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Learning to Live With Cancer*

I am standing in front of my kitchen sink. It is early in the morning and I have already cooked breakfast and am ready to clean some dishes before leaving the house. The dirty dishes are piled up, ready to be cleaned and put away. But there’s one word that keeps coming back to me. It’s been a few weeks already, but the word doesn’t leave my mind. It comes back and I slowly repeat it. Sarcoma. Sarcoma. Sarcoma…sarcoma-cancer-awareness-ribbon

It is frightening to think that your life is about to end. Up until now, I knew that I would not live forever. In fact, I’ve had a few close encounters with death already. The first one was just as I was being born. The amniotic fluid invaded my lungs and I had to be resuscitated. My mom didn’t get to hold me in her arms until a few days after my birth. There was another time in elementary school when a car almost hit me. I remember clearly that one experience. I was enjoying a lollipop when I heard my mom’s screams, and I found myself almost touching the red car’s hood. I don’t recall how I got there, but the feeling of having been closed to death is not something that goes away easy. Many years ago, I still remember laying in a hospital bed with an infection and being unable to breath. The last image I remember is that of the doctors screaming something like “he’s back, he’s back!” They had resuscitated me once more. But this time, for whatever reason, it felt different.

Just a few weeks before standing in front of the sink and uttering the word “sarcoma”, I had received the call from the doctor. The biopsy I had a week and a half prior to the call had revealed that I had soft tissue sarcoma. It was impossible for the biopsy to determine how spread the cancer was, or in what stage, or whether the tumors were only located on those visible marks I had gone to the doctor for. All the doctor could tell me was: the biopsy revealed sarcoma and more tests were needed in order to find out other answers. The oncologist’s office will give me a call to set up the next appointment.

The days I spent waiting for the oncologist’s call felt like years. I thought this waiting was going to be the worst. But it wasn’t. After that one call and the setting up of the appointment, came the other period of waiting. Now I had to wait for the actual date of the appointment. Until then, nothing was clear; nothing was finalized. I just had a date for the appointment and a wealth of information – both good and bad – through the magic of the internet. Of course, this is not something that I recommend to anyone! That was, perhaps, the worst of the decisions I made. It brought even more stress to my already stressful waiting period.

Sarcoma. Sarcoma. Sarcoma… Every day since the diagnosis, I repeat those words. Sometimes it is in front of the kitchen sink. Other times it is in front of the mirror. Other times, while I drive to work. I feel like if I keep mentioning it, it will either go away or make me more in charge of it.

It has not been easy since the diagnosis. Even after having met with the oncologist and knowing more about what lays ahead, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the reality that my body has been invaded by this illness. I continue repeating the words, hoping that the repetition will take away the diagnosis. But I also know that this is not going to happen. Right now, I just need to learn how to clean the dishes with sarcoma. I just need to learn how to put the dishes away with sarcoma. I just need to learn how to look myself at the mirror and see both what I like and the marks of sarcoma. I just need to learn how to live with cancer. But that’ll be it: I will learn how to LIVE.

_____

*I wrote this reflection after a few days of being diagnosed with sarcoma. Since the, I have seen the oncologist, gone over the possible treatments, confirmed that the cancer is not spread, and scheduled my first round of radiation. Not super great news, but way better than thinking that my life is over. 🙂

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Aprendiendo a vivir con los miedos

¿Que si tengo miedo? ¡Por supuesto que tengo miedo! Y mucho.

img_0336 Han sido unas semanas de espera. Primero esperando por los resultados de la biopsia. Una vez que llegaron los resultados, la espera de la cita con el especialista. Luego la espera de más exámenes y más laboratorios y más tiempo para hacer un plan de acción… En fin, que la espera misma ha sido todo un miedo aterrador.

Hace unas seis semanas recibí la noticia que vivo con cáncer. Sarcoma de los tejidos blandos, para ser preciso. El recibir la llamada del médico, justo unas horas antes de entrar a una importante reunión, no es lo que le recomiendo a nadie. Tuve que beberme las lágrimas, fingir que todo estaba bien, ofrecer mi reporte y contestar las preguntas necesarias. Tuve que hacerme el fuerte porque es lo que se supone que uno haga. Pero por dentro… ¡no! Por dentro me iba muriendo poco a poco. La noticia me llenó de terrores que no imaginé que eran posibles. “Me estoy pudriendo por dentro”, fue lo que pensé. “Todo lo que he luchado, todo lo que he hecho, todos los planes que no he podido cumplir… todo se viene abajo.” Sí, esos fueron los pensamientos que tuve.

Pero tuve que poner todo a un lado y seguir. Pa’ lante, porque no hay pa’ donde más ir.

Soy jíbaro. De Castañer. Del campo. De cafetales. Soy jíbaro y a los jíbaros no se nos da eso de aparentar flaqueza. Soy jíbaro y a los jíbaros no nos queda bien eso de sentarse a echarse a morir. El orgullo no nos permite doblar el brazo y admitir nuestras penas y penurias. Pero por dentro… O no, por dentro es otra cosa. Por dentro nos desbastamos igual que el cáncer que se va comiendo mi cuerpo de adentro hacia afuera.

Por supuesto, lo primero que pensé es que mis días estaban ya contados. ¡Y tanto sin haber cumplido! Nunca fui papá. Nunca viaje a todos los continentes. Nunca terminé de escribir mi novela. Nunca obtuve mi doctorado. Nunca escribí mi obra máxima de teología. En fin, que vi mi vida pasar frente a mis ojos en un minutos.

Es interesante que esto fuera así porque no es la primera vez que enfrento a la muerte. Pero el cáncer… oh… el cáncer es injusto y malvado. Te destroza los planes y los sueños en un minuto. Ya han sido muchas las vidas que he visto extinguirse por el maldito cáncer. Algunas hasta han pasado a la eternidad.

He visto mucha gente morir. Soy pastor y ha sido mi responsabilidad estar allí para ver lo que pasa. No solo eso. Soy humano y como tal, siempre he vivido la muerte. Primero un primo. Luego mi abuelo. Después mi mejor amigo. Todos se fueron. Todos de manera inesperada. La muerte siguió siendo parte de mi vida… una tía. Otra tía. Otro abuelo. Otro primo. Otra amiga. Y así, siguieron extinguiéndose vidas a mi alrededor hasta que me acostumbré un poco. Luego, una vez que estuve en el seminario y me preparaba para hacerme ministro, entonces encontré la muerte un poco más de cerca. Trabajando en un hospital pude tomar de la mano a algunas personas mientras se despedían de este mundo. Se iban descarnando y siguiendo sus espíritus hasta encontrarse con el Gran Poder. Sus almas pasando de esta esfera a la próxima y yo allí, junto a ellas para acompañarles. ¿Pero yo? Pues si yo he escapado la muerte tantas veces. ¿Cómo va a venir a por mí?

La muerte no me da miedo. Lo que me atemoriza es el despedirme sin haber terminado de tejer mis sueños. Eso sí me da miedo. Me da miedo quedarme en una cama hasta deshacerme en pedacitos y no poder valerme por mí mismo. Me da miedo el no volver a viajar y ver tantas maravillas y conocer tanta gente que aún no he visto ni conocido. Me da miedo el que se termine mi tiempo de explorar. Me da miedo el no haber dejado una huella en este mundo. Me da miedo el no haber amado hasta lo más profundo y con una pasión tanta que no quiera ya morir. Me da miedo el no volver a mi terruñito y escuchar una vez más el cantar del gallo y del coquí; el tener el placer de levantarme con el olor de la flor de café y el sentir el sereno de las mañanas. Me da miedo el no ver a un ruiseñor más en las flores de maga y el no poder volver a caminar en el fango y oler la yerba mojada. Eso me da miedo. Me da miedo el que nunca nadie me diga “¡papi!” con la inocencia que solo puede hacerlo un niño o una niña. Me da miedo que no tenga fuerzas ya para abrir los ojos y ver el cielo desde mis montañas lejanas.

No quiero escuchar, de nadie, que no tengo que temer. Nunca lo dije a ninguna de las personas que vi morir o a sus familias. No quiero que me lo digan a mí. ¡Sí, quiero tener miedo! Pero quiero también aprender a vivir con ellos. Los miedos no se van por si solos. No. Con los miedos se aprende a vivir.

No sé qué traerá el futuro inmediato. Mucho menos puedo saber lo que traerá el futuro lejano. Por ahora, solo sé que estoy aquí. Sé que tengo a familia y a amistades. Sé que tengo mi gente de la iglesia y mis estudiantes. Sé que tengo conocidos que han extendido la mano para ayudar, si solo por un ratito… Sé que tengo miedos con los que voy a aprender a vivir.

¿Que si tengo miedo? ¡Por supuesto que tengo miedo! Y mucho… pero soy jíbaro y voy a aprender a vivir con ellos.

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Taking a break… but not for too long!

Friends:

Much has been going on in the past months. I needed to take a break from writing for my blog in order to focus on personal matters. I will be back soon with more writings and more sharing of experiences. Of course, I write this blog more as a diary than with the intention of having followers, but I thought that, for the two or three who *do* read my posts, I wanted to let them know that I have not abandoned the blog. 😉

Thanks!

 

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Bring the Sermon Back and See the Church Grow!

It is hard to pinpoint the one reason why mainline churches are in decline. Some people – like me – prefer to say that mainline churches are in the midst of a transformation. There is no resurrection without death. There is no morning without night. There is no possibility of renewal without some heavy shaking up of established paradigms. At the same time, I believe that we must honor our history as faith communities, firmly established in traditions that have formed and informed us. It is a delicate balance to maintain and one that few local communities – and perhaps larger denominations – have achieved.

Following this thinking, I have been reflecting on the role of the sermon within the worship life of the community. Often when you ask people about worship, the first thing that comes to mind is music, hymns, “coritos” (if you are in a Latinx church), prayer, silence, Communion, etc. Music, without a doubt, takes the center stage when it comes to worship life. Seldom, if ever, the sermon, reading of Scripture, study of the sacred texts and education come up in conversation about worship.

It is known that music has had a long history in the worship life of the faith communities. In the Christian church we hear about the use of Psalms and other musical elements throughout the letters of Paul to the churches and the Acts of the Apostles. Indubitable music is an integral part of communal worship. Music can help people to connect in a way that other parts of the service do not. Music helps – or should help – to pass on the teachings of the Church, to teach the growing generations of Christians about the history, beliefs and traditions of their community. Music helps people to connect with the Divinity in an emotional way (and yes, if used properly it can also help in connecting intellectually.) But what about the sermon?pulpit

Ask a 10 people about what they enjoy the most about worship and perhaps 8 will tell you that it is the music. Perhaps the other two might enjoy prayers or some other parts – offertory, anyone? – but I am almost certain that perhaps only one will mention, by passing, the sermon.

Note, however, that I am focusing on the mainline or historical Protestant traditions of the Church.

Recently I preached at a mainline church as a guest preacher. I tried my best to keep the sermon shorter than I am used to for two reasons: I knew the church didn’t enjoy long sermons – more than 12 minutes – and because we were already running late. After the service was over I stayed to greet people as they exited the sanctuary. A person approached me and said something like: “A friend who is a preacher said to me that a good sermon should not be more than 7 minutes. That if you can’t say it in that time, there’s nothing good to say.” No greetings. No “thank yous”. No questions or comments about an idea from the sermon or how it helped – or not – in his spiritual life. Nothing. I was taken aback and didn’t get to respond. But a second person approached with a similar comment about the length of sermons. To this person I replied: “Some traditions enjoy longer sermons. I myself grew up in a church that honored the sermon as an important part of the worship experience, with longer sermons being featured in church. Personally, I can go to worship and have no music whatsoever, but if I don’t have a sermon or the proclamation of Scripture, I have not had worship.” Now it was the person’s time to be taken aback! They looked at me stunned, as if I had said some kind of heresy or something! But what I said was true. I can attend a beautifully planned service with only chants, songs and music, but if there is no Bible reading and an explanation of it, I have not had a worship experience. (This is the reason, by the way, why I don’t quite like Taizé services.)

Interestingly, the largest and more attended churches in the USA are Evangelical congregations. These congregations generally feature long sermons that resemble more college lectures than anything else. The pastor’s words and how they expound on the Bible verses read are integral to the spiritual life of the congregation. Sure, they also feature long musical pieces, but nothing replaces the sermon in the spiritual life of the church.

Why, then, are these churches growing while ours are declining? Does the fact that we have relegated the sermon to a second and perhaps even third place in the worshipping life of the Church has something to do with it? I think it does.

When the Church was in its first stages of development, the Apostles took time to expand on the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In Acts 20.7-12 we even read of how the Apostle Paul preached for so long that a young man who was listening, fell asleep and falling of the window where he was sitting! Of course I do not advocate for sermons so long that people start falling asleep and falling of windows… I just think that we must give the sermon and the proclamation of the Gospel the place that it deserves in Church.

Perhaps it is our hubris that makes us reject sermons in worship. With music, we can show off our talents and gifts; we can sing loud and clear, creating beautiful melodies that show others that we can overcome the ugly parts of life and create beauty. However, with a sermon we just sit there, allowing someone other than us tell us what the words mean, how they can be interpreted, what the history of the text is and how we can make use of these teachings in our daily lives. To listen to a sermon requires a humility that few of us in the mainline Church – the Church made up of mostly highly educated people – are willing to show. Listening to a sermon means that we are passive receptors of the wisdom of others, when our own society tells us that we are the center of the Universe and therefore the ones with all the answers.

A few years ago when I was being interviewed for my first church, I asked the president of the search committee how long they would like for me to preach at my candidating sermon. I had spent about three years in mostly Anglo-American, English speaking congregations, but having grown up in a rural, Puerto Rican mainline church, I already knew that there are always differences in worship styles. The person from the church was clear about what they were looking for: “Nothing too long. Between 40 to 45 minutes.” Yup. The Latino church was expecting their future pastor to preach for what others might consider a long time, but for them it was not too long. In fact, in my childhood church the pastor would preach for over 45 minutes, sometimes going over the hour. This was normal! Nobody complained or was concerned about lunch or after-church plans, because Sunday was for God and to worship in community. Church consumed pretty much all morning and even part of the early afternoon. And the sermon was at the center of the worship experience.

If you read the history of the Protestant church you will notice the importance of the sermon and the proclamation of the Gospel in the life of our faith. Pick up a book with the sermons from Luther, Calvin, Knox, Simmons, Zwingly or even later reformers such as Wesley or Campbell and you will notice that they gave Paul a run for his money! Their sermons are masterful theological essays that go on for pages and pages, expanding of the understanding of the faith we share.

As I said before, Evangelicals understand the importance of the sermon and the proclamation of the Gospel. In fact, the people who flock to their congregations are eager to receive the teachings and the wisdom that is shared during a sermon. They are in fact thirsty for it! What would happen if mainline churches reclaim the centrality of the sermon? What would happen if we honor our tradition of being the people of the Book and the people of the Word? In my ordination certificate it states that I was ordained to “the ministry of the Gospel”, not to the ministry of music or prayer or sacred dance… In some denominations the ordination is to “Word and Sacrament”, in others it is to “Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service.” No matter what, the Word is the central piece of ordination. Sure, pastors are chaplains and we tend to the spiritual needs of our congregants; but our main call is to open up the Gospel, to proclaim the good news, to preach and teach and educate.

I clearly remember the centrality of the sermon in my childhood church. The pulpit was at the center of the altar. Below it, at the level of the people, was the Communion Table. This symbolism showed us what was important when you entered this sacred space: the proclamation of the Gospel above all and the sharing of the Table with each other.

My invitation to our mainline congregations is to reclaim the centrality of the sermon in the spiritual and worship life of the Church. It is important to recognize the sermon and the proclamation of the Gospel as integral components of a worship experience. Seven minutes is not enough. Twelve minutes is not enough. I believe we must use as much or as little time as is needed to fulfill our task of proclaiming the good news. Whatever rules or understandings about the effective use of time in oratory should not be taken into consideration when considering a sermon. Would you be concerned about the length of a prayer? How about the length of meditation? I believe that the Church loses much when we want to impose the rules of the outside world to our spiritual life. Besides, how could it be that we are able to sit through an hour long speech by a politician but grumble when our pastors go over the magic 12 minute mark on their sermons?

I enjoy sermons. Whether they are long or short, if a sermon speaks to me, it speaks to me. A well-constructed sermon that opens up the Gospel is a beautiful aspect of worship and I will humbly sit down for as long as it takes to listen to it. Perhaps if we reclaim the centrality of the sermon in the life of the Church more people will be eager to join us and learn with us…

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The Academy and Creativity

It took me a very long time, but I finally recently got admitted to a doctoral program. I am currently completing a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree in educational leadership through an innovative distance learning program on a respected university. Contrary to what many people believe, online degrees are not less rigorous or less demanding than traditional programs. Certainly, there are several “diploma mills” out there – and both the FBI and the Department of Justice have taken matters into their hands.

Since way before I entered a doctoral program, I was excited with the possibility of becoming part of the academic elite. I do not mean this in a derogatory way. Far from it! I have admired academics and researchers my whole life. I looked up to them. I followed some of them and their works. I wanted to be part of this group that gives so much to

"This doesn't leave much room for creativity."

“This doesn’t leave much room for creativity.”

society. Thus, when I was admitted to the doctoral program, I was elated. I was finally entering a world in which I could be creative, original, and novel… My interaction with other students would allow me to discover new things and to expand my understanding of the world. Having mentors and teachers with vast experience in the field would mean that I would have the opportunity to ask questions, to get answers, to get recommendations on where to find answers, to get encouragement on topics to research and so much more.

What I can say, however, is that it’s been both encouraging and frustrating (but I guess that this is exactly how life in general goes!)

I am not saying that I am not happy with the program and the mentors. Nothing farther from the truth! I have enjoyed every part of the program. My mentors are amazingly great scholars and they have shown tremendous respect for their respective fields of study, for the training of the students, and for the institution they represent. I must also confess that I am in absolute awe with one particular mentor. Throughout my life, I have had my fair share of great teachers, and this particular mentor has quickly become one of them.

My frustration, however, is not with the institution, with the program, or with the field of study. My frustration is with the academic system that, in order to standardize the production of knowledge, has, at the same time, curtailed creativity on the part of the scholars.

I am not suggesting that we ought to get rid of rules altogether, or that we should never follow certain standards. However, I have noticed how the rules and regulations are so ridiculously complicated and detailed that they do not allow for the expressing of individuality on the part of the scholar who is writing.

I became aware of this through my doctoral studies. Throughout my academic life I have used different styles manuals (mostly the University of Chicago manual, but also MLA Formatting and Style Guide and the APA Style Publication Manual.) Since one of my graduate degrees is in theology, even more creativity was allowed. This doesn’t mean that theological research is less rigorous. It means that, because of the nature of the field, creativity is welcomed and celebrated. Moreover, some flexibility was always allowed so as to present works that spoke to who we are as individuals in relation to the work we are doing.

Now, however, as I move to a more standardized form of scholarly writing, I find myself baffled at the many regulations that come with it.

Two spaces after a final period? Why the heck?! Do the people who put together these manuals are over 100 years old and still using typewriters?

A whole, almost blank page *just* for my name and institution? Apparently they don’t care about wasting money or resources when printing!

Having to repeat the title on EVERY. SINGLE. PAGE? Why??? Just… WHY???

OK, I get the numbering pages (always have done that.) And I also get having a standard way of quoting, citing, and writing the references. But, honestly, there are other rules that make no sense… and that, for people who enjoy writing and reading like me, make it difficult to be creative with the way in which we present our work.

Now I understand why most scholars dress the same, talk the same, have the same mannerisms, and pretty much look all the same: they have been following standardized ways of scholarly work for decades! To me, that is sad.

To be honest, I will definitely follow every single one of the ridiculous rules and regulations the program asks me to follow. After all, I *do* want to succeed in this program and part of the way of doing this is by conforming to the system that has allowed you to pursue research and scholarly work. But I also make myself a promise: never, ever, ever, EVER, to curtail the writing creativity – within reason – of my future students and mentorees.

 

[RANT OVER. LOL]

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A Pastor’s Reflection After-Mother’s Day

Every second Sunday in May in the United States there is the celebration of Mother’s Day. Like every other celebration in the country, this too has been over-commercialized. Stores try to take advantage of the day and sell everything they can; from postcards to clothes to fancy dinners and even cars! “Your mom is so special”, they seem to say, “that you ought to spend all your money on her.”images

Of course, the problem with the previous statement is that not all mothers are “special” and not everyone has or had a mother. In fact, Mother’s Day can be a very painful day for many of us. Single mothers have to find ways to provide for their children, seldom with any outside help. Single fathers are not recognized for their maternal instincts. Women who have no kids feel excluded. For other people, their mother was – or is – absent or an abuser. And still others have a difficult relationship with their mothers, like in my case. For these and many other reasons, Mother’s Day can be a painful day.

As Mother’s Day approached this year, I read, once again, the many reasons why some of my colleagues in ministry were not going to observe the day in church. Others expressed their discomfort with the day and how churches should not recognize mothers in any form on this day, and rather call for some other way of recognizing womanhood. Yet others expressed their pain and their dissatisfaction at their own experiences and how much hurt the day brings.

Four years ago, my own mother cut all communications with me, and even before that, after my coming out as queer, my relationship with my mother was difficult. As my sister became more and more conservative in her religious beliefs and as she started to influence my parents’ opinions more and more, our relationship as a family has deteriorated to a point that we are now estranged. I do not know if things will mend in the future; I only know the present. This is why Mother’s Day is also a very painful day for me. It reminds me that there is a void in my life; a void that was previously filled by the nurturing love of the woman who gave birth to me. Yet, as a pastor and now as a minister with no parish but still active in the life of the church, observing Mother’s Day is important to me.

Certainly, going to church on the second Sunday of May is difficult. But there is something more important than the pain I have for having lost my mother to Christian fundamentalism: the importance of celebrating motherhood in all of its fierceness, in all of its variations, in all of its strength, and doing it in a community of faith. Being part of a church means that there will be times when we do not fit in. There are also times when we can’t connect with what is being said from the pulpit or with the theme for the day. There are times when we attend church and come out without having felt any transformation whatsoever – which is supposed to be the point of having gone to worship, after all. Yet, we continue attending (or we complain, whine and find another church of our liking or, as it is more common nowadays, start our own.) If we do continue going to church, is not because every single Sunday there will be something for “me”, but because we are committed to life in community.

Life in community means that at times I have to sacrifice my own personal comfort in order to uplift those who are around me. It means that I am committed to live as part of something that is bigger than I am. It means that I trust that the Spirit works in mysterious ways and that I have no control over what the person next to me needs to hear that day.

This is the main reason I gladly attend worship on Mother’s Day. I especially enjoy the fact that I have, for some time now, belonged to congregations that understand the many facets of motherhood: single mothers, single fathers, people who have been like mothers to others, mothers who have lost children, single people who have given of themselves to others as any mother would have done, first-time mothers who anxiously awaited the arrival of their children – whether by birth or by adoption – and whose first celebration of the day reminds them of their struggle, gay men who have given up on the idea of being parents, gay men who are parents, transgender mothers whose children still address them as “dad” because their love for their children is so big that they are willing to sacrifice their own identity in order to make them feel comfortable… All these are examples of motherhood that I have had the blessing of experiencing in my own ministry.

As pastors, it is a challenge to find a “middle-ground” in which all the people in worship can feel included. The truth is that, at some point or another, someone is going to be left out. What is important to remember is that these celebrations are not about “me”, but about “us.” I believe that the best way to address our own pain of not having a mother with us on Mother’s Day is to firmly and honestly share with our spiritual leader our pain. She or he will hopefully understand (if they don’t, perhaps they are not the most qualified person to shepherd us). Perhaps it is best for us to stay away from worship that day, and honor our own pain by some other means (remember, there is no sin in skipping worship!) Perhaps it is best for us to find a mother figure in our midst and share with them the joy of motherhood in whichever way she or he celebrates it.

This past Sunday when my church celebrated Mother’s Day, I rejoiced in celebrating the many people who have been like mothers to me. I also celebrated the priest’s courage to say that he, too, feels like he has been called to be a mother hen to his parishioners; he too feels the power of motherhood as a parent and as a priest. These words were powerful for me, for it was the first time I had ever heard a heterosexual man acknowledging his motherly instincts. This past Sunday, I also celebrated the other mothers who were present worshiping in the same sacred space I was: the mother whose children run around and smile at us and hug us during the passing of the peace and who make a joyful noise every time we sing; I celebrated the mother whose face and hands are filled with wrinkles after so many years of motherhood, who has stood by the side of her gay son and her divorced daughter; I celebrated the mother whose 268913_10150368732015620_6162879_ndaughter is the music she creates for us and with us and who has given her life to fight for equality and justice for all of her children… I celebrated with all the mothers, some women, some men, who brought all of whom they are to church that day and who held me in prayer as I shared with them my hurt.

Finally, I also celebrated the fact that I can count on Mother Mary of Nazareth, who has loved me even when I ignored her for so many years. Singing that final hymn to Mary made me realized how important her figure is in the history of my faith tradition. It also made me realized how much we depend on her; she is our Mother and our Guardian, she is our Companion and our Protector, she is the Guide and the Advocate, she is Madre María, who has never left us… who has suffered the pain of motherhood in all of its manifestation, and yet, continues granting us the strength to go on. Perhaps I Christian fundamentalism took my mother away, but the ancient Christian community to which I now belong, has given me another reason to celebrate Mother’s Day.

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Yo también soy puertorriqueño

Pero no cambia mi amor
Por más lejos que me encuentre
Ni el recuerdo ni el dolor
De mi pueblo y de mi gente

Todo Cambia, Julio Numhauser

       Hace quince años, más o menos – con una pequeña interrupción en el 2011 – vivo en los Estados Unidos. La mayoría de este tiempo la he pasado entre estudios y trabajo. Ambos – tanto estudios como trabajo – han sido por lo general en contextos angloparlantes. Como estudiante, pasé cuatro años en la escuela graduada de teología, sumergido en clases todas en inglés, con libros en inglés – aun cuando el curso podría ser sobre teología latinoamericana –, escribiendo ensayos en inglés y asistiendo a servicios religiosos en inglés. Durante el tiempo que trabajé como pastor de congregaciones, la mayoría de estas congregaciones fueron angloparlantes. Aquí también tuve una interrupción, puesto que serví una congragación hispana en la ciudad de Nueva York. En esta congregación – y es importante que señale esto – la mayoría de las personas eran ecuatorianas, con una buena dosis de bolivianos, puertorriqueños, colombianos, cubanos, guatemaltecos, hondureños, peruanos y una persona mexicana.

Cuando era pequeño, recuerdo que a quienes se iban de Puerto Rico y regresaban eran vistos casi como “traidores a la patria”. Nadie decía nada abiertamente, es cierto, pero se les trataba como tal. “Ya te ves más blanca que una gringa”, le decían a algunas de mis tías cuando visitaba el poblado Castañer donde crecí. “¿Se te olvidó tan rápido el español?” le preguntaban a mis tíos que llevaban más de veinte años viviendo en Illinois o Nueva Jersey. “¿Es que no le enseñan español a esos nenes?” le preguntaban a tíos y tías cuando sus hijas e hijos batallaban para comunicarse con lo que aparentaba ser su poco vocabulario en español. Todas estas actitudes eran las que veía en mi propia familia. Pero estoy seguro que existían en otras familias también.

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Por mi parte, siempre pensé que irse de la Isla era como una traición. Sí, yo también lo pensaba. ¿Por qué se va la gente de este paraíso? ¿Por qué se retiran como si no pudieran hacer nada por este país y luego vienen con acentos, ropas diferentes, creyéndose más boricuas que aquellos que nos hemos quedado y queriendo tener injerencia en asuntos internos de la Isla que dejaron atrás? De verdad que no comprendía por qué las personas que salían de la Isla querían regresar con opiniones políticas y sociales; con expresiones culturales que eran ya irrelevantes a la realidad del momento en Puerto Rico; pero más que todo, con ese acento que ni era del todo español “boricua” ni inglés bien hablado. Me irritaba. Como siempre me he identificado como independentista, pues me irritaba más, porque pensaba que quienes se habían ido, no deberían tener la oportunidad de reclamar su puertorriqueñidad.
Eso es, hasta que me tocó a mí. Ahora soy yo quien está en el otro lado del discurso, como receptor de las críticas de amistades y enemistades que me piden que me quede callado cuando asuntos políticos, económicos, sociales y demás vienen a ser discutidos en el foro público puertorriqueño. Ahora soy yo de quien se burlan por un acento que algunas personas llaman “neutral” y que otras a quienes les interesa menos esconder su xenofobia llaman “mexicano”. Ahora es de mí de quien se dice que estoy “engringado” porque se me olvidan palabras y conceptos en el idioma de Cervantes y a veces mezclo el español con el inglés como la cosa más natural del mundo pero que es una aberración a los puristas boricuas que no pronuncian las “s” al final de las palabras y que arrastran las “r” como si estuvieran hablando francés, o, en la mayoría de los casos, las cambian por “l” aunque morfológicamente esté incorrecto…
Hay algo que entiendo ahora y que no entendía cuando era parte de los puristas puertorriqueñistas: la puertorriqueñidad – o cualquiera que sea la nacionalidad u originalidad de la persona – no tiene que ver con residir en el lugar, sino con las raíces que te unen a ese lugar. Por eso fui, soy y seguiré siendo puertorriqueño, con mancha de plátano incluida, no importa dónde resida ni cuánto tiempo pase fuera de la Isla. Como cantaba Mercedes Sosa – la argentina que vivió en el exilio en Francia y Esapaña hasta que pudo regresar a su amado país -: “Cambia, todo cambia; Pero no cambia mi amor, por más lejos que me encuentre, ni el recuerdo ni el dolor, de mi pueblo y de mi gente.” Y que valga decir que la canción fue escrita por un chileno, Julio Numhauser, quien también ha vivido en el exilio en Suecia desde que tuvo que abandonar su país durante la dictadura. Sí, todo cambia, pero no cambia el amor, el recuerdo, el interés, la pasión, el anhelo de mi gente y del país que me vio nacer y crecer. Miles de millas nos pueden separar, pero mi puertorriqueñidad no me la quita nadie; ni la realidad en la que vivo, ni los puristas puertorriqueñistas en la Isla.
Ciertamente, no fue la violencia militar la que me hizo salir de Puerto Rico. Al usar a Sosa y a Numhauser no quiero decir que mi situación haya sido idéntica. No lo fue. Aunque sí tuvo que ver la política con mi exilio. Pero lo que quiero demostrar al utilizar estos ejemplos es que toda persona que por cualquier razón deje a su patria para instalarse en otro lugar, sufre tanto de añoranza por su pueblo como de rechazo por parte de quienes, por cualquier razón, se han quedado.
Los medios de comunicación sociales nos permiten tener contacto constante con los países que hemos dejado. Esto también hace que nos mantengamos acercados a situaciones sociales, económicas, políticas y demás en nuestros países de origen. Si queremos aportar al discurso público en nuestros países, ¿por qué impedírnoslo? ¿Qué nos hace menos puertorriqueñas o puertorriqueños? ¿Quién dice que hemos dejado de interesarnos en el presente y el futuro de nuestra tierra? Los gobiernos (y no solo el de Puerto Rico) contrata servicios de consultoría de países extranjeros todo el tiempo. Esto lo hacen porque a veces el tener una perspectiva diferente, “desde afuera”, puede ayudar inmensamente en el desarrollo interno. Entonces, ¿por qué demandar que nos callemos quienes vivimos fuera de la tierra Borincana? Nuestra experiencia de vida en la Isla y fuera de ella es, creo yo, necesaria para el desarrollo del país. Esto no quita validez ni peso a las opiniones y las acciones de quienes todavía viven en Puerto Rico. Por el contrario, las fortalece.
Además de nuestra esto, lo cierto es que en el mundo globalizado en el que vivimos, todas las personas podemos hacer público nuestro sentimiento y nuestras posiciones con respecto a cualquier cosa de cualquier país. El hecho de que somos de un lado, de que vivimos en otro y de que hablemos diferentes idiomas no significa que no podemos entender la realidad de otros países u otras sociedades. Si no, ¿por qué tanta gente en Puerto Rico tiene opiniones e ideas de lo que debe hacerse en el Oriente Medio? O sea, según quienes nos critican por proponer ideas sobre la realidad actual de Puerto Rico, quienes vivimos fuera de la Isla “no tenemos vela en ese entierro”, pero lo mismo no le aplica a quienes viven en la Isla y tienen ideas de qué debe hacer el gobierno de Siria y las guerrillas ciudadanas. ¿Lógica etnocentrista?
Hay otro punto al que hice referencia al principio y quiero retomar; el acento. Quien ha salido de la burbuja San Juan-Bayamón-Guaynabo-Caguas (¡y mira que hay muchas personas que nunca han salido de allí!) sabrán que cada rincón de la Isla tiene su acentito. Unos más y otros menos, pero todos tenemos un acento regional. Recuerdo que cuando pequeño mi hermana y yo nos reíamos con la forma “cantadita” de hablar de nuestra familia de Morovis. ¡Morovis! Otro pueblo montañoso no tan diferente de Adjuntas donde crecí, pero con sus regionalismos y hasta su propio acento regional.
Tanto el jíbaro del campo como la señora de la loza tienen su acento particular. Cuando el jíbaro se muda pa’ la loza y la señora de la capital se muda pa’l campo, sus acentos pueden cambiar. El jíbaro comienza a pronunciar la “s” al final de la palabra mientras que la doña comienza a arrastrar la “r”. Eso pasa todo el tiempo. Es parte de una cultura en movimiento. Es parte de vivir en un mundo donde estamos en cada momento interactuando unas con otras. Cuando los horizontes se ensanchan y ya no es solamente salir de la loza pa’l campo, sino de un país a otro, es también posible que los acentos cambien. Esto no quiere decir que todo el mundo cambia su acento. No. Algunas personas, por cualquier motivo, lo mantienen. Otras, sin embargo, cambian. Es parte normal de las interacciones humanas.
Como dije al principio de este ensayo, estuve al frente de una congregación que era mayormente ecuatoriana. El transporte público, para mí, es guagua. Así que, en puertorriqueño, yo digo “coger la guagua” para referirme a la acción de tomar el transporte público para ser transportado de un lugar a otro. Pero hay algo importante en las relaciones internacionales y el uso del español… En Ecuador, “guagua” es niña pequeña, mientras que “coger” tiene, además de la acepción de “tomar”, otra acepción, que es de naturaleza sexual. Lo que para mí es una acción normal del día a día, para un ecuatoriano es una vulgaridad. ¿No es responsabilidad de un buen líder el adaptarse a la comunidad que sirve? Entonces, debo adaptar mi español a la comunidad que me circunda. Esto no me ha hecho menos puertorriqueño ni me quita el deseo de estar involucrado en la realidad política, social, económica y demás del país al que me siento unido.
El acento no me define como puertorriqueño; como tampoco define mi puertorriqueñidad el lugar donde vivo, mi sexualidad, mi color de piel, mi educación, mi sexo, mi género, mi posición social, mi trabajo, etcétera. Mi puertorriqueñidad no depende de cómo la definan quienes se han quedado en la Isla. Tampoco depende de cómo la definamos quienes hemos salido o quienes nunca la han visitado (hay puertorriqueños y puertorriqueñas que han nacido en Estados Unidos u otros países que también se interesan en la realidad de la Isla.) Mi puertorriqueñidad y cuánto quiero involucrarme en las discusiones de la realidad isleña la defino yo. Me interesa seguir leyendo, aprendiendo, escuchando, opinando sobre la realidad de la Isla. Me interesa seguir poniendo mi granito de arena en el desarrollo social, político, económico de Puerto Rico. Me interesa porque amo a mi Isla y no importa cuánto cloro los puristas puertorriqueñistas me quieran tirar, la mancha de plátano no se me va a quitar. ¡Yo también soy puertorriqueño!

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