Thoughts on Privilege

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10 years ago I would have defined “privilege” as something you have earned; like a reward for doing something good/well. “Having a cell phone is a privilege not a right, and you can lose that privilege” might be a conversation many of my peers have heard from their parents before. (But not me because I was a perfect child and never threatened with such things. HA.)   Contrastingly, a “right” is something that everyone has and no one had to do anything to earn it. But I just said that for fun – it’s not what I’m here to think out loud about.

These days, the word “privilege” brings to mind something much different. And I have a lot of it. White privilege, class privilege, cis-gendered privilege, USA citizen privilege, etc. I did not actively do anything to earn this – I was simply born with it (and into it, as is the case with class, citizenship and nationality) – so why is it called privilege? It seems like a confusing nomenclature, strictly linguistically speaking.

And I wonder: is this part of the reason some folks have a hard time grasping the social justice world’s definition of privilege? As if we are telling privileged folks that they have actively chosen to be white, or straight, or able-bodied, or male? And that in some way connotates guilt/blame?  I know people’s aversion to being called privileged is far more complex than that. But I can’t help but think some of it is the word itself and people’s previous understanding of the common word.

So, for anyone not in the social justice world: how have you perceived the definition of the word “privilege” when used in the context of race, class, gender, etc.? Do you have the connotation of “earning” privilege? Do you think that may have hurt or confused your understanding of what white privilege is?

If you are in the social justice world, and/or are someone who acknowledges your own privilege: how did you come to understand the term? Did you have a hard time accepting your privilege? What helped you accept it as something that “just is” rather than something you “earned”?

I would love to hear your thoughts and criticisms of my wondering!

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LesbiHonest

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LesbiHonest

It’s time to come clean and set the record straight. It’s time to come out of the closet; first and foremost as a Christian. My life is dedicated to seeking and serving the God of justice, mercy, hope, peace, and love. I am comforted and helped in my service by the Holy Spirit. I love and am loved by Jesus Christ, who redeems me from my sins and teaches me how to live. My faith is grounded in the letters, poems, and stories of the Holy Bible, which challenge and inspire me. My spiritual life is enriched by the body of Christ, the Church. There is no denying it: I am a Christian.

Over the past few years, I have found something else about me to be undeniable, no matter how hard I tried to ignore it or run away from it. But I’ve grown tired of mentally beating myself up and not being completely honest with the people in my life whom I love so dearly. Part of me knows that coming clean will be very easy, as I am surrounded by caring and supportive friends. Another part of me knows this will be extremely difficult because I am a part of the Christian community. So, with my most important identifier out in the open, it’s time to publicly recognize another truth of my identity: I am gay.

Okay, pause. If you just read that and thought, “Oh, okay. No big deal” then you can stop reading here. Oh wait not yet! Right after this: Thanks for that! Your support means so much. You da best! Okay, now you can stop reading, but only if you want.

If you are feeling uncomfortable with the aforementioned news in any way because of your faith, I invite you to read on. Don’t worry; I’m not going to try and convince you that homosexuality is not a sin or anything like that. This isn’t the place for that.

Okay, everybody feeling good? Let’s continue…

The Bible can be interpreted in so many different ways. If that weren’t true – if there were only one interpretation of the entire series of books – I don’t think Christianity would exist today. People long ago would have devised creative counter-arguments to that one interpretation and/or believers would get bored. But the Scriptures are not one-dimensional. They are rich and alive in all of their translations and interpretations, which have allowed the Bible to speak to billions of people all over the world for 2,000+ years and challenge individual Christians throughout their lives.

Like the rest of Scripture, there is more than one interpretation of the six verses that mention homosexuality. I won’t get into that now, because that’s not why you’re reading this. (Let me know if you’re curious about it though, and I can send you some study material that helped me come to my conclusions on the subject long before I accepted that I myself am gay.)

I have come to terms with the fact that others read and interpret the Bible differently than I do, and that’s okay. That’s what makes our shared faith frustrating and beautiful. In fact, as someone who grew up on the other side of the fence on the topic of homosexuality, I understand that point of view and I, *gasp*, respect it. I hope those still on that side of the fence can trust that I came to my view through faith – not around it or despite it – and that you can respect my interpretation as well. As I respect and love you, I pray you can respect and love me. After all, I think loving one another is a message from the Bible that all Christians can agree on.

So, I’m a Christian who happens to be gay. I hope in your eyes I am described in that order, too. I would especially love it if some other qualifiers were squeezed in between. For example, “Katie: the Christian, nacho-loving, Seahawks-obsessed lesbian.” Whatever adjectives you fancy, I hope “follower of Christ” shines through them all to take the number one spot. That’s honestly what matters most in my life, and this blog is about being honest.

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Where I’m From

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This weekend I attended a debriefing retreat with the Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship.  In one activity, my fellow Krista colleagues and I were invited to write a poem about where we are from.  To keep the story short, during this activity I realized that I do not consider where I am now to be a result of the place I grew up; I am who I am because of relationships. This is the poem that was birthed out of that activity and realization.

Where I’m From

I’m from women.

Who put up with me on my crazy, ADHD, no-pill Sunday mornings, and loved me on my tearful, fearful, silent Saturdays nights.

I’m from women who were silly with me in middle school, who listened to my drama in high school, who helped me talk through my season of depression in college.

I’m from women who affirmed me in 5th grade, and called me out in 16th grade.

I’m from women who didn’t lock their doors to show I was welcome in their home any time, any day.

I’m from women who know infinitely more than me in every subject, but instead of making me feel ignorant, inspire me to learn more.

I’m from women who knew when my silence was lying, and invited me to speak my uncomfortable truths.

I’m from women who showed me how to lead teen girls by example, who modeled how to be themselves unapologetically.

I’m from women who fight the patriarchy and empower others with wisdom and grace.

I’m from women who modeled accompaniment and empathy.

I’m from women who know how to grieve and love deeply and fully.

I’m from women who shared their secret pasts and gave me the courage to share mine.

I hope I can give back these gifts to other women in my life.

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Great Expectations (and the Letdowns that Follow)

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So you’re about to head out on a big adventure, huh? I bet you’ve spent countless hours day-dreaming about everything you will experience and learn and who you’re going to meet along the way. Maybe you’ve already created a music video in your head with images from Instagram, Pinterest, or TripAdvisor and inserted yourself in the settings (guilty!)

I usually set out on trips with an idea of what I will come back with (intangibly speaking). I went to a mountain village in Honduras with my youth group back in high school expecting my world view to be completely changed. I went to Rwanda in college to figure out if pacifism made sense in the face of real life violence like genocide. I moved to Mexico this past August with the assumption that I would gain great work experience.

We all have these kinds of expectations in our heads before a trip. But can that actually hurt your overall experience? All three of my international trips were incredible, but when it comes to meeting my expectations, each one fell flat. Honduras resulted in culture shock rather than a lasting life change. Rwanda raised more questions than it answered (because genocide just straight up sucks). I haven’t gained very many job skills through my position in Mexico, which sometimes leaves me with the unsettling thought, “What am I doing here?” Looking back at my travel experiences, I notice two things in common: where there were high expectations, I was left disappointed and where there were none, I was fulfilled.

I had particularly high expectations for the job I was assigned as a communications assistant for a non-profit in Mexico City. It was my understanding based on the job description that I would be traveling all over Mexico educating people on their rights, designing and creating the educational materials to be used in those workshops as well as doing web site maintenance. I thought, “Wow! That all sounds awesome! I can’t believe they trust me, a sociology major with little to zero training in education, human rights, graphic design, or computer engineering, to do all of this! I am going to grow and learn so much this year! This will look great on my resume!”

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At the SeaTac airport with all my high hopes ready to head to Mexico City!

In reality my tasks are nothing like what I had envisioned them to be. Instead, I mostly take photos and pictures at local events and then make a short re-cap video. My cultural lens also affected what I thought work would be like. In the US, work is goal-oriented and time efficient.The work pace here is much more relaxed and I had a hard time getting used to it. Sometimes I’m downright bored in the office with nothing to work on.

Maybe my job description was inaccurate, or perhaps I just got excited about the position and exaggerated what I would be doing. But whether these ideas were imposed on me or I created them myself, my expectations about my position greatly impacted my contentment and sense of use.

Unlike my ideas of grandeur at my job, I had zero expectations for what my host family would be like. Why? Because there wasn’t one arranged until I was at orientation in Pennsylvania, days before flying to Mexico City. So while I had half a year to make sense of my job description and explain it to friends and family, I had the same amount of time to wonder about my host family and not come to any conclusions. Are they Catholic or Mennonite? (My volunteer organization is Mennonite.) Do they have eight kids or none? Where do they live: in a well-off part of town with cable and Wi-Fi? Or on the outskirts of the city with electricity only available at certain times of the day? My living situation could have included any combination of these possibilities.

While this mystery made packing tricky (Do I bring my Macbook? What message will that say about me if they are poor? Will they even have electrical outlets?), not knowing anything about my host family allowed me to be open-minded and ready for whatever my living arrangement would be.

And you know what? I wasn’t let down! My host family is wonderful and my living situation is perfect. They are a Mennonite couple with two older daughters and they live in a humble apartment near the city center. My parents have hosted volunteers in the past so they know what to expect, and they are patient, generous, and funny. One of my host sisters is taking English classes, and we’ve gotten in the habit of spending our evenings conversing in English to help her practice. I could not be happier with my living arrangement. I’m sure if I had any expectations for my family or their home, I would have been let down in some way or another.

Now, I recognize that most people reading this are not long-term volunteers with jobs or host families, but I still think my experiences can serve as examples for the ups and downs of having or not having expectations. Whether you’re planning a backpacking trip through Europe, going to South America to do humanitarian work, or heading off to college in the fall, it’s worth it to take some time and reflect on what expectations you may have about your upcoming adventure.

Here’s the trick: do make expectations, but only for yourself. Don’t make expectations for other people, places, or situations. For example, rather than assuming your trip/experience will change your worldview or alter your lifestyle in some way, set a goal that you will journal every night or once a week about what you learned, what shocked you, or what you want to know more about. Instead of creating a glorified picture in your mind of the moment you finally see those ancient ruins you’ve always wanted to visit, promise yourself that you will be present in the moment, soak it all in, and appreciate the details.

You can hold yourself accountable for your own thoughts and actions much easier than you can control other people, inanimate objects, or situations in general. When you put the focus on yourself instead of your surroundings you can make memories and learn lessons no matter what happens – planned or unplanned. So aim low! Keep your expectations as few as possible and stay open to what comes your way. I promise: letdowns will be fewer and mishaps will turn into exciting plot-twists.

P.S. I did actually end up making a music video of some cool places in Mexico with my coworker, Kirsten!

The Final Score

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talliesOver the past 11 months I’ve kept small booklet within reach at all times for tracking expenses and taking notes. At seemingly random times I’ll whip it out, make a quick motion with my pen, and return the notebook to my bag. Curious friends will ask what I’m doing, and I explain that I’m keeping tallies of some experiences I’ve had in Mexico City. It’s been fun to chat with people about what I chose to keep track of and my progress with each one throughout the year. In fact, my friend Bekah, upon arriving late at night from her term in South Korea immediately asked me “Oh Katie, I want to know how many tacos you ate this year!”

And so, it’s finally time for the final scores to be revealed! They are as follows:

Times cried: IIII IIII II

(Don’t worry, most of these were from crying watching Selma, About Time, and reading The Fault in Our Stars, etc.)

Times puked: IIII II

Two times motion sickness, and apparently 5 times being actually sick during my last month. Never got food poisoning though!

Plane trips IIII IIII II

            To Chicago. To Harrisburg. To Chicago. To Mexico City. To Durango. To Mexico City. To Guatemala. To Mexico City. To Atlanta. To Harrisburg. To Minneapolis. To Pasco.

Cathedrals/pretty Catholic churches visited: IIII IIII IIII IIII I

Not for mass. I’m not that dedicated. Just wandering inside to admire the architecture and art.

Cats spotted: 77

I’m not going to make you count all those tally marks. And yes, I really tallied EVERY cat I saw.

Dogs petted: 51

Same.

“Field trips” outside of Mexico City: IIII IIII IIII III

Xalpizahuac, Tlapa de Comonfort, Tlapacoya (x5), Tepotzlan, Nuevo Ideal, Santiago Atitlan (Guatemala), Teotihuacan (x2) Santiago Tepatlaxco (x2), La Costa Chica de Guerrero, Cuernavaca, Acapulco, Puerto Escondido

Books Read: IIII IIII

Uncomfortable Neighbors, First Stop in the New World, Under the Banner of Heaven, The Story of My Life (Helen Keller’s autobiography – go read it. So good.), My Drunk Kitchen, A Tale of Two Cities, The Fault in Our Stars, Grace’s Guide, Why I am a Conscientious Objector, American Idle.

Tacos eaten: 131

No explanation needed.

Siestas Taken: 21

Also self-explanatory.

Care packages received: III

Thanks Mom, Kayla, and Tiffany!!!!

Hombres con vidrio: IIII

Long story short: some drug addicts try to make money by placing shards of glass on the metro floor and smashing their bodies against it. I know, it doesn’t make sense to me either. It’s really very uncommon, but I saw it five times. I think I’m cursed.

Blog posts written: 24

Including this one =)

For fun, I thought up some of the things I did zero of; things I didn’t do or experience in Mexico City for 11 months:

Driven a car (and I’m honesty terrified to drive, like I’ve forgotten how to)

Touched US soil (duh)

Gotten a hair cut

Walked barefoot in the grass

Heard a lawnmower

Used a laundry dryer

4th of July

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I am American. That label follows me whenever I leave the country. It’s who I am. It’s in my culture, my practices, my world-views, my privileges, my personality, and my hobbies. I am American through and through.

It breaks my heart to know this part of me – my nationality, my government and culture – has caused (and is causing) so many other people pain. Colonization, internment camps, genocide, war, racism, classism, sexism, violence, poor education funding, bad international policies, mass incarceration… I could go on and on. These have affected both Americans and non-Americans alike.

And so I’m mad at my country and ashamed of its past and present injustices. I apologize for it and I try to change things, but I’m still embarrassed to answer every time someone asks where I’m from.

But America is still a part of me. And I love America. I love its beautiful, diverse landscapes. I love my friends and family. I love American television and music. I love American food. I love freedom of speech and religion. I love the access I have to higher education and healthcare.

At the same time, I hate that so many of my fellow Americans don’t have all of the privileges and rights I do. I hate that others’ freedoms were stolen on the path to grant me mine. I hate that my country’s government chooses to ignore the plight of human beings in other countries because our presence/voice/intervention wouldn’t benefit the USA financially or politically. That’s abhorrent!

I am American. This country is a part of me and I cannot shed it. I’m not sure I want to.

On the 4th of July, I sit in that tension. I have for a few years now. I sit in the tension of loving life in my country and despising my country’s legacy. How does one celebrate while not condoning? Is that even possible? If I celebrate America, am I a brainwashed sheep? If I don’t celebrate America, am I an ungrateful free loader? I don’t know.

There is one thing I do know. And that manages to keep the 4th of July near the top of my list of favorite holidays: I just really really like fireworks…

Moving back, Looking forward

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I officially have less than a month left in Mexico City! Whaaat? It’s hard to believe I’ve been here nearly 10 months already and in 21 short days I’ll be on a plane back to the US.  In this home stretch, I’ve packed in a lot of activities each weekend to make sure I see all that this world-class city has to offer.  The rest of my time is going to be quite busy as well with going away parties, an MCC retreat, and last minute souvenir shopping/site seeing.  Here’s what I’ve been up to this month:

1. Paying close attention to cooking and asking questions about recipes

Over the last year I’ve kept track of my favorite meals and how to make them. But it’s now or never in terms of those last details, so I’ve been watching my host  mom extra carefully and asking her lots of questions. “What’s the name of the chile pepper you’re using for this salsa?” “How long do you let the rice cook?” “Can you show me how to pat the tortillas?”

When I get home to the Tri-Cities, I’m taking a trip to the Mexican grocery store to stock up on ingredients and kitchen tools I can’t find elsewhere so I can try my hand at recreating the delicious dishes I’ve enjoyed all year.

2. Starting goodbyes

This past weekend was the last chance I had to visit Tlapacoya – the “suburb” where my host family lives on the weekends.  This was a reality check that my time is coming to an end and I’ll be experiencing my “lasts” in Mexico.  I said goodbye to my host dad’s sister, Susie, as well as to some church members. I love the peace and slowness of their home in Tlapacoya and I’m going to miss it.

3. Weekend adventures

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Museo Soumaya

Weekends are my only chance to get out of the home-to-office-to-home routine and see Mexico City. Early in the year I looked up things to do and made a bucket list, and one by one the items have been crossed off. Just a few remain and I hope to squeeze them in before it’s too late. I’ve had a great time wandering the National Palace, ancient ruins, colonial neighborhoods, museums, and parks by myself and with friends. I’ve still only scratched the surface of cool things to visit in Mexico City! The museums alone are innumerable; they cover everything from anthropology, to trains, to tequila. I can visit the city many more times in the future and have a new itinerary each time.

4. Reflecting on my time here

I’ve been blessed to grow up in settings that allow for constant self-reflection.  From church to leadership at SPU, with every new season came intentional, structured reflection.  The SALT program is no exception to that. Recently I’ve been asking myself what I have learned this year, how I have grown, and what I have gained from this experience.  The other day I remembered that for years I wanted to live abroad at some point in my life. Now, I can say “I did that!” and I am so proud of myself. It’s been a challenging year but a growing year, and I am proud to say I persevered and became a better person because of it. Thanks, SALT!

5. Looking forward to my summer adventures!

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I look like a real camp song expert, don’t I? (This pic is from summer 2009 round-a-bouts when leading camp songs became a thing in my life. Love it! <3)

Oh man, I have such an exciting, jam-packed summer awaiting me! Time with family and friends is eagerly awaiting, but I’m also going on a bunch of cool trips and hopping around the PNW!

First I’m headed to Akron, PA for re-entry and SALT reunion shenanigans, then home to the Tri-Cities for a bit of family and friend time, and just 4 days later I’m moving to Seattle and will see very-missed friends and attend a bachelorette party. The following weekend I’m back on the road to Dayton in
Eastern Washington to lead campfire and worship songs for my home-churches 3-5 grade camp! I’ve been doing this for years and I’m so thrilled to talk to the campers about Mexico (I shared about my trip last year and told them I hoped to back in time for camp this year – and I am! Woohoo!!)  Back to Seattle for a week and then I’m finally going to spend some quality time in Canada camping on Denman Island for a week! YES!!! Then I’ll welcome home a friend who’s been abroad for two years, and later head to the Oregon Coast with my family for a week! In the weeks following, I’m attending two weddings.
So yeah, like I said, a super full summer of adventures and road trips and time with loved ones. I can’t WAIT!

Needless to say, I’m busy soaking in every last drop of goodness my SALT assignment has to offer, and looking forward to what lies ahead back in the States. No ragrets!

The Roots of Migration

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*I am no where near an expert in this topic, and what I’m going to share is just scratching the surface of a very complex issue.*

**For the sake of easy reading/comprehension and because my thoughts on this issue are a bit disorganized, this post is going to be pretty choppy. Sorry I wasn’t an English major.**

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Have you heard the story of the person who kept seeing bodies floating down the river every day, so they rescued them, but never questioned where the bodies came from? I believe Americans should start thinking about the reasons undocumented immigrants are leaving their home countries in the first place, rather than focusing solely on the U.S./Mexican border and those who have made it to the US.

No one wants to migrate. No one wants to leave their house, family, community, country, culture, customs, etc.  I’ve been out of the U.S. for nine months and I can’t wait to be home. Imagining leaving for America for the rest of my life is a terrifying thought (many immigrants cannot, for safety reasons, return to their home country). Not to mention the myriad of dangers faced in actual transit: rape, robbery, assault, amputation from falling or being pushed off “La Bestia,” dehydration, starvation, sickness, and death.

Migrants crammed atop the train dubbed “La Bestia” – The Beast. While this is one of the quickest ways to travel across Mexico, it is far from the safest. Gangs control who can stay on, by “asking” migrants to pay. If you refuse or don’t have enough money, you may be thrown off the train and risk amputation or death. Image source: http://diarionuestromundo.com/noticias-nacionales/buscan-evitar-que-migrantes-aborden-el-tren-la-bestia/

So then, why do people leave their country? Let’s break it down:

Economics

There are many economic reasons why people are forced to leave their home. In Mexico, the peso is dropping in value rapidly and the minimum wage equals about $4 USD a day. That alone is not much for a family to survive on. If someone in the family loses their job, there may not be much else they can do.

If a farmer depends on his or her crop to feed their family, a bad crop season can be devastating. (Mining which extracts minerals from the earth and leaves harmful chemicals in their place is a sure way to destroy crops and pollute or dry up water sources. Mines are a big topic to be discussed another day. I’ll just leave you with: mining and fracking is bad!)

When NAFTA and CAFTA (North/Central American Free Trade Agreement) were passed, America’s and Canada’s economies benefitted immensely from selling corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, beef, pork and poultry2 to their southern neighbors for prices cheaper than it cost to produce those crops in Mexico and Central America. Not surprisingly, tons of Latino farmers lost their livelihoods and many moved to urban cities or the U.S. in the following years.

Natural disasters like Hurricane Mitch (1998 – affected Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua) and Hurricane Stan (2005 – affected Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, Mexico, Guatemala) can (and did) wipe out entire communities leaving little hope for salvaging homes, crops, and personal transportation. These disasters don’t discriminate between socio-economic standing, and can force even successful professionals to flee their homes in search of a new start.

Violence

Gang violence is a big problem especially in Honduras and El Salvador. (Some say these gangs are essentially exports from the U.S., but again, that’s another topic for another day). In 2014, 43 of the 50 cities with the highest murder rates in the world were in Latin America. (Cities in the US and South Africa made up the 7 others.)3 Political violence is horrendous in Mexico, with more than 20,000 reported “disappearances” since 2006.

To be clear, gangs and political violence do not only affect gang members and politicians. In San Pedro Sula, Honduras (the world’s capital for homicides) many deaths are the result of innocent citizens getting caught in the cross fire of bullets from gangs fighting for territory. In Mexico, if you get too involved in political protests or activism, you can be sure you end up on the government’s Black List. There’s a monument in Mexico City (ironically built with stolen funds) that lists people who were disappeared or assassinated by the government for speaking out against corrupt officials and/or fighting for justice.

Estela de Luz, a monument in Mexico City to those killed by their own government for demanding justice. I have attended many ecumenical services at the base of this monument to honor the memory of these victims and to demand peace and justice in Mexico. Image source: http://www.redpolitica.mx/nacion/fallaron-sep-y-funcion-publica-en-caso-estela-de-luz-asf

Economic violence

Some gangs work like the Mafia, collecting “war taxes” from businesses in their communities. I heard a story of a man who ran a successful corner store in his neighborhood. The local gang collected a weekly fee from the businessman. When they saw that he was doing well, they upped their fee (I believe to $100 USD a week). The owner told them he couldn’t afford that amount, and the gang replied that if he didn’t pay, they would kill his wife, then his kids, etc. This is just one story, but I am certain this is common practice for gangs.

Discrimination based on sex, race/nationality, religion, or political opinion

If a person is experiencing discrimination in their country of residence for one of these reasons, they are eligible to seek asylum and become refugees.  I know extremely little about the politics and history of this, but others have told me that in the past, the U.S. has made decisions on whether they grant or deny asylum based on whether we “approve” of their government.

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This year I’ve had the privilege of hearing the stories of many migrants staying Mexico City.   Here are questions raised by a man from El Salvador that he wishes Americans would ponder:

“Why does the U.S. government spend so much money militarizing the border? Why don’t they send the military, or at least the money, to the countries where the migrants are from?” (I hear this as, “Why don’t they invest in us – help develop our cities and our countries so that we don’t have the problems that force us to leave in the first place?”)

“Why do Americans call migrants “delinquents” when we are the ones fleeing delinquency in our home countries?” (This man worked in the armed forces in El Salvador for many, many years with delinquent youth. He is especially frustrated being called a delinquent by the media, when he spent his career combating delinquency in his city.)

“Why is it so easy for Americans and Canadians to come south and so hard for us to go north?” (I hear this question in the context of me coming to work in Mexico for a year without a visa, while my host mom had to have an interview at the U.S. embassy and pay a huge fee for a visa to visit the U.S. for a two-week Christian conference.)

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Perhaps America is approaching the issue of undocumented immigrants from the wrong angle completely. Maybe we need to start asking ourselves why people are leaving their countries, how our international policies influence that, and how we can help combat the issues I explained above.

P.S. Shoutout to MCC Mexico and Guatemala, which I know have projects that allow people to stay in their host communities rather than resorting to emigration.

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1 http://blogs.msdn.com/b/larryosterman/archive/2004/08/31/223355.aspx

2 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/11/mexican-farmers-agricultural-subsidies_n_2457845.html

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_by_murder_rate

4 http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/2/2/mexico-has-serious-problem-with-disappearances.html

The Body of Christ

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Burundi’s president wants to run for an unconstitutional third term and the country might be on the brink of war.

The death toll in Nepal is over 3,000 and rising and thousands more are injured and homeless.

Violence and peaceful protests in Baltimore have the U.S. all the more divided on the issue of race.

ISIS is running amok and beheading people.

Nigeria and surrounding countries are still afflicted by violence between Muslims and Christians.

Mexico’s government has effectively suffocated the voices of the families of 43 missing students 7 months after the fact proving police violence and a corrupt government reigns supreme.

Latin American countries rally together in protests against the United States’ sanctions on Venezuela.

When I’m overwhelmed with big, monstrous problems and I can’t find words or thoughts to calm my mind and heart, my prayer inevitably becomes a meek “Jesus, come soon.”

When I spoke these three words to a friend, he reminded me, “we are his body.”

THAT’S NOT THE RESPONSE I WANTED, MARK!

But he’s right.

Central to the Anabaptist faith is pacifism. Anabaptists will be quick to remind you that pacifism is not passive – it is an active peace seeking and active peace building.

So, I am to claim to be a part of the body of Christ and claim the label pacifist, I have to quit praying “Jesus come soon” as an excuse to sit back and be hopeless. Instead I need to recognize I am the hands and feet of Christ and I must run into the action with all its weight and despair and bring Jesus with me (remembering Jesus is already there).

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So I pose a question to myself and to the Body of Christ: we are all hoping and praying for peace, but what are we doing to bring that peace? I’m not talking about engaging in heated arguments online, posting news that confirms your view, or clicking “like” on posts and comments to virtually vote for whom you agree with. Facebook doesn’t prevent war, heal the wounded, end police brutality, tranquilize extremism, reconcile opposing religions, redeem corrupt governments, or smooth over political relations.

And neither does this blog post. But you know what does?

Advocacy. Education. Protests. Service. Aid. Improved policy. Relationships.

I’ll ask myself and my fellow Christians again: what are you doing to bring peace? Are you acknowledging your race and or/economic privileges and reconciling that?   Are you giving money to NGOs that create real change? Are you serving in a community to educate and or serve people that need it? Are you participating in protests? Are you boycotting companies that take advantage of their workers? Are you preaching peace, justice, and reconciliation in the pulpit? Are you having meaningful, honest, respectful, face-to-face conversations with others about these issues?

Do I dare say what I really want to say? It’s my blog, I can say what I want:

If you aren’t actively bringing peace, you aren’t the body of Christ.

If I’m not actively bringing peace, I’m not the body of Christ.

A phrase often used in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Some resources for people that want to do peace:

Boycott Driscoll berries

Donate to the reliefs efforts in Nepal:   http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-04-25/how-help-nepal-7-vetted-charities-doing-relief-work-following-earthquake or https://donate.mcc.org/cause/nepal-earthquake

Talk with your church leaders/congregation about how to work towards racial reconciliation within your church community

Talk with your church leaders/congregation about how you can serve your community:  Union Church in Seattle is  great example of this. The fourth Sunday of each month, congregants serve Seattle by sharing meals with cancer patients, preparing meals for the homeless, making cards for the women’s shelter they host in the church each month, picking up trash in Lake Union via kayaks, etc.

Think about how you can serve; within your community, country, or internationally: MCC accepts families, single adults, and young adults for service terms all over the world: http://mcc.org/get-involved/serve     Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Lutheran Volunteer Corps are also great service organizations.

Find a cause and a peaceful protest to attend in your area. You are bound to find other ways of getting involved by attending protests.

Write letters and make calls to your local representatives and/or companies to let them know about events/policies/products you approve and don’t approve of.  Each call/letter represents about 1,000 other people, so your voice counts, and these people really do listen!

Sign online petitions. There are tons of success stories from simple on-line petitions.  This is one of the easiest things on this list (after boycotting, which involves not doing something) as it just requires your name and location.  And if it asks for an email address, just do it and unsubscribe when you get an unwanted email. It takes no more than two mouse clicks.  https://petitions.whitehouse.gov  and https://www.change.org are great sites for convenient peace and justice work.

March and April happenings

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Oops, I haven’t written a blog yet this month! My bad. Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

Guerrero:

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A glimpse of the community-owned (aka not privatized) beach where the community feminism meetings took place.

I was asked to come along on a trip to the state of Guerrero with some coworkers to take pictures and record interviews for a few events. The first event was a community feminism workshop on the beach! I met some really wonderful women, ate tons of mangos, and got super sunburned – it was great! After a day and a half on the coast, I rode in the back of a pick-up truck for a couple of hours up into the mountains, where I took pictures for a community meeting on mining. Throughout the weekend we checked in with promoters of UPOEG (a union of organizations and towns working for peace and development in Guerrero) and interviewed them about their work. It felt great to get out of the city for a weekend and see a small fraction of the work that the CEE does.

Quinceañera (15th birthday party for Latina women):

The following weekend I got to attend a Quinceañera! I attended a Mennonite Quince earlier this year, but this one was Catholic, and therefore much, MUCH nicer. The party hall was decked out just like a wedding reception – 20 10-person tables with tablecloths, centerpieces, color-coordinated seat coverings, and a head table for the Quinceañera (this word also refers to the birthday woman) and her family. Each of the tables had a large bottle of tequila and Bailey’s and we received countless party favors imprinted with the Quinceañera’s name and birthday. We enjoyed an absolutely delicious three-course meal (potato-garlic soup, fettuccine alfredo, chicken and scalloped potatoes), a candy bar, and cake. The entertainment consisted of four choreographed dances by the Quinceañera and her four caballeros (basically groomsmen – a mix of brothers and friends), a mariachi band, and a live band. While I left exhausted and full of cheese, garlic and sugar (three of my allergies – OOPS. BUT WORTH IT, SO TASTY!) I’m grateful I had the opportunity to see a big part of Mexican culture and share in some great memories with my family!

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My host family with the Quinceañera! My aunt is her God Mother. From left to right: Samira, Abi, Brenda, Marisol, Jessica, Nelly.

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All the stuff we/I took home! An entire bottle of Bailey’s, candy, the table’s centerpiece, an glass with Brenda’s name etched on it, a photo of my host mom, host cousin, and me, cushioned flip flips with Brenda’s name on them, a fan, a bracelet, a keychain, and a wand.

Easter:

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Preparing our special meals from home to share with the guests!

I spent Easter weekend in Tlapacoya with my host family and Alex. Alex, Nelly and I had been planning a surprise dinner for my host parents, Marisol and Fernando, and we decided this weekend was the time to do it. We met in Mexico City on Friday to try and iron out the details of when to buy ingredients, when to cook the meal, and how to get Mar and Fer out of the house. In the end we left basically every step up to chance, and thankfully it all worked out! They came home to us preparing Italian meatballs and Colombian arepas, and we enjoyed a delicious dinner with them and some family friends. The main point of this scheme was to thank Marisol and Fernando for hosting me, being a great support to Alex (who doesn’t have a host family), and for being great people in general. The love was felt =)

Easter was beautiful, despite the fact that it was daylight savings time in Mexico and the Easter tradition is to have service extra early (but not at sunrise. Just early. I don’t get it and I did not appreciate it.) As per usual, we shared lunch at our house with church family. The young adults and I went to the market to buy plátanos for frying and I discovered condensed milk is basically frosting. My life is changed.

Acapulco:

The next day (Monday) the MCC Mexico team headed out to Acapulco for a retreat! I don’t have a lot of detail to share from this trip because our days were full of eating, meetings, pool swimming, and the beach. We have added six new members since our last team retreat and so getting to know them better was a real treat.

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Oaxaca:

I’m finally taking some of my vacation days this week! I’m heading to Oaxaca and then Puerto Escondido for more BEACH! I am determined to come back to the states as tan as possible. It’s also a personal goal to not be called “güera” (white girl) in the city anymore, but I don’t know if I’ll ever shake that one.