"In heaven, will God ask for papers?"

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Healthiness on the inside and out.

Yesterday I did 17 minutes of Zumba.

Enough to make me sweat? Yes.

Enough to make any physical difference on my body? Probably not.

I'm not losing any dress sizes soon. But. I swore the general confidence in myself sprang 200% and lasted a good few hours.

After a bout with pneumonia and being busy and stressed, I'm so grateful to be, even just a little, active again.

Let us be motivated not by what we will look like, but how we will feel.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I don't just talk about Luther because I think he is bad-ass.

This post is my processing some things from the synod missional gathering last Saturday here in El Paso. For a few hours, I gathered with folks from my church, from the border conference within our synod, and a couple of synod representatives (including the bishop), to talk about what it is to be a church and the Church.

(Wondering what the heck a synod is and who is a bishop? Explore, my friend: http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions.aspx)

At the gathering, Bishop Gonia presented about the identity of an ELCA congregation. And although I usually don't like to put labels on everyone within the ELCA or within a certain denomination/group/etc, I found myself falling into the labels that he shared. I found what he had to say so true, and it is helping me shape a response when people ask, "so what do Lutherans believe anyway?" Even though I have thought of my response a lot, I still have a hard time answering that question. I think part of the beauty of the Lutheran-Christian faith IS the fact that I am unsure about how to answer that question. Being a bit confused about how to respond helps me recognize the openness, grayness, unsure-ness, and I'm-not-gonna-tell-you-what-to-believe-ness of Lutheran theology. I love that about Lutheranism. I get concerned if any denomination has it all figured out and fit into an exact system what folks are supposed to believe.

I know not all Lutherans would agree with me that Lutheran theology isn't precise, and even pinpointing Bishop Gonia's descriptions as "Lutheran" is systematizing it in a way. But even within the characteristics below, there is so much leeway. So much room for the Holy Spirit to enter in and allow God to move.

I DO talk about the Lutheran church and Martin Luther a lot... probably too much... but hearing what the bishop had to say affirmed my affection towards and fascination with the Lutheran church body (pues, at least the ELCA). And I don't think my desire to be a pastor within the ELCA (God-willing) is simply a result of "how I grew up" or even following along with just "what I know"...even though ELCA theology is the best that I know. In my exploration of "Lutheran faith" I have found God to best expressed in the way that I view God and see God at work within the Lutheran identity.

This is Martin Luther. Not Bishop Gonia.
Just to clarify.

The first characteristic of our ELCA identity is a Radical Grace. All Christian churches talk about grace - heck, it's at the heart of the Gospel - but in the words of Bishop Gonia, how we (we=ELCA Lutherans) carry the message of grace is unique. Even though I don't remember all that he got into about this, haha, I come to think of this as how we respond to the message of grace is different than our other Christian brothers and sisters. It is not just about accepting this grace as atonement for sins or to guarantee a spot in eternal life. It does not stop there. The grace that Christ exemplified is one of unconditional love for all. Lutherans embody that here and now, in a movement from head to embodiment - this message of grace not just in my head for me, but becoming a lived experience that inevitable affects my neighbor. This Radical Grace flows from everything that we do. It is a "daring, living confidence in God's grace," according to Martin Luther. And the ELCA website homepage expresses it well: "We are the church that shares a living, daring confidence in God's grace. Liberated by our faith, we embrace you as a whole person — questions, complexities and all."

The second characteristic of the ECLA identity is the Theology of the Cross. You can google "Theology of the Cross" versus the "Theology of Glory," etc. and learn more about it if you haven't heard the distinction before. Something that Biship Gonia said that stuck with me was that the Theology of the Cross expresses that "there is no place where God does not fully dwell." Christ is present in happiness AND in suffering. And because of that, everything has redemptive power. We go to the margins because that is where we are reminded of God's love. Everything - every person and every situation - even in the margins - can be a part of God's redemption for the world. I think that's pretty cool.

The final characteristic is the reality of Paradox. (Just last night I introduced the word paradox to some youth group kids, and it was awesome. We were talking about Jesus being both human and divine, and a video we watched described it as paradoxical. It's amazing what kids hold onto, and this idea that something can be something that it shouldn't be... at the same time... was fascinating for them.) The bishop shared how we live as a "both-and" church in an "either-or" world. (I found this affirming of my appreciation for the ELCA to be open and non-committal to one way of thinking.) We are quick to place things on one side of the line or the other, but we fail to recognize that God is present on BOTH sides. He tied this into how young adults are responding the the church as well, and I totally get what he means. Young adults are almost craving paradox. They are looking for someone to be honest, rather than tell them what to believe, or tell them that they have to pick one side or another. We are okay with the fact that we are sinner and saint at the same time; that there is law and there is gospel; that the sacred can be present in the secular, and vice versa. We embrace the paradox rather than try to avoid it. 

Jesus was a paradox.. Just sayin'.

This is just a little bit of my reflecting and unpacking, and I have much more to think about. This part of Bishop Gonia's presentation, however, gave me a space to help better organize some of my thoughts and experiences of what is to be a Lutheran-Christian. He helped give words to what I experience within this church body, and I am grateful for that. I found it worth sharing with whoever reads this not for the sake of converting everyone to Lutheranism (I promise I don't try to do that... often.), but for the sake of making the Gospel known. How we live out these three characteristics - all based in Christ's Gospel message of life-over-death - in my opinion, will help us show God's love to a world so desperately in need of Life to win.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A sermon on persistently seeking justice, and not trying to be a voice for those who already have a voice

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

As I read through the parable of the persistent widow, I couldn't help but think of the many determined individuals and communities I met during my time of studying in Central America. During my semester there my senior year of college, I met many people living out social change and responding to injustice in their communities. One group that practiced the highest level of persistence I have ever witnessed was a group of folks I met in the Nicaraguan capital city of Managua whose community was known as “Tent City.” (side note: I blogged about this here.)

This “tent city” was built when hundreds of Nicaraguans marched from their homes in the rural areas of Nicaragua some five years earlier. Traveling by foot 40 to 100 miles from their homes, most of these folks had worked on banana plantations whose presence filled the lush lands of Central America starting in the early 20th century. These plantations, which belonged to large fruit companies such as Dole and DelMonte, used a chemical pesticide known as Nemagon, which had been banned in the US in the 70s due to the harmful medical side effects that had been traced back to it. Nemagon continued to be used in Central America and was attributed to causing a variety of health problems among the campesinos working the banana fields – kidney failure, sterility, lung cancer, blindness, and much more. They themselves are living with cancer and disease, and have lost many loved ones. They had marched in protest of the use of the chemical, and built themselves these homes made of sticks and random pieces of wood that held up sheets of plastic. They established their community in silent protest right across the street from the tallest building in Managua, which houses the congressional offices. When we drove by, we could not miss the sight of the tall government building or the tent city right across the street. The community’s persistence has resulted in the loss of their homes back in rural Nicaragua, and some support from the government, including food supplements, medical attention, and even new houses being built for them in the city.

Although the government has responded, the fruit companies have not. Like the unjust judge, the companies did not have respect for people, at least not the powerless campesinos who worked in the fields. And like the persistent widow, the workers were not about to give up their fight for justice. They sought more than a handout or money, or even an apology. They sought a systemic transformation of unjust policies and practices that have resulted in the persecution of the most vulnerable of their population. They sought, and continue to seek, complete and transformative justice.

It is easy to see the vulnerable and powerless—the widows—in a new place unfamiliar to us, but we cannot deny the presence of the oppressed within our own nation, within our state, within our city; in our neighborhoods, at our work places, and even within our church. We cannot ignore the oppressed on this side of the border and on the other side of the fence. Just the fact that there are concerns about the government cutting back funding for programs like food stamps, and that mothers—probably including many widows—dependent on WIC have been suffering from the government dilemma about how to spend federal money. No matter your opinion about how much we ought to be giving to folks in poverty, the truth of the matter is that we have many widow-types living all around us. Those who are the vulnerable and the most powerless in our society are often the people who are also the most dependent on everyone else; and our political and social systems tend not to favor these folks and our policies often ignore them.

Often we label those who are living on the margins of society as the “voiceless;” and we, if we are truly concerned for the wellbeing of our oppressed brothers and sisters, must be a “voice for the voiceless.” But if Jesus’ parable shows us anything it is that the widows of society do, in fact, have a voice, and they are not afraid to use it. The widow in the story pesters and pesters the judge until he gives her what she demands. He grants her request probably out of annoyance; or more likely, as a man mostly focused on himself, out of fear of his own humiliation. The point is not that the widow does not have a voice and needs someone to speak up for her; the point is how she can get her voice heard. Shane Claiborne, a social activist and new monastic in Philadelphia states it well. He says, “Everyone has a voice…We are not a voice for the voiceless. The truth is that there is a lot of noise out there drowning out quiet voices, and many people have stopped listening to the cries of their neighbors. Lots of folks have put their hands over their ears to drown out the suffering. Institutions have distanced themselves from the disturbing cries. When Paul writes in Romans 8 that the entire creation is groaning for its liberation…This is the chorus of the generations of seemingly voiceless people that we have joined. And God has a special ear for their groaning, regardless of who else is listening” (The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical). 
Everyone has a voice, and we do not have to be a voice for those who already have their own voice. But many  voices of many have been drowned out. God hears the cries of the oppressed and the vulnerable, but these same cries fall onto our deaf ears. How can we use our faith in this God who hears all who cry out, and open our own ears and hearts to empathetically hear the cries of the powerless and the suffering among us? How much more will our God respond to the cries of all, if even just one widow was able to stand up and receive justice from a powerful judge. Our good news is that we have a God who will respond even more promptly and in such greater ways to our pleas for justice as we wholeheartedly listen to one another and work for justice together.
In our fight for justice, we cannot forget the importance and the power of prayer. According to Luke, the reason Jesus told this parable was to highlight the need to “pray always and not to lose heart.” Our prayers can become support for another as we listen to each other and respond to unjust systems that are oppressing us and our neighbor. Our prayers can empower and strengthen us as we attempt to do justice, as the book of Micah suggests. And we can have confidence that our prayers do not fall onto deaf ears, rather that God hears our cries as we cry out together with our oppressed neighbor.
Jesus was known for prioritizing justice for the rejected and the most vulnerable of society. We witness this throughout the entirety of the Gospels, from the accounts of Jesus’ actions, to the stories that Jesus himself told, like the parable of the persistent widow. According to Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine, there are over 2,000 verses in the Bible that address God’s justice for the poor and vulnerable. An example of modern-day persistence was manifested through the form of Jim Wallis, his Sojourners staff, and other Christians setting up camp across the street from the national Capitol building during the government shutdown. For over two weeks, they did not leave their podium and did not cease reading scripture in what they called a #FaithfulFilibuster. They read the 2,000 verses day and night until congress ended the government shutdown. They persisted their plea for our leaders to regard their poor and oppressed neighbors, and to consider how their actions affect struggling mothers, children, farmers, cancer patients, small business owners, military families, and any and all of those whose way of sustaining their lives was halted by the government standstill. 
Our persistence and our prayers can help us to not “lose heart” as we determinedly seek justice for our neighbors—and for ourselves—in an unjust world that continues to persecute, abandon, and ridicule. Our world continues to ignore the voices of the most marginalized. Our good news is that we have a God who listens to the cries of God’s children—who does not turn a deaf ear to our pleas for justice; and God calls us to help one another find our own voice, rather than try to be each other’s’ voices. I imagine God’s hope is for us to continue trusting in God’s holy presence and goodness as we continue to listen to one another, pray together, and empower one another to bring about justice. If Jesus tells us how a selfish judge can relent to the persistent pleas of a powerless widow, how much more will God respond to our requests for justice, and how much more promptly and in such greater ways. We can have faith in a God, who through the Gospel message of Christ, has revealed to us that God not only favors the vulnerable and marginalized, but that God offers new life that can overcome any powers of oppression. We have been given a message that would not only bring a selfish judge to submit to a powerless widow—but a message that has the divine ability to uplift, empower, and transform an unjust world. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"I wish God would have said..."

Even though I'm hired to do youth ministry at Peace Lutheran Church, I still help lead the youth group at Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey - a bilingual, mostly immigrant, church in a much poorer and more central neighborhood of El Paso.

Last night at Cristo Rey we started our youth group lesson (about "who" wrote the Bible) with the question, "What is one thing you wish God said?" The kids' responses were simple and beautiful:

"I wish God would've said if all religions were the same or not."
"I wish God would say for my doggie to have puppies."
"I wish God said your grandpa is looking down on you."
"I wish God said 'question your authority.'"
"I wish God said 'freedom for ALL.'"
"I wish God said that there wouldn't be no problems in the world."
"I wish God said go to school 4 hours daily only."
"I wish God would've said: 'You are precious.'"
"I wish God said there shall be no borders."

"I wish God said that everything is ok."

We then proceeded to talk about whether or not God has already said these things and began our discussion about if the Bible was written by God or humans.

Their responses simply remind me: Young people are a Divine gift.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

“I’m gonna make this place your home”

I wrote this brief article for Peace Lutheran's most recent newsletter.

This week, I have talked about the same thing with almost all of the high schoolers with whom I have chatted: HOMECOMING.
It’s that time of the year—all of my young friends have just finished Homecoming festivities, or are getting ready for them. Some are most excited about the dress-up days, some the football game, others the Homecoming dance. No matter their social standing or what they think of school, they seem to be thinking about Homecoming.
I have wrestled a lot with the concept of “Homecoming.” I haven’t been back for Homecoming at either my high school or university, even though part of the point, in my understanding, of Homecoming is for alumni to “come back home.”
You see, it’s hard for me to pinpoint where my “home” is. I grew up in Iowa, attended college in South Dakota, have spent time throughout Central America and traveling throughout the US, and now live in El Paso. I have spent time at many different churches, workplaces, and houses. When I think of “home,” I don’t just think of my hometown, my high school, or even El Paso. I think of all the places where I have lived, visited—where I have experienced life—and the people who influenced me during my time there. I do think of my surroundings—the view of the Rock River in Iowa, the campus of Augustana, the smell of Managua—but I also think of the smiling, beautiful faces and the warm embraces of the people I have met, and the countless things I have learned about the world, about other people, and about myself.
One of the most important “homes” for me was my church in Rock Rapids, Iowa, where I attended for the first 18 years of my life.  That church community supported me for the first 3/4ths of my life, and continues to support me even while I live 24 hours away. The Immanuel Lutheran community of Rock Rapids will always be a home for me.
And this is what I want for our young people here at Peace. I want to give them a space they can make their own (hence the painting overnight!)—where they are free to explore their faith and grow as a community together. I want them to feel supported by the rest of the church community, no matter the age, background, or experiences of other members of Peace. I want them to see the beauty of El Paso and see what they can learn from our larger community by serving together.
I want this to become one of their “homes.” A place where they can feel safe, supported, and, most importantly, loved.

Friday, September 27, 2013

My life is ruined.

Thanks to my education, my way of thinking has been ruined.
Thanks to my religion degree, my theology has been ruined.
Thanks to my studies abroad, my view of the world has been ruined.
Thanks to my experiences among the poor, my view of money has been ruined.
Thanks to the many places I have lived, my view of community has been ruined.
Thanks to where I live now, my idea of culture has been ruined.
Thanks to the people with whom I work and serve, my view of justice has been ruined.

I am forever ruined; I am forever in the process of reconstruction. And I would never have it any other way.

Today I'm feeling grateful for the people who have walked alongside me in this process of destruction, change, and growth. If you are reading this, you were probably a part of one or another processes.

Thank you for ruining my life. :)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

God, our youth need your Goodness.

The day of Pentecost was a few days ago. The season of Easter finished up then, too. And tonight, I'm having a hard time remembering that the gift of the Spirit and the promise of Life-over-death continue on... that these mere church holidays don't represent the reality of God, just our human celebration/acknowledgment of God's revelation. "Easter is an everyday - an every moment - thing," I keep saying. And tonight is another one of those nights when all I can pray is: God - loving and alive Spirit - move in the lives of my youth... bring them some Easter, some life over the death and darkness in their lives.

"yeah, it was immigration."

The mom of two of our middle schoolers got detained last week for issues with her legal status.

Come, Holy Spirit.

"She says they don't have the $400 to fix his papers and let him go to camp..."

Another one of our youth is in the process of applying for Deferred Action, which would give him freedom to leave El Paso - to join us for a week at a camp in Arizona. Perhaps giving him the "best week of his life."

Come, Holy Spirit.

"miss, can i be dropped off last?...

...yeah, miss, I work every saturday and sunday at a maquila in juarez... do you know what a maquila is? yeah, I make the bombas for estufas... you know what those are? ok. yeah, look, see i have these on my hands (shows me scars and bruises on his thumb). so i do have some money. i go every weekend with my friend. i help my mom with the rent, too. she wants a job but she had one and it didn't work out because of her schedule and the kids..."

One of our 12-year-olds doesn't like to be at home. Ever. And when I ask if he can ask his mom if he can go to summer camp, his eyes drop and his voice goes low.

Come, Holy Spirit.

"You could tell that her dad was really pissed off. He was yelling a lot."

One of the youth group kids I work with didn't go walking straight home after youth group tonight. Instead she went to a friend's house and her dad came looking for her an hour later.

Come, Holy Spirit.

For our future leaders, for those who will change the world: Our youth. Our children. Our young friends.

Lord, fill them with your Spirit. May the darkness and injustice in their lives be met - be overcome - by your Goodness and Light.

Come, Holy Spirit.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Glimpses of New Life

I recently wrote this short article for a couple of local church newsletters through Border Servant Corps, and a version was also published in Ciudad Nueva's newsletter, which you can read here: http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=1f9860c2f61d97be79b2d5dda&id=45c95891ea&e=e4ab4f268b 

The border can be a hard place to find Hope. The middle schoolers with whom I work constantly have a hard time finding that place where their lives belong – where they fit in, where they can feel comfortable, and where they can be safe. They are daily faced with the oppression of bullies at school, unsupportive family at home, and opportunities for drug use and other negative pressures from their friends. My BSC community members and I are constantly hearing stories of desperation – of women who have been separated from their loved ones, of families who can’t scrape up enough money to pay the bills, of children who have been abused. Personally in the last few weeks, I have found myself more discouraged that usual, and I’ve had to spend more time disciplining our after-school kids rather than building positive relationships with them. The past few weeks for me seem to have been overcome by anxiety and anguish of Lent; and it has been difficult to discover Hope.

But thanks be to God, I have been able to glimpse the Risen Lord, even amongst so much brokenness and pain. In my experiences in working with kids here on the border, perhaps the times I see the gift of New Life the most is in opportunities for our kids to discover themselves through new experiences. The most joyous time of my year so far has been taking a group of 12 kids to Hueco Tanks for a day of hiking and rock climbing. None of them had ever done outdoor rock climbing, and as I witnessed our kids conquer the rock, I saw the face of Christ and felt the joy of Life overcoming death. It is amazing how a 10-minute journey up a 20-foot wall of rock can reveal the journey of Lent and the emergence of Easter. Anguish was evident in the kids’ fear of taking the first hand-hold and their shaky bodies as they first pulled themselves up the rock. There were moments of hopelessness and exhaustion. But then standing at the top of the climb, seeing the kids finally pull up and over the top of the rock, the determination in their faces, and the high-fives of joy after conquering the rock, reminded me of the Hope of Easter and the ability to overcome fear and desperation.

In an environment of constant brokenness and struggle, especially on the border, it is hard to find Hope. My heart breaks when a 13-year-old tells me about his abusive mother, when I meet his alcoholic father, when he is constantly being beat up at school. Sometimes all the powers of darkness seem to be working against these kids and the people of the borderland. But I am so grateful when I am given opportunities to glimpse the Risen Lord who overcomes powers of sin, death, and darkness. When a mom finds a safe place to live with her family, when our teenagers are finally given a long-awaited work visa, when a middle schooler finds joy in trying something new like rock climbing – it is in those moments when I find Hope and when the Resurrection of Christ is revealed. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Resurrection today and everyday

To say that I love Easter is an understatement. I LIVE for Easter. I live for the celebration of the Resurrection. I live for the message that Life has won out over death. I live for saying "Alleluia!" again. I live for the anthems of "Jesus Christ is risen today!" and "Come and rise up from the grave!" As I sit here listening to my Easter playlist, it's hard for me to resist the urge to jump and dance around. I don't know what to do with myself! I am overwhelmed with Joy. And it's hard for me not to include a million "!!!!!!!!" in this post.

But even in the midst of my joy - even though I can't wipe the smile off my face and even though I've been shouting, "Jesus!! Alleluia!!" all morning... a part of me is still stuck on Good Friday. I am overwhelmed with joy, but confused as to why not everyone is feeling the same joy.

I attended a really interesting and cool Good Friday worship on Friday. The service was divided into different parts that focused on a specific "oppressed communities," if you will. These groups of people included immigrants, the economically disadvantaged, single mothers, children, women, the unemployed, and prisoners. During each focus group, members from the congregation were invited to approach the cross if they were included in the group, or were affected by someone in that group. During each group of people, we all joined in song, scripture, reflection, and prayer focused on the needs of the specific group standing at the cross. This format and the content of the service really motivated me to reflect on the message of the Cross, and its relevance for our world here and now.

But since the service, I have been disturbed with the question, "If Jesus died on the cross and rose again to conquer death, sin, and the powers of evil... than why does so much evil still exist?" Why do we still have these suffering people? Why is there still so much pain? If Life had the final word... than why does death still prevail in our world?

We could get into a bunch of discussions about free will/the devil/God and suffering/original sin/whatever, but  I've had those conversations before, and I don't want to just talk about how this all doesn't really make sense. I've been confused in the past, I've doubted, I've questioned... but I think I have finally come to a point where I am content with moving forward from those conversations into doing something that reflects the Gospel message... even if it doesn't all always make sense.

I think what I am feeling this Resurrection day is a huge NEED for the message of Easter. I'm not so much focused on the questions that are evoked in myself when I read the Passion story; rather I'm looking at the necessity for this story to be made real, despite confusion within and surrounding it. Yes, I left the Good Friday service feeling distraught. But I also left feeling compassion and the need to DO something.

And that is what I think Jesus calls us to... to DO something that reflects the message that Life overcomes death. That's where my theology has found its grounding.

I think many people find joy on this day because they realize that they have been spared from eternal death and punishment. I do not doubt that to be true. Christ's sacrifice and defying death conquered all - even that inevitable Cross moment when our heart stops beating and air stops flowing from our lungs. God has gifted us eternity in God's presence. And for that I am truly grateful. But is that really all that today is about? Is the Resurrection really only relevant for that day when we stop breathing?

We have opportunities to live out the Resurrection everyday, all the time. We are constantly surrounded by suffering people - whether they are prisoners or the unemployed; addicts or asylum seekers; homeless folks or abused children. They might be our roommate struggling with a fear of the future; a middle schooler getting bullied at school; or an old person suffering from loneliness.

So I think today I am not only overwhelmed with joy; but I am also motivated by hope. Hope that the Resurrection will be made real as often as God reveals God's good self. Hope that Life will win out over all situations of death. Hope that God will use us to bring about joy, peace and Life to all people.

"The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is not that we shall die and go home to be with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick prisoner brothers with him." (Clarence Jordan)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Someone Else's Shoes

I walked a mile in someone else's shoes yesterday. It took an embarrassing mistake of absentmindedness to develop the need to walk in said shoes, but... it happened.

I'm house-sitting for a couple who are good friends of Ciudad Nueva's who own a farm outside of El Paso. They're in Vegas for the week, and I've been given the task of feeding their dogs and cat, eating their food, watching their large TV, and sleeping in a huge bed in their huge house.

Yesterday morning when I went out to check on the dogs before hopping in the shower and then heading into town, the sliding door locked behind me. There I was... on the back patio, keyless, phoneless, and shoeless. I started searching all around the house for any hint of a trace of a spare key, walking on mulch and in dirt in my socks. Nothing. After about an hour of searching, I decided I had to go to the neighbors' and see if they had the home owners' cell phone numbers... and a phone I could use. Through my searching for the spare key, I had come across a few pairs of shoes/boots that I assume the owners use for gardening and farming. So, I found a pair that fit, and started walking.

I forgot what it was like being in the country. As soon as I departed the driveway, I stopped to figure out which neighbor was closest, and the likelihood that someone would be home. Of course, the closest house - just across the dirt road - was empty except for a barking dog. I looked at the houses down the road... no people in sight, no cars in driveways. I just started walking again, probably just under half of a mile, and finally came across a kind older woman tending her horses. She was nice enough to welcome me into her home and offer me a soda. After no luck of calling other neighbors to figure out the owners' cell numbers, I hopped on her slow-moving computer, and 20 minutes later had an email pulled up with one of the owner's cell numbers. And praise the Lord, he wasn't caught up at some blackjack table ignoring calls; he answered, and shortly after, I was headed back to the house, with the location of a spare key written on a paper in my hand.

This experience of feeling lost, frustrated, and somewhat forgotten, and the need to use someone else's shoes, makes me think about the times I get torn about the work I am doing. I am a privileged, white adult citizen of the United States, and my life, my interests, reflect a push for "justice" for my friends and neighbors who are immigrants, who are poor, who are gay, who are 13-years-old, who are in dangerous situations... my neighbors of whose qualities that are the focus of their need for "justice," I share none. Heck, I should be fighting for women's rights if anything! I wonder to what extent can I walk in the shoes of the beloved kids I know who live in 10x10 casitas with five other family members, or the caring parents who do not have papers even though their kids do. Is my 40 hours a week of running an after-school program enough to say that I have "walked in her shoes"? Is living blocks away from the most impoverished neighborhood in the state enough to say that I am living in solidarity with the poor?

And then there's all this talk of "indigenous leadership" lately. About how we need to get people from the neighborhood - folks who live here long-term - in charge of our programs, building relationships, and making change happen. We need to gather the community's input, let them decide what to do... instead of all of us outsiders making programs happen.

Some days I wonder if I should just move back to Iowa.

But I will remember when I almost lost hope of making it to work yesterday, when I was scared I was going to be walking down the gravel road in my socks for miles, when I thought it would be days before anyone would find me cold, hungry, stranded with the dogs outside this huge house... I will remember my panic, frustration, fear, embarrassment.

My situation will always be different from anyone with whom I work - whether they be privileged middle schoolers or low-income families, homeless folks or people living in a huge farm house outside of El Paso. But we all share the same feelings. We get scared, we get tired, we get lost, we get locked out... sure, your situation might be much more serious or more desperate than mine. But I think we can take a small step of solidarity together - in each others' shoes - if we recognize the human emotions that all of us share before allowing our differences to dictate whether or not we will work together for justice.