The Possibility of Halloween

If you’ve walked through Deglman lobby recently, you’ve seen photos from CU Boulder’s Campaign:

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Students have been having a written conversation in the lobby about their thoughts on this campaign:

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What are your thoughts??

Formation Group Leader Natalie sent an e-mail with this link and some comments. It addresses this idea from another angle:

Captain America in a Turban

This article beautifies the strides our country is taking in the movement of accepting people of all kinds. No one, young or old, male or female, should be limited in their costume choice just because of their race or religion. Who ever said Captain America couldn’t be a Sikh with a turban and a beard? 

From these two campaigns/articles, we see that Halloween has the capacity to bring up a lot of statements, hurt, sensitivities, triumphs, beliefs, et cetera.

How can you use Halloween as an opportunity challenge stereotypes instead of play into them? How can we become CREATIVE instead of DESTRUCTIVE? What are your thoughts about dressing up for Halloween? Is this a big deal?

The Syria Series//From My War to Theirs//Jelena Pjevic

Jelena Pjević is a senior majoring in Justice & Society and English with a specialization in Creative Writing. She is a Formation Group Leader for the 2013-2014 Cortina Community. This is where she stands with regard to the possibility of the United States’ intervention in Syria.

“Think well about this, dear brothers and sisters, and you will see that we should have been in a state of terrible chaos, in a fratricidal war, in a country which would no longer be Yugoslavia, but be only a group of petty little states fighting among themselves and destroying each other. But our people do not want that to happen.” – Josip Broz Tito

Whenever I hear or read about any current war, I can’t help but think of the civil war that destroyed my homeland, the former Yugoslavia, and resulted in the tragic numbers of death or displacement among the general population. I can’t help but compare my war to their war. I can’t help but compare my experience to their experience. I have, however, come to realize that there isn’t really a distinct me or a distinct them, no matter whether the current suffering and marginalized are Iraqis, Afghanis, or Syrians. Essentially, what matters is that people like us don’t matter to people like them: Assad, Obama, or Putin.

Now, I know that some, or maybe even most, of the people reading this blog post may think I’m judging politicians too harshly, that I’m not taking into account the positive acts that they carry out, or how difficult it must be to perform well as a leader on the world stage. If you’re thinking that, you’re correct. I definitely am biased, as we all are, but I’m not ashamed of saying that I know my opinion is worth damn more than the totality of these politicians’ games and lies. My own experience and my parents’ experiences with war and the consequences of it, however, have shown me that what we believed in and what we thought never really mattered in the eyes of the elites. In my grandma’s words, “They declared war and sent my son [my own uncle] to the frontlines to be slaughtered, while they hid behind their high walls, toasting each other in private, and fueling hatred among us in public with their words.” All in all, the politicians never fear, lose, nor die. The people do. We all do.

What both infuriates and depresses me the most is the fact that whenever war is discussed, it’s all about sides. Who’s right or wrong? Evil or good? Americans or terrorists? Capitalists or communists? The Syrian government or the rebels? If you haven’t already guessed my answer: the world isn’t so black and white. So, I can’t tell you if the United States should intervene in Syria. But, I can tell you this:

Because of War:

Because of the Yugoslav Wars, I was forced to leave my homeland as a refugee, along with my parents, and come to live in a new country without my entire extended family. My uncle was killed. My grandparents now live alone. My mama couldn’t have another child for years after the war, because she fell into such a deep depression and lost so much weight. I almost lost the ability to communicate in my native tongue. I disrespected my parents’ cultural values. I was constantly made to feel inferior and like an outsider by my American peers during my entire childhood. I lack an understanding of self-identity and I can never truly call one single place home. Please understand that I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone else, not even the politicians who are responsible for my nafaka (fate, destiny, or draw of luck).

At the end of the day, I know that neither Assad, nor Obama, nor Putin, can understand my pain or the pain of the people that are continuously cast aside as mere pawns in their political schemes. There is no need for us to debate so much about what should be done, because we aren’t being asked for our opinions. There is no need, because we are the people, not the politicians. What we can do, however, is pray for the Syrian people and actively show love and respect the dignity of every life, especially those of the many immigrants and refugees that live with us in the United States of America. Listen to their stories, question your own beliefs, and don’t let Big Brother convince you that everything will be fine.

Monday Meditation: On “Bedroom Window Spirituality”

Last year we had a dear Jesuit on campus. His name is Michael Rossman. Lucky for us, he is a tremendous writer. Below is an article he wrote for the Jesuit Post and has so graciously agreed to let us re-post it here:

Just off the airplane that had carried me from Instanbul to Dar es Salaam, I stepped into my new bedroom.  Immediately I heard the Muslim call to prayer filtering through the mosquito nets that covered my bedroom window.

“Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” I thought.

It was 4:00 in the morning, and practically the whole world was asleep, but that didn’t stop one of the nearby mosques from calling people to rise, pray.

“Get up! Get up! Your bed will turn into a coffin,” the man called out in Swahili.

But life, as it is wont to do, has gathered itself into familiar patterns and what began as novel has become a morning routine. Even if the message isn’t aimed at me, it has become my own personal call to prayer.

Like the other sounds, smells, and sights I encounter everyday, this morning call to prayer filters through my mosquito screen-covered window into my life.  It’s led to what I’ve begun to call my bedroom window spirituality.

***

Truism: we do not enter into relationship with others, God included, in some disincarnate spiritual zone.  Our spiritual life is rooted in and shaped by our daily experience – even when that experience enters through the bedroom window.

I use the same prayer methods I did before, but these are not the same prayers.  Now it’s Dar es Salaam, sneaking below the window curtains, that curbs the sharp edges of my prayers. It’s my crowded, industrial, religiously diverse neighborhood that cups my encounter with the Gospel.

So now I’m called to prayer by three nearby mosques.  Now the downshifting of diesel truck engines grind across my room.  Now the sweet, sharp smell of burning plastic slides up the walls of my house and into my room.

The images that appear when I pray the examen (or when I catch myself daydreaming rather than lesson planning) tend to look a lot like the flood of people and things that I see during the rest of the day.

I see the woman who does not have a lot to give her own family, but who still regularly gives me fried cassava when I walk by.  I hear the greeting of “As-salamu alaykum” from my kofia-wearing neighbors.  I taste soda1 and coffee and feel the ubiquitous plastic chairs that random strangers and new friends offer me.

Unlike a faucet, I can’t – and wouldn’t want to – turn off this flow images. When I close my eyes and turn my thoughts to the Lord, it’s images of Dar es Salaam in all its generosity and struggle and beauty in which I’m immersed.  Without being called, it’s these people who drip into my reflection on God’s activity in my life and in our world.

That said, some of us might have limited bedroom views.  When I was in graduate school in Chicago I spent one semester with a window that opened onto nothing but a brick wall no more than an arm’s reach away (I called my Semester of Living in a Cave in Chicago).  I hope my spiritual life wasn’t as dark as my room was that semester.  After a few weeks of living there I realized that I had to be intentional about finding ways to let the world into my heart.

Because what we see from our bedroom windows, from wherever our home location is, has a significant impact on how we relate to others.  A recent article by Nate Berg in The Atlantic, “Isolated and Under-Exposed: Why the Rich Don’t Give”, says the same.  Berg highlights a recent study by theThe Chronicle of Philanthropy that indicates two things: first, that the rich give a lower rate of their discretionary income to charity compared to others; second, that that rate of giving goes up when wealthy people live in economically diverse neighborhoods rather than in affluent enclaves.

The conclusion is straightforward: if I regularly interact with neighbors who have opportunities similar to my own, it’s highly likely that I will start to think that my experience, my way of life, is the norm.  If we stop for a moment, we know that may well not be.

Those windows into our rooms can also be windows to our hearts, opening them up – or not – to the challenges faced by others.

***

Of course we’re not stuck.  Of course we can live in a wealthy area and still enter into relationship with those of different backgrounds.  Of course we can live lives of committed service from many home locations.

But in my own experience it’s awfully difficult to do.  In my own life simply reading about something or someone “out there” doesn’t bring spontaneous prayers to my heart in the way that rubbing shoulders does.

I knew what malaria was, but it became real when malaria killed a child in a family I knew.  I had read about HIV and AIDS, but it wasn’t until a student of mine told me the story of how his parents died of AIDS and that he was HIV positive that it became real.  Like the sound of that call to prayer, they had entered the window of my life.

***

Bedroom window spirituality actually has deep roots in Jesuit tradition.

Ignatius of Loyola, sensitive to how our external world affects our internal life, used to advise retreatants to adjust the light in their rooms to suit the mood of the retreat.  During the first week of the Spiritual Exercises, when one contemplates sin, Ignatius instructs us to deprive ourselves of light.  Sometimes closing the blinds on our bedroom window deepens the reflection.

A Jesuit who knows the Spiritual Exercises better than just about anyone I know asks those doing spiritual direction with him to commit themselves to regular contact with the material poor.  Contact with the poor greatly deepen the experience of prayer, he says, and naturally help deepen our encounter with Jesus throughout the Exercises. It’s not that we can’t find Jesus in other places, but it also makes sense to spend time with the people, and in the places, where Jesus said he would be.

None of this is to say that the window with the roughest, or loudest, or ugliest view is therefore the most spiritual.  (Getting caught up in a kind of dark competition to see who can suffer the most is just as far from real spirituality as is locking ourselves away in affluence).  After all, there’s a reason why most retreat houses are in quiet, beautiful places, and why Jesus so frequently goes away to pray in an isolated place.  I cannot prevent my eyes from seeing or my ears from hearing when I’m in living contact with the poor, but even so I can still prevent myself from feeling what I see and my hands and feet from acting in response.  Which makes time apart, time for quiet, all the more important.

Even if we live in an idyllic gated community, often our lives are anything but quiet.  We often need some space to make sense of the joy and pain we feel – including the pain that hides behind those seemingly perfect gates.  Just as I put screens to prevent those malaria-carrying mosquitoes from entering my room, unless I have some distance from the complicated realities around me I often end up putting screens around my own heart.

***

We move too often as Jesuits.  Eventually, I’ll move again and I won’t have a 4:00 AM wakeup call unless I set the alarm myself.  Still, no matter where I go, my bedroom window will be a way for God to get through to my heart.

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  1. Does anyone else who grew up in a “pop” part of the country feel like you’re betraying your roots every time you find yourself uttering the word “soda?”  Even when the local word in Swahili is “soda,” I still can’t say it without a little inner-squirming.

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How do you make space to sense the joy and pain you are feeling? How do you use the culture around you to deepen your spirituality? How do we leave defensiveness and take away the “screens” around our hearts?