Hold It All

Month: January, 2013


While Cafe Ventana was having its Tenacious Trivia Night, our Latin America Reading Group was discussing “I, Rigoberta Menchu” and life in Guatemala — what insight, connections, and sharing with Fatima Rhodes, Cindy (who’s from Guatemala), Mary (who has worked in Guatemala), Chelsea Jaeger (who has worked in Guatemala), Marilyn Lorenz (who translated for Rigoberta), Jean Abbott (who has worked in Guatemala and hosted Rigoberta in St. Louis), Maria Sennett, Kristen George, and Cheryl Sullivan, who brought delicious empanadas. Thanks to all!

A Deep Listening Break

During this morning’s sangha gathering, Chris invited us to do deep listening in pairs. In later sharing, something Cristina said sparked the following idea:

Instead of meeting a friend for coffee, meet her for a session of deep listening.

To begin, do five minutes of sitting/smiling meditation.

Then decide if you want to share on a specific topic or do an on-the-spot check-in. Also, decide who begins speaking and who listening.

One person shares for five or ten minutes. The listener doesn’t interrupt, doesn’t say a word, but listens as fully as he can. The speaker indicates when she is done.

Then the roles are reversed.

Thank you, Sangha!

Somebody’s Lying


“The United States Army has never condoned wanton killing or disregard for human life.”

–Major General Franklin Davis, Jr., 1971


“Murder, torture, rape, abuse, forced displacement, home burnings, specious arrests, imprisonment without due process—such occurrences were virtually a daily fact of life throughout the years of American presence in Vietnam. And as [Ron] Ridenhour put it, they were no aberration. Rather, they were the inevitable outcome of deliberate policies, dictated at the highest level of the military.”

–Nick Turse, author, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, 2013


A University Can Ruin You

Activist Abbie Hoffman on his father:

“Until the day he died, he always blamed Brandeis for my corruption, be it divorce, dope, hippies, or schvartzes, he always ended up cursing Brandeis.”

Abbie FB 2011

There’s a Difference

Last night, twenty of us gathered to discuss Mev’s The Struggle is One: Voices and Visions of Liberation. People ranged in age from 20 to 65; some of us knew Mev personally, others had read or heard about her. The context in which many of us first read the book in 1994 has changed, for example, U.S. war-making reached new levels of destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mev went to Brazil to bring back the perspectives and stories of some ordinary yet also exemplary Brazilians committed to the preferential option for the poor and a life based on solidarity. Last night I wondered: What if a Brazilian came here to interview people who were consciously in opposition to our own nation’s global empire of military bases, corporate depredations, and cultural propaganda? How would we answer her questions about how we made a preferential option for our victims, which span the planet? What does solidarity mean to us? What changed us? What’s changing us? How is our commitment manifested in our daily lives? Can we say about ourselves, as Gandhi said straightforwardly about himself, “My life is my message”? Read the rest of this entry »

An Inspiring Evening by Jenn Reyes Lay

I was once again inspired and on fire this evening from the beautiful collection of stories from Brazil compiled by Mev Puleo entitled The Struggle Is One. Gathering with many who have also been touched by this book, the spirit of Mev and those she interviewed was alive and flowing through the conversations and questions posed. To begin the conversation, we were invited to think about three things: pretext, context, and the text itself. My own pretext for joining in the gathering and discussion this evening was that I love this book, the people and stories it contains, and wanted a chance to share a bit of the impact it has had on my life since I read it almost 6 years ago. In short, this book helped change the course of my life. I read it at a time that I was already seriously questioning the religion and institution that I had been raised in, and in a context of being in a foreign country experiencing challenging questions and realities on a daily basis. I believe that God brought this book into my life to inspire me and give me hope. Through the reality I lived in El Salvador and the stories of liberation theology at work that I read in the book, I was introduced to a new face of the Church and God at work in the world. This was a Church and faith that made a preferential option for the poor, that lived solidarity with one’s neighbors, that was awake to the reality that we belong to one another and the struggle is one. This was a Church and faith that spoke to me and challenged me to learn more, to be more. I returned to SLU to switch my major to theology to study more about liberation theology, feminist theology, and other theologies inspired by the people in a ground up not top down flow.

In reflecting on context, I conversed with some friends about imagination and creativity. Our context today is not the same as it was 20 years. While some struggles and systems remain the same, we cannot limit ourselves by what has been done in the past, but rather constantly reevaluate our current reality and context to come up with new, innovative, and pertinent solutions. Re-evaluation Counseling theory teaches that the mark of human intelligence is being able to come up with a completely new and fresh response to each new situation. So given all that, what do these stories have to teach us today? Is a book written about the reality of life in Brazil 20+ years ago still relevant today? Is this spirit and practice of liberation theology still pertinent and at work today? I think it is, now more than ever. I see the work being done by those who were inspired maybe 40 years ago and are still in the struggle. I see a generation of young people connected to the world in ways previously unimagined, and inspired to work for change through these connections. The reality has changed, but we still belong to one another. The faces of those in power, those who abuse their power, or do anything to maintain it, might have changed, but there is still truth to be spoken. And it quite frankly still needs to come from those on the bottom, those at the base, whose struggle is a daily struggle to survive, to find and create beauty and order, to maintain their hope and exercise their joy. We need to first listen to one anothers stories, and then share them with others. That was a beautiful part of the gathering this evening and many such similar gathering on Sunday evenings: the sharing of stories to inspire one to discover and share their own story.

And we are constantly writing our own stories. We have the power of text. The words we choose to use, the conversations we seek out or don’t shy away from, the questions we ask. Text can inspire, can move someone to action, can reawaken one’s own imagination. What is the story that I am telling? What will others glean from my text? If I returned to Brazil and interviewed these same people, I am sure their stories have changed. It would be a completely different book. And that’s beautiful. Our stories do change. From one chapter to the next, the text can take us in all different directions when new characters and situations are introduced. Whether something worked or didn’t in the past isn’t the question to ask. We need to look at our current context to determine what new ideas we might be able to dream up.

The stories in this book and many other stories I have been blessed to hear and share throughout the years, do give me hope in a people inspired by faith to live justice, to shake things up, and do things differently. Do I think liberation theologies have changed and will continue to change? Absolutely. Because inherent in the theory and practice is that it comes from one’s lived reality, which is also going to continue changing. But do I think it is still relevant? Absolutely. We need to step out of our comfort zones, to come face to face with those whose reality may differ from mine. I believe people of faith are looking for inspiration and community, and not finding it within an institution of exclusion that claims exclusive access to God’s truth and teachings. There is a phrase that I can’t remember where it comes from, but to be “evangelized by the poor.” To be reminded that we still have work to do. Our faith and religion should challenge us to learn more, to be more. And we need to be open to that challenge and inspiration coming from the people on the street, rather than the pulpit.

One Person Can Change Everything for Us/1

Somebody holds the mirror up
Unlocks the door
Something jerks it open and you’re shoved in
And your head has to go into a different place
Sometimes it takes a certain somebody
To make you realize it

–Bob Dylan, Chronicles, v.1


Month off between semesters
14-hour days

Smiling at mile 18 of marathon
Straining to do five pushups

“We are pleased to accept you as a Corps member”
“We are unable to take many qualified candidates”
Read the rest of this entry »

Our Wars

On David Harris, Our War (Random House, 1996)

Today there exist tremendous and unprecedented possibilities for knowing the reality of our world just as it is, with all that it has in it of anti-kingdom and all the deaths it produces. As experience demonstrates, however, to know the world truly and to allow oneself to be affected by it, simple access to data is not sufficient, as abundant and trustworthy as the data may be, including those of the UNDP. Serious analyses are not sufficient either, not are truthful testimonies, as important as all these may be for other reasons. The reality of the anti-kingdom, its magnitude and its cruelty, can be truly grasped only by experiencing it in actu, in action, when it is actually dealing death. That is what is capable of moving people not only to laments, but to the struggle against the anti-kingdom.
–Jon Sobrino, El Salvadoran theologian


Reading this book may make you repeatedly squirm in your seat, as much for the past it recounts as for the present it jarringly illumines.

David Harris was a draft resister during the Vietnam War. Protesting and resisting that war took a good ten years of his life, from 1965 to 1975. It took him twenty years before he could write and publish Our War. For Harris, it wasn’t just the troops’ war, or the politicians’ and generals’ war: It was the entire country’s. He argues that, as a nation, we have not reckoned with what we did in the former Indochina and what it did to us, our politics and collective soul. Read the rest of this entry »

An Unpayable Debt

Upon beginning Martha Hess’s book, Then the Americans Came: Voices from Vietnam, I was immediately reminded of my late wife Mev Puleo who embarked on a similar project at about the same time as Hess. Mev was determined to go to Brazil and interview and photograph Brazilian Christians who had become committed to the “preferential option for the poor.” She wanted to know how they changed, and what message they had for her own people back in the United States. By circulating Brazilians’ testimonies in her book The Struggle Is One: Voices and Visions of Liberation, Mev hoped readers might ponder more seriously the meaning of solidarity and extend themselves on behalf of others suffering injustice.

In 1990 and 1991, Martha Hess interviewed men and women all over Vietnam. She went as a receptive American to hear and record the Vietnamese people respond to her earnest question, “What was the war like for you?”(The Vietnamese refer to that period as “the American War.”) Joining the battle against amnesia and indifference, Hess wanted to bring back these testimonies to her fellow citizens. Read the rest of this entry »