A Reflection From A Week in Nicaragua

Conchitas

Last week I was in Las Conchitas, Nicaragua.
I began each day by taking my cup of coffee and a plastic chair and sitting alongside the dirt road that runs through that little community.  I watched as a child ran down to the local pulperia and then back home with a bag of bread for breakfast.  I watched as children in the crisp, clean blue and white uniforms arrived for school.  I watched as couples (and sometimes families) pedaled by on their bicycle.  I watched as the same farmer at the same time each day led his cattle down the road to the field where they would graze for the day.  I saw people walking, people on bicycles, people on horse drawn carts and people on motorcycles.  Not once in all the mornings I sat there did a see a car.

And, as I sat there each morning greetings were exchanged.
A nod of the head.
A shy “Good morning.”
A wave of a hand.
Something that does not happen very often when I walk down the sidewalk of the Village where I have lived for almost 25 years.  Here eyes are averted and we tend to treat passers-by more as strangers than friends.

I felt content as I sat there each morning.
I felt connected in some small way to those who passed by.
I miss that now that I am home.
I miss the slower start to the day.
I miss the sense of community.
I only half jokingly tell people that I continue to lead service learning trips like this because there are lessons I still need to learn.  One morning as I sat alongside that road with my cup of coffee, I realized that one of those lessons for me to learn is to take what I knew and experienced there – the walking rather than racing from one thing to the next and the acknowledgement of another rather than the averting of the eyes –  and translate it into how I live here.

Beyond Charity

Early tomorrow morning I leave for Nicaragua.
With me will be 7 other adults and 20 or so high school students.
Most of those who are going will leave tomorrow with the impression that they are going to help.  They are going to help build homes for families.  They are going to help those who do not enjoy the financial resources they do.  They are going to help people who are poor.
I hope the come home thinking differently.

Somewhere along the way in the week we are there I hope we talk about the difference between charity and compassion and the difference between helping and supporting.  Somewhere along the way I hope that all those who are with me step back and realized they have made new friends, and that their neighborhood is a bit larger and their world a bit smaller.

Here is the reality…
Charity is easy. Compassion is hard.
Helping is easy. Supporting is hard.
Living in a small neighborhood is easy.
Living in a large neighborhood and small world is hard.
Mixing cement is easy. Living with your eyes open is hard.
Eating rice and beans every day is easy.
Realizing that is all most people eat, if they eat at all, is hard.

I hope we are willing to do what is hard.

That Which Divides…

One of the new things that I have been trying lately is Pub Theology.
(An idea I am borrowing from others who have tried it in other places.)
Once a month any who are interested gather at a local bar, have a beer together and talk about an issue and concern that faces our communities.  We have talked about guns and gun violence, the war on Christmas, and last night about racism and the changing demographics in the communities in which we live.

The conversation was interesting.
Those of us who were there were all roughly the same age and where all the same race.  We wondered how the conversation would have been different if African-Americans or Latinos had been a part of the conversation. But, what was interesting is that many around the table thought the divisions that existed in our communities was less about race and more about class and about a sense of entitlement.  Not a sense of entitlement felt by those who are of a lower socio-economic class, but the sense of entitlement felt by those who have both money and power.  Summed up in a sentence, the observation made last night, using education as an example, went something like this: “My child is entitled to xxxx, and they (those who are economically disadvantaged and who may need more academic support and services) are diverting resource away from what my child deserves.” 

I think there is some truth in that observation that was made.
I see it and experience that sense of entitlement as I walk down the streets of the Village where I live. I hear about it when I speak with teachers and administrators in our local school district. I see it acted out as I watch children interact with each other and with other adults in our community.  And, it is reinforced each time we hear a commercial tell us, “You deserve it.” And, it doesn’t matter, does it, whether we think commercials make or reflect societal trends, that sense of entitlement is still very much in play.

I am not quite sure what to do with the observation made last night other than to do my best to continue the conversation and to see where that might lead.  And, in some communities (maybe including ours) there is not much of a distinction between class and race.  What I know for sure is this.  Whether the cause is class or race or a sense of entitlement, the divide exists and is growing larger, and that is not good for our children, our families or our communities.

This Little Light of Mine. A Prayer.

In our prayers today, O God, we would remember the words of Jesus when he said, “You are the light of the world.”
In joy…light.
In sorrow…light.
In our certainty…light.
In our searching…light.
In this moment right now…light.
Tomorrow wherever we are and however we are…light.
So teach us what that might mean for us, O God;
For who we are;
And how we live:
And how we pray.
Amen.

Lessons From A Lump of Clay

Lunch today was with a group of colleagues one of who is an artist/sculptor, and who, before entering the ministry, was an full time artist and university art professor.  After we had lunch, he shared with us the process and thinking behind the work he does in clay.
The lines of what we were talking about quickly became blurred.
Art or Theology.
Clay vessels or Incarnation.
I wish I could better remember the references he made.
The way he said it was far better than my remembering now.
But the gist of it was this.
That which we create…
That in which we invest ourselves…
Continues to hold and to share that part of us which we put into it.

That insight was very evident as we looked at pictures of his work and listened to him talk.  But, his insight is not just about art, is it?  It is also about relationships and time and presence, and our work whatever the work we do happens to be.  The more of our best selves that we add, the more of our best selves move out into the world from that which we create to touch and to impact and to influence others.

Today, I learned something important about being an artist.
And, was reminded of something even more important about being a human being.

Simple Words/Big Difference

As a result of a discussion I participated in a couple weeks ago I have been thinking a lot about pronouns.  About how often I speak about me and mine and how often I use the words us and ours.  Simple words that matter a great deal and which reflect fundamentally different perspectives.

Which comes first and which is more important?
Me and mine?
Or, us and ours?
And, what is the balance between the two?

I know which way I lean, but I don’t have any clear or easy answers to the questions I pose.  But, I sense that those questions lie near the center of the divisions we experience around so many of the issues we face in our communities or in our country whether we are talking about taxes or guns or immigration or jobs.  And, because there is no honest discussion or any real consensus on the balance between the two, every issue then creates winners and losers, and builds animosity and resentment.

Maybe it has always been so.
But, I wonder…
Does it always have to be so?