Thursday, December 16, 2010

New adventures

Since last writing, I've (in chronological order): gotten engaged, finished my M.P.H., and agreed to teach an undergraduate women's studies course in Spring semester.

I'd be lying if I said I weren't a little terrified right now.

There will be more of substance later.

Friday, November 12, 2010


In the past week, due to class conversations and recent events, I've been hovering around the two memories that most defined my time in college.

The first was a few weeks after the start of my freshman year. Just after Bishop Gene Robinson had been ordained as the bishop of New Hampshire (Side note: what does it say about the Church that Bishop Robinson is retiring early because he's tired of death threats?). The speaker was someone working with a ministry to distribute Bibles throughout sub Saharan Africa. In his presentation, this man displayed a photo of some leaders of the Anglican Church in Rwanda accepting copies of the Bible. He turned away from the photo and said "See, the Anglican church in the rest of the world isn't like this lily-white fagot Episcopal church in the US." As my mouth dropped open in shock, applause resonated through the auditorium for several minutes.
A few weeks later, an ECUSA bumper sticker turned up on my truck.

The second? My junior year, in a religious studies class. I have to give the instructor credit for talking about race at all. He made some comment about the failure of Conservative Christians when it came to minorities. And he asked "Martin Luther King Jr was a Communist. Why was he a Communist?" My response "Because he saw that the system we have in the US wasn't working for everybody, and there were problems with it." He shouted me down, in the most undignified way I've ever seen in a classroom. "No! It's because he could only get accepted to a liberal seminary, and that's what they taught!" In an instant, he tossed aside both my comment about inequality in the United States (which seems to have been what MLK dedicated his life to fighting!) and the idea that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could think for himself. No...of course, he just absorbed whatever ideology he was taught in that evil liberal seminary.

Chastised, by the instructor, I shrunk into my seat and tried to disappear. I...assumed he was right, because he was the authority figure, and the institution was on his side. It was years before I saw...beyond the attack on what I assumed was my stupidity to the disrespect expressed for the perspective of a man who changed the world.

Even, writing this now, I'm trying to excuse that instructor. "He was young. He got carried away by a flight of rhetoric." But regardless, I'll never forget.

Neither will I ever forget that a Christian institution affirmed the use of a gay slur in chapel.

I wasn't able to confront the powers that be at the time. I'm ashamed of that- even at eighteen, twenty, it should have been clear that this behavior was unacceptable, and it was my job, as a tuition-paying student, to speak up. But never again will I let incidents like these go unchallenged.

Friday, November 5, 2010

On educational institutions of different sorts.

I had to start this post with a reminder to myself that it's wisest not to name names and point fingers here. If you're reading, odds are you know where I did my BS degree,and that it wasn't a good fit, for numerous reasons. There's no need for me to plaster that information on the internet to be found by search engines- While my experience at said Small Christian Liberal Arts College wasn't exceptional, it was hardly typical either, and I won't depict it as such.

Their quarterly update came in the mail this week, complete with a piece welcoming the class of 2014. It included statements from faculty and convocation speakers such as "I'm interested in giving students a vision of how to live well, not just for the next four years but for the next 60." and "You are being prepared to live in these times and shape these times...a [name of institution] education does equip you for future careers. But its major purpose is a development of the whole person and preparation for the life of Christ to shine in the midst of a society with all its challenges."

All good and lovely sentiments. But. I'm in the process of wrapping up graduate work- an MPH in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior accompanied by a graduate certificate of study in Women's and Gender Studies. I'm contemplating remaining at my present institution (state flagship university, big research school,football) for a doctoral degree, and one of the reasons that comes up is "I'm a better person because I chose to get this degree." Followed by "Why can't I say that about my BS from Small Christian Liberal Arts College that just about required me to get a minor in Bible courses?" A hugely obvious part of the explanation is that this is part of the intrinsic difference between Biology and Spanish and Public Health and Women's Studies. I'll own that. Then, after I've respected the differences in the disciplines, I'll point out that our WGST faculty here includes a woman with a PhD in biology, who is responsible for masterminding our undergraduate women's health course, and contributes greatly to the discussion on inequality and its effects on wellbeing.

There's a difference in culture here. What I learned in undergrad was that consequences and principles come first, at the cost of humanity. That a fetus is more valuable than its mother, that starving people in Africa matter more than those in the US. That we can blame the AIDS epidemic in Africa on the failure of the Africans to embrace biblical teaching about sexuality and that condoms have just made the situation worse. I learned that the God-honoring thing to do is to talk about the importance of family, raising children, caring for the elderly but breathe fire at the mention of any government policy that might make it easier for people (most especially lowerclass minorities) to do such a thing. I finished my undergrad degree broken hearted at all that was wrong in the world, angry at all that was wrong with the Church, and completely and totally lost.

That's how I began my graduate studies at the Big Evil Secular University. In a degree program (which then led me to a certificate program with similar values) infused with hope and the idea that change is possible, and making a difference, however small, matters. I learned about community organizing and advocacy, I learned about the importance of qualitative research and the opportunity it affords to give a voice to those who don't have one. I made friends and met mentors, and learned that the Church can be a powerful vehicle for the good of a community, when it's properly engaged and encouraged (note: I feel that just about any mention of the Church as a force for justice needs to include a shout out to President Barack Obama). I've had a thousand difficult and worthwhile experiences as an MPH student- from trying to evaluate a new program providing cardiovascular disease/diabetes screenings and a lifestyle intervention to low income women, to traveling to Belize to conduct interviews about family planning choices and obstacles to family planning in the community, to learning to deal sensitively with veterans while testing nondrug treatments for PTSD to assisting in the launch of a virtual women's center. This is work that I fully believe in some small way has helped make the world a better place.

My undergrad education didn't bring me to this place. It was my graduate studies. This is a big part of why we /have/ graduate school and why it's a good option for many people. But my point? Don't expect four years at the Small Liberal Arts College to teach students how to live their lives. Don't assume that all the students studying under the "biblical worldview" banner have all the resources to learn the skills they need, don't assume they're getting remotely all their questions answered. Life and learning continues far beyond college, sometimes in processes that look far different. No. Christian college is not the answer to the world's problems, and no one should pretend that it even comes close.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

jigsaw puzzle

It takes a while for me to piece things together. Or things that I see and read fit together in odd ways.

Today I was handed another piece of a puzzle, and I don't particularly like how it fits. A priest-friend was telling me about his "bring an atheist to church" day planned for next week. There's an atheist gentleman in town attempting to raise money for the local free clinic. He does so by agreeing to attend a religious service/event for a $20 donation. I'm a little floored at this, because it sounds to me that this gentleman is trying to "trick" Christians into doing something I think they should be doing already. *Long sigh*

A couple weeks ago, I was in church, and one of the readings was the parable of the Good Samaritan. I mused that the Good Samaritan was an interesting metaphor for social workers and public health professionals - condemned by the vocal, prideful, self-righteous religious people. Likewise, the social workers and public health professionals care for the needy the religious people overlook. Passing random observation. Huh- didn't really give it much thought.

My last Sunday in Belize, I attended a service at St. Andrew's Anglican Church in San Ignacio. This was Emancipation Sunday- the celebration of the end of slavery in British territories. The reading was instantly familiar to me- Luke 4. Jesus is in the temple, and he's reading my favorite passage from Isaiah.
“ The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”

And then Jesus says "Hey guys, this is me!"
For the past ten years, this has been the Scripture passage I've identified with most strongly. If we slip into the goofy Christian college lingo- this is what I see as my vocation. Liberty, healing, caring for the poor, speaking truth: these are things that come together, in Christ. That this is how Christians should spend their time. That Sunday's homily mentioned Wilberforce, and hopped over to Philemon, and noted the admonition to love the slave. I left with the sense that it had been a watershed moment, showing how deeply intertwined my passion for the rights and well being of others and my faith are.

It seems like an obvious connection to me. Why is it not obvious to others? If it is, why am I not seeing it? Why can I think of so many examples of people who act as though the lives of some people are more valuable than others?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

a transcript from my journal

Maybe the biggest thing I've learned from this time is how thankful I am not to be a Belizean woman.

The stories of the women in my focus group were of emotional abandonment and bullying husbands (and other relatives).
Ms. Else's story- that she's finally leaving the man she's been with for the past 19 years (who's been married to someone else that entire time.) "I swear to God, when I got pregnant and found out he was married, I was going to have an abortion. But he wanted this baby...he wanted a son, so I stayed. He never disrespected me, and he cared for my kids, so I stayed, because he already had use of my body." 19 years...of watching your partner have a family with someone else and trying not to interfere with that family...of settling for scraps of attention and money in order to raise 8 children. "he came to me twice , back to back with no money, and I told him 'we can make love on an empty belly but your son can't live with an empty belly."

The way she looked at me and said "We need people like you here to tell women that when a man is taking advantage of you, not supporting you, not helping you out with the bills and the kids, that's domestic violence too. And we need people like you to teach women in Belize how to think for themselves and stand up."

Ms. Anna today- visiting the doctor with complications from diabetes. "I've been dieting the last week, but my husband says 'I don't want you to start reducing your weight, because then people will say you have HIV/AIDS."

The conversation she had with her daughter: "I don't regret you, because you're mine and I love you. But I wish that I hadn't had so many... because I wasn't able to give you what you needed, or what I wanted to give you."

Questions about family planning ...very quickly became questions about whether relationships are healthy and whether people's rights and basic human dignity are being respected. I don't think I completely realized that before.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tikal and Flores

Last weekend I opted to play a bit- which meant joining my housemates for a random jaunt down to Guatemala to visit Flores and Tikal.Somehow, I managed to be the person with both the best Spanish language skills and best sense of direction, which made for a slightly less restful trip than I would have liked.

While crossing the Guatemala border, I received a nasty bite on my right toe from a giant red leafcutter ant (not the scientific term). Yet another reason Chacos are wonderful....when my toe swelled up to nearly twice its original size, I simply could adjust my shoe.

We planned to take the 5AM shuttle to Tikal, in hopes of catching the animals out and about. A brilliant idea, except that as of 4AM there was an intense thunderstorm happening. One of my housemates wakes up, and we question the wisdom of heading off to see a (rather tall) Mayan ruin in the middle of a storm. Stumble to the hostel desk and try to explain to the clerk that we'd like to cancel our shuttle reservation, due to the storm. The clerk tells me this isn't possible, my housemate suggests we try to call the shuttle driver, which we do,but the phone line is dead. Now, this doesn't sound like a big deal, but I'm pretty incoherent when I first wake up, at 4AM is probably my absolute least favorite hour of the day. Trying to speak two languages at this point was more than a little taxing. The other housemates started waking up, and the storm is slowing a bit, so we decide to chance then venture anyway.

Onto the shuttle, and everyone goes back to sleep. About 5:30 the overenthusiastic tourguide starts yelling. He informs us that about to stop at the restaurant where we can get water and sandwiches, and we can take absolutely 15 minutes max. At 6, we get to the site, hordes of tourists descend, and swarm the restaurant in an attempt to get coffee and sandwiches, tourguide barking the entire time. We don't want a guide and do want some breakfast, so finally manage to discover that there's a restaurant across the street that serves real breakfast. I find myself explaining multiple times to my housemates that "mantequilla" is butter, and is not an actual meal. By perhaps a bit before or after 7 we made it into the actual park, and did see several monkeys.

Against my better judgement, I scrambled up a "staircase" more accurately resembling a ladder to the top of Temple V. Was very nearly sick. Manage to get myself down....later discovered (at the top of Temple IV ~230 feet) that it's not nearly so much heights that bother me as it is narrow ledges high up.

Once getting back to the hostel, we had lunch. The one meat-eater in the group complained multiple times to the 3 vegetarians that her burrito was missing the taste of meat (Los Amigos Hostel in Flores has a vegetarian restaurant). Slept much of the afternoon....

Saturday was spent wandering the market in nearby Santa Elena and then swimming in the lake. Between the two days activities, I picked up a moderate sunburn, and opted to spend Sunday in the shade, reading Alice Walker's "We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For." (Which I may write about at some point). Ironically, the housemates wound up more sunburned than me....

Trip back to Belize was uneventful. Upon arrival we discovered the door to the house unlocked. It seems someone on staff had been around doing laundry (and neglected to return the key to the laundry room). Rather disturbing. Nothing was missing, and appropriate action has been taken to limit weekend access to the house to people who actually live there.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When it all comes together

T. and J. were doing HIV outreach at the market on Saturday. Afterwards, J. was telling me about a young man, obviously gay, who approached them. She mentioned his false guilt- "I heard it started in the gay community" family stigma- "if my family found out I was gay, they'd run me out of town" and the vague "I don't really know you, but I had some rough stuff happen as a kid."

I growled about the fact that this community doesn't have many resources available for people like this man, and said "I'm sure he's seen some horrible stuff. Think about the numbers for domestic violence in this country (close to 50% of homes. Keep in mind that domestic violence is underreported, because it's a socially undesirable behavior). J. mentions the violent drawings produced by kids in summer camp, and I snarl for the women in my focus group who were bullied by their husbands and in-laws and for Friday's experience in the park and the fact that men here feel it's okay to treat a woman in that manner...and suddenly I'm shocked to find tears in my eyes.

It's impossible to separate the questions I'm asking or my experiences from a larger conversation that's not happening. One about gender and power,autonomy, family, fear...what happens to people too weak or terrified to speak up for themselves. It's something to be cried over.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Things that make you think twice.

I can't not talk about Friday morning...
Having spent a couple mornings at the park by the police station, I decided to try my luck at the park across from the market. I got there, and found a parkbench, and started scoping the place out. Pulled out my journal, jotted a few notes. Random guy on a bike comes by, says "I don't mean no disrespect, but I think you're incredibly gorgeous. Just wanted to make your day." Okay...whatever, I can deal with that. He comes by a second time, and says something else...I decide if I have random people approaching me, I need to ask them to do a survey (seems reasonable, I've had decent success with this tactic dealing with tour guides downtown) Well...I start my survey, and I get to the question on marital status, and he asks if I want to marry him. I....remain as professional as possible, smile, and inform him that my boyfriend would have some issues with that. I keep going, and get to the question about "do you intend to have any more children?" he tells me "write that it depends on you." He leans towards me, jabbing a finger at the paper, and I get a whiff of the contents of his metal cup he's holding. Rum. Oh shit- not a good situation.
I finish the survey, get rid of him as nicely and professionally as I possibly can (did I mention that it came up that he'd been deported from the US, and used to sell weed in Los Angeles?)
He then proceeds to send his buddies over to talk to me (not bad data-wise, I got about 4 surveys total, I think). One was a former Navy guy from the US (went to school in Atlanta, on disability now)...a few weren't terribly savory characters. I did about 3 surveys, then the whole thing dissolved into a complete mess (not that it wasn't one beforehand). One fellow is questioning me about religion, asking whether I believe we're still subject to "the moral law." Another guy, smelling of rum and urine kept lurking around. He gave me a pen, told me he loved me, showed me the form he got at the drs office with his name on it, gave me his phone number, asked for my address (I wrote down a garbled mess roughly resembling an SC address with a TN zip code) and then proceeded to take a grubby ring off his finger and informs me that it's for me, "white gold and diamonds, because you're my queen." Meanwhile, the other guy is giving me a lecture about God and Moses and Jesus, while I'm trying to come up with an adequate response to the Mayan gentleman who just told me that his wife died after they'd been married a short time, and now he's 80 and alone in the world except for a sister who lives with him.
Finally I say something about leaving for lunch (yes, this all took place in broad daylight, in a park, between 10 and 11:30 AM) and retreat to Cornerstone.
Don't think I'll be going back to that park.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Another day, another scramble for data

Lately it seems I have more stories than time for blogging.
So...yesterday, I went back to stalking the OB-GYN.
It seems we had a miscommunication. I assumed that because I called him on his office phone to set an appointment, we were meeting between 8-9 at his office. He assumed that I knew he'd be at the hospital, and was meeting him there.
Regardless, I caught him yesterday morning, on his way to the hospital. He asked me if I wanted to come along with him, and I agreed. Hopped in the car, and started the interview....we arrived at the hospital, and I stopped the recorder, as he gave me a tour...emergency room, labor and recovery, and then the maternal and child health hall, where his office is. People lined up literally up and down the hallway. He shows me into his office, where we're suddenly joined by a medical student from the UK who's shadowing/assisting for the day.
I continue my interview, he's rather unhurried, despite the throngs of patients sitting just outside the door.
Student expresses interest in my project and gives me her contact information.
And I hike the 1.5 miles or so back into town.
This is where I get points for:
1) wearing my chacos everywhere
2) being adaptable
3) working in a country where it's safe for young white women to walk around alone.

Made it back to Cornerstone to find warm chocolate cake (with gooey green icing vaguely reminiscent of marshmallow cream) ready. Very exciting.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The focus group that almost wasn't.

So....I pitched my project to the women's group last week. In two languages, with a cutesy handout. N. made reminder phone calls today, telling women that group starts at 4:15. We wandered down about 4:30 (this is Belize). I'm braced to lead a bilingual focus group, if need be.The women's computer class is finishing up, and suddenly, a woman we'll call Miss Faith (not her real name) wanders in. And her intentions are mutinous. She informs N. that she's not coming, not this week, and not next week, because she's not interested in the group topics. She doesn't care about poetry or abortion (?! N and I are still confused as to why she thought group was about abortion). And family planning is good for young women to talk about, but she's already done with that, and they need to learn about cooking and how to make money. Miss Faith continues with hardly a breath - the group needs to decide what to talk about, Nora shouldn't be calling people about meetings, that's the president's job, the group needs to be more organized, what happened to the money from the bake sale?! She's a part of a group at the library and other groups in town and they all work and this group doesn't and she knows how groups work and people help each other out and....

The tirade lasted a good half hour. After a while she turned away from N. and addressed her comments to the two other women there, who were sympathetic. At this point, N. and I are both really concerned that tonight's meeting is going to be shoved for organizational details, but finally, Miss Faith runs out of steam and informs N. that when the meeting is held, she will pay what she owes the group (for earrings at the bake sale).

So, now I get to introduce my project and try to lead a focus group- with three participants. My demographic/background questionnaire and the invitation letter took about a half hour. The president informed me that they knew how this worked, they'd had a group to talk about domestic violence and had helped a volunteer with her study before.

I start with my questions, and it's a little awkward the first ten minutes or so. I'm jotting a few responses on the chart paper, verifying answers with the group....
and then suddenly, something happened, and the three women weren't talking in terms of generalities anymore, but about their stories, their husbands, parents, in-laws.
N. diligently takes notes for me, as I move around the room, trying to keep eye contact with the woman speaking, moving my tiny digital recorder next to the speaker, trying to get the best recording possible with fans and traffic in the background. We both thank them, sincerely for sharing their time and stories, and N. tells them she's learned so much in this conversation. The tape recorder is off, and they keep talking to N. and I individually for another 10 minutes or so...about their experiences, why it's important for teens and parents to talk etc. It's a peaceful, quiet, intimate atmosphere. Someone realizes they've been at women's group for an hour and a half, and the group disperses. N. and I retreat upstairs, bewildered and frustrated at the beginning of the evening and awed at its conclusion.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


You'll be happy to know that the plumbing is working.
And that today I was able to turn two solicitations from tour guides into surveys (without booking a tour).
It's funny....I was concerned about the fact that I wasn't offering incentives for this project, and how that would affect participation. (Being a young woman traveling alone, it just struck me as rather unwise to offer incentives. Kind of like an invitation for a mugging, y'know?) But for the most part, all I have to say is "hi, I'm a student from the US trying to learn about your community, do you have a couple minutes to answer a few questions?" People often volunteer more information than I ask, and expect me to sit around and listen to stories...about their son in Chicago, their brother's custody hearing, plans for a spouse's education...and they're full of advice.

Some serious excitement over the world cup here. Neighbors blasted music into the early hours of the morning for two consecutive nights. Between the three fans in our room we managed to drown most of it out. And- just because it's too weird for words, I'm writing from the balcony of a combination tacky lingerie store and coffee shop.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tales of Belizean plumbing

You knew it couldn't be that easy, right?
The plumber came, about noon on Friday. He left us a bathroom covered in raw sewage. T. cleaned the bathroom....and a couple hours later we discovered the toilet is still not working. Then SA went to take a shower in the bathroom with the working toilet. And the shower wont't catch- it insists on coming out as bath water. We don't even have a bathtub stopper here. J. attempts to resurrect the shower, no luck. It is 8pm on friday night, and we are down to one working toilet (in a bathroom with a broken shower and half-draining sink) and one working sink (in a bathroom with a half-draining shower and a broken toilet). For eight people. Attempted to go to the store to put credit on the volunteer cellphone, and Cost Less Mart was closed. This morning....well, Cost Less insisted that they don't sell phone credit. Phone credit was purchased elsewhere, the director was phoned, and she very casually said that she'd let the landlord know. Not anticipating a change in circumstances any time soon.

I can't possibly describe how much I love Belize, or how crazy it makes me. Whatever nutcase called the US a "melting pot" has obviously never been here. I'm a native English speaker and conversational in Spanish, so one would think I could manage....but frankly, speaking someone's 3rd or 4th language is less than ideal. Why does the US act as if it's normal to only speak one language?

The languages of Belize are Maya, German, Creole, German, Spanish, English, Lebanese, Hindi, and even more I'm sure....
Belize is Maya and Mennonite, Creole and Garifuna, British Colonialism, retired expats and college kids from around the world. In setting appointments I'm honestly not sure when people expect me to show up- it depends on how Western they are! And I can't tell by looking at anyone whether or not we'll be able to understand each other.

The adventure of a lifetime-with the mosquito bites thrown in for free!

Friday, July 9, 2010


I was supposed to do my first interview yesterday, which didn't quite turn out to be a complete bust. The interview subject had no real experience with my topic,but gave me a referral that might pan out. Also, I took a wrong turn and in wandering around spotted a women's health doc who may be worth talking to.

That was about 3PM- while I was out T(the one male volunteer presently in the house) managed to stop up one of the toilets. He ran up the hill to the store to get a plunger, which quickly inverted, proving useless. Supposedly Cornerstone called a plumber who was supposed to come yesterday evening....but this is Belize. So it's 9AM and we're still down to one toilet for 8 people in the volunteer house. Still have two showers though, thankfully. The one fully functional bathroom requires a treck through my current bedroom- which has four girls sharing bunkbeds and little space (I should post pictures). We've spread out, because getting dressed, showering, teeth brushing, etc. requires being able to access your stuff relatively quickly. So trying to pass through our room is potentially dangerous, particularly if the lights are off.

In other news, you can find pretty decent tea in San Ignacio (the lemon jasmine green tea I thought I'd packed in....could be anywhere. Between the whirlwind trip to TN before leaving, the 13 hours traveling and the chaos when I got here, I have no idea.) Cost Less Mart has an assortment of organic tea from Sri Lanka, and I snagged a box of green jasmine tea yesterday.

I have a couple interviews scheduled for next week, a focus group scheduled, and some phone calls to make. Progress? Baby steps.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Right now I'm sitting at Flayva's (which used to be Eva's, if you happen to be checking a Belize tour guide). Just polished off an awesome lime juice, and am making my way through a plate of nachos. Ah well...I'll burn those calories in the hike up the hill.

I was supposed to run a focus group today. It's M's (the program coordinator here) birthday. And she was supposed to be leading women's group. So N (the main volunteer working with the women's group) and I thought we'd give her the evening off. Women's group was supposed to meet at 4:30, and, this being Latin America, no one showed up until 5. And in comes M, with a folder. She does a lesson on self esteem, self confidence, public speaking and poetry reading (involving US pop songs, of all things) and doesn't finish up until 6:30. I laugh, and introduce myself and my project to the four women there. One of whom only speaks Spanish. And- even though M is a native Belizean, who grew up in Benque and San Ignacio, my Spanish is better than hers. Yep...even though it's been three years since I've spoken it. The women seemed interested, and we'll see how it goes.

Of course, this is after several hours today spent trying to create a readable information sheet (in English...) and translating my focus group questions into Spanish (Dr. Pascucci, if you happen to be reading, I love you).

And it's okay. This is a perfect case of why Spanish has subjunctive verbs- sometimes things don't work, or you're just not sure. I've taken to laughing to myself and just saying "ojala." Which is the greatest word ever. It's a holdover from the Moorish invasion of Spain. "If Allah wills it." Ojala, I will do a focus group next week. Ojala, when I talk to M. tomorrow, she will have gotten in touch with a couple of the health care providers on our list. Ojala, tomorrow I will print off surveys and start doing those around town (Flayva's, Mr. Greedy's, Cayo Twist?).

And if not? There's another word for that here. MaƱana.

It's 8pm here, and it's been dark for a while. Probably time to hike back up the hill to Cornerstone (and that's one steep hill!!) The catcalls have been a lot less present this year (gloria a Dios) but even without that reminder....I'm trying to be aware that I'm a young woman alone in a foreign country.

Though San Ignacio is becoming so familiar...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


And have arrived.
Cornerstone's relocated, to a much nicer facility. I'm almost in shock at how nice it is. No AC and no hot water, but otherwise, pretty much comparable to my apartment. Well, minus the sharing it with 7 other people part.

Right now I'm running through previous women's program projects, trying to get familiar with what other Cornerstone volunteers have done.Orientations to the town, staff, culture to come.

I've established a pretty good rapport with the office staff here. Showing up with craft supplies and condoms helped with generating goodwill. Thankfully, their schedule for me looks about like what I had envisioned- a week of getting my feet on the ground+prep work, and then roughly 3 weeks to do everything I want to.

And so it begins.

Monday, July 5, 2010

And we're off....

Blogging from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, with the help of wi-fi (that's a little pricier than my Scotch genes like) and the tech support of my significant other. Flight to Belize leaves at 12:30 Central time, so I've got a couple minutes.

And so far, so good.
Granted, any day that starts with kissing your best friend and the partner in the majority of your life's adventures goodbye is less than great.

Made it to the Columbia Airport in time to check in for my 6AM flight. This was also well before the security checkpoint opened (someone explain that to me....) so I had some quiet, slow moments. If you've ever been around me in the early morning, you'll be as grateful for this as I was.

Once in security, they confiscated my jar of peanut butter. Seriously- airport personnel were not sympathetic to my complaints about how expensive it is in Belize. They offered me the option of checking my bag, which I was not about to do on an international flight. (And yes, I am living out of a carryon and a backpack for a month. I /should/ have laundry facilities available...if not, there's going to be some interesting improvisation). Security guy then proceeded to scan several innocuous items - my medicine bag, audio recorder, flashlight and safety pins. He then left me to repack my bag and head on my way....

Nearly at the gate I realize I have no clue where the keys to my luggage lock are. I race back to security, look around....start opening pockets in carryon and backpack and the keys are not there. I conclude that I've locked them in my suitcase, and mutter several choice words. At which point the airline security lady comes by to calm me down, and let me know that it's a good thing my stuff will be safe til I reach my destination, and then I can have the travel safety people cut the lock. So I sigh, and progress back down the moving sidewalk....I get to the end, and look!!!my keys are trapped there.

So, like any reasonable human being, I fish out an inkpen, and try to remove my keys from the grate (while the sidewalk is moving). Another random airport lady wandered over asking if she could help me, and decided this incident warranted stopping the sidewalk long enough for me to get the keys and move on.

And so I left Columbia- peanut butter-less, but happy that when I need to unlock my suitcase, I will be able to do so.

I'll arrive in Belize City at 2:20 Belize time- that's 4:20 for you Eastern Standard people. From there, I have a 1 1/2- 2 hour shuttle ride to San Ignacio. I gave the shuttle people the address to Cornerstone that I have (that's on the information packet they send volunteers) and the shutttle response was "That's the address we have on file, but we've heard that Cornerstone moved. Don't worry, we'll get you there one way or another." So here goes....

Thankfully, the security people left me my mug and tea bags and ibuprofen (and razor blades, even). I'll most definitely need tea when I arrive in San Ignacio. Hoping I won't need the ibuprofen yet :)

Sunday, July 4, 2010


I'm....leaving in the morning. In the insanely early hours of the morning. To Belize, for 30 days of doing research...interviews, surveys, a focus group....trying to find out a little more about what it's like to be human, to have a family in Belize.
I hesitate to write more than this for confidentiality purposes.
But I am hoping to be able to jot down some stories and general impressions here.
For now, though, I'm going to enjoy my last few hours with someone incredibly dear to me, who I can't wait to see on the other side of this month.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Abstinence-only Sex Education, Part 3

Continuing on....trying to write up a fair history of the high points of the religious abstinence-only movement. As seems to be typical (just a general observation, no stats to back this up) the Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics have been the big players in this movement.
Much of this is taken from the website of Lifeway, the Southern Baptist publishing company (

In 1987, the Christian sex education project began, led by Jimmy Hester. He and Richard Ross successfully pitched the True Love Waits project to the Southern Baptists in 1992. From a 1994 article in First Things it seems that the motivation behind True Love Waits was to increase teens' perceptions of peer support for abstinence. True Love Waits launched in 1993 in Nashville, TN. By 1993, 100,000 virginity pledge cards had been signed as part of True Love Waits. Personally, I tend to remember True Love Waits more for huge symbolic demonstrations ("Let's stack virginity pledge cards all the way across the Golden Gate Bridge!" "Let's pile pledge cards to the top of the Georgia Dome," etc.) than anything else. True Love Waits seems to have focused on providing churches and youth conferences with pledge cards and jewelry and left the actual teaching up to individual youth leaders and congregations, from my impressions at least. I haven't heard much from True Love Waits lately (though, no longer a teenager and no longer a Southern Baptist, I'd be out of the loop anyway.). I have heard "Silver Ring Thing" lately, so maybe it's the new Christian trend? Seems to be pretty similar.

I'm going to date the start of Roman Catholic sex education teaching and advocacy with 1968 and Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae . Not being Roman Catholic, this decision is a little arbitrary, and I haven't read the encyclical in its entirety. From my understanding, it affirms the goodness and holiness of sex within marriage and goes on to condemn all sorts of artificial birth control. (Brief aside here- Not really seeing any nuances in the Roman Church's position. Apparently, it's bad to use condoms if you're a married couple trying to prevent the transmission of herpes or HIV, or for a woman suffering from endometriosis or PCOS to take birth control pills. Someone correct me if I'm wrong here- really hope I am.)

Roman Catholic bishops approved Human Sexuality, A Catholic Perspective on Education and Lifelong Learning in 1990. This pastoral document provided guidelines for sex education in Catholic schools, however, there was a strong negative response from parents. The Roman church presently seems to emphasize the importance of "positive chastity education" by parents, and doesn't seem to have any sort of recommendations about health issues to be included. Interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church aligned itself with the Southern Baptist Convention's True Love Waits campaign.

Apologies for this segment being a bit rushed/incomplete, but I have a number of pressing tasks. Margaret Whitehead has dealt with the Roman Catholic side of things far more thoroughly than I could ever hope to.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Abstinence-only Sex Ed, part 2

Okay. Now that we all know what I think about abstinence-only sex ed, it's time to backtrack and talk about the history of the sex-ed movement, and some of the things that have happened there. This post seems to have gotten bewilderingly long somehow, so I think I'll keep this limited to a brief overview/explanation of history. Part 3 will deal with the evaluation and effectiveness of teen pregnancy prevention programs and part 4 will be centered on my personal response (or, alternatively, part 4 will describe what I believe to be the more typical evangelical response, and part 5 will elaborate on my own views). I reserve the right to change the outline of proposed posts as content gets overwhelming.

Health educators became concerned about teen pregnancy in the 1970s (Kirby,Barth, Leland,Fetro 1991). Additionally, the HIV epidemic of the 1980s heightened awareness of the importance of using sex education as a tool for reducing risky sexual behavior (Kirby,et al., 1991). In 1991, Kirby and colleagues grouped pregnancy prevention programs into four generations. (Note that while I am extremely interested in sexual health, I am a generalist as far as public health goes, and have only been dabbling in this for the past semester or two- A LOT of people know a lot more than I do! For those outside the field, Doug Kirby is considered pretty much THE leading expert on teen pregnancy, and I will cite his work heavily)

First Generation:
Focused on teen's knowledge about risks and consequences of teen pregnancy (Kirby, et al., 1991). These programs basically took the position that if teens knew about sex, pregnancy, and contraception they would avoid risky sexual behavior. Well....the first thing that gets drilled into your head as a public health student now is "Knowledge alone is not enough to change behavior," so, you can guess how well these worked...

Second Generation:
Added an emphasis on values-clarification, decision-making and communication skills (Kirby, et al., 1991). Evaluation of 2nd generation programs showed mixed results (Kirby, et al., 1991).

Third Generation:
It's important to understand that the third generation of teen pregnancy prevention programs did not stem from lessons in the first two generations of programs, but rather, in opposition to those programs (Kirby, et al.1991). Out of concern that teens were being given a "values free" education, a different group of people, with religious rather than health concerns launched a set of programs that were focused on teaching teens not to have sex before marriage (Kirby, et al., 1991). These programs typically presented no information on contraception in order to avoid being seen as self-contradicting (Kirby, et al., 1991). Not many of these programs have been thoroughly evaluated (Kirby, et al. 1991, Santelli,et al., 2006, I personally would like to think that this is because for the most part, these sorts of programs are led by well-meaning religious folks instead of public health practioners and they don't know how important evaluation is, or what the parts of a good evaluation are. On the other hand, I know a number of professionals who have spent decades in the field of sex education and believe that the reason abstinence-only programs are only half-heartedly evaluated is that if you only measure certain things, you can do a bit of handwaving and make it seem that an ineffective program actually did some good. This will be discussed further in part 3 of this series of blog posts.

Fourth Generation:
The fourth generation of teen pregnancy prevention programs attempt to build on the first three (Kirby, et al., 1991). These programs attempt to be neither values-free nor moralistic and focus on increasing teens' knowledge about risky sexual behavior and its consequences, teaching teens skills for delaying intercourse, and changing social norms around early sexual activity (Kirby, et al., 1991).

Abstinence-Only Sex Ed and Federal Funding
(fact sheet:

Federal funding for abstinence only sex education was created by Section 510 of the Federal Social Security Action, first created in 1996 (Clinton Administration), established under Section 912 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-193).

In 2004, the Bush administration moved the program out of division of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to the Administration for Children and Families(ACF) and tightened funding regulations. In order to receive section 510 funds, programs had to adhere to all eight points of the federal definition of abstinence-only education:
According to federal law, an eligible abstinence education program is one that:
A) has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, physiological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;
B) teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school age children;
C) teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems;
D) teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity;
E) teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;
F) teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child's parents, and society;
G) teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increases vulnerability to sexual advances; and
H) teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.
(U.S. Social Security Act, Sec 510 (b), cited in Santelli et al. 2006).

Federally funded abstinence only programs use behavioral terms such as "postponing sex," and "never had vaginal sex." These programs often do not include information about touching, kissing, anal sex or oral sex (Aside- one of my professors observed that this can be seen as a reflection of Bill Clinton's stance that "Oral sex is not sex." Unfortunately, much of my generation, and those younger share that view).

Especially in the 2000s, federally funded abstinence-only programs discuss sex in moral terminology, using words like "chaste" "virgin" "making a commitment."

President Obama attempted to end section 510 funding, however, it was included in the health care reform bill in an effort to secure support from Republicans (

Works Cited:
Kirby, D., Barth, R., Leland, N. Fetro, J.V., (1991). Reducing the risk: impact of a new curriculum on sexual risk-taking. Family Planning Perspectives 23: 253-63.

Santelli, J., Ott, M.A. , Lyon, M., Rogers, J., Summers, D., Schleifer, R. Abstinence and abstinence only education: A review of U.S. policies and programs.(2006). Journal of Adolescent Health 38: 72-81.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Stepping away for a moment from orderly thoughts on health, education, life and faith. I need to talk for a few minutes without carefully choosing my words- because this is one case where caution and logic may completely obscure what I have to say.

In January of 2009, I began an MPH program with eight women who were strangers to me. Just over a week ago, we turned in comprehensive exams, and in a matter of days we're going to arrive at a new place in life- one in which we don't run into each other in hallways in between classes, without group homework and exam sessions,and no place for panicked phone calls because some professor's directions weren't clear. I'm shocked at how differently I feel now, compared to finishing my B.S. So many of my emmotions are a blur of confusion, fear, loss- as compared to the sense of freedom and relief I felt at the end of my time at my undergrad institution. Those eight women are the reason for my current vague emmotional disarray.

It's been a year and a half- we've gotten sick, family members have died, we've stayed up way too late, killed a forest of trees writing papers together, and baked entirely too many cookies for class. There's a realness as we struggle with our broken and blended families, learn what we care most about, and try to figure out what "making a difference" really means. I've learned so much from these women-about how to dress like an adult, how to talk to people, how to organize and present ideas, and just how to be a decent human being. Of course it hurts to realize that there will be days...weeks...months...perhaps even years when I do not see a single one of them. What hurts more is the realization that as we leave this place of togetherness, the odds are that I will have a better life, just because of the color of my skin.

Six of this cohort are African-American, three Caucasian, and one Latina. Just to start the list- African-American women are less likely to be employed, more likely to be single parents, more likely to recieve HIV from their partners, have much less wealth on average than the average Caucasian female. It's been documented that African-American women have greater rates of low birthweight and preterm births than White women with the same education and socioeconomic status- likely because of the stress caused by systemic racism.

When I walk into a store or an office, odds are the person in charge looks like me. When I take a class, chances are the teacher is someone I look like. If I turn on a tv, I can flip through channel after channel packed full of shows showing only (or primarily) people of my race. I don't make people uneasy walking down a sidewalk and people don't mumble nasty comments when I move into their neighborhood.

Nothing about this is okay. This is nowhere near a complete list.

One of the things I am grateful for about our president is that on the inside, he is someone who looks like me (the Third culture kid, the outsider who's had to make sense of an entirely different universe than your classmates) and on the outside- someone who looks like my friends. And he and his family prove to this country that we have a place in it. Many good things have happened since his election, and I hope that as we watch our president strive to lead well, as we watch his wife raising awareness of childhood obesity...perhaps some in our country can learn to be less afraid of those who look different than they do. I am hopeful that perhaps, more things in this country can begin to change. That we will begin to realize the gifts and potential of individuals of different races and ethnicities, and work to enable them to use those gifts. So that my grandchildren and my friends' grandchildren can expect the same sorts of difficulties in life.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Abstinence-only Sex Ed, part 1

The post that follows is a piece written as an Op-Ed sort of assignment for my Community Health Development class. There are some (many?) health issues on which my position is rather different than that of the Religious Right/Evangelical crowd in which I grew up. It's intriguing that my own deeply held Christian faith drives me in radically different directions than what is typically considered "orthodox" by the loudest Christian voices out there. This is something I'll be exploring in this space for a while.

It is nearly universally agreed that some sort of sex education is necessary for teens. According to a poll by the Guttmacher Institute, 90% of parents of middle and high school students believe that sex education should be taught in school. The ongoing conversation revolves around what sort of education is appropriate, what topics should be included, and how it should be carried out. Not all sex education programs are equally effective.

Ideally, sex education programs should be chosen based on whether they have been shown to be effective, but this is often not the case.
Abstinence-only education programs have been shown to have only limited, short term impacts on teens’ attitudes and intentions towards sex. However, in 1996 President Clinton established funding for abstinence-only programs in Section 510 of the 1996 Social Security Act. President Bush later increased funding and tightened regulations on what these programs could include.

This legislation has been loudly supported by conservative groups, and a thinktank known as the Heritage Foundation has been particularly vocal in lobbying for federal funding for abstinence-only problems. Unfortunately, they have resorted to mental gymnastics to defend their position. In 2002, Robert Rector, senior research fellow in domestic policy at the Heritage Foundation praised abstinence-only programs saying:
“Abstinence programs also can provide the foundation for personal responsibility and enduring marital commitment. Therefore, they are vitally important to efforts aimed at reducing out-of-wedlock childbearing among young adult women, improving child well-being, and increasing adult happiness over the long term.”

Rector insists that programs that are abstinence-based do not provide these same benefits, because information about safe sex practices is included. However, after an Add Health study showed no significant differences between STI rates between individuals who made virginity pledges and teens and those who did not, Rector and collaborator Kirk Johnson claimed that the Add Health findings (that there are no statistical differences in STI rates among virginity pledgers and nonvirginity pledgers) are inaccurate because, when the final interviews were conducted, respondents were no longer adolescents, but were young adults aged 19 to 25. According to Rector and Johnson, “Many years may have passed since an individual made his or her virginity pledge. Thus, the Add Health data provide an imperfect basis for measuring the link between pledging and STDs.” This statement directly contradicts Rector’s previous remarks on the long term benefits of abstinence and abstinence education.

Furthermore, Rector and Johnson question the scientific validity of the Add Health data, saying :
It is true that, using the urine sample measure of three STDs, the differences in STD rates between pledgers and non-pledgers are not statistically significant at the 95 percent confidence level. But the differences in STD rates do fall within a hairbreadth of the 95 percent significance threshold. Multivariate regressions (presented later), using the three STD's in urine sample measure as the dependent (predicted) variable reaffirm that pledgers have lower rates of STDs; this finding is significant at the 91 to 94 percent confidence levels.

Rector and Johnson fail to mention that the 95% confidence level is the standard long held by the scientific community for interpreting scientific significance. While a 91-94 percent confidence level may suggest impact, it proves absolutely nothing.

Voters and policy makers need to be aware that advocates for abstinence-only sex education are contradicting themselves and distorting scientific evidence. These actions are not the result of a concern for teens’ welfare, or wellmeaning ignorance but of an obsession with power and control. Policy makers should refuse to condone these tactics by continuing to provide funds for abstinence-only sex education.

Heritage Foundation documents consulted:
Rector, R.(2002) The effectiveness of abstinence education programs in reducing sexual
activity among youth. Retrieved on March 20, 2010 from the Heritage Foundation
Rector, R., Johnson, K., (2005) Adolescent virginity pledges, condom use, and sexually
transmitted diseases among young adults. Retrieved on March 20, 2010 from the Heritage
Foundation website:

Monday, March 8, 2010

a word from Thomas (Aquinas)

While I haven't read terribly much written by the good church father, he has influenced a huge chunk of what I've read both on natural law + ethics and the sacrament of Communion. I'm not entirely sure about this natural law thing and all the stuff about reason....but I do wholeheartedly agree with his sentiments about Communion. And several of my favorite hymns are translations of his work- including one we sang in church yesterday.

Now, my tongue, the mystery telling
of the glorious Body sing,
and the Blood, all price excelling,
which the gentiles' Lord and King,
in a Virgin's womb once dwelling,
shed for this world's ransoming.

Given for us, and condescending,
to be born for us below,
he, with men in converse blending,
dwelt the seed of truth to sow,
till he closed with wondrous ending
his most patient life of woe.

That last night, at supper lying,
'mid the twelve, his chosen band,
Jesus, with the law complying,
keeps the feast its rites demand;
then, more precious food supplying,
gives himself with his own hand.

Word-made-flesh true bread he maketh
by his word his Flesh to be;
wine his Blood; which whoso taketh
must from carnal thoughts be free;
faith alone, though sight forsaketh,
shows true hearts the mystery.

Therefore we, before him bending,
this great Sacrament revere;
types and shadows have their ending,
for the newer rite is here;
faith, our outward sense befriending,
makes our inward vision clear.

Glory let us give, and blessing
to the Father, and the Son,
honor, might and praise addressing,
while eternal ages run;
ever too his love confessing,
who from both with both is one.

My favorite verse is the fifth and due to whim of choral director, priest, or organist, church stopped with the fourth verse. Thus this post- a quick reminder to myself that the Old Testament blood sacrifices were fulfilled and replaced by Christ's oblation and that our own rites are merely a shadow of something greater. In heaven, the intimacy I have with Christ for a few moments in the Eucharist will be perpetual and unending. Praise God!

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Really the only word for the juxtaposition of a couple recent pieces in the NYT....

First off, Nick Kristof's awesome column today, calling out liberals for our snootiness towards evangelicals and pointing out the incredible humanitarian work carried out by religious institutions (yes, in spite of my theology/religious beliefs/practices, in this case it probably is more honest to identify myself as a liberal. Though I'm really part of the tiny demographic caught in the middle.).

Follow that up with a news piece from yesterday about how the anti-abortion movement has been targeting African-Americans with conspiracy theories and emotional manipulation. Rather than addressing the reality of higher teen pregnancy rates among African-American teens, and trying to prevent teen pregnancy, the response is "shut down the abortion clinics." I don't care if your manipulative, scheming tactic works to accomplish what you want ("saving lives" in this case), the ends do not justify the means.

I still don't know quite what to think of Right Wing Evangelical Conservatives (and their nearly predictable voting block) and the above examples explain why. Yes, this is worth far more thought and commentary than I'm giving it, but I don't have time at the moment.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Of Cults and Evangelicals

A little gem I caught on the radio on Ash Wednesday, of all things.

Initial thoughts are that there seem to be some serious human rights issues with the original Unification folks. Personally, I'm rather fond of my right to not be coerced into sex and my right to choose my partner. I understand that these people were acting out of faith and voluntarily surrendering those rights, but in my mind, it's still not okay (I also note NPR's commentary on the younger generation having more control over who their spouses are, which may mean the leadership has understood/acknowledged this concern). Also, from the brief news story, it seems that they don't believe one can be single and not go to hell. Yikes. Singles are ostracized enough without the religious overtones.

So many of the quotes in this piece- about family, about relationships- could have been lifted straight out of the Southeastern US Protestant Evangelical Subculture I grew up in.Even Schanker's quote:
"Although we talk universal love and the value of the family, we sacrificed our families to the extreme, and that was Rev. Moon's emphasis. He saw himself as a person who would sacrifice to create a family and gather followers, and then he asked them to sacrifice. He put his kids through hell — like Gandhi. Gandhi did the same thing in order to move India. Rev. Moon is trying to move the world."

describes something that happens every day in clergy families-certainly the families of Protestant Evangelical pastors, and likely of Orthodox and Anglican priests, though I've not witnessed that personally .

And as they've been able to model themselves on the megachurch evangelical model,it's really not surprising that the Unification Church looks and sounds so much like the Protestant Evangelicalism of the Bible Belt.

In Jin Moon's approach of making people "feel" like they've had a conversion experience also resonates with that perspective. The core of that mentality- that in order to go to heaven you must have a conversion experience that is so dramatic and emotional you will remember it your whole life- is why I am no longer a Protestant Evangelical.
Could it be said that Anglicans, with our incense and bells are doing the same thing?

(That's Healey Willan's Gloria , and I feel vaguely heretical posting this during Lent. It's remarkably difficult to sing,especially for a congregation, but I think it's one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard.)

I would say that we're not...because there are reasons for our rites, liturgies and observations: the practice of the early Church, honoring the Eucharist, honoring the Incarnation. And because honestly, sometimes it does get monotonous saying the same words, in the same order, every Sunday in church. However, we do this because it's about who we are-not how we feel. If you're going to live like the Creed matters, you need to hear the Creed every week in church. Yes, I do get emotional in Mass at times. Nearly every single Sunday, when I see the priest add water to the wine for Communion, in honor of the fact that Christ had two natures and both are present in the Eucharist,a single tear will come to my eye. I am awed that God himself took on human frailty to become man, and that Incarnate God makes himself (both human and divine) present in a piece of bread, in order to nourish me and be a part of my life. That strikes me as a little different than "OMG, my skin is tingling, the Holy Spirit is HERE!!!!!"

And really, I do Christians who aren't Catholic (Roman, Anglo, Orthodox)deal with groups such as the Unificationists or the Church of God of Latter Day Saints? If you can't say that the core of your spirituality is grounded in the Incarnation and the Eucharist, what do you stand on? The ecumenical councils were vital for hammering out what Christianity is. If you don't know them....what ground do you have for saying the Mormons or the Unificationists aren't Christians? And why don't Bible Belt Evangelicals teach the Creeds and the Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church? (at least the first six...I understand why they have issues with the seventh)

Monday, February 15, 2010

You know you're doing what you're supposed to be when on a holiday you find yourself perfectly content in your pajamas at your laptop with a nasty cold, pecking away at a funding proposal.
So much to do. So much that deserves reflection and words.
Looking forward to Lent.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Anamnesis and Alzheimer's

Anamnesis is a big, churchy, scary word. It's an important word though,referring to making something present through memory. In particular, it is used to refer to the Mass, as a means of remembering and uniting with the sacrifice made by Christ. (per 1928 BCP "Wherefore O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, we, thy humble servants, do celebrate and make here before thy Divine Majesty, with these, thy holy gifts, which we now offer unto thee, the memorial which thy Son hath commanded us to make; having in remembrance his blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same." Verbose, but lovely)

The orderly procession of the church year is an extension of this thought- Advent, giving way to Christmas and Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Trinity. Feasts,fasts, colors, images, all accompany us on a journey through Scripture, following the life of Christ and the Church. We remember and in remembering, we re-live. In The Irrational Season Madeleine L'Engle takes the concept of anamnesis beyond church and into literature, stressing the importance of being able to not just remember being fourteen but to actually *be* fourteen for a writer in creating characters.

But anamnesis isn't just about faith and literature, it's about life(and, as usual, we can't really separate faith and literature from life). In order to continue being myself,I have to remember and continue to tell stories- the time we fixed Uncle Glenn's hair so that he looked like a rock star, the pranks pulled on a certain high school teacher, the Episcopalian shield on my bumper for the purpose of antagonizing Conservative college students, road trips, hikes, fights and 3AM phone calls have made me who I am. When I can no longer remember or talk about those, I will start to become a different person.

This is what has happened (or in one case, is still happening) to both of my grandfathers, one deceased and one still living, both victims of Alzheimer's disease. It is a disease that has attacked their memory, identity and essence. Alzheimer's is a threat to everything I hold dear and I find myself wondering who will be the next person I lose- my father, a beloved aunt or uncle, a sibling?

In one of her books- I think The Irrational Season, though I can't find the passage- Madeleine L'Engle reports that in the Eastern Church worship is viewed as communal...and that one person is not at complete attention in a service is compensated for the fact that another person is...that in our attention and efforts as a congregation we are truly one, the sum of all "efforts." This is the only thought that can make dementia tolerable to me. That although my grandfathers have lost themselves, the rest of us remember. As my aunt retells the story of my grandfather's model train tracks running throughought the entire house, and his attempt to build a spiral to the ceiling being squashed by my grandmother when the track reached her height, that man exists once again. Sleepovers in the barn and the pounding of my grandfather's hammer are real when we speak of them. We must remember, whether we are a family or a Church. Because unless we remember, actively, with our entire selves, we can be neither family nor Church.