Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bouquet Making

The back story, please
Of those who ceased all work at forty-three, 
Because of poetry
Or spent a life
Wooing that art

The full story, prithee
Of money or generosity
Supporting that pursuit 
And made possible besides,
Homemade breads
And glass encased solariums,
Strewn with pillows and words.

Virginia Woolf said it well:
Surely it matters 
Whether a meal 
Consists of boiled potatoes
Or brie-baked bourguignon
And if one meal, much more a life –
Whether the poet has paper and storage in the clouds
Good lighting and access to a thesaurus
And time alone,
When the stomach is full
And frees the mind to roam,
Recalling this thought or that, 
Sitting a spell,
Bending to smell
This word or not, 
Hues, lines and shapes,
To gather up into bouquets.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Missionary Appreciation

There was news this morning that a former missionary to Haiti had died. She had belonged to the early wave of Christians who came to Haiti in the 1940s and 1950s, and stayed for decades. While her husband went around the country preaching, teaching, baptizing, she raised their four children, and at times played the role of music director for the church, finding and translating songs into Creole or French, teaching them to the choir. (“O vini Sent Espri, nan tan nwa nou-ou  / Rampli lespri nou ak amou e pwisan ou / Aji nan ke nou, chanje nou prie-e / O vini Sent Espri, bay legliz yon revey!  « Come Holy Spirit, revive the Church today ».) 

While the US was struggling with civil rights and racial integration, these missionaries, without fanfare, were raising children who played soccer everyday with Haitian friends and visited their homes.  

In this day of questioning the role and impact of “ex-pats” in Haiti, we must recognize the missionaries who came early, and in the space of one or two generations, successfully made of the Gospel a common story here, an everyday experience. 

They came and established seminaries and led Bible studies that taught the importance of rejecting voodoo beliefs and practices, of holiness, of the importance of the nuclear family. None of my grand-parents had learned those lessons early in life, but my parents and many in their generation did, largely through the work of those early Protestant missionaries, and Haiti continues to be blessed for it.  

Surely, there are criticisms to be leveled, errors of arrogance or ignorance to be addressed, but they cannot define early missionary work in Haiti. Instead, that work should be appreciated for what it is : a good first prototype to be refined, and refined again, to the memory of those who came before, the benefit of the Haitian people, and the glory of God.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Haiti Speaking

Please stop saying that I am ugly and without capacity
Stop pretending that poverty is my destiny.
No more 10-year strategies awaiting tragedies

You are blinded, I am sorry
You are blind and cannot see
In the ground I grow sustenance
In the mountains I find protection
In the rains I am drenched with blessings
In the coastline I reflect God’s beauty and mine
And the night sky, a mystical surround,
Rebirths anew every morning
The sun’s majestic mound.

So kindly stop the vain prattle
And hear instead this, my mettle
Tested, archaic, eternal,
My children in rounds of praise,
My offspring 
Bright, beautiful and strong:
Paradise itself will have been my song
Paradise itself, all along.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Cost of the persistent self

For a very long time, I thought if only I could be the "very best" me, the person God created me to be, life would be pleasant and profitable, with much success in family life, career, finances. In the words of Sally Fields, (good) people would "really, really like me."

It is no small matter to realize that such is not the case at all, that being the person God created me to be carries a cost, often in the loss of relationships or damaged esteem.

This conclusion is as unwelcome as it is unassailable.

Certainly, I knew of Jesus' admonition to take up my cross and follow Him, but in my little Protestant head that meant losing the bad things, habits and people, like those who used illegal drugs or were vulgar.

But the reality is altogether different. First, the word “bad” is evolving. But more importantly, being the “Christian” me causes the loss of good things, like friendships from people who just happen to worship on Saturdays; or some who find it acceptable to use every invective to describe President Obama (except the "n" or the "f" words).

Consider that the former think I will burn in hell because of Christmas celebrations. And the latter are, well, scary. In both cases, fundamental disagreements preclude friendship. Though these are Christians whose faith is evident, we practice mutual judgment and exclusion, replacing fellowship by politeness or quiet snickering.

As another example, God created in me a ferocious Haitian who feels the need to defend her country against anyone, especially non-Haitians, who would berate it. This practice has yielded no obvious benefit, and at least one serious harm (the loss of an INGO job because of my relentless focus on Haiti. "Your every word is Haiti, Haiti, Haiti," said the director, "this makes [the organization] unhappy").

Yet, I continue to do so, at times, to applause; at times, to displeasure and risk, but always with peace.

So to the question of yielding to the persistent divine self, I answer yes. That self is part of God’s constellation-glory. Without it, there would be one less star in the galaxy. And stars outshine all foreclosed relationships, job losses or party invitations un-sent.