Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Sacred Amidst the Profane

I like how some people stand up in the food court King George II style, and some people just keep eating their curly fries.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What Am I Willing to Give Up?

There’s a well known story in the gospels about a rich young man who approaches Jesus and asks him how to get his hands on the golden ticket—that is, eternal life. Jesus tells him to stick to the 10 commandments, and the young man claims that he has those under control. So Jesus looks him up and down, and with razor sharp insight He goes for the jugular. “Sell everything you’ve got, and give it to the poor.” The words hang in the air between Jesus and the rich young man while the young man takes in the shocking instruction. He puts his hand in his pocket to feel the soft leather of his wallet. Deeply chagrined, he drops eye contact with Jesus and he slowly back-pedals home towards his lake-side Galilean condo with his Mercedes Benz chariot parked in the garage. For he was very rich.

And Jesus turned to his disciples and said “It’s difficult for people who are stinking rich to turn their lives over to a Higher Purpose. It’s like trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle.” At which point the disciples either slapped their knees and laughed at Jesus’ hilarious joke, or they swallowed fearfully, wondering what THEY were going to have to give up someday.

I don’t think Jesus is inherently against people having money. In this particular case, Jesus just knew that the young man’s wealth was what was keeping him from really being able to serve God and man with whole-hearted, undistracted dedication.

Right now, tens of thousands of thirsty Haitians are scooping up cloudy water in tin cups, knowing that they will die if they don’t drink water, and they will die if they drink cholera-contaminated water. Those are the choices. Right now angry Haitians are wandering around the littered city streets, waving machetes and trying to find someone to blame for the cholera epidemic, the U.N occupation, the earthquake, the shambles of the upcoming presidential elections, the whole history of Haiti, and God only knows what else.

This past week— the week I was supposed to be in Haiti -- I’ve been sitting on my comfortable couch, drinking clean water out of the tap, flushing my toilet and not even thinking about where that waste is going, walking on an uncontaminated beach, enjoying rain storms without fear of flash floods, and going to work where I earn considerably more than one dollar a day.

And I don’t have answers, but I keep discovering new, soul-searching, mind-blowing questions. The question for this week is: what am I willing to give up to authentically serve God and others? Material things, like my bank account? Some clothes? My job? Chocolate? My meticulously accumulated retirement funds? Good tasting food? Or how about immaterial things, like comfort? Health? Security? Respect? Traveling? Dreams for my future? My indignant sense of right and wrong? Time with friends? Convenience? My precious down time? Seeing my family on holidays? Cleanliness?

I begin to worry that people are tired of reading and hearing my rants full of these questions. But on the other hand, I think these are questions that all world citizens need to ask themselves if we are ever going to make a dent in rectifying the inequities that exist from country to country, and in many cases, from neighborhood to neighborhood. If there is ever any hope of balancing the scales, everyone has to be willing to ask “what am I willing to give up?” And the answers to that question that will truly make a difference in this world will certainly be harder to carry out than squeezing a camel through the eye of a needle.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Unpacking My Suitcase and My Disappointment

I would have been arriving in Haiti right now. But the night before I was prepared to leave, Beyond Borders, the organization who was hosting me and four others, made the judgment call to cancel the trip because the cholera outbreak in Haiti had worsened and they didn’t think they could adequately protect us from cholera.

Cholera has infected 12,000 and killed 800 in Haiti so far. Worse yet, it recently made its way into the capital—Port au Prince—where millions of people live in post-earthquake make-shift tents, and are in great danger of being exposed to contaminated water. I knew cholera was a threat, and in general I do try to avoid situations where projectile vomiting and diarrhea are likely. My brain thinks Beyond Borders made the right decision.

But my heart feels so damn sad.
And confused.
And disappointed.

On Friday I spent most of the day carefully packing my suitcase, and on Saturday I unpacked it while trying to sort out my feelings.

I feel sad because in 2010 alone the Haitians have suffered an earthquake that killed 200,000 people, last week Hurricane Tomas wreaked havoc on parts of Haiti, and now there is a deadly cholera epidemic.

I feel disappointed because I’ve been gearing up physically, emotionally, and spiritually for this trip for months, and the rug quite suddenly got pulled out from under me.

I feel confused because the reason I want to travel to Haiti is out of obedience to a calling I feel upon me to go. So why can’t I get to Haiti? Is the whole point the willingness to go, and not the actual going?

I’ve no tidy answers for the end of this post-- just questions. But one thing I know is that the next 8 days that I would have been in Haiti are going to be particularly devoted to praying for and focusing on the Haitian people, reading and getting more educated, and listening for other ideas of what I can do to help them.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hope Is the Thing with Feathers

I love the poem where Emily Dickenson defines hope using a bird as a metaphor:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all.

Where is the Hope?

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Haiti I’ve been reading articles and history books about Haiti, and in the past few days I’ve developed a low-grade funk. Haiti’s history is chock-full of horrifying atrocities.

Ever since Christopher Columbus discovered Haiti in 1492— and subsequently wiped out 400,000 natives—the Haitians have been fighting for their lives. The Spanish wreaked havoc upon Haiti for 200 years by forcing the natives to labor for them, and then they paid them with the gift of small pox. Then the French got in line to take a stab at ruling Haiti and they brought in hundreds of thousands of African slaves to work their coffee, cocoa, and cotton crops so the French could get rich. There were revolutions and rebellions over the next few hundred years, in which various men asserted their power and authority, only to be assassinated by their enemies.

Cue the sound of a military bugle blowing. The U.S. Marines marched into Haiti to occupy the country and show the Haitians how it is done. Which is to say—the U.S. showed (and is still showing) the Haitians how rich people from other countries can wag the tail of the American military so that they receive lucrative contracts in said countries and become stinking rich in the process. Then another series of politicians and military officers played “king of the hill” for the right to rule Haiti. Papa Doc Duvalier stepped in as a dictator dishing out torture, extortion, and violent rule for the next few decades, until he died and passed the dictator baton to his son Baby Doc. Baby Doc eventually got kicked out but he took enough of Haiti’s money with him to go live comfortably in exile in France, while another series of wanna be politicians orchestrated various governmental reconstructions, military coups, and murders, vying for control of Haiti.

This brings us to today. We all know that in addition to governmental instability and extreme poverty, in January 2010, Haiti suffered a 7.0 earthquake that killed 230,000 and left over 1.6 million people homeless. In the last few weeks, an outbreak of cholera has killed hundreds of people, and yesterday Hurricane Tomas blew through Western Haiti, leaving the people to sweep mud out of their NGO-issued tarp tent homes.

Isn’t this blog post a bummer? Well, that is my point. Where is the hope?

I delivered a sermon on hope once, defining hope as “a desire of something good, with at least a reasonable expectation that it is obtainable.” From the perspective of my readings, ever since 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Haiti has only been dealt lousy cards. With a 500 year history like that, how can there be a reasonable expectation that good stuff is obtainable?

Where is the hope?

I don’t have the answer to that question, but you can bet your bottom dollar that when I am in Haiti I will look high and wide for the answer.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Upping the Ante

Apparently it’s not enough that Haiti has…

Distinction as the poorest country in the Americas
Constant political unrest
An upcoming presidential election
Extensive recovery efforts from the January 2010 earthquake

But now— right at the exact time when I am traveling to this country— Haiti is dealing with:

A cholera outbreak that has infected 5,000 people and killed 400 people.
Hurricane Tomas threatening to blow winds of 85 mph upon the weakened geography of Haiti.

Seems the ante has been raised on my interest in poverty issues, and on my commitment to obediently pursue a calling to check out Haiti.

up the ante Informal to increase the costs, risks, or considerations involved in taking an action or reaching a conclusion

Thank goodness I’m a gambling woman. You gotta bet big to win big.

Fears that Creep Into the Night

I’m anticipating that my trip to Haiti will be intense. And so far, in the daytime at least, I haven’t been tripping out about the inherent dangers, discomforts, and unknowns. But last night was the first time that I spent some sleepless hours dealing with fears that creep into the night.

I’m afraid.

I’m afraid that I will have the same extreme aversion to Haiti as I do to India.
I’m afraid that for some reason I won’t connect with Haitians.
I’m afraid that I will be stuck in a hotel room in Miami for several days while a hurricane passes through Haiti.
I’m afraid of getting a bad stomach bug- I once spent a long night passed out in a bathroom in Katmandu, so I know it is a big bummer.
I’m afraid of people’s first impression of me as being tired and cranky since I will be flying all night to Miami, and arriving in Haiti very early in the morning.
I’m afraid of extreme toilet situations that I haven’t experienced yet.
I’m afraid of accidently doing something offensive to the Haitians.
I’m afraid of my heart aching from compassion and empathy and love.

In the midst of all this nighttime fear, I’m reminded of a few verses written by St. John, good friend of Jesus.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them... There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…

I believe that in this last week of preparation for my Nov 13th take-off, my best bet is to focus on love.