Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Place of the Wolves - Dave Skene

Dave Skene is a Metis of Scottish, French, Menominee and Cree decent.  Dave is one of the Co-Founders of Global Youth Network an international organization working to educate and mobilize young people towards making positive change in their world. He served as the Executive Director for Global Youth Network from 1995-2010. He recently resigned from that position to work with Global Youth as their Indigenous Program Coordinator. Dave has lead numerous teams of Canadian youth on international volunteer and education projects. He has taught on justice and community development across Canada and Internationally. At present Dave is developing youth programs in Kenya, Brazil, Korea, and several First Nations communities in British Columbia. No matter what Dave puts his hand to he is first of all a youth worker, supporting youth to discover how they can create a more just society. He also been a member of the YWAM Canadian Leadership team since 1996. Dave has been married to Liz Becker for 25 years and right now they make their home in Duncan British Columbia.

This is a poem I wrote in Mexico city I believe in the mid 90’s. I was in an area in the city called Coyoacan or “Place of the Wolves”.  It was here that Hernan Cortes and the Spanish set up their head quarters for the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. It is now a gathering place for artists and university students.

Place of the Wolves

place of the wolves
old beyond your years
your ugliness has become the thorn that pricks the conscience of the human heart
the rose
flower of greed
hides the truth of your toothless smile

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

S-21 - Phil Cunnigham

Phil is one of the founders of Steps of Justice, a YWAM initiative to educate and inspire the Church to become engaged with global justice issues.  He is currently gearing up for the "Justice and Worship Tour" (coming to Modesto in October!).  Phil loves to his family, tacos and helping people take simple steps toward a more just life.  You can read more from Phil at his blog... http://philnamy.com/

Two weeks ago I landed back in the USA after a two-week trip to Cambodia.   I went over there with a group of twenty-one other people on the Steps of Justice mission trip. We had a few reasons for going on this trip:

1. To get away from the USA and Canada to experience another culture in order to see our culture with different eyes.
2. To learn about the different injustices in the world, specifically poverty (which leads to hunger), water issues, human trafficking and slavery.
3. To see and learn from other non-government organizations (NGOs) on what we can do to give a voice back to those who have had theirs taken from them (the poor and oppressed).
4. To "do justice." This was a huge one; this was not just an awareness trip, it was a trip where we intentionally left something, and did not just take something.   So, we built a house for a very, very poor family.

Many of you probably know about the genocide that took place in Cambodia from 1975-1979.   The Khmer Rouge marched into town after the Vietnam War ended and decided to create a communist society.  They moved all the workers and laborers out of the city and into the country side where they forced everyone to become rice farmers and commoners. They abolished money and they also interrogated and executed everyone they felt was against the new government. They took out religious people, professionals, medical personnel, the educated, those who wore glasses or knew a second language and everyone else they saw as "enemies of the people."  In total, over the span of four years one-third of the population died or was executed, up to 3 million people.

In 1979, Vietnam came in and overthrew the Khmer Rouge party.  People started to slowly move back to their homes and into the cities.  Many of them still died because they spent time looking for their loved ones instead of finding ways to make money and rebuild their society.  One well-known place in the country of Cambodia is S-21 prison.  S-21 used to be a high school, but when the Khmer Rouge came in they turned it into a prison and interrogation center.  Approximately 500,000 people were interrogated and executed at S-21 over a period of three years.  Seven months after the Khmer Rouge was toppled S-21 was opened as a museum.  Seriously, this is unbelievable after only seven months.

I have been to a few museums in my time.   Most of them are clean, well kept, non-offensive and expensive.  Not S-21; S-21 is as it was.  There are still blood stains on the floor, the torture devices are still there, the signs that the guards made to instruct the prisoners are still up and the handcuffs that locked them in their 5'x3' cells are still on the floor.  Going there is like getting kicked in the face. It is hard, it is raw, and you can't even believe that something like this really happened in our lifetime. It doesn't seem like history; it still seems so fresh and real.  I have been to S-21 six or seven times and it doesn't get any easier.  I just get more numb, which is a fact I hate.

This country has been through so much and continues to go through so much, but she moves on and continues to fight for freedom and life.  There are no secrets in Cambodia, just real people coming out of a horrible past and trying to make a better future.  Maybe this is one of the reasons I love Cambodia so much--they are a people who have continually been knocked down, yet continue to get back up.  I'm thankful for this country and will continue to bring people there, not only to see Cambodia changed, but to see us changed through her.  

Picture by Vanessa Hadford

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cultural Disorientation - John Rosenbaum

This is John's 2nd post here at the Fire Bowl.  Read the 1st one HERE.

I once journeyed to a far and distant land, a land of loggers and loonies, the home of hosers and Hortons.  I am, of course, referring to our Canadian cousins to the south (don’t buy what “maps” will sell you... every conspiracy theorist worth his or her salt will tell you that disorientation through the transposition of compass directions is the first step in population control used by the powers that be [those powers being... oh, I don’t know... SATAN?!]).

My first human-to-Canadian interaction was a little disheartening, to say the least.  As my wife and I were simply trying to enter the country, the customs lady laid us out under an endless barrage of questions: “What’s the purpose of your visit?  Where will you be staying?  How long are you planning on staying here?  How do you know this friend you will be staying with (and is it the bearded guy waiting outside)?  What do you do for work in the States?  Why did you move to Washington?  How much cash do you have on you?  Are you using a debit card?  How much money do you have in your account?  You recently moved to Washington and have no roots; you don’t have a job and are visiting a friend you used to work with in the States--how do we know he doesn’t have a job that will pay you under the table waiting for you up here?”

In short, Canada was offended that I, an unemployed, homeless man, would come into their country and not be seeking work.  “What, you’re too good for our jobs?”  Well, yes, Canada, as a matter of fact, I am.  I’m a philosopher--judging by the employment history of philosophers, we are all too good to be employed.  At all.

After riffling through our personal belongings customs sent us on our way: we clearly weren’t trying to stay in the country being we brought little more than our toothbrushes with us.

Aaron, our host (the bearded guy waiting outside) then took us on a tour of the little port-town of Sydney.  I ate a moose and Rhiannon consumed an entire galaxy.  After our hearty meal we were driven to the native reservation, and what a beautiful and scenic, though painfully slow, trip it was (really, Canada?  An average of 35 mph everywhere?).  Aaron took us to a dock where we watched the light set (the sun proper was already set), smoked a pipe, and watched bats play across the surface of the water.  There was even a fireworks show!

The next day I experienced for the first time the single greatest contribution Canada has made to the international community--Tim Horton’s (did I just hear a cheer rise up from the crowd?).  It truly is like nothing I have ever seen.  It’s much too nice to be a Dunked Donut, too pastry to be a WacDonald’s, and too convenience store to be a Startruck (I know what you were expecting me to say!).  Really, though: those donuts are glorious.  They look like something you would see in a movie (think Hook) but instead of tasting like p00p (think of the appearance-versus-taste scenario of Ukrainian cakes) THEY WERE AWESOME!

Well done, Canada.  Well done.

Our cultural experience did not end with Tim Horton’s (again and again and again).  We had the much-acclaimed Swiss Chalet (another home run) and were even privy to the Canadian Generation X’s childhood memories thanks to YouTube.  You’re my new best friends, Hinterland Beaver, Robin, Loon, and Hoser!  And I was so moved by Aaron’s favorite song-put-to-cartoon that I myself want to marry a log driver who can waltz!

Sadly, our cross-cultural experience had to come to a close.  We had one last touristy tour of Sydney, found one of the best (in terms of selection) though worst (in terms of price) used-book stores ever (Beacon Books), and boarded our vessel for home.

Entering into our own country was a pleasant experience--the customs agent gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder (and armpit, abdomen, buttocks, and legs).  No problem!  Oh, well, our car wouldn’t start...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Crossing Culture - Chris Whitler / Beth Morgan

Hello all, Chris here around the fire bowl introducing our next batch of posts.  We will be sharing stories of crossing culture.  As I look at the site stats for our first month, most of our readers are, as expected, from here in the Western Hemisphere.  However, there are a few surprises in there too.

China?! Moldova?!  Sweet.  And the majority of you are Mac users which does my heart good.  Of course, all you PCs are just as welcome (Talk about crossing cultures...sheesh!).

Well, whoever you are, wherever you're from and whatever operating system you use, welcome to our little site.  I am excited for what these posts will bring.  One of the first submissions we received around this topic was from Beth, who is studying abroad this semester in France...learning Spanish and Portuguese!  She sent me a collage from some of her travels which I will leave you to enjoy along with a question to ponder.

What have you learned or how have you changed by encountering another culture?  Your comments and stories are welcome.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Community - Tina Barrentine

Tina is the granddaughter of two awesome cooks, the daughter of a talented seamstress, the wife of a thoughtful teacher and the mother of creative kids. All this makes her a kind of nexus of whimsy, hospitality, celebration and stories. And she can beat Super Mario Bros. in one sitting.

So I'm thinking of creating an awesome new super smash-hit TV show about 6 good looking New York friends who crash land Oceanic flight 815 into the backyard of a man named Brady and his very lovely wife.  I'll call it "Community Island".

Auditions will be fiercely competitive.  If I could cast this show, the way I've cast the people dearest to me in my own community, it would be full of funny people like my friend Amie, who is an undiscovered Carol Burnett.  It would have lots of lovable nerds who quote Princess Bride and Star Trek like my mom and sisters.  It would have a wise cracking card shark like my grandma, an indulgent chef like my grandpa, and a low-talking, Bible thumper named Ken.   It would feature my husband in his best blue and red caped suit and an "S" emblazoned on his chest.  And there would be kids.  Lots of kids.   Sassy, smart, funny, too-cute-for-their-own-good kids who try to beat me at video games.

I would, of course, keep tiresome characters to a minimum.  On TV they just drag down the ratings and irritate loyal watchers (need I mention Cousin Pam?).  In life, they distract me from my "real" community.  They are the ones who make me look for a quick exit when they approach me at church, wanting to talk about the same old troubles they have been having with the same old people.  They aren't fun.  They aren't funny.  They do NOT play video games.

There, I admit it.  I am an elder's wife and I would rather not be in community with people who frustrate, annoy, or bore me.   People who make me feel like that scene from Joe vs the Volcano where Tom Hanks says the florescent lights are sucking the juice out of his eyeballs... "Suck, suck, suck!"

My problem isn't loving the incurably unpleasant.  I believe loving someone is doing the best thing you can for them.  To that end I offer my friendship in whatever form I can to meet a need.  My problem is accepting friendship from them.  God is always challenging me to make my relationships a partnership where He can edify someone with the simple knowledge that their friendship is valuable. I don't like it.  It's hard work trying to hang with the cousin Pams of this world as if they were the Cliff Huxtables.

But what helps is being made to feel like Arthur Fonzarelli by my friends and family.  It changes me. It makes me want to be better and do better.  It makes me feel like I could jump a shark.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How Good, How Pleasant - Aaron Alford

Aaron is a writer, world traveler and mission worker with Youth With A Mission.  He has an uncanny habit of turning up just when you need him.  He's been spotted (so far) this year in Thailand, Canada, Israel and Holland.  You can read more stories like the one you're about to enjoy at his blog, aaronalford.net

He stroked his beard absently, and looked around the room.  It was small, and dimly lit, but full with people and warm with light.  Several sat at the table with him, several more were seated about the floor, others gathered against the walls.  Conversations were quiet, with some muted bursts of amiable laughter.  There was some sniffling, too.  A crooked smile, a hand on a shoulder, an embrace.  He felt the ease of camaraderie and companionship playing in tension with a feeling of expectation.  This was not just a casual gathering of friends.  The future was waiting outside their door, and no one was sure how to greet him.  Great pain had come, had taught them to expect more of it, but great hope had been born, too, and the future was a captivating and shivering thought.  He thought of Moses, and of Joshua.  Like the second great leader of the People of God, these people were waiting for his first charge of leadership.  He sighed at the thought.  

He knew almost everyone there by name, and as he scanned the room a hundred stories came to mind.  Simon, the leper, or rather, the former leper, stood locked in an embrace with a former blind man; laughing or crying, he couldn’t tell.  Either way, it was a good hug.  He could see in his memory Jesus kissing the blind man’s eyes, holding the leper’s hands.  He recalled the way they looked at him, the way they held on to him.  He prayed for so pure a devotion as theirs.

In the corner stood one of several Marys.  She smiled casually, incidentally, with the person with whom she was conversing, and he felt a sweet stab of joy in his throat.  Her eyes were so clear, so full to the brim with life.  He remembered those eyes when he had first seen them, shadowed with demons and shame.  That the woman he first met, such a short time ago, was the same woman he saw now was an overwhelming and joyous incongruity.  She still bore her scars, still walked with a metaphorical limp — but she walked, and sometimes danced.

She was speaking with a round, stout man who looked thoughtfully at the lady standing above him.  Peter tended to forget just how short Zacchaeus really was.  The little man they had found tree climbing had become a close friend of the band of disciples, offering food, lodging, and an exuberant hospitality.  Of course, there were times when that zeal was quite tiring to the people around him.  Earlier that very evening, Peter had sent him on an errand for bread just to have a moment of peace.  But it was good and right that the tax collector stood with them now.  He seemed taller than the man they’d seen in the tree.

Another tax collector sat two places down from him, on his left.  When Matthew asked him to pass the salt, Peter felt a tide rise in his eyes.  He laughed inside at the memory of the drunk he’d first met.  He remembered the tax collector, desperately lonely and physically sick, leaving his booth, dribbling vomit down his beard, crying in the arms of Jesus.  This, of course, brought to mind his own tearful, blubbering, first encounter with his friend and saviour, and as tears fell, he passed the salt.  Matthew smiled.  He knew what those eyes said.

He felt a familiar hand on his shoulder.  Andrew sat by his left side.  Andrew, the brother who had cared for him and stood by him more closely than anyone.  He had felt that same hand on his shoulder on many a drunken night.  He’d felt it at the death of his wife.  He’d felt it the day he met Jesus.  He’d felt it in four hundred and ninety different moments of unexpected grace.  He placed his own hand on Andrew’s shoulder, and squeezed it tight, for it contained every ‘Thank-you’ he had never spoken.  Andrew returned the squeeze.

Two places to his right sat the poet.  John, so young and tender, had been the bravest of them all.  He, of all the men, had stood with their friend in his darkest hour.  At first, this had served only to remind Peter of his own failure: abandoning his closest friend in his time of greatest need.  But healing, again, had come to him in the embrace of the rabbi, and Peter would forever feel only the deepest admiration for the youngest apostle.  By that same strong grace, John had become the child of a strange adoption to the woman who sat between them.

He watched her eyes.  They, like his own, seemed to be drinking in the sweetness of the room and the memory of grace, and the soft lines of age on the crests of her cheeks were like beams of moonlight.  If anyone there could claim to have deserved Jesus’s grace, it was she, but she never behaved that way.  She never asserted herself on him.  She simply knew him best, as only a mom could, and in that had a curious authority.  Those graceful eyes met Peter’s, and they so looked like her son’s that he felt a strange kind of electricity.  He had never noticed till now how alike their eyes were, and he felt as if his friend’s strength and vigorous grace were flowing to him now.  And grace, for years now, made the fisherman weep.  

Our deepest joys are strange things, and they behave much the same as our deepest griefs.  They come upon us unexpectedly, washing over us in unstoppable waves, turning and tossing us until their work is complete, and we are left panting on the sand, the taste of salt on our lips, wondering what just happened.  Peter felt this joy overtake him in this way, and he had much experience in the matters of waves.  He sat now as a man turned up on the shore, and as he looked down he saw with new eyes.  He looked at what lay on the table before him, and smiled at Zacchaeus’s bread.  He remembered when his brother brought a small boy’s lunch to Jesus, and how it fed thousands.  He remembered something his friend had told the crowds about bread after that miracle.  He cleared his throat, and spoke to the room full of friends.

“That last night,” he said, “we shared a meal together, just like we’ve done here.”  The room was quiet, and listening.  “That was the night Judas betrayed him, the night I abandoned him, the night he washed our feet.  It was the night we sang and prayed together, too.  And it was the night he gave himself to us.”

Peter’s fingers hovered over the round, flat loaf that lay before him.  He uttered a silent prayer.  O God, make me clean.  Make me worthy.  He took it up in his calloused hands, and continued.  “I remember him taking bread, breaking it, and giving it to his friends.”

The bread was soft, and it broke apart easily while he spoke.  He began to hand the pieces to his right and to his left.  Each hand took a piece of the bread, and held it in its palm, waiting.  “He took that bread, and lifted it up to heaven, like this.”  His voice became low, and holy.  “He said, ‘Take this, each one of you, and eat it.  This is my body, which will be given up for you.’ “

Peter stared at the piece in his hands, and whispered.  “He is with us.  He’s here.”  He paused in the silence, and a sea of eyes stared at the Bread which they held in their hands.  He smiled.  “Eat.”

He placed it on his tongue and closed his eyes.  He swallowed hard as tears fell freely.  He opened his eyes and stared for a moment at the cup of wine that sat before him.  He remembered the wedding.  He remembered the water.  He remembered a lamb.  He raised the cup and spoke.  “He gave us wine, too. ‘This is the cup of my blood,’ he said, ‘the blood of the new and eternal covenant.  It will be shed for you, for all, so that sins may be forgiven.  Do this to remember me.’ “

He put the cup to his lips, and drank.  The flavour swirled upon his tongue, and he tasted its full range, its sweetness and bitterness.  He drank deeply, and it warmed his throat as he drank.  He realized a small trail was running from the corner of his mouth into his beard.  He wiped it with the back of his hand, and kissed it away.  He turned to the woman on his right, and held the cup before her.  “This is the blood of Christ,” he said.

“May it be as you say,” she replied, and drank.  She passed the cup to her right.

He looked once more around the room, from Simon to Matthew, from Zacchaeus to John, from Mary to Mary, as each one drank.  He saw stories of sacrifice, of bodies broken, of blood poured out; each story foretelling and remembering and singing of this One Story.   They were the soil, broken and tilled for a harvest of an everlasting friendship.  They were the fruit of this humble and holy vine, crushed and consumed for the warming of the heart and the gladdening of the mind.  They were the offering, poured out on the altar of God.  He prayed in silence the greatest of all prayers:  Thank-you.

How good it is, how pleasant, where the people dwell as one!
Like precious ointment on the head, running down the beard,
Upon the beard of Aaron, upon the collar of his robe.
Like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion.
There the Lord has lavished blessings,
Life forevermore.