From the Desire to be “Free”, Deliver Me, O Jesus

I know I said I wouldn’t be blogging, but when the Holy Spirit inspires I must respond!

Tomorrow we celebrate Independence Day.  I would like to offer you some points to meditate on while preparing for this holiday.

In light of our unhealthy obsession with autonomy and individualism, why are we celebrating independence and division?

Our country was built upon ideals of freedom, especially freedom of religion.  Have we remained true to these ideals?  I would venture to say no, when we’ve moved towards Freedom from Religion, rather than Freedom of Religion.

And the million dollar question: What is True Freedom?

Brothers and sisters:
For freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.
But do not use this freedom
as an opportunity for the flesh;
rather, serve one another through love.
- Galatians 5

Litany for Liberty

Christ the Lord has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Let us turn to him in humble but fervent petition,
seeking the grace to root out from our hearts all trace of darkness,
and all that holds us back
from walking in the full freedom of the children of God.
As Christ is our great model for that inner freedom,
which enables us to do the right,
let us turn to him with confidence
that we, too, may follow him to the fullness of spiritual freedom.

Lord, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.
 Christ, have mercy; Christ, have mercy.
 Lord, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.

Jesus, victor over sin and death… Free our hearts.
Jesus, source of light and hope… Free our hearts.
Jesus, fullness of truth and mystery… Free our hearts.
Jesus, teacher of seeking hearts… Free our hearts.
Jesus, healer of body and soul… Free our hearts.
Jesus, bringer of mercy and justice… Free our hearts.
Jesus, who humble the heart and mind… Free our hearts.
Jesus, release of captives… Free our hearts.
Jesus, voice against violence… Free our hearts.
Jesus, courage for the lowly/downtrodden… Free our hearts.
Jesus, origin of all authority and power… Free our hearts.
Jesus, true lawgiver… Free our hearts.
Jesus, unity of order and passion… Free our hearts.
Jesus, freedom of the Spirit… Free our hearts.
Jesus, obedient Son of the Father… Free our hearts.

For the freedom to love… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to believe… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to hope… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to worship… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to serve in charity… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to care for the suffering… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to comfort the sick… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to feed the hungry… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to shelter the homeless… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to proclaim the Gospel… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to walk in chastity… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to live in peace… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to work in good conscience… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to stand in solidarity… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to seek justice… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to reject sin… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to reject coercion… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to reject falsehood… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to reject evil temptations… Give us your grace.
For the freedom to reject injustice… Give us your grace.

O God, who gave one origin to all peoples
and willed to gather from them one family for yourself,
fill all hearts, we pray, with the fire of your love
and kindle in them a desire
for the just advancement of their neighbor,
that, through the good things which you richly bestow upon all,
each human person may be brought to perfection,
every division may be removed,
and equity and justice may be established in human society.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.


The Genocide They Don’t Want You to Know About

Earlier tonight I attended a presentation on the genocide in Darfur.  The events that happened and are continuing to happen in Sudan are horrifying.  Whenever the subject of genocide comes up we immediately think of the holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur and Bosnia.  We would never allow anything like that to happen in the United States, right?

I was talking to someone about the presentation and he challenged me to consider whether genocide happens in our country.  I thought for a few seconds and then it hit me: abortion.  I have thought about this parallel before but he succeeded in reminding me of the atrocities that are happening right on our door steps.  This secret genocide may not be as visible or violent as others, but it is real.  Here is a chart comparing elements of other genocides to abortion:

Abortion doesn’t quite fit into the legal definition of genocide, but it is, quite simply, the mass murder of a group of people with something in common: they are unwanted.  Here is the internationally accepted definition of genocide:

I also decided to look up some statistics about abortion to see how they compare to the death counts for the holocaust.  It is estimated that up to 17 million people died in that genocide.  Worldwide, 42 million abortions are performed per year. In the United States, 1.37 million abortions are performed each year.

The use of choice to justify abortion has never made sense to me.  Forced abortion is considered a form of genocide, yet if a woman chooses to abort her own baby that’s perfectly fine.  If someone kills a pregnant woman, that person is charged with two counts of murder, yet if a mother chooses to kill her own baby, that is perfectly legal.

Well there’s your think-about-it for the day.

“Bloom Where You’re Planted”: Summer in DC!!

The other day I was thinking about the fact that this time last year I was making my final preparations to go to Tanzania. I can’t believe it has been a year already!

So you’re probably wondering what adventure I’m planning for this summer because obviously I can’t stay at home for an entire summer – my missionary spirit just simply won’t allow it. This past year I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about where God needs me to be right now. In the past year I’ve also had two people whom I admire tell me to “bloom where I’m planted”.

When I first returned from Tanzania I missed it so much that sometimes I didn’t want to think or talk about it. I felt like that was where I was supposed to be and couldn’t understand what God could possibly want me to do here in the States. It took me a while but I’ve finally begun taking that advice to heart and have realized that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.

So this summer I will not be headed to any exotic foreign places. Rather, I will be spending my time in the heart of our nation, Washington D.C. Although its not Africa, I am extremely excited for this opportunity and all that I will learn there.

About two years ago I began looking into a program called The Washington Center, which combines an internship and academics into one incredible and life changing experience. Finally, I decided that this summer was the right time to participate in it. If I can’t live in a foreign country, my dream has always been to work in Washington D.C., where I can make a real difference in the lives of the poor nationally and internationally through organizations like the United Nations or USAID (United States Agency for International Development). This program will give me the chance to get my foot in the door.

The best part of this opportunity is where I’ll be interning…the Peace Corps! I was already planning on applying to join the Peace Corps after graduation and when they contacted me about an interview for an internship I nearly fell out of my chair. This could not have worked out more perfectly. Oddly enough, I will not be doing social work tasks, but rather research and writing. Many of you know that I’ve been struggling to figure out how my passion for writing fits into what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. Anyway, I’ll be working with a program the Peace Corps runs called World Wise Schools. I had never heard of it before but its a neat program which provides an important service. Basically, they gather and organize information about other countries for teachers to use when teaching their students about countries around the world. As our world becomes more connected, it is more important than ever to be culturally competent and this program helps make students more aware of the world around them. Teachers can also request to have their class correspond with a current Peace Corps volunteer and their students can write letters to the volunteer with questions about their country. Returned volunteers also visit classes to talk about their experiences. The World Wise Schools not only creates cultural awareness but also promotes volunteerism. Since these are two things I am passionate about, I think it will be the perfect fit for me!

Going along with the writing theme, I’ll be taking a research and writing class, in which I’ll be concentrating on a research project of my choice throughout the summer. It’ll be a great chance to delve into something I’m passionate about.

As part of this program I also have to participate in a leadership forum, which is a kind of seminar that ensures the students make the most of their internships. We’ll work on career preparation, have speakers and other academic activities to supplement our internships.

So besides the incredible program itself just the fact that I’ll be in DC is amazing. There’s so much history and culture contained in one city, I know that there will be something new to discover every day. I’ve already started looking up lists like free things to do in DC and must see sights. I can’t wait to geek out at the Library of Congress and explore the Smithsonian.

From reading the blogs of current participants (found here) I know that this will be an incredible experience. I also now know that DC is really expensive so my skills for living frugally will really be tested… Like most academic programs this costs a considerable chunk of change so I’ll already be low on cash. However, I know that it will be more than worth it and the experience I will gain will pay off in the   future.

I’m looking forward to meeting new people, especially those from other countries, (apparently there’s a lot of foreign students) and living on my own for a few months. This summer will definitely be a taste of the real world and I expect it to be oh so sweet.

Back in San Lucas…

Back in San Lucas, we finally got to get our hands dirty with some concrete service.  A wall was being built by the women’s center, so they put us to work helping with that.  We created columns to support the wall and all worked on different parts of that.  It was cool that we all created a part of something bigger.  That reminded me of the fact that we all have a role to play as part of the group and in the world in general.  As part of our reflection we’ve been talking about how we’re all connected as one human family.  We are all an essential part of this family and God needs each and every one of us to bring about his kingdom here on earth.  This is an idea I understand intellectually but haven’t quite accepted in my heart.  I’ve been struggling to figure out my role recently and where God is calling me.  For example, building those columns felt meaningless until you thought about the fact that it freed up the more skilled workers to do something more important and helped get that wall built a little faster and the women’s center opened sooner.  It’s all about perspective.

That afternoon we shifted gears and learned a little more about Guatemala’s people and it’s history.  A woman named Shona who helps run the parish programs talked to us about her experiences in San Lucas.  She has been living in San Lucas since before Fr. Greg came so she has experienced the incredible difference he has made first hand.  She talked about how poor and oppressed the people were before he came, especially the women.

The most heartwrenching thing she talked about was a period of violence in 1981.  There was a ton of guerrilla warfare in response to the severe oppression the people were experiencing.  The Mayan people were coerced into helping the guerilla fighters who offered them land, houses and money.  Once the government found this out they targeted the Mayan people as a whole and began killing anyone who was even remotely suspected of helping the guerrilla fighters.  The families of these targeted people were often killed also.  Shona’s husband was caught helping the guerrilla, was captured and presumably killed.  She never knew for sure what happened to him and has to live with that horror every day.  She must have told her story a hundred times but still teared up when talking about her husband.

After her husband was taken, Shona and her children became a target also.  Despite this danger, she helped countless mayans during this time.  She told one story about traveling to rescue 11 orphans who were hiding in a church a few hours from San Lucas.  They had to pass through three military checkpoints on the way back and convince the soldiers that all these children belonged to Shona.  She literally risked life and limb for these children she didn’t even know.  The thing about her story that amazed me the most was her complete trust in God throughout everything she went through.  She kept saying, “Gracias a Dios” – Thank God.  It would have been so easy to blame God for all of the terrible events of that year, but instead she leaned on him for hope and strength.  I long for the courage to trust that completely.

The Peace Sign: Commercial Object or Symbol of Meaning?

Peace signs are popping up on products everywhere these days and I can’t help but wonder if their meaning is getting lost in the mass production.  I must admit I’m one of those consumers who is becoming mildly obsessed with this sign of hope for a peaceful and united world.  I realized that if I’m going to display the peace sign on my walls, clothing and possessions I should educate myself on the meaning and history behind it.

A quick google search brought me to this website:

Semaphoric signals used to create peace sign.

Here’s what it has to say about how the peace sign came into existence and the ways it has been used throughout history.  The “modern” peace sign was created by British artist Gerald Holtom in 1958 for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.  Ironically, he created the sign out of semaphoric signals which the military uses to send messages.  Holtom used the symbols for “N” and “D”, standing for Nuclear Disarmament.  Apparently afterward Holtom wished he had drawn the arms of the sign up to make it look more joyful but this wish never took hold.  It was adopted by anti-war groups of America in the 1960’s and has survived as a symbol of peace throughout time.

In reality the sign was used for less than peaceful purposes long before Holtom “created” it for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.  It has been used by satanic and anti-religious groups as an anti-Christian symbol because it looks like an upside down, broken cross.  The sign was also reportedly used by a division of Hitler’s army and as a symbol for Communism.  Even today people attempt to pervert this symbol for peace and use it for their own designs.  A few years ago my church youth group decided to make t-shirts for our group with peace signs.  Someone came up to our leader one day and told her that satanic groups had recently revived the symbol as representing the devil’s claw.  We decided to put the t-shirts away for a while, just in case.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, for which the sign was originally created, has this to say about the use of the peace sign:

“Although specifically designed for the anti-nuclear movement it has quite deliberately never been copyrighted. No one has to pay or to seek permission before they use it. A symbol of freedom, it is free for all. This of course sometimes leads to its use, or misuse, in circumstances that CND and the peace movement find distasteful. It is also often exploited for commercial, advertising or general fashion purposes. We can’t stop this happening and have no intention of copyrighting it.

Left to right: first ceramic CND badge, early tin badge, current badge.

At it’s core, the peace sign as we understand it today is not devoid of meaning.   I for one, after educating myself, will continue to see it as a symbol of my hope for peace.  The fact that various groups have tried to subvert its meaning shows that it does have power.  Perhaps mass production will actually help to reclaim a positive interpretation for the peace sign.

There a book by Ken Kolsbun entitled Peace: The Biography of a Symbol that I look forward to reading to expand my knowledge of this subject.  Be on the lookout for a follow-up post after I get my hands on it.