Sunday, June 21, 2009

Adventures with Lightning

Today we went to the beach with our Dominican family and some people our age from the church. It started raining after we´d been there for an hour. The rain on the water was amazing. I kept trying to think of something to compare it to so that I could put it in a poem. Still at a loss. But then, it started to thunderstorm. Water and lightning don´t really go together. Some people saw a few bolts in the distance. I didn´t really see anything, but I could hear the thunder really loud and close. I wondered if I should get out of the water, thought I probably should, but everyone else stayed in like it was no big deal. Then a huge, huge bolt hit the water probably 200 yards from us, I´m not a very good judge of distance. Everyone, our group and all the other people in the water, started scrambling for the shore as fast as they could and then running for shelter. I saw it hit and I thought we were going to die. Maybe we should have. I´ve never seen anything like that before in my entire life. Never been so close to lightning. I just did a quick Google search, and there doesn´t seem to be much reliable information out there about lightning and what happens when it hits the water (the best I found was a kids page that said that the fish probably wouldn´t get hurt, only the ones that were really close). Hopefully that´s the most dangerous situation I´ll find myself in this summer...

First Update from the DR

Written Thursday June 18

Hola de la Republica Dominicana!

I am writing to you from Puerto Plata, a city on the north coast. We´re staying a couple nights at the house of the Dominicans who run our site, in transition between training in Jarabacoa, a town in the mountains, and our placement on the coast. I cannot explain how quickly the past few days have gone. Everyday is full of so many things that it seems like we´ve been here so much longer than we have. This is the end of the fourth day. I´m writing for my team, which includes Rachel Kusmer and Rachel Jones.

We´ve been introduced to the culture gradually. In Jarabacoa, the mountain air is relatively cool and there aren´t very many bugs. Most of the summer interns stayed in apartments together. The first day we had orientation with the other interns, who are great. We went on a scavener hunt in the town and learned about the mission of Kids Alive and got to know each other. The past two days we´ve been at training for all the summer volunteers. I love the worship times and singing the Spanish songs.

The three of us are all in different places with the experience so far, probably relating to how well we know the language. It´s good for us to be in highs and lows at different times so that we can help each other. Rachel K is very excited and loves to talk to people all the time. Right now she is helping to cook dinner. She´s thrilled to be here on her first trip out of the country. She has always wanted to come to Latin America. Rachel J is unphased even though she doesn´t know the language. She´s not easily discouraged, and is excited to work in Caraballo where there is a lot of discrimination and French Creole (she does speak French). For me, some parts of the past two days at training have been frustrating because it´s difficult to understand the language, other times I feel like I grasp it well. The teaching has been very good. We learned today about transformation, in our lives and in the lives of the kids. It´s really only through God that we´re going to be able to do this work with the kids. We keep hearing that Caraballo is the most difficult placement. I am learning how much I need God, even to keep a good attitude towards my teammates and in general. We looked at Galatians 5 today, the fruit of the Spirit. I hope that we are able to keep having that. As long as we ''keep in step with the Spirit,'' we´ll be alright. I am excited to get to our site and start working.

As a team, we have had really good times talking together and we´ve been very open and honest with each other about how we´re feeling and what´s going on.

I´ll tell you the first two things that I learned in the Dominican Republic.
1) I heard my first rooster crow. The first night that we got here, one was crowing outside the apartments. It doesn´t sound like it does in the cartoons.
2) they do not flush the toilet paper here. There´s a little basket that goes beside the toilet and you throw it in there. The toilet in our apartment ran continually, and we had to take the lid off and jiggle some things to stop it running. Yesterday, I walked past and saw it was running, opened the lid, pulled up on something to stop it running, and the whole top piece popped off and water started squirting out of the toilet like a fountain! I ran out to the patio yelling help! help! help! and the girls came running in to see what was wrong. They and one of the guys were able to get it under control. We all got wet. Thinking about it now, it´s hilarious, but at the time, I was mortified.

Tomorrow, we are going to our site for the first time to play with the kids in the morning and then start working on the curriculum, classes start on Monday. We´re each working with a different age group of kids. Rachel J with the youngest, me with the medium age, and Rachel K with the oldest. We´ll be helping with the summer programs, not sure exactly what that will look like yet.

Pray that our planning goes well tomorrow, this sets the tone for the whole next five weeks. Also, pray that we keep getting along with each other and communicating and remember that our strength comes from the Lord and not from ourselves. Thank you for your prayers so far, it does make a difference.

We´re about to eat dinner, so I´ll go for now, they´re frying up the plantains... yum.

Much love y Dios les bendiga (God bless you),

Friday, June 5, 2009

Dialogue on Market Values and Joy

I'm reading two books that are nicely dialoguing with each other. C.S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy and Cornel West's Race Matters. 

In the first chapter of West's book, he describes nihilism in black America, partly caused by corporate market institutions (25). Institutions want profits, and they convince people to consume. The goal of consumption is pleasure. Here's West on pleasure: 

"In the American way of life pleasure involves comfort, convenience, and sexual stimulation. Pleasure, so defined, has little to do with the past and views the future as no more than a repetition of a hedonistically driven present. This market morality stigmatizes others as objects for personal pleasure or bodily stimulation... especially evident in the culture industries-- television, radio, video, music..." (26) 

"These seductive images contribute to the predominance of the market-inspired way of life over all others and thereby edge out nonmarket values-- love, care, service to others-- handed down by preceding generations" (27) 

Why is this "market-inspired way of life" chosen by so many people? Consumerism thrives because we aren't satisfied.  

In Surprised By Joy, C.S. Lewis tells the story of his growing up and conversion to Christianity, and in one of the chapters,  he describes getting Joy and pleasure confused. 

"At the end one found pleasure; which immediately resulted in the discovery that pleasure (whether that pleasure or any other) was not what you had been looking for. No moral question was involved; I was at this time as nearly nonmoral on that subject as a human creature can be. The frustration did not consist in finding a "lower" pleasure instead of a "higher." It was the irrelevance of the conclusion that marred it. The hounds had changed scent. One had caught the wrong quarry. You might as well offer a mutton chop to a man who is dying of thirst as offer sexual pleasure to the desire I am speaking of. I did not recoil from that erotic conclusion with chaste horror, exclaiming, "Not that!" My feelings could rather have been expressed in the words, "Quite. I see. But haven't we wandered from the real point?" Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for Joy. Sometimes I wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy" (170). 

I haven't finished the book yet to know how Lewis talks about finding Joy in the end, but I'm guessing it has something to do with God. When we're not with God, we become vulnerable to other things that promise to satisfy us. They all lie, of course. This lie fuels advertising and marketing and business and provides jobs, but it also keeps a lot of people miserable. The problem with a "hedonistically driven present" is that we lose sight of everything that actually matters. We forget who we are. The life that we were meant to life isn't about pleasure as it's described by West. 

Like Lewis says, we can go to any of those other pleasure givers, it doesn't make a difference which one we choose. Afterwards, we know it doesn't meet the need or the desire that we have. Sometimes we get stuck in the trap of going back over and over again because we believe that it will, if we only give it one more try. 

Are all pleasures substitutes for Joy? How would our bank statements change if we were finally satisfied? How would we spend our time? 

We can't live like the market tells us to live. We need to recover "nonmarket values," love, care, and service to others. 

The problem I see in pockets of the Christian community is the loss of Joy and the sell out to pleasure, the objectification of the opposite sex, and an obsession with consumerism at the expense of the forward call of God and discipleship. We've settled into the nest of our culture, and we've chosen its worst parts. 

To get back to contentment and life in nonmarket values, we need to address the roots of our deep dissatisfaction and identify the lies that we believe, say with King David, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation" (Psalm 51:12a).