Prairie View

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Poetic Thoughts in a Drill-Sergeant World

Huascar Medina, 37, is the current Poet Laureate for the state of Kansas.  I heard him read some of his poetry last Saturday.  His humble, unassuming manner inspired confidence, and I loved being able to hear his poetry "in context."  The poems are liberally sprinkled with Spanish terms and expressions, so hearing explanations for the Spanish vocabulary was another valuable part of hearing the poet read his own work.

The context that is most memorable for me is Medina's immigrant experience.  He came to Kansas from Puerto Rico where he was born and where he lived during his childhood.  In between, as a youth, he lived in San Antonio, TX.  After graduating from high school there he moved to Topeka, KS where his mother ended up after his parents divorced.  Among other things, his poetry articulates his quest for finding a place of belonging in Kansas.

Huascar Medina's self-identity as an immigrant (actually he prefers the term "New American") comes with a twist since he is a U.S. citizen by virtue of having been born in Puerto Rico.  As such, he is not in danger of being deported, despite experiencing many more "alien" feelings than have some of his DACA/Dreamer friends who came to the US as young children--and now face an angst-filled future.

Here and there I noted connecting points with Medina's life.  He is the age of our oldest son.  Our family knows something about the immigrant experience because Hiromi, the husband and father in our home, is an immigrant.  Huascar is part of a racial/ethnic minority.  I am part of a religious/ethnic minority.  None of this, however, was as emotionally powerful for me as were his words when he talked about his truth and his life having become politicized.  When he provided that simple bit of context, I knew exactly what he meant because I've experienced it too.

Especially now, since Medina has a role in which he represents all Kansans, he is very mindful of avoiding political content in his poetry.  In spite of that, someone accused him of "being political" in his writing.  Huascar responded to the accusation by saying something like this:  "This is my life and this is my truth.  Others have politicized my life and my truth."  That's exactly how I sometimes feel when I express what is part of  my life and my "truth."  I thanked Huascar personally for giving me "a little more courage" to go on believing and living and speaking in ways that have for a long time been part of who I am and what I believe, even though some of those things are now almost inevitably viewed by some listeners/readers through a political lens.  I am not at peace with this reality, and sometimes feel wounded by the accusations. 

Medina mused aloud that he should have engaged his critic further by asking questions, and noted wryly that he's prepared now for the next time something similar happens.  Yeah.  Me too--on thinking of the right thing to do--too late.

I can't remember exactly what Medina said that reminded me of this, but the idea resonated with me that some of what one says experimentally is too often misunderstood.  What I identify (and might share publicly even) as one piece of a puzzle that I'm still trying to find all the pieces for apparently sometimes looks to others like a pointing, scolding finger in front of a scowling face betraying an ossified brain and an ice-hard soul.  No.  It's just an idea that seems to have enough merit to spend a little more time with.  If others can help me figure things out, so much the better.  I'm more inclined to share something when I think it offers a different perspective from the usual--especially if the usual seems to me to be one-sided or deficient in some way.   I love when the experimental perspective comes from someone who has had opportunities to observe and learn and serve in ways and places that will never be accessible to me.  I value the opportunity to learn from such people, even though I seldom find everything in a single presentation beneficial.   

One of the Leadership Reno County facilitators often signs off his communications with this admonition:  "Stay curious."  I'm trying.

Huascar Medina's father served in the military as a drill sergeant and he brought his work home in raising his children.  Huascar was an introverted child who often felt slightly out of sync with those around him (he noted that he neither speaks perfect Spanish nor perfect English). At a very young age, he began to write poetry.  In that quiet world of words he felt safe.

Being curious may thrust one into a hurly-burly world of conflict and noise.  I recommend Huascar Medina's remedy.  Retreat into a quiet world where words and thoughts are comforting friends, and someday perhaps you'll have something to offer others in a drill-sergeant world. 


Later additions:  Here is a great article that appeared in August 2019 in the journal for the Kansas Leadership Center.  It corrects a detail that I wrote above about Medina's birthplace.  He was, in fact, born in Texas--not Puerto Rico.  I do know though that he lived in Puerto Rico during his childhood, and that he had grandparents in Puerto Rico.  His father was apparently stationed in Puerto Rico while serving in the US military. 

The article also mentions that Medina works as a maintenance man at a hotel.  He has a day job, in other words.  Medina referred to this in his presentation in Hutchinson.  Past Poet Laureate awards have usually been given to people who teach or have advanced degrees in a language arts field.  Medina stands apart from these in having a "regular" rather than an impressive academic title or job.  He does, however, have a degree, and took writing classes while he was earning it. 

I should have listed "Kansas sunsets" as one more common interest I have with Medina.

Medina would like to correct impressions among some people that farmers and country folks are ignorant and unintelligent.  He used his Puerto Rican grandfather as an example of a farmer who was intelligent, well-informed, and capable.  For this, Medina has my great respect. 

Huascar's first name is pronounced wah-SCAR.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Follow Up on Post from June 18, 2019

Some time ago I wrote a post directed to observers in an unfolding saga of minors in a foreign country having suffered sexual abuse by a Christian missionary in the employ of an organization that was widely supported by people across the conservative Anabaptist spectrum.  In that post I urged people not to abandon the truly Christian aspects of our culture in a rush to judgement.

Now that a number of months have passed, I'm ready to revisit the subject.  Some of the legal matters have been resolved in the courts, and the perpetrator in the original abuse allegations has been sentenced to a nine-year prison term.  I understand that several people who were most directly culpable (i. e. they had knowledge of prior offenses and did not take appropriate action to prevent future offenses) in the sending organization have been placed on temporary leave.

In the past few days I've learned of a similar problem that I don't believe has been resolved.  Another person has apparently abused minors in the same country while working under the same organization.  As in the previous case, a record of abuse in the US preceded the perpetrator's placement in a foreign country.

That something is very wrong, and some serious corrective action is needed has become clear in the intervening time since the first reports became known.   I wish all the details of what should happen would be clear also, but that is not the case with me.  Although I hear some voices speaking with a great deal of confidence about what should happen, I'm still in the mode of considering, weighing, questioning, and praying.  Consequently, what I have to offer here should be regarded as being somewhat tentative.  I do not offer it lightly, however, recognizing that some of what I think needs to happen will create an enormous amount of upheaval for some people involved only peripherally.  I grieve for these people.

The person who has most recently been identified as a perpetrator needs to be promptly removed from contact with potential future targets. Perhaps this has already happened without my knowledge.  His victims need to be offered help.  I don't know exactly how "help" should look, but at the very least, the harm should be acknowledged as publicly as necessary so that no one persists in defending what is indefensible, and forgiveness should be sought by the perpetrator and his enablers.

At the crux of what is most clear to me beyond the need for dealing directly with perpetrators and victims is that organizational restructuring in the sending organization is also needed.  I have no knowledge of exactly how this should look, but I think the loss of confidence has been so great that there will be little ongoing support for legitimate and necessary ministries if some fairly radical change does not occur.

I'd like to see a group of investigators being given full access to all records and being able to interview any person they wish, in order to identify who of the current board and administrative team should stay.  I presume that a number of replacements might be needed if the organization is to survive.  I'd like to see these replacements come from among workers who have served with integrity  in foreign missions in the past,  and are vouched for by native people being served in foreign countries.  Perhaps headquarters should be moved elsewhere, to emphasize that the "business" is operating under new management--and to make a clean break with any unhealthy organizational culture embedded there since the organization's inception.

Who should make up the investigative team?  I've heard GRACE suggested.  While I understand why a pre-existing organization familiar with this kind of investigation has some appeal, I also have some reservations.  I would much prefer that it not be people whose primary reflexes were honed in a legal environment.  I would like to have it be people who have loyalty to or at least an understanding of historic Anabaptist theological positions and practical applications.  I would love to have people involved who have training in psychology or counseling from a Christian perspective.  Being seasoned by years of faithful Christian living would be an important qualification for an investigator.  Having some distance from the situation would be needed as well. Although I don't expect to be asked, I can certainly think of enough such people to make up an investigative committee--just from my circle of acquaintances.

The most significant part of the organization welcoming an investigative team chosen by others is that it would demonstrate a level of openness and accountability and willingness to relinquish control that has probably not been sufficiently in evidence before now.  I'm sure that to many who have reservations about para-church organizations, this debacle could serve as exhibit A about why such "independent" structures can be problematic.  An elderly person I know and trust expressed reservations a number of decades ago about how this specific organization developed--and he was a first-hand observer from the beginning.  As is abundantly clear to all now, he was right to be cautious.  One specific problem now is that it's hard to identify where help might come from if those within the organization itself do not reach out for help--regardless what it might cost them personally, financially, and organizationally.

Along a radically different vein, maybe consideration should be given to mindfully dismantling the central organization that is currently struggling.  Perhaps responsibility for the current ministries could be assumed by individual congregations or groups of congregations.  Funding that has flowed into the organization's coffers in the past could perhaps be distributed to these congregations instead.  I'm not sure how this would work, but people smarter than I could surely figure it out.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Rhythms for Life and Bullet Journals

In my efforts to overcome some of my chronically disorganized tendencies, I have tried to hone in on rhythms in the natural world created by God, believing that ordering one's life by these rhythms has merit. I do not use natural rhythms exclusively however.  Observing weekly rhythms is essential although this has no origin in the natural world.  Revolving around a day of rest and worship as the weekly rhythm does helps us orient every other day in relation to eternal priorities. Only because of the mind and action of God does the wisdom and beauty of this rhythm exist.   Yet we benefit from being mindful of other rhythms that are no less extraordinary, even though they are familiar enough that it seems safe to take little notice of them.  This is a mistake. 

The most directly-observable markers creating boundaries for daily rhythms are sunrise and sunset.  I make it a point to be on hand to observe these daily "turning points" as often as possible, usually combining these times with mindful observation, meditation, and worship.  Although daily schedules such as work and school are at times grossly at odds with the sunrise/sunset schedule, I believe that generally daylight should be for working and being productive and darkness should be for resting and rejuvenating.  Exercise and eating (& school work!) should generally not intrude on resting/rejuvenating hours.  I know how impossible this probably seems to many of you, but I urge you to ask the Lord what He has in mind for you.  I suspect that something might shift that would open up space for you to be more mindful of the rhythm of daily markers such as sunrise and sunset. 

The most directly-observable natural "monthly" marker is full moon, although lunar cycles do not correspond perfectly to calendar months.  The full moon always rises over the eastern horizon just as the sun slips below the horizon in the west.  The full moon is often breathtakingly beautiful and dramatic--and directly observable. Since lunar cycles are far more uniform in length than calendar months, I think it makes sense to order one's personal life to align more closely with lunar cycles than calendar months.  Doing this is not completely intuitive though and seems to call first of all for an easy way of referring to each consecutive full moon of the calendar year.

Without belaboring the point of lunar cycles being worthy of note as being helpful in ordering our lives, we ought to recognize some of the lesser-known changes that occur in relation to lunar cycles.  The  rate of transpiration in plants reportedly changes.  Seeds absorb moisture at different rates.  Plants grow at different rates, perhaps partly in response to increased or diminished light at night.  Reproductive cycles in the animal kingdom often seem correlated to moon cycles.  The earth itself and objects and substances that are part of the earth are affected by variations in gravitational pull during lunar cycles, depending on how the moon mass "pulls" on the earth.  Tides are demonstrably correlated with "pulls" during the lunar cycle.  One of my naturalist friends is taking note of how long he sleeps each night, and overlaying that record with the lunar cycle--to see if he naturally sleeps longer at certain parts of the cycle than at others.  I'm curious about what he'll find.

For my purposes, I chose names for each consecutive full moon of the year.  The best source for finding help with this gave a number of alternate names, while offering enough context to help me choose from among them, or to choose a more suitable one for our climate and my interests.  I do some scheduling of planting in relation to the lunar cycle, so awareness of full moon and new moon timing in particular are key to getting maximum scheduling benefit.  I'll list here the names I've chosen for the full moons of the year, along with the date of the full moon and the next new moon.

Notice that October has two full moons in 2020.  When this occurs (once every several years), the second full moon of the month is called a blue moon.  Below the list you will find brief notes on the rationale for my name choices.  My names might work for you too, but I urge everyone to choose names that are meaningful to you.  This could vary, depending on your geographic location and your lifestyle and interests.

Coyote Moon--Full:  Jan. 10--New: Jan. 24
Hunger Moon--Full:  Feb. 9--New:  Feb. 23
Sap Moon--Full:  Mar. 9--New:  Mar. 24
Bird Moon--Full:  Apr. 7--New: Apr. 22
Flower Moon--Full:  May 7--New:  May 22
Strawberry Moon--Full:  June 5--New: June 27
Hay Moon--Full:  July 4--New:  July 20
Dry Moon--Full:  Aug. 3--New:  Aug. 18
Harvest Moon--Full:  Sep. 2--New:  Sep. 17
Frost Moon--Full: Oct. 1, --New: Oct. 16
Cozy Moon--Full:  Oct. 31--New: Nov. 14
Dark Moon--Full:  Nov. 30--New:  Dec. 14
Cold Moon--Full:  Dec. 29--New: Jan. 12, 2021

Coyote Moon.  This made more sense to me than Wolf Moon--the name featured in the list I consulted.  We have many coyotes here and no wolves.

Hunger Moon--One of the minor names in the consulted list.  For native Americans, this referred to a scarcity of food after months of winter weather.  For me, the name represents my hunger for anything alive and green--especially fresh leafy vegetables.

Sap Moon--Minor name from the list.  Although this referred originally to tapping maple trees for syrup, I think of it as referring to rising sap in all the trees.

Bird Moon--Bird migration is a very prominent feature of this season here.  "Pink Moon" just didn't have the same appeal.

Flower Moon--Major name from the list, and I think it fits May in Kansas.

Strawberry Moon--Also major name from the list and it fits.

Hay Moon--Minor name from the list.  Buck Moon (the major name) just didn't seem relevant.

Dry Moon--The weather is usually very hot and dry here in August.  Sturgeon Moon refers to a kind of fish abundant and important to Native American fishing tribes.  We're not a fishing tribe.

Harvest Moon--Major name from the list--which I can't improve upon.

Frost Moon--Our typical first frost date is in the middle of October.

Cozy Moon--I agonized over this one.  In 2020 it's the second full moon in October.  I finally settled on this slightly cheesy name because I thought it captured the idea of having transitioned away from the growing season into a life mostly spent indoors.  Also, the fields and gardens are resting under blankets of dead vegetation, mulch, or snow.  Everything is cozy. 

Dark Moon--Not only is the daylight waning, the switch back to standard time instead of daylight savings time suddenly gives us long dark evenings.  The moon, of course, is not dark--only the evenings.  Beaver moon is the major name I encountered.  A few beavers are found locally but nothing about this month particularly calls beavers to mind for me.

Cold Moon--Major name from the list, and it fits.  Right now we're in the Cold Moon cycle and I'm sitting here at the computer feeling it. 

What I hope to do is to use the full moon time as a reminder to reflect and regroup, especially in relation to my morning and evening schedule.  This keeps me from being locked into a morning or evening routine, for example, that is just right in January and all-wrong in June.  This way gradual adjustments can be made whenever a Full Moon appears. 

I haven't really developed routines for seasonal markers like the solstices and equinoxes, but I think this makes sense and will probably happen fairly naturally for me before long. 

In Old Testament times, sabbath years were observed every seventh year, and years of jubilee every 50th year (after seven seven-year periods).  These are multi-year rhythms which seem to be based on a God-ordered plan without clear links to clearly observable natural phenomena.  They have much in common with the weekly cycle where a sabbath occurs one day in every seven. 

I'm incorporating some of these ideas into my bullet journaling efforts. I think one key to success with this system and these rhythms will be to actually adopt the philosophy of the Bullet Journal "inventor." In my words--"Keep it simple enough to be repeated without undue stress, and complicated enough to necessitate acting intentionally and mindfully in order to make progress."  After all, when the next organizational fad replaces the current Bullet Journal one, the God-designed rhythms as seen in decrees and in creation will still be left standing and they can function again as overlays to a different system--all to good effect and greater productivity and peace.