Monday, November 26, 2012

Little Nothing.

This is Anel.

He's my closest friend in Haiti. He is my translator, my teacher, my cultural liaison, even my conscience at times. He works side by side with me in the Haitian heat and has never once complained about anything. He is ever thankful for his job, his family and his friends. When I need someone to be a diplomat with an orphanage owner who is exploiting kids Anel softens my words and keeps peace. 

On weekends I travel to Titanyen where Anel lives and often we spend our Saturdays as makeshift tour guides for medical volunteers that come to work at the clinic in Cite Soleil. A few weekends ago there were two ladies, Kelly and Rachel and we took them along with the clinic's medical coordinator Jill to the mass grave a few miles up the road.

In 2010 Haiti suffered a catastrophic earthquake. Nearly 200,000 men, women and children lost their lives. Images of thousands of corpses lining Haiti's streets inundated first world televisions. The government decided to bury the unclaimed bodies en masse. And little Titanyen became a Necropolis whose dead far outnumbered her living.

The picture above and the one directly below were taken by Kelly when she was in Haiti in 2011. This is how the mass graves looked then, thousands of black crosses planted by mourners. 

But now, a year later only a few of those crosses remain. There is a permanent monument at the edge of the graves and a large wooden cross at the hill's peak but mostly there is a lot of rough underbrush and the scraps of remembrances past. A fake flower, a piece of purple fabric, spray paint epitaphs on pieces of plywood. I left the girls at the bottom of the hill and walked up to read the plaque on the cross. Anel followed me slowly but then turned and lost himself in thought.

Atop the small hill two large crosses serve as a slightly more permanent memorial to the 40,000 thousand that are buried here.

As I approached the cross a falcon was sitting, watching our wandering. I wondered how much he'd seen. Had he been there, circling in the sky, watching the tens of thousands of corpses pushed ignominiously into that gaping mouth of earth. Had he heard the wails of the living, screaming out sorrows for the dead. 

The girls had gathered at the truck and Anel was looking my way so I snapped a couple more pictures and hurried down. At the bottom of the hill joyful Anel was quiet and reserved. I unlocked the truck for the girls and then pulled him aside. "What's wrong?" I asked.

Instead of an answer he asked me a question. Did I know what he had done before he came to work for SP? I didn't. He went on, told me how he took pictures of people with a digital camera, then would print out the shots at a photo copy center and sell the pictures to his patrons for a little over a buck. On the day of the earthquake he had been going about his regular business and was inside the photo copy store printing out the days crop. He left the store and then 20 minutes later the building collapsed killing all 30 people inside.


Underneath our feet, some, maybe all, of those unlucky thirty slowly turned back to dirt. 

Come to find out, little Titanyen has always been a dumping ground for bodies. Thugs and gangsters, criminals and government hit-men alike have over the years disposed of their victims here. In fact all over Haiti that is what Titanyen is known for, that and a common perception that it is a desolate wasteland of a town. Titanyen literally means little nothing. 

But I love this little town. I miss it so. Some of the kindest, gentlest, most genuine people I have ever met live in Titanyen. And I miss Anel the most this cold, wet, gunpowder grey Mississippi morning. His enthusiasm is infectious. His dedication and determination tireless. Scripture says the last will be first, the lowly will be lifted, and that God calls those things that are not as though they are. I know Titanyen has not been forgotten by God. I saw Him there so often, on the faces of the children, heard Him in their laughter, tasted Him in the boundless generosity of home cooked meals. But mostly, in a town so acquainted with death I have seen God's eternal life in the indefatigable hope in the hearts of her people.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dark Side of the Moon

Imagine you have just now come in out of the cold
Out of the will breaking bone aching bitter cold
And the great big golden dog of a fire 
Is licking the frostbite from your fingers
Its warm breath on your cheeks 
Turning snowflakes into tears of relief

But now imagine the fire is no longer a fire
Now the fire is the sun
And outside it is not winter, outside it is 
The relentless emptiness of outer space
Vacuous, and black and utterly alone
And you are no longer you
No, now you are the moon
And now one side of you
The dark side of you
Your hidden side
Never, ever gets warm

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Some Bigger Beast.

I am a little cat
Always on the doorstep of your heart
Brave with a broken bird
Or miserable mouse
Dangling from my proud mouth

And when you will not answer your heart's door
When my scratching and
Muffled meows
Cannot shake you from your soul's fragrant slumber
Then I will leave the little spoils of my victories there
And go and find some bigger beast to vanquish
Something wild and wretched
And more worthy of your honor

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Dogs of Hunters

I am through falling in love with every girl I see
I have decided, sitting here in one of those megalithic bookstores
Drinking bitter coffee, reading Dora Malech
Take this raven haired girl for instance 
Normally, the way she is wearing her dress
The way she has absentmindedly forgotten
To cover her caramel colored freckles with
Make-up this morning would have meant
All butterflies and strange twinges
But not anymore
And the way she slips out of her shoes 
As soon as she sits 
Normally I would have thought about that 
For the rest of the day
But not today, today I am no longer noticing
Things like the way she slowly flips through her magazine 
Even though she’s already staring far off beyond it
Or the way her expression seems to say she’s been chased 
Night after night through black forests
By the needle-teethed dogs of hunters
Narrowly escaping across roaring rivers
And that in open meadows, 
On windswept steppes
She has howled out her hurt 
At a bone-colored moon
Her fur silvered by the starlight
If only in her, sigh…
Sweat-drenched dreams

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Larger Inside Than Out: Do Right to Me Baby.

Don't wanna judge nobody, don't wanna be judged
Don't wanna touch nobody, don't wanna be touched
Don't wanna hurt nobody, don't wanna be hurt
Don't wanna treat nobody like they was dirt

But if you do right to me, baby
I'll do right to you too
Got to do unto others like you'd have them
Like you'd have them, do unto you.....

Dylan's folk rock rendering of the Golden rule, lyrics from his song Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others). 

Bobby D circa 1979.

This is the first post in a series Larger Inside Than Out on the simple things of the gospel that seem to get so screwed. This post in particular has been a long time coming. I am about to reduce the gospel to one word. One. Simple. Word. 


Not what you expected? To be honest, I never really saw it either, not really until 6 months back. It was the matter of the dirty dishes I think. Yeah, it was Easter, and the beautiful ladies that cook and clean the kitchen had the weekend off. So we all merrily cooked for ourselves and ate and ate and ate....and the dishes piled up. And they sat. They sat from good Friday on. Perhaps, in the spirit of the season, some had hoped for a sort of miracle on the third day...but alas, none such luck. So at around midnight I made my way into the kitchen for a glass of water and the smell and shadow of such a gigantic pile of dishes as to stagger the soul. I was incredulous. Well, mostly I was pissed that there weren't any clean glasses. So after ducking my head under the water cooler I stood staring at the mound of unwashed dishes. And I thought, I wonder what the ladies will think when they come in tomorrow. What this pile of dishes communicates to them, about how we feel about them. I thought, if I were them.....well you get my point.

It took me til 2 a.m to finish those damn dishes. I was so steaming mad by the time I was through. But then, my soul was crushed by the reality of it all. How selfish we all are, how rarely we put ourselves in the other person's position, how very rare the commodity of empathy really is. I can attest to the veracity of this statement. I have been a selfish bastard my whole life.

At the very heart of the heart of the gospel is this beautiful reality, that Jesus understands exactly how we feel. Wow. And then, in the most universally simple way, He spells it out for us...."Do unto others, as you'd have done unto you." Wow.

Scripture tells us that Jesus was tempted in all ways, that he bore all our suffering and shame. He alone can say to each one of us...I know how you feel. As Christians, the body of Christ, the hands, the feet, the heart of Jesus in this world, we are to express the same through our actions. Empathizing with the pain of others, the frustration, the loneliness, the poverty....And then we are to act.

So then, a guy on the street asks you for money. Instead of judging his motives, instead of scrutinizing his appearance, or offering a snide remark about getting a job. Do for him what you'd want done for you.

When you see the special needs child being picked on, passed over, imagine it was your child.

When you consider the 2 million women enslaved in the sex trade, ask yourself. "What lengths would I go to if this was my daughter, or wife, or mother or sister?" "What lengths would I want someone to go to to rescue me?"


When you think of the hungry as they succumb to starvation, as 14 thousand do everyday....

The 163 million orphans...


When you give a treatise on religion to the waitress and then leave a buck and a half tip for a 50 dollar meal...


When you tell the divorcee they should have tried harder.

When you tell the sick they should have prayed harder.


I have been in Haiti for almost 8 months. I have seen how most Haitians live. I have also heard the statements of outsiders as they fly in, take a snapshot, and then proceed to spell out all that is broken in Haitian society, and why, and what would fix it. And yet they are ferried about in air conditioned vehicles, they sleep in dry and temperature controlled rooms. They bathe with running water and enjoy the luxury of a toilet, and a hand sink, and they live a life so separate, so unlike that of the Haitians they are "ministering" to...

We must put ourselves in the other's shoes. If our day started with a 2 mile trek down the side of a mountain, then a 2 hour ride in the back of a pick up, having bathed from a bucket, having hand washed our clothes, having not eaten so as to pay the tap tap, having slept poorly on cardboard, under a tarp roof. Having done the same thing for our whole lives....well I guarantee you we wouldn't show up for work with a heart full of joy radiating all over our faces just to make a dollar and hour so we can feed our kids and maybe, just maybe send the oldest to school. I wouldn't. But that is just what my Haitian brothers and sisters do everyday. Week in and week out. Never complaining. Never.

"This is all they've ever known" one might say  So true, and yet in a the first world, where our every whim is a reality, where we are only limited by our imaginations, we are among the most clinically depressed nations on the planet. 

The gospel does not suggest we empathize, it is the central tenant of the gospel, because if we are following Christ's example, which is the definition of being a Christian, following Christ, and since the Cross is the greatest act of empathy every conceived we are to do the same. The New Testament is crowded with stories of Christ moved with compassion. Empathy is the key that unlocks compassion.

Brennan Manning recounts a story of two drunk Irishmen sitting in a pub in rural Ireland. The one slurs to the other, "Seamus, do you love me?" "Of course I do" his sloshed friend replies. "Then tell me what hurts me?"

"What hurts me?"

Christ knows.

And it is in this fragile state that He accepts us. We must find a way to do the same. To listen before we judge, to walk that mile in the other's shoes before we tell them they are on the wrong road. 

Do right to me baby.

The anniversary of the moment in time when Christ's empathy began, at least in a physical respect, approaches. We celebrate His birth, a day of incarnation, a day of anticipation of when He will come again. And while we spend billions to buy the affections of our loved ones, to placate their restlessness, to anesthetize their sorrow....27  million are enslaved. 200 million are homeless. 

Imagine you are homeless, the reasons, the decisions, good or bad, the tragedies that got you to that point aside, how do you feel about the Christmas celebrations inside the warm houses? Does the celebration, to which you have no part communicate the gospel to you? What would you want the shoppers, the revelers, your fellow man to do? It's complicated you might think. Think harder. You are alone. You are wearing seven layers of discarded clothing. Your stench, your rashes, your finger-less gloves, your frostbit fingers. The rumble in your belly, a dumpster-dive dinner. Sheets of cardboard, rats for bed-mates, one more eternally cold night punctuated by car horns and thick exhaust. Now. What would you want someone to do for you? What if it was your child? What would you do?

Imagine you make bricks 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Your family at your side, your pregnant wife, your four year old daughter, your 8 year old son. It is 110 degrees, double that at the face of the kiln. You eat if you make your quota of 1400 bricks. It takes every one of you, all 18 hours to make that quota. Your little girl, palms calloused, fingerprints gone. Your son, another year without school. Your beautiful wife, bonded with you for a few dollars debt. Your master beats you when the bricks aren't up to his standard, a standard that is an ever moving target. He beats you when you ask to see your debt ledger, when he finally does your debt grows. You are trapped. What would you want someone to do?

The gospel of empathy is radical in every respect, except for the way we are living it. To continue to live the way we want when so many barely are able to survive is more than just an affront to the is the opposite of the gospel and the sinister essence of the worst possible hypocrisy. I would know. I've lived this way for most of my life. To claim we are Christians and continue to ignore the great social injustices of our day, to continue to enjoy cheap goods at the expense of slave labor, to live in extravagance when so many have nothing....It proves we have never felt what God feels for His creation. The empathy that radiates from the cross, that disintegrates all isolation, that incinerates all despair, helps to heal all hurts and recklessly lives to break every bondage. 

I could post a hundred images of starving or exploited children. Charts and statistics until the numbers blur and no longer bleed or sweat or cry...but we're big people, with consciences, and intellects, similar hopes and fears. We know how this is supposed to work. And if we call ourselves Christians, well then we know what we have to do. What we should want to do, what sacrificial, joy-filled love compels us to do.

Do right to me baby.

P.S. Since that fateful Easter weekend, and including the  very long, wet, shut-in, cabin fevered weekend of TS Sandy, my beautiful co-workers have washed tons of dishes!