Monday, March 28, 2016

In the Presence of Revolutionaries

In the Presence of Revolutionaries
March 11, 2016

We didn’t realize the counter-cultural nature of the visit we made to Espacio Kruz. Because we didn’t know the history of the uprising in Oaxaca that created the Holy Virgin of the Barricades.
What Ramon Kruz and his family are doing on their small piece of property looks like homesteading and simple living. But it is so much more than that. It is validating the worth of the people of Oaxaca, the campesino. In Oaxaca, to call oneself a campesino, peasant, is not to denigrate oneself. It is to name oneself as a person of worth and heredity tied to the land and the ways of living off the land.
Ramon Kruz has built a small compound from locally sourced bamboo, adobe and plastic soda bottles filled with dirt. His family has a two bedroom house with an eating/sewing porch, a two room dry toilet outhouse, an eco kitchen, water collection station, and enclosures for the animals and storage. Surrounding their buildings are four hectares of land on which they grow Milpa, herbs, flowers and fruit. All with purpose for nourishing and sustaining the family.
This was the first time we were introduced to Milpa. But the story of planting Milpa became the backbone of sustainable agriculture in the Oaxaca region.
Milpa is the ancient art of planting all that is necessary for a balanced, plant based diet without the use of artificial fertilizer or pesticides or herbicides. As a matter of fact, herbicides are an anathema for part of the beauty of Milpa is the weeds that grow among the plantings. As Ramon told us about planting Milpa his wife and daughter began bringing purslane and other ‘weeds’ to the table. These are an important part of the diet and nutrition of families in Mexico.
Milpa is a type of rotational planting method that takes advantage of a small plot of land. First corn is planted in hills 50cm apart by hand and feet. The seeds have been saved from the harvest the previous year. Then a time later, squash is added between the corn. All sorts of squash. Big and little, green and yellow, winter and summer squash to be harvested throughout the growing season as they thinned and managed the growth of them throughout the season.
Next, later, when the rains and warmth were just right, beans were planted among the corn stalks. The native corn stalks are much stronger than the hybrid corn planted in a typical field. These stalks are perfect to support the climbing beans until they were ready for harvest and drying.

Interestingly, as we talked about the use of the ENTIRE squash plant as food our breakfast cooks were already planning to feed us squash stems, blossoms and fruit as a braised dish the next day.

Ramon and his family have not lived without controversy. A large corporation would like to build a road through his property so that a local mine can be better accessed. The road has potential to harm the family’s water supply; not to mention the entire ecological damage it will do to the region. These mining companies are not Mexican and are not too concerned about the damage they leave behind. Very little of the benefit from the mines, or any other corporate enterprise finds its way into the economy of Oaxaca. While Oaxaca is rich in natural resources and ecologically more diverse than most places, protecting the land is not high on the priority list of anyone who can use NAFTA to exploit these resources.

Ramon’s family stands on the land as guardians to the way of life that will bring healing and hope to Oaxaca. I hope they will prevail and will be raising Milpa for generations.

I See Jesus

Easter 2016
March 27, 2016
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

In some churches this morning there will be trumpets and choirs and cherubs and flying banners.
In some churches this morning there will be pomp and glory and incense and processions.
In some churches this morning you will hardly be able to see the front of the sanctuary for all the flowers and ribbons and candles.
In some churches Easter Sunday is a big fat celebration, all the stops out, glorious.

But not here.
Not here.

We come here as we do every Sunday, wondering what we will discover, who we will meet, what new life we might encounter that will give us the life we need for the following week.

We come as Mary came to the tomb. Hesitantly, with preparations for an encounter but not being sure just what we might encounter.

And in our hesitancy and our wonder and our simple preparations we will find that we have enough.
Maybe even more than enough. For in this simple quiet Easter in early spring when flags are still flying at half-staff in solidarity with Belgium and we wonder if they will ever fly full staff again, we can hear the simple of truth of what Mary said:

I have seen the Lord.

I have seen the Lord.

Not, a He is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed. Not a Hallelujah just yet. Not a trumpet blast just now.

But a man strolling in the garden; who looks just like a gardener. Who asks her why she is crying. Who gently says her name: “Mary”

I have seen the Lord.

On March 27, 2016, this is what we need.

To see the Lord, in the midst of the destruction and chaos and confusion of this Easter Sunday which has come way too early in our Spring season.

Someone said that to hide Easter eggs this year we should just leave them white. The children would never be able to find them among the snowdrifts.
March 22 is the earliest date that Easter can come in the Western calendar. We are close enough to the 22nd that we can say it is too soon.

We aren’t ready for a “He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed”, or a “Halleluiah”. Seeds haven’t been planted yet; the flowers that were blooming are covered in frost, nipped in the bud.
We who live on the land and by the land know that the promise of a resurrection is still a promise. Still sleeping behind the just warming ground.

But to be able to witness to this: I have seen the Lord. That is beyond the seasons of our lives or the warmth of our soils. To be able to speak these words: I have seen the Lord gives testimony that in the midst of ruin and chaos, broken promises and unrealized dreams, there is resurrection.

“I have seen the Lord” is a personal testimony that the cold tomb is empty. “I have seen the Lord” is a personal testimony that the stone has been rolled away. “I have seen the Lord” is a proclamation that death and decay will not be the end word. “*

“On this Easter Sunday in the year 2016, this is the testimony we need. This is the testimony the world needs. For as much as we need to know that Christ is Risen and that there is hope after death we even more so need to know that Christ is here among us. “*

“I have seen the Lord” are all the words we need because what we are saying is: Jesus is among us.

When Jesus is among us we can know that the ways of love will win over the ways of hate. When Jesus is among us we can be assured that the truth of kindness can be heard over the noise of ruthless, callous, and hurtful speech making. When Jesus is among us we can know that there is hope in this life.

I have seen the Lord! I have seen Jesus!

Like Mary, I want to give testimony to the ways I have seen Jesus among us. The ways I have seen Jesus in this world in 2016.

In my travels to Mexico I saw a great deal of suffering and pain. Much of it caused by corruption, greed and the desire for power. I saw a land stripped of its life by those who had no idea of the sacred value of land and those who lived on it.
I saw deep pain. The land cried out from this pain.

And into this suffering walked Jesus, in the form of people who believed that the land could be healed. In people who believed that planting a small stand of trees to replace the ones cleared generations ago could start the healing. I saw Jesus in the women who tended the small acre gardens that helped to feed a newly formed community high in the desert of Mixteca.

In what others called Non-Governmental Agencies, I saw Jesus. Men and women who worked against the corruption and greed and power hungry to give life back to the people of Mexico. Who desperately wanted to bring clean water, nourishing food and dignity to families who for generations have been discounted by their own government.

I saw Jesus.

I saw Jesus in the 20 other team members who traveled with me from the Midwest. Who were open to the stories and the struggle of people we will probably never meet again. Who cried tears with the immigrants who told their devastating stories of leaving home and sick children to find some kind of living that they could send back to their people.

I saw Jesus.

I see Jesus. Everyday in all of you. I bragged about you so much these last 10 days. People think we have a small slice of paradise right here in the Chosen Valley. I told how you are always thinking of the ways you can serve your neighbor. Of how you gave up space for a food shelf. Of how you open your doors to the community with no strings attached. I told how you care for one another so well that I could travel far away without great concern for my people.

I was telling people about Jesus among us. In you. I was telling people about how I see Jesus everyday.

If all Easter means is trumpets and loud shouts of Halleluiahs and flowers and spring then it is simply another high holy day that is too far removed from our everyday life to mean anything.
But that is not how Easter is among us. We know and we live the truth that Mary spoke: I have seen the Lord. I have seen Jesus. Walking among us. In us and through us and beside us.

So that in our witness to Easter we are able to say: there is another way of being in world; even in this world of the 21st century where we seem determined to destroy each other. We have seen Jesus, we do see Jesus, because we see life, we do life, we believe in life. As we live our life giving testimony to the life-giving Christ may others say and wonder about us: Wait a minute. Did I just see the Lord?”

With thanks to Karoline Lewis who gave the seeds and some of the words that inspired this sermon writing.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Mezcal and Family Heritage, Oaxaca, March 13

Oaxaca March 13

Today we were driven by bus to a small community about the size of Chatfield outside of Oaxaca. We visited a small family farm of the Familia Angeles Carreno’s  near Santa Catarina Minas, Ocotalan, that has been in business of making Mezcal from the agave plant for at least two generations. The woman who owned the land gave us a thorough tour of the types of agave, the uses of agave, and the making of mescal. Mezcal is a type of alcoholic beverage similar to tequila but with a smoky undertone and a bit smoother. I have learned to like it in small quantities.
The woman, like all of our presenters was passionate about her work and her family's heritage. I have been impressed by the way the story of Mexican farmer's struggle is echoed in all of the presenter’s stories. We are able to hear and see how the free trade agreement and the land rights issues are impacting family farms and a way of life.
Garciala has been able to add some eco-tourism to her operation and we were the happy recipients. She, her mother and helpers served us a complex meal of garbanzo bean soup, yellow mole stew, onions in lemon juice, a refreshing drink, and Mezcal. It always feels as if we are in a food magazine eating an elaborate meal in the style of Martha Stewart. All 20+ of us around long tables being served these beautiful dishes of Oaxacan food, festive table dressings and with gracious hosts.
She used real ceramic dishes, linen table coverings and tortilla wraps. She made a point of telling us that making tortillas for guests was the highest form of praise. The food was a capstone to a presentation that is grounded in the value of family and pride in a craft. Like all crafts, Mezcal making is often done more mechanically with less regard for the environment or the heritage. Meeting people like the Angeles family continues to inspire me to keep it local and value driven.

In the afternoon we prepped for our trip to the immigrant shelter. Exploring together the reasons for the need to immigrate grounded us in the reason we are in Mexico. We are to give witness to the effects the USA trade agreements and armament policies are impacting the decisions people are making about their future and the future of their families. Lack of work is certainly one of the main reasons for immigration; but so is the gang culture of Honduras and Guatemala. If all you can do to prevent association with a gang is to flee your home; that is no choice. That is a necessity.  
During our seminar I was reminded me of all the women and children I worked with throughout Brooklyn Park. I wonder how they are doing. Particularly the one who was seeking asylum. I think she finally had to go underground.
The fickleness of our government's policies and ways people are treated when they are in extremely vulnerable positions is so infuriating. The whole idea of colonial power and land grabbing makes no sense to me. And it doesn't help anyone, really. Not even those who are in the 1% because they cannot be fully human when others are not treated with dignity. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Immigration and Amaranth March 14 Oaxaca Mexico

Today was a really long day. There was some apprehension because of the visit to the immigration shelter. We knew it would be intense and emotional and it was. We have been experiencing the effects of NAFTA and global economy and today we were confronted with the human cost. The other days we saw resiliency and resistance to the effects of NAFTA on the way of life of Oaxacans. Graciela at the Mezcal distillery was a picture of resiliency and hard work and ingenuity. Romano at the Kruz farm was defiant and articulate and determined in his family's vision to continue the way of life of the small family farm in the face of cooperate greed and technology. We saw in Romano and Graciela the worth of the sacredness of the land and their commitment to their way of life. But they were safe, at least at this moment.
Today we experienced those who had to uproot themselves from the land they loved , leave family and loved ones behind. We saw the faces of those whose stories touched our hearts and made us ashamed of the way the global economy has devastated the human dignity and rights of our brothers and sisters.

We heard stories of children left behind with heart murmurs and brothers who were murdered. We heard of family businesses that were lost because of extortion and gang control. We saw tears of grief and gestures of vulnerability. Men and women who were robbed, stripped, chased and threatened in their search for salvation for their family.
I thought of the writings of the liberation theologians who have told us that God is on the side of the poor not in the pockets of the rich.
But I also saw at the immigrant shelter the painting of the last supper which reminds me that Jesus gave the meal to Peter and Judas even as he knew they would betray and deny him. So that indicated to me that even the rich and oppressors are invited  to the table.
How can we make sure they know they are welcome and they know their humanity is at risk as much as those who are fleeing their homeland? It seems simplistic but maybe if we could feed each other at the same table we would see the world tilt toward equity.
How will I preach Easter in the midst of all that I have experienced?
Maybe it is in the story of the sacred grain of the amaranth. That was hidden from the conquistadors and priests who wanted to break the power of the people of Mexico so tried to separate them from their sacred food and rituals of thanksgiving and life.
Seeing even a 1/4 hectare of amaranth and the pride of the farmers who are reintroducing it to the market and the people of Oaxaca is an incredible resurrection story. Like seeing the Oaxacan jugs and food on the table of the last supper in the immigrant shelter, the table is spread for all even when we try to keep others away or try to diminish their place at the table. The indigenous portrayals of the table of grace and the hand of God feeding all within their context are some of the most powerful images that I can experience.
On the mundane side, we arrived home exhausted and hungry. I went with a group to an upscale restaurant on the roof top just beyond the place where we enjoyed folk dancing on Sunday. Cafe Casa CreSpo
We shared an array of appetizers of plantain, squash blossoms, duck, and chilies. Drank cerveza and mezcal. On our way out of the cafe we tasted chocolate, which Oaxaca is known for, and enjoyed a walk home in a city that is becoming familiar. And I had my first hot shower of the week. Now I know which nob to turn on my bath time is going to be enjoyable rather than merely tolerated. I feel clean for the first time all week.