A Rock Feels No Pain

In despero , obscurum ; In Diligo , Lux lucis. (In despair, darkness; In Love, Light). -Me

Mission: Dominican

Mission: Impossible

Mission: San Marcos

Well. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything, and longer still of any substance; and this one, too, is delayed, but I am still processing, still trying to think of all that went on, that I learned and felt and the times we shared.

So, practical things first. A couple of weeks ago, on the 28th of June, 21 people set out at the crack of dawn. Sixteen kids, from 14-18, and five adults, from some age to 47. We met at 0-dark’thirty, at the Church, and boarded a chartered school bus. We rode said bus, to the Newark, NJ, airport, and got off at terminal C. (It would have been silly to get off anywhere else, because that’s the terminal the flight was departing from, you see. I know you were worried about why we chose that terminal, and now you know).

Anyway, we herded and corralled, and counted heads a lot, and worked 21 people through security, immigration, boarding-pass checks, and onto the plane. A few (short!?!?!?) hours later, about 1230, we disembarked at Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, and began a great adventure in hard work, sharing, laughter, tears; in working, building, sweating, bleeding; in short, we started a week of mission work to the San Marco area of the Diocese of The Dominican Republic.

I can’t tell you, how proud of those kids, I am. Sixteen teenagers, working in dirt, shoveling, carrying concrete, heaving buckets of water (“Mas Agua! Mas Agua!”). We dug, we sweat, we panted; we sang, we laughed. We made friends, even across the language barriers. We learned that in this country, in our cozy little tiny-village lives (Yeah, small- the population of the “bigger” village, where our church is located, is estimated at 6663, as of 2007; the hamlet I live in, next to that village, is so tiny they don’t measure population separately from the surrounding areas), just how blessed we are, how fortunate.

We spent that week working, on a building site that will eventually become a Church, School and shelter for single- moms. Our little band turned out to be the first group in. The Padre we worked with had never had a mission group to work with before, and indeed, we were the ground breakers for the entire project.

Not to minimize the physical, for the kids did an incredible job, considering- 250′ of trench for a foundation, 18” deep and wide; concreted mixed, barrowed and poured that length, and cinderblock wall to about 4′, for most of that length, using hand tools like hoes, shovels and picks; some of our young ladies are almost five feet tall, and might weigh 100 lbs, and they worked without a serious complaint, for a week, in temperatures that approached 100, with 90% plus humidity. Not a single one of us were seriously hurt; as the designated first-aide guy, I had to flush two kid’s eyes, one for a bit of rock chip, and one for sunscreen dripping, but other than that my primary concern was blisters, hydration, and sunblock. (After all, I had to bring ’em back in the same shape I took ’em from moms and dads, right?).

So, the upshot, was a lot of hard physical labor.

But-

The most wonderful parts, had nothing to do with that. As great as they were at work, the gang of kids were even better, at mission and outreach, at connecting and friendships. Each one, in their own way, joined hands with neighbors and friends that we hadn’t met yet. Smiles, laughter, little ditties in Spanish, little ditties in English, clapping to the beat of songs we didn’t know, couldn’t recognize, set the stage for a deeper relationship. (I wish I could remember some of the little movements and words, to a little thing we learned from a 14 year-old gal, that first night; we have video, but I don’t have it here, but oh Lordy, we laughed!).

Some of the things that stand out, with crystal clarity-

  • The Dominican workers refusing lunch until we, the “guests”, had eaten; and, on the last day, when they realized they’d not purchased enough food for the entire week- watching them eat ketchup sandwiches; some of which, were cut in half, so each would get something.
  • The grandmother of one of the little girls opening her home, humble as it was, so we could use her bathroom- and, although clearly impoverished, offering me a cup of cafe, as if she had gallons to spare. (I know she didn’t, because 1. I could see her supply of coffee, and it wasn’t much, and 2. All water had to come from bottles, you’d no more brew gallons of coffee than you’d water plants with your drinking water).
  • The look on a couple of our teenager’s faces, when they realized, in horror, that one of the workers was barefoot not by choice, but because he didn’t own a pair of shoes. The look on those same faces, as well as the worker’s, as they took him to the little peddler’s cart and bought him a pair of shoes.
  • Later, the gratitude on Joan’s (Pronounced jo-ahn, and it’s a male name- we kept wanting to call him Yohann, lol) face, too, when he received a pair of shoes from the feet of one of the boys. (Does it count that I did bring some of ’em home shoe-less, albeit healthy?)
  • The gentle kindness of the Padre, as he bent to speak to the little girls that flocked around us, after we started our days with a prayer service in the teeny shed that acted as the church, for now, explaining why they couldn’t wheel the wheel barrows full of sacks of concrete up the street for us.

There’s so much more, so many little things that I can’t recount, I can’t express some of it yet, I’m still processing the whole trip, the whole community we formed to go, and expanded while we were there; the welcome we were given to join that far-off group, the love we all held, and showed.

Why, today, am I writing this? Well, cuz we had a follow-up meeting with the ‘gang’, today, after Church. We managed, it seems, to raise a substantial amount more than we needed, and the kids decided it would be appropriate to give it back to our parish, who had contributed so much to the trip; but, they also decided, on their own, that they needed to continue this connection, and all we heard for an hour, was how they could do more for the people of San Marcos.

Yeah.

It costs $300.00 (US), per year, to send a child to school, up through high-school. That includes tuition, uniform, books, etc. So our gang, today? They figure that if each of the twenty of us did just a little bit, per month, that we probably wouldn’t even miss, well; “Pauloa, Joan, Roberto… they could go to school!”

Yeah

Proud, I am, so proud of that gang.

And I love ’em all, each one.

Filed under: blessings, friends, friendship, God, musings, spirituality, , , , , , ,

Story Discussion Today

This morning, I had an interesting discussion with a group of people from Church. As we prepare and proceed through Advent, the season of preparation, there are several of us that have signed up to participate in a discussion group together. We read stories from a book called Yards of Purple, by Sarah M. Foulger, and discuss them, one story per Saturday, through the Advent season.

The book follows the lectionary cycle, which makes it very easy to relate to the particular reading for the Sunday that will follow, and also makes it very easy to remember that the whole purpose isn’t so much to have a book-club discussion, but to relate the stories and passages from The Bible to the messages that God has for each of us.

Today’s story is called “Miracle Cookies”, and relates to the lectionary passages from Isaiah 2:4, and Matthew 24:42. The story centers around an inner-city, gang-infested neighborhood, and what happens when two elderly men who have been sworn enemies for almost sixty years decide to try and make a change. One of the men, known to us as “Old Man Williams”, decides that he’s tired of living in fear, and takes the very courageous steps to go his ex-friend, in a spirit of forgiveness and “with the kernel of an idea.”

What happens next is the spreading of this movement, which they name “Swords into Plowshares”, and the joining and coming together of various people and businesses to try to make a difference in the lives and times of this community. We don’t know what the end result is, in the very broad sense, but we do know that even Janine, who bakes the cookies that form the title, has “tried to keep her well-developed skepticism far from the making of them.”

Interesting, to me, was the discussion that we had; and how many of our small group (there were only nine of us there today) focused on the forgiveness aspect of the story. Several people said that what they took away most, was the feeling that one can forgive another, as Christ has forgiven us, if only we can be open to try. We discussed how difficult it can be, sometimes, to reach out, to make that first effort, but how necessary and affirming it really is, when we do make that attempt.

One of the women said something about how hard it can be, particularly if the problem, the behavior that needs forgiving, is repeatedly occurring; she said she struggles, when the forgiveness is required “over, and over, and over- with no sign of acknowledgment from him.”

At that point, our Rector spoke up, agreeing with her, and said it feels sometimes, in his own life, like “getting poked in the eye. Then you come back for more, and get poked, and it repeats itself.”

We talked then, about the old testament, and the repeated failings of the people of Israel to follow and keep the commandments of God, and yet his repeated forgiveness, and willingness to try again, showing and redeeming over and over again, demonstrates vividly His love for us. We laughed, of course, because none of us are God, and if we were, perhaps we wouldn’t struggle so with the idea that even when someone has done us wrong, we are to forgive, and forgive, and forgive again, as many times as is needed.

Funny, though, at that moment, as we all sat there, together, there was a period of silence. Not asked for, as one might after prayer, or before, but spontaneous. Just a time when as we all looked around at one another, no one was willing to break the silence. Everyone was reflecting, and while I don’t know what was in the others’ heads, I know that I was very conscious of my failings in that; that, all to human, I fail to live up to that example, that I, in my frailty and weakness, am not so good at this.

So the take-away from this, or part of it anyway, for me- is that it’s okay to forgive, and it’s okay to forgive the very fact that forgiveness might be repeatedly needed. I can try, as Advent progresses, to remember the example of “Old Man Williams”, and look for batch of Miracle Cookies, in my own life.

Filed under: bible study, forgiveness, God, spirituality

Another Class

I am taking another class this semester, down in New York City. This one is an Old Testament class, because I found that I just don’t know enough, as I think and pray and try to learn. Not so much that I’m denying God anymore- I’ve come back to acknowledging God’s presence in my life with a vengeance- but the context and stories, the history of the scriptures, and even just the locations of stories.

On the first day of class, one of the questions that was raised, is “Why bother studying the Old Testament?” It’s rather interesting that there are a fair number of respectable theologians that are almost dismissive of the Old Testament. Their view is that it’s not as relevant to the newer reality of Jesus and his saving grace, that it’s an area that can be, if not ignored, at least not focused on.

Interesting way to look at it, but I don’t think that you can fully understand and participate in, and appreciate, the miracle of the resurrection, without the context and history of the people that surrounded that event. The professor on Thursday night also had a way of looking at it. Paraphrasing here: The God Jesus called Father, is the Yahweh of the Hebrew Scriptures; thus, who are we to discard what Jesus himself did not?

Seems like a simple enough reason to incorporate the Old Testament into spiritual life, and looking for more than just a dismissal of an entire body of work as irrelevant, seems to me to be pretty arrogant. There were a couple students in class, whose comments left the impression that they would just as soon not be looking at this either, but it is a required class for M.Div students, and I think for the M.A. students as well. It will be interesting to see if peoples’ views change, as we go along.

But for now, I’m trying to get my textbooks; I went in on Saturday, specifically and only to get them, to find that the bookstore lady was “Having troubles getting in”, and the store never did open. Naturally, they don’t open on Sundays, and of course I can’t get there between 10 and 5 during the work-week. Sigh. I’m hoping I can order them on the phone, and have them shipped. That will get them to me tomorrow, which will give me tomorrow night and Wednesday to catch up on the readings.

Luckily, much of the reading this week is from articles that I have, and the Bible itself, which of course I have.

Another step on this journey, which still has no end in view, but it’s all fun.

Filed under: class, God, old testament, spirituality

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