Sunday, July 24, 2011

bed-time stories

I don’t mean to be insolent – I hope you will see that.

We all are storytellers. These stories carry us through the night. By stories I mean the constructed narratives of meaning that keep us from despair or desperation. That they are stories has less to do with whether they are true than place us a characters within a scene that helps us make sense of life. We have faith that the narratives we clothe ourselves with, will fill up the longings, doubts and foreboding that creep in again and again. We can never be truly certain that the stories we tell ourselves go the way we tell the ending. Even so few of us keep our stories to ourselves we make big and small efforts to have others accept these tales we have adopted. Foreboding likes company.

Lately, I have struggled with how pretentious ‘church’ can be. It bothers me to see how trivial minutia get undeserved attention. My son pointed this out today as we sat in church in San Jose. He figured that if the whiners in church could spend a couple of Sundays in this church – they might not complain about music, noise, money, blah blah blah.

This church sang out loud. perhaps three minutes of the whole service was spent with the blaring piano and the song leader and the congregation all on the same key. It seemed that the more off key they were the louder the lifted their voices in search of the that unity – it got very loud. We don’t need to begin to talk about tempo.

A more devoted display of faith in the Christian narrative I have rarely seen if ever. And if there ever were a people who might be able to question the rational logic of their choice of narrative – it would be these. They claim that Jesus walks beside them and then spend the night waiting for the their pre-teenage boy to come home. The boy bound and gagged all night long finally arrives at home while the father has been out searching all night and day. If Jesus is the strength they claim why did he not prevent this trauma? In fact should it not be possible to see more evidence of Christ’s help in making these believers lives better? If anyone should have a reason to doubt their faith story it would be these. But you can’t chase these people from their faith.

It is not that these people have a more pure unadulterated faith – that they have found some secret to spiritual truth that most closely resembles the child like faith that Jesus described. No their faith is not uncomplicated. And although one might deduce from the intensity of their cried that their faith is certain – they would have to admit (as much as it might sadden them to do so) that they could not be – not completely. Nevertheless it is unshakeable.

It seems the faith narratives that we trade in – in North American churches are so accessorized that we lose sight of real reason for faith in the first place. Faith is not meant only for our own comfort. What these people have in greater supply than we do is that their faith not only holds them through the night but it extends to hold others through the night.

And these nights here are not our nights…

So bring on the GOOD bedtime stories…

the rooster and the cricket

In a few days this place will once again pass into memory. I will search for tastes and smells and sounds and find that they will slip ever so easily away. I will look for the way a smile gives a away an other wise incredulous sounding suggestion and find it missing. I will forget how each and every hand I shake, body I hug is sticky. The sweet smoke of the sugar mill, or the taste of young coconut milk will fade. Memory is like that…

We work so very hard to hold on to certain memories because of how much they mean to who we think we are. But in the end memories have a way of having a mind of their own. Stubborn little buggers that slip away in the night – when the cricket and the rooster make a changing of the guard over the night songs. Even the ones we keep are themselves only hollow copies of the real thing.

We hold a memory tight but never completely. We only hold those things about the experience that serve our purposes. It is not really a complete picture of what actually happened. It is a copy and it serves us to reinforce our identity.

Then there are a few rare times when memory catches up to us and folds us back into a dynamic experience full of all the original stuff. We are completely at the mercy of a long ago.

Nostalgia is a sloppy mountainside upon which to build a selfhood. At any moment the torrential rains can wash away the meaning all you’ve built. The way things used to be is easily wipe out by progress, development and change for its own sake.

A self without memory is just as fickle a space.

Regret is the vilest of tricksters in the memory game. Regret is a really only a thinly veiled arrogance that claims to deserve better than what was received. Regret sets out traps for memory so that when it comes calling it will get tangled up in the insincerity of one unwilling to admit that in the end  - life has been way better than should have been. Life is hard but it is good. It isn’t always easy but it is worthwhile. Life can steal and rob joy and contentment – but it is full. This isn’t careless optimism – this the humility we should aspire to live toward.

As sand slipping through our fingers – the last cup of Nicaraguan coffee will be swallowed some weeks from now. My clothes will go back to smelling Canadian again. I will shake dry hands. I will eat french fries. I will smell a barbeque roasting steak as i run through town. I will stop at stop signs. I will see the wide horizon open down to my toes. I will water my lawn. I will forget.

I will forget but I will cherish. I will put up a sign on the front porch inviting memory in. I will always tell the rooster not to step on the cricket on his way out the door to call in the morning.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

coming home and getting the shaft

One day i walk in flowers
one day i walk on stone
today i walk in hours
someday i shall be home

O I have been a beggar
and shall be one again
and few the ones to lend a hand
within the world of men

I sat on the the street corner
and watched the boot heels shine
and cried out glad and cried out sad
with every voice but mine

This song goes through my head today
A strong motif for this trip has been the idea of a home coming - its a pretty arrogant supposition. I am keenly aware that for as much as do and want this to feel like home, it isn't home till you are accepted back intot he family. I was told the first day that my spanish was too academic. So i have been practicing dropping my "s" at the end of words. I have been playing with the particular lilt that turns every phrase into a singsong affair. I've been eating the food - breathing in the air and marinating in various mixtures of sweat.
You sorta know you are in when they feel comfortable enough to prank you. Pablo has pulled a few on me and i ahve gotten one on him so the score is 3-1 in his favor. I don't usually take easily to losing a prank war but in this case if it means that I trully have come home then...

Friday, July 22, 2011

two cemetaries

We past two cemeteries, it is believed that each belonged to a different class of people in this society. they were right across the street from each other. Both were now considered full. The rich cemetery was more ornately adorned and significantly more well kept. The poor one was in disrepair and seemed rather neglected. The rich one had tombs above ground where the bodies were placed – the belief being that being above ground was that much closer to heaven. The poor one buried people beneath the ground. these of course it is believed will take just a little bit longer to get to heaven on resurrection day.

Even in death the poor get the shaft it seems.

When we were here at the service last Sunday it was interesting to listen to the rhetoric used to talk about the nature of the people’s faith. Perseverance in the face of struggle, joy in the face of hardship, acknowledging pain and horror as a common way of life and identifying Jesus as dear helping friend. This is the narrative that they told themsleves. While it may not be typical of all the thematic material that these people cover in their in spiritual journey it certainly seems common. This narrative of peace in the face of conflict takes on a much different flavour when on the way home you also see a young man carrying a three foot coffin on a motorcycle. It certainly takes on a completely different tone than it does in any context that I have heard in Canada.

The pastor said that when we get to heaven we all will understand each other but the main language will be Spanish. Rousing cheers errupted – and I certainly would not be opposed to that. The pastor also kept reminding us that we have the same faith no matter where we come from. There are not borders with Jesus he told us. But I can’t help thinking that while the sentiment might be good for a sense of community building it really stands on some pretty feeble logic.

The fact is there are huge differences in our faith. The one out here has to be able to sustain people in ways that we hardly ever encounter back home. It must hold them in a quotidian struggle against the inherent level of difficulty that they face. Some might say its a more simplistic faith. We squabble over cerebral issues in the minutia of Christology for instance. How do we justify the luxury of those debates?

We live unconscious to the reality of the hard world that searches for meaning here. We live oblivious of how the narrative they speak to each other helps them to hang on a little longer. The horizon of their hope is in their next step, the next sunrise. Yet their kindness and joy pours out of every pore as easily as sweating in the hot sticky sun. How is it that complaining is so easily on our lips…

The arrogance of our position is not lost on me. But it does little to scold myself or anyone else. In the end it seems a rather pathetic and plastic faith that we own in North America – that I own… Caught up in trivialities that leave us vulnerable to the sins of greed, lust, complacency and ultimately arrogance. Like the arrogant rich buried apart from the poor.

For my part, I might hope that I might be worthy to be buried with the poor on their side of the street. And bury me as deep underground as you care to dig. Right there in that cemetery if you like. If what they say is true I certainly might be one of the last to arrive at the pearly gates but then maybe I’ll get one last glimpse of this paradise before I wander upstairs. And if I happen not to make up there and must return to this place – that might be wonderful reward – to wander around here for eternity eating cajeta de coco.

Bury me on the poor side please – if you think I’m worthy…

It was ironic as we drove by that the passage about dividing the sheep and the goats came back to as did the passage about it being harder for the rich ot enter the kingdom of heaven. The sheep were on the right and the goats were on the left to be banished forever in that parable of Jesus.

As we drove up the hill the rich cemetary was on the left…

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Doing good–doing the best!

a question that keeps coming back to me over and over – It is possible to do good things – especially where the need seems so comparatively great – but then good may not be good enough what is the best thing to do?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Soy aquel que

I wish words were sufficient for the flood of emotions and thoughts swirling through me…

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprized at how my experiences here feel like a home coming. I’ve taken enough courses in psychology to know to expect that. There are some things that defy the logical objectiveness that that knowledge should provide. Almost everything smells, tastes, sounds and even looks like the world of my childhood. There are moments of when the deep calm of coming home settles in – at times when I like should feel much less at peace.

a drunk grabs my hand at the market as we enter demanding money, drugs whatever… My dad final has to sternly push him off so we can keep going unmolested. My boys are scared. I feel comfortable – like somehow that is supposed to happen. I feel like a child I think.

we drive by the house where we used to live – it has changed but the street where we lived hasn’t changed all that much and as we drive past the corner where i used to play on the street with my friends, I am overwhelmed with the weirdest sense of exhilaration and powerful sense of belonging – I really am speechless.

The one thing that everyone here keeps asking me is how much Nicaragua has changed. It’s true it has changed – a lot. But in some ways it has not changed at all. When I talk to the people here – its almost as if they want me to reinforce the notion that Nicaragua has changed – especially for the better. It has gotten better – the way a good wine gets better with age. The most noticeable changes though are ones that I would not attribute to betterment but rather greedy lust of commercial pursuits. Development has occurred but I suspect it has only exasperated the distance between the relatively rich and the desperately poor. Yes it has changed.

But mostly for me so far it has not changed. The air is still always tinged with diesel. A deep breath is never bland. in the course of one breath you can smell the ripening mangos, dona celinas taceria cooking up goodies, the exhaust of the japoneras (the little Japanese trikes that serve as personal taxis, and earth. the next breath will be another set – distinct enough that you can taste everything you smell.

The sound of rain falling – horns always honking – birds, animals – but the most pleasant sound of all is Spanish. I was told by our driver that my Spanish was far too academic – I shouldn't be offended. To get more campesino I am going to have to drop all those hard “s” at the end of words like nosotros.

It tastes like home as well. ginger drinks, gallo pinto, mamones, nancites, roschia – its all there. Each bite a little bit more like the fall into deep cushiony bed.

It’s hard not to smile – after all el chocolatito beat the mexican in a convincing tko last night – vive nicaragua…