Schooling and Covid in El Salvador

~Pat McPhee

As we watch, with concern, our rising numbers of COVID cases here in B.C., we can’t help but compare with the stats coming out of El Salvador.

The tiny, impoverished country of 6.5 million souls is roughly two-thirds the size of Vancouver Island. Last week, B.C. (with a population of about 5 million) had just over 5,500 cases of COVID versus El Salvador’s confirmed cases of 25,600.

Despite their government’s three-month total lock-down at the beginning of the pandemic, the health care system collapsed weeks ago and people no longer go to the hospitals or for testing, but rather stay at home and try to recover there. And so, their numbers are likely much higher than those reported.

We recently received e-mails from Wendy Hernandez, staff person at FUNDAHMER (the organization that facilitates First’s sister community relationship), and from Adonay Miranda & Ismael Artiga, university students who live in El Triunfo.

They report that some people have been sick but are recovering at home and, so far, the majority are practicing safeguards and managing to stay well.

Students at every level will be finishing their school year, which runs from February through December, in a virtual way. This is an excerpt about the difficulties inherent in virtual schooling from Tim Muth’s blog, at :

“In a country where internet is not universal and most people access online content only over cell phones, the switch to virtual learning has been a challenge. A recent article from FOCOS TV reported that only 1 in 10 Salvadoran households have an internet-connected computer but 9 out of 10 have a cellphone that they now use for access to schooling . . . Most public school interaction between students & teachers occurs through WhatsApp.”

If you are interested in reading the entire article and related resources, it is on the above link dated August 25.

School-aged children and youth in rural El Triunfo are at an even greater disadvantage due to the lack of resources for computers, printers, and cellphone data plans, and poor signals and internet coverage.

In spite of those obstacles, Adonay, who is in his fourth year at the University of Central America (UCA) studying Economics, completed the first semester with good marks and has started his second term in July. He was sad, however, that some of the professors at UCA had died of COVID leaving “a huge void”

A Path to Empathy and Understanding, Part2

~Sharon Wilson

?Two weeks ago Cheryl invited us to look with fresh eyes and an open heart at the dreams and visions of others. This is not as easy as it sounds. It means focussing on another with openness and without judgement. It challenges us to rise above our certainties and allow ourselves to explore our vulnerabilities. So often it is described as ‘walking in another’s shoes’.

This reminded me of a serendipitous experience I had with my sister a few years ago while visiting the Maritime Museum in Roskilde, Denmark. As we neared the far side of one of the halls there was an open door. Thinking that the exhibit continued there we marched in.

Before us was a glass topped table of about six square meters with a computer joystick on one side. I decided to try it out when suddenly a voice from deep in the dark corner announced that this was NOT public space.

In a moment three young men emerged from behind banks of monitors. It turned out that they were all Ph.D. students in marine archeology working on projects at the museum. I apologized profusely for entering their space and interfering with their project.

To my surprise, after a huddled conversation, they invited my sister and I to test their prototype. That large table was supposed to represent the sea floor with sand, rocks and treasure. The joystick was to allow an interactive experience of doing the work of a marine archeologist. As we took turns moving sand to find hidden spoons, boot buckles and the like, I marvelled at how much fun this was and how easy.

One student began to explain in great detail the difficulty of working deep on the ocean floor in a deep-sea diving suit. He described the stiffness of the heavy gloves that made fine motor movements nearly impossible.

Thinking about this, I pondered out loud, “This would be better if I was wearing deep sea diver’s gloves”. With that, one of the men rushed to his computer and a steady tap, tap, tap followed.

My sister got an idea: “It would be even better if you could wear a deep sea diver’s helmet while you’re searching”. Another wave of tapping erupted. Finally, we agreed that the process worked best for the participant if at least some of what we uncovered was shiny and precious.

What happened in that distant museum workshop was a vivid example of building empathy. Those three young men yearned for others to share their excitement for underwater exploration.

Within the limitations of the display they were creating, we found ways to heighten our awareness of their work: the challenges of looking through a thick mask and fumbling with heavy gloves, the euphoria of discovering a treasure! The five of us parted feeling we had accomplished something magical and totally unexpected.

As we watch news reports of anti-racism protests in the USA, freedom marches in Belarus and Hong Kong and a lone orthodox Jewish man in London protesting for the rights of Uighur Muslims in front of the Chinese embassy, the demand for us to be people of understanding and empathy intensifies.

Protest is not a fashion statement. It is not about going along with the crowd. Understanding and empathy means that we are prepared to go deep into the concerns of another. We listen to their stories and their passions, their hurts and successes, their goals and dreams. We need to reflect on the obstacles they face that do not exist for us for a whole host of reasons. We learn of life that is beyond our personal experience.

More than anything, empathy is the honest, sincere investment of our lives into that of another. We commit to stand side by side even in the danger.
That brief exchange in a Scandinavian museum was a reminder that we should never stop learning. I learned so much in that brief encounter about those three young men and their passionate pursuit of marine archeology. My sister and I got to ‘walk in their shoes’ and the result was an unforgettable, transformative experience. Such encounters are holy. Let your curiosity and openness give free rein to the Spirit.

Blessed Reunion

A couple of Sundays ago in the lectionary we heard the emotional story of Jacob’s reunion with his brother, Esau. They hadn’t seen each other in years; now they were grown men with families of their own. When they reunite, we are told in Genesis 33 that Esau threw his arms around Jacob and they both cried.

One of the most difficult things about living through this pandemic for many of you has been the sense of isolation—being unable to come to church, to see friends, or have visits from family who live in other parts of the country—or even in the same city!

Because of the concern over spreading the virus to loved ones, many sacrifices have been made including giving and receiving hugs! That is why it was such a joy to watch as Susan and Nicholas were reunited last week for the first time in many months.

Because Nicholas has cerebral palsy and is immune-compromised, in-person visits have not been possible, out of an abundance of care for his physical well-being. But the picture says it all—how important this reunion was for both of them and their emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being!

The story of Jacob’s reunion with his brother continues this way: When Esau looked around and saw the women and the children, he asked, “Who are these people with you?” And Jacob answers, “These, sir, are the children whom God has been good enough to give me.”

Esau seems astonished by this proof that so much time has gone by since the brothers were together last. For many of you, watching your grandchildren grow and change is a delight—but watching it on Facetime has been no substitute for real-time! We long for visits that include real hugs!

As we all wait for a time when our social interactions can be less-restricted, we can rejoice in seeing this reunion of Nicholas and Susan.

Any Dream Will Do (Reprise)

~Cheryl Perry

This is how Joseph and His Technicolor Dreamcoat ends, as many musicals do—with a reprise of the opening song.

It begins with the words:

I closed my eyes
Drew back the curtain
To see for certain
What I thought I knew

One theory of modern psychology is that dreaming is the communication between our conscious mind and our unconscious mind, helping people create wholeness—that dreams are the bridge that allows movement back and forth between what we think we know and what we really know.

Joseph attached significance to his dreams and believed they might be telling him about himself and the world around him. Because he was curious about the meaning of his own dreams, Joseph also became someone who could help others interpret theirs.

This week we continue with the story of Joseph who is sought after by Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, when Pharaoh has a series of puzzling dreams.

Interwoven is the continuing saga of Joseph and his brothers. This Sunday we get the conclusion to the story that began in Chapter 37. It spans most of the remaining books of Genesis. If you’ve got a little time before Sunday, I encourage you to read it in whatever translation of the Bible you own.

If you are short of time, here is a wonderful summary in poetic verse that will catch you up on what’s been happening so far in the story of Joseph.

See you in worship on Sunday!

Gaining Insight Into Dreams

~Cheryl Perry

I was asked to share the titles of the books I mentioned in
Sunday’s reflection.

They are Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley (1997, Bantam Books) and
Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most, a memoir by Marcus J. Borg (2014, Harper Collins).

And I also thought I would share the following list of questions. One of the most effective ways of getting insight into dreams, particularly if the dream is difficult to interpret, is to work with a friend, or friends, who support us as we explore our own dreams.

We can often gain tremendous resources by taking the time to explore all facets of the dream. Those supporting the dreamer listen carefully while the dream is described and ask questions so they understand for themselves the imagery and feelings experienced. A good way to increase your ability to remember dreams is to value them.

One way to do that is to keep a dream journal. If you are interested in interpreting your dreams, or want to help another person explore theirs, these questions might help you as your think or journal about them.

  • How do you feel in the dream? What is the predominant feeling?
  • What is the main action/theme/activity of the dream? (It may help to give it a title, as if it were a painting or story or movie. Ask yourself: What single issue or insight brings the dream together? Where is the main energy?)
  • Who are you in this dream?
  • Who are the others in this dream? (Describe them and their relationship to you, qualities, contexts—as they may be ‘stand ins’ for others or for aspects of the dreamer’s own self.)
  • What are you doing and not doing in your dream? Are you active or passive in this dream, and why? Are you resisting or in tune with what the dream is doing?
  • What issues need resolving in this dream?
  • What new ways of understanding/new actions are presented in your dream?
  • Does the situation or issue in the dream feel familiar or relate to anything going on in your life right now?
  • What is similar in this dream to other dreams? Have you ever had a dream like this before?
  • Why do you need this dream now?

A Path to Empathy and Understanding

~Sharon Wilson

Last Thursday evening I was settled on the couch to watch Joe Biden’s acceptance speech but the most moving part of the evening was the speech given by 13-year-old Brayden Harrington.

If you have suffered from a speech impairment you will have watched this with a massively open heart and a deep well of memories. I held my breathe each time he paused, willing him to find the next word. I celebrated each complete sentence and paragraph. By the time he was finished I felt like fireworks should be exploding in the sky at this triumph of courage.

How do we walk in another’s shoes with empathy and understanding? How do we ascend beyond politeness? How can we really listen, share our experiences and, if we are very blessed, change another’s life?

Cheryl spoke of this in her Sunday reflections; about diving deep into the silences, waiting with openness for the formless words of dreams and visions. She invited us to think of the moments of holiness that we have known.

Often this means really listening to another. Being open to how real and powerful the encounter was. As that long list of caregivers, academics, theologians and ordinary folk Cheryl named attests, deep and holy moments are real and life-transforming.

The dream that captured Cheryl, and the courage that propelled Brayden, formed by empathy. They took flesh and flight because someone stopped and entered the world of another in an intimate and vulnerable way. They committed to learn and share an experience. They were prepared to go deep, to invest in the other.

The path to empathy and understanding wends its way through curiosity, patience, openness, and vulnerability. It involves stopping and listening. That means focusing of what is being said and on the speaker NOT on your pithy response!

It means getting off your own schedule and agenda and being willing to have your time disrupted. Mostly, empathy is honest and gracious. It reaches out to understand rather than to fix. When we are empathetic we position ourselves to be surprised, inspired and blessed with unexpected moments that can only, truly be of God.

A Poem

What a person desires in life
is a properly boiled egg.
This isn’t as easy as it seems.

There must be gas and a stove,
the gas requires pipelines, mastodon drills,
banks that dispense the lozenge of capital.

There must be a pot, the product of mines
and furnaces and factories,
of dim early mornings and night-owl shifts,
of women in kerchiefs and men with
sweat-soaked hair.

Then water, the stuff of clouds and skies
and God knows what causes it to happen.
There seems always too much or too little
of it and more pipelines, meters, pumping
stations, towers, tanks.

And salt – a miracle of the first order,
the ace in any argument for God.
Only God could have imagined from
nothingness the pang of salt.

Political peace too. It should be quiet
when one eats an egg. No political hoodlums
knocking down doors, no lieutenants who are
ticked off at their scheming girlfriends and
take it out on you, no dictators
posing as tribunes.

It should be quiet, so quiet you can hear
the chicken, a creature usually mocked as a type
of fool, a cluck chained to the chore of her body.
Listen, she is there, pecking at a bit of grain
that came from nowhere.

~Baron Wormser

Baron Wormser has been a librarian, teacher, and poet laureate in Maine, where he also lived with his family “off the grid” for a time. This poem is perfectly suited for an age of pandemic and “social distance” – partly because it exalts an ordinary, solitary act, and partly because it helps us see again that such acts connect us in all kinds of ways with all kinds of people. And the poem’s theology is a tour de force: “the pang of salt” is surely as powerful and persuasive an argument for God as any!

Prologue: Any Dream Will Do

~Cheryl Perry

This week we begin a 2-part saga of Joseph and his brothers. Although the lectionary breaks this into just two Sundays, it is a great long story that stretches some 13 chapters in Genesis.

If you are someone who likes to “read the book before seeing the movie,” the main part of the story is found in Genesis chapters 37-45. In preparation for Sunday, I encourage you to read it!

Over the last nine weeks we have been hearing the stories of Abraham and Sarah’s descendants. These are some of the most well-known characters and stories in the Hebrew Scriptures: Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah.

Stories of sibling rivalry, jealousy and parental favouritism are themes in our own stories today. These famous names and faith-history shapers had the same banal, complicated relationships that play out in our own families—sometimes in very significant ways.

This week we pick up the thread of the story in Chapter 37. And what a thread! Indeed, if we know anything about this Joseph it is the story of his fancy jacket, immortalized by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber in their musical Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

We hear that Joseph is the favoured son because he was born to Jacob “when he was old” and that because of Jacob’s outward displays of his greater love for Joseph, his brothers hated him and “would not speak to him in a friendly manner.”

In the wonderful Webber & Rice musical one of my favourite songs is “Joseph’s Dreams.” It tells the part of the story that this week’s lectionary passage leaves out—that describe Jacob’s sons’ real reason for despising their brother.

As the song goes:

“Joseph’s coat annoyed his brothers,
But what makes us mad
Are the things that Joseph tells us of the
Dreams he often had.”

(Here’s a link if you want to listen!)

I love this musical, and this song in particular, that ends with the lines: “But one thing we are sure about. The dreamer has to go!”

Joseph is a dreamer. Not a head-in-the-clouds daydreamer or an angle-spinning schemer like his dad Jacob. But rather, someone who paid close attention to his dreams and saw them as divinely sent—as a way God communicated.

When Joseph awoke from his dreams there was a sense of curiosity, it seems, to interpret them – to attach meaning to them – and figure out what they might be telling him about himself and the world around him. Joseph believed dreams provided such insights.

What do you think? Have you ever had a dream that helped you make a decision, clarified an issue, or warned of something?

Because Joseph was curious about the meaning of his own dreams, he also became someone who could help others interpret theirs. In fact, in next week’s lectionary story we learn that Joseph becomes sought after by Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, when Pharaoh has a series of puzzling dreams. But that’s getting ahead of myself!

Join us, this Sunday, as we begin exploring the story of Joseph the dreamer.