Monday, July 28, 2008

some details on the short-term mission thing

When i was in Uganda, at an orphanage, in about my 7th month there or so, i was approached by one of the house mothers. "Auntie," she said [though she is my senior, the children call all of us auntie and sometimes we slip into it too], "can i ask you to teach the children something?"
"sure," i said, thinking about how to garden, or pronounce difficult words, or maybe even a sex talk... "what do you want me to teach them?"

"that it is important to behave yourself well, even in America."
We had just had a rowdy crowd of well-intentioned teenage visitors who painted the orphanage walls, distributed toys, and distracted the children from their chores for a week. Auntie B. told me that the children loved these visitors, and the attention they'd gotten from them, but that they were losing respect for the way things go in Uganda. The kids could run up to the Americans, jump on them, pull their hair, demand things from them... or alternately, whine to them and receive candy to "cheer them up." When these visitors left, the children were a bit petulant toward the regular home staff, who must always be addressed formally and respectfully, who don't deal in whining, and whose orders are obeyed. I was in the middle ground -- not a stranger, not one of them -- and had the power to reinforce the Americans' behavior, or the Aunties' rules. I went toward the side of local custom and formality, realizing that I could show the children love and affection without spoiling them.
So, this is just ONE of the times that I was ashamed to be identified with my "own" people, and for which I hope our mission programs can learn to be sensitive.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

YES someone notices!

someone touched the sacred cow and asked WHY we ship teenagers across the world to do shoddy paint jobs.
we do it because they get an unparalleled level of existential alertness and openness that we just can't replicate on our own boring turf. They get "touched" and "inspired" -- and how else can we do that?

Friday, July 25, 2008


I am currently working in a natural food store as a cashier. The meditative practice of ringing up other people's food has sparked many reflections within me. As the stream of organic, natural, vegetarian, vegan, raw, whole, gluten-free, politically correct food flows past me on the conveyor belt, I contemplate what it is we're really doing when we eat.
I see a lot of neuroses. People buy food by the bite-sized chunk... they give me three grapes to ring up. They buy $6 energy bars because they're addicted to this particular brand... they buy bottles of herbal extracts made specially to cure your addictions. They buy bottled spring water by the case -- but they wouldn't DREAM of using a non-reusable grocery bag (it's so wasteful). If they happen to forget their canvas bags, I have to listen to their tirade of self-deprecating guilt, and for penance, they juggle armloads of food out to their car.
I'd hesitate to call it a national eating disorder, but maybe it's Northern-California-wide? In any case, it is more than a few people's quirks. It's some kind of movement -- the need to feel good about what we eat. It needs to satisfy a long list of virtues in order to justify the idiosyncratic pleasure we seek.

I want a simpler kind of ethics. I want to get rid of the deserving stuff, and the justifying stuff. If we, the rich, keep craving luxuries, no matter at what justification, the poor will never be free and the earth will never be healed. I want it to be okay that apples are not in season right now -- and so I won't eat them now. I really don't need a global tour of bite-size-tastes on my lunch plate. I need a plateful of the things we call carbs, proteins, fats, simple things made of the produce of the earth. But oh, we are too rich, and those addictions are too tempting. The physical craving for a salmon steak overpowers us. But we don't deserve it, so we have to generously support organic fishfarming to get in touch with our pescatarian nature. In fact, the more expensive it is, the better we'll feel about sacrificing our selfishness for a virtuous plate of fish.
People, this is just silly. Eat food, and stop dreaming about it all day long.

and the bumper sticker that advertises your carbon offsets was made in a factory in China.
nah nah nahnah -- you can't get away from your guilt. I see through you.