Ponderings on Argentina

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Under the mulberry tree November 6, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 3:18 pm

Going to Retiro Wednesday was amazing. We ended up outside in the Plaza, and it was a beautiful day. The birds were out, the sun was it–it was probably 80 degrees or so–it seemed to give Buenos Aires new life after two non-stop days of rain.

I was talking with some of our friends on one side of the plaza, and Meg told me they were having a mulberry party under a tree at the other side of the plaza. Intrigued, I went to go check it out. It turns out the tree is a mulberry tree, and it has long, drapey branches that give the tree the shape of an umbrella with a big, hollow space in the center.

I crawled under the protective branches of the tree and saw Tina and Margi talking with Andre, a really wise and trustworthy guy who loves to share the wealth of information he knows about life on the streets. His family has actually been living under this mulberry tree for a few weeks now–all of their possessions are in a grocery cart under the tree in plastic bags. They used to live in Villa 31, an infamous slum behind Retiro that drug dealers who sell Paco lord over, but recently there has been a lot of social unrest in the slum, and Andre and his girlfriend and their two little girls moved out and made their new home under this mulberry tree.

I crawled in under the branches and saw a pile of luscious mulberrys sitting on a newspaper in the middle of their blanket, and saw the stained fingers and faces of Tina, Margi, and Andre, and my first response was, what a mess…they will never get those stains out. I grabbed a spot on the blanket and began to listen to Andre, and, before I knew it, I the mulberrys won me over and I had matching stained fingers.

As we sat eating, Andre started giving us advice about men and boyfriends, just as if we were his daughters. We talked with Andre for at least an hour and a half. Even though I didn´t agree with everything he was saying (such as all men are the same, and if given the chance to be unfaithful they will), I loved how he was looking out for us. He then moved on to give us advice about what to do if we feel threatened while walking down the street, and how to best protect ourselves if need be.

In light of the serious topics, we asked him if he was worried about riasing his two daughters (about ages 6 and 2) in the street. At that point you could see the whole weight of the world on his shoulders, and he said he absolutely was.

We had an amazing conversation, and, by the time we were done talking, my hands were stained from eating the mulberrys, my cheek was stained from where Juan smeared one on my face, and my shirt was stained from the mulberry-throwing war Brian and I had, and I would have had it no other way.

After that, I joined the mob of people that had congregated in the plaza (there were probably 30 of us or so). It was the first time that we had brought the new guitar, and it was so exciting watching everyone play it. Maria told Tina how much she had missed it and requested that Tina serenade her new-born with the song ¨Nina de tus ojos.¨ One of the 3-year-old girls sat on my lap and sang the song…it was such a special moment.

After that, the little 3-year-old painted my cheeks, hand, and arm with some paint she had, and I painted her cheeks.

I felt like that day our friends at Retiro really taught me how to live. They all live in a harsh, cruel, often relentless and unforgiving reality, but they understand the importance of kicking back, staining yourself with mulberrys, paint, and being yourself. I learned that we trap ourselves so often from enjoying life through social norms and standards of beauty, and whatever else it may be, and that throwing those aside and living life is one of the most freeing things we can do for ourselves.

Yesterday I learned how to live life under the mulberry tree.




Some thoughts on ¨American Christianity¨ November 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 5:42 pm

It´s interesting to see how being away from your fatherland for a few months distances you enough to be able to view your own culture from a different perspective. So far I´ve been here for 2.5 months, and I have been learning to turn a more critical eye toward some American ideology that perhaps before I would have taken as true at face-value. My servant team has specifically been talking some about how the values and ideologies of America influence Christianity, something I will call ¨American Christianity.¨

Disclaimer before i continue:  I realize that not all churches or people buy into these ideas. However, I believe that this is a general theme. I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts as to whether or not you agree.

It seems that in American Christianity (AC), one of the biggest goals of churches is to convert people. I believe that is fine, as Jesus tells us to go into all of the world making disciples. However I think some churches forget that Jesus told the disciples to make more disciples, not to compete for who can get the largest number of followers. Too often in America we put all the emphasis on the numbers in our congregations–the more Christians we make the quicker, the better. So, to convert as many people as quickly as possible, some churches dum-down God´s message, making it less edgy and more appealing to the masses. To me, this ¨theology¨ is driven more from a consumerist standpoint than from the Bible.

Keep in mind this is not  necessarily critiquing large churches. It is critiquing churches that are only driven and motivated by numbers and attendance.

Secondly, it is interesting to look at how many churches view a conversion. Often times, when someone decides to be a Christian they go up for an alter call, or repeat a simple prayer asking God to forgive them of sin and inhabit their heart. After that, they are Christian. Alter calls and prayers are extremely good things–that is, in fact, how I became a Christian. However, I think we should see them for what they are: a begining. Accepting Jesus into your heart isn´t the end of the journey. Making it to the altar for the call is not the final destination. Instead, they are the begining of the conversion in our lives. We need to think of what we are converting to. To Jesus? Yes, of course. But we are not only converting to Jesus, we are converting to a new lifestyle. I think following Jesus is a life-long commitment that requires a mindset change about how we see the world, and requires us to dedicate ourselves to actively seeking after God´s own heart and the things God values.

So, according to AC, what exactly is the purpose of converting? Many churches would say to reserve a spot in heaven and to ensure eternal life with God. I do think that this is a large part of believing in God, however I think salvation is more than receiving a ticket to heaven–that only has good ramifications for the individual that converted (which makes sense with our individualist culture, but we have to remember that most cultures around the world are more community-oriented). Maybe God´s original intention for salvation is more inclusive–perhaps it is more about His dream to reconcile and restore the world to His original plan. Maybe our salvation needs to be more community-centered: we believe in Jesus, and then we join in His kingdom revolution by loosing the chains of injustice, setting the oppressed free, sharing our food with the hungry, clothing the naked, and doing away oppression (Isaiah 58).

Did God intend for us only to accept Him into our hearts and then wait around for our everlasting lives with a ¨this world is messed up, but there is a better one to come¨ attitude? What if that were God´s attitude toward our world now? I hope not. That would make this world a dark, depressing place. Maybe we as Christians are supposed to catch on to His vision for this world and do everything we can to work towards it, keeping in mind God´s promise for everlasting life and a ¨new heaven and new earth,¨ and knowing that, ultimately, complete reconciliation will come.

I´m not a theology student or pastor, and I don´t pretend to think I know everything about the Bible or what God wants for us. These thoughts stem from various books we have read, discussions we have had, and experiences I have had in the past 2.5 months. While I´m sure that my ideas will continue to change and be challenged, I wanted to throw my thoughts out there to you all as a discussion piece, and hopefully as a tool to encourage us to continue asking questions, encouraging each other, and seeking after God´s will.

So…what do you think?