Thursday, March 24, 2011

Óscar Romero, 31 Years On

Today marks the 31st anniversary of the assassination of Óscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, who was murdered while saying mass.  The man who allegedly ordered his killing -- Roberto D'Aubuisson -- went on to found El Salvador's primary right-wing party and commanded many of the death squads who caused so much bloodshed during El Salvador's long, sad civil war.  If you want an introduction to Romero and his words, this article by Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ is a good place to start. (There's also a pretty good movie starring Raul Julia.)
On 24 March 2011, people all over the world will be celebrating the 31st anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador. He was shot, by orders of the government, while celebrating Mass in the chapel of the hospital for incurables where, as Archbishop, he lived. The previous day he had preached what was to be his last Sunday sermon in the cathedral. In it he made an appeal to the ordinary soldiers in the army and low-ranking policeman, calling on them not to obey immoral orders from their officers.
 Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Lately I've been reading Holy Ground, a collection of essays by religious folk of all stripes about the importance of caring for the Creation and the responsibility of communities of faith to protect our environment.  It's edited by our awesome friend Lyndsay Moseley and you should definitely check it out.

This passage from a 1951 essay "Beyond Civilization" by the theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel caught my eye and I thought I would share:
The solution of mankind's most vexing problem will not be found in renouncing technical civilization but in attaining some degree of independence of it.

In regard to external gifts, to outward possessions, there is only one proper attitude--to have them and to be able to do without them.  On the Sabbath we live, as it were, independent of technical civilization: we abstain primarily from any activity that aims at remaking or reshaping the things of space.  Man's royal privilege to conquer nature is suspended on the seventh day.
And later:
The seventh day is the armistice in man's cruel struggle for existence, a truce in all conflicts, personal and social, peace between man and man, man and nature, peace within man; a day on which handling of money is considered a desecration, on which man avows his independence of that which is the world's chief idol.  The seventh day is the exodus from tension, the liberation of man from his own muddiness, the installation of man as a sovereign in the world of time.

In the tempestuous ocean of time and toil, there are islands of stillness where man may enter a harbor and reclaim his dignity.  The island is the seventh day, the Sabbath, a day of detachment from things, instruments, and practical affairs as well as of attachment to the spirit.
Too often I think we are caught in a false dichotomy when it comes to our crazy modern world -- both in a spiritual sense and an environmental one.  We feel that we are stuck with pollution and stress and commercialism as a kind of tax levied on the many good things we receive (antibiotics, modern dentistry, the ability to talk to my parents instantaneously across thousands of miles, stuff like that).  It's also a common retort to environmental concerns: if coal power is so bad, do you want us to live in caves, eating only locusts and honey?  Well, no.

But the idea of attaining independence from our cell phones, emails, cars, TVs and all the other toys that invade our lives, in order to clear out a bit of space to decide what is really important -- that struck a chord with me.  (And of course Heschel is writing about a specifically Jewish conception of how to celebrate the Sabbath, but his words have a universal heft to them.)  And similarly, gaining independence from the dictates of the free market, to have a little space to inject other values into our decision making, where would that get us?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

San Juan de Limay

Last weekend I gave a seminar on climate change to the churches of the western region.  For the talk we traveled to San Juan de Limay, a small pueblo far to the north, near the Honduran border.  To get there, you drive for a little over an hour on dirt roads, up over a beautiful mountain ridge and back down again.  San Juan de Limay is famous for its soapstone artists and the road there is lined with about a dozen large stone statues like this one:

At the top of the mountain we saw a few coffee farms and gorgeous views of the mountainous northern region.

The climate change talk took the better part of a full day and a group of 40 hardy souls showed up to listen to my stumbling Spanish.  The talk was divided into: (1) what is climate change (the greenhouse effect and all that), (2) what are the likely impacts of climate change, both worldwide and in Central America, and (3) what should we do about it.  We also did a small science experiment to learn a little about absorption and reflection of sunlight (thankfully, it worked!).

The most interesting part for me were the stories from the participants.  Many of the church members and pastors in that region are farmers by trade and the church is developing a seed bank project in the region to help provide a little economic security for them.  After yapping at them for a while, I divided them up into four groups and asked them to think about the changes in their local environment and what the old folks in their communities said about the past.

To a person, they all stated that farming had become more and more difficult.  Years ago, good harvests were more common and required less investment of effort and money.  Nowadays, they said, crop pests were more common and farmers had resorted to using stronger and stronger pesticides just to stay even.  They also said that the rains were becoming less reliable and were causing havoc.  Now it is difficult to say for sure if these changes are climate related (after all, a lot of other things have changed over the years too), but I think this experience of environmental change made the other parts of the talk more relevant to their lives.

Dios es Amor // God is Love.

For this latest voyage we were joined by Sonia, Carlos & Cindy and their kids Camila and Cristian.  Quinn had a blast running wild, getting extremely dirty and playing with the other kids at the church while the adults talked.

San Juan de Limay is a ways off the tourist trail, but its actually a really beautiful little town.  It's nestled in the mountains and (maybe thanks to the artistic influence) the town itself is colorful and peaceful and well-tended.  After the talk ended, we headed out of town and saw a gorgeous sunset over the mountains.  We continued another hour through the dark over rough roads to El Sauce, where we stayed the night before returning to Managua the next morning.