Thursday, August 27, 2009

Liberte Dentro

Reflections from a ministry trip to Cuba. Musings pair with a slideshow.

A Mother's Land

The heart of Cuba is in her smile: humbly worn, spilling over boundaries, a welcome warm embrace. The smallest of her fruits color the greatness of her spirit. Laughter is her song, solo artists and choir sing praises to her Creator. Her beauty lies in recovery, trash turned into treasure. Simplicity softens hard brick walls. Her skeletons frame every cornerstone, each shelter an entrance to her story that never fades, its fullness rarely known. Her steps, heavy, carry glory. Active service clears the way. Gathered treasures leave bare behind. On the way now, just around the corner. Home, made fresh. Rough shells pared, ready. Her strength moves divers ways. The hem of her shores provide means. Her fruits bitter sweet, hand picked, refined choice. She shares her troubles with cups of comfort. What was lost is found in her eyes. Posted battle scars display her courage. Exposed stains prove labor well done. Refuse reveals what is most used. Delicate sorrows laced with blooming joy. She has everything to offer – by pound, dozen, liter, ounce – her harvest is delivered with an easy yoke. No movement is in vain; driven by purpose, her will makes a way. She approaches with boldness. Even in stillness she lays with classic grace. Her breath in every petal, her voice in every stone. Every creature, every element, every inch of earth her home. Witness character, common fellowship. Casual, seasoned. Heroic poise. Her cry, a silent light in darkness, heard and seen by heart. All parts of her come together for good to them who trust God’s glory is at work. Her emptiness, a window view of the promise her children possess. The Lord’s hand is upon her, her spirit richly blessed. And though the roads are narrow, often traveled alone, they are always open, and they all lead to home.

Free Within

Vision is biased; like beliefs we selectively choose what we want to see. Our eyes are drawn to specific people, places and things because of our thoughts and personalities. An empty milk jug is garbage to one observer, to another it is a planter. What something is depends on who is observing the object. This is true for the manner is which we view one another as well. A woman and child may appear physically poor and hungry, or rich and full in spirit. To me she may expose what is wrong with a country - oppressed and forsaken - or her struggle could reveal a country’s hope and path to liberty.  

I had double vision in Cuba. Because I live in America as a person of color, I have mastered the art of maintaining what W.E.B. Dubois called a double consciousness. Discord can be harmonized into jazz. The dissonance can create a tension that makes one feel more alive and present in the moment. Still, my American perspective inherently blurs my testimony. Even with a rather liberal consciousness, I had a hard time viewing those standing in line for a liter of milk as liberated. But I had no context, no reference point from which to compare what was with what is. Was American exploitation less evil than Cuban oppression? Subjugation less offensive than domination? Elitism less marginalizing than restricted freedom? True, no citizen of Cuba has more than the other. There is no black or white social stratification system, no upper, middle or lower economic classes. Everyone is equal; but everyone is poor. Is it better that a people are all in the same boat, even if that boat is sinking? Better to die together than alone?

This was the most notable character of Cuba. The sense of obligation to community stands in sharp contrast to American society. We have to work at building what Cubans rely upon for basic survival. Ours is a choice, a leisure agreement to cooperate with one another, fueled by a desire to live more sustainably. Theirs is a need, an urgent concession each person must make if she hopes to live a minimal existence. Despite the forced nature of community, the people of Florencia, Cuba possess a gift that has been lost in American culture, replaced by acute cases of individualism and isolation. The people of Cuba greet one another with genuine care and concern for the other’s well being. A personal visit occurs as often as we make trips to the grocery store or check e-mail. They stop in the middle of their coming or going to speak, even if they just shared a cup of coffee earlier that morning. Honest fellowship is a standard of living that far exceeds the value of our perceived freedom of choice between Coke or Pepsi.  

The most inspirational population is common in both countries; Cuban and American children represent the best in humanity. Their transparency creates authentic connections and honest communication even without the benefit of a common language. I noticed that though all children love to play, some do so with a higher intensity that borders on frenzy, devouring the opportunity to be children, absorbing the attention like our most deficit American kid. In this respect, children in Florencia mirror the energy of our youngest at-risk, traditionally disenfranchised American children, though without the social-behavioral challenges, (a difference in Cuba which may be related to heavier demands for discipline and compliance with authority.)   The greatest impression is what serves as my motivation today. I first saw it during our play time with the children. The game was simple: act out an animal well enough that we can guess the animal. When given the choice to be whatever they wanted, children and adults participated with a fervor I would expect at a college championship game. This fire, so easily kindled, spoke to my spirit. No matter our cross, God has placed liberation on our hearts. We all long to be free within.

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