27 September 2009

Fake Media Picking Up The Slack

So I'm just now catching on to this ACORN scandal, but I don't watch the news much anyway-- that I'm not up on the latest horror is no surprise. Apparently the mainstream news channels aren't exactly jumping on this. Jon Stewart (along with the rest of the world) seems to be a little frustrated:

(Head's up, PG-13)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Audacity of Hos
Daily Show
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I do have a little more respect for Jon Stewart, now. But what's with the people in the studio? They aren't laughing at any of the jokes. Makes you wonder who goes to these things.

After my summer in El Salvador listening to news outlets spreading all manner of ridiculous slander about the nonexistent "coup" in Honduras and serving as little more than a propaganda outlet for ChavezWorld, there's no question in my mind that we are not up against incompetence here ... it's a premeditated, direct assault on the truth.

All in the name of doing the right thing, of course.

19 September 2009

NPH Short

During my summer at NPH, I often asked myself if I was putting undue pressure on the kids by carrying my camera around. Other than the fact that they consistently bombarded me with requests for a photo, and then a viewing of the photo, and then another shot to fix what they didn't like about the first one, I did wonder if the camera was serving more as a barrier than a window.

Then, one afternoon, I just turned it on. And this is what I got.

17 September 2009

Excerpts From the Diary of an Orphan in Training - Part Three

Three weeks after returning to the States, the process of sifting and sorting my experiences has gotten fully under way. Between tackling the organization of teen weeks’ worth of photos and video footage I’d accumulated, reuniting with friends who have lived at and understood NPH El Salvador, and the almost agonizing solitude of a 5-day silent retreat, those kids have been almost constantly on my mind. The frustration of being so far away was worst when reviewing the videos I’d taken of Carmen, the little girl I’d decided to sponsor; I’d never, ever grown so attached to a baby as I did to her. A number of times I simply had to stop watching, so intense was the desire to simply be there as she struggled to stand up or walk. They tell me that she’s already running about Casa Niño Jesús on her own; my insides twisted up when I thought of how much she’ll have grown by the next time I see her, and each day how much I am missing. I felt like a father poring over the few mementos of his young family he had to console himself in his time away.

As a Catholic seminarian contemplating a life of celibate commitment, such sentiments may seem out of place, but a summer spent with this gran familia could not have done more for me to put in perspective the meaning of spiritual fatherhood. In spite of the limited time commitment I was able to make, I sensed an interior freedom to commit emotional energy to the pequeños in a way that lined up with the sorts of exterior commitments I was (and am) preparing to make. Their eagerness and receptivity to the meager affection I had to share depleted my reserves even as they drew forth more and more in ways that, upon reflection, surprise me.

Yet I experienced another dimension of this relationship through the receptivity that was, in a real sense, forced upon me by the inability to communicate fluently. The outlets through which I’d presumed I’d be able to “give” were depleted rather quickly; it wasn’t long before I sensed that I didn’t have much to offer to this flourishing little community. With time, it was almost as if by allowing them to take a genuine interest in me—and demonstrating to them that I appreciated that interest—that something in them was satisfied.

The clearest case of this was a young man, only 14, who arrived at NPH with his three younger siblings not too long after I did. He entertained the other children in the clinic by roughing up his younger brothers, who were almost as big as he was, with preposterous wrestling moves and holds, flying leaps and whatever the Salvadoran equivalent to “cry uncle!” would have been. Throughout the summer, we’d cross paths often, and it was always a project to keep up with his rapid and slangy Spanish. One evening in the clinic, we got a little wild (I think the nursing staff was always too polite to chew me out for winding the kids up right before bed) and he fell on his rear after I boosted him up into the air for the last big jump of the night (“seriously, now, this is the last one”). More out of embarrassment than pain, he crawled under the bed like a whipped animal and refused to come out. For a long time after that, I found it hard to believe he was as old as he said he was.

The last day I had to spend in the clinic was the Sunday before I left. I spent the whole afternoon playing with the kids and letting them run around and take pictures with my camera. My young friend was there again with a broken arm—he had a knack for having too much fun. While I was off in another corner of the room, he got one of the others to hold the camera and recorded a short goodbye message to me. I curse the microphone on that camera that picked up every single decibel of background noise while muddling his already rapid words into a slurry of vowels, but in a way, everything that needed to be communicated was present on his face. In his short adios I saw the man within the boy—direct, earnest, and self-confident enough to communicate his affection and gratitude without embarrassment or awkwardness. It is an ironic gift that the most lively token of my friendship with a young man I habitually regarded as a child is a 25-second glimpse of the man who, with the help of NPH, he is one day to become.

Father Wasson was known to have said, “The most important thing is that my children practice charity, because if they love, they will be loved.” Strange as it may seem to say it, my only boast is that I was a recipient of the love of these young men, women, and children—and that by God’s gift, they were better for it. What a strange, wonderful, storybook place this is, where the famous paradox of St. Francis stands on its head: it is in receiving that we give.

12 September 2009

Excerpts From the Diary of an Orphan in Training - Part Two

Reflections on my summer in El Salvador, continued ...


My fascination with these children, teenagers, and young men and women has only grown as the time has passed. Perhaps not knowing the personal histories that are yet to be written only intensifies their mystique. It is certainly the case that as I find myself starting to settle in and feel like this place is pretty normal, having grown accustomed to the armed guards and the razor wire (which exist not to keep the children in but the hellish insanity out), accustomed to the fact that I will have rivulets of sweat running down my back at every meal, accustomed to the faces and names that seem all the more strange because so many are just Anglo names pronounced by a Hispanic tongue—it is then that the facade of normality is shattered. Shattered, because I remember that in every single case, without exception, each resident falls into one of two categories. On the one hand, each has some traumatic memory of a personal tragedy, anything from a sudden death to the slow decay of abuse or neglect—that has irrevocably altered the course of lives by destroying a family. On the other hand, for a good many of these children, there’s simply no memory of a (regular) family at all.


It is their bodies that display this terrible uniqueness. One day, I noticed that there were just too many scars on that little girl’s face to be the consequence of clumsiness. Another, I was informed that a certain young man’s lopsided gestures are the result of a broken arm in his youth that was never properly set.

The emotions that follow are almost never anger or pity at those who were responsible. Rather, this startling act of recollection ignites a fiery jealousy—not towards the children, but towards their caregivers and confidants, who in the natural and spontaneous growth of trust, have been admitted into this secret realm. It is then that each child, from least to greatest, infant to universitario, shimmers with mysteriousness. And even as I ask Who made them so?, the words of thanksgiving are ready on my lips. Gratitude for each one, each boy, each girl, whose unique capacity to manifest the glory of God to the world has not been lost to degradation and poverty and slavery. Yet, each light casts a shadow—and my prayer ends with a plea for those who have not found a place such as this one, whose corner is still too dark to be discovered—or who prefer the safety of a painful self-reliance to the blinding light of love.

10 September 2009

Excerpts From the Diary of an Orphan in Training - Part One

The next few entries will be portions of a short testimonial I wrote for the NPH website.


Today I complete three weeks in El Salvador. Just a short time ago, I was greeted by a gentleman holding an NPH sign outside of customs in the San Salvador airport, and I plunged headfirst into the world of The Foundation. I had friends and acquaintances that had told me a little bit about NPH before, but not much, and to be honest, I had come to El Salvador to learn Spanish during my summer break from the seminary—how and where that took place made little difference to me as long as I had room and board and a good teacher. NPH seemed like a good place to hole up for the summer, and with some Spanish under my belt, I thought I might even be able to help out a bit.

Yet from the moment I arrived, I was taken with the place. I was greeted by the scene of afternoon chores—hordes of boys and girls with brooms twice their height out sweeping the streets, mopping floors, and tending to other common spaces. It was the very picture of industry, with each one taking up an appointed place. Obviously, I was the most interesting thing to have come along in a while because everybody—everybody—made it a point to stop what they were doing, come up to the car, and say hello. By the time I’d finished dinner, I had hugged more kids and learned more names than I’d ever thought possible (though of course I had to start all over again after a good night’s sleep).

The funny thing about the “language barrier” is that from the first moment, I’ve experienced it as exactly the opposite with the kids who grow up here. Having come from a Catholic parish setting where stepping into a gradeschool classroom was one of the things I dreaded most, I found the transition to a predominantly child-centered environment remarkably easy. No doubt the fundamental reason for this has been the incredible generosity and self-forgetfulness of the kids, who are so eager to know and be known—but it is also the lack of ability to communicate that has shifted my interactions with them to less cerebral (and more rewarding) channels.

A perfect example of this is Jorge. Within a few minutes of my arrival, Jorge had tunneled his way through the throng of boys eager to yank on my beard and had latched onto my leg. The minute this kid showed up, I could tell he was wired. It was like Jesus in the crowd when the lady was healed when she touched the hem of his garment—only I felt the power go into me.

He fired off all sorts of questions (little more than babble to me) interspersed with fits of maniacal laughter while he pounded his head against my leg. And in the weeks since then, I’ve realized that providing for the basic needs of five hundred dependents is the work of a highly dedicated team of professionals, but raising this boy is going to be most of all a matter of love and prayer.

04 September 2009

Unexpected and Inconvenient

Thanks for an outstanding retreat.

The header is new, something I've been experimenting with in Photoshop Elements. It may or may not be better, but it's different, and different is always good.

I'll be back on the keyboard before you know it.