Category Archives: personal

Lesnia’s scars

I remember very powerfully the tender feelings I had while I gently wiped bits of blood and gravel from the gashes on Lesnia’s leg.

When I had a car, I used to bring Lesnia and several other members of her family over to our church on Sundays. Afterward we had all sorts of fun adventures. We’d get pizza or KFC, visit a park, or fly kites.

Lesnia had fallen and slid while scrambling up the steep hill at Peace Park, scraping open a few large gashes on her leg. As far as my medical knowledge goes, I knew the scrape should be cleaned of dirt and washed so it didn’t get infected. I used rubbing alcohol and daubed it with a cotton ball. I watched as she cringed, squeezing back tears as the alcohol sent the stinging pain searing through her body. Continue reading

No matter where I live it’s the blood of Christ that gives me value


La Carpio is a place you will fall in love with at first sight. Well, maybe not everyone does, but I did. I thought it would be a brief flash of interest, like a short-lived crush. But I still love the place. I continue to see things that stick with me, images and stories that pierce deep into my heart and refuse to fade away. I believe La Carpio, and places like it, set God’s heart on fire with excitement and passion; at the same time they break it with pain and longing for reconciliation. And maybe that’s why He feels closer there.

A lot of the photographs and videos I post try to show images of the people, the places, and the interesting things that make La Carpio unique and special. There is so much beauty in the people and the culture of La Carpio: hard-working families, smiling, laughing kids, creative poets and acrobatic dancers, graffiti artists, and entrepreneurs. There is so much beauty, so much passion and excitement and love, so much hectic social activity that seems chaotic but when you look closer you realize people are organically bonding and growing in such a dynamic way.

So here’s my most recent video about La Carpio, once again highlighting the beauty, the color, the smiles, the familiar sights, the hard-working families, and the warmth that you feel if you take the time to get past all the negative stereotypes, and the very real fear and danger that exists there as well. The violence and instability are real, and frightening; but I choose to hope that the good is stronger and will win out.

Even as I write this entry now, it seems like the violence and exploitation is winning. It’s taken on dimensions too dark to speak about, too evil to name. But there’s a tiny chance. A small voice that’s spoken out, a small hope for healing and restoration has been spoken into the darkest crannies of the slum. And that’s the voice I’m listening to, and believing will win out in the end.

And as far as the video is concerned, these are the images, the celebrations, and the social coherence that I hope wins out. Set to another lyrical psalm by local rapper Douglas “Transformer” Contreras, this one asks a question: where are YOU going? And I punctuated it with a phrase from one of his other songs:

Viva donde viva la sangre de cristo es lo que valgo / No matter where I live it’s the blood of Christ that gives me value.

On the occasion of the death of someone killed in the neighborhood: a visual psalm

Lagrimas de Sangre / Tears of Blood

A few weeks ago I helped produce a video that I feel gives rich voice to the tragic violence that rips apart the lives in our barrio. Look for my name there in the credits.

Douglas, former-thug-now-set-on-fire-for-Jesus rapper, put to song a requiem for the youth killed in our barrio, and a plea for a more peaceful future. It’s titled “Tears of Blood,” a chronicle of people gunned down on the streets of La Carpio. It’s not an objective report; it’s personal. These are the images of the young guys killed, their friends and family, and those who remember them. At least four of them were familiar smiles on our street. One was a grandson of the family I lived with, like a second cousin to me.

Visually, there is a lot of anger and grief in the video. Lyrically, there is a testimony in honor of the lives lost. There is a plea for those who remain alive to think twice before picking up guns and using violence to solve problems.

This song is not for you to enjoy. I happen to like the beat and the lyrics, but it might not be your style. It’s to give voice to the pain. To plea for peace. To generate strength and resilience to steel oneself to the pain of the past and move on.

You don’t have to like it. But respect it.

Photography Ethics

Korda and his iconic photograph

Alberto Korda, the photographer made famous by his iconic image of Che Guevara gazing resolutely into the distance, considered the photograph a stroke of luck. Korda covered the Cuban revolution and became Fidel Castro’s personal photographer for ten years. Yet the image that changed him, that impacted his thinking and caused him to dedicate his life career to covering the revolution, is the transfixing photograph he took of a young girl cuddling a piece of wood as a doll.


 “The photo I took that has been published throughout the world and is considered the most famous photograph in the history of photography is the photo of Che Guevara. But for me, in my heart and in my feelings, the most important photo is that of Paulita.”

~Alberto Korda

Protected: Thank you, Gramma, for dying well

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Protected: Disconnect

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Today I felt like I was in a movie.

Today I felt like I was in a movie. The part where minor innocent bystanders are suddenly and traumatically wiped out by whatever the huge natural disaster is that’s threatening humans worldwide. The scene where unexplained catastrophy falls from the sky and confused citizens scatter helplessly.

Nothing big happened, really, it’s just that as I was casually having a conversation in a bus heading downtown, I suddenly noticed several police cars with lights flashing, and heard people in the bus shouting “¡Cierren las ventanas! ¡Abejas!” Shut the windows! Bees! And sure enough, right swarming above road right by the crosswalk at Centro Commercial del Sur was a huge mass of bees. The air was thick with them. Why? Well, I don’t know. The bus kept going and I never found out.

Attack of the killer bees. I was there.

Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.

You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of the sudden even though you have some place where you can put your stuff that idea of home is gone. You’ll see when you move out it just sort of happens one day one day and it’s just gone. And you can never get it back. It’s like you get homesick for a place that doesn’t exist. I mean it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.

~Garden State

One never reaches home. But where paths that have affinity for each other intersect the whole world looks like home, for a time.

~ Damien – Hermann Hesse

The same thing that makes me feel at home in a place is the same thing that will eventually grate on my nerves more than anything else.

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Protected: Robbed of my certainty

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I sit over here, but feel over there.

I sit here in a worship gathering, and the familiar feeling returns.

I am at a wedding for someone I do not know. I watch the joyful expressions on the faces of others, I see their faces glowing with hope and starry-eyed wonder, but this celebration is for a unity I do not know. An event I have no relation to. At times I weep with joy along with the other friends of the family. But leave with an empty feeling of loneliness. At this time, I write my thoughts, unable to cheer for the team I’m not rooting for. Unable to pledge to the flag of the country I don’t know. Unable to cry for the death of someone I never met. The building is throbbing with energy and music, yet I feel like a lead anchor weighing the rising jubilation down.

Oh, weird. I think I just felt emotion.

But I feel, only when my thoughts are worlds away from the real life around me. I am only when I am not here. My thoughts, feelings, and passions are not with my location but on some other level. Not a higher or lower level. Just a different level.

I sit watching people congratulate the newlyweds, unable to allow a happy grin to escape my heart, uncertain of how to talk with everyone so happy and giddy at this joyful occasion.

The next evening I walk into the funeral of someone I do not know with a misplaced grin on my face, suddenly unsure of how to relate to the mourners surrounding me.

All that to say – I often find myself thinking, writing, and believing the opposite of what I know I should in any given situation. And now, I’m going to start writing and sharing my incongruous thoughts, without any explanation or hope of finding resolution between what I write, what I feel, and what is actually happening in the world around me.

Now when I pick up this pen, I will write for the sake of writing, speak for the fear of having nothing to say.

Even if my thoughts
are the wrong thoughts
at the wrong time.

I will share what makes me shed a tear at a flourishing party.
It’s loneliness.

I will share what makes me laugh at a funeral.
It’s meaningless.

I will share what makes me think of sex in church.
It’s intimate,
and I can lose myself to it.

I will share what makes me think of God in sex.
It’s beautiful,
and fulfilling.

I will share what makes me say foolish things
when I defend a thesis in college.
Only by knowing nothing
am I willing to learn anything.

I will share what makes me mature
when nothing is expected of me.

I will share what makes me think impulsively when responsibility is given me.

I will share why I feel at home
when I have nowhere to lay my head
and haven’t seen a familiar face in 6 months.

I will share why I feel like a stranger,
when I’m with people who’ve known me since birth.

I will share what makes me feel liberated when I say
“I don’t believe in God.”

I will share what makes me feel trapped,
when I say I’m a Christian.

I will share what makes me a kinder, more thoughtful person
when I talk about my self-centeredness and selfishness.

I will share what makes me a pious hypocrite,
when I deem myself most righteous and holy.

I will share what makes me think we should free the murderer
and execute the person who never harmed a soul.

By writing these things in their naked truth, perhaps they will not cease to be true,

but they will cease to be felt.

May God let it be so.

I will write why I write,

to free myself

from what compels me to write.