Some thoughts on Orlando, Christianity, and the choices we have ahead

I don’t like to write right after a tragedy such as the one in Orlando. As a straight, White(ish), Latino man, I get enough chances to speak as it is. My voice is not the one that should be heard. I ought to shut up and listen.

But I have thought a lot about this tragedy and about my own life. I have tried to put my thoughts in order. I guess that’s what I have a blog for, so here you go.

This mass shooting was homophobia. Plain and simple homophobia. A homophobia that society has nurtured for years and years. The homophobia that is strengthened when we stay silent after a family member says that homosexuality is not normal, after our priests and preachers tell us that gay marriage puts families at risk, after we shout “puto” in the stadium when the goalkeeper kicks the ball in fútbol…

Homophobia is part of our world, it is part of our society. It is part of us. It is part of me, whether I like it or not.

But no more.

Not after this. Not after 49 people were gunned down in a space that was supposed to be safe, by a man who should not have hated himself so much. This is sad. This is intolerable. This is too much. This cuts deep into all of us. This is more than terrorism, this is hate. This was not a political statement with collateral damage; this was a vicious, cruel, premeditated, targeted assassination of men who are already disenfranchised because of who they are. Because of who they love.

And we, as Catholics, as Christians, as people who supposedly claim to follow Jesus, we are to blame above most, above all but the person who pulled the trigger. Because we have stood silent when our leaders railed against gay marriage. Because we did nothing, or didn’t do enough, when our friends started campaings to fight “for the families” (and against non-heterosexual families). Because we barely blinked when we saw relatively minor expressions of homophobia. Because we allowed our leaders, our priests, our bishops, cardinals, and Popes, to keep telling us to “hate the sin, not the sinner,” even if the so-called sin is a fundamental part of who they are. Even if that means we call them sinners for being just the way God made them: beautiful, cheerful, gay.

And we claim to love them, in their sin. We say, along with Pope Francis, that we can’t judge. But that’s not enough. Inaction is not enough. Silence is not enough. Silence in the face of oppression is nothing short of complicity. Inaction against injustice is nothing short of injustice.

It is high time we do more.

Yes, there are Christian and Catholic voices who are allies of or collectives of our LGBTQ siblings. And we try to speak up, and we try to love and be better. And we organize panels, events, and maybe sometimes even talk about it with our friends and families…

But it is not enough. We can’t stand in the middle anymore. I can’t stand in the middle anymore. Not while my Church continues to celebrate hate, injustice, and oppression. It’s time to make choices. We can either commit ourselves fully to change it, to make it the loving, welcoming, and nurturing place it should be, or we can leave it to rot by itself, the dead carcass of a once beautiful dream.

Staying in the sidelines is no longer an option. Not while hate remains inside. Not while people are getting killed in our name and in the name of our saviour who taught us to love to the extreme. If we are to follow Jesus, we must always take the side of the oppressed, of the margins, of those who suffer. This is what Jesus did, and that’s what got him killed. It may be uncomfortable, but it is His way. And His way is true and alive. It rests on us to follow.

I don’t take photos in Kawangware

Surprisingly, I (sometimes) do more than just think about comic books and high fantasy. As I noted on a previous post, I have been interning in Nairobi for the past seven weeks. Specifically, I work with community-organizations in Kawangware, one of the largest slums in Nairobi (and that’s saying quite a lot, mind you). And, well, it is my favorite part of the city. By far.

However, I have almost no photos to show. Which might be considered weird, since I have (literally) hundreds of photos of the safaris I’ve been to, and I usually take a lot of photos anywhere I travel to.

But that’s just the thing. Kawangware is not a safari. It’s not somewhere I travel touristically to. It’s a slum. Full of colors, noise, smells, and A LOT of people.

To be sure, I think photos of Kawangware should be out there, because it’s a side of Nairobi (and of Africa!) that we in the West don’t see that often. I really believe Mzungus in Nairobi and elsewhere would benefit from knowing how life is like in the slums.

But I don’t think it’s my role to take those photos. I was recently reading a brilliant entry by Jeremy Everett in Talk Poverty about the (dumb) idea of “being a voice for the voiceless” and it really hit home:

[W]hile they’re muffled, hushed, pushed down and left out—they are not voiceless. They do not need our voices; at least not in the way many people think they do. What they really need—these folks who are working two jobs but are unable to make ends meet, or deciding between buying groceries or paying the electric bill—is for us step out from behind the microphone, make room at the table, and give them a chance to speak.

Now, I’m not a professional photographer. Far from it. So the photos I take are for entertainment and for sharing with my peers and friends. On the other hand, I have friends here in Kawangware who have good cameras and take really good photos. I mean, like, seriously good. Whatever my intentions, if I take a photo in Kawangware, it is still a “hey, look at this interesting part of my trip!” I’m supposed to be working for an organization that aims to empower youth in Kawangware, and it’s very clear to me that my photos ony empower myself. The photos that my friends here take? Those are photos about their lives, their interests, what they find beautiful, amazing, or noteworthy. I’d much rather see those photos than my own. I’d much rather listen to them than speak.

And that is why I don’t take photos in Kawangware.

Man of Steel, and why I’m so excited about the coming DCU movies

Like I said in my previous post, I have a lot of spare time. And lately I’ve been reading (and catching up on) a lot of comic books. Not only recent stories (looking at you, New 52), but also bigger, older ones that I never got around to read (like Civil War). Meanwhile, Marvel and DC continue to release films and TV shows that all-but guarantee I’ll be broke for all eternity. To say comic books have been on my mind lately would be a huge understatement.

I’ve also been re-watching “recent” comic book movies (read, from Iron Man onwards). And I realized one thing: I really, really liked Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Many people who are experts in comic books and, specifically, in Superman, didn’t like it. And with good reason. Nonetheless, I did, and (I think) also with good reason.

First, as far as I know, Man of Steel is exploring a new story for Superman. Yes, it takes some inspiration from many sources (like every other comic book movie, by the way), but it’s also quite new. This is a Superman that remained hiding as Clark Kent until General Zod appeared and forced him out. A Superman whose (human) father chose to die in order to protect Clark Kent’s secret. A Superman who had great parents (both in Krypton and Earth), but who is still learning the morality amd implications of his powers and, more importantly, of being Superman. And, maybe just as important, is a Superman who lived in a world where there was no Superman. Nobody had expectations on him and many would have handed him over to Zod without a moment’s thought… Which is what happens.

Therefore, Superman in Man of Steel has some liberty to go “out of character.” There are two main moments in the film where this happens: (1) when Superman isn’t concerned about civilian casualties while fighting Zod and/or his army, and (2) when he (Super)snaps Zod’s neck and (Super)kills him.

Let’s start with the second. Zod puts Superman in an impossible situation: innocent people will die unless Zod stops, and he makes it more than clear that he will never, ever stop… And so Superman has to kill him. To protect an inocent family. And is visibly affected and enraged by having to end a life. Even when breaking out of character he acts like Superman. By the way, compare that scene, for example, with Batman leaving Ra’s Al-Ghul to die (twice), with Iron Man killing every terrorist he comes accross (using a facial recognition and targeting software), Captain America shooting Nazis and Hydra agents, or Thor happily slaying frost giants and dark elves… You get the point. Anyway, yes, Superman broke out of (his comic book) character. Comic book Superman would have probably found a way out of this problem. But comic book superman is also experienced in fighting supervillains and threats to the world. Before Zod came to Earth, all Clark Kent had to fight was the urge to kill that asshole at the bar.

And a similar explanation applies with the civilian casualties: this was the first time Superman had to use his powers to fight someone as strong as him (and, by the way, this is the best superhero fight scene I’ve ever seen. It’s just completely badass how they throw each other around and destroy everything in their path… A bit like when Superman fought Doomsday in the comic books). Mistakes (or even lack of concern) would not be surprising. Maybe Superman will carry around the guilt of not being able to save the people who died that day (or of not caring about  them). There are many interesting possibilities for the next movies, and it seems like some of those will be at least explored in Batman v Superman.

Which brings me to my last point: somehow, DC comics, the franchise that began writing comic books for kids, whose superheroes are often considered dorky or boring (except Batman, of course), and who hasn’t released a critically acclaimed movie that is not directed by Christopher Nolan in over 20 years, this franchise is pushing the boundaries of comic book movies and exploring new avenues, new stories, and new ideas. This is why I am so much more excited about Batman v Superman than I am for, say Captain America: Civil War or even Avengers: Infinity Wars. Because DC Comics is exploring new, uncharted territory. And I can’t wait to see where that takes us all.

Titles for the theses I’ll never write

I’ve been consuming a lot of pop culture lately. It’s a consequence of living in a city where you can only go out at night if you’re willing to shell out 20-30 usd on taxis every time.

Anyway, I’ve been watching many shows, reading some books (not as many as I’d like), and listening to a lot of metal. Since I’m already feeling pressured because I still don’t have a topic for my thesis, but I sure have had some ideas:

  • “‘You Become a Man When You Put On The Wings’: Masculinities and Patriarchy in the Battlestar Galactica. The Case of the Adamas.”
  • “Can you rape a machine? The Case against Admiral Cain Based on Humanitarian Law.”
  • “Nobody Asked the Whale: The Doctor As an Example of Empowering Research.”
  • “‘Hell Bent For Leather:’ Changes in Heteronormativity and Male Stereotypes in the Heavy Metal Scene since the 1970s.”
  • “We Are All Starbuck: The Need for PTSD Treatment for the Galactica Pilots”
  • “From Doro to Gosow: the Evolution of the Female Lead in Heavy Metal.”
  • “Tugging the Braid: A Gendered Analysis of The Wheel of Time.”
  • Demand Peace! A Livelihoods Analysis of Terrorist Movements in Battlestar Galactica.”
  • “In The Halls of Mandos. An Inquiry into Elvish Privilege in Middle Earth.”
  • “Rus! The Rise of Slavic Pride and Nationalism in Heavy Metal”
  • “For the Watch! Jon Snow and the Need to Address Spoilers During Peace Efforts.”
  • “All Along the Watchtower: The Contact Hypothesis and Improvement in Human-Cylon Relations”

I’m sure I’ll have more ideas soon.

And yes, I’m binge-watching Battlestar Galactica. Everyone should.

Interning in Kenya

So I’ve been in Nairobi for a bit over three weeks. I think I’ve started to settle in, which is good, although I don’t think I will ever get used to the whole cars-on-the-lefft-side-of-the-street kind of thing.

Nairobi is an interesting city: if Mexico City and Port Au Prince had a kid, it would be very much like Nairobi. Traffic is insane, poverty is widespread (with the occassional pockets of exhuberant wealth), and people are friendly but firm. It’s a city where people spend hundreds of dollars in two-days safaris, while a family in the slums can be fed with as little as a dollar; where international news concerning Al-Qaeda and ISIS* are followed by everyone due to the constant threat of attacks by Al-Shabab; where anyone can pay with their phones via M-Pesa (think Venmo for the developing world), but thiefs can kill you to steal your phone; where you are searched and scanned when entering a mall (because of Al-Shabab), but not when leaving a store… Anyway, it’s definitely an experience.

I’ve never felt so white in my life. Even in Mexico, my dark hair and brown eyes made me less of a güerito than some of my friends. Here, I’m just another mzungu (white person). I mean, yes, two people have asked me if I’m from South America (because I’m not blonde), but every time I walk in the slum (which is where I work) I hear the kids calling me “Mzungu! Mzungu! How are you?” followed by a laugh and a “I’m fine, thank you!” after I ask how they are.

One thing that has struck me is how much tea people drink here. It occurs to me that is one of the only ways to drink liquids without risking serious disease. Water is, by and large, unhealthy and dangerous, and juice and carbonated drinks are too expensive. Milk, on the other hand, is apparently cheaper and, since you boil it, BOOM safe to drink. I guess. Anyway, the advice of drinking two liters of water per day doesn’t really make sense in a context where water can give you cholera. This is such a privilegd reflection, by the way… But so is having a blog, I guess.

Anyway, the tea is delicious.

* I’ve decided I’m using ISIS instead of ISIL because if you say “Iraq”, you should say “Syria”, not “the Levant.” If you’re going to say “the Levant,” then also say “Mesopotamia” instead of “Iraq.” It’s a minor thing, but I think it makes more sense.

One year later

Ok, it’s been almost a year since I tried to start a blog. It didn’t really work out (obviously), so this is a fresh start… Of sorts.

So why this blog? Well, to be honest it’s more for me than for anyone else. I don’t expect to have a huge amount of readers (or any amount of readers, for that matter). I do have some entertaining thoughts, and, for the sake of my English prose, it might be good to write them down.

So that’s what this blog will be about: things that are in my head. I’m not sure if the entries will be short or long, if I’ll post photos or not, or if I’ll write about personal stuff. I guess I’ll figure it out as I go along. Possible topics include gender, fantasy, peacebuilding, M&E, heavy metal, pop culture, and the occassional attempt at writing fiction.

So welcome, imaginary readers, to my random thoughts. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.