From "Creed," by Dom Helder Cámara

I want to believe that the whole world

Is my home, the field I sow,

And that all reap what all have sown.

I will not believe that I can combat oppression out there

If I tolerate injustice here.

I want to believe that what is right

Is the same here and there

And that I will not be free

While even one human being is excluded.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Next Two Years of My Life Encapsulated

Amazing to think that in less than six months time, I'll be filling out this blog from a new home in Managua, Nicaragua.
Here are the details. For those of you who haven't heard, I accepted a position as a Jesuit Volunteer (JV) in Nicaragua between December 2010 and December 2012. I'll be working in a library at a center called Proyecto Generando Vida (Project Generating Life) in a poor neighborhood called El Recreo. I'll be living with three other JVs for two years in the capital city. The application process was challenging and competitive (160 applications for 30 positions, I think?), but also powerful and incredible--understandably so, because being a JV is challenging: During the first year, I'm not allowed to have visitors; during both years I am expected to stay within the region of my position (in Nicaragua's case, more or less Central America).
The Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) is a faith-based service program with sites all over the US and in seven countries. According to their website,
"Hundreds of grassroots organizations across the country and world count on JVs to provide essential services to low-income people and those who live on the margins of our society."

My favorite part of JVC is its emphasis on four core values:
JVs live with other JVs (i.e. different from Peace Corps). Though we go out and work in the larger community in our host country, in which we are encouraged to form close bonds of solidarity (hence the two-year commitment) with a new culture, we always come home to a house of JVs (in my case, three of them). Here's the incredible part. As I was discerning (which is the Ignatian word for "going through the application/decision process") for this program, my Aunt Jeanine sent me the email and blog of a current JV--Sean Rawson--who, luck (fate?) would have it, is a JV in Managua, Nicaragua. So I'm pretty sure he'll be one of the JVs in my house next year!
Simple Living
This is much easier, though still a challenge, outside this materialistic country. JVs are called to serve with and for the poor and marginalized, which means eliminating excess and living reflectively. Practically, simple living means having none of the amenities of upper-class living in the United States. More deeply, it means becoming aware of and focusing on what we really need in life to make us happy. Which doesn't involve facebook or ice cream, two of my current favorites.
The spirituality of JVC is rooted in the teachings of (surprise) St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in the 16th century. JVC encourages daily prayer and reflection in line with Jesuit ideals, and each community is expected to hold one Spirituality Night every week. Non-Catholics are completely welcome in JVC, so long as they are open to participating in the local Catholic life.
Social Justice
This value resonates particularly strongly with me. The truth is, folks, the status quo of the world is not okay. Really not okay. And it is the obligation of those who have food, education, health, etc. to work to bring these things to those who don't--the disturbingly vast majority of people. JVs strive to "better understand the structures that foster and perpetuate [this] powerlessness and poverty." I hope that my two years as a JV transform me into the kind of person that will always fight against these structures. Because I don't feel complete living in a world in which they exist.

That's all for now. I'm looking forward to a new post in which I will explore my personal reasons for joining JVC and discuss (and possibly refute) some of the reasons I've heard why this is a bad idea. I look forward to your reading and thoughts! Many thanks!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What's the hurry, States?

I find myself sleeping in a tight, kitchen-smelling dorm room with five other college students, four of them from the Basque Country (shame on you, if a consistent reader of my blog doesn't know where that is), at Santa Clara University during these these next two days (Jesuit Volunteers International discernment weekend).
This weekend marks the convergence of two huge thought processes: Spain vs. the USA, and reflection/simplification. I had been hectically trying to get everything done before coming to this discernment weekend, and can say that I failed miserably, at least in completing school work--I did buy a senior banquet/ball dress, I did write a pretty darn good article for the Loyolan, and I even applied for a job in Oregon, for which I'm pretty sure I'm getting an interview. Not bad! The point is, a lot was going on. Here's the problem with that. And if you're a college student, heck, if you're American, you know exactly what I'm talking about: a lot is always going on.
Funny, then, that as I struggled to uproot myself from academics and stress in exchange for reflection and interviews about possibly spending two years in the developing world, I found myself having a conversation with Nagore Gutierrez, a 22-year-old Basque exchange student at Santa Clara, about slowing down.
"Everyone in the US is always in such a hurry," she said. "I can't have close friendships with people because they're always going from one place to another, and they don't have time to talk or think."
Yikes. And I...can do nothing but agree. Because she was cooking a delicious Spanish dinner for us--salad with guacamole, eggs Benedict, fried potatoes, pork, oh yeah--I recalled grocery stores as an example. This past Wednesday I found myself stopping by Whole Foods for frozen blueberries and lettuce. I noticed no one in the store bothered to make eye contact with anyone else, and when we did, there was a clear sense of invasion--what are you doing taking up my time with your thoughts? Keep your eyes on your own business. And everyone was moving so fast. I nostalgically recalled shopping in Spain, where old men in berets spend 30 minutes staring at the chocolate bar selection, and I had no problem joining them.
But in the US, I'm swept up in the drive to DO. HURRY. FINISH. MORE. Which is a large part of the reason that I need to get out of it. At least for a while.
Because, news flash: life goes too fast on its own. You don't need to help it along.