Sunday, April 21, 2013

Perils of stewardship

Prosperity should be treasured: protected and shared. In doing either we should not neglect the other, but in doing either we find endless reasons for doing so.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Life comes at you fast

I write of bumbershoots, solid-point admonitions, and boleadoras ⎯ weapons all.

The Umbrella Incident
This afternoon, while my favorite wife, Lynn, was getting a haircut, I was walking Blondie the cocker along Wisconsin Avenue near Wilson School in DC. The weather was that intriguing late winter/early spring ambiguity of might rain, might hail, might warm life until it blossoms all over, rich with pathetic fallacy in every direction.

School was out. A girl in her early teens seemed delighted that two young boys were taunting her from one side and then the other, and as they did, laughing and scrambling, she played whack-a-mole1 on their heads if they weren't fast enough to jump back from the furled umbrella she swung at them.

Spring was going along according to plan until a silver-haired fellow, seemingly caught up in his thoughts (the new congressional budget proposals or sino-cyber-warfare or something), wandered into bumbershoot range (though behind the wielder) . Ill-fated for sure, he caught one lick square on the head, and it shook him⎯not the force apparently, for it was a light gauge bumbershoot, all rayon, plastic and pot metal, baby blue with big white polka dots, but probably because of the sudden intrusion.

The man's shocked flinch turned to anger, and his face reddened. He faced the girl and seemed to be boiling with rage. Then he exhaled, sighed, and told her that she should be more careful of other people passing by, shouldn't swing her umbrella so recklessly there on the sidewalk.

Then the complication began.2 She denied hitting him, said that it was just an accident and that he shouldn't have been so close.  And the two little boys began jeering at the mean old man, and ran up to poke him on one side and then the other. The man's anger seemed to flare again, but he seemed to catch himself again. He just turned around and walked away.

I was glad the conflict went no further. I wondered what if: what if he had been carrying firearms, with or without a CCW permit? What if they all had been carrying firearms? Maybe they had been but hadn't used them. Would they all have been thoughtful enough to contain the incident? Or was this a good time to be weighing the merits of full metal jacket versus hollow point ammo. I  concluded that those who feel the need for firearms will have them, but I also hoped that they would carry some effective alternative ammo, like solid point Admonition XV:

1. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God (Mt. 5:9). 2. The true peacemakers are those who preserve peace of mind and body for love of our Lord Jesus Christ, despite what they suffer in this world.

Lynn and I encountered that passage this morning while reading the Franciscan Office. Weapons will always be available, but we need to make conflict resolution methods at least as readily available.

Even More Good Ammo
And then I remembered the work being done by PeaceMaker Minnesota to teach nonviolent conflict resolution early in life. That's got more constructive potential than a bunker full of loaded high capacity clips.

Generally I don't write much about gauchos, and I may not be even now. When my cynical buddy Carlitos heard about the newly elected pope, in a rare moment of seriousness he remarked, "...un hombre de la gente, y Argentineño, si, pero puede bailar con boleadoras?" I don't think Carlitos was really worried about whether ¬former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio can dance; I think it was just his way of expressing hope that Pope Francis I is up to the life-comes-at-you-fast task.

1 The arcade game, and apparently the genuine article can be yours for $4,500.00 at

2 I only saw this because Blondie just happened to have found the perfect grassy spot nearby--out of range, mind you--and was doing her thing.


Monday, February 25, 2013


Lynn and I finished the re-entry program for Franciscan Mission Service several weeks ago. We are still in Washington, DC, searching for the sense of affirmation that our next steps will be in the right direction. We may still move to San Diego to work.  We also may stay in Washington. We hope to find work where we feel needed. During this time we don't feel very relaxed even if we're doing relaxing things. Yesterday was different.

While we started Sunday with our usual should we go, or should we stay confusion, we actually transcended for a while when we attended Mass at Saint Camillus Church in Silver Spring.  While there we saw some of the people who had supported our mission in Bolivia, and it felt good to be reminded that we went there with plans to do good work and that we had been supported in that effort by many people, not just the ones we met with at the Mass.
Presiding over the Mass was Father Mike Johnson, and he had just returned from Cochabamba and some of his continuing work in the same prison where Lynn and I taught for two years. In his homily he urged us all to think of  Lent not just as a time to give up something but to consider what good we might be able to do and how we might have to struggle some to release ourselves from our own preferences, to feel some confusion about what we're supposed to be doing and to accept that good works can carry on even after our part in them is done.
That helped, and throughout the homily I was remembering the guys Lynn and I had worked with in the prison, hoping that they would be able to focus on their work inside and serve their time and leave. The Saint Camillus choir as usual was very good.

After Mass we drank a coffee during the Church's social gathering and took some notes from friends  on possible job leads. I also bought a pound of the free trade coffee sold there.  It was Ethiopian and reminded me of a student I had in Nashville.  I hoped that her English was progressing and that she and her family had found a good neighborhood to live in when they moved to Houston, something different from the sad violence of Prince George County I had been reading about in the Washington Post.

Later in the afternoon we attended a concert at Marymount University in Arlington, VA. The music director there had been a domestic volunteer at Franciscan Mission Service before Lynn and I left for Bolivia.  Now she's married, expecting a baby and also finds time to orchestrate a choral concert for Lent. She played piano and directed the choir and ensemble orchestra. Before each section of the concert a picture was displayed, reminding us of the steps leading to the crucifixion.The final picture was particularly meaning-
ful for me.  I think the caption stated that we're still in God's grace even if we don't know what we're doing.

So, on that grace note, I'll rest up for tomorrow. Oh, and happy birthday, Norbert!

Thursday, January 31, 2013


One Sunday this past November in Cochabamba I attended Mass at the Hospicio in Plaza Colon. I don't always automatically feel tranquil when I enter a cathedral full of people. I sometimes have to settle in. That was not the case that Sunday. Hermano Martin presided over the induction of new members into the children's missionary organization Infancia Misionera. The children, from about six to ten years old, stood before the congregation and repeated a vow to be good examples of Christ's love. Some seemed self conscious, others super serious, and others gleeful, but all seemed to want to be there. The congregation applauded, approving their commitment.* 
When the new members of Infancia Misionera returned to their seats, the congregation sang Pan y Vino:


It was a moment of simple hope. I wasn't thinking about the life circumstances that must come about between the children starting life and perhaps some of them later struggling as adults wandering the streets, or struggling with their indifference to other adults wandering the streets. I was just rapt, and maybe that was good for that moment. However, I was also only a few weeks from leaving Bolivia. My wife, Lynn, had already returned to the US. My thoughts were focused and confused: focused on the dismantling of another household, this time in my host country, and confused about what I was returning to.

In the preceding month I had already begun reading a little more news from the US. Sensational headlines were fueling some dread. The violence was more frequent, especially the type when environments from everyday life--offices, colleges and high schools, movie theaters, and political rallies--are employed as stages both for magnifying self and increasing destructive potential.

I felt even more agoraphobic. In Bolivia I questioned the necessity for the amount of coca grown there, and I wondered if that compared in some way to the number of guns sold in the US. I didn't question coca chewing, but I felt that the cultural right to chew it had become a rationalization for growing quantities far too great for chewing (my opinion). So responsibility was disrupted or challenged between growing the base product, transforming it into an illegal drug, and subsequent addiction and crime.  In the US maybe the constitutional right to bear arms had become a rationalization for unrestricted sale of arms in great quantities. One result of this has been the easy equipping of armies of one, some of which are apparently self-lawed to the detriment of American society. The responsibility was disrupted or challenged between manufacturing, selling, and using the arms in criminal acts. Apparently American society was now hostage to the right of individuals to enact pre-suicide reigns of terror, and unfortunately these had become more frequent, possibly more popular. 

My apprehensions about returning to the US heightened my appreciation at Mass for the new young missioners. I hoped the children would work to decrease homelessness and war, and that others would look on their innocence with hope. Regarding gun ownership in our society, I believe that compromise can balance the responsibilities along with the rights of ownership. Even then we will not have dealt with the urge to kill large numbers of innocent people. Our challenge is to understand the cause of disregard for community and self and how we can disarm that.

*I recalled my own induction three years earlier into Franciscan Mission Service lay missioner Class 25, before the congregation of Saint Camillus Church in Maryland. At that time my own feelings ran the gamut of self-consciousness, super seriousness and gleefulness.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bolivian Census 2012

I have just been counted by the young representative assigned to cover the neighborhood of Magisterio in the south zone for the first Bolivian Census in 11 years. He asked me questions about the following:

  • construction materials of the walls, floors and roof and basic power/sanitation services of the house we rent;
  • the number of people living on the property;
  • how long we have lived here;
  • the kind of work we do.
After he completed his survey, I asked for a photo to mark the occasion. He stood beneath the pacai tree.

After completing the survey for our house he passed outside the exterior wall and on to the doors of our neighbors. The process will take all day, during which time no one but a small number of approved people can operate motor vehicles.  No shops can open. A few dogs are barking. The neighborhood is quiet.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

About a week back . . .

In Santa Vera Cruz I share some time with people who are terminally ill and living at a hospice operated by the Missionary Sisters of Calcutta. R, one of the residents, asked if I could show a particular movie there, Codigos de Guerra (Windtalkers).  I found a copy and scheduled a show time.

At the hospice six residents and a few others wheeled or walked in to watch as the little pharmacy transformed first into a theater and then into the horrors of hand-to-hand military combat between Japanese and American soldiers on Saipan in World War II. Soon the narrative centered on internal suffering from struggling with close relationships that survive when the people you shared them with have been destroyed. A part of that daily struggle becomes whether it is possible to allow oneself to get close to anyone or anything⎯regardless of whether it seems worth our while. In that, we may find ourselves aggressively practicing a philosophy of avoidance, or maybe just more generally wondering what part we might play if we found ourselves in the Samaritan story. Or in the future would any of us live in any way other than as a memory?

The movie affected each of us.  One or two dozed. Several left, maybe looking for early lunch, maybe too upset by all of that very real seeming exploding and hacking and burning. I found myself back in a bar in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1975, splitting a pitcher of beer with B, a Navajo code talker during World War II. B was working with the Linguistics Department at the university. He was also drinking a lot. That was when his battle memories rose up and his stories started flying like bullets. They seemed real enough to wound him again, and part of him even seemed to want that. I hadn't thought of B in several decades, and there he was, eyes burning with memories that wouldn't go away. The trail led on to memories of other veterans that made it home from that conflict⎯JY of the Pacific theater and TH at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. I met them when they were older, with their eyes sometimes burning, sometimes like lead.

R was rapt through it all, quiet, but intense, losing focus on the movie only when pain dissolved his expression.

The movie ended. The lights flipped on, restoring the black plastic-draped windows of the little pharmacy, the chairs and wheelchairs crowded together, the medicine cabinet. R thanked me for showing the movie.  Someone wheeled him away, and the others went away as well. I disassembled the equipment for showing the movie, winding up the electrical cords, packing speakers and projector and tripod into my backpack.  As I locked down the wheels of a gurney so I could use it as a ladder to take down the plastic curtain, I heard intermittent wails of pain. They went on as I lowered the curtains and folded them away.  Eventually they subsided, and the following silence was rich.  I hoisted the pack up onto my back and with a wince settled it into place. A nurse came in.

"Who was wailing?" I asked.

"R. Not so good."

I nodded. "Will he be okay?"

The nurse looked at me in the way that my question deserved, then said, "Sure. Can you stay for lunch? You're invited."

I had a class to teach at Carcel Abra in less than an hour. I was glad. "Can't.  I'll be back on Tuesday."

We nodded and went on.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Farewell Gregorio Iriarte

Gregorio Iriarte's faith in education to transform the political state does not depart with him and still may advance peaceful international relations in Bolivia during the decolonized age.émica_188691_401002.html