Some Southern Wisdom

Several months ago I received the June issue of Presence in which William Barry, SJ, retold the following story about the ending of homily given by John Kerdiejus:

At the end of the homily John neatly summed it all up with a saying he heard from an old gentleman living in the Deep South:  “You gotta be who you is, and not who you ain’t!”  he said, letting out a deepling rumbling laugh.  “Because if you ain’t who you is, then you is who you ain’t.  and that ain’t good.”

Now ain’t that good ‘ol Southern Wisdom?

We are so often “who we ain’t” that it takes a lot of discovering Who-We-Is to really be we.   That’s a discover worth making.   Discover. What a wonderful word that helps us get to Who-We-Is.   To “dis-cover” something or someone means that we take off our coats, undo the ties, unbutton the jackets, slip off our shirts, throw back the covers, push off the blankets, peel back the layers, ,  and quite frankly, go more and more into

Richard Rohr

un-covery.  We get naked.  In The Naked Now by Richard Rohr, we are reminded again and again how important it is to undo things and thoughts and thus dis-cover ourselves by “un-saying” and “un-knowing.”  We discover and uncover by setting aside our usual habits of judging, preferring, choosing, deciding, determining, and hanging on to our security blankets.   All that we think necessary, we throw aside so that our True Selves stand as naked as newly born babies before our wondering eyes.

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So “Who-Is-You”?   There are many ways to find out who you is not and who you is.   That discovery is radically simple because it doesn’t take knowing  in any traditional sense—that of accumulating knowledge, opinions, viewpoints, and arguments.  At one point Rohr outrageiously says, “We already know far more than Jesus or Buddha ever knew, but the great difference is that they knew what they did know from a different level and in a different way.”  That sounds outrageous, but Rohr is simply– “roaringly”—going out his way to jolt us out of our “covers, ” our inherited “knowledge, ” our thought-produced and often false security blankets.  He invites us to break out of the hard shells of our cultural and sometimes phony and self-justifying religious and higher educations  and unknowingly uncover the naked within.  That unknowing is always newly birthed (and naked), living in unknowing just like the way babies live and breath.  Naked, we live at every moment the New Life, the life that breathes in the air of grace, the life that sleeps in the arms of God, the life that no long requires a dualist, smarty-pants mind that judges, rationalizes, and allows complacency through certitude.

Who is You? Get naked and find out.

 

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Bonhoeffer on Prayer

Prayer is the supreme instance of the hidden character of the Christian life. It is the antithesis of self-display. When we pray, we have ceased to know ourselves, and know only God whom we call upon. Prayer does not aim at any direct effect on the world; it is addressed to God alone.   
                                               ~ Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

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A Saying about Solitude

"Solitude" by Marc Chagal

Solitude enables you to make contact with yourself, a necessity if you want to realize yourself–not to repeat like a parrot a few acquired formulas, but to be the prophet of God within you who speaks a unique language to each.  ~ Antonin Sertillanges

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August 6: Feast of the Transfiguration / Glocal Mission Event

Yesterday I attended a Glocal Mission Gathering at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Norcross, Georgia.  Quite a day, full of good surprises, challenging workshops, and new friends–Karla, Rick, Eric, Sheila, Glenna, Kathy, Tracy and Bjorn–all of whom I now appreciate meeting and hope to know better.  Bjorn led ”Radical Hospitality,” the

Bjorn Peterson asking of the Church, "Who is not here?"

workshop I attended, and it was refreshingly provocative, nicely animated, charged up with good questions, and peppered with a good bit of liberation theology, the good likes of which I’ve not heard for a while.  (Bjorn, you have promised to send me a bibliography!)   I was especially privileged to meet Kathy and Eric; Kathy has promised to provide me with some advice about redoing our parish website, and Eric might well be a good resource for bringing St. John Lutheran Church to a time when we too are radically hospital to all people. 

Bjorn has given me the addy for a website–the 99 collective–that I’ve now placed into Sites Worth Visiting.   Slip on over and hang out for a while.

Earlier in the day Sunitha Mortha, ELCA director for global formation, warned against underestimating the cultural context of mission, globally and locally.  Captivatingly, she emphasized how important it is that we not make hasty assumptions about the “other,”  especially when that ”other person” is someone from a distinctly different culture.   All cultures are like an iceberg, 9/10th of which are not visible so that at first look we see only the tip of what is a huge assortment of values, not easily visible without a lot of walking together, a lot of listening, a lot of mutual sharing.   But that is the journey, the walk we must take when we’re want to know other people, people who are different from us.  What a journey that is when done without judgment, but with curiosity! 

An Apostle from the Transfiguration by Matthias Grünewald

Inasmuch as today is an alternative date for the Feast of the Transfiguration (I hope it gets transposed over to Sunday, tomorrow!), you may be interested in going over to “Categories” and clicking on “Transfiguration”‘ that will take you to a posting I made on March 6, 2011, when it was celebrated as the last Sunday in Epiphanytide.

In the meantime, do sign up for postings at “Subscribe to the Praying Daily RSS Feed” if you have not done so already.   You’ll find the opportunity in the upper-right corner.

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Trip to Grace Orphanage, Port au Prince, Haiti: Journal Entry 7

Monday, July 3, 2011

Yesterday, Sunday, was beautiful.   Dressed up a bit, we went to church at 10:00 a.m.  The chapel, newly painted, decorated, and furnished, was nearly full of people, especially with children, all of whom wore their new dresses given by so many of you; they were lovely, their faces shiny, their hair topped with pink and white ribbons.  The love everywhere was palpable.  Delette, Marie’s daughter interpreted most of the service, especially as we listened to a good three-part sermon on the kinds of suffering Haitians experience; the pastor spoke enthusiastically about God’s enduring love and urged all to make sure that we do not run up against the final suffering:  loss of the Divine Presence (that’s my way of saying what he said; he said it more graphically!). 

After church, we went to the new Grace Couture Centre and took group photographs of everyone .

On Monday morning the newly repaired truck just drove up, and some of us are going to Food for the Poor and a nearby Eko Depot.   What a morning we had, especially with the

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Rice being cooked for distribution at Food for the Poor

truck.   Not too unexpectedly, the orphanage’s truck stalled and bucked and eventually broke down in the Haitian traffic.  For the better part of an hour we were stranded until a back-up taptap came to the rescue.   With the aid of a good vehicle we drove to the International Headquarters of Food for the Poor where Huguette Guerre from the Mission & Travel Office gave a brief tour of the warehouses and gymnasium-sized kitchen.  The earthquake severally damaged many buildings in the complex, and there is much construction going on.  In an open courtyard, hundreds and hundreds of Haitians were lined up for their daily family ration of cooked  rice and cereals.  The warehouses were filled with thousands of bags of rice and food stuffs.  From the port of Port au Prince (yes, that’s a redundancy) cargo ships from all over the world and particularly from Florida weekly bring tons of supplies and building materials for distribution.  Eventually a small portion of the supply line reaches Grace Orphanage and the children here ate rice and beans that have travelled halfway around the world to feed hungry stomachs.

Leaving Food for the Poor, we spent the next several hours at two Haitian equivalents of Home Depot.  Butch and Delette Matheus are particularly interested in looking for and finding a generator because that can be used to produce an independent supply of electricity for Grace Couture Centre.  The Centre needs a reliable source of electricity to run the three sewing machines, several irons, and adequate ceiling lights.   By the time we had completed our investigations, we were able to return home, eat a mid-afternoon dinner, and gather together for a final Monday evening circle-meeting for a team evaluation of the week.

We closed the evening with a trip to the local grocery where we bought some snacks and before our final packing for Tuesday’s departures, Ethan led us in devotions that closed with strong prayers for one another, thanksgivings to God, and many heart-felt intercessions for our Haitian friends, especially for Stevenson (who is in the Dominican Republic undergoing dental surgery), John-Smith, Johnson, and Andronic.  Lights went out about 10, light chatter continued till 11, and by midnight we were all sleep.  Tomorrow morning the two Karens leave at 5; the rest of us head to the airport at 9:30.  We will all be back in the States by 12:30 on Wednesday morning.  We will be back in Griffin, Zebulon, and Barnesville and in bed about 2:00 a.m.   We long for your hugs and kisses at the Atlanta airport; soon thereafter we will fill you in with details, lots of details.

We came to Haiti to set up a vocational school sewing center. We have accomplished our mission.  After we completed our work, our Haitian friends have asked that our newly established room be known officially as “Grace Courture Centre.”  Here are two photographs: first, before; second, after.

God’s Work / Our Hands

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Trip to Grace Orphanage, Port au Prince, Haiti: Journal Entry 6

Sunday morning, July 3, 2011

We’ve been experiencing lots of severe Internet connection problem for the past several days.  As a consequence, we’ve decided to send you only the last journal entry now in hopes that you have the latest update. 

It’s early Sunday morning.  People are getting up.  Ellen is making coffee; she usually does the final editing of these journal entries, so if you see a lot of typos, please understand.  The electrical cord necessary to send these words by computer hookup is still being used to run a fan in the women’s quarters; as soon as we can make a connection to the modem and router, we will send this to you.  While we wait, we wish you all a blessed Sunday morning. 

More first about yesterday, Saturday, a really big day.  For the first time since being here, all of us were out together, doing the same things.  Because the orphanage truck is still undergoing repairs (very slow repairs), arrangements were made for us to secure the private use of a “tap-tap” (Camyonet, in Creole), that is,  a small pickup fitted out with a fiber-glass roof and wooden benches anchored onto the sides of the bed.  Painted in an array of bright red, yellows, blues, and greens, nearly all tap-taps have names emblazoned on their fronts, sides, and backs:  Merci, Jesus!  Almighty God!  God is Love—all, of course, in Creole. 

With two of our interpreters, Johnson and Andronic, we headed out about 9:30 for an all-day tour of Port au Prince.   Although we were told that traffic on Saturdays is generally light, few of us could tell the difference between a Friday and Saturday; traffic flows in four lanes on two-lane streets.  Cars pass one another with abandon (but apparently without too many accidents).  Few traffic lights govern anything.  If a driver’s car or truck stalls (as our did) or breaks down, repairs are frequently made on the spot.  Vendors are everywhere.  Want a bottle of water?  “One dolla, pleeze.”   As you might imagine, it’s hot inside a tap-tap, and we often change places to take advantage of an open window.  Anything of value needs to be well inside the vehicle.  As again you might imagine, our cameras were working almost constantly, clicking away to capture scenes and sights both refreshingly beautiful and appallingly awful.

After an hour’s ride, our driver took us to well-guarded, gated market full of Haitian crafts, paintings, sculpture, houseware, dresses, hats, Voodoo memorabilia, home-crafted leather shoes, religious art, and so on.  Nearly everyone bought something.  Karen, Andy’s granddaughter, for example, bought a white enameled cup for her Trinadadian husband. ; and Andy bought a small statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus.

Next we drove quickly through Cite Soleil, the slum district of Port au Prince.  The stench was almost overwhelming, the streets full of brackish black sewer water, the buildings in terrible disrepair, the people obviously poor, downtrodden, and desperate.  But nonetheless, nearly all were working and busy.  Many push carts and wheelbarrows filled with the castoffs of Haitian life: junk wood and steel, old tires, worn-out shoes, and any such lower-end debris that might somehow be sold for frightfully small profit, a profit that just might buy some rice, something to drink.

Life is Cite Soleil is only degrees less dignified that life in most of Port au Prince.  Garbage is everything; burning trash on the street sides is common.  Exhaust fumes blacken the atmosphere.  With little, if any running water and working sewers, people simply make do, with bathing while standing in a large bowl, often without privacy.  Water  for washing is hand-pumped  from public facilities and hauled to whatever is called home.  Food is cooked over small charcoal fires.  Plastic containers litter every street and walkway.  In short, life is dirty and rough in Port au Prince.  Yes, it was the poorest city in the Western hemisphere before the earthquake.  Now, after the earthquake, it is even more so the poorest.   Large tent “cities” occupy every conceivable space.  At times one begins to imagine that dead sardines in a can have more room than many Haitian families in their squalid hovels and tarp tents.

Courtney celebrates her 18th birthday! Whoopee!

From Cite Soliel we stopped to photograph the collapsed national capitol building and then went to the metal-workers district, a fairly large neighborhood where men and women take apart steel drums to fashion beautiful wall art that is intricately cut, hand-punched, and some annealed with bright-colored paints.   Here life is a little better, and we bought several dozen small pieces for $80; we’ll bring that artwork back with us and find a way to sell it to raise more money for the orphanage.

Once back at the orphanage, Ellen baked and Carly decorated a cake for Courtney whose birthday brings her to eighteen years of grace.  Candles were lit in the evening darkness, Courtney made her wishes, we sang “Happy Birthday” a bunch of times, and we all filled up on sweet cake and chocolate icing before getting ready for bed.  Courtney is such a lovely young women.  May God bless her all through her many years to come.

And lest it goes unmentioned, this too: we had goat meat for supper.  Goats roam the streets and alleyways.  One less so now.

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Trip to Grace Orphanage, Port au Prince, Haiti: Journal Entry 5

Saturday evening, July 2, 2011

        Last evening, Friday, we had a two-and-a-half meeting during which we reviewed what has been done so far, what needs to be done, what has not been done well, what surprises we have experienced, what improvements we can make, and how we might finish our week’s visit so that all goes well.  After that discussion, Ethan led us in devotions, and we did some heart-felt praying.   Lots of praying and listening to the Holy Spirit working among us.

          This morning, Saturday, we fixed pancakes for breakfast, studied the electrical problems and challenges that present themselves at the orphanage, took another tap-tap ride to look at generators, and made another grocery run.

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Trip to Grace Orphanage, Port au Prince, Haiti: Journal Entry 4

Getting into the ocean was lots of fun!

 Friday evening, July 1, 2011

Today we took all the orphans to the beach. Thinking that we would be leaving at 8:00 a.m., we were up early, high with anticipation for the makings of a great day.  Arrangements had been made to secure the use of an old yellow school bus which Marie had sold to a friend, we were put on wait until the bus arrived at 9:00; by 9:30 we were on the road. Every seat was taken, a cooler of ice contained bread and sliced meat for sandwiches.  Off we went.  The drive took about ninety minutes.  We drove out of Port au Prince and along fields of banana trees, our horn honking like a train locomotive (someone said that Willy, our drive, should apply for NASCAR racing!). Dodging potholes, passing trucks, and singing on the way, we arrived at Preval Beach (named after René Garcia Préval, Haiti’s recent President) where guards armed with automatic guns opened the gate and gave us permission to park. 

Preval Beach

After paying the price of admission and a short walk, we were on the shoreline of an absolutely gorgeous Caribbean ocean.  The girls in their new swimsuits hit the water like a flock of ducks landing on a welcome pond.  Such splashing!  Such laughter!  Such happiness. Mary Rachel, Carly, Ethan, and Courtney were the centers of attention as the orphans romped and played, hanging on to whomever was willing to play “swimming.”  When lunch time arrived, the girls ate their fill, drinking lots of Haitian soda pop.  Most of us ordered platefuls of red snapper fresh fish (cooked by locals over charcoal), fried plantains, and spicy salad fixings.  At about two p.m., tired and exhausted, we gathered ourselves up, filled up the bus again, and headed home. Once back at the orphanage, we settled into the evening, tired but during well.

Karen Ramnath teaches a young orphan how to sew.

Karen Ramnath had not once gone out with us.  Working tirelessly in the new Grace Couture Centre (couture is a wonderful word meaning “High Fashion” in New York City and “sewing” in Haiti), we had spent the day continuing to set up sewing machines, getting everything more ready for Saturday’s finishing touches.  When we came down to see how much progress had been made, we were astonished to see the transformation of a once dingy grey room into a room full of promise, wall painted with a final coat of peach, tables newly varnished and now displaying three new sewing machines, and cabinets ready to store and display dresses soon to be made.  What a wonderful showcase!

Several made their way down the streets and alleys to a local grocery where they brought back ice cream for all to enjoy.  A lovely day came to a delightful conclusion.

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Trip to Grace Orphanage, Port au Prince, Haiti: Journal Entry 3

Thursday afternoon, June 20

This morning we gave each girl the collection of dresses, shoes, flip-flops, swimsuit, toiletries that had been individually prepared and placed in a cloth Publix shopping bag that Laura Miller brought to the parish hall of St. John Lutheran Church.  How much we want those of you who came here in April to know of our gratitude for giving us detailed information about each girl’s age, dress and shoe sizes, along with photos of each girl.  Thank you, Faith Lutheran in Lexington, KY! 

While some were outfitting the girls, others in the team made a second run for more paint, going to Eko Depot.  There they bought more sealer and gallons of finish paint, Georgia Peach in color.  When they returned, we immediately went into action, applying sealer.  Within thirty minutes we encountered a problem: the new sealer (this time oil-based) was so heavy that our rollers began to come apart.  Try as we might to salvage them, we had to throw them away and try using a brush or two.  That was too slow. 

To solve the problem of inadequate equipment, we looked at the Haitian men who were building cabinets in the room.  It was apparent that Haitians could do the work more effectively that we.   They know to improvise and get things done.  We spoke to Marie who assured us that she could hire a small crew to take our supplies and complete not only the sealer application but also finish the whole paint job in its entirety.  That made sense in two ways.  Of course, Haitians know how to paint a room, especially a room with concrete walls.  We could do it, but they could do it faster and better.  Then too, hiring Haitians to do the work meant that several men could earn money to support their families.   Haitian know-how and our small support of the Haitian economy made for a good decision to step back and let others step in.   We would turn our attention to other jobs to be done.

That evening we spoke for a long time with Marie and her daughter Delette.   Serious long-term planning needed to be done.   After some preliminary ideas were explored, we determined that in the next day or so it would prove helpful to prioritize a list of things that could be done before school.  We ourselves, of course, would be leaving on Tuesday, but perhaps we might find resources for Marie and Delette to get some classroom work done before school starts in August.   Old worn-out study desks need to be replaced; new blackboards need to be built.  Might we help?   We all went to bed exhausted.  Lights went out at 9.  We would get up on Friday morning about 5:30.

Mary France, Diana, Sarah, and Lynda have received this new dresses and shoes, among many other gifts.

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Trip to Grace Orphanage, Port au Prince, Haiti: Journal Entry 2

Wednesday evening, June 29, 2011 

The "sewing room" as it looked when we arrived.

It’s now been over forty-eight hours since we emailed our previous journal entry.   The problems involved in sending you updates have been three-fold.  First, it’s been difficult getting onto the Internet in Haiti.   Connections here—what they call “linkage”—are unstable, frustratingly so.   Second, many in the group want to use their computers so that when three or more are tied into our single modem and router, loading programs seems to take forever or not at all.  And third, we have been so busy that a whole day can fly by before have the good sense to compose a journal entry.   Haiti is a big network of patches and band-aids, and sometimes they come off.  We will try to do better!

While some of us were out shopping, we took some photographs of the “sewing room” as we found it.   Two “drafting” tables had been built, but it was fairly obvious that they wre not quite what we needed.   As a consequence, we asked the carpenters to cut the upper parts down and make them flat, about waist level, so that cloth could easily be cut by scisssors from patterns.   The wall, good and solid as they were, needed to be scraped and painted.  We were eager to get to work!

Ethan Miller and our interpretor, Stevenson, scape old paint off the walls.

Courtney Armistead puts on her mask and scraps--and scraps!

Early on Wednesday afternoon, our grocery and paint shoppers got back with plenty of food and some paint supplies.   Our shoppers were surprised to find armed guards at the store’s entrance, although Butch Armistead later said it was quite comforting to know that all would be under good care. 

As soon as shoppers returned, a crew of four went to the orphanage and began scraping the walls of what we hope will be a beautiful vocational classroom for older girls in the orphanage to learn the craft of sewing.  The room is large; thirty by twelve feet.  The walls are ten feet high.  Removing lots of peeling old paint, we soon discovered that we needed spackling to fill in numerous gouges and holes. Many of us scraped; the room was soon full of peelings and cement dust, and so we donned masks to protect ourselves a bit.  When a good-sized section was complete, we started applying sealer, and it didn’t take long for us to realize that we were running out of sealer.  We needed at least six more gallons! That evening we made plans to make another run to the local Eko, a Haitian version of Home Depot.

Mary Rachel Mayo is a big hit with the orphans!

With food and groceries in the cupboards, we voraciously ate a wonderful evening meal.  After supper and during our second circle meeting, we decided that a second run to the paint store was necessary.  We also thought it best to give each orphaned girl her gifts of dresses, shoes, and other assorted clothing after breakfast on the next morning, Thursday.  Half the team would help the girls open their gifts and packages; the other half of the team would head out again for more paint supplies.  

We are falling in love with Haiti’s children

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