Monday, March 28, 2011

More work from the studio

Hi! I'm not dead, I promise. I've just been incredibly busy, and will probably continue to be busy for the next few weeks. Certainly at least until my final seminary class of the semester ends sometime in late April.

Anyway, here are a few pictures of some pieces I took out of the gas kiln the other day. I'm getting a little better, but I'm still frustrated with my amateurish glazing.

This didn't turn out as pretty as I expected.
It was supposed to have some  iron-red coloring,
but it turned out the color of baby poop.
Maybe it'll be good for some kind of
church service or something. I dunno.

This is a chalice I made for my friends at Lotus House,
an intentional community in St. Louis. It shrunk considerably in the
kiln and so it is very small, but it'll still get the job done, I think.

A small container for sacramental elements.
Water, wine, anointing oil. Whatevah.

The "cork" is actually ceramic, as well.

This mug turned out really well. When I finished it,
I came home and jokingly announced to Alyssa:
"I quit. I have made the perfect mug."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

An Open Window

(Note: This is a short reflection I wrote a few days ago while staying in Yangon, Burma)

Today (Thursday) we visited the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University of Myanmar. After a brief conversation with some of the university faculty in a boiling hot reception room, we shuffled barefoot around the building to gain a better understanding of the way the place worked.

“I wish the Christians had such a nice facility,” one of my new friends whispered to me as we walked quietly together. It was his first time visiting the Theravada University, as well.

At one point, we stopped for some lovely conversation with a serene student who had come all the way from France to study at the Theravada University. As sweet-smelling flowers wafted their scent in from a nearby open window, and a cool breeze brought comfort to my skin on such a hot day, the French student spoke about mindfulness, and the need to increase our awareness of ourselves and the world around us. “It is only thus that we liberate ourselves from suffering.”

He spoke so highly of the teachings of the Buddha, which seemed strange to me. “The Buddha’s teachings, they are just so, so precious,” he said, “They are like jewels.” I found myself wishing that we Christians held the teachings of Jesus in higher regard, instead of seeming to focus only on his death and resurrection. What if we treated the lifestyle and wisdom of Christ with such great reverence as to inspire us to actually emulate him? How might the world be transformed?

We moved on into the library, and I suddenly heard the comforting sound of children’s laughter. I moved to an open window and looked out over the compound to see a family outside their hut, giving the children their baths. The kids were jumping and dancing in the water from the garden hose with joyous abandon. As I stood at the window watching them from a distance, a teacher of the Dhamma quietly approached from behind. I’m uncertain whether what he said next was intentionally cryptic, or if his peculiar English simply afforded us this linguistic gem:

“If you just open the window, you can see everything,” he said.

The Dhamma is an awakening. According to my Theravada Buddhist brothers and sisters, the Dhamma is a way to open a window to the world, and truly see everything anew.

We left the university, and eventually made it back to MIT for a tour of the entire seminary. We visited the dorms, and saw the humble accommodations in which the students conducted their studies. I was especially impressed with the fact that the seminary students at MIT stay after classes in the evenings to teach a small summer primary school program. At one point, we stopped to watch and listen as a room packed with small children regaled us with chorus after chorus of If You’re Happy and You Know It in Burmese.

I stopped to look at a mural scrawled on a nearby wall. Among a series of abstract designs, animals, and other symbols were the words Peace, Shalom. My friend Mana saw my interest, and explained that the symbols depicted in the mural were representations of the many ethnic groups in Burma. “MIT is very different from many seminaries in Burma,” he said, “Inclusiveness is so very, very important to us.” In my conversations with him, I have come to find an enlightened friend who is passionate about sharing the gospel of Jesus, but in a way that respects and uplifts those with different beliefs. Thus: Shalom. An open window.

I think I’ve come to understand this as our Dhamma. When we approach one another inclusively, as brothers and sisters rather than insiders and outsiders, a marvelous, mysterious relationship occurs that binds us tightly. By being exclusive, we serve only to shut the window that allows us to “see everything,” and we remain ignorant of the outside world. And as we learned from the Buddhist teachers at the university, ignorance is one of the primary causes of suffering in this world.

There’s so much to think about at this point. I am finding myself—my assumptions about the way the world works, as well as my assumptions about the nature and character of God—challenged on a daily basis. But as I’m being challenged, that window is being opened. Wider and wider.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Scattering Flowers

Even now, six days into our cultural immersion, jet lag still rears its ugly head. I’m exhausted.

With little else to do in the wee hours before the sun rose this morning in Bangkok, I stumbled upon some words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, which I meditated on all day: "Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? …The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love."

Mid-morning, our cohort trotted off at a brisk walk to meet with a representative from the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC). Upon turning down a rough-looking alley, we were bid into the TBBC office by a Danish woman named Mette, who invited us to slip out of our shoes and into a back room, where we spent the next few hours discussing the plight of displaced and refugee Burmese citizens. We learned that over 73,000 people were displaced from their homes in Burma in 2010 alone, and that military forces in the country continue to turn their aggression upon their own people daily in what is essentially the longest-running civil war in world history. I was struck by how little the numbers seemed to me to be mere statistics, but instead were representative of actual struggling people; real people who are finding themselves uprooted from their villages, given the choice between fleeing the country, being herded into refugee camps on the Thailand border, hiding out at their own risk, or facing death.
My gut reaction almost immediately went something like this: That’s it. I’ve got to learn Burmese, move to Thailand, and help these people. Though something tells me this is a natural reaction and probably not the best solution to the problem, courageous people like Mette are doing this every day. When we asked her why she chose to come work for TBBC, she said that she wanted to spend her life working toward something good, rather than simply working for a paycheck to give herself a better life. I admire that.

Lately in our reflection times, we’ve been discussing how to express glory to God within our personal context in the here and now. This is something that I’ve wrestled with for a while, and it seems somehow all connected— and the only conclusion I have come to for myself is that the best way I can glorify God in the present is by, as St. Thérèse says, scattering the flowers of every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love. Here I am, two hundred years later, on a different continent and in a different context, and Thérèse’s words stretch through time to remind me that glorifying God does not entail grandiose gestures, but instead simply involves recognizing God in others, whether they are Burmese refugees, the professors who have taken the time and energy to lead us on this journey, or even one another as seminary students and servants of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

We enter into Burma tomorrow. Our pilgrimage is half over. Many of us are tired and overwhelmed with the knowledge we are receiving. Some of us haven’t gotten much sleep. Some of us perhaps feel that our western comfort has been invaded with the introduction of this newfound empathy for the marginalized Burmese. I know I personally have struggled to find my place in all this—as a fellow human and as a person of faith. The resounding question I’m left with when all this is stripped away is simply What now?

It’s not a question I can even begin to answer here for myself or anyone else.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Hello from Bangkok

Well, it's been quiet on the homefront here at Everyday Revolutionary. Not long ago I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand as part of a cultural immersion experience for my grad studies as a seminary student. More on that later.

This has been on my mind a lot lately:

Judas: Tell me your secret
Jesus: Pity.
Judas: Pity for who? Yourself?  
Jesus: Pity for men.
Judas: But our enemies are men.
Jesus: I feel pity for everything: donkeys...grass...sparrows...
Judas: And ants? You feel pity for them, too?
Jesus: Yes. Everything is a part of God. When I see an ant, when I look at his shiny black eye, you know what I see? I see the face of God.