years to transition into. The community discussion isn't complete and needs to be considered further within your individual communities. I like the Christian commune thing but also I realize the effectiveness of house churches. Thank you Via Christus, I love you!!! and then all the societal things are mostly over my head but I am trying to learn and move in that direction backed by communities. We can all do something and we must!

"Growing divisions between rich and poor will lead not only to more starvation and death but also to increasing civil strife, terrorism, and war.... To obey will mean to follow. And He lives among the poor and oppressed, seeking justice for those in agony.... God regularly accomplishes his will through faithful remnants." (pg. 269)

Read the book, love your starving neighbors, live simply so that others can simply live!