Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Towanda Gets Interviewed

Tess offered up a chance to be interviewed, so here are her questions for yours truly (and my answers, of course!).

What's the most beautiful city you've ever visited, and why?

Wow, hmm. My gut response is Antigua, Guatemala, which still has much of its original Spanish colonial (as in, built by the original Spanish colonists) architecture, and what is newer is built in that same style. Bougainvillea bounds abundantly over the walls and other sorts of flora are equally bountiful. The city is small, you can walk to just about anywhere you'd want to go, and there are sweet little cafes where you can sit at a little table inside the hacienda walls but still outside, by the fountain, and have a café con leche and write. And yes, I know, it is a complexity in me to be anti-colonial and yet appreciate this architecture.

With that in mind what I also like is the presence of Maya folk, especially women, still in their traditional traje and going about town. That many are impoverished and are there selling their wares to tourists in order to feed their families is problematic, I know. However, I think their presence is also a reminder that as much as the colonists, the church, and later, the Guatemalan government have tried to wipe out the Maya through colonization, conversion, assimilation and genocide, THEY ARE STILL HERE. They are still here. The empire has not won.

What made you know it was right for you to seek ordination?

Honestly, it was because I couldn't imagine doing my work in the world any other way. And believe me, I tried to talk God out of it many, many times. Word and Table are integral pieces of my understanding of how I am called to do God's work of justice.

Do you think your passion for social justice is innate,
or was it triggered by something in particular?

Nature versus nurture? Great question. I know I have an innate concern for fairness, just ask my brothers. Maybe that's from being the oldest child? But I can also point to a specific event that initiated the whole rest of this journey that's been my life ever since. I wrote about this in in my seminary application (which you can read all of here):

My first experience of transformation, my first real sense of call, came when I was 16 years old. I was attending the 1986 Presbyterian Youth Triennium; One morning, the thousands of us gathered in the large auditorium for the plenary. After being introduced, a young woman, dressed simply, came out on to the stage, accompanied by a young man. Her name was Jean Peacock, and she began to speak of her work in Tucson, Arizona, as part of the Sanctuary movement.

I had never heard of such a thing. But I sat in rapt attention as she described the plight of Central Americans fleeing to the border, escaping brutality which at that point in my young life was new to me. She spoke of civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, of the campesinos fleeing death threats, massacres, torture, to the supposed refuge of the U.S., where they faced new struggles of entering the country illegally, traveling a new “Underground Railroad” throughout the U.S. and into Canada, to a tenuous safety. Few lucky ones were granted asylum, but strange it seemed, the U.S. officials did not believe the stories, and the vast majority were forced to live hidden lives.

When Jean introduced the young man with her, a former death squad member from El Salvador who had repented and fled the country, already my heart was pounding, and I could sense God speaking to me between the beats, urging me to listen in a way I had never listened before. What I was hearing was difficult – such tragedy, such violence, and the complicity of my own country – but I ached to know more. By the time he finished speaking, I knew that I was being called. I could not get their stories out of my head, nor my heart, nor my soul. While the kids around me were complaining that this had been a “downer” (and, interestingly, when I met Jean years later, she told me that she thought at the time that her speech had been unimpressive), I understood very clearly the voice that was now resounding in my heart: Pay attention: This is the life I am setting before you. Your life and work are going to be connected to Central America, in working for justice and for peace.

What is it about goats that makes them so lovable?

Mmm. There's this blend of intelligence and sweetness and how they just know and you can see that in their faces. I swear Arlo knows who I am, and he comes when I call and he nudges me and nibbles at me. He seems to know when I need more attention, a little more care. The first time I did evening chores all by myself, Arlo and his mama and his grandmama circled round me as I walked through the goat pens, as if showing the other goats I could be trusted.

Working with the goats has taught me that they will trust me if I treat them well -- talking to them gently, feeding them, scritching their foreheads. Trusting me doesn't always mean they behave, right Lori? But I also know that when they refuse to go to bed, that really doesn't have anything to do with me, and I just have to laugh at them 'cause they're goofy. Getting mad doesn't help. I don't have to do or be anything special, just show up and be kind.

Plus, they're just cute!! I mean, look at this face! Who wouldn't love this face??!!

If you could own any piece of baseball memorabilia in the world,
what would it be?

Anything? Really? Wow, hmm. How about one of the home plates that Jackie Robinson stole (I'm not even sure if one is extant, but I can dream)? George Brett's pine tar bat (man, that would make my brothers jealous)? A game ball from the 1985 World Series signed by all the Royals (we lived in Kansas then and followed them closely)? An original, mint condition, Ted Williams baseball card? Oh, Tess, don't get me started!

If you'd like to be interviewed by me, leave me a note in the comments!