Monday, November 16, 2009

Dogs: 8-10-09

Thinking of dogs today... and how much I want one. Thinking of Booger... and all he represents. This dog... this beautiful, tall, deep black lab came to us slinking low... tail and body arched as though some invisible strings were pulling it up out of the ground... a reanimated shadow of the dog he could have been.

People had hurt him and as such, much fear filled the air between the erect hairs on the scruff of his neck and I would suspect (were I to understand him as another dog might) much hurt and anger as well. Of course I cannot know any of this for certain, but I do know that shadows of dogs and men are not made by regular meals, loving acceptance and a warm bed in the corner.

He came for the free meals he could pirate from our garage, but eventually stayed because my dad caught him and tied him to a calf-hutch with rope. Perhaps this much didn't surprise him... I doubt he expected to be consulted on the matter. But something did happen then that he did not expect. He was given regular meals, loving acceptance, and shelter.

I imagine that somewhere amid his cowering and snapping there was some form of doggy curse that would have offended if we had understood it, or at least some conversation that would have lost him our respect, but our ears, and consequently our hearts were closed to this judgment. We had no cause to think or gossip about what a dirty useless lizard this vagabond was... how long he had been thieving the food of respectable dogs, or how many pups he may have fathered illegitimately in his wanderings. We didn't look at him sideways, or try to keep children from speaking with him... because he's a dog... and dogs are known to do things like that. No surprises.

We don't want our kids to do these things: Stealing, vagabonding, sleeping around... but we have confidence that they can differentiate between how a dog acts and how they should act. Why? Who knows? Somehow though, this gap in communication and expectation practically resulted in a love toward this dog that was selfless, unconditional, blind, longsuffering, gritty and fibrous. It endured many months of struggle and rejection until the heart of the dog had been won over, transforming him into perhaps the most affectionate and loyal member of our odd family.

Love, unasked for, redeemed the heart of a lost, broken mutt... a phenomenon Christians proclaim to pursue and be specially privy to, but which most have secretly and practically given up hope in the existence of.

We can love this way. We have been told we cannot... but we can. When our expectations of others, and views of our own righteousness change... when our hearts are more honest with their own potentials/capacities, and more willing to waste love in the name of giving more of it, then we may understand Christ again... may see a love like he bore: a love that redeems mutts like us.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Ok... I've not been around blogger in a long time, and I don't have much time now, so those of you who follow will get a taste of some journals this time... if you're interested in life here... it's a window.

It's quiet here... empty. I should like it, or at lest prefer it. Yes... I prefer it. Lorena brought me a muddy, half-dead Pitogue (Great Kiskadee) fledgeling this morning. It is wrapped up in my shirt in a tupperware on my desk. I'm going to let the little guy dry off. I walk to the end of my walkway: look up and down the road. Field flickers and doves are perusing the soggy sand in front of house 1o, unaware and unconcerned with the little one's plight. They are the lucky ones, I realize, sipping another drag from the guampa in my hand. I am at peace watching them, yet aching... they were lucky... that it wasn't raining, cold, and in proximity to the dog where they fledged. Yet... there is no sadness in them... They almost take life for granted. They do take life for granted. Who are they to muse over who lives and dies... whether it is just or not... They are the pawns in nature's play. Whether it is cruel or good, right or wrong. Nature is not cruel... just hard. The realization gives no additional struggle... they do not accuse. They just live. Death is not mourned, it is accepted.
I think this is missing among humans. We have protected ourselves from death somewhat by separating ourselves from nature. I think of the soggy fledgeling on my desk with another sip. I should be him. I am cold and muddy and alone. I too jumped out of my nest early in a storm... was chased by a few dogs that wanted nothing more than to feel my bones crush in their jaws. I am weak, trembling and dripping in my failures. Is it unfair? No, not really. It's just life... it's the people I landed among. The setup for failure by my ambitions and fears... He and I should both probably be dead for failure of heart and limb... And nature will continue, neither blind nor cruel.

Hope will live despite me, hopping after the rain, pulling insects from the muck... and I am noone to complain. Yet... Lorena snatched him up from the ground... didn't quite let the dog have his way... brought him to me. I will care for him. Am I screwing with nature, or am I now some unpredictable grace that is part of it? Surely nature is as full of grace as it is cruelty: breaks in the clouds to warm a cold creature... The antelope in planet earth whose pursuers (wild dogs) abandoned an inevitable kill because their kin had made a kill somewhere else... a timely rain that revives something small and herbaceous.... every fallen carcass that keeps a hagfish alive in its shadowy depths.

Pitoguei... do you and I deserve to live? Deserve to die? No, neither really... but since we are alive... let us live!

(note: a reflection on the moment, given the situation in focus... I do in a grand sense of spiritual justice before the giver and inventer of all life, in view of my direct offense to His central idea and personal investment deserve death, but I cannot compare this with the Pitogue as the gospel was written for man's situation and not that of the birds. Accept this entry as art in context, not as an absolute faith statement.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Excerpt from an e-mail home. Thought it would serve as a quick update for the rest of you lovelies as well:


The rabbit project is going well. The pastured pen works like a dream. (must send pictures) The first litter was born recently. Seven babies in total. Not very cute yet... but they have passed the one week mark, are growing more fur and are beginning to explore a bit. This brings the total from 5 to 12. The next two does will not be ready to breed until december, so this will probably be the only litter I see born.

Remnants of my chicken flock were attacked by a dog or wolf or something. I've been handfeeding the one it caught. A few days ago it began eating solo and now enters my house looking for me if the door is left open. lol. I felt a bit ridiculous putting so much time into one chicken, but the spiritual value of it, I think exceeds the value of the chicken. I felt affirmed Sunday reading in proverbs when I stumbled across a verse commending the man who cares for animals. hahaha... anyways, I now have a ridiculously tame, half-blind chicken as a pet in my front yard. Pen for these is built and awaiting 3 men to help me move it. (it was designed originally to be mobile, but the weight turned out to be a problem, and we don't have a tractor of any kind, so it will be stationary for the time being. Potentially it will be moved over the tilapia ponds. We'll see. For now, it will be close to the houses, under a tree.

Bees hopefully coming in the next week or so?

The main thing keeping us busy right now though is construction on a guard shack in the middle of the farm which the brother of the main farm guy will be living in in exchange for some security services. We've had three robberies here in the past month, only one time they entered a building thankfully, but when they did they stole a refrigerator/freezer and a ceiling fan. The other two times they had cut the fence and entered, but were chased off. Once, when Milciades and Shaun went to investigate and the other time by Roberto (the farm hand) with a shotgun and 9mm. What we lost is nothing compared to what has happened to the neighbors. There have been animals butchered in the field, sound equipment carried off, etc. We are fortunate.
So, that to say I've been helping dig footers/cistern and doing masonry-related things. I got to try my hand at stone masonry... which was a real hoot. I both love and hate it, but I spent yesterday and today working on that.

The past week I've been taking books up and reading to small groups of the kids: A spanish kids picture book, and then a bible story out of an illustrated spanish Bible that the last mission team brought for each of the kids. I've only just this evening read to the last of them for this first rotation... but I like it better that way. Reading with three is very different than reading to 11. I tried to read to 11 but it was too much like a classroom... God bless the house parents richly for all they do! I mean... I finished the book.. but I just value the other experience for them... much more than the former. They have school for the former. I've been enjoying it immensely. It's been good for my spanish as well.

So... that's the basic run-down. More to come!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bunnies and such...

Its been awhile, eh? Sitting down to this entry, I realize that I've been here in Itagua for roughly three weeks already, and most of you haven't heard so much as a peep from me. As a result, I went out this morning to shoot photos that I will be uploading in the following days. The first few members of a volunteer group from North Carolina arrived today along with a couple from another town an hour or so away that are good friends with Shaun and Sara. Their arrival culminated a multi-week push to renovate a building here for use as volunteer housing, and eventually the meeting place for the church here. I've been busy with other projects you will learn about in the near future, but was able to help some with patching the roof, tearing out and re-making a wall in the bathroom, and of course the final furnishing and cleaning efforts of the past few days. It's been an amazing transformation. More detailed pictures and explanations will follow (probably tomorrow) but for today, I wanted to catch you up with the details of the blog that was lost. Apologies, this isn't nearly as creative as the one that was lost... but... asi es la vida.

A few weekends ago, I had the joy of going to the national 'Expo.' Basically it's like an enormous county fair, with rides, games, and funnel cakes, but there are also enormous animal barns, competitions, and booths for any business that wants to set up. There's everything from cultural demonstrations to motocross. It's big... a sea of people. Anywho... I went with a British magician to find information on beekeeping and generally explore the agricultural end of things for ideas that could be used at the home in Itagua. One of our stops was a building dedicated to 'cunicultura' in which you could buy rabbits, gawk at 6 kilogram breeding stock, and even eat empanadas (like a hot pocket) made out of their kin. I did all three.

Seriously though... I bought a box of rabbits... 3 females and a male for $5 each. As spontaneous as that sounds... it really wasn't. We had been brainstorming ways to provide new protein sources on site for the kids through projects that they can eventually take leadership in. I have very fond memories of Dad's experiments with pastured rabbit when I was younger, and of all the options that I have considered, this one seemed the most promising. Rabbits reproduce quickly, are voracious herbivores, and are easily cared for by someone less than 100 lbs (as opposed to cows, pigs, goats, etc.) The meat is fantastic and healthy... and one of the house parents here has previous experience with them, and is therefore a resource both before and after I leave.

So anyway... the morning after the expo found me bouncing up the ruta between Asuncion and Itagua in a rickety 80's model Mercedes bus with a box of rabbits, watching Paraguay flash by my open window, and thinking what a wacky and whiz-o thing life can end up being if you pick up your feet for even a moment. Hysterical, I thought... riding a bus with a boxful of rabbits... hiking through a market in San Lorenzo to change busses and feeling the different buzz of this hive... hiking the 2.5 km between the Ruta in Itagua and the Home just out of town while motos and oxcarts bounced past on dusty stone streets... and I was happy.

But then, walking down the row of houses as curious kids came running to see what was inside the box... and watching them come alive over so small a thing as a boxful of rabbits... just torqued some little thing inside of me that I think every person needs adjusted now and then. It was beautiful in a way .... well... in a way I cannot possibly explain to you until you have surprised a child with a rabbit from a box.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


The natural world is full of the human, as human psychosocial ecology reflects the natural. My own inner struggles in the past few weeks and months have brought me to a soothing realization, yet one that I suspect could blossom in a bigger pot, given more time.

I was watching a movie the other evening with the English teacher and this scene provided the foundation for the meditation that has followed. (Protagonist is a wine connoisseur discussing 'pinot' a type of wine... referring to the difficulties in growing the varieties of grapes from which the various pinots are made)

...what determines the value of a plant? what characteristics of an imperiled species would knit a conservationist's eyebrows? Must it smell good? Possess a photogenic flower? Is it more valuable for being a survivor, on the edges of civilization? Do we love it for its hardiness, the multiplicity of the seeds it produces, or the thoroughness of its root system? Do we pity more the weak ones, or celebrate the tough ones? Could you appease a botanists desire to preserve a species of exotic grass by showing him Blue-eyed grass?: (technically not a true grass, but cut me some slack)

Pretty little thing... and common as a skeeter. I mean... who needs to go to the trouble of saving that plain-jane looking Congolese species when we've got things like this to look at? Really people...

But of course few would dare to suggest such a thing openly. The wonder and richness of the natural world is due in large part to the intricate complexity which even the most mundane ecosystem possesses. Losing another species is not tragic because that lost species was the flashiest, tallest, strongest or most fragrant. Rather... we mourn it because our world, in its absence, is just a little less interesting. It was, regardless of how it compares to the other roughly 270K known plant species on the globe, an awe-inspiring work of art... fascinating and precious for even a single difference.

The human genetic code (and infinitely moreso the human psychology) is more complex than that of a plant. You and I are not more or less valuable for our colors, smells, strengths or weaknesses either. we simply are valuable. Not a little valuable, or a lot valuable... we are valuable... you are irreplaceable, and no other plant can be you. No other plant can fill the niche you fill in your 'ecosystem.' If they did, it would be a different ecosystem, even if it continued to function.

The whole 'everyone is special because Jesus loves you' mantra has, for a long time, struck me as almost offensively cliche. This however... casts the tired old adage in an entirely new light for me.

God is a conservationist. when a heart is breaking, yours or someone elses... when yours or someone else's psychosocial 'habitat' is being ravaged by fear, bitterness, shame... and as you feel your petals paling... your roots drying... your leaves wilting... and you cry out... I like to think God's eyebrows knit, he grabs a steno pad, and laces up his boots.

If you have no other reason to love a stranger. Love them for that.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Wail

Watching in combination clips from "Into the Wild" and "August Rush" this PM and realizing... I think I have for some time thought that beauty must be experienced from some particular perspective... somewhere where you can see the grit and toil of the 'everyman' as well as the chins of those with their heads in the clouds. Christopher McCandless was a silver spoon wielding trust fund baby who gave everything he had to UNICEF, chopped up all his ties to affluence (including ID) and set off for Alaska on foot on a self-imposed rite-of-passage. Even gave himself a new name. He wanted adventure... "a spiritual revolution to kill the false being within." And so chased the beauty of life with two feet on the ground. I watch the clip from August Rush with the little girl singing in the empty church... come to find out the group singing with her comes from Harlem and their music is written by the members... mostly students. The song is powerful... full of pain and hope... in lyric and tone... sagging deeply under the weight of human beauty. It is based on their experience.

And I am tempted, having never had nothing... to feel as if I have nothing to contribute to this collective beauty. I am simultaneously moved and excluded from the human chorus... from that wail that spears towards heaven in accusation and then flutters back down to earth in resigned acceptance of the justice that must come from an unspearable God if it comes at all. And the fluttering resolve to a major lift somehow blankets those who wailed... and they are a little warmer ... but noone knows if hope grew and settled from the release of the wail or simply from the new lack of loneliness the chorus made evident.

I stand puzzling... still in the cold.

They can wail... and it is beautiful. But I, wailing with them, would be an imposter. Wouldn't I corrupt their song in some way? Can a suburbanite High School Choir sing southern Spirituals deeply rooted in the agony of the experience of the slaves... or give poetry readings from the pens of the Holocaust... and it be anything but education? Can it be a wail? Can music flow from the aching depths of the human soul... when replayed by souls whose depths have not been sounded, much less dug, much less filled with water from cuts that deep. Can I wail in that way? I do not think so. But perhaps the trying... is part of the sounding... an education for the digging? I definitely think it worthwhile. The wail itself carries a great deal of story... flavor of the human souls from whose depths it originated. And from that we are strengthened and refreshed... given clearer eyes, and more sober judgment.

But that's not the point... my realization is that... the power of the wail is only partly due to the perspective of the singer, but largely due to the fact that it is given indescriminately. Perhaps the singer's benefit is intrinsic in the creation process... but the benefit to mankind is larger by degree. The perspective of the singer is important... surely, as colors on a palatte are important to a painting. But the responsibility lies on all of us to generate beauty indiscriminately. If you are rich, your resources may be different, but your responsibility is the same.
Here, I feel rich. I am in debt... but I show pictures of where I come from... the farmhouse, the gardens, the relatively manicured land.... and I feel isolated from the music that is made here... but I must not allow myself submission to this fear.

Where we are, whoever we are, there we can make beauty.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Update and Thoughts

Motorcycle is in the shop for its final pre-road repairs and check-up. I think this marks the first "first visit to a mechanic" for any of my motorcycles in which the bike was in better condition than when I bought it. I mean... he's still fixing my bike... but I consider it a small victory. Basically, there are some stripped holes to re-tool ... (only one of which I had anything to do with, and I'm fairly certain that this one was only partly my fault) so he'll be sealing the new gasket and changing the oil while he's at it. Buuut... that little mistake on top of a handful of major victories, so... yeah. I feel good about it. Aaaaand... this also means it'll be roadworthy finally.

I spent part of this evening drinking white tea and talking with one of the Paraguayan staff here named Antonio. Really he's the guts of this place... has been working here for longer than I've been breathing air. Saturday I ate lunch with him and the ground workers, guards and cleaning ladies here and was more deeply blessed by the whole experience than I have been in a group of people for a long time... at least since College... (which doesn't feel like it was that long ago... but I have been down here for almost a year now.) I have neither energy nor inspiration for poetry this evening to describe it... but it was to me, deeply beautiful. We sang together, ate asado, and the laughter... there was lots of laughter... every one of them seemed completely comfortable with each other... comfortable with the love they knew they had in that group. We played some equivalent of musical chairs (passing a tennis ball around until the music stopped,) the losers of which had to either sing for the whole group or do a dance. One of the cleaning ladies ended up dancing to "Oh Susanna," after I bashfully scrambled for somethign I could play that wouldn't be ridiculous for her to dance to. They assured me ridiculous was just dandy. (or... however you convey that in spanish).

In the past week I have spent good amount of time in the evenings with Antonio, talking about various things. I am ill-at ease with the ease and transparency of his faith. We talked about all sorts of things. He told me a good piece of his story... who he was... how accepting and choosing to live for Christ has changed his life. He is rich with anecdote. He is generous with anecdote. His Christianity is uncomplicated, and noone has yet convinced him that he is not allowed to believe it. It makes me very happy to be with him, and the other workers. They all seem to glow in the same way. Thier ranks change comparatively slowly to the starched Christians like me who come to teach... who posture and stress, argue, gossip and fight. I'm sure they aren't perfect, but I'm also quite certain they know it. I am ashamed of myself... ashamed of my arrogance... ashamed of my things, and how little real work I did to get them. But I am not discouraged... just ashamed. I do not feel discouraged as long as I have choice, and in this re-tooling of my perspective, I feel like I do.

I am arriving at a new guiding principle in this laboratory of life... and that is simply to find those who seem genuinely, transparently happy in life... and listen for why.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A tribute...

I underestimate my time at Berea... undervalue the people I have met and known... I tell my kids here about the importance of perspective... the need to evaluate our prejudices and biases before blocking out or categorizing our way into a blind corner with only our arrogance left to weave our bedtime stories. Life is rich. It must be lived embracing struggle, loving the different. Considering mankind breathlessley as you would any other display of such exquisite natural beauty tucked into such cruel, crude, sterile cracks... growing from putrid piles of rotting refuse by some mysterious fibrous grace. Thorns and Petals. Breathtaking... for the irony... again exponentially for its transience.

I remember people like you from Berea... people who looked at me with that resigned yet forgiving irritation. Most of the time you responded to me as if my feigned understanding... my beloved seasoned wisdom were forgivable and even cute, as long as I was reaching out to you in kindness. There was usually a wall there, because you were sure I would never understand you... but you didn't hate me for my naivite. You didn't even wish I wasn't there... that I know of. I do thank you for that.

I probably talked about life a lot. Don't remember... I'm sure I was proud of my percieved access to it, growing up on a farm. But watching death is very different from fearing it. And no cow, dog, or rabbit, no matter how special is a brother, a sister, or a close friend.

You fought so hard sometimes for love of various varieties, and lost so badly to it. I saw dried blood flake often as your face flexed into a covering smile. Often I didn't know about your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, your best friend. I didn't know about your terror, your shame... your sins of omission or commission. I didn't know about your self-labels whether lik-n-stik or laser-etched... chosen or imposed. But as I find out about them later...

I think back to when I saw you care for someone... saw you read to a child. when I saw you snag trash in a park. I watched you draw someone else who was hurting out of their pain, and let them rest on you for awhile, despite your own aches. I saw you care. I saw you love.

And I have to stop... and puzzle at myself... impressed so deeply with you.
I ache watching you... with your perspective... showing life and love... and that ache gives a little perspective... and that new perspective floors the old me.

I am in awe of the originator for the idea of such a creature as man... all the complexity and contrast, brokenness and perpetual access to love and hope. We are resilient creatures in our most broken of states... a tribute to the mind of a God who enjoys cycling... Carbon... Water... hope. It is the nature of his heart. It is the nature of His work in us.

Don't misread me... I don't think we are bound in these cycles... more... free in them. Able to love despite a pattern of unlove. Able to learn dispite condemnation and shame. Able to step when at the edge of our worlds as bound by fear. From those points at the end of ourselves, God has made a possibility... something small and green to root and photosynthesize... the point not being our broken states, but rather the life that all that brokenness has the capacity to endow. And paradoxically the best and worst parts: we usually don't see it until the last minute when it steals our breath.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Paradox in a cup of tea...

Excerpt from a journal entry last night ...

Sitting here over a book after having finished Peck's "Different Drum" this evening... watching a cup of Lemon Zinger steam. And I... for the second time in a few days am held captive by the wisps twirling off its mirage-y surface. I think of vapor pressure, as I tried to explain it to the kids this morning, and want to see the steam settle over the surface as neat little dry-erase molecules so that my explanation would be right. But of course it doesn't. It is too beautiful. It is real. I sit mesmerized by it for a time... watching lingering twists in the glimmering surface drive vortices of vigorous fog, lapping at nothing... furious little fogs. Delicate and frightening.

I watch them twist from a particular side of the mug's mouth, near the handle. I am jealous. I tried to make a vortex once, and I even had a specially cut box to my advantage... channeling the air in a twisting motion to drive the steam upwards, spinning... but nothing spun then. My box was wrong, or my steam too tame... but this silly, beautiful cup of tea makes them effortlessly.

I hold my breath in curious fear that this beauty may be something I have caused accidentally... the coils continue to rise. I just watch them. I feel a curious affection for them. I study them, ever more intrigued... They like the side of the mug near my hand. I wonder why, but my science is weak. I strain to see the molecules flowing in to replace them as they rise. I can't of course.

An ache between my ears, and I realize I have been trying to predict them subconsciously. My mind has nothing that it can do with them. Every new coil surprises me... but I grab it as soon as I see it, and envision it twisting upward and outward, dispensing its mystical energies in a predictable way, like the shockwaves the 12th graders watched today, but they never do. Each new vortex that forms inspires new hope for that pattern... and each old vortex kicks that hope in the face. It is emotionally exhausting, dancing with these little water wraiths.

I scold myself for being so intellectually lazy or arrogant as to lust for the predictable... to want them to dance to my tune and not surprise me. I am not worshipful. My childlike glee over a surprizing, colorful world has somehow been supplanted by some aching arrogance... or fear... or something... I will embrace the glee. Lord help me embrace the glee... even as I study the dancers.

And I watch the scene some more... They really are stubborn, fiery little things, dancing all about. Being something so delicate, I would expect them to move more like... oh... a petal fluttering to the grass and flattening in a noiseless sigh, or a morning fog rolling through an Appalachian pass... Silent, steady... defined by the slow cascade of its entrance. And there it is. You breathlessly wonder if it will stay because you don't remember breathing as it entered... you were only aware of nature's breath.

These little wisps should be like that... delicate, graceful, organic and elegant... but every characteristic a photo of them might evidence, their conduct would defy. With elegance of a diving Aningha, they play for a bit and then, dramatically... snap! they are gone... It startles me every time. I catch my breath a little. THey are the opposite of a sigh... defined not by their entrance (I rarely see a wisp begin) but dramatically by their exit.

I am reminded of a Native American flute concert at Berea one spring... of closing my eyes and feeling that music sway and flex... and then, at the end of a fluid, ghostly phrase, a little spike... as the floutist would pinch the last wisp of air from his mouth and give it a dramatically small pocket of flute in which to resonate. I felt like a whip made of tone, only the 'crack' would give you goosebumps. There is that quality to these little coils... they dance with accentuated, inexhaustible life... that is its strongest in some way... at that very last grace note.

It occurs to me now... they are enfuriating because they defy my definition... defy my expectations... defy my will. And yet... they are infinitely more in-tune with their mortality that I am most days, and I suspect, than most of us are. How wonderful it would be to live like they do... unconcerned with what has been, for better or worse, easing into our present, and then dancing there, creating beauty that follows no prescription, needs no model, and is wholly un-selfconscious. It's just dancing. Twisting among the other wisps, forming vortices.... They seem happy, and strong... all the way to the end, and then... whip... without apology... without regret... without permission... they are gone.

Perhaps that was what I felt, watching each wisp disappear... mourning... the ache... not frustration at my failure to hold them in my mind, but rather my failure to hold them at all. A sadness to see such a breathtakingly beautiful thing snapped away in an instant... the tension of holding the fleeting in your heart and dancing along... enjoying every moment... and trying to locate and process the tense fear that the magic could end at any moment. Somehow.. .that transience manages to transform something as ordinary as water vapor into a phenomenon to be tasted by every cell.

I think of this lesson as it spirals... twists to its end... and I again feel that mortal tension. What happens next... will it die... will I forget? It has been so beautiful... But I must... must emulate those little dancers more every chance that I get.... must grasp mortal life for the beauty it yields exponentially when lived rather than just tolerate it until the inevitable end. May I twist until the grace note. May I be mourned.

I do not regret capturing this spiritual moment exactly... but I think there is one more lesson to be learned. I glance over at my teacup... it is cold. There are no more dancers. I let them dance without audience in order to write this. For all the value in capturing the dance, I have let it dance out... some things... need to be lived, rather than processed... or they are missed.

Monday, May 4, 2009


I'm pretty tired. Grease, oil, road dirt and soil have worked into every article of clothing I'm wearing. ... and in most exposed crevices of skin. I chopped up peppers, carrots, and a spectrum of lettuce for salad tonight, before sitting down to a flute. It's almost like being at home. Almost. As sad as that might sound... I do not wish to be anwhere other than where I am right now. There are things I love about home. Always will be. But home is not my place right now... and to be anywhere other than where I am would be to live with regret. A gecko is a much better neighbor (than regret). Their senses of humor are leagues ahead. It's been a busy week. I am pondering...

Pondering this place.

Pondering the uniqueness of it. It's a salad too. German carrots. Full flavor. Japanese peppers... in pockets. Korean cabbage. American... bacon bits. umm... what else could go in a salad... olives? Yeah... there's probably some of those too. Sure it's Paraguayan mostly. But what shade? Where does one begin and the other end? And it relaxes me. Weird people bringing weird things onto creakity old buses swerving among the eternally adaptive ant line of motos zigging in and out. No one's in a hurry. Everyone is more or less at peace with the incompetence they will deal with on a daily basis. Productivity is grand. Excellence is to be driven towards. The American ideal of these things, however, is better spent on something that has fewer warts than a human.

I actually asked a guy for directions today and then felt later like I walked away from a conversation he wasn't ready to end. Its odd. Usually... to keep a stranger in conversation on the street is uncourteous. I was dirty then too. I didn't care. Everything was dirty. Everything rubbed together like working hands on a cool day.... and the little twists of skin, grease, and grit rolled between them: a testament to the fact they were moving... that they got dirty... and that there was new life happening behind each surface. mmm... I didn't care that I looked funny. I was proud to finally feel at home in that mysterious, colorful, niche my parents carved for themselves during this time in their lives... the one that most other people work their whole lives avoiding... and insodoing castrate their worlds. The niche of the contentedly different.

I think back to clash day during 'spirit week' this week. I loved that day.
It is the only day of the year I can easily pick out my own clothes.

I loved it too because of how excitingly 3-dimensional that whitewashed world of fear-locked institutionalized Christianity could become in half a moment... given the right stimulus. All of a sudden... people were different. Wierd hairstyles, wierd clothing combinations... some members of which hadn't been seen in decades. Mismatched shoes. Vests over t-shirts. Sideways hats. Gloves. Ties. And do you know what... no one needed to apologize for any of it. Everyone was comfortable that way. Not because we finally had obtained the conformity we were all chasing, but because, by some odd twist of fate, we were given a day out of the rat race in which, for one precious moment in our long social nightmares, we were expected to be different. Not expected as in... you have to be... (many people didn't, and that was ok) but... it was endorsed and expected that we would be. At the time it made me ponder... but I couldn't quite put a finger on it until now... That day was a breath of clean air... of what I want so deeply to practice better... and to see grow in any community I find myself in.
It was a breath of Grace.

Not the tolerance of different personalities, minds, strengths and weaknesses, but the eager expectation of them. The embrace of them. And with that embrace, the expectation of discomfort, clashes, the failures of others and ourselves... but only so that we may work towards the better. If I am unwilling to have failing people around me, I am unwilling to have the material out of which excellence is made. The trick is in processing our failure... so that failure is not a definition, but an inevitable, welcomed means to an end.

And I... am by all means the worst at applying this principle... but by the grace of God I hope to learn from these failures. I believe this not only because I think it to be true... but because I need to be if there is to be much hope for me. I don't mourn that. I am glad for it. This is the God I serve.

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Ummm... this is old stuff.

From a month or more ago.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Aw nuts!" ::and bolts::

The past few days I've had the chance to open up the bike a little bit and see a little more of the situation. I have to say... it's a mess. I mean... its a mess in a lot of wonderful ways... just like big scabs are a mess. They themselves may be messy, but picking them ripe feels very very purifying.

The oil I'm holding up here was not put into a dirty jug... it really looks that way. Chalky brown. The gasket behind the right side cover was basically completely shot ... visible gaps, especially on the top. I mean... I am definitley not gifted in this particular art, but even I know that chaco soil isn't exactly a beneficial oil additive for finely machined parts. I can't feel the grit in the oil, but was nonetheless shocked.

So... once upon a time this was a really nice bike... but I'm finding exactly how many times in the past few years it's been jerry rigged. Things precariously held on by strands of wire, stripped out and cross-threaded bolts, etc. It's got lots of scabs to pick. Thus far that has made the work satisfying rather than too terribly trying. I am working at my pace, as students are able to stay and help (so far only one, really. Many things will become more plain, I think, once we get it back up and rolling again. For today... there are cables, filters, and gaskets to replace, parts to clean, fluids to change, and an incomplete, 10 year-old spoke set to have replaced. The picture here shows a number of things too small to see. For starters, the assortment of bolts in my hand are mismatched ones that were holding the removed cover in place. Many are stripped out. There are three different types of heads there. Directly above the hand is another, even more grossly stripped out bolt. The sprocket-looking thing (from the crank?) has a hex-head on it too... half of which is chipped off. You can still see the file lines where someone later attempted to recreate an edge to allow a wrench to grab it. I'm hoping that won't need to come off... but if it does, that's just another one of those little things that's getting replaced if I can get the part ordered for less t han the price of a small child. Oh, someone switched the wiring around too, so that 'neutral' lights up the oil temp warning light instead of the 'neutral' light bulb which I suspect to be burned out and abandoned. I mean... everything works... its just... "what did you have to do to it that last time to make it work?"

Ye mechanically discerning, please feel free to share your insight on this one. I do this to learn, but I usually pay a mechanic some 'tuition' to fix my mistakes by the time things are all working again. Let's just hope bike number 3 is more of a charm than the last 2 were. lol. Blessings.
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Saturday, April 25, 2009

A little story...

Background: Over two months ago, I decided it would be a good idea to buy myself a little more mobility and freedom down here than the bus system allows, so I started putting feelers out to find a used Japanese-made (Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki) Dual-sport motorcycle that could be an extra curricular project for myself and some of the students.

Here there are millions of Chinese knockoffs of Japanese bikes, which adhere strictly to stereotypical chinese manufacturing standards... and because they're shipped and assembled here en masse, you can get them pretty cheaply. True Japanese bikes are much less common, and so I knew they would be hard to find... but I held onto that ideal nonetheless. After looking for awhile, the only japanese bikes I found within budget were either too small, the wrong class, too expensive, or illegal (many bikes are stolen and resold, so there is no legal title with them.) For most we found, more than one of those factors applied . Some friends at the school who had been looking for me found some good deals/options on bikes that would have worked, but they were all chinese, so I was hesitant.

This past week, I finally, after 2 months of searching decided to go ahead and buy one... a 1997 Chinese copy of the Honda XL 125 that the friend of a friend was selling for 2.5 million Guarani (~490). The engine was smaller than I had hoped for, and it needed some minor replacements, and major cosmetic work, but the engine itself seemed to be unusually well maintained. I thought it was an ok compromise, as Honda replacement parts can be bought for this particular model. I could add to the value of this bike by working on it. I liked it. It somewhat followed the ethic from the beginning (giving second life to the old and broken of high quality is better than buying shiny and nice of low quality). It would have been a small sacrifice of ethic rather than a large one. I gave the go ahead to the friend to bring the bike from a neighboring town. He said he could do it today (Saturday). The owner teaches in the Chaco, so we couldn't do the paperwork for another month, but it was already street-legal under his-name, so I could go ahead and begin working on it.

Then yesterday a good friend who works here told me he had seen a nice looking bike for sale that we should look at. I didn't see any harm in looking, but I left my wallet and checkbook at home, as I wasn't expecting to buy. The second bike turned out to be a nearly new Chinese bike, 150cc, taller than the first bike, with a little more power, and in better condition. There were still things to fix, and all the legal paperwork was there. It was taller. They said it was a 2008 model. They said they would take 3 million Guarani for it (~$590). I thought about it, took it for a spin... and decided that for the difference in buck, there was intirely too much difference in bang to pass up. So we gave him a $100 retainer and said I would buy it. When we went inside to sign the contract, the salesman asked if he could wait a minute... went in a different room for a bit... and then returned saying that the owner of the bike wanted more than the agreed-on price, referring to the owner with many unflattering names. I was irritated at what I suspected might be alack of integrity on his part. We haggled for a bit, but agreed to give him ~$50 more. grr... Still irritated, and a little conflicted at having sacrificed a bit more of my ethic in buying a still-shiny chinese bike... I left until today... mildly relieved that my near-3-month search would finally be over. Last night I did some more research, and discovered that he was probably lying to me about the year. I decided to double check-first thing today when we went in to fill out all the paperwork... to make sure that the year was truly 2008. If he was lying about that, as well as having changed the price, I wouldn't buy. If he had been truthful about the year, I would go ahead with the purchase as promised. I was irritated. I was angry at humanity. I subconsciously blamed my sacrifice of ethics for being in this ridiculous situation, and doubted my courage to courteously dissolve it, were the situation as bad as I feared. I took these fears and burdens to the Lord... just letting it out... begging for guidance, wisdom, courage... clarity of sight... to know what to do. The conversation felt refreshing... after a time I went to sleep.

Today we went back. The paperwork wasn't there, so... we waited. I couldn't find the model year on the frame anywhere. Finally the owner came. The bike was a 2007. Still not a terrible deal, but not nearly the deal he tried to make it seem. Fortunately the owner of the bike was there this time, and turned out to be a very personable, seemingly honest working man. Elder explained the situation, the owner quickly agreed that 3 million G was fair. With all chips on the table, the saleseman out of the loop, and the owner seeming to be more trustworthy, I decided to go ahead with it. We got in Elder's car and headed for the Escribania to transfer papers and money. In the car on the way we were talking. Elder mentioned about the Honda I had in the states. The owner added that he had an older Yamaha that was very similar, but a bit bigger. Both Elder and I had an open morning so we agreed to wait and see the other moto, me allowing myself a glimmer of intrigue, but little that would really qualify as hope. Details getting to see the Yamaha were difficult, but 4 hours later, after standing around, sitting around, Drinking Terere, chatting about Lugo and Alfa Romeos, grabbing some lunch, and shopping for flashy lights for Elder's Kia, the owner's brother rolls up on this:

It's a 1995 Yamaha DT 180, which he sold to me for 3 million Guarani (<$600) Basically... the only version of it that came to the states was a 125 dirt-bike. This has the same soul and paint, but with a bigger engine, headlight, and a little more height. This one's got some cosmetic issues, and a few mechanical ones that need to be straightened out (but nothing that keeps it from being roadworthy as-is) Plenty of learning experiences for the boys and me... but after a little reconditioning, I have the value-added quality machine that is what I had given up on hoping for.

I do not praise God for the machine however... for giving a toy that I wanted. It is a meaningless thing. I praise him for intervening, for finding my hopes and gifting my heart in his already perfect provision for the future. I mean a motorcycle is just stuff... but what isn't... is the soul-twisting struggle that the whole ordeal ended up being... all the doubt and frustration and anger and waiting... and then the peace... and then... totally unexpected in the last moment... his provision.

I didn't find the bike. That's the coolest thing. I had already sacrificed my ethic when he rescued it from the dead... which means... in an odd and amazing way... that I actually needed God to sanctify the ethic that I had chosen to live by. Part of my choice was to trust Him with my life... and in so doing, even when I fell short, he honored my heart. I do not say all this to suggest that buying the chinese bike would have been wrong. It wouldn't have been sin, or anything like that, but spiritually, for me, it could have subverted my ethic for future decisions... or perhaps it would have ended up being a lesson strengthening it. Or, even, my ethic could be wrong and it would have broken it down. I can't prove it one way or another... but I believe it to be a good ethic... one I learned from my dad actually, and I will continue to live by it. Point of the story is not whether the ethic was wrong or right to begin with. Point is... that God is trustworthy... my and your wisdom can be pretty fickle, as can be our ability to follow that fickle wisdom. It isn't always... but we all will inevitably fall short somewhere... and when we do, He is able to make up the difference toward the ends we are trusting Him with. And for that... I praise Him.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Ever the bane of my journaling attempts... a perceived obligation to match words with the experiences I would love to be sharing with you... to give some just recognition to the beauty and pain of it all. But somehow I sense that accepting the inevitablity of the gap between the intent of this silly blog and true fulfilment of task is just another part of that beauty and pain I would share with you. So... despite the feast of narration I owe you... have a Cheeze-it.

I've been challenged deeply by reading from Jim Elliot's Journals these past few days. It's amazing... not just the profoundness and excellence of the man he was in many ways, but also in his familiar humanity. And I realize... this is the thing I love about reflective non-fiction... journals in particular... there are layers... layers that can be peeled back and superimposed with images from my own story and developing perspective of reality... like those pictures printed onto a series of transparencies... that can be stacked up to make the whole picture. I mean... despite how wrong or write he may have been philosophically or practically... he was learning to live and love among the same creatures I do... Chasing the same God I chase. And... I love it that I don't have to depend on his interpretations of his experience in order to learn from it. The experience shared through fiction on the other hand, though often containing profound meaning, depends almost entirely on the authors interpretation of reality.

This story... especially with the journals alongside... simultaneously lays bare the narrative, the characters, and the narrator... I mean... obviously never totally bare, but enough that they can be known with some honesty. This is to story, I think, what Photography is to visual art. It is poignant and transformative. It smells like nectar and humus.

I was really blessed this week and encouraged after a few weeks of wiping failure from my teaching scabs. It's really hard... this job. Not THIS job per se, but the profession in general. I've found here an interesting mix of humanity and mechanism... in one moment, teaching can be the most dehumanizing thing I could imagine doing... being placed in front of a group of free-living wills and expected to order them with tools no human should posess into a creature that does not offend us by behaving embarrassingly like us. Personal offense is easy. The inefficacy of my natural responsese becomes inescapably obvious.

But all these things are inevitable, I think. Long-term exposure to our pre/un-trained natures wounds and offends us. Teaching hurts a lot. Life hurts a lot. Teaching hurts a lot all at once... but in that laboratory (if it is not too extreme or unhealthy) I find the wolves of my personality... which the kids have cruelly and wonderfully shaved, and then paraded from the shadowy corners where I'd left them to grow. And as embarrassing and flabbarghasting as it can be... I am grateful. So I clumsily fight wolves with one hand and hold fast to the guiding hand of my Lord with the other. (forgive the metaphor... I actually think wolves are inspiring and elegant creatures... let me borrow the mythical icon). Anyway... I'm determined to prayerfully continue this... in hopes that this process of emptying myself of arrogant illusions as a teacher may teach me to live and love better. Please do continue to pray for me along these lines. It's been hard and depressing... but I think it is ultimately, deeply good.

Blessed this week through meeting a young couple who are working at a school/temp. home for abandoned children within an hour from here. Their programs are irregularly and inadequately funded, though the grant to build the facilities was sizeable. Anyway... this functional unit of this place is a small 'family group' consisting of a 'Tio & Tia' (Uncle and Aunt) and the group of ~10 kids that they interact most intimately with. It's a neat model, I think... more familial, and less institutional. I am excited about the possibility of bringing kids from the school out to work on projects, but even better, to interact with the kids. I know it's not so simple as... "Jimmy, this is Bobby, why don't you guys go chat about life at polar opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum," and honestly I feel pretty unqualified to help any of them into meaningful experience there, but the potential gives me nervous hope. I think it could be something God could use powerfully... open their eyes, sharpen their conscience towards their fellow man, and knead their ability to love. Pray for this as well. I'll try to keep you updated. Pray about this though... that the connections that can be made with the kids would be made. At any rate, I was inspired, encouraged and again affirmed in being in the will of God here, by hearing the hearts of this couple a little bit.

We've been trying to do more fishing these past few weeks... and have succeeded in increasing our trip freqency by ... ummm.... one. We've been fishing once since we said we needed to start going more. But... the big one is still out there. And... you'd better believe you'll get pictures when it bites. For now though... thinking big will have to suffice.

Ok ok ok ok... I gotta sign off. That's the news from Paraguay for this week. Check facebook for more pictures of the trips last week. Blessings. Drop a line. Love to hear from you all.