Saturday, December 27, 2014

An Ode to my Little Sisters and to a Growing Movement

          Those who know me a bit know that I am a proud political nerd. If I had a dollar for the amount of times that I check POLITICO, a news site focused on U.S politics, I would treat each of you to a flight to New York City and a really nice meal and a savory cocktail afterward.

            And as much as I can be cynical in regards to the state of our Democracy and the influence of crony capitalism the other day I ran into a photograph that reminded me of the humanity still struggling its way out of some of our politicians and the hope-potential still very much present in the resurrecting social movements which our country and our world is capable of. If you have some extra time in between your facebook or instagram cruising I encourage you to hear me out for a tiny bit.

            Like most U.S Americans I have had some good laughs due to Vice President Joe Biden. Don’t get me wrong I like the guy, I just can’t help but laugh a little when seeing him run around the White House with President Obama encouraging all of us to workout or the times when his tongue has slipped and he has said something he clearly was not supposed to say such as when he told President Obama that the healthcare bill was a big ‘fudging deal’. To have some laughs at his disposal check out this great top 10 Biden Political Gaffes by Time Magazine (Time Biden Gaffes). And yet the other day as cheesy as it might sound I was left a bit inspired by a picture I saw of him and his grand daughters.

            Both the picture and the caption left me surprisingly inspired. In the picture the Vice President was hugging both of his pre teen grand daughters as they looked out into some fireworks. Clearly the picture was political but it was also something deeply personal. In the picture Biden says something to the extent of how “"I will not rest until my granddaughters have every single right my son & my grandsons have." In the simplicity of his statement our Vice President reminded me of something that I hope to be reminded of every single day and that I myself acutely encountered during my time back from graduate school while in Los Angeles.

            I have been engaging in conversations and strategy sessions around how we will take our Democracy back, in conversations about how we can confront some of the racism at the root of our criminal justice system, of how we can create the momentum to sustain and build strong foundations for a new progressive movement for the 21st century- a movement that addresses the widening gap between the top .01% and the rest of us, and that finally engages all of us from all social classes and all racial/ethnic backgrounds in having the tough dialogue and action around the racism/sexism and other otherings still present in and still harming our society and our souls. For the most well thought out, bi partisan talk on this listen to Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessig speak to the need for this movement here.

            If this movement is to sustain us and be sustained by us it has to be both deeply personal and deeply universal. It has to have names that trigger our heartstrings and flood out our eyes. It has to cradle us to sleep at night and keep us awake on those early mornings on the way to work.

            Cornel West, professor at Union Theological Seminary, says that ‘Justice is what love looks like in public’ and if we are to be sustained in life long work for justice in the public square we must open our hearts to those names that flashing through our thoughts remind us of our deep desire to love the world with others until the day when ‘our swords turn into plowshares and violence is no more’.

            On Christmas Day I remembered that two of those names for me out of many where Victoria and Stephanie. My two little sisters, Victoria and Stephanie-11 and 10, where skipping around my mom’s apartment building with the joy of children imbued with the fullness of those special days that remind us of our need to love each other in simple and full ways. ‘Look at our cow jammies’ they said, with the beautiful subtle smiles of children who have yet to feel the weight of the brokenness of our world.

            My sisters had both received cow pajamas for Christmas and these two little cows completely filled my heart in an afternoon full of Disney and Home Alone and exploring worlds of new toys. As I made freshly squeezed orange juice Stephanie, the 10 year old, made sandwiches and I must say that no New York Deli and no Los Angeles hipster gastro pub can make a sandwich that tasty.

            As we played the afternoon away I could not help but re center my desire to work with all of you in the struggle for a more just world. Like Joe Biden with his granddaughters I want to ensure that my little sisters grow up in a country and in a world that offers them and all other children rich opportunities to engage the word of God aching to come out of their life-masterpieces and bless us all. And I am willing to offer my life to work with you all in confronting any systemic injustices in the public sphere that might limit their potential.

             Maybe part of the reason that our country is so polarized is precisely because the consequences are so personally felt even in the midst of the political. I hope that for the sake of our Stephanie’s and our Victoria’s and for the sake of those names that pull at your heart strings and make you smile as bright as the sun we can finally come together and think through ways and changes and a movement worthy of the deep love that we have for those whose smiles overshadow any of our cloudy days.

            Our country’s history and our world’s history has progressed forward in social movements composed of those beloved communities rash enough to hold on to this deeply personal, deeply universal hope and it is up to all of us to continue to sustain this spirit. I am excited to continue to engage with each of you in conversations around how this bridge building and this movement growing can happen.

            I have never been more hopeful that the love deep at the center of our human experience and of our human relationships will prevail over any cold economic/political theories that might pretend that profit growing can happen in a vacuum unwed from the relationship growing and love sustaining that makes us all human.

            And to those in the Oligarchy that resist and might call us childish and idealists we will hold up a mirror to remind them of the humanity that has been sucked out of them for there is nothing more idealistic then their notions that the system as it is, is working for all of us. And together we will sustain ourselves in new anthems and recycle ones of old proclaiming over and over the Rhyme and Reason in the way of John Denver, famous U.S American folk singer “ For the children and the flowers are my sisters and my brothers, and the song that I am singing is a prayer for non-believers. Come and stand beside us. We can find a better way”

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Source-- First Brief Reflection and Poem from my life in New York City.

By Carlos Rodriguez

Amidst the silver bullet my head and heart spin

Finding source

I can only look at the eyes of strangers

Children of the world

Most invigorating city on earth

Help Me!

Source my life in the energy of your life

Source my hope in the opening of your wounds

Teach me the ways of the hidden language you only speak in the pauses between your words

Silence me with the beauty evaporating from your retinas

Lift me with the hands of your forefathers and foremothers:

Jews, Russians, Albanians, Irish, German, French, Colombian, Eritrean, Indian, Australian, Iranian, Spanish, Puerto Rican, Dominican, and so many more

Sacred Spaces of this city overwhelming me with spirit

Spirit forgotten built over by castles of Gold

Hearts turned into rock

Caring only about profit

Men without shoes walk the subway

Children without hope line the schools

Some stars are lifted while others are covered by carcasses of old monsters

Speaking to me in tounges of perseverance, callouses of history

Spirit of Hope arriving on the island off this City

Converting me transforming me expanding me

Spirit of this City---Where will you call me?

Heart ready to stretch with that of others

Expanding circle of compassion---hidden voices----shadow stories

Lifted up source becoming source

One source all of us lifted beyond potential

One subway ride at a time.

Santiago, Chile to Los Angeles, California, and then to Mexico and then to New York City. This poem comes at the end of what felt like a very long slide of life. In Santiago I wrapped up my experience and then I was in Los Angeles--discovered once again the beauty of an incredible family, engaged with Loyola Marymount, one of the roots of my story, was nurtured by companions in the spirit, and then worked at Loyola High School engaging my love and gift for ministry. After that I went to Mexico saw my grandfather's grave, caressed and loved my sick grandmother, and connected with my little cousins, now mostly teenagers, who I had last seen when they where kids.

After all this I moved to New York City to start graduate school--an occurrence once thought unimaginable. After a month in New York and three weeks at NYU I can begin to say that I am falling into some sort of rhythm that feels more consistent which I welcome with open arms after the last couple of years.   This consistency seems exciting. And yet after my brief time living in New York the biggest thing I have learned is that New York City is the most inconsistent and most exciting place on earth. Maybe I will find peace in the inconsistency---something that is always there in life but that sometimes we kid ourselves into thinking we can plan around. Let me tell you there are stories from my Peruvian plumber Carlos who saved me from my first apartment disaster, to heartbreak around every corner and joy across every street, from Albanian immigrants travelling thousands of miles to veteran classmates opening up their stories to me, from one to the other holy stories because they are human stories have the potential of meeting me anywhere and at anytime in New York City.

Hoping to  balance the time spent between academics, the engaging with these stories, and the time to source them into my heart and reflect upon my life, Friends of the world, I ask for your prayers in this hard journey and promise to go more into depth about my sacred time in New York in later blog posts. As for now I am just happy that I  was finally able to sit still enough to write and take in the beauty of it all swirling around me in the city that never sleeps.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Inheritance from a sharecropper

What inheritance could you possibly receive from a sharecropper? 

I wrote the poem below on the eve of my trip to Mexico. My grandfather died at 102 while I was away for two years doing volunteer work in the inner city of Santiago, Chile and I will be visiting his grave for the first time next week. 

I received the greatest inheritance from him and I invite you to share in the joy around this by reading this poem written in his honor. 

 Inheritance from a sharecropper
By Carlos Rodriguez
Dedicated to the memory of my grandfather Ezequiel Rodriguez (1910-2012)
Native of the rural areas surrounding the small town of San Julian, Jalisco, Mexico. 

To you oh wrinkled one

Who surprised me even in death

‘I am going to heaven’

You told her

With a security that on the lips of some would seem arrogant

But on your lips oh simple sharecropper seemed well
It seemed surprising

Time and time again I have become used to

The eyes of those that believe that they are not worthy

The tired pupils of those that have bought into the lie

Forced to live as slaves

To think that they own nothing

Simply their forced energy to try to survive another day another month another year

Chased from their dreams

Forced to take their majestic Aztec drums retire them and replace them with

The sponge

'Xihualacan compañeros ti paxalo ce María timiyehualotzan ipan tonantzin
Santa María Guadalupe'

‘Beats of drums echoing through history whispering for change’

Are stronger than chains of sponges

Becoming the underbelly of America

Your children have taught me to fear my gifts to protect me from those that destroyed theirs

I will break through the concrete of their chains

With the might of your hand on the hoe hard earth becoming soft

Giving way for the God that claims the earth and its fruits for the majestic project 

Inheriting heaven to the poor

Push after push after push after push

Sweat and tears and joy and poetry and bread and coke and cigarettes

The hard earth will give in someday

‘I have seen the mountaintop!’; ‘the kingdom of God is at hand!’

Seeds planted seeds growing love spreading justice forming unbreakable roots

Your slow step always behind me in front of me beside me

Pointing the way to the Sun


You say ‘Today will be a good day to work the earth’

Walking with you

Becoming one with others

Thank you for teaching me to break through hard earth

And smile.

-       Carlos Rodriguez

Written on July 24th 2014 

*The Nahuatl (Aztec Language) in the poem is a traditional Aztec song sung with drums in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

''Let the Children come to me"vs. Nativism

Published in Millenial: Young Catholics, An Ancient Faith, A New Century

American soccer fans couldn’t help but cringe when the US Men’s National Soccer Team was defeated by Belgium last week and was sent back home from Brazil. A part of me was secretly hoping that this would be a historic World Cup in which the US would go farther than it ever had before in a World Cup, maybe even winning the championship.
And yet this was not the only important skirmish our country was facing on that Tuesday. Another skirmish was taking place in the small town of Murrieta, outside of San Diego, foreshadowing a looming social war in our country that will determine not just our country’s immediate future in regards to immigration, but more importantly whether we will continue to uphold the traditional American values that have meant so much to our country’s history.
On this day, hundreds of protesters met in Murrieta to stop a bus load of immigrant children who were coming from Texas in order to get processed in a facility in California. The White House estimates that upwards of 90,000 immigrant children, mostly traveling alone, will enter our country without proper documentation before the end of the year. Chanting “No more illegals” and expressing the fears that “They will take our jobs,” these protesters—many of whom were Tea Partiers and minutemen—made children (some as young as 4) feel like criminals for doing something that their parents hoped would give them escape the dreadful violence that threatened them in their home countries.
Now that we have just celebrated the national independence of our country, it seems like a good time to reflect on this skirmish and the choice it presents for our country. For we can choose to uphold the traditional Christian value of compassion and generosity that our country has upheld at its best moments, or we can choose to opt for the values of fear and nativism displayed in the darkest periods of our nation’s history.
We can either welcome these children with open arms or we can reject them by deporting them and condemning them to inevitable suffering and possibly death.
I humbly contend that the rejection espoused by the anti-immigrant protesters at Murrieta is both un-American and utterly un-Christian.
When one reads over the stories of our American heroes in World War II, the Freedom Riders who risked their lives to confront the evil of segregation, or countless other stories of American heroism, it becomes clear that compassion and care for those most in need is as American as apple pie. It is America at its finest.
Jesus himself, whom many of the protesters claim as their Lord and Savior and spend Sundays praising and worshiping, is pretty clear about how children should be treated. In Matthew 19:14, Jesus says, “Let the children come to me, and stop keeping them away, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these.” In rejecting these children, protesters and any who are like-minded are failing to see that their faith is intertwined with compassion for those most in need, including migrants. There can be no compassion in this rejection, and it is quite honestly embarrassing to see Christians embracing this type of nativism.
On top of being both un-American and un-Christian, this type of nativist rhetoric also denies our country’s rich immigrant history. In rejecting immigrants today we reject the legacy of our immigrant forefathers and ignore the true causes of our country’s greatness. Our nation’s diversity has long been a source of strength and has helped the United States to serve as a symbol of hope.
I pray that just as we saw fireworks filling our skies on the fourth of July and took pride once more in how far we have come as a country, our hearts might also expand to take into consideration the lives of the thousands of immigrant children who wait anxiously with tired eyes and backpacks full of dreams for the day when the beacon held by lady liberty will shine brightly once again. For these children, willing to walk hundreds of miles and encounter countless obstacles, still believe in the best of what the United States can be. But it remains to be seen whether we will choose to espouse the ideals of opportunity and care or whether we will succumb to the voices in the shadows pushing us into the dark crevices of fear.
Carlos Rodriguez is a devout Catholic in his mid-twenties trying to make sense of his faith and his desire for more justice, especially for urban communities around the world.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Light Amidst the City

Written at the end of first email reflection sent out from Chile on January 17th, 2012. 

Slowly I will find incomplete answers to these questions even as more spring up, and yet I do not believe in a God of coincidence but rather in a God of Love. A God whose love brought me to this place to prepare me and use me. For God has heard 'el pueblo' cry , heard it cry from the inequality of schools in Chile, to the empty bowls of the indigenous poor in Guatemala, heard it cry from the tears of ravaged mothers in East Los Angeles to the unfulfilled dreams of dreamers in East Harlem, and God has and slowly continues to use weak, calloused hearts and hands like my own and your own in the creation of a kingdom of love and justice. Many of these kindred hearts I have already come in contact with here in Chile, hearts in which I will rest, learn, and be born a new to my own calling. Pray my brothers and sisters back in Los Angeles and across our world that I might have the courage to every morning begin a new by offering my calloused hands in this majestic project, and offer your hands with me as well. This common endeavor  is the greatest testament to our connectedness, and will transform our world. 

Know that you are all deeply loved and carried. 


I leave you with a poem I wrote after a long day of community organizing in East Los Angeles, a poem that I find applicable to my time so far amidst Santiago's urban reality, where skyscrapers and world class subway systems coexist alongside broken dreams, and marginalized communities:

Light Amidst the City 
by Carlos Rodriguez 

Yellowish Skies 

Tired Eyes

A poor woman's 


  Plastered on the flat screen 

Lining one's retinas 

her poverty 

unmistakebly caused 

by her unlucky presence 

in a space 

whose marketing 

does not produce enough 


for the giants you see 

towering above you 

ready to kill you 

What can you do for this 

woman when your own 

fears exist? 

How can you tell her 

to organize, to ask for her 
due, when your own smallness 
scares you at the face 
of such giants? 

And then in a moment 


unbearable weight 

the light of the
catches you 

in its radiant arms

- Listen 

I am the God of the 

Poor, I am the God of 

this light- 

Strive for there is more 

light in the depth of a 

poor woman's heart 

then in the brick of 

a robotic giant- 


Description of Following Posts.

The posts above are a collection of poetry and prose that I deemed appropriate for this Blog.

They are an effort to connect spirituality, my own and that of my fellow human beings, with the depths of the urban struggle around the world.

Most of the posts will be reflections written during my time growing up in Los Angeles, my time as a student at Loyola Marymount University traveling around Latin America and Vietnam, my time as an organizer in Los Angeles, my recent experience as a two year Jesuit Volunteer in Santiago, Chile, and my up and coming experience as a graduate student in New York City. 

The posts will either be my own writing or writing that inspires me to continue accompanying the struggles of the urban impoverished around our world. 

Why this blog?

Why this blog?

'' The Atacama Desert of northern Chile like most physical deserts is a place of great surprises. In the midst of its apparent aridity and lifelessness it has provided human beings with the greatest view of the universe available on earth and its copper and other mining resources have brought great wealth to the Chilean economy....

This desert challenges assumptions and surface judgments and that is what this blog hopes to do...

...years ago while organizing campaigns around violence prevention in East and South LA, stories of teachers or police officers demeaning kids as having no possibility of success because of the neighborhoods they lived in, became all to popular...

...just as in  the desert there are Urban Neighborhoods/Poblaciones in cities across our world that are perceived to have nothing to offer...

...when in reality they are tabernacles of great hope...

...I too come from the urban desert of cousins lost to gang violence and uncles undergoing deportation procedures...

...If our societies are to develop so that all have the ability to achieve their potential...

...They must stop ignoring the desert voices....

...Voices echoing from the working kids on the outskirts of Quito, the troubled mothers a midst the projects of Nickerson Gardens, the high school mentors in the Poblacion of Nogales in Chile, the singing indigenous children undergoing racial injustice in Central Vietnam, the broken lives of the non tourist streets of New York City, and many more spaces that offer us a face to face encounter with both raw brokenness and raw hope...

....there are many already listening attentively to these desert voices...

...there needs to be more...

...our humanity, our salvation, is intertwined with the fate of these urban communities...

...this Blog seeks to use poetry and prose to tell their story...

-Carlos Rodriguez