Friday, November 7, 2014

Home Sweet Home?

In many ways you'd think coming back for a second year would be easier than the first. My clothes are already put away, I know my way around, my stomach is accustomed to the everyday bugs. But these first two weeks back have been the most difficult since I first arrived in San Salvador over a year ago.

The big difference is how much I'm willing to let myself fail. I remember when I first arrived. Every moment was unique. It was beautiful. It was a learning opportunity. I was risking something extraordinary, and so every success was a celebration, every setback a sign of positive change, of moving forward.

Despite my latest blog post, I have not been treating this second year as separate. I go to work at Cristosal with the highest of expectations. I come home and move on to the next thing - jump back into capoeira, clean my room, meet the roommates, go on adventures, re-embrace the Salvadoran diet, have everything handled. And predictably, it's exhausting.

I remember sitting in the sunshine during my first week in El Salvador, holding a small bowl of yogurt and fresh papaya. I remember savoring this odd, new fruit, and just listening, watching the flowers in the garden, feeling the warmth on my skin in the middle of October. I remember feeling filled up.

Now that I have a routine, places to be, things to do (and no "excuse" to slow down, to take things slow) those moments are few and far between. And now the trick is going to be to learn how to give myself the same grace period without the wonderful excuse of I just moved to a new country.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Faith and Reason

Last Sunday I was in Seattle for Cristosal’s Executive Committee meeting. We were hosted by St. Thomas in Medina, where the Rev. Lex Breckenridge spoke during the Sunday forum about the intersection of religion and science. Lex was one of the first folks to open my eyes beyond gut reactions to words like conversion, transformation, even Jesus. To the idea that these are just words, and spirituality is a personal experience, and therefore a personal interpretation of what we want those words to mean to us. They can be offensive, neutral, healing, transformative, challenging… it’s up to you.
 Much of this past year has been a personal journey to unify three seemingly disparate worlds that I walk in: the lofty scientific, the inner spiritual, and the very real lived experience of Cristosal’s human rights work with marginalized communities in El Salvador.
 Lex highlighted the problem that when we choose between scienceor religion, we hold these fields to a moral ideal, an absolute standard as the answer. Yet both are flawed: technological innovation brings us nanotechnology and the hydrogen bomb, religion inspired the globe-shifting acts of both Martin Luther King and the Crusades. To pursue one without the other (faith without reason, reason without faith) is to lose those checks and balances that mean we make choices for the benefit of others, not solely ourselves.
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  One of my favorite philosophers says that change happens when we look at the world as it is, and compare it to way we think it should be. And that starts with recognizing that we don’t truly understand the world as it is. Lex highlighted recent studies in quantum physics showing that our world does not operate as mechanistically as we’d like to believe. Quantum particles, separated over light years, continue to have an inexplicable influence over one another, to be connected despite every basic law that would suggest otherwise.
I moved to El Salvador with the understanding that reason alone would not allow me to understand the world, nor give me the complete skill set I needed to change it. One of the great opportunities of working with Cristosal is the opportunity to understand human rights in a faith-based context. I’ve realized that our work is truly an expression of faith – a belief that all humans are created equal in dignity and rights. We then take that belief and design programs to ensure it is upheld in realty. Which quickly becomes a very messy, and very human, process. And through that experience, I have made a very calculated, and very comforting deduction. It cannot be done alone.
In a culture where we value individual achievement beyond all else, I (like those quantum physicists) have come to the conclusion that nothing exists in isolation. Whether we pursue a better life, a better world, through science or faith (and any other field besides), we will find that nothing can be achieved without the other.
A dear friend of mine Ashley Cameron, who just returned from her YASC year in the Philippines, sent me this quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu that sums it up perfectly:
“A person is a person through other persons. None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human. I am because other people are.”
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Noah, Lex, and I outside of St. Thomas
I return to El Salvador on Monday for my second year with YASC. Though there are arbitrary date markers of start and stop, this year will continue as a process, a continuously evolving product of the relationships I share and the conversations we have together. Thank you to all of you who have been a part of that incredible process so far, and I hope you will continue to join me in the year to come.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Las Bravas Noticias - Post #1

(This is an old post that somehow got lost amid the travel and the crazy. Apologies!)

Post: September 27th

I spent the past week in Syracuse, NY - my first time up to this glorious upstate hermitage (also home to the great orange and black, but we'll ignore that for now). I saw a Wegman's for the first time, I met an ex-ambassador, I gave several lectures, I bought my first suit, and while doing all these wild and scary things, I was very, very far away from the people who otherwise support me and tell me it will all be ok... my family, my boyfriend, my friends, my mentor.

It was just me.

And that's the first time that's really happened before. I've always had others to mentor me, give feedback, tell me what's right, what's wrong, where the boundaries are, someone to fall back on, someone I know will catch me if I screw it all up. But this time, there were no dear friends as I pushed onwards unto the breach. I just had to inhale deep, cross my fingers, and in the words of my favorite high school teacher, fake it 'til you make it.

So that's why Las Noticias Bravas, right? 'Cause it means brave?

Actually no. Nice try though.

When I attended my first Episcopal service in Spanish, they didn't translate "the good news" as las buenas noticias, but rather la buena nueva. Not news like newspapers, but "new" as in fresh, never-done-before, hot-off-the-presses. I always thought "the good news" was like the Jesus version of extra, extra, read all about it... Jesus has come, he's got some good stuff to say, so listen up.

But no, in Spanish we get this whole new thing. La Buena Nueva - like a fresh horizon, a fall-out type tidal wave of invisible karma that washes the world clean. I imagine people sitting in the aftermath of the shockwave, simply pausing, observing their surroundings, and smiling a rich, deep smile. They had smiled before, but the richness of a new experience, of a new perspective, of a new hope, makes the everday fresh and bright.

Still, I wasn't about to call my blog post La Buena Nueva. (I think that not-so-subtely would imply that I am the bearer of the Gospel via blog... let me set the record straight... this ain't no Gospel). So I kept googling Spanish adjectives until I came toLas Bravas Noticias - a term used in a Brazilian newspaper as slang to refer to the messages, the gossip, the propoganda passed within a company. Like the inside scoop - the dirty, gritty, security clearance type stuff. Plus it's from Brazil... do you know anything from Brazil that isn't awesome? The correct answer is não (pronounced "now" ironically enough).

So welcome to Las Noticias Bravas - an inside look at the year to come. I could call it a second year, but already I know that would be inaccurate. The next 365 days will in no way replicate the past 365 days, and I in no way can prepare you for what will come (because I certainly don't know myself). You might just have to sit back and follow along for the ride...

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