Woman. Running.

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We are at a beach: a big, beautiful one in central El Salvador. I decide that I absolutely must run today. I am a runner, and sometimes runners simply need to run. I need to move. The wide-open space of the nearly-empty beach calls to me. I turn to my friends, all of them women, and announce where I am going. Voy a trotar.

They exchange glances. Tenga cuidado. Be careful.

I am careful. My bare feet pick around the shells and sand dollars on the hot sand, my feet pushing in deep. The wet grains resist me, forcing my legs to work harder. I relish the discomfort, as all runners secretly do. My hair streams out behind me. It feels like flying. It always does.

“Look, there’s a girl running!”

“Hey, girl! Where are you going so fast!”

“Hey, don’t you want to stop and talk to me?”

This is what all female runners know: many men assume that our moving bodies exist to be the object of their attention. That I might be using my body in my own freedom, to feel the wind in my hair and the sand beneath my feet as I breathe in the warm but fresh Pacific air is beyond the comprehension of these men. I am running in front of them, therefore I am there to please them. That is, after all, why female bodies exist. That our bodies might have their own strength and power separate from male pleasure does not occur to them. I doubt it ever will.

A group of men is dragging a boat farther up onto shore. They do not notice me at first, but one of them catches my eye by accident. I run faster, but he has already hit is friends playfully on the shoulder and pointed at me. They start dragging the boat faster. I run faster. I calculate that we will run into one another if I do not change course.

“Look, a girl running!”

I make a quick left turn, making a wide arc behind them. They are too far up the beach now. They know that coming back down to where I am, down by the water, would cross some invisible, metaphorical line in the very real sand. They simply stare at me as I pass behind them, looking over their shoulders with an uncomfortable combination of curiosity and hunger.

Women are not supposed to run in El Salvador.

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“Jerusalem” by Sergey Ledkov.

She stumbles through the dark, her feet slipping and struggling to stay in her sandals. Over steep rocky paths and through empty streets she runs. It is already hot. She uses one hand to hold up her long skirt, the other held at the ready in case she needs to brace herself for a fall. She is fast, but she wants to go faster. She was faster as a girl. She is strong now from carrying water from the well every day, but slower in these heavier adult clothes, more restricted, out of practice.

“Hey, there’s a woman running!”

“Look at her go!”

“Where are going, girl? What’s the rush?”

“Don’t you want to stop and talk to me?”

But she is not running for pleasure. Or for exercise. She runs out of fear. She runs out of sadness. She runs out of an excitement, a tiny door-crack’s-worth of hope, a wonder. She does not completely understand why she is running, but she knows that she must. Deep in her bones, she knows they will write about this. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” She knows that they will forget the part about how hard it is to run in shoes like hers. She laughs.

She passes a group of men leaving their homes. To begin work? To visit their families for the Passover? They watch her with a mixture of surprise and dark, twisted thing like wanting. They point and stare. They grin in a way that is the opposite of friendly. She ignores them. She knows that they will forget this part of the story, too.

Women are not supposed to run in 1st-century occupied Palestine.

Women are not supposed to run in El Salvador .

Women are not supposed to run in West Philadelphia and East Garfield Park and the North Side and the Bronx and Southie.

Women are not supposed to run in Rio and Belfast and Lagos.

But run we do. Together, we run. Together, we propel ourselves forward, our eyes vigilant, our ears always hyper-aware of every sharply drawn breath, blown kiss, leer, or insult disguised as a compliment. Together, we are trying to be stronger. We are trying to be faster. We like the feel of the wind through our hair and our feet hitting the sand, the dust, the road. We run because someone is chasing us or because we have someone or something to chase.

We run because know something amazing has happened and it cannot wait.

Women. Running.

Leave us alone. We have stories to tell.

Blessings and best wishes for all those running the Boston Marathon today, especially the women. May your feet safely find the finish line. Run your story. Mary of Magdala did, and generations have remembered her name. And someday, may we all be able to run without fear, our whole bodies, our whole selves. That would be a beautiful kind of Resurrection. 

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The Battle Cry of a Heartbroken God

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Men carry a glass coffin with an image of the crucified Christ through the streets of Berlin, El Salvador on Good Friday.

Have you ever loved someone that did not love you back?

It hurts, doesn’t it?

It hurts to want to give yourself to someone who does not want you back. It hurts to long for the presence of someone who does not desire your presence. It hurts in your gut and your chest when you see them with someone else. It hurts to talk to them, to email them, to see them across the room from you. It hurts to spend time with them, because you always want more time with them, and you want the time to be spent differently. At the same time, it hurts to not spend time with them because you cannot imagine wanting to see someone else more. It hurts like constant rejection. It hurts like abandonment. You begin to wonder if anyone will ever love you, and if you are even worthy of being loved.

And in the end, you usually get your heart broken. As if you weren’t actually heartbroken already.

Of course, it’s not just romantic partners, children, or friends who have failed to love us back, or have stopped loving us when we continue to love them. Sometimes, it’s our whole families who have not loved us. Sometimes it is our whole schools, or dorms, or workplaces, or dance studios, or any of the other little communities that we as humans form amongst ourselves, communities that we join willingly or unwillingly but that are often hard to leave regardless of whether they love us, abuse us, or both. Sometimes it is our countries, our nations, our political parties.

Sometimes it’s our churches, isn’t it?

We are creatures that need connection to live and without it, part of us dies. And that part of us that connects and loves, once dead, is hard to bring back to life. So when we dare to love another person or group of people or organization and are rejected by it, it destroys us. It is obliterating.

I am willing to wager that most humans have felt a little bit of this obliteration, a little bit of this pain, a little bit of this death at some point.

Then there are those people who are constantly rejected by this world. The people the world constantly oppresses, rejects, forgets, hurts, scapegoats, beats down, breaks, tortures, rapes, kills, and utterly destroys. These are the people that the world (that other humans, to tell the real truth) have failed to love and even systematically hated, though we all know instinctively that all humans need love and seek it from other humans.

Sometimes, too often, we as Christians have been part of that hate.

The Good in Good Friday is that, whether we have been rejected by one or by many, by a few or by a multitude, by a family or by a whole sinful human world that seeks to destroy us in order to keep a system of politics or economics or religious thought in power, God gets it.

For God so loved the world…but the world did not love God back.

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The coffin is so heavy that it takes 35 grown men to carry it. And many men line up for hours just to have the opportunity to do so.

Jesus was betrayed by his community, seemingly less than a week after they so enthusiastically embraced him. One of the people closest to him betrayed him to his death. Another denied that he knew him. Most of his other followers scattered to the wind. He was mocked, bullied, and beaten by those meant to keep order. The faith leaders of his world plotted against him, and the empire that was already bleeding his people to death culturally, economically, and religiously put a rubber stamp on his demise. He was shuffled from one mockery of a legal proceeding to another. He was then killed in way that perhaps isn’t the most prolonged and painful way for a human being to die, but it had to hurt oh so incredibly much. And it was humiliating.

Good Friday is in some ways all of our fears about our own lives and loves and deaths wrapped up into one Story: that when we die will be alone or mostly alone, our friends and family and God having abandoned us, that it will hurt quite a bit, that it will leave us humiliated in some way, that it will come on the cusp of some major success or accomplishment, that people will secretly or not so secretly delight in our suffering when it happens, that it will be quick enough that we cannot really plan for it and yet slow enough that we can see it coming and dread it, that it will happen because of forces outside our control, personal or political or medical, and that it will happen after being rejected from or abandoned by our communities.

Good Friday is also our fear of being abandoned, fear of being unloved, fear of being rejected. And for those people who belong to marginalized or oppressed groups, it is the fear that being part of that group or groups will be the end of them.

These are universal human fears that God takes into and unto Godself. This is its painful, bloody, messy, uncomfortable comfort of Good Friday.

But Good Friday is also a challenge to us: a challenge to look around and see who we are killing today, who we are torturing and rejecting and destroying and scapegoating and otherizing right here, right now, in our world. It is a demand that we look up at the cross and see who is hanging there. It is a radical and altogether not-at-all-polite demand that we stop, please, because that’s Jesus and we’re crucifying Him over and over and over again, and doing it without knowing or understanding what we’re doing.

In other words, Good Friday is at once a bleeding hug of universal love and solidarity with the brokenhearted, no matter how our hearts got broken, and a call to open our hands in the midst of that embrace and let our hammer and nails fall. To let our destructive theologies, ideologies, economic systems, and politics hit the ground with a resounding and final thud.

Good Friday is the battle cry of a heartbroken God. It is, I love you and I get you but can you please stop doing this to people, that’s me up there.

It is God saying, “I am heartbroken for you.”

It is God saying, “I am heartbroken because of you.”

Let us hold these things together in our hearts forever.

Jesus, que vivas.

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On Holy Week Sneaking Up On Us

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I’ve been all over the place this Lent.

I’ve been to Iowa. I’ve been to Australia. I spent a day in Chicago. I’ve preached at three different churches and spoken at many others. I’ve been swimming in the Great Barrier Reef, pet a kangaroo, and seen the world’s most venomous snake through a few inches of glass. I have attended a dear friend’s ordination. I have been to and from three different countries and two different continents and six different airports. I cried when I briefly saw my friends and left them, when I briefly saw my parents and then saw them leave, and then, finally, when I turned the corner in the security line at Sydney airport and could no longer look back and see my sister. My body has been running off of coffee, adrenaline, joy, wonder, grief, and sometimes anger, but not a whole lot of nutritious food or restful sleep.

I have not been thinking about Lent very much.

So imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning and all of a sudden, it was Palm Sunday. Holy Week.

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All those things I was going to reflect on and pray about this Lent, all those things I was going to change, everything dark and broken that I was going to pry out of my heart…it all melted into plane flights and time changes and sleeping in and caffeine and speeches that started with me pressing my back to cold bathroom stall doors and praying, “God, let my words somehow be your words.” I am a pastor who forgot about Lent.

Oops. 

I do feel guilty about this. Really. At the same time, perhaps it’s a good thing.

After all, I think the original Holy Week snuck up on Jesus’ followers, disciples, family, and friends, and though he clearly saw his violent death coming someday, probably even sometime soon, I cannot help but wonder if it snuck up on Jesus, too.

So I cannot help but hope that maybe, just maybe, in letting Lent get away from me this year, Holy Week and Easter might surprise me in new ways. That I might be shocked or astonished in ways Jesus’ followers might have been shocked: at how quickly the praises of Sunday turned into the cries for crucifixion on Friday, at the abruptness and injustice of the trial proceedings, the seeming ease with which most of those who followed him abandoned him, and the violence and mess and terror of it all.

And though I have heard the story a million times, I cannot help but hope that the ending will surprise me.

Reflection is good. Repentance is good. But sometimes we have to embrace being shocked if we are to see and hear and tell The Story in new and meaningful ways, to allow God to shock us into seeing God, ourselves, and others differently. To be reminded of the shock that people around the world still feel when they or someone they love are suddenly imprisoned, abandoned, tortured, or killed. To be forced to think of the poor, the oppressed, and the forgotten that the world still crucifies every day, often suddenly and always unjustly.

This week, I hope I am shocked. I hope you are, too. And I hope God uses that shock to shatter our hearts and eyes open. 

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On Fasting and That Other Ash Wednesday Passage

1   Shout out, do not hold back! 
          Lift up your voice like a trumpet! 
     Announce to my people their rebellion, 
          to the house of Jacob their sins. 
2   Yet day after day they seek me 
          and delight to know my ways, 
     as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness 
          and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; 
     they ask of me righteous judgments, 
          they delight to draw near to God. 
3   “Why do we fast, but you do not see? 
          Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” 
     Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, 
          and oppress all your workers. 
4   Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight 
          and to strike with a wicked fist. 
     Such fasting as you do today 
          will not make your voice heard on high. 
5   Is such the fast that I choose, 
          a day to humble oneself? 
     Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, 
          and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? 
     Will you call this a fast, 
          a day acceptable to the LORD?

6   Is not this the fast that I choose: 
          to loose the bonds of injustice, 
          to undo the thongs of the yoke, 
     to let the oppressed go free, 
          and to break every yoke? 
7   Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, 
          and bring the homeless poor into your house; 
     when you see the naked, to cover them, 
          and not to hide yourself from your own kin? [Isaiah 58v1-7]

I know. We all love that passage Joel 2: “Rend your hearts and not your clothing.” It’s beautiful. I love hearing it every Ash Wednesday.

But it is so easy to hear that passage and think that God is merely calling all of us to 40 days of inward navel-gazing and self-examination, a 6-week period of giving up Diet Coke and thinking about the ways that we, as individual humans, have failed God. 

This is not at all a bad idea. It is all well and good to give up chocolate, or alcohol, or anything else we are mindlessly using to fill the holes in our hearts instead of leaving those spaces empty so God may pour grace and healing into them. Lent, that time where we prepare to commemorate the day when Jesus’ death knocked a gaping hole in the universe that was healed three days later by his own empty tomb, is a beautiful time to do this. It is a time to embrace empty places. 

But Isaiah 58, the alternative reading for this Ash Wednesday, reminds us that it is not just our own individual sins, our own individual vices, and our own individual deaths that we must remember, meditate on, and pray about this Lent. It is also our collective sins and vices as a society that we remember: injustice, inequality, hatred, discrimination, violence, ignorance, apathy, greed…the list goes on. It is also the Death that we are responsible for, both consciously and unconsciously, that we must remember.

This Lent, let us pause more than once and think back to when those ashes touched our foreheads on Wednesday, to the feel and sense and honesty of that finger sweeping twice across our skin, and remember all the things and places and people that have burned because we in the developed world have looked away, or worse, fed the fire.

Let us remember the ashes at the UCA, remnants of a failed attempt to destroy evidence of the massacre that happened there. Let us remember the ashes at El Mozote, left when the Atlacatl battalion torched the town after killing over 1,000 of its people. 

For those of us who are Americans, let us remember whose government paid for the matches to light those fires.

Lent is indeed a time of inward-looking repentance, but let us not forget the things God asks us to collectively repent of: oppressing our workers, ignoring the poor, hungry, and homeless, and failing to dismantle the systems of injustice that keep people down, keep them enslaved to violence and war, keep them yoked.

Let us not forget the kind of fast that God requires of us: one that seeks justice, mercy, and an end to all things that bring death. Let us repent, together, of the things that truly make God angry. 

Let us remember that it is not just our foreheads, but our hands, that are dirty. 

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Trinity United Presbyterian Church (et al.) Delegation

Another week, another delegation! Many thanks to the people of Trinity United Presbyterian Church and their friends from Allerton and Dexter/Greenfield for such a wonderful week. We had a great time eating, working, and visiting with the communities of Casa de Zinc and Casa de Zacate.

And as always, a special thank-you to the Pastoral Team for all the hard work they do and to the communities we visited for their hospitality!

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The delegation visits the pre-columbian art exhibit in the Salvadoran Military Museum.

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The delegation visits the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador, home of the final resting place of Monseñor Romero (and plenty of beautiful artwork).

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Idalia (who is always a bit camera shy) hides behind one of the piñatas that she and the Pastoral Team made for the fiesta in Casa de Zinc.

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Members of the delegation sort spices into smaller containers in order to give them to the families in Casas de Zinc and Zacate. The pepper was making them sneeze, so…

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Meetings are where some of the most important relational and organizing work gets done. Here, the delegation meets with Casa de Zacate.

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The delegation visits homes in Casa de Zinc. Who doesn’t like blowing bubbles and looking at pictures?

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Or playing with balloon animals?

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A delegation member speaks with  a member of Casa de Zacate and presents her family with a gift.

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A delegation visit isn’t complete without a party. Here, a girl in Casa de Zacate attempts to break a piñata that is as tall as she is!

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BONUS: Drum Circle Awesomeness

As a little addendum to the last post, here is a short video of one of the drum circles that took place in Muñoces. Shout out to the First Pres Newton delegation for making this happen.

Supper shout out to the kid who put a metal bowl on his head and drummed that way. You got style, amigo.

(P.S. Hold out at least until the 19-second mark. The kids really start to get the hang of it!)

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The First Pres Newton and Heartland Delegations

It has been an incredible month here in Berlin! In the past few weeks, we have welcomed delegations from First Presbyterian Church in Newton, Iowa and Heartland Presbyterian Church in Clive, Iowa. We have had parties, movie screenings, drum circles, door-to-door visits, and incredible conversations, and we have done all these things with our Salvadoran friends. Thanks to the Pastoral Team for their dedication, to the delegations for all their hard work (and for sticking it out through sickness, bad luck, and harrowing travel experiences!), and to the churches they represent for everything they do for and with the Muñoces, Tablón Cerna, and Tablón Centro communities. 

Honestly, you all rock. Sometimes literally. 

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The Newton delegation visits the school in Muñoces.

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The delegation teaches the Muñoces children how to do a drum circle. The kids were quite enthusiastic about it.

 

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The Muñoces community watches a movie about the partnership between them and their partner church.

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The Newton Delegation visits the Church of the Rosary in San Salvador. Pictures do not do it justice.

 

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The Heartland delegation visits the beautiful colonial-era church in Panchimalco.

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One of our friendly neighborhood police officers let the schoolchildren of Tablón play with his handcuffs.

 

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The Directiva of Centro and the delegation listen attentively to a reading of 1 Cor. 13, “the love chapter.”

 

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The delegation waits patiently as the former mission co-worker tries to drive the truck around a fallen tree on the way to the Don Justo Coffee finca.

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The piñatas were a huge hit in Tablón Centro. Huge. Hit. Get it? Okay, no more puns for now. 

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The delegation and directiva members inflate balloons in preparation for a fiesta in Tablón Cerna.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQG4vAe_QP8&feature=youtu.be

 

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