Edwin Markham

Outwitted by Edwin Markham
He drew a circle that shut me out -
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him in!

lunes, 8 de abril de 2019

Temper Resilience of the Soul

Temper  Resilience of the Soul
by Elena Huegel
It is six o'clock in the morning, and Alberto, Enrique and I are loading workshop materials into the tiny trunk at the front of the car.  The things don't fit, so we fill the half of the back seat behind the driver, and then Alberto folds himself into the other half, gallantly leaving me the front passenger seat where my shins bump against the underside of the dash board.  As we roll down from the cool mountains of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, to the humid heat of the coastal lands heading first west and then north, we keep our sense of humor by remembering all the Volkswagen Bug jokes we can think of...  "Everything in a VW makes noise except the radio..."  "How many elephants fit in a VW bug?"  We are on our way to Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, the epicenter of the September, 2017 earthquake, 5 hours away in a "normal" car, six and a half hours in a classic 2002 red VW beetle. 

Lesson 1: Temper resilience of the soul by nourishing a healthy sense of humor.

Besides the VW adventure, this trip was different from my other travels to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.  Though we have often seen the light trucks towing damaged used cars south from the US across Mexico to Central America for repair and sale, this is the first time we have seen large numbers of people walking north along the side of this particular highway from Central America across Mexico to the United States.   In the past, we have seen lone travelers or pairs, but this time there are families, women and baby carriages, children as young as two, as well as groups 25 to 150 men,  all walking in the blazing sun past the mango groves.  Since the Bug advances slowly, I am able to distinguish the pleading looks of anguish and despair from the blank glances at our obviously full vehicle.    These people are part of the next "migrant caravan,"  individual hopes and dreams herded together into a homogenous mass whose fate can be discussed and decided upon in political debates from a safe, impersonal, distance.  A woman, nicely dressed, with a baby in a sling across her  front and two preschool children toting tiny pink and blue school packs clinging to her hands, stares at me with determination as well as distress when we go by.  What can I do? The exchange of recognition is past in an instant.   

Lesson 2: Temper resilience of the soul by recognizing the dignity in the other, the worth of God's precious creation, even in the fleeting vision of a passerby.  

In less than two hours along the northern coastal highway, we are stopped four times:  first by the Federal police, then by the Immigration Officials, then by the National Army and finally by the State Police, and at each stop we are questioned before we are allowed to continue on.  Traveling south, on our way home when we finish our work in Juchitán, we will not be stopped a single time.  All the pressure is on those  bound northward to the Mexico - USA border.

Lesson 3: Temper resilience of the soul with patience.

Under the shade of a bridge, a large group of men gathers in a haphazard circle.  Several Federal police cars are there, emergency lights flashing.  I can hear the wail of an ambulance siren in the distance.  A lone shoe lies in the middle of the highway.  Again, there is nothing I can do except say a prayer as I turn away from this story, yet another tragedy that might not even make it into the statistics of those who have died striving for their northern dream.

Lesson 4:  Temper resilience of the soul by pausing to discern where and when to seek justice, when  to love kindness or when to walk humbly on knowing one is not God.

Over the crest of a hill, electricity generating turbines stretch out in orderly rows as far as the eye can see.  The Federal Electricity Company has decided that the Tehuantepec Isthmus, which has the greatest sustained winds of Mexico, would be the perfect place to invested in clean and sustainable energy.  Today, the little red Bug is buffeted by winds up to 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) an hour, and Enrique has his hands full keeping us on the road.  Not all that glitters is gold and there is disaster even behind this massive project presented by the Mexican government as an example of its environmental commitment to lowering greenhouse gases.  "The turbines function optimally with constant wind speeds between  20 and 50 miles per hour and must be shut down with excessive wind speeds so as to not burn out the motors," explains one of the locals,  "but climate change is creating greater oscillation between very high winds and very low winds.  The unpredictability is disastrous for electricity production.  If the trend continues, the production of electricity will not pay back the millions invested in the project. The water table is the greater  disaster, however.  Each turbine is between 100 and 360 feet high and in order to withstand the force of the wind, must have a square block of cement underground at least as deep and wide as it is high.  There are over 1600 generators in about 2000 acres of wetlands between the coast and the mountains in Juchitán.  Rainwater can no longer percolate through the cement to the water table and the fresh water wells in many communities have gone dry."  A local pastor who is also a high school science teacher tells me, "We have believed the fallacy that when we create one environmental problem, another technological advance will save us; hence we don´t have to change our habits, back track from our "improved" way of life, or implement long range plans to restore and care for critical ecosystems because some new invention will "correct" our past mistakes."  Neither global nor local ills are healed with quick fixes.   

Lesson 5: Temper resilience  of the soul through slow, thoughtful care, like the seasonal nurture of garden flowers. Avoid quick fixes.

The course I am teaching in Juchitán is "Odyssey of healing: hope for individuals," the last in a series of four courses before the final facilitation training course in the Roots in the ruins: hope in trauma program initiated with a group of lay leaders and pastors shortly after the 2017 earthquake.  My co-facilitator, Pastora Noemí Santiago, the coordinator of the Church of the Nazarene Seminary, Juchitán Branch, is unable to accompany us for reasons beyond her control.  The day before the course was to begin, as she was checking on the replacement of the large windows in a church damaged during the earthquake, one of the frames slipped and fell breaking her forearm in two places.  When the doctor told her she needed immediate surgery, she said "I can´t, I have to teach a trauma healing course this weekend!"   The mark of a good leader, however, is what people do when she must step aside.  The course continued on with students and pastors from the Seminary taking over the organizational and administrative tasks with great responsibility and the course participants gently caring for each other lightening my load as the sole facilitator.

Lesson 6:  Temper resilience of the soul by creating safe space where all can thrive and form a counter balance on which one can lean when bending in hurt or pain.  

Final thoughts at the end of the weekend:
In my life in Mexico, I can´t control what happens, and most of the time, when my instincts kick in, and I can hardly control how I react.  I can, however, reflect on the circumstances of a situation, on my actions and those of others, and on what I can do or can´t do in the aftermath.  I, thereby, slowly gain more control of my feelings and attitudes while accompanying others in their own healing.   This process of tempering my soul is at the core of my resilience.

I have been meditating on the process of tempering as related to metallurgy in relation to soul resilience. Wikipedia says the following: 
Tempering is a process of heat treating, which is used to increase the toughness of iron-based alloys. Tempering is usually performed after hardening, to reduce some of the excess hardness, and is done by heating the metal to some temperature below the critical point for a certain period of time, then allowing it to cool in still air. The exact temperature determines the amount of hardness removed, and depends on both the specific composition of the alloy and on the desired properties in the finished product. For instance, very hard tools are often tempered at low temperatures, while springs are tempered to much higher temperatures.
·   Strength: also called rigidity, this is resistance to permanent deformation and tearing. Strength, in metallurgy, is still a rather vague term, so is usually divided into yield strength (strength beyond which deformation becomes permanent), tensile strength (the ultimate tearing strength), shear strength (resistance to transverse, or cutting forces), and compressive strength (resistance to elastic shortening under a load).
·   Toughness: Resistance to fracture. Toughness often increases as strength decreases, because a material that bends is less likely to break.
·   Hardness: Hardness is often used to describe strength or rigidity but, in metallurgy, the term is usually used to describe a surface's resistance to scratching, abrasion, or indentation.
·   Brittleness: Brittleness describes a material's tendency to break before bending or deforming either elastically or plastically. Brittleness increases with decreased toughness, but is greatly affected by internal stresses as well.
·   Plasticity: The ability to mold, bend or deform in a manner that does not spontaneously return to its original shape. This is proportional to the ductility or malleability of the substance.
·   Elasticity: Also called flexibility, this is the ability to deform, bend, compress, or stretch and return to the original shape once the external stress is removed.
·   Impact resistance: Usually synonymous with high-strength toughness, it is the ability to resist shock-loading with minimal deformation.
·   Wear resistance: Usually synonymous with hardness, this is resistance to erosionablationspalling, or galling.
·   Structural integrity: The ability to withstand a maximum-rated load while resisting fracture, resisting fatigue, and producing a minimal amount of flexing or deflection, to provide a maximum service life.

miércoles, 21 de noviembre de 2018

La posada

                At the grocery store yesterday, the smells from a newly arranged corner of the fruit and vegetable area transported  me back to my early childhood at the Theological Community in Mexico City.  There were "tejocotes" (the internet translates this fruit as the Mexican hawthorne), cinnamon sticks, "piloncillo" (blocks of distilled and hardened sugar cane), tangerines, raw sugar cane, raisins and tamarind fruit, the ingredients for the Mexican Christmas hot punch, neatly arranged in preparation for the coming of advent.  I just stood there a minute breathing in the memories.
                "La Posada," the Mexican Christmas party, is a special time to remember how Mary and Joseph could not find a place in a Bethlehem inn.  I remember the delicious spicy smell of the hot punch lacing the cold winter night as we decorated with paper flags and a crèche (in our family, complete with the kings traveling to the manger on the flat cars of a Lionel train!)  The piñatas back then were stars made of paper maché with a clay pot core, not filled so much with candy as they are nowadays, but with raw sugar cane (we would rip the peel off with our teeth, suck on the sweet fibers, and then spit these out into the yard when we were finished) and tangerines.  I still love tangerines while I am forever leery of piñatas!  I haven´t forgotten how as children we had to dodge the flying shards of the clay pot breaking at the wild swings of  a blindfolded child armed with a wooden broomstick.  In Spanish, we would question, "¿a quién se le ocurre?", or "who came up with that bright idea?"! 
                One of the Christmas carols sung especially during "La posada" has been running through my mind all month.  This traditional song involves reenacting part of the Christmas story. Most of the  party goers stand outside the home or place where the party has been prepared.  They are dressed in costumes and two people are chosen to represent Mary and Joseph.  Those inside the house represent all who filled the inn, and someone is selected to be the keeper.   Then those outside and inside each sing a verse of the following carol.

Joseph, Mary and those outside sing:
En el nombre del cielo os pido posada, pues no puede andar mi esposa amada. 
In the name of heaven, I ask you for shelter for my beloved wife can go no farther.

The innkeeper and those inside respond:
Aquí no es mesón, sigan adelante. Yo no puedo abrir, no sea algún tunante.
This is not an inn, get on with you. I cannot open the door, you might be a rogue.

Joseph, Mary and those outside sing:
No seas inhumano, tennos caridad, que el Dios de los cielos te lo premiará.
Do not be inhuman, show some charity and God in heaven will reward you.

The innkeeper and those inside respond:
Ya se pueden ir y no molestar, porque si me enfado, los voy a apalear.
You may go now and don´t bother us anymore, because if I get angry, I will beat you.

Joseph, Mary and those outside sing:
Venimos rendidos desde Nazaret. Yo soy carpintero, de nombre José.
We are worn out, all the way from Nazareth. I am a carpenter named Joseph.

The innkeeper and those inside respond:
No me importa el nombre, déjenme dormir, pues ya les digo que no hemos de abrir.
Never mind your name, let me sleep. I´ve already told you, we won´t open the door.

Joseph, Mary and those outside sing:
Posada te pedimos, amado casero, por sólo una noche para la Reina del Cielo.
We request lodging, dear innkeeper, for only one night, for the Queen of Heaven.

The innkeeper and those inside respond:
Pues si es una Reina quien lo solicita, ¿cómo es que de noche anda tan solita?
If she is a queen who is asking, why is it that she´s out at night, wandering so alone?

Joseph, Mary and those outside sing:
Mi esposa es María, es Reina del Cielo, y madre va a ser del Divino Verbo.
My wife is Mary, she is the Queen of Heaven, she will by the mother to the Divine Word.

The innkeeper and those inside respond:
¿Eres tu José? ¿Tu esposa es María?  Entren, peregrinos, no los conocía.
Is that you Joseph?  Your wife is Mary?  Enter pilgrims, I didn´t recognize you.

Joseph, Mary and those outside sing:
Dios pague señores, vuestra caridad, y que os colme el cielo de felicidad.
May the Lord reward you for your charity, and may heaven fill you with happiness.

The innkeeper and those inside respond:
Dichosa la casa que abriga este día a la Virgen Pura, la hermosa María.
Blessed is the home harboring on this day, the pure virgin, the beautiful Mary.

At this point, the door is opened and those outside enter as all sing:
Entren santos peregrinos, peregrinos, reciban este rincón, no de esta pobre morada sino de mi corazón.
Esta noche es de alegría, de gusto y de regocijo, porque hospedaremos aquí a la Madre de Dios Hijo.
Enter holy pilgrims, pilgrims, receive this corner, not of this poor dwelling, but of my heart.
Tonight is for happiness, for pleasure and rejoicing, for tonight we will give lodging to the Mother of God the Son.

                I have been thinking about these words and whether Mary, Joseph, and their unborn child would called by a different name today.  Could they be tourists,  migrants, refugees, sojourners, or internally displaced persons instead of pilgrims?
                We have all of these  here in Chiapas as we prepare to celebrate advent, "La posada" and Christmas. While the world news focuses on one migrant caravan, and the Mexican government attempts to respond to internal and international pressure, the news and the government are silent with regards to the over 1000 children, women, men, and elderly illegally evicted from their lands last week here in the Chiapan highlands.  This is another of several communities to be forcibly removed from their lands in the last year.  Political parties, international mining, energy and forestry companies as well as the cartels are vying for the valuable land where the native Mayan people have lived.  One strategy for "emptying" areas of their populations in order to free territory for business is to pit one community against another, stirring the embers of unresolved land titles.  It is nearly impossible to unravel the tangled web of the interests and secret alliances of the big three power brokers: the Mexican government with its political parties, the multinational companies and the mafia (who traffic weapons, drugs and people.)
·         Internally displaced people come, fleeing from violence in their mountain communities.
·         Tourists from Europe and the United States come to see the ancient Mayan archeological sites.
·         Migrants from the Caribbean, Central and South  American countries come, some to stay and some on their way to the US. 
·         Refugees come, escaping from death threats especially in Honduras and el Salvador and now also Nicaragua.
·         Pilgrims come, seeking alternative medicines from Mayan healers or to visit communities in resistance and learn from their political and social proposals.
·         Sojourners come, people who fall in love with the beauty and diversity of Chiapas, stay a while, and then move on.

                In southern Mexico, people are constantly on the move. Hence, it is wonderful place to practice the gifts and challenges of hospitality.  The people of the Roots in the ruins: hope in trauma program in Juchitán, Oaxaca, whom I have been visiting for over a year ever since the September 2017 earthquakes, are an example of how the hospitality of  "La posada" expresses itself in the Mexican day to day.  Some are not yet living in their own homes after the earthquakes because they can´t afford the rising costs of construction.  Others do not yet have jobs because local businesses have not recovered from the disaster.  And yet, as the most recent migrant caravan  from Central America passed about 25 miles from their town, they spent several weeks preparing hot meals, driving out to the highway where the migrants passed, and serving those in need in any way they could. 
We know what it is like to be without a home, to want something better for your family,  but to feel powerless.  We also know how it feels to receive the love, care and accompaniment of the people of God who came to us in the hour of our greatest need.  We had to share what little we have with those who have nothing, not even a safe place to sleep.
                The people of Juchitán have inspired me to find new ways to celebrate "La posada," the Mexican hospitality party this Christmas.  I invite you, too, to open a corner of  your hearts to pilgrims, tourists,  migrants, refugees, sojourners, and internally displaced persons and to remember Hebrews 13:2 (CEV) "Be sure to welcome strangers into your home.  By doing this, some people have welcomed angels as guests, without even knowing it."

lunes, 29 de octubre de 2018

Prayer for the Roots in the ruins: hope in trauma facilitator training

They are coming,
from the south and the north
and from next door.
In in search of healing
for themselves, for others, for creation.
Guide their steps,
and the hands of pilots, drivers,
and transportation crews,
so that all may safely embark
and disembark
at the mark of their quest,
high in the Chiapan heartland.

Join us in praying  for the Roots in the ruins: hope in trauma facilitator training next week!

I bind myself today, hymn by Saint Patrick

1 I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three.
2 I bind this day to me forever,
by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation,
his baptism in the Jordan river,
his death on cross for my salvation,
his bursting from the spiced tomb,
his riding up the heavenly way,
his coming at the day of doom,
I bind unto myself today.
3 I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven,
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea
around the old eternal rocks.
4 I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
God’s eye to watch, God’s might to stay,
God’s ear to hearken to my need,
the wisdom of my God to teach,
God’s hand to guide, God’s shield to ward,
the word of God to give me speech,
God’s heavenly host to be my guard.
5 Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
6 I bind unto myself the name,
the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three,
of whom all nature has creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
salvation is of Christ the Lord!

Source: Glory to God: the Presbyterian Hymnal #6

viernes, 5 de octubre de 2018


Goodness is stronger than evil;
                        love is stronger than hate;
                        light is stronger than darkness;
                        life is stronger than death.
                        Victory is ours, victory is ours
                        through Christ who loved us.   Desmond Tutu

viernes, 21 de septiembre de 2018

Blessing from Cuba

Blessing from Cuba
(The congregation forms a circle large enough to include everyone.  Each person either places their hand on the head of the person to their right or their right palm on the back of the left hand of the person to the right.) 
                May God prosper you.
                May your days be long and your nights serene.
                May your friendships honor you, and your family love you.
                May you eat at your table, and
                may you be gathered into to God's embrace
                with a smile.

Sept. 2018

martes, 14 de agosto de 2018

Not who we want to be; who we are

Not who we want to be; who we are

The Otomíes of the state of Querétaro are one of the original peoples of México.  The state of Querétaro borders the state of San Luis Potosí.  This doll is crafted by the Otomíes and exemplifies the diversity of women or of humanity.  Each doll is handmade, and even though the dolls look alike, each one is also different and unique.

Just like us.

Doña Severa, an over-90- year-old artisan from the municipality of Amealco, Queretaro, stated in an interview during the Fourth Festival of the Indigenous Doll (2016):

"Our people know that these dolls are not like the plastic ones massively produced in series by machines.  Our dolls are produced with our hands.  This is not who we want to be; it is who we are."

God made you and me with God's hands, and this is not who we want to be; it is who we are: sons and daughters of God by pure grace.

This doll's name is Joy which in Otomí means: Earth.

Written by Nohemí Nidia Bravo P., from the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, in Guadalajara, Jalisco, México.  Translation by Elena Huegel