Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Aftermath of Orlando: How We Have Grown In Love

In 1973 a gay bar was set on fire. Delayed by traffic, firefighters had a hard time arriving at the scene. 32 people died - their charred corpses clinging to each other and the bars of the window that kept them in. New Orleans made no effort to lament this tragedy, it didn't even make the news. It was a gay bar, did it matter? Now, in 2016, the LGBT community has faced devastation again - but oh, how different the response has been. Not only has the city of Orlando mourned the loss of the 49 lives that were taken, the tragedy has been shared nation-wide: the revered voices of our celebrities have expressed incredulous grief, right-winged Republican leaders have tearfully apologized for the bigoted perspectives they once tried to mandate as law. For all the boisterous shouts of what it means to be gay and free, a stillness has over-taken our hearts; we are quiet with remorse. Some say the world is not as good as it once was. But for me, the only way to measure goodness is to measure the extent to which we have grown in love. In the past the definition of love was limited to a black and white paradigm: it either fit the conventional norms of heterosexual attraction, or it did not. Now we realize that just like the many brilliant shades of light in a rainbow, love exists between different people, in different ways - it's a natural spectrum, not a fixed design. For too long the LGBT community has wandered the desert, thirsting for the succor of our acceptance. With tears like rain acceptance has come, and the rainbow shines brighter for it.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The mitigation of Judas Iscariot

The commonly accepted view of Judas is derived from a simplistic reading of the New Testament: Judas is innately sinister; a son of perdition guilty of the most heinous crime known to mankind. The inception of this condemning perspective roots back even before the middle ages, when his character was villianized to an absurd level through the exaggeration of fabricated fables. Though it did eventually become historically correct, the skepticism continued through the centuries. Still today, the common Christian view of Judas is condemning at best. The LDS religion is no exception in their perception of his guilt - even THE FRIEND reviles him! With such a widespread, "blatantly obvious" denouncement of his name, one would think the denigration was sound. The problem however, is that the unmitigated guilt of Judas is neither blatantly obvious nor sound. There are a number of questions concerning this issue that are often ignored: The Disciples questioned Jesus when he told them one of them would betray him - if Judas had been the personification of evil as he has been claimed to be, then shouldn't if have been obvious that he was the betrayer? Again, if his nature was so corrupt, why would Jesus have chosen him to be one of his apostles? Judas was a shrewd business man - so why would he have been willing to to sell his master for such an incredibly low price? If prophets foretold his betrayal as a part of the essential plan for the atonement- did Judas even have the choice not to sin? If it was the devil who took possession of Judas, how could he still be held responsible as the actor of the crime? These questions barely surface the complexity of both the story and truth of a man named Judas, a man buried underneath the notorious reputation of the epithet: Judas Iscariot.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

My Epiphany to the Paradox of Serving God and Mammon

I've been struggling with the scripture in Mathew 6:24, "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
To some extent, everyone serves God and Mammon. All of us have sinned while simultaneously been going through the motions. I've done it. We all do it. That's life. I understand. What I don't understand is the extent, the severity in which this happens. I have been both baffled and devastated by the number of Wonderful men: family members, teachers, bishops, stake presidents, in my life who have played their roles for years, and played them well, while simultaneously taken part in shockingly insidious behavior. The kind of behavior that goes not just against the laws of the church, but the laws of the land as well. The best people can make the worst mistakes, but this doesn't mean they are the worst people - though I believe this with all of my heart, it is hard to watch the best fall. It is hard to know I have been deceived. It is hard to wonder how many more out there are currently deceiving.
This scripture, this concept, has plagued my mind for weeks now, eating away at my faith in people, my faith in everything. You can't serve God and Mammon...and yet they did! They loved their families, they loved the Lord, they sought to abide by the precepts of the Gospel, they served others, they sought to have the spirit in their homes, they lived role-Model lives...while simultaneously being unfaithful to their spouses, visiting prostitutes, abusing their children, stealing, destroying lives, lying, lying, lying. The inability to serve God and Mammon had become a paradox to me.
This morning, maybe through the gift of the Spirit, I was blessed with a beautiful epiphany. You can serve both God and Mammon. This has been proven. What you cannot do is serve God and Mammon, while being at peace with yourself. These men (and women) may have gotten away with secret lives of darkness, they may be getting away with it still, but while they secretly sin, they suffer secretly– being tormented with the knowledge of their deeds. Yes. They are still good people. But they are nothing compared to what they could be.
Repent. Now. Even if it throws your life into a chaotic whirlwind of despair, it is worth it. The respect of the world is worth nothing – if you cannot first respect yourself.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Why Boys Should Wear Wedding Rings

My testimony of boy’s utter stupidity was strengthened a year ago when my printer broke down. I knew a guy in the ward named Dave who was a computer science major. We had talked a couple of times before, and he seemed like a decent enough guy. I called him up to help me fix it. He responded enthusiastically, “Sure! I can come over and help you out with it.” We talked effortlessly, I knew half his life story by the time he had finished with the printer. During one of our conversations, he had mentioned a movie that he wanted to go see.
Feeling like there was a connection I asked him, “Would you like to see the movie together some time?”
He froze. “Oh, um, well…hum, that could be fun, but see, I, I’m not sure. I probably can’t. It’s just that I don’t know how my fiancé would feel about that.”
FIANCE?! I could have slapped the idiot. We had been pouring our souls out for over an hour, why had he not brought this up yet? That should have been the first thing he ever said to me, “Hi, I’m Dave, I’m engaged.” If he didn’t want to be that blunt he could have at least said something to the effect of, “You drink water, hey my fiancé does that too!” that would have given me the stay away signal. Instead, I had to be the one to apologize for making things awkward. The injustice of boys not wearing engagement rings makes me want to go and flirt like crazy with some random victim, then wear a fake wedding ring to class one day just to see his expression as his face falls.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Good Bye El Salvador

A line from one of the songs I’ve been working on perfectly depicts the way I felt before coming down to El Salvador, “I can feel anxiety bubbling up inside of me till there’s nothing I can be, but small circles of air, I’m floating as you stare.” Ever since the car accident I felt as though my life was just a string of obstacles that had to be overcome. By the end of winter semester all of my passion to go and do was drained. I felt hollow inside. The exhilarating newness of the daily life here in El Salvador has helped to resurrect that passion as I have taken in the moments that make me feel alive, moments like: smoothly surfing the aisle of the bus as the 15 year old driver madly dodges the corner, sliding down slippery rocks, free falling off cliffs and realizing that magical places like the forest in the jungle book actually exist, spiraling in rapid flips through the massive waves of Montecristo like a sock in the laundry machine, feeling like a spectacle in a parade as swarms of men whistle / cat call me on in my run against the shoreline, Fervently teaching my English class the lyrics to “WAR! Huh, YeAh! What is it good for? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!!” deciding that I would be totally ok with never eating another pupusa again in my life, watching a movie in Spanish and understanding every word, giving sponge baths to 80 year old women at the hospital, seeing life through the eyes of the girls at Cipi, taking a deep breath and saying, “Wow. I’m in Central America. Cool.”
I’ve recently been working at Hogar Del Nino, a home for the physically and mentally disabled. I’ve spent the majority of my time there painting murals on the walls, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, there’s no better way to spend the afternoon then to paint Disney princesses in the girls room as iron and wine ( a group on my IPOD) lulls me into a methodical trance.
My eye opening experience came when I spent a couple of hours playing with the inhabitants of the hogar home. There was a woman there who latched on to me in a fierce hold. In broken speech she tried to mutter my name as she swung me from side to side. Seriously, she was STRONG. Though her behavior was not any different from any of the others, her history and reason for being there was. She was born a normal human being, growing up like any other young girl would. That all changed the day she witnessed firsthand the brutality of the civil war; she watched each one of her family members mercilessly tortured to death. Those barbaric images were too much for her. Something went off inside her mind. She has never been the same.
I made one other encounter that took my perception of challenges and slapped it in the face. I was reading “La navidad de Clifford” to a boy a couple years older than myself (I would call him a man but I have yet to conclude as to whether or not I am a woman). Like so many of the other people here in the home he tried desperately to communicate his thoughts to me. It wasn’t the language barrier that inhibited me from understanding him, because of his cerebralpalsy he could not speak. I could only assume that he was as challenged mentally as he was physically. But I was wrong. He has a perfectly normal and functioning brain. I am not the only one to have made that false assumption, for the first 18 years of his life he was looked after / dealt with as if he were severely retarded, he lived in a crib, was spoon fed and talked to like a toddler. I cannot comprehend the frustration of having your intelligence imprisoned by the deformity of your body. If I were assigned to that fate I have no doubt that I would spend my days pounding my head against the wall in angry retaliation. But when I met him that day he was grinning like a child on Christmas morning. After all those years of a devastatingly limited education he has learned one lesson that puts him above the majority of mankind, he has learned to enjoy life regardless of his circumstances.
English classes ended on a very hall mark note. On my last day my students threw me a goodbye party. One of my students wrote a letter In English about how much she and the class had gained from my teaching. This meant so much to me as I often belittle my successes by focusing on my faults. It was hard to say goodbye to my students. I’ve feel like I’ve learned so much more than I’ve taught, especially because teaching English is something that I’ll be doing for the rest of my life. I know that its cliché, but I really do just want to make a difference…and I feel that teaching English will help me to make that difference.
I’m finishing this entry with a different point of view as I’ve returned to Provo. As nice as it is to be home, taking warm showers and sleeping on a soft bed, it is weird to be back. El Salvador was my life and now it’s just something that happened to me. Though I am glad it did.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Just pictures part three.

K so I actually do take a lot of pictures.
Picture one: Why I feel like I walk the pages of a National geographic magazine.
Picture two: Typical toilet at the country town. There were like 15 cockroaches and a blackwidow in that little potty shack. Welcome to it.
Picture three: Playing with the kids.
Picture four: A cool shot at the lake.
Picture five: Kids from the village.

Art and English

I apologize for taking so long to update my blogsite, so much has happened I don’t know where to start. I feel like I may have been a bit mellow dramatic in my last entries so I want to start this off with a list of my favorite things about El Salvador:

-Chocolate covered bananas…Only 40 cents for heaven on a stick.

-Riding in the back of trucks….I now understand why dogs stick their heads out of the window.

-Playing” haz lo conmigo” (do as I’m doing) on the piano for the primary.

-Jump roping on our street as rain pours down through the night… there is no better way to get that hardcore satisfaction.

- Little Kevin from the Orphanage. Oh. My. Gosh. That kid is ridiculously cute.

-Being able to walk through the pages of a national geographic magazine.

Now for some of the things I miss most:

- Warm showers. Be warned dad, I will most definitely be taking a couple of VERY long showers when I get back.

- My soft bed at home…I will be sleeping in. I might even sleep in till 830 in the morning (we wake up super early here).

- Carpet. I’m even willing to vacuum it.

- Kickboxing. Taking a deep breath just doesn’t release my pent up emotions like violently attacking the punching bag does.

- Long runs. Sometimes I just need to get away….miles… and miles……….away.

- My cat Angel. Cats here are so ugly; they look more like large bony rats. I want to cuddle with my white fluffy princess. I don´t care if her hair sheds and gets all over the couch!

- Café Rio. My desire to eat the pork salad is as fierce as the cravings of a pregnant lady.

- My family and Friends. The more I miss them the more I realize how much I love them.

So I’ve somehow managed to skip the debriefing of English lessons each time I’ve written… I’m going to fix that right now. The first day I taught was one of the most disastrous failures I’ve yet to experience. I was told not to prepare a lesson because it was supposed to be a hectic struggle getting the classes organized and I would only have like 5 minutes to teach. “Just introduce yourself and ask them what they want to learn these next couple of months,” I was told. I ended up having a half an hour to teach that day. Twenty five students, most of them adults, sat in my class waiting. I had Zero lesson plans. Zero preparation.

“All right!” I said, trying to pretend like I knew what I was doing. “My name is Miss Freeman and I’m from the United States I’m excited to be here teaching you!” I was sweating profusely. It wasn’t just that I was nervous; it was hot in the classroom, REALLY hot. There was no air conditioning and the closed windows trapped in the heat like an oven slowly cooking our jam packed classroom.

“Puedo abrir las ventanas?”

“No los carros en la calle hacen mucho sonido y no podremos escuchar te, (the cars on the streets make a lot of noise and we won’t be able to hear you)” they responded.

“Oh, Ok. Um, what are your names? Como se llama ustedes?” They went around the room and each said their name.

Their blank stares perplexed me so I asked the next question in Spanish. “What is it that you want to learn in this class?”

“We want to learn English.”

“Well yes, but is there any specific topic that you want me to go over? Places, people, careers?”

“Yes, we want to learn all of that.”

I panicked. I had envisioned an active conversation where we discussed our goals for the class… but they just wanted to learn English… and somehow I was supposed to teach them. Class had been going for about 3 minutes by this point. I wiped the perspiration off my forehead as my mind scrambled for something to teach, something to say, anything to break the horrible silence.

“Do you all know the alphabet in English?”

“Yes. We all ready know that,” an older man said to me.

He already knows the alphabet?! Isn’t this supposed to be a beginning class? They aren’t supposed to know anything!

“Is it going to be like this every day, just talking, or do you have a manual?” he asked me blantatly.

“No, it will be different. Today is a little crazy because classes are just starting. But there will be lessons, and homework and tests, I promise” They just stared at me indifferently. I don’t know how, but class did eventually end that day. I was overwhelmed with relief as they exited the class.

Never again will I try to teach without a lesson plan. I came prepared to the next class which drastically improved my ability to teach. I was soon enjoying myself playing games with my students and watching their progress as they learned English. They are different then most high school classes – they want to be there. Speaking English improves their chances of getting / keeping a job.

About a month ago a women from my class told me, “If I don’t improve my English in these next couple of months than I will lose my job, and so will she, and so will she and so will she.” I just about fell over. I came here with zero training, no manual, no worksheets, I have no equipment to work with (not even air conditioning), and very little time to plan my lessons - how is it that I am the one teaching them when they so badly need to learn?! In spite of the fact that I was enjoying myself the stress of the situation would often weigh me down.

Fortunately I have a companion teacher now. She is a third grade teacher and has had a lot of experience teaching ESL. I’m learning so much from watching her and her methodology for teaching. This is great since I am planning on getting my ESL endorsement and teaching English to highschool immigrants. I know that this is terribly cliche, but my greatest desire for the future really is just to make a difference, and teaching English seems to accomplish that desire.

I’ve been reading a book called “Hear my Testimony,” by Maria Teresa. She reacounts the history of woman’s suffrage throughout the civil war. The stories of torture and abuse of the Salvadoran women / people are so intense that I often have to put the book down and just tremble for a couple of minutes until I regain the courage to continue reading. It is fascinating for me to read these stories because they took place in cities that we visit daily and in a time that was not so long ago - some of the incidences even occured during my life time. Now, when I see the forlorn gaze of the older lady sitting on the bus, I wonder what ghosts could be haunting her.

In the novel Maria Teresa describes the conditions of detainment center for female political prisoners. The women were plagued with boredom because for months they would have nothing to do but sew. The description of the women’s prison was disturbingly familiar to the description of the girls orphanage where I visit. The girls are locked in the rooms and though they do have school, their only other outlet is sewing. Trying to give them some kind of an additional outlet I´ve been teaching art lessons to the girls and just playing cards with the boys…and it seems to be going well. I truly love working there. When I am talking with the girls, it isn’t about me anymore, their problems in life of developing an identity in a world that is so hopeless and chaotic, make my struggles seem pale in comparison.