Coffee With Meg

images-1

So for most of my life I have not been a coffee drinker. I can remember drinking one large cup of coffee when I was an undergrad pulling an all-nighter (By the way, it didn’t help).

In general, I just haven’t acquired the taste. Mostly I don’t like the taste, or I should say I haven’t liked it.

On my recent trip to El Salvador, I decided to look into what Salvadoran food we would be eating. Pupusas are the most famous. These are essentially stuffed tortillas (some with cheese, or beans, or pork). They are amazing.

But a big export in El Salvador is coffee. I decided that I would at least try some coffee while in El Salvador.

So on our first day, we immediately were taken to an inner city daycare center. And lo and behold, we were welcomed with sweetbreads (again, delicious!) and coffee.

Meg with a Bunny at Casa de Solidaridad, a study abroad program through Santa Clara.
Meg with a Bunny at Casa de Solidaridad, a study abroad program through Santa Clara.
One of the students who travelled with me was named Meg. I didn’t know her well, but she’s pretty active on campus in student government and so I knew her mostly by her reputation as a hard worker and her commitment to women’s issues. She’s also a lover of good coffee. She looked at me as I started to pour my initial cup of Salvadoran coffee and said:

“Your life is about to get so much better!”

Turns out she was correct. It was indeed delicious. Two spoonfuls of sugars was all it needed. Later in the week I added some cream and realized that what I don’t like is cream in my coffee. Black is fine with just a bit of sugar.

But coffee for Meg is more than just coffee. It makes one feel warm and comforted and allows conversations to linger over a second cup. The caffeine makes one a bit more alert during times of dreariness. I really enjoyed hanging out with Meg and listening to how important women’s issues are to her. As a man, I need to understand what women are facing and feeling and perhaps how I’ve even been a part of misogyny and the oppression of women. Meg helps me see more clearly what I cannot often see for myself. We heard some stories of devastation from the Salvadoran people, who lived through the long civil war. Meg was often quick to point out how women were targeted in several cases and how a “macho culture” played a role in the continued oppression of women in this still-poor country.

Meg, much more than coffee, opened my eyes further, to see a bit more clearly what was really present. She allowed me to be more present to the women that I companioned and because of her, I was able to be more present for these students throughout the week.

And within those coffee moments with Meg, i found grace waiting for me as well.

Upon my return to the United States, I decided to try some coffee from the various coffee chains. I’ve discovered a few things:

1) Coffee in the United States clearly has more caffeine in it. Or at least it has a greater effect on me. If I have two cups of “American” coffee I’m up later than I’d like to be.

2) Salvadoran coffee is AWESOME. So far the closest to it is Tim Horton’s.

3) My coffee rankings so far are:
a) Tim Horton’s
b) Spot Coffee
c) Family Tree (a local diner)
d) Dunkin Donuts

I have yet to try Starbucks. There’s just not one near my house.

3) My single serve coffee maker makes a damn good cup of the Salvadoran stuff.

4) On our trip the first Finca (the plant where they grow coffee) that I sampled was by far the best. That day care center should open a coffee bar with coffee from that place. Angel, who I stayed with in El Sitio made a nice cup of coffee. And Sr. Peggy, who we stayed with in Suchitoto had coffee that was also pretty good. But that first Finca was awesome and I bought their coffee to take home with me.

My last discovery is that a cup of coffee shared is much better than a cup of coffee solo. So thanks Meg, for teaching me how coffee serves a larger purpose at times and helps us get to understand each other a bit more.

Should Martyrs be Automatically Made Saints?

I know of nobody more deserving of sainthood than the El Salvador Martyrs namely: Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Jesuit Martyrs from Central American University and the Nuns and lay workers killed in El Salvador as well.

These folks recently have been talked about as being made saints because of their heroic martyrdom. Face it, they died for the faith and that in and of itself speaks volumes to the rest of the world.

However, the controversy comes in when factions start to question just what kind of faith did they die for? Should the church celebrate their brand of liberation theology which even in Central America has come under some controversy. Was this brand of theology to closely aligned with Communism or Marxism? That seems to be the operative question. More traditional elements of the church seem to be trying to jump onto the social justice bandwagon as well. Regnum Christi has a major initiative in El Salvador these days that works with the poor and gives them starter homes that they will eventually own provided that they hold down a job. That might be speculative depending on the El Salvadorian economy and the corruption in government that keeps poor people poor.

And there lies the issue. The concept of helping the poor is not a debate. Everyone realizes that our faith demands us to help the poor and even to provide charity. The larger question and one that Glenn Beck raised recently is whether we have a demand to change infrastructures that keep people poor and more importantly, what should that look like?

“When I give people food, they say I am a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” – attributed to an El Salvadorian Priest

That indeed seems to be the larger question. And my take is that we indeed are called to change those inherent, immoral, corrupt structures that keep people in poverty.

I liken this to the scripture reading about the speck of sawdust that we point out that is in our brother’s eye when there is a giant log in our own. When we treat the poor with band-aid approaches the disease continues to fester. When we ignore our own roles in economic systems we fail to see our own failing in systemically working for change.

When we ignore the fact that people died because corrupt governments wanted them to shut up so much that they killed them we bring shame upon not only our church, but upon all the saints who clearly have welcomed them into the kingdom of God.

So today on the 30th anniversary of Oscar Romero’s death, may we not only be able to recognize saints, but may we be able to recognize what keeps people from being truly free.