Sunday, February 24, 2008

Juarez Reflection: Indwelling


There is the smell of smoke and excrement intermingled with the freshness of spring as I stand tiredly holding a dripping paint brush. I am painting a mural on the outside of a kindergarten. I am alone and silent. My thoughts wander in the last hours of daylight…

What is the nature of indwelling sin? Does it have the face of a man who would beat the woman he loves more than anything in the world? Does it look like a young man so deprived of any encouraging word that he must seek his dominance through violence and rage? Does it have the look of a girl who believes what is said about her worth, so she solicits the stares of middle aged men on the market streets and border bridges? Is it a mother who cannot fathom trying to fight uphill to provide for the family she already has and so bounces from whatever beds will give her children a meal? Does it look like the person who, even in the midst of poverty, is so consumed with an adherence to material things that he would vandalize, terrorize another to prove any sort of boundary between the two? Does it look like an American missionary making vast assumptions about the faith of another based not on any spiritual aspect, but solely upon their physical dwelling; when one assumes the character of another's spirit or level of inherent happiness and peace because of the d├ęcor or placement of their shack? Perhaps it is actually more when a large group of people seeks to appropriate the practice of others in order to justify their own unsatisfying and unwarranted pharisaic cravings. Maybe it is when tolerance…no love takes a back seat to dogma and pride. Maybe it is when I actually hinder others from believing the stark liberation of this thing called the gospel because I refuse to not simply practice but believe it. Maybe it is not when I am being inadequate of pardon, but more truly when I refuse to believe that I am so pardoned; when I lay down what it means to be truly spiritual for the interplay of a man made system; when I skip over life's chapter on the peace of the indwelling Holy Spirit and focus on those of the ever present darkness; when I forget the Apostle Paul's urging to remember that I have the same Spirit as Christ.

Dusk falls upon me as I drive home, and with the last streaming rays of sun I struggle to suppress the thought that I should leave this place. That life at home would be much easier – not from any sort of facet of comfort, but as a retreat from the poignancy of my vast inadequacies. I struggle to remember Christ and the peace of His Spirit. I struggle to remember my salvation. My heart wrestles to recall the place where I might be free and encourage others to be the same. I climb out of the truck and examine the paint splotches upon my clothes. I take note of the aroma of food filling the trash-filled streets where families struggle and play.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Juarez Reflection: Flame


The chilling wind bites into my hands and grabs hold of the bones in my fingers. I can feel my joints slowing as I push for every step further. I am fighting with my mind, trying to convince myself that it is fine to be out right now. I generally like to go out earlier in the day before the Chollos or gangsta-wannabe’s come out to play soccer or loiter about. It is not that they are ominous in general, but having never really seen anyone keep a regular running schedule in this neighborhood, I have become somewhat of a pseudo-celebrity for the kids and family, which means, of course, the attention of the older youth is exacerbated; sometimes they just need someone to mess with. At the moment, they are occupied in their game of Futbol and pay little attention to me. As I round the bend to one of my final laps, I see a figure ahead of me. It is a young boy holding a bit of a large stick. I come closer behind him and whisper, “¡Con permisso!” Obviously having startled him, he turns and raises the stick ominously ready for attack. I smile at him, and I say, “¡Hola Chavo!” as I pass by. I see his face relax, and he continues to poke around the trash and bushes. Continuing on my way, I see a group of his friends coming to join him. I continue around the outer fence of the school for another lap.

As I come around once more toward the place they are playing, I see that they are continuing to dig and prod in the neck high line of tumble weeds that is nestled between a high hill and the outer fence of the school. Finding this strange, not only for their careless attitude toward what grimy creatures could live in those dark branches but also for the fact that they are downright prickly, I proceed with caution at the sight of their actions. As I pass by at a very slow pace, I realize the malicious nature of their activity, for there at the height of my knee I see the kindling flame of what would soon become a blazing brush fire half a city block wide. What can I do, but be dumbfounded. I continue to run, wondering what, if anything, anyone would do in this neighborhood. No fire truck is going to come here to put out a brush fire. No police are going to look twice at a potential arson until the damage is done. No one is going to care about these kids’ safety. It is just the same as the time I saw a man being beaten in the street, and I knew no police would bother to think twice about helping a Chollo. And it is the same as the time it took the police three hours to show up when we had a theft at our place. Or the time some community contacts kept vigil over a house in their neighborhood all night because the police refused to come when a woman was being beaten by her husband outside.

I watch from the other side of the dusty field for a few moments as the fire rages and the kids scramble up the steep cliff embankment to try and escape the fire. No one even looks or thinks twice from the Soccer game. A few Chollos meander to the side to watch the flame, but most are enraptured with their game. Waiting for a bit, just in case, I head home humbled by the sometimes thick and striking presence of injustice in this place, and in the true fashion of Joyce, my eyes burn with anguish and anger.

Juarez Reflection: So There We Were...


Every good story starts with…

So there we were winding through the streets of Juarez on our typical Wednesday morning routine. Jenny Tapia sat just to my left smiling and humming contently in her quiet way as she always does. Suddenly, as we are dodging every large crack, crevice, and pothole that composes the street, there reared up in front of us a very peculiar looking creature. Truth be told, I thought it was massive black furred possum looking to attack our vehicle.

“uh…um…” I said, slowing the car and glancing at Jenny inquisitively.

“What is that?!” she muttered disgustedly. “Its standing on it’s HEAD!!!”

As we passed what we could only describe as alien spawn, we realized that the dog drinking from the street had played an optical illusion on us making it look like it was either some ominous otherworldly creature or it was literally doing an Irish jig on one foot. I glanced at Jenny who immediately burst into an uncontrollable and hysterical laughter that did not end until we reached our destination, the Comedor. Even over a week later, she admits chuckling: “Every time I think about it I can’t stop laughing! It was standing on one leg! It was like it was doing tricks for us or something!!!!”