"In heaven, will God ask for papers?"

Friday, December 23, 2011

Litany of Non-Violence / Letanía de No-violencia

Provident God, aware of our own brokenness, we ask the gift of courage to identify how and where we are in need of conversion in order to live in solidarity with all Earth's people.

Deliver us from the violence of superiority and disdain. Grant us the desire, and the humility, to listen with special care to those whose experiences and attitudes are different from our own.

Deliver us from the violence of greed and privilege. Grant us the desire, and the will, to live simply so others may have their just share of Earth's resources.

Deliver us from the silence that gives consent to abuse, war and evil. Grant us the desire, and the courage, to risk speaking and acting for the common good.

Deliver us from the violence of irreverence, exploitation and control. Grant us the desire, and the strength, to act responsibly within the cycle of creation.

God of love, mercy and justice, acknowledging our complicity in those attitudes, action and words which perpetuate violence, we beg the grace of non-violent hearts. Amen.

Dios de la Providencia, consciente de mi debilidad,
pido el don de la valentía para poder identificar
cómo y dónde convertirme a fin de vivir
en solidaridad con la tierra y con toda la creación.

Líbrame de la violencia de superioridad y desprecio.
Concédeme el deseo, y la humildad, para escuchar
con esmero especial a aquellos cuyas experiencias
y actitudes son diferentes de las mías.

Líbrame de la violencia de la codicia y el privilegio.
Concédeme el deseo, y la voluntad, para vivir
simplemente para que otros tengan lo justo
de los recursos de la tierra.

Líbrame del silencio que da consentimiento
al abuso, guerra y maldad.
Concédeme el deseo, y el valor, para arriesgarme
con palabra y obra para el bien común.

Líbrame de la violencia de irreverencia,
explotación y control. 
Concédeme el deseo, y la fuerza, para actuar
con respeto hacia la creación.

Dios amoroso, misericordioso y justo,
reconociendo mi complicidad en estas actitudes,
acciones y palabras que perpetúan violencia,
ruego la gracia de un corazón no-violento. Amén.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

You're the God of this City?

Ciudad Juarez-El Paso
"I really hope no one is trying to cross tonight."

My roommates and I look out our front window, astonished at the lightly sprinkled sidewalks of white, reminding us that snow is, indeed, possible in El Paso. It's a chilly, cloudy evening--the beginning of a cold spell of which many people are probably not prepared for. Especially those attempting to find a way to cross the international border from Murder City to Sun City.

Although the majority of my time I do not even think about the fact that I am living minutes away from a city with an average of 5-8 murders a day, it is still a reality. No matter how much I think about the extreme corruption or consider what can be done or listen to a heartbreaking story of loss or look out over the vast city; nothing fights the reality that lives are being lost in the most inhumane ways, for the most unjust reasons, and in the most extreme numbers.

"On the last day of June, bees attack seven people. On the last day of June, a fifty-four-year-old woman pulls into the parking lot of a convenience store after withdrawing eleven thousand pesos from a bank (found on the body) and is shot dead with ten rounds. On the last day of June, a man says his wife and children are missing. On the last day of June, the total number of murders for the month hits 139, and the total for the year reaches 541. Or 543, depending on which paper one reads. The numbers blur now. No one knows how many people have been snatched, nor what became of them. Just as no one knows where to file the corpses from the two houses of death. ... The city is fiestas, dust, cantinas, discos, and people savoring the weekends and dreaming of the nights when love will find them. There is song in the air. The culture of death becomes a life. The slaughtered die fast, the rest grind out time in dust, poverty, and bouts of terror. Only six months ago, everyone was horrified when forty people were slaughtered in one month. Now a hundred a month seems acceptable because in the culture of death. . .life goes on." (Murder City by Charles Bowden)

Welcome to the reality of Ciudad Juarez.

Now, I admit I haven't even visited the city across the border, and I get my information from stories (including the stories in Murder City that I just finished reading). But every story is a bit of reality that I do not understand nor know next to anything about. All I know is that these stories are stories of people--of his fear, of her abuse, of their grief. But among these sad stories, sometimes stories of hope arise.

Recently I have been obsessed with the song "God of this City" (originally recorded by Bluetree). I think this obsession comes from a realization that my perception of the song's lyrics--as well as my perception of God--will never be the same now that I have lived across from a city that seems to live in the midst of so much evil, ungodliness, despair--whatever you want to call it.

You're the God of this city,
You're the King of these people,
You're the Lord of this nation,
You are.

You're the Light of this darkness,
You're the Hope to the hopeless,
You're the Peace to the restless,
You are.

When eight lives are being lost every twenty-four hours, how can one still hold the belief that God is present in Ciudad Juarez? In a city with so much darkness, hopelessness, and restlessness, where do we find this God?

I appreciate this song because it captures the huge extent of who our God is. God is not some external being that does not give a shit about what is happening to the people of Juarez; God is revealed in the situations where light, hope, and peace overcome. "Yes, God is real, intensely real, for me, but God is not a being--external, supernatural, or theistic--to whom I seek access. God is rather a presence discovered in the very depths of my life, in the capacity to live, in the ability to love, and in the courage to be." (John Shelby Spong)  I cannot explain why God would allow so much violence and corruption to happen, or so many lives to be lost--if I could explain, well, then I'd be God. But from what I know and what I've experienced, I have at least discovered that the God I believe in is a God who brings about life in situations of death. And in Murder City, death surrounds everyone and everything. Although life overcoming death might be rare, it is not impossible.

If we want to live lives that reflect the Divine, then we will join God in the quest for Redemption. I don't know how to end the violence in Juarez, and I have had conversations about how hopeless the situation seems to be. The culture of the city is death. The police, the government, the army--all are corrupt. Hardly ever can you find someone in power who is not part of the corruption. So what will happen? Will everyone flee? I doubt it, considering the very low numbers of migrants who receive the "pass" to actually be in the states legally. Will the murders continue happening--decrease, increase? Will hope be restored?

For there is no one like our God.
There is no one like you, God.

We cannot answer these questions. But we can still live out Redemption in our own way. Even though the work that I do--hanging out with middle schoolers, attempting to give them meaning, hope, and joy--will not bring about Redemption for the world, or even for Juarez, I can still allow the Divine to work through me and bring some sort of strength, love, and joy within my own reality and the realities of the people I am in relationship with.

I still have hope for this city. Even if its problems are far too big for me to comprehend. And even if my hope is too impractical to explain.

Greater things have yet to come,
And greater things are still to be done in this city.
Greater things are yet to come, 
And greater things are still to be done here.

El Paso-Juarez

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Seeking to embody the Gospel

I realized that I have not really shared much about my placement site, Ciudad Nueva Community Outreach...so please visit the website at http://ciudadnueva.org/Site/Home.html. The site has some updating needed, but I finally watched the entire video on the home page and was reminded of our mission and purpose of dealing with usually rowdy, rude, and difficult-to-handle youth. What a blessing each and every kid is. Watch the video, and learn about this great ministry that looks beyond language differences, rude comments, economic status, past histories, family reputations...and sees these kids as human beings like the rest of us.

Monday, November 7, 2011

We are kingdom builders.

"Never again will they hunger;
   never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,
   nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
   will be their shepherd;
He will lead them to springs of living water.
   And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’"
                                                                (Revelation 7:16-17)

Friday night I had the great privilege of attending an awards banquet/fundraiser for my housemate's work site, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. Among the awards received that night was one for an "outstanding volunteer" given to a beautiful Catholic sister who volunteers a lot of her time at Las Americas.

In the middle of her being commended for the countless hours she spends at the detention center, where she listens to unbelievable stories of those who have crossed the border and relays them back to the office, the life-giving words of her "acceptance speech" moved me.

Even though Las Americas is not religiously affiliated, and we were sitting in the social hall of a Jewish temple, she was not afraid to voice her faith. Actually, I think she could not have said one word without voicing her faith--it radiated from her. Her words struck me as truth as she proclaimed, "We are kingdom builders."

The type of kingdom building the sister was talking about has nothing to do with "saving souls" or with adding another tally mark to the list of lost souls saved in your church's registry. The type of kingdom she was talking about was a kingdom that fully incorporates every earthly and bodily aspect, as well as every emotional and spiritual aspect of the world. A kingdom that will fully transform our world, but a kingdom that can only come about with our active participation.

Jesus constantly spoke of the "kingdom of God" throughout his ministry. But I feel that too many Christians hold a narrow view of this "kingdom" as some mysterious, in-the-clouds thing. The kingdom is often defined as the future state of the earth (and all the universe) that will come with the second coming of Christ. But this definition, I fear, has led many Christians into apathetic lives that distance themselves from the here-and-now world. If the coming of Christ is the only way to bring about this kingdom, then what do we need to do besides wait for that to happen? With their focus on what's to come, many Christians preach an exclusive message that is solely focused on a future kingdom and fail to recognize the kingdom-less reality of the world around them.

In my class, we have been talking about having a "reformational worldview"--one that captures all three Creation, Fall, and Redemption. I have learned a good point while talking about this three-fold view: if we (humans) were called to be co-creators (God gave Adam privileges of continuing the Creation process by naming the animals, tilling the earth, multiplying) and we were the primary actors in the Fall, then why won't we be co-redeemers or even primary actors in the Redemption of our world? We as Christians cannot deny the idea that Christ is the only one who can fully redeem creation, but who says Christ is going to do it alone?

We are living in a world of "already, but not yet." Christ has already come once--giving us forgiveness of sins and a promise of eternal life. But the new "kingdom" he often spoke of has yet to arrive. I believe that Christ is calling us to be "kingdom builders" in our world...helping to co-redeem this lost and fallen world. Through our work, our words, our relationships, our passions, our hands, our peacemaking...we are kingdom builders, living by the hope of a Christ who has already promised eternity. Now we get the responsibility to make this world our own by joining Him in these efforts of building this kingdom where "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Even though we cannot do it all, we can still do something to make God's kingdom come.

"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Reality Check on this Dia de los Muertos

October 26:
"At least 2 people were killed on Monday in Juarez. Yesterday, the murder toll was at least 6--four men were killed, dismembered and decapitated and their body parts scattered around the city... In addition, a municipal policeman was killed and a man running a quesadilla shot were also victims of homicide. Diario reported the death toll as of Sunday at 113, so it is now at least 121, not counting the deaths reported today.
There have been several shocking incidents. A 5 yr old boy was injured in an attack that killed his father while the man was sleeping in his house... A pregnant woman is killed, the fetus taken from her body and then she is burned alive... A teenage boy confesses to murdering his sick parents to relieve them of their suffering..."

October 24:
"Here's my best effort at a summary of the people murdered since Friday  
October 14:One murder on October 14  
October 15 and 16: no murders, but 3 bodies found in the Valle de Juarez 
October 17: 4 murders  
October 18: Another day without a homicide  
October 19: 5 homicides  
October 20: 4 people assassinated  
October 21: 5 people murdered  
October 22: 3 executed  
October 23: 9 people killed, one decapitated...
According to my tally, the total for the month of October is now about 109, an average of about 5 people per day this month. For the year, 1,709--an average of 5.7 people per day, and since January 2008, the total number of people killed in Juarez is at least 9,708..."

Even living on the border, it is easy to forget just how many lives are being lost just across the border. Stories of shoot-outs and kidnappings still shock me, but the stats are often just numbers. Daily I receive emails from a research librarian at NMSU on her mass email list called the "frontera list"--compiled of translations and summaries of the day's headlines of the border violence. Recently they have included summaries such as those listed above.

It's not until I hear a personal story of suffering that it hits me again. I couldn't imagine working in some of the places my roommates work in--especially the one who often tells us of the stories her clients share--witnessing extreme decapitation of loved ones, fearing the risk of being killed if they don't receive asylum in the states, experiencing being trafficked...things that I could never imagine having the strength to listen to. It takes a level of de-sensitization, she explains to us, to be able to go to work everyday...or else she would just get swept up in the intense emotions and not be able to serve the clients who bring these stories.

I've heard stories of our after-school kids who have witnessed shoot-outs, been in the presence of loved ones dying, had relatives commit suicide, had parents murdered... The stories horrify me. But like my roommate, if I were to dwell on those stories, we would make no progress. But in no way do we forget the stories or the loved ones...

At this time of the year, the Mexican population is celebrating el Dia de los Muertos--the Day of the Dead. A day during which we take time to remember and honor those who have passed. On the border, it's obviously more than just lighting candles, preparing flowers, and eating special bread...it's also a reminder of the horrific circumstances surrounding how loved ones have died. How painful it must be for someone who has lost a friend, a brother, a parent, or a child to violence that is attributed to political corruption, situations of poverty, and many more avoidable consequences due to the actions taken in response to drug trade issues.

"The combination of a failed immigration system in the U.S. and unaccountable violence in Mexico has shown itself to be a deadly one for migrants. There has been a surge in the last two years of immigrants in the U.S. being deported to Mexico -- often with terrible consequences. Not only are they separated from their families, but many are killed in Mexico due to the corruption and the Mexican government's failure to provide institutional protection from violence." (Border Network for Human Rights Dia de los Muertos event page)

An excellent story that connects a personal story of a rather wealthy Mexican to the larger issues of the border: http://www.texasobserver.org/cover-story/no-safe-place

"Confronted with knowledge of dozens of apparently random disasters each day, what can a human heart do but slam its doors? No mortal can grieve that much. We didn't evolve to cope with tragedy on a global scale. Our defense is to pretend there's no thread of event that connects us, and that those lives are somehow not precious and real like our own. It's a practical strategy, to some ends, but the loss of empathy is also the loss of humanity, and that's no small tradeoff." (High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver)

Friday, October 21, 2011

"I come here fearless."

I've visited the border fence at Anapra a few times. I've never seen nuns throwing stuff over the fence, but I admire their boldness! Check it out...


Sunday, October 16, 2011

A conversation with a rap-obsessed boy.

At the after-school program I work with, we always begin our day with an hour of homework time as soon as we pick up the kids from school. On Thursday, we had a significantly smaller number of kids at homework time. Although we usually turn up 12-20 kids, Thursday we had a whopping six. The three of us on staff took a surprised yet relieved sigh as we walked into the room to find such fewer students. We looked forward to a relaxing hour filled with calmness rather than the chaos of trying to get all the kids to work on homework, to make sure none of them wander out of the room, and to give as many of them the tutoring they need.

But Thursday, since our ratio was 2:1 students to staff, I had the chance to sit down with one of our middle school boys and just chat with him as others in the room joined in their own conversations or projects and homework. This boy is one of the many that I usually drive home after daily programming. He is a great kid, who is rarely without a smile on his face. He's very helpful, talkative, and fun to be around. But he is also the one who most enjoys "singing" raps in the van-ride home...despite the cuss words and inappropriateness in the raps, which bother me quite a bit, especially since there are often younger kids in the van. I tell him to stop, threaten to not let him in the van anymore; but like any typical middle school boy, he finds it funny that I am so offended by his raps and continues on rapping. He is also one of our students who never brings homework to homework time. When we tell him to find something to work on, he pulls out folded up pieces of lined paper, filled with penciled words of raps he has written. "Miss, will you read this?" he asks me as he hands his most recent work. I get to the second line, where the first f-bomb is dropped, and I hand the paper back to him. "Dude, you know I don't wanna read this!"

But Thursday I sat down with him and listened to him for more than twenty minutes tell me all about his idols: Lil' Wayne, Eminem, 2Pac...among other rappers. Folks that I know nothing about--I don't listen to rap at all, especially rap full of swearing or violent and sexual images, and I just have never been interested. (I just looked up 2Pac on wikipedia because I didn't know how to spell his name.) But the extent of this boy's knowledge about these celebrities was fascinating! He knew people they had married or seen, how they had died, when they went to rehab, how their lives were reflected in their music...it was astonishing. So I sat and listened as I learned about these rappers who before, all I knew was their name and that they were rap artists. These celebrities are who he looks up to, who he admires, who he strives to be like. But these celebrities' lives are full of drug-use, suicide attempts and attempted homicide, sexual abuse...is this who we want our middle schoolers to be looking up to?

But that's not the end of the story. After being given summaries of the rappers' lives, he once again pulled out his papers (this time, ALL his papers--more than 20 raps!) and began telling me about how he writes them and what kinds of raps he writes. But this time instead of the daily question of, "Miss, will you read this?" I asked him, "Can I read one?"

This time my eyes went past the cuss words and my heart penetrated the emotional and deep content in his raps. Feelings of loneliness, anger, frustration, but mostly--confusion, filled the pages. Every rap was one long run-on sentence with no spaces, no room for pause. For the first time, I realized that his raps were his outlet for his emotions.

During this time, this middle school boy also told me why he never does his homework at our program. "I do my homework at home. When you drop me off, my mom still isn't home, so I have the peace and quiet to do my homework. Every day I go home, I do homework, I eat, I go to bed...every day." Unlike other kids, there is no time in his schedule to hang out with friends or family. I finally learned that his raps and fascination with rap are way more than just an off-to-the-side hobby...they give him life.

For this boy, rap is his outlet. It is his friend. It is his passion. Now, do I continue getting frustrated with the cussing and the violent images...or do I respect his passion and seek to understand it more?

God bless this boy.

Monday, October 3, 2011


If I were to describe El Paso in one word, it might be "Spanglish." Everywhere I go, I hear a unique blend of Spanish and English. At work with the Middle Schoolers it happens all the time:

"Pero Miss, no tengo homework."
"Miss, can I have a boli?"
"Donde estan su shoes?"
"Miss, can I use your telefono?"
"Miss, puedo tener tu phone?"

Almost every conversation with the kids is an exchange of two languages, and I'm finding that even though all the youth know English, some choose not to use it or seem not very comfortable speaking English. So our conversations are a fun mix. :)

I can also see a mix of Mexico and Texas when bringing the youth home at the end of the day. One minute, I will be dropping off kids near Segundo Barrio, where all the shops and houses have signs in Spanish, and the neighborhood reminds me of my time in Central America and looks more like what I see when I look south of the border fence. But then a kid will need to be dropped off a few miles north of downtown, in a neighborhood that looks like a middle-class neighborhood in the Midwest, with generously sized houses, trees (but not much grass), wider roads with curbs, and not a word in Spanish.

But the mixture of language is just one aspect of the unique culture you can find here in El Paso. I have never been to any place like the Borderland--not only am I in a place where two nations share a border, but also where two languages dance, multiple cultures clash, many economic classes reside, and the river meets desert meets mountains.

Living and working in this unique border culture has been super fascinating for me. I'm sure I'll be sharing more about this in future posts. But for now, I look forward to continue learning a new language.

Local radio stations are perhaps the best source for a mix of language. The song "Tengo Tu Love" has been on quite a bit, and it is the perfect example of Spanglish...

          Yo tengo tu amor
           I got your love
           Yo tengo tu amor
            Yo tengo tu love.

If you're not a Spanish speaker, check out the video and see how many words you can recognize. :)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thinking about money...

I love concerts. In the past five or so years of my life, I have spent hundreds of dollars on tickets, gas, and meals to go to shows and many many hours with friends attending and driving to and from those shows. I absolutely love the environment of live music being shared by a talented group of people--Christian or secular, indoor or outdoor, metal or acoustic. It would never take me long to fork out the $10-40 for a ticket and drive over three hours to get to a concert.

I have driven many miles to see one of my favorite bands, Sanctus Real, perform and I have spent many hours  waiting at shows to maintain my spot in the front row at music festivals. Every time I heard that they were going to be anywhere in the Midwest, I began my research, purchased tickets, and cleared my schedule to make sure I could be there. Moving down here to Texas, I was bummed I would miss their performances at LifeLight and other shows in the tri-state area...until I found out they were coming to El Paso! I was SO excited that I'd have the chance to see them again.

So Sanctus Real played here in El Paso last week...but I didn't go.

After the initial excitement wore off, I started thinking more about the show and its $25 ticket. They were playing with Casting Crowns, so this was probably a pretty reasonable ticket price. But for a few days, I just couldn't bring myself to buy a ticket. I kept thinking about how this $25 was one-fourth my stipend for a month, and what else I could spend that money on or save it. I'd also have to miss a night of YoungLife...which wouldn't have been a big deal, considering we often have as many leaders as we do youth attend. But instead of worshiping with my hands raised to the "Face of Love" or "I'm Not Alright" that night, I worshiped with my arms around our high schoolers, swaying back and forth and singing as loud as we could to "Stand by Me."

Many people I know would not see my refusal to the concert as a big deal. But for me, it is kinda a big deal. Being at concerts have been some of the most joyful moments of my life. I think my decision to not attend demonstrates how much I am already changing from my experience here on the border. Even just a month ago or so, some three weeks into the program, I willingly and excitedly spent $40 for an Avett Brothers concert here in El Paso next month. I don't regret my purchase and I am very excited for the show, but the extent of thought that I put into buying that ticket was way less than the Sanctus Real ticket.

I don't want pity for not having much money or want to put myself up on a stand, saying "look at me and how much I am sacrificing because I'm poor!" But I live and work around so many people that come from families that just don't have the option to make a purchase without giving much much thought into it. On the other hand, I also work with many who have a family member who doesn't think twice about spending money on things like alcohol.  I have never been good with money and I never really think about finances ever...but I am learning that the less money you have, the more you think about it. (Unless you're an addict.)

I am blessed to be earning no salary. I am blessed to have rent and utilities taken care of. I am blessed to be missing out on fun experiences to spend time with confused teenagers. I am blessed to have to think twice or three times about spending $6 on a coffee and bagel...sometimes giving in (like now) and sometimes deciding it's not worth it. I am blessed to be living in a community where we take a lot of time to consider our financial situation before buying groceries or making other purchases. I am blessed with the ability to feel blessed despite my economic situation, and to recognize that life for me is still very, very comfortable.

As I sit at a small table in Kinley's with my bagel and coffee, I wonder how comfortable the man sitting outside my window is...I mean, having to beg for money from folks sitting outside a coffee shop, how comfortable can he be?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

C'mon, let's follow this through.

You know, people are interesting.

Lately I've been fascinated by just how different people can be...what a variety of types of people there are. This fascination has led to my own examination of what kind of person I want to be. I'm warning you now--this post might get long, but I think this post will be helpful for me to organize what I've seen and thought about in regards to people. (Pretty broad, eh? But we'll see where this goes.)

There's been a few different instances that stick out in my mind about how people can be:

I walk to work every morning. I like to look around and keep my head up when walking, hoping for an opportunity to share a smile or hello with someone also walking. But most of the people I pass (usually college students) do not look up at me when we pass on the sidewalk. Yeah, it can be awkward to say hello to a stranger on the street or make eye contact, but I'm the kind of person that loves giving and receiving a friendly hello or smile from a stranger. Maybe I'm just making the situation weird for my passerby, I don't know. I guess some people just aren't as friendly to strangers as I like to be.

On the contrast, a few blocks from my work site, every morning there is a man (or a couple of men) standing at a busy intersection where the main highway meets my street. He stands on the median while the stoplight is red, holding a cardboard sign that says "Homeless" or "Hungry...anything helps." He stands just feet from the stopped cars, looking in the eyes of the passengers and drivers with his own desperate eyes. He is not afraid to acknowledge those passing strangers by silently pleading with them with his gaze and his sign.

The neighborhood in which I work is interesting. Our program serves youth (and adults) that are mostly from low-income, sometimes abusive or just not healthy, migrant families. But we are sponsored by a church that has a private school just across the street from the building we use. As I return from picking up our kids from school around 3:00, I notice the line of nice cars filling the parking lot and the many kids exiting the school building, making their way to the cars. I spend a great couple of hours with the kids in our program, then spend another 40 minutes or so bringing a lot of them home. Many of them would not be able to attend our program if we did not offer a ride from school and/or a ride home for them. 

The past few weeks we've traveled into New Mexico for weekend adventures. To get to our destinations, we have had to pass through border patrol checkpoints on the highway. Our first two times, the border patrol official gave us a quick glance, asked the question, "Are you all U.S. citizens?" and with a "Yes, sir" from us, let us on our way. Today, we simply received a glance and a wave of the hand to continue on through. Those checkpoints are using racial profiling to decide who can and cannot continue on their way with a view of what we look like. I guess you can determine if a person is a U.S. citizen simply by glancing at them.

I could continue with stories about how I've noticed these things about people (including a fun encounter with strangers and hotel management), but this post could be pages and pages long. Mostly these experiences have made me think more about the type of person I want to be.

I have heard a passage from scripture a lot lately, Romans 12:2. "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Mostly the first part sticks out to me: Do not conform any longer.

I have a lot of desires for this next year. I want this year to be different for me. I want to wake up in the mornings and actually spend time in reflection and scripture. I want to run every day. I want to keep up with the news. I want to give my all in everything I do with my work. I want to really get to know the youth I'm working with. I want to be honest with my housemates. I want to read more. I want to be bold in my beliefs and opinions. I want to unashamedly speak Spanish. I want to be able to balance life here and now with life in the past in the Midwest. I want to learn more guitar.

I want to stop conforming to sleeping in, holding back, being ashamed, lazy, and ignorant. I want to become a transformed person. I want to be buena gente. I want to be giving, selfless, passionate, spiritual, motivated, energized, and honest.

I'm not exactly sure what this will all look like, but I hope to be transformed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sin Fronteras

To have hope
Is to be a courier of God
And courier of men and women of good will,
Tearing down walls, destroying borders,
Building bridges.

When I signed up for the Border Servant Corps, I did not expect to live less than a mile away from Mexico. I can see the lights of Juarez, Mexico, from my window at night, and I glance at its neighborhoods down the street every morning.

Though we live very close to the border, Thursday we got up close and personal. We traveled out of the Juarez-El Paso metropolis a few miles, where we met a few yards away from the border fence with a worker from Border Patrol. He gave us a good run down on the purpose of the BP and what they do, including things I had never heard about, including rescue-type missions in the desert and the canals, where they have trained medical teams that search for those migrants "left behind" and get them medical attention before proceeding with the legal stuff. I didn't expect to hear that. He shared many honest and positive things about the border, but I am still critical about BP and its actions. All I've ever heard were harsh stories about abuse and unmerciful BP officers, as well as the sad separation between families that have the hardest time either leaving Mexico or fear to return to Mexico because of fear to never be let back into the US. But you can't categorize an entire group by just one side of the story, right? I'm still learning.

As soon as we were finished speaking with the BP, we approached the fence where two women were waiting for us on the other side. They were friends of our program, often visited in their community by people coming down on border immersion trips. But because of the increase in violence in Juarez and the risk of having a large group of US people in their community, it has been decided that the best conversation location is at the fence. 

We heard about their community, their struggles, their families. It was a great conversation, full of Spanish and English, with local kids nearby kicking around rocks, sticking their fingers through the fence, and whispering about us. They were very kind women who are doing great things for their community, and whose love for others and for God was evident in their words. But perhaps the best part of our time at the fence was how we ended our time there.

We had been warned by our BP friend that we shouldn't actually touch the fence or stand right next to it, for suspicion that we were trading items. But that did not stop us from sticking our fingers through the chain links, holding onto each other, and closing in a circle of prayer. It was simply the Lord's Prayer, but at that moment when were connected to each other, there was no language barrier, no fence...nothing but our praise and petitions to the One in whom there are no borders. 

Paul once said, "For I am convinced that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God." I am also convinced that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God we find in our neighbors. Especially not a 15-foot "climb-proof" chain-link fence.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A peaceful goodbye

It's been a week since I gave Pine Ridge a final wave and the last campers left. Even though camp is done, it has been a great week, full of random sleepovers, fun shopping adventures, and joyful lunches with close friends. Soon I begin a new journey. Tomorrow I will begin the 22-hour drive to El Paso, Texas, where I'll step into a year-long term serving with the Border Servant Corps (http://www.borderservant.com/).

I'm not sure if it's because I have not given myself much time to think about this upcoming year, or if I'm still just overwhelmed and excited by the amazing summer I just had, but I don't feel all that bummed, nor super excited, to be leaving tomorrow. And my goodbyes have not seemed that difficult.

Don't get me wrong, it has been fantastic to spend time with so many people who have absolutely blessed not only this past week but also my entire life. But I think the contentment I have been given right now is due to what I have learned about the One we call Creator this summer.

There is a concept in Lakota spirituality that I heard a lot this summer and it always quickened my brain gears and tightened my heart muscle. Mitakuye oyasin. "All my relatives." It's the idea that everyone is your relative. Your uncle, your brother, your grandma, your best friend, your classmate...but also the trees, your dog, the wind, the sun... All of us are related. I think what I love most about this phrase is not only the idea that we are all connected, but that we are all connected by the Great Spirit who has created us.    

Something God has gifted me this summer is a new awareness of the Divine in everyone--in every single person I encounter. "All of you are sacred" is something we heard every week from one of our speakers. Everyone is sacred. Everyone has a piece of the Holy in them. Whether or not a person is aware of the Divinity within them is not important; what's important is whether or not we recognize that person as sacred and holy. Can we allow the simple fact that a person is sacred--a child of God--inspire how we treat them, with respect and compassion?

How easier it would be for us to serve one another, to love one another, to actually follow the commands of the one many of us call Savior...if we could just recognize the Holy in every person we encounter, rather than judge, condemn, or cringe away from them.

God is in the dozens of Pine Ridge kids whom we hung out with every day this summer--including the young teenagers who come from confusing, abusive, and emotionally draining homes, as well as the five-year-old girl who called me a dumb ass after drawing Justin Beiber incorrectly. God is in the many old friends, close friends, and mentors that have entered my life and who I got to spend a small amount of time with this week. God is in this puppy lying next to me and who will probably have the hardest time saying goodbye to me tomorrow. God is in the people I will meet on Sunday and live and grow with for the next year or two.

So I remember that everyone I have met and will meet is my relative. Everyone is sacred. Everyone is a child of God... and these ideas are giving me an enormous amount of gratitude, joy, and peace, even amidst the goodbyes.