Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween + MUCHADOR MADNESS

In a fortuitous alignment of the moon and stars for this Halloween evening, it just so happened that a certain someone and his significant other, Jan, were in town for work, so we were treated to a fine evening of MUCHADOR MADNESS. We met up with several of their friends, watched people set pumpkins on fire, and chatted the night away. Our conversations ran the gamut of topics.


Guests of the Franciscans

In our preparations for heading overseas, we've found ourselves all over the place lately, and this week is no exception. Remember how just a few days ago I was in the middle of a massive snowball fight in Ossining, NY? Well, now we're guests of the Franciscan Mission Service in Washington DC. We're staying at the the FMS house, while several others in our group are spread about at a few other sites. The FMS house ("Casa San Salvador") is less than a block away from the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, a beautiful building where our trainings will be held for the next week. Today we had a very interesting discussion about Catholic Social Teachings and social analysis of unjust social structures. Really great stuff, and more on that to come.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Coyote Not-So-Ugly

Every few days, we'll see a coyote hanging out in the back field of the MKLM property. This coyote was contentedly lounging in the sun for well over an hour (until some dude with a camera spooked it back into the woods). Picture taken 10/28/2011 (the next day this field was full of snow!)

October Snowpocalypse 2011

So we’re in the thick of the big, anomalous Great Northeastern October Snow Storm. It started this morning around 10:30am and it is currently 10:15pm and it hasn’t stopped yet. One of our fellow residents has been saying "Merry Halloween!" since it appears there are several holidays rolled up into one today (Memorial Day and Easter, I think).

Our friend Melissa was in town for a visit, and we managed to get her out of here before it got too intense.

Later in the afternoon, it was decided that we needed to venture out and let out some of our stir-crazy energy, and thus ensued a hour-long snowball fight. This snow fight also featured a very special appearance by Maryknoll Lay Missioner Extraordinaire, Liz Mach.

To see the whole set of photos, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Motivation: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

While I have not posted much about the content of the training we're having here at Bethany, there’s been some very thought-provoking discussions and topics. One of the trainings discussed the “spirituality of fundraising,” viewing the relationship between missioner and donor as more than a one-way flow of funds, but rather a partnership where BOTH individuals are participating in mission. The discussion for the day focused a lot on the writings and thoughts of Fr. Henri Nouwen, a name I had heard but someone about whom I was largely unfamiliar. Henri Nouwen, though not a Maryknoll priest, worked with Maryknolls and he published his journal about his time in Latin America entitled Gracias!.

We read several excerpts from this book, but the one I picked up struck me as very profound. The quote discusses the motivations for why an individual would choose to be a missioner (more on the quote in a minute). This is a question that is not always easy to answer. As one of our leaders mentioned today, there’s something that certainly draws us to living in a certain ‘intensity” by living overseas; if we want to serve others and follow Christ’s teachings, we can do that HERE in the US. There’s some other draw that makes us give up our lives here and move to unfamiliar cultures and learn a new language and get sick and move to potentially dangerous areas. Something about that scenario speaks to us. It will be different for each of us.

There’s been quite a lot of discussion about motivation during the trainings, and actually some debate over whether one can have a pure motivation or whether we are each a tangle of different (and sometimes conflicting) motivations. I think the latter concept certainly describes me; I know that I am answering a call and feel driven by my faith, but I know there’s a lot more motive mixed up in there, and not all of it is good.

For me, there’s a lot in my head, certainly more than I have unpacked and understood, but today I gave this some thought. Certainly, my driving motivation is to live in solidarity with the poor, to live my Christian faith, but in a really extreme way. I have a hard time disconnecting from my normal routine and “living mission” here at home, so the act of uprooting myself and immersing myself completely in mission is appealing to me- but on some level, it’s a cop-out. Why can’t I do that here?

Well, another motivation is that I want to live in Africa. This to me is a very pure motive and yet one that is solely focused on MY desire. Yet it is one that I can easily merge with the mission call. Africa interests me, and I want to go there and experience it, the beauty, the struggles, the happiness and sadness, the overwhelming joy and the unbearable pain. I want to live in solidarity among the people and seek to better understand what it is to be a part of this world.

Another motivation is a little harder to admit because it is rooted in pride, but here goes: at some deep down, subconscious level, I think I want to do this because it seems to impress people. I come from a small Mississippi town, a place that does not exactly spur within people the desire to head to far-off lands. When people hear what we are doing, people seem impressed, or people think we're crazy, and both are OK to me. I want to live an interesting life so people will say “Man, that Chris Reid. He certainly did some amazing things!” This desire to “be impressive,” to break free of the shackles of a small-town life- is both arrogant and insulting to the people of my hometown. The desire to look “cool” in comparison to other’s lives is about as UN-Christian as one can get. I’m not proud of it, but I will at least own it and acknowledge it as one of the darker aspects of my self.

So back to Henri Nouwen. In the quote below, he discusses two dangerous motiviations for choosing mission, and both resonate with me. First, the quote (emphasis added by me):

The two most damaging motives in the makeup of missioners seem to be guilt and the desire to save. Both form the extremes of a long continuum, both make life in the mission extremely painful. As long as I go to a poor country because I feel guilty about my wealth, whether financial or mental, I am in for a lot of trouble. The problem with guilt is that it is not taken away by work. Hard work for the poor may push my guilt underground for awhile, but can never really take it away. Guilt has roots deeper than can be reached through acts of service. On the other hand, the desire to save people from sin, from poverty, or from exploitation can be just as harmful, because the harder one tries the more one is confronted with one’s own limitations. Many hard working men and women have seen the situation getting worse during their missionary career; and if they depended solely on the success of their work, they would quickly lost their sense of self worth. Although a sense of guilt and a desire to save can be very destructive and depressive for missioners, I do not think that we are ever totally free from either. We feel guilty and we desire to bring about change. These experiences will always play a part in our daily life.

–Excerpt of Henri J.M. Nouwen’s March 5 journal entry from ¡Gracias! A Latin American Journal (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1983)

This text really speaks to me: if you are going to atone for guilt- your own guilt, or guilt from a unjust history that has provided you benefit- that guilt is only going to get worse when you immerse yourself in the pain and poverty of another nation. If your wealth or power makes you feel guilty NOW, wait until it appears in such stark contrast as to make it inescapable. The desire to save- that’s also a hard one that challenges my social work instincts. Now, this does not mean we cannot work for change, but it does remind us to know our role. WE aren’t saving anyone. We’re going to accompany the poor and marginalized, to listen to their stories, and assist how they want. But we need to know that we may not leave with a resume of amazing accomplishments. Hopefully we will leave with new friendships and with a sense of gratitude that we have been able to be a part of these people’s lives.

Fr. Nouwen continues on to say that whatever the motivation, all missioners lives should work toward being Christ-centered. That’s the crux of Henri Nouwen’s thought here: live in humility and in gratitude. Gratitude that we have the blessing to serve others in solidarity. I cannot be the savior; that’s not my role. But I can be the hands and feet of Christ, and for that I am thankful.

One last thought on my personal motivation: another reason I want to go overseas is to grow in my faith. I’m not going over to convert people. I’m not going over to teach people about how to be a good Christian. I’m going to Tanzania to let the poor and disenfranchised show ME what it truly means to follow Christ. I’m not serving as a missioner because I'm a good Christian; I’m serving because in many ways I don’t think I’m a particularly good Christian at all. I have a lot to learn.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bad As Me (2011)

Tom Waits has a new album, Bad As Me coming out next Tuesday, October 25th. For the fans out there in the interwebs, he allowed streaming of his entire album in advance of its release, so this is a review based upon a handful of listens. My opinion on the album will undoubtedly change as I hear it more, but I wanted to get something up now about my initial reactions.

Everyone likes when their favorite artists release a new album, but Tom Waits fans are a particularly excitable bunch. The release of a new album just gets us all in a tizzy. Being a Tom Waits fan, it’s like being a club. Granted, it’s a BIG club, as there are a lot of us, but Tom Waits is one of those polarizing artists. There’s a few folks that are hardcore fans of one era of music but not so much other eras of his career (he has a 30-year recording career so there are definitely “eras” in his discography), but most fans dig the whole spectrum. And as he gets older, his music gets weirder. And in general, you either cannot fathom why someone might listen to his increasingly challenging, dissonant, cacophonous albums or you freaking LOVE it. I fall into the latter camp (and this is understatement).

Now, before I give you a quick run-down of the new album, I want to say that there are no Tom Waits albums that I don’t like. EVERY album is good, most are great. There are some I listen to more than others. And lately, I must confess, his albums haven’t always been so listenable for me. What I mean is this: I think Real Gone has some amazing tracks, and all the tracks are good. But I just don’t find myself listening to it often and rarely beginning to end. I played it steadily when it came out, but not much these days. There’s simply something about it that rattles me to much to put it on beginning to end. This is not a criticism, per se. I actually think some of the most “difficult” songs are the best on the album. Maybe it’s that my “listening” tastes have changed a bit over the last few years. And Orphans, man, that’s an amazing 3 disk set, but I will also confess that there are songs on there that come on my iTunes shuffle and I’m like “What the hell Tom Waits song is this?” I’m still just not familiar with everything on those albums, even years after its release. That’s a lot of music to digest.

So here we are at Bad As Me. The first track is all driving relentless horns and non-stop rhythm. It builds and builds with a tension it never let loose. The title track is also a fun, funny, and nasty little tune with a clamoring, funky vibe with Tom’s haunted growl above the fray. All the weird experimental stuff is there. But I find this to be his most listenable album in years. It works well as a cohesive whole, and I find it both challenging AND accessible. I think that may be because this album feels a bit “retro” on some tracks, a bit like a throwback to his earlier albums, but not like a retread. It doesn’t sound old, but it sounds familiar, and that’s not a bad thing. Several tracks make me think of Frank’s Wild Years (“Chicago”), while others summon up the vibe from Swordfishtrombone (“Pay Me”) or Blue Valentine (“Kiss Me”). Yet there are other tracks that sound fresh and unlike anything he’s done before (“Back In The Crowd,” which for some reason seems like a cousin to a Roy Orbison song). AND for the first time (I believe) in his whole discography, Tom drops the F-bomb on a track, which surprised me, but really works in the context of the song (“Hell Broke Luce”).

So it should be clear by now that this is a glowing review. I don’t really “star” albums of give them grades, but this is a solid "A" in my opinion. Pick it up on October 25th. I will, for sure.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reflections on Reflecting

Up to now, I’ve only been posting about life here at Bethany: our room, the buildings, a little history. But it’s not all hiking and tours and dinners. We are actually in classes covering a variety of topics such as how to read and interpret scripture, the theology of mission, racism, Dialogue-Based Education, and the spiritual dynamics behind fundraising for mission. A lot of these courses require self-reflection, and throughout this process, I’ve learned something about myself: I’m not a particularly self-reflective person. This is not to say that I don’t think about stuff. In fact, I think I can be an overly analytic person. I just don’t think about MYSELF that much.

This experience- moving to a new country and immersing myself in a new culture- it requires knowing yourself pretty well: your strengths, your weaknesses, your talents and skills, your desires, and most importantly, your needs. Knowing your needs- this falls squarely in the realm of self-care, a subject frequently discussed in social work circles: you won’t be able to help anyone if you yourself are falling apart. I appreciate the emphasis that has been put on this. We each need to know what we need; we might need to make some allowances and sacrifices, but there may be certain things that we need in order to function and thrive in our new environment. This doesn’t mean things such as high-speed internet, or perhaps cable; those are wants. Rather, it’s things like time alone, 8 hours of sleep, or community- the types of things that you need in order to stay sharp and well-adjusted. It will especially be important for the first months, when we might not be able to have much within our control and everything is cloaked in stress and confusion.

So the last few weeks have been a challenge in this respect, because in many ways, I don’t take the time to think about this type of stuff very much. In fact, I don’t tend to have much of an interest in doing so; I tend to roll along doing pretty good, so I don’t feel like I need to stop and dwell on anything for very long, However, I am being forced to do so, and that’s a good thing.

I can say that the overall experience here has been one of solid affirmation: neither Katie nor myself have any doubts that this where we are supposed to be. In fact, that has been one of the best aspects of this experience: when I put myself out there, when I really open up, the answers have been exactly what I needed to hear. This is not a case of simply having someone reinforce what I already think, but rather moments when I realize that ”I’m not alone! Other people think this way, too!” It’s connected with me in the way I view scripture, in the way I attempt to understand the world, and the way I try to live my faith. So I’m happy to be here, living the spirituality of the Maryknoll charism and growing in my faith. Some might say I'm as happy as a little field mouse in a bunch of flowers.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Heart of Maryknoll

One of the neat things about being here in Ossining is that we are in the heart of the Maryknoll community: The official Maryknoll Society house and the campus of the Maryknoll Sisters are within walking distance of the Lay Missioners campus.

Now, if you are like me, you may not have heard much about Maryknoll. In fact, I reckon for most of the readers of this blog, you had not heard of Maryknoll until I mentioned it. So here’s a little super fast history for you, pulled from the Maryknoll website :

“When two American priests from distinctly different backgrounds met in Montreal in 1910, they discovered they had one thing in common. Father James Anthony Walsh, a priest from the heart of Boston, and Father Thomas Frederick Price, the first native North Carolinian to be ordained into the priesthood, [had a]… mutual desire to build a seminary for the training of young American men for the foreign Missions...

…With the approval of the American hierarchy, the two priests traveled to Rome in June 1911, to receive final approval from Pope Pius X for their project. On June 29, 1911, Pope Pius X gave his blessings for the formation of The Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, now better known as the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers...

...By 1918, three young priests...were ready for the foreign missions in China, just after the first world war...Today there are over 475 Maryknoll Priests and Brothers serving in countries around the world, principally in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Over 10 decades, more than 2,000 men have been ordained to the missionary priesthood, and several hundred have taken oaths as Brothers.

Equally important in the development of Maryknoll was Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, who worked alongside Father Price and Father Walsh establishing the sister congregation--the Foreign Mission Sisters of St. Dominic, commonly known as the Maryknoll Sisters.

I’ll give you the history of Maryknoll Lay Missioners in another post, but for now here’s some shots of the inside of the Maryknoll Society House (I don’t have any shots of the inside of the Congregation’s building, but I hope to get some in a few days.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Summary: The First Days of Orientation

Well, so much has happened in the last week, it’s hard to even know where to begin. We arrived at Bethany, the Marykoll Lay Missioners campus here in Ossining, NY (see picture below) and since then we’ve had some very packed days full of meetings and tasks. It’s been hard for me to really find the time to reflect and spend some time drafting up a post that addresses some of the more introspective and thoughtful moments of the last few days. Much like during my AmeriCorps*NCCC, another experience where I was placed out of the day-to-day grind and into a communal living arrangement, experiences seem to occur at hyperspeed and it’s hard to believe that we have only been here for 1.5 weeks. I feel like I’ve known these people for a long time.

Bethany, the headquarters of Maryknoll Lay Missioners

Katie has a blog post with pictures of our apartment, so click here to see the pictures.

So, let’s talk quickly about the people. Our fellow candidates* are great people. Everyone is very nice. There are 13 of us and we’re from all walks of life, from all different ages, and three different countries. In addition to the fellow mission candidates, we have four nuns going through the training as well, so that brings us up to 17 folks from five different countries (the USA, the Philippines, India, South Korea, and Timor Leste**). By virtue of the activities of the training, we’ve had to be very open and share a lot about ourselves, and we’ve all hit it off very well. There are five of us that are going to Tanzania, and we’ve all become fast friends.

The staff here are also very nice. Almost all the folks are past missioners and they have each done amazing work. Really put themselves on the line for their faith and dedicated their lives to the poor and marginalized. Today, we were reviewing the history of Maryknoll and the MKLM program, and I was humbled at the fact that this organization and these people have invited me into their midst. It is a privilege to be here. Additionally, we've met many welcoming priests and sisters in our time here. These folks are very happy to have us joining them in their mission.

Also, Joanne Miya, the Regional Coordinator for Tanzania, has been here at Bethany for a week-long meeting, so we’ve been spending quite a lot of time with her which has helped provide a great deal of detail about our upcoming lives in Tanzania. She’s been super supportive and excited, and it does help lower the anxiety of the move knowing she’ll be on the other side waiting for us to arrive.

I’m not going to recount all the details of what we have been doing so far, but the week has been chock-full of meetings, and lectures, and discussion groups, and dinners, etc. Just busy from morning until night, hence the lack of blog posts. Our brains are just a bit fried. But as I pointed out to Katie after a particularly long day, “We might be tired now, but at least we’re tired in English.” This is just the start of what will prove to be an exhausting year of training, then travel, then language school, then settling in and starting to live and work in a completely new culture. The fatigue we have now is nothing compared to what’s to come.

A lot of what we’ve been doing on the front end of these 11 weeks is housekeeping and logistics type stuff, but we’ve been able to get into some “content” classes. Two days on the Theology of Mission, a day of Scripture discussions, and sessions discussing the history of the organization as well as its core values. Tomorrow we spend a day discussing Racism! These discussions have been very illuminating, and I want to share some thoughts, but not right now. The brain’s fried, as you know.

I’ll try to get some more photos up in the next few days to give you, Dear Readers, a feel for the place, as well as a glimpse into the Maryknoll Society world headquarters (the front gate is pictured to the right). Six of us managed to slip up north to Bear Mountain State Park and get in a pretty strenuous 4 mile hike last Sunday, so there’s some nice pics in there, too.

* Technically, we’re “candidates” as we move through the discernment process. We won’t officially become “missioners” until the end of the training when we sign contracts.

** Don’t feel bad. I couldn’t have found it on map, either.