Sunday, November 22, 2009

where is god in demeter?

so, in my newsletter this month, i talked about a place named demeter.  for those of you who have ever been on mission trips to mexico (usually juarez, or one of the other border towns), demeter looks very similar.  it is an area of košice populated by roma, who have constructed make-shift homes on an area of land that hasn't been used for anything else.  most of the people are there because there aren't enough social housing projects for them to be able to afford somewhere to live.  they either can't find any work or they can't find work that pays enough to afford somewhere for a variety of reasons, the primary being that they are roma.  they were born roma, with the skin color and can do nothing about it.  many of them speak romani as well as slovak, but people refuse to hire them simply for the way they have been born. 

they are hated, neglected, and looked down upon by the dominant society.  to top this all off, this month, the private owner of the land where demeter is has decided to use it (for what, i don't know), so just as it has been getting really cold, the 1,000 people that live in demeter in homes, which most in the us wouldn't ever imagine living in, but filled with a strength and love that many in the us are in desperate need of, will be kicked out.  the homes they have painstakingly built will be destroyed and they will be forced to either move in to an already cramped living area with family, make some miracle happen to find a place in a social housing project, or they will be left homeless.  they will disappear in the records of doctors and community health workers who will no longer have an address to contact them.  and they will be left to brave the cold, harsh winter without a home, let alone a house.

my question in my newsletter was: where is god in all of this?  i still want to know where you think god is, but now i'm going to also offer two of my ideas/thoughts. 

1-one of the most obvious places (and this may be an imperialist understanding) is in fraňa and the work that she and precious few others do as a community health worker for far too many roma settlements.  god is there in the concern that fraňa has and in her passion for work with roma.  god is in the time she spends with them and learning from them and fighting with them against the oppression and prejudice they face.

2-god is also there crying with those who cry and who are losing homes and suffering.  i'm reading a book right now by peter j. gomes.  in it, he has a chapter that i just finished on the bible and suffering.  he talks about the idea in celtic mythology of "'thin places' in the universe, where the visible and the invisible world come into their closest proximity" (p. 214 the good book).  that is to say, the "thin places" are the places where we are closest to the divine.  they are the places where we can most readily find god. 

he goes on to speculate that maybe the thing places are found in the suffering that people experience.  it is when we suffer that we dig deepest, when we realize not only that we can't do it alone, but that there is a greater power to help us, not out of the situation, but through it.  when we suffer and realize that we cannot possibly "go it alone," then we begin to rely on the greater power found in jesus.  we know that we must lean on god and god will be with us in our suffering and will help us to get through, rather than escape, our suffering.

though those who are suffering in demeter may not know/believe it, i see god in the suffering and in the resourceful ways they find to keep going and to "suffer through" whatever they are experiencing.  at the end of the chapter, gomes states that we must "look to those who have been excluded and placed on the margins, to those who by the terms of the world are not successful, to those who, in jesus' words, 'suffer and are persecuted'" (230).  it is in them that we can see god and can find god's will for the world.  they are in the thin places and have the best chance for showing the world god's will and god's love.

some responses that i received were also very poignant and are very much worth sharing, so here they are:

1- the most obvious answer for me is that i see God in there with them.  God, to me, lives in the slums more obviously than he lives in the fancy schmancy areas of town.  i guess that's based on what i learned in college (that the bible really speaks against wealth and for the poor as one of its main themes) and then the experience i've had getting to know other social groups while i've traveled. ... i think he's way super en contra against injustice for the poor and helpless.  there may or may not be different paths to God ... but no matter how many paths there are to him, that doesn't mean there aren't a bunch that still don't lead to him too!  and instead of determining that now by doctrinal position, i would do so by how we treat our fellow man. -thanks kati g.

2- i see god in the people living in demeter, as god is frequently distrusted, ignored, and/or badly treated by those who think they're better. i see god in the people living in demeter for their (god-given) ingenuity that allows them to make a home and a life out of (essentially) nothing. i see god in the people who come in to help those living in demeter for their care and concern for all of humanity. i see god in the people living in the projects who are willing to share what little they have with those who are being forced to leave demeter. satisfied? -thanks stef b.

3- Where do I see God in those situations. It's a difficult question to answer. Often, I feel, people would respond by asking how you could possibly see God in a situation like that. How is it possible to see God in a situation that at first glance seems filled with so much despair and cruelty? In situations like that I think I see God most. God is in each person you come in contact with. Each person who holds even a shred of hope; an ounce of faith is an image of God. Times may be difficult, but those individuals have a sense of faith that many of us who live a comfortable existence do not have. Seeing children laughing despite what they do not have; seeing a smile of someone who is ill; a mother selflessly giving her children her portion of food so they can be full and she be the one to go without; those are all the face of God. We often question why these situations happen, why God lets these situations happen. For that question, I do not have the answer. All I know is that they have God within them. -thanks erin  k.

i'd love to hear more about where you see god if you've got some thoughts.  feel free to leave them as comments or to email me.  if you email me, let me know if i can post them or not:)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

seven cases, one confusing language, one (or more) deeper meaning

so, as i've been learning slovak, i have learned of seven "cases" in slovak. these are different forms that nouns take depending on their relationship/position in the sentence. for example, if i want to say that bob has a book, then "bob" stays the same (nominativ) but the book changes its ending because it is being affected by bob (akusativ). anyway, this is not to explain all the cases to you (since i only know the two right now), but to point out the implications of this. one big thing is that "jesus" is not simply ježiš, but can change depending on the relationship to the rest of the sentence.

while this makes learning the language quite a bit more difficult, i really like the implications of it. as i mentioned with jesus, nouns cannot simply be expressed in one way without concern for other parts of the sentence. nouns can only be understood in relationship to each other and to other parts of the sentence. this is reflective of our interconnectedness in this world. while (especially in the us) many would like to think that we are who we are no matter where we are/who we are with, that is simply untrue. we are constantly changing.

much of the time, i feel like the changes in me are the work of the holy spirit as i grow into myself, but the changes are also through my relationships to other people and all of god's creation (which can still be, and usually is, the work of the holy and creative spirit). when we change words in slovak depending on their relationship to others, it provides me with a reminder that we are connected and that we do, in fact, affect each other, for good or for bad. so, as i go out each day, i try to make a point of thinking about how i might affect others and how i can allow the spirit to work through me, rather than inhibiting its work.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


so, here in slovak (at least in the lutheran areas), october 31st is reformation day, preceded by reformation week. as such, i was anticipating very little in the way of costumes, masks, pumpkin carving, etc. well, i was very surprised to find that on the thursday and friday before halloween, the afterschool-type program that i work with three days a week, was "celebrating halloween." that mainly translated to making masks with the kids, so that they could wear them and take them home and show their parents since they didn't have homework those two days because they didn't have school. that in and of itself was really fun (i made a tomato mask for myself and called it bob. most of you (especially if you ever watched movies in sunday school) probably know why, if not ask me and i'll tell you..or google it.

then, on saturday, october 31st, we had a worship service for reformation day at 4:30 and after it, i headed over with the other young adults to the mladeš youth group, where we found people carving pumpkins!! they had three pumpkins, which were all already gutted. it was fun watching and then they asked me to carve the final pumpkin, so i actually got to carve a pumpkin (which i haven't done in years) on halloween!!! we didn't go as far as cooking the pumpkin seeds and eating them, like my mom had always done growing up, but it was really nice to have people celebrating with me something that is a fairly distinctly "american" holiday:)

here's a picture of my pumpkin, nice and goofy, just like me:) \