Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving - Advent 1

MARK 13:31-36

All my words will be fulfilled,
but only God knows when that day will come.
Do not lose hope, then.
Watch for the promised hour, and pray.

You are like the servants of a householder
who has gone away on a journey.
He has assigned each of you your work
and has instructed the doorkeeper
to be on the watch for his return.

Stay awake, then,
for you do not know
when the master of the house will come.
It might be in the evening,
or at midnight,
or in the dark hours of the early morning,
or at daybreak.

If he returns unexpectedly,
will he find you attentive at your post?


I saw my mother for the last time, alive, at Thanksgiving a year ago. Memories of that Thanksgiving and the one before that, which I also spent with my parents, are jumbled up in my mind.

I feel sad, but less so than when she was alive.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Contemplative prayer - November

This post is a week late, but here's the Gospel reading from the first-Friday contemplative prayer service for November. The theme was the Communion of Saints, in honor of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. I reused the same readings from last November, except that I created a new rendering of the Gospel reading.

It was a very small service—me and a cellist—but I hope God was honored by the offering.

Next month's theme: "Christ the son of Mary."


LUKE 6:20-23, 27-28

Jesus said:
Congratulations to the poor!
You have God’s kingdom for your inheritance.

Congratulations to the hungry!
God promises that you will eat your fill.

Congratulations to those who grieve!
God will give you cause to laugh for joy.

Congratulations to those who are hated,
or defamed in my service.
When this happens to you—celebrate!
They are treating you
the same way they treated the prophets;
therefore, God will award you the same compensation.

But listen:
Love your enemies.
To those who hate you—do good.
Those who curse you—bless them.
Those who mistreat you—pray for them.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

11/6/91 - My first day in the Dominican Republic

Twenty years ago today, I woke up for the first time in another country. We'd flown into Santo Domingo late the night before, drove to the mission home through dark streets. At the mission home, we elders, 8-10 of us as I recall, slept on mattresses in an upstairs room. I remember lying there in the heat, listening to the night noises outside, feeling as if I was drowning in the humidity, and realizing there was no way to escape it. I was in another place now, thousands of miles from home. (Or is it just hundreds?) It was sink or swim for me here.

I imagine that immigrants must experience something like that.

Here's a map I created that shows the Dominican Republic in relation to the continental U.S. I've highlighted various places important in my life, in addition to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. (I visited the latter in 2007.) The San Francisco Bay Area, where I was born; Seattle, where my mother died; Idaho and Utah, where I spent most of my growing up years; North Carolina, where I did my doctorate; Ohio, where I am now. The idea here was to give myself a picture that integrated the DR into my mental map of other locations important to me, to prevent the DR from being a far-off, foreign place detached, in my imagination, from the place where my "normal" life occurs.

For example, I'm a bit startled to realize, as I look at this map, that when I flew from North Carolina to Seattle to be with my mother, I traveled farther than I would have if I'd gone from North Carolina to the Dominican Republic. Seattle "felt" closer to me because it was in the U.S., whereas the DR was an ocean and a customs transit point away.

So here's a satellite view of the part of Santo Domingo where I woke up twenty years ago, the way it looks today. I know this probably means very little to anyone else reading this blog, but I never cease to be amazed that I live at a time when I can do this.

And here's a "cleaner" map of the same area:

Let me identify some places. For future posts in this "mission reflection" series, I promise I'll hunt up somewhat more interesting things online, like YouTube videos or photos.

1. The Santo Domingo temple. I've never been; in fact, until today I wasn't entirely sure where it's located. It's built just a few blocks west of the major avenue that marked the border of my mission (which had the east side of the city).

2. The Olympic Stadium. During my mission, Thomas S. Monson and James E. Faust came here to speak at a regional conference. I just had a "Duh" moment: Monson is now church president. So in an anticipatory kind of way, I saw a church president speak in the Dominican Republic. Whatever that's worth.

3. The location of the mission office, at least 20 years ago, when I was there.

4. The location of the mission home. That's where I woke up this morning 20 years ago.

5. The stake center where missionaries serving in the capital typically gathered to watch General Conference. I don't know how old this stake center is in the scheme of Dominican Mormon history—I wish I did.

Let me point out here that the mission office and home and the stake center are located in Gazcue, which is one of the older, nicer neighborhoods in the capital. It's adjacent to the colonial zone (the eastern end of this map), which is a major tourist attraction. Gazcue includes or is in proximity to government buildings. It's the kind of place where government officials would have lived in the Trujillo era—they may still, for all I know. Some of the nicest hotels are located on Gazcue's stretch of the coastline. In establishing its presence here, the LDS Church was making a bid for social respectability.

6. It's not clear to me if it's still there, but 20 years ago, there was a Marriott hotel here, where my parents stayed when they came to come pick me up after my mission. Next door is the Jaragua, a posh hotel where the mission's Christmas conference was held one year. In the mission photo we took outside the hotel, the hotel itself takes up most of the picture: the missionaries' faces are little specks. It makes for odd iconography. At some level, conscious or unconscious, the elderly American missionary who took the photo was keen to show off our relationship to this luxury hotel.

7. More or less here was the Hotel David, a tiny hotel that I stayed at during a return visit to the Dominican Republic in 1998. More on this below.

8. Location of the first cathedral built in the New World, 500 years ago.

9. Location of the Columbus house, now a museum: A big tourist attraction.

Let me say this about the Hotel David, and I'll end this post. I was searching online just a little while ago, trying to find the exact location of the Hotel David. And I learn that it's apparently changed hands, and a new hotel is being built on the spot. And then I Google my way to a reference to that new hotel on a discussion board for gay men vacationing in the DR. And one of the topics they're discussing is hustling, and whether and where you can meet Dominican men who will sleep with you without expecting you to pay for it. A couple posters made these sober comments about how where there's a sharp economic disparity between the sexual partners, it's to be expected that money will trade hands.

No. No. No no no no no. I am sitting at my desk, spluttering. Whoa. I know I'm naive about the ways of the world. But my God. This is not... the DR is not your sexual playground, you assholes. That someone can be so... sober about the fact that you're paying for sex because you're richer than your partner—which is to say that you know this is an exploitative relationship, but you're just shrugging your shoulders over it because that's just how things are... I can't finish that sentence by describing what I think you deserve to have happen to you, because I'll regret it.

The first person I ever baptized in the DR was a young ethnically Haitian man living in La Romana, a town on the eastern peninsula that has a big resort attached to it. We'll call him N. N was a huckster; he used me in various ways that I'm still rather angry about. But at one point he got a job working for the resort. The fact he spoke English was key to this job. The way he explained it to me was that he was supposed to hang out, basically, at the resort, approach vacationers, make small talk... I don't remember if I suspected at the time that he was supposed to make himself available for sexual favors, but I've suspected that for many years now, at least.

God cannot be pleased by this. But I figure God has to be a lot more unhappy with the people who are paying than the ones who are being paid. Caveat emptor.