Learning from the Past

I’m fortunate enough to have a German friend. He spent some time here in the states and got a really good chance to get to know what our culture is like. He did spot one area of concern: patriotism.

He explained to me that modern Germans don’t shy away from their history. They saw the role that patriotism played in Hitler’s rise to power. They pledged to teach their history without hiding the truth. You won’t see many people wave the national flag or sing the national song or saying the pledge of allegiance. The same can’t really be said about us and our relationship with our culture’s history – in particular that of the Civil War.

What I know about the Civil War is this. The northern states wanted to abolish slavery. The southern states – not so much. They seceded into the newly-formed Confederation. The northern states kept the name “Union”. The two fought a terrible, bloody war. The Union won. Abraham Lincoln was president. The fact that I know enough about the Civil War to cover seven short sentences tell you how much I’d forgotten over the years because the odds are it wasn’t just that simple and there was more going on.

As far as family history goes, very little about our involvement in the Civil War has been passed down. In one household, the war split two brothers – one fought for the Union and the other for the Confederacy. In another, the husband tried to stay out of it, but he was captured by Confederates and imprisoned. Eventually he was exchanged and managed to return home. Where he convinced all of his relatives who were also neutral to sign up for the Union. In those times he was away from home, his wife had to hold down the fort, sending her kids into the woods to hide so that when the Confederates visited none of them would be taken away. Somewhere, there’s a statue out there with the name of one of my relatives who fought in the Civil War.

Something that’s noticeable about the South, is that it’s spirit is still as rebellious as ever, even though southerners don’t believe in slavery, they don’t like being told how to live. Movies like Sweet Home Alabama show the pride Southerners have in their homeland.

Just the other day I made a joke at my expense as I’m not a local: “You can’t trust us Yankees.”

“Isn’t that the truth!” an elderly woman nearby said.

To be honest, after serving these people I have come to admire that they’re honest to a fault. They don’t sugar-coat what they think. They are hard-working people who know how to take it easy after working long hours farming the land. Living up North, you can get the impression that at least your predecessors were on the right side – but it shouldn’t be a source of pride or superiority over those originating in the South.

Looking around this county – there is a ton of Civil War history that I never really knew about aside from the historic markers you try to read as you fly by them on the road. Even then, there’s a number of historical reenactments that happen every year – though I’ve never seen one.

I suppose with effort people can erase history, eradicate memorials, and re-write text-books, but even without monuments, the history and the heritage of the south lives on in the people who live here. The trick is learn from it in much the same way as my German friend has come to terms with his.

I guess I thought that the Civil War was ancient history and it had no bearing on what’s going down right here and right now, but I’m only just now realizing that I couldn’t be more wrong.

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In Good Company

(It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven years since I had the honor of visiting The Church of the Company of Jesus in Quito, Ecuador. When I arrived, I was given a pamphlet about the church which I had never read – until today. The fact that it’s in Spanish isn’t a problem given that my Spanish has finally gotten usable and for the most part I understand what it’s saying. For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, I’ve included the Google Translate version towards the end – with some minor corrections as there were some flaws.)

Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús

Quito, Ecuador

La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús

Quito – Ecuador

La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, cumbre del barroco latinoamericano, construido por vario jesuitas entre 1605 y 1765, fue inspirada en dos emblemáticos templos jesuitas romanos: Il Gesú y San Ignacio.
El templo tiene planta de cruz latina, nave central, norte y sur, transepto, crucero, presbiterio, antesacristía, sacristía y capilla. La nave central cubiera por una bóveda de 26 m de altura, realiza con ladrillo y piedra pómez y finalmente decorada con yesería, policromía y pan de oro en estilo mudéjar, es un importante aporte a la arquitectura colonial quiteña del Hermano jesuita italiano Marcos Guerra, quen colaboró también con la construcción de las cúpulas ubicadas in las naves laterales y en la cúpula mayor del crucero.
El templo de la Compañía fue levantado con las manos de innumerables artistas de la Escuela Quiteña, quenes perpetuaron su habilidad y entrega para tallar y dorar con fina lámina de oro de 23 kilates cada centímetro de la iglesia.
Durante 160 años se edificó y decoró la iglesia con magníficas obras de arte; muestra de ello son los 16 Javier Goríbar, artista quiteño del siglo XVIII. Al pincel de Hernando de la Cruz se le atribuyen los dos grandes lienzos originales del Infierno y del Juicio FInal, obras Alejandro Salas en el siglo XIX hoy se ubican en los extremos norte y sur de la iglesia. Se admiran en las enjustas sobre los arcos de medio punto de la nave central las escenas bíblias de Sansón y Dalila, y de José, hijo de Jacob, obras anónimas del siglo SVIII. En las naves laterales se destacan 6 imponentes retablos atribidos a la afamada escuela de arte quiteño del siglo XVIII: el de San José, El Calvario, y San Luis Gonzaga en la nave norte y La Virgen de Loreto, La Inmaculada y San Estanislao de Kostka en la nave sur. En los transeptos norte y sur sobresalen los retablos gemelos de San Francisco Javier y San Ignacio respectivamente, atribuidos también a Marcos Guerra, y en el presbiterio destaca el dorado del retablo mayer realizado por el tran imaginero colonial quiteño Bernardo de Legarda.
La fachada de la iglesia es una sobresaliente obra de estilo barroco, construida toda en piedra gris de origen volcánico. Tiene cada espacio cubierto con el más mínimo detalle finalmente labrado; así se admiran flores, ángeles, arcángeles, símbolos eclesiásticos y varias imágenes representativas entre las que se descubren: …
Dos hechos religiosos importantes están ligados a la Iglesia de la Compañía: uno de estos fue el fugaz paso de Mariana de Jesús, la primera santa ecuatoriana que se consagró en este templo y lo escogió para morar para siempre; Mariana murió en 1645 (siglo XVII) y es en el altar mayor donde ahora se veneran sus restos. El milagro de la imagen de la Virgen Dolorosa del Colegio, es también un hecho de fe profunda sucedido en el comedor del antiguo Colegio San Gabriel en el interior del edificio jesuita, el 20 de abril de 1906.
La torre de la iglesia, en época colonial reconocida como la más alta de la ciudad, sufrió dos embates telúricos: en 1859 el primero, luego de lo cual fe reconstruida, y en 1868 , año desde el que permanece tal como lo conecemos.
Durante los últimos diecinueve años, 1987-2005, la iglesia ha vivido un importante proceso de restauración integral, el mismo que ha sido reconocido por el profesionalismo con el que instituciones nacionales así como centenares de técnicos, arquitectos, restauradores, y obreros realizaron, con abnegado trabajo y mística personal para alcanzar la total restaución del templo.
La Residencia San Ignacio y la Fundación Iglesia de la Compañía encargadas de la conservación y mantenimiento del templo le invitan a admirar la iglesia y de esta forma apoyar en la promoción del compromiso que como ecuatorianos tenemos de preservar este legado cultural.


The Church of the Company of Jesus
Quito, Ecuador
The Church of the Company of Jesus, serves as a peak example of the Latin American baroque church, was built by several Jesuits between 1605 and 1765, and was inspired by two emblematic Roman Jesuit temples: Il Gesu and San Ignacio.
The temple has a Latin cross plant, central nave, north and south, transept, transept, presbytery, antechrist, sacristy and chapel. The central nave was covered by a vault of 26 m high, made with brick and pumice stone and finally decorated with plasterwork, polychrome and gold leaf in Mudejar style, is an important contribution to the colonial architecture of the Italian Jesuit Brother Marcos Guerra, Who also collaborated with the construction of the domes located in the lateral naves and in the greater dome of the transept.
The Temple of the Company was erected with the hands of countless artists of the Quito School, who perpetuated their ability and delivery to carve and gild with a fine 23-karat gold foil on every inch of the church.
For 160 years the church was built and decorated with magnificent works of art; 16 Javier Goríbar, an eighteenth-century artist from Quito. Hernando de la Cruz’s brush is attributed the two great original canvases of Hell and Final Judgment, the works of Alejandro Salas in the nineteenth century today are located at the north and south ends of the church. The bible scenes of Samson and Delilah, and Joseph, son of Jacob, as well as anonymous works of the SVIII century, are admired in the area over the arches of the central nave of the central nave. In the side aisles there are 6 imposing altarpieces attributed to the famous eighteenth-century Quito school of art: San José, El Calvario, and San Luis Gonzaga in the north nave and La Virgen de Loreto, La Inmaculada and San Estanislao de Kostka in the southern nave. In the northern and southern transepts, the twin altarpieces of San Francisco Javier and San Ignacio, respectively, also attributed to Marcos Guerra, and in the presbytery stands out the gold of the greater altarpiece made by the visionary colonial of Quito, Bernardo de Legarda.
The facade of the church is an outstanding work of Baroque style, all built in gray stone of volcanic origin. It has each space covered with the finest detail exquisitely worked; Flowers, angels, archangels, ecclesiastical symbols and several representative images among which are discovered: …
Two important religious events are linked to the Church of the Company: one of these was the fleeting passage of Mariana de Jesus, the first Ecuadorian saint to be consecrated in this temple and chose to live forever; Mariana died in 1645 (seventeenth century) and it is on the main altar where her remains are now venerated. The miracle of the image of the Sorrowful Virgin of the College is also a fact of deep faith happened in the dining room of the old San Gabriel College inside the Jesuit building, on April 20, 1906.
The tower of the church, in colonial times was recognized as the highest of the city, suffered two earthquakes: in 1859 the first, after which was rebuilt faithfully, and in  the year 1868, from which it remains as we now know it.
During the last nineteen years, 1987-2005, the church has undergone an important process of integral restoration, which has been recognized by the professionalism with which national institutions as well as hundreds of technicians, architects, restorers and selfless workers and church ministers to achieve the total restoration of the temple.
The San Ignacio Residence and the Church Foundation of the Company in charge of the conservation and maintenance of the temple invite you to admire the church and in this way support in the promotion of the commitment that we as Ecuadorians have to preserve this cultural legacy.

Places of Honor

When he (Jesus) noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. – Luke 14:7-11

Recently, I was invited to a rather special dinner for a select group of people. It didn’t occur to me until halfway through my meal that I had chosen the foot of the table, the seat furthest from the action. Thinking back on the evening, this verse stands out. My hosts weren’t the sort to play favorites and don’t exist in the context of an honor/shame society. So for that reason, the scenario Jesus said would play out didn’t, they didn’t say “you, move on up” or “you, go sit down there.”

It makes me wonder what else we’re clinging to literally even though the rules have changed. What else we say is exactly the same as in Jesus’ day, but obviously isn’t for the same reasons: we’re not an honor/shame society, we’re not an unequal society that places higher value on people of a certain class or race or gender than others, we’re not predisposed to place higher value on certain friends over others based on how long we’ve known them or how beneficial it is to be connected to them.

Ultimately, we have to pick and choose what to take literally. Some things are bound to cultural elements that no longer fly, like some seats being more honorable than others; but this isn’t the only example of something cultural. The thing is – a culture is defined by it’s customs and practices – quite a few of those are outlined in scripture, some customs we obviously just never picked up: like washing feet, some customs are part of other cultures: like greeting with a kiss. Even relationship patterns, such as how the Bible describes between two people are heavily dependent on their cultural norms as a basis upon what is expected of each role. But just what exactly isn’t cultural?

I think it’s the unseen things – the things that involve treating others with respect, being humble and kind, being patient, living out a life of love. It’s far better to carry out the spirit of the text even if it doesn’t look like literally obeying the letter of the New Testament Law.

Why I Do and Don’t Speak Spanish

I don’t look like I speak Spanish. My ancestry is predominantly Irish, with some French, German, English, and Scottish thrown in there somewhere. As a result, I’m on the paler spectrum of skin types, with sort-of blonde hair and blue eyes. A number of my customers are obviously Latino – mostly hailing from Mexico. They look like they speak Spanish – and so far, they all seem to. But I know that statistically, that’s not always the case. For some reason or another, many second-generation Latinos don’t always know their parent’s language. I don’t want to make them uncomfortable or a situation awkward by speaking Spanish to them assuming that just because they look like they should speak Spanish that they will. So for the first while, I tend not to speak in Spanish until I hear my customers speaking Spanish to each other.

Then I speak Spanish to them. Usually, they’re quite surprised – asking some variation of: “Since when do you speak Spanish?” “Have you spoken Spanish long?” “Do you know a lot of Spanish?” It’s true, I’m quite familiar with Spanish, I’ve studied it off and on for years – and through DuoLingo – I know that pretty much everyday for the last two years I’ve managed to review a lot of it – but I still find myself unprepared to speak a lot of it. The only way to really fix that is to actually speak it, stumble over making glorious mistakes, and learning as I go to develop an ear for hearing it spoken quite rapidly.

I’m getting better, I can tell – though it’s not as quickly as I’d like. My main goal is to get better at understanding others and communicating clearly enough that I’m understood – even if it’s not grammatically perfect. I still try my best to be respectful – Latinos may be a working class, and often taken advantage of – it doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve to be treated with dignity – we all do, but they’re also deeply committed to their families and we could learn a lot from them if only we’d learn a little humility first.

America’s actually on track to have just as many (if not more) Spanish speakers than Spain, in the years to come, it might be more and more common to see mainstream t.v. shows featuring Spanish-language programming rather than just on Univision and Telemundo. The time to learn a language isn’t when you need it, it’s long before you need it but know you’ll use it down the line.

¿Ustedes hablan español? Es difícil saber cuándo hablar español? (Do y’all speak Spanish? Is it difficult to know when to speak Spanish?) If not, can you speak other languages other than English and do you have the same difficulties?

Symbols of Heritage

In these parts, it’s not uncommon to see a prominently displayed southern flag just about everywhere – from people’s clothing, to the decals on their trucks. I was thinking about how the Southern Baptists recently took up the question about whether or not to affirm the symbol of Southern pride and heritage or the symbol of slavery and one of the darkest chapters in Southern history.

Now me, I don’t have that strong of an affiliation with it. I grew up in one of those states that was removed from the conflict. I then lived in a northern state and moved to a southern one – if only barely. My family history tells me that on one side of my family – the question divided two brothers, one fought for the north, the other the south. On the other side, they were neutral until some members of the family were imprisoned and upon being traded back he rallied everyone to sign up for the north and fight against the south; or so the story goes – the evidence is a little difficult to come by. We didn’t really have a big plantation or a stake in the economic prosperity that slavery provided it’s masters at the expense of the slaves.

The way I see it, it’s the cross to bear of pro-heritage folk to always have the anti-slavery being the dark side of the same symbol. The south without slavery wouldn’t have gone to war, wouldn’t have tried to separate itself into a whole other country, and wouldn’t have been symbolized by it’s own flag. You can’t have one without the other. So you’ll have little choice but to say: “I’m not racist but I affirm my Southern heritage” every single time you hold up the banner, you bear that cross. If you want to affirm your southern heritage without having a racist dark-side, you’d have to choose another symbol. But what else is there that unites southern heritage?

Notice that Northerners, Midwesterners, and Westerners don’t have such a flag of their heritage to rally behind. There’s nothing symbolic about where they’re from that ties in so many different states over such vast regions. I’ll let proponents of the southern flag explain to me why it’s necessary when none of the other regions seem to need one.

Rememberance

I’ve been selling a lot of artificial flowers in Reds, Whites, and Blues lately – they’re for the gravestones of loved ones, they will be cleaned up, left for them, and remembered for their sacrifice. It certainly is a sight to behold.

It reminds me of the Day of the Dead celebration I witnessed when I visited my friend a few years ago. Her culture does much the same thing, clean up the gravestones, leave behind flowers, candles, and they spend the whole day remembering every single relative they lost. Instead of a few gravestones here and there being given special care, each and every one of them would be taken care of. The whole cemetery would fill with colors and flowers and signs and incense and light.

I haven’t lost very many relatives, but the ones I have lost are buried really far away. There are two cemeteries where there are a lot of relatives from generations past – my grandparents, great grandparents, great great grandparents and their children on one side of the family and my great grandparents, great great grandparents going even further back on the other side of the family. I’ve never been there, but I’ve seen pictures of their gravestones on FindAGrave.com I have also seen a few pictures from a civil war group who came to give one of their fallen soldiers a proper burial. After all this time … he was remembered.

I think a ‘Day of the Dead’ is just what we need, a day to remember everyone who ever lived and isn’t with us anymore. I plan to take a look at the cemeteries this weekend and remember our fallen fighters, but also the ones they fought for. I know that it’s our lot to fight wars, but I’ll still long for peace so that no family has to be separated this way again and in the mean-time, I’ll wish that our warriors rest in peace and their families enjoy the hard-won peace that cost them so very much.

Honor and Shame

I remember reading a little while ago that concepts such as honor and shame require an outside party to tell you that your actions merit praise or disgrace, whereas concepts such as right and wrong rely on an internal compass where we come to recognize our guilt or innocence. Much of the western world often misses the incongruity of valuing right and right when their theological basis is a book written with honor and shame language. As a result, we have mixed up the two concepts and equated honor with being right and shame with being wrong. That’s not always the case.

There are many categories of what is honorable and shameful in the Bible – there’s the things that are particular to Jewish beliefs, Roman beliefs, and Christian beliefs. Men and women lived in a world of honor and shame that was precariously balanced between the law of the land and the spiritual law. In general, patriarchy set the tone – that men were the representatives of their family in the public sphere and the women were to remain in their private homes and avoid public interaction as much as possible. The public served as the outside party whose collective opinion could mean the difference between earning honor or deserving shame. The rules were different for men and women; while men could attain honor – such a thing was unthinkable for women. Their only contribution could be to bring shame on the men of their family through their actions. To them, honor was everything. That’s why many of the institutional religion were threatened by Jesus, who constantly seemed to win the favor of the crowd and he won every challenge, earning for himself honor while his opponents were simultaneously dishonored.

Christianity flipped the script on the ancient world’s concept of shame and honor. Honor demands satisfaction, whereas Christianity commands humility. Our example is not that of a powerful, popular, and wealthy man, but of one who was powerless, forsaken, and poor. Yet when I consider the various sorts of Christians who represent his name, I see powerful, popular, and wealthy people who make disciples in their own image. This is what we honor and we deem as right and honorable to attain. It’s opposite, then, must be nothing less than a personification of shame and that which is wrong: weak, unpopular, and poor people. But aren’t these the very people that Jesus declared were blessed? According to Romans 10:11: “As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” While referring to Isaiah 28:16.

We need to choose which thing we will believe in – that honor and shame are a timeless truth or that right and wrong will be the thing we trust in. If we chose the former, then we cannot trust our own consciences – we would need others to tell us whether or not we are honorable people. If we chose the latter, then we will recognize that things done in the name of honor are not always right. When we read the Bible, we have to pay attention to the heart of the message when we see words like shame, honor, dishonor and figure out what applies as written or what was meant.

Some of the honor/shame language was to use the concepts the original readers would have understood – that their actions in His name reflect upon him just as much as their own actions reflected on their families that it is not to say that we dishonor God in the same way they did as we operate by another set of concepts. I’m not sure how Paul would equate that message in right/wrong language – but we do know that he wrote this in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” We should not be quick to embrace concepts of honor and shame without fully understanding the many layers involved in those teachings. So when people tell you that the Bible says something is shameful or honorable – just be glad that we’re freed from all of that in our right and wrong society and Paul would not want have us wanted to live as if shame and honor were the pedestal upon which the things of God were founded upon.