Category Archives: hope

One side of the coin

Some days I leave work, and my only response to humanity as a whole (or, more specifically, that subset who take advantage of their power and privilege to do violence with impunity) is in line with what Roy here says below:

As I was driving home tonight, I remembered the corollary to the above statement made by the southern theologian Will Campbell when he was asked to define what Christianity meant to him, and he responded, “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway…”

It doesn’t make the anger go away, or make everything all better…  The problem is still there.  But I’m no longer alone in it.  And neither are the girls…

People are bastards.  Men are bastards.  But God loves us anyway

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Filed under darkness, gospel, grace, hope, life, nsfw, theology, will campbell

hope and tragedy

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
~ Emily D.
—–
Watching the news this morning, watching what’s happening in Iran with bated breath, keeping apace with blogs and youTube… and praying. Seeing beauty and tragedy, tears in my eyes… a couple of things that moved me to pray, to hope, to look forward, and wish I could do more…
It is beautiful to see those who have been afraid stop being afraid.
It is beautiful to see people united, crying out for justice and a voice.
It is beautiful seeing a people crying out to God.
It is beautiful to see people stand up and say “enough!”
It brings tears to my eyes watching people confront the possibility of death, and continue to walk forward.
I am afraid for them, saddened by the violence and repression – yet full of hope as well.
The following is a translation via NIAC of an Iranian blogger:
“I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…”
Such strength, beauty, courage, and humility…

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Filed under beauty, courage, daily life, faith, food for thought, hope, inspiring, iran, tears

More links…

People have already mentioned this, but this photo… A friend from Taylor mentioned how it reminded her of the parable of the Good Samaritain, Persian style… Powerful to see the humanity and compassion in the midst of the turmoil.

Wronging Rights has another great interview up –

Ask an Iranian, Part II.

It includes some of the basic framework for understanding more about the conflict, as well as why Ahmadinejad could theoretically have won the election, who supports him, and the frustration of so many at seeing the voting process co-opted when there had been such hope and engagement…

Do go check it out

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Filed under beauty, blogging, current events, flickr, hope, inspiring, iran, photos, protests, questions, social analysis

راهپيمايي سكوت

the protests…

hundreds of thousands – possibly millions…

“All books about revolutions begin with a chapter that describes the decay of tottering authority or the misery and sufferings of the people. They should begin with a psychological chapter, one that shows how a harassed and terrified man suddenly breaks his terror, stops being afraid. This unusual process, sometimes accomplished in an instant, like a shock or lustration, demands illuminating. Man gets rid of fear and feels free. Without that there would be no revolution…”

– Ryszard Kapuscinski, in Iran during the 1979 revolution.







Update – via Wronging Rights

For more background…

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Five years, seven months…

…That’s how long I’ve lived in Rio de Janeiro. When I stepped off the airplane in 2003, I knew no one in this city. I was being met by a neighbor who had downloaded my picture off the WMF website, and had been told that the man who was to meet me “looked like a typical Brazilian.” I had no clue what I was doing, what I was getting myself into, or what the future would look like. I was hopeful and naive, excited and a bit terrified, and a little overwhelmed by my own expectations of what “success” would look like in this city.

Fast forward a bit… Tonight, it’s finally started to sink in, to become real. My time here is coming to a close. In just under two months, I’ll be getting on a plane to fly back to the US. And, for some reason, I’ve had a hard time processing that – either through conversations, emails, journals… I know that needs to happen, and I continue to look for the proper forum for that – some of it will take place here… and the rest… who knows. Maybe a beach in the Atlantic rain forest of Brazil? Maybe the moonlit roof looking out over the favela… But it’s official.

For the few of you who don’t get my prayer letter, and are interested, here it is… now, I’m off to bed. It’s been a long day, and I’m out of rope…

—–

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Matthew 11:28-30 – (The Message)

Dear Friends and Family,

Greetings to you all. Last Friday I spent most of the day wandering around downtown – meeting up with two girls who live on the street to take them to the dentist, stopping by a friend’s booth at a street fair where she and a few other young women do braids and other hair styles for the tourists, and finally swinging by to visit the family of M and S.

You probably remember the story of their family – their son hospitalized for six months with a major bone infection in his leg, their home destroyed in a storm, a micro-loan that enabled them to buy a small home and keep them off the streets… One of the conditions of the loan was that each of the four boys who are living at home would attend school. Well, the school year has finally started. As I passed by on Friday afternoon, their youngest son ran up to me in his new public school uniform, darting through the cafe tables strewn across the sidewalk and leaped into my arms.

I asked him how his day was at school, and he grinned up at me and started recounting all his adventures – the toys they were allowed to play with, his teacher, friends, coloring, drawing… His joy was palpable. Please continue to pray for this family – may this be one of the first steps in breaking the cycle of poverty and powerlessness in their lives. Please also continue to pray for the Lord to work in their hearts, that they too may live “freely and lightly”. It is a slow process, but transformation is coming.

One of the lessons God has taught me time and time again since I have moved to Brazil is that his plan is bigger than I am. Through the many struggles with visa issues, loss of friends, community stressors, and the general difficulties of living incarnationally and ministering among the poor, the Lord has reminded me that he is not dependent upon me. His purposes in Rio will be accomplished. He loves those who are on the street and in the favelas – my dear friends who can make me laugh and pull my hair out in frustration at the same time – so much more than I do. He has been working in their lives long before I came to this city, and He will continue to do so long after I am gone.

That is a lesson that I have had to take to heart recently. As some of you already know, my time in Rio is drawing to a close. After 5 and a half years, and much prayer and heart-searching, I decided to not renew my contract. What does this mean? It means that at the end of April, I will be moving back to the US. It was a difficult decision. I know that leaving this place, the people that I have come to know and love over the past 5 years, will not be easy. But it is taking the next step of where the Lord is leading, and being willing to follow, even into the uncertainty.

And there is much uncertainty. I don’t know where I will end up living, or what I will be doing in the beginning. I have tentative plans to explore law school, and am eager to see how the Lord will continue to use me. But I continue to covet your prayers. Thanks to all of those of you who have stood beside me since I first came to Brazil in August of 2003. I could not have followed obediently without your prayers, your generosity, and your encouragement.

Another area for prayer is my financial situation. As of this past month, my support account is in the negative. There will be travel expenses, airline tickets, and final month’s salaries. (WMF allows me to draw up to three months of salary after I return to the US to help in the transition – if the money is in my account. At this moment, there isn’t any.) So I would ask those of you who do give to consider giving for a few more months after I leave – or for those who would desire, any one time gifts (big or small) would be so helpful. If you have any questions as to numbers or details, please email me.

These next few months will be busy and full of transition, so your prayers will continue to be needed. Thank you. Your prayers and love are truly humbling… And I am thankful to see how the Lord has provided through each and every one of you. May we continue to learn to live “freely and lightly, walking to the unforced rhythms of grace…”

Grace and peace,

Ben

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Filed under gift, good-byes, hope, leaving, life, prayer, prayer letter, rio de janeiro, transitions, update

Visual Parables – Grace

A few weeks ago I was walking in downtown Rio. I had the afternoon free, and was taking advantage of it by visiting one of the free art exhibits at the Federal Justice Cultural Center. The featured artist, Sergio Chavez, uses cardboard, trash, and found objects as a medium to sculpt objects and scenes from the lives of the common people of Brazil. It’s beautiful, and I like it.* As I walked through and SAW what he made, I was reminded of the lines from U2’s song “Grace…”

~ “Grace finds goodness in everything… Grace finds beauty in everything… Grace makes beauty out of ugly things…”

I love the praxis of Sergio making art – beauty – out of trash.

Later that afternoon, I walked up Avenida Rio Branco, heading for a coffee shop and a quiet place to write. As I darted across one of the streets, dodging cars, bikes, trucks, taxis, and the occasional rabid pigeon (you might think that not being mammals, pigeons can’t get rabies… Let me just say you’ve never met Rio’s pigeons. Rats with wings… but I digress), I saw her walking ahead of me. I don’t remember what she was wearing, or much about what she looked like. The first thing I saw were the scars. Across half her neck. On one of her arms. Her back. Her leg. One of her cheeks, moving up the side of her face towards her temple. Thick, ropy scars that, though faded and softened with time, still traced livid tracks across her body.

I’ve always been attracted – maybe even captivated – by contrasts. It’s one of the things I love most about photography – and seeing the contrast of this young woman, her scars in tension with her poise, smile, and evident grace, was a thing of beauty. Her grace was beautiful – no self-consiousness, no covering up of her scars, but an acceptance and transcendence of them.

Our kids on the street have many scars – knives, broken glass, razors and rocks will slice through skin and muscle. Cars and busses, soccer games, fights, and abuse by drunken parents leave broken bones, sprained and swollen arms and legs, bruises dark and tender. And then there are the scars you can’t see – the scars of being unwanted, unloved, rejected by society, or just plain ignored. People are afraid of them. People don’t want them around. People pretend not to see them. Scars from those wounds last just as long.

Yet Grace takes these broken lives, and finds the beauty in them. We sit with them on the street because we love them. We break up fights because we love them. We bandage their wounds, listen to their stories, remember their birthdays… because we love. We want the best for them – to leave the streets, the drugs, the addictions and poor choices… because we love.

Ultimately, I am a creature of hope… I want to believe that as they soak up grace, change will come. I want to believe in redemption, in the future day when God will make all things new. Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of it… but I am still thirsty. I will keep walking towards the well of water that won’t run dry though. And maybe, one of these days, we’ll all find it together… Until then, such glimpses of grace like the girl with the scars and the smile help keep me living and loving…

May we find beauty – or learn to make beauty – out of everything as we learn to see through grace-stained eyes…

—–

*For more pictures of Sergio Chavez’s work, go here or here. For an article in English, with a bit of analysis of his work (as well as a bit of Paulo Freire-ian subtext, which brings joy to my heart) go here

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Filed under art, beauty, daily life, food for thought, grace, healing, hope, scars, streets

Saudades

So this has been marinating for a while in the twisted corners of my cerebrum, and even though it isn’t fleshed out, I have the nagging feeling that it won’t be until I begin to write it out… (and even then… sigh…)

A few weeks ago, a friend sat down me with over coffee, concerned that I was depressed, down in the dumps, withdrawn, etc. I was surprised, as it wasn’t something I had necessarily been thinking about. “I don’t think so,” I answered. “You don’t think so?” was the response…

I have been feeling exhausted and trying to catch up on my sleep a lot, but I assumed that was just feeling a little extra rundown because of the added responsibilities (we’ve taken on the day-to-day running of Vidinha, the children’s home we have partnered with for the past few years, for the month of August to give Dora, the host mom, some much needed time away) of surrogate parenthood for 15 kids ages 14 months to 18 years… But as I sipped my caramel latte (and over the next few days) I realized that there was a bit of… je ne sais quoi present in my life.

We were talking about it in class last week – how around the holidays (generally Christmas) there is a deep and melancholic sadness that often springs forth. Hence the urge so many of us face – to cover it by consuming, buying, getting something new to distract and keep ourselves busy so we don’t have to think of the gaping holes in our bruised hearts…

Or in church a few weeks ago, when instead of a sermon, a visiting musician performed a suite of songs based on the story of the Prodigal Son – digging into the emotions behind the story – the feelings of loneliness, desperation, isolation, heartache, and brokenness before coming full circle to redemption, home-coming, and shalom. Before the music began, we were asked what we had “saudade” for…

For those not familiar, saudade is… a rich word – hard to explain, full of subtext and history. At its most basic, it conveys the equivalent of missing someone or something, feeling their absence (or maybe even the presence of their absence…) It carries connotations of an ephemeral longing for something that is not present (and may never be present). Yet amidst the melancholy of the absence of the presence of that which is longed for, there is the hope – however evanescent – of its possible return, no matter how unlikely or removed from the present time.

I made some time to think of what exactly is causing these feelings of saudade to well up within me. Partly, it’s been as I’ve thought of the past five years I’ve spent here in Rio – thinking of the hopes and dreams I had when I first came here, the slow suffocation of much of my idealistic self, the growing awareness of who I am and who God has made me to be, the murder of friends, the senseless deaths, the friends lost to prison, drugs, and hopelessness… The saudades of those relationships that have come and gone – and while there is the hope that one day I will see them again (for though we grieve and mourn, we do not grieve as those who have no hope), for now the ache remains.

Three years ago, Jeferson was killed. Such finality in so few syllables. And though it doesn’t occupy much of my mind in the day to day, when I sit down and remember him – his smile, his laugh, his songs and jokes, his love – I miss him. A part of my heart died that day.

Ten years ago, my mom’s 16-month struggle with cancer ended as she slipped into a coma, and went home to be with the Lord. She left a hole – and sometimes the waves of saudades roll in under the gray clouds and sea breeze and crash like thunder.

A few months after Jeferson’s death, I wrote this… It’s important to remember.

The importance of entering into saudade is that it is not merely remembering, but it is an active discontent – holding up the past and the present in light of a hope-filled future. It is being fully present (living in the “here and now,” as Nouwen would say) but anxiously looking towards the future. It is discontent at the brokenness around us, “kicking at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight,” and actively working, living, and loving to bring redemption and healing to “the bleeding points of humanity.”

I feel like I’m slowly recovering my vision – and hope that my faith, my life, and my love can begin to live up to my ideals. And I’ve more to say, but I’ve rambled enough for now…

May those who are hungry today be filled with bread. And may those who have bread be filled with a hunger for justice…

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