Thursday, September 03, 2015

Quixote as saint

In the second chapter, Don Quixote leaves on his first sally.  He does it before dawn, by the back door.  He sneaks away.  This comic scene of the hidalgo on his nag of nags, arrayed in pell-mell armor, absconding before he could be noticed reminds me of these lines from St. John of the Cross
En una noche oscura,
con ansias en amores inflamada,
(¡oh dichosa ventura!)
salí sin ser notada,
estando ya mi casa sosegada. 
In this poem, the soul by way of the “Dark Night” is brought to the Beloved before anyone in the house (including the soul) is aware of what is taking place. This is for the soul’s benefit, forming it in the path of a saint: "amada en el amado transformada!

This, perhaps, lends credence to W. H. Auden’s assertion that Don Quixote fits the type of a Christian Saint more than that of a hero.[1]  The comedic effect of Quixote’s story is often in the clash of realities, Quixote’s and the world he inhabits.  Quixote’s quest for justicia is ordained, not with the spiritual authority of another world, but with the filthy ledger of the economy of this world.

[1] Auden, W H. "The Ironic Hero: Some Reflections on Don Quixote." Cervantes: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Lowery Nelson, Jr. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1969.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mapping my thoughts on Geography of Grace

Geography of Grace posits that grace like water flows downhill.  The stories of finding God in the hardest, poorest, and most oppressed places gripped me. I am trying to process what this stirring in my soul means for me.  Why has this book wrecked me?

For one thing, I must repent for the insulated life I have sought.  I remember discussing with Abba Basil Irenaeus the hallmark of new monasticism: setting up in the abandon places of the empire.  I remarked that didn’t seem like a mark of our order as we valued beautiful things.  Wow.  How uncomfortable that statement makes me now.  Since feeling the call to move to Detroit, I have been drawn more and more to the scarred and desolate places in spite of my aesthetics.   Father, may I find true beauty in your face and grace in those places.

I think another thing that stirs in me is facing how to act in the face of these things.  The authors talk about asking beautiful questions and asset based ministry.  I think I am left struggling with how do I put these things into my context?  How do I engage, even find, the depressed places where grace is pooling?  Certainly my developing relationships with some of the homeless and struggling in the neighborhood provides some of that.

I found reading Geography of Grace timely. With the transitions at Courage Church I found myself longing to be in ministry in a more traditional way, a leader in the church gathered. I have been confused why God would persistently and increasingly shut me out of that familiar kind of ministry for the last few years. The authors’ experience ministering as part of the church scattered gives me a window into where God is positioning me. 

How do I live missionally?  What exactly is our mission?  The authors encourage me to resist the easy answers to that question, and instead look for where grace is flowing, like a cartographer mapping the contours of terrain.  I am suddenly reminded that the authors have a process for mapping the hurt, the hope and the heart.

Sacramental Discernment
Street Psalms members pray with their “eyes open,” learning to map the geography of God’s grace in a particular place. Our mapping process includes three basic exercises that pay attention to the hurt and the hope of a particular city/community as well as the heart of God.   The three exercises include:
  • Mapping the Hurt: e.g. “Moment of Blessing” – a public liturgy for victims of violent homicide.
  • Mapping the Hope: e.g. “Signs of Hope Tours” – Identify, visit and encourage key ministries/business/organizations that are signs of hope serving high-risk youth and families.
  • Mapping the Heart: e.g. “Prayer Table” – Our communities host and participate in an open and inclusive table for leaders to pray for the city. 

In this I am reminded of the way the Spirit directed me down the street in time to participate in the prayer vigil for Noodlez a young man gunned down during the Cinco de Mayo parade last year. 

Also my drive to be a part of the various expressions of faith and encourage what is going on in my neighborhood seems to be mapping the hope for our community.

I have also felt recently a desire to step up my prayer game.  It seems my Beloved is eager to reveal his heart to me.  Take me to the depths, outside my comfort zone – into the waves and chaos of the sea of humanity.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Origin Trip: Talea De Castro

The roads wind around the mountainsides as they climb from Oaxaca City, north and east to Talea de Castro. Seven of us huddled in a rental that was too big to be a car and too small to be a minivan. There were three mountain ridges that would challenge our engine and especially the brakes between our destination and the city. We hugged the mountainsides as we climbed, admiring views of the valleys deep below, with awe and trepidation.  Jordi drove and chatted with our guide in the passenger seat.

We had only been in Mexico for a couple days. We met with our guide, Clemente Santiago Paz, in a café in Oaxaca City the night we arrived.  Clemente is a Q grader based in Oaxaca City.  His job is to evaluate the quality of coffees at farms in Mexico for a handful of brokers and organizations and to help the farmers increase their quality.  He poured over options and possibilities with our team that Friday night.  The growing regions were all four or five hours away from the city through the mountains in separate directions.  We had to choose carefully, as we could only afford a trip to one.  Clemente settled on a village clinging to the mountain face in the Sierra Madre Del Norte.  Talea de Castro is nestled in the mountains on the Gulf side of the divide. Bathing in the moist air the Gulf brings to the valley, it is a beautiful and refreshing change to the winter desert surrounding Oaxaca City.  It provides perfect Coffee growing climate.

When we settled in our village hotel and had eaten dinner in the house/restaurant of motherly lady, we met with a group of farmers in the village square.  This bunch of young passionate farmers had formed a cooperative group called Oro Taleano (Talean Gold).  They committed themselves to improving the quality of life for Talean families through their coffee.

Jordi and Chris hopped in the back of a pickup truck with the farmers. Clemente assured us that we careened down the gravel mountain roads at a cautious pace as we rode from one farmer’s little finca to another. These farmers each have smallholdings scattered around their houses and in the forests across the valleys.  If you have in mind a pristine and organized orchard, the steep mountain crags would shock you as you see the coffee growing variously under the protective shade of sombra trees. We scrambled down among them listening to the stories of the farmers and tasting with them the sweet ripe cherries enveloping the beans.  Most of the plants belonged to their grandparents and were reaching the end of their productive years.  They told us about how they were nurturing new plants that in the coming years would bring new vitality to their farms.

The next day, after breakfast at the same dear lady’s kitchen and a trip through square on market day, we visited a couple of farmer’s houses in the village within walking distance.  Their houses were surrounded by small groups of coffee trees providing more opportunity to harvest.  They pointed across the valley to the other mountainside where they also had houses and farms.  They would alternate time tending their crops there with the crops nearer the village.  The whole valley is the responsibility of the farmers of Talea de Castro.

We went to one farmer’s house where he showed us how he pulped the cherries, removing the coffee, still in its parchment, from the cherry husks with a machine.  His machine has an electric motor, while many of the others operate it by a crank. He then showed us a vat where the beans are left to ferment overnight before being spread out on rooftops, patios, or even on tarps in the street to dry.  Then he invited us into his house where his family shared space with his stores of coffee and we sat in the gloaming drinking cups of hot sweet liquid as we talked about their dreams and plans for improving their future.

They had shown us an empty preschool that they would like to turn into a center for investigation, where they can process and test their coffees to help determine their quality, and how to improve.  The location would also provide space for education about coffee production, a large drying patio, and a nursery for young plants.  We talked about how we might be able to partner with them in making this dream a reality.

Remarkably the farmers rarely see their coffee the way we see it. As rosters we are used to seeing the hard green beans already processed and sorted, without defect. That is why we count it such a privilege to see the cherries ripen on the tree, put them in our mouths, and touch the beans in their parchment.  The farmers on the other hand only have that side of the experience. They taste the sweetness of the cherry, observe the proper color as it ripens, and a nice even light color to the parchment gives them indication that the crop will be good. They don’t know the quality of the bean, however, until it is hulled and then sorted for defect.  This happens back in the city.  The few roasting operations in the village will take their unsorted coffee, roast it darkly and mill it on the spot to a dark powder. These roasters treat it like another local commodity, corn. It is hard to taste the quality of the bean under this dark-roasted treatment. The coffee our friends offered us had a glimmer of promise obscured by the roast.  We became excited to take some back to Oaxaca City to roast and cup it.

We said goodbye to our new friends and headed back over three mountain ridges for Oaxaca City.  A few days latter, Clemente brought the samples from Talea to us. He had hulled and roasted them and we were ready to cup.  We were nervous.  This was the only group of farmers we were able to meet on this trip.  Their coffee wasn’t sorted to give us just the best.  They were proud of how they treated it and were confident, and we were anxious for them to be proved right.  Two Talean farmers had given us samples and they were on the table next to another that Clemente thought promising from another part of the state.  The Talean coffee shined on the cupping table, and we couldn’t be happier.

Now we are working to import their coffee. We are also excited with the idea of crowd-funding their center for investigation.  We’d love to return in a couple years and see how they’ve grown, and how their passion has made their dreams reality.  We want a long-term relationship with these farmers to be a part of those dreams.

While we wait for the opportunity to roast and serve Oro Taleano, we want to celebrate our trip to Mexico with a flight of Mexican coffees from local roasters.  Stop into either of our locations to give them a try. Also talk to Jordi in New Center, and Chris in Clark Park about our trip and what we’ve learned.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

¡Oh dichosa ventura!

This imagery floors me. From St. John of the Cross "En una noche escura."

El aire del almena,

cuando yo sus cabellos esparcía,

con su mano serena

en mi cuello hería

y todos mis sentidos suspendía.

Quedéme y olvidéme,

el rostro recliné sobre el Amado;

cesó todo y dejéme,

dejando mi cuidado

entre las azucenas olvidado.

Campbell translates these stanzas:

My neck wounded by serene caresses expresses that same longing I resonate with in Donne's "Batter my heart three person'd God."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Media fast day 2

I just realized this may be the first time I have done a media fast. I have cut out tv, but social media and games weren't a thing before, and in the past I just let Elaine do it.  I noticed today improved cognitive ability. I am making connections and remembering thought experiments I had put aside. Perhaps media saturation really does make us dumber.

Some things I have observed in Elaine:
• She touches me more. She speculates that this may be because her security blanket - her phone is not in her hands. 
• She talks to me more deeply. Last night she described to me the plot of a book she read with interest and excitement. 
• We're both up and about earlier, getting more done around the house and on our projects. It's also nice to hear her share what she is learning and get her input on what I study. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Quiet evening

Without tv to occupy us this evening I read a chapter of The Hobbit to the family. We left off in the middle some months ago, falling away from the practice of family reading time. Having nothing else to do does wonders for your schedule.

Settling in.

I noticed a greater ability to focus while reading. I read three chapters in my children's spirituality book in a sitting. The combination of mental excitement and sometimes dry intellectual material has made this a difficult book to sit with. I feel I could have read even more but for another pleasant   surprise, my guitar called me to play it. I have heard its call on previous nights, but late while watching our routine rgimin of tv. 

Elaine is napping. She was reading a dry textbook, undoubtably sleep won out. She is cute when she sleeps. 


The boredom of not using our digital devices in our accustomed manner has driven us to other pursuits: reading, cleaning, working on various projects. So far I have experienced this in starts and fits. As yet I have not settled into a comfortable concentration. 

New Media Fast

Elaine and I have begun a media fast for this week and I have decided to keep a journal exploring the experience. 

Elaine said this morning, "So, what do I have to do to be less lazy?" 

"Take a media fast?" I suggested.

"No way!" was her immediate response. 

Elaine has been exploring the power of media fasting for some time and is planning to write her capstone project on it to complete her masters. 

This media fast will last today (Monday) through Friday.  It will include social media, games and tv.  We will exclude phone calls, text, email and projects related to school and work. 

We turned our phones to do-not-disturb mode, and made sure to allow phone calls, but found this still allowed notifications from our games and so forth to get through so we had to shut some of those off manually.  The badge icons drive me nuts (the little numbers on the apps that shows notifications are waiting.) I had to turn those off for a few things too so I wouldn't be tempted to check them. 

Perhaps the fast would be easier to accomplish and more effective if we just put our phones away, but that experiment will have to wait for another time.