Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Chronicles of Salamanca, Early-late Mornings and a Pocket Full of Euros


Alright, let's get some more details out to the folks back home. It's 9 am here in Salamanca, Spain. The pace of this place is what gets me the most. Well, the pace and how beautiful the Spanish people are. Now, I don't mean that in the abstract way that I believe that everyone is beautiful. What I mean is that these people are physically gorgeous. Intimidatingly so, even. Regardless, though. The pace and schedule of this city are more foreign than the language. I woke up at 8 am this morning, after a grateful 8 consecutive (more or less) hours of sleep. I threw on some clothes and took to the street to try and find a bakery that I had heard about nearby. At 8:15 am, there was no one on the street besides delivery men. No stores were open, and only a couple restaurants had opened by that time. That's so crazy to me, as I remember distinctly how in Tegucigalpa or Belmopan, Belize, or San Jose, Costa Rica the city was alive at 7. Even in the U.S. if I am in a productive span of my life, and I wake up at 8 am, I'm behind most of what's going on around me. A lot of that here has to do with the siesta concept. It's a real thing, as all the stores and restaurants close down from 2-4 pm for lunch or naps or whatever, then reopen until 9 or 10 pm. People stay up and stay out much later, and then compensate by not starting their days until after 9 am. So, it's an entirely different schedule, and one that I can get used to considering how much I hate mornings.
Now I think that I should talk about this city itself. I don't know a lot of the history of Salamanca, but I do know from walking around that it's probably as old as civilization itself. The architecture is stunning; ancient brick and mortar, giant cathedrals (yes, plural), brick-paved streets, etc. There is apparently a bridge across the Tormes River that is Roman. Like, "was built by patrons of the Roman Empire," Roman. A friend said that she's heard that Salamanca is the most beautiful city in Spain. So far, I have to agree that it is at least the most beautiful city I have ever seen. All of the cliche European distinctions that come to mind for me exist readily here; the cafes with wire chairs and patios, the tiny cups of coffee, the well-dressed attractive people, etc. It's a beautiful place. I think that I should always have my camera on me, as there always seems to be some bit of architecture that is unlike any I have ever seen first-hand. This place is great.
So, as far as making friends and meeting people and all of those other terrors of being in a foreign country, things are progressing. After being here for three days, I've met a few folks and have some names and faces down. School starts on Monday with a Spanish language placement test, then assignment into the classes themselves. And, once I can track down some pick-up soccer to get into (which is harder than you might think here in Spain,) the ball will be rolling; literally and figuratively. I'm not worried about it, people excite me and I'm looking forward to making those connections. The Lord has carved out this time and this place for me to exist and to pursue Him, and it's going to be an incredible experience. So, I'll continue to keep the updates coming, feel free to send me stuff in the mail. Dr. Pepper and a scarf are my two biggest needs. I'll put my address below, with a heart full of wishful thinking. Anyway, take care of yourselves anonymous readers. Things here are going to be fine.

Mondo Davis
Calle de Placentinos 3 Bajo
37008 Salamanca, Spain

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Spain.


Here I am. I made it safely through the journey aboard flight DL0108 into Madrid, then on to Salamanca, Spain via bus. It was a quick trip, as I, sleep-drunk and disoriented stumbled through awkward conversations and failed attempts at making phone calls. I realized once I arrived that I don't actually speak Spanish, which left me feeling a bit terrified at the prospect of navigating three months of trying to communicate. But, ultimately, I have since been reminded that language is only a property of the equation of communication. In other words, I'm going to make it and have already begun to feel more and more confident in my ability to communicate, two days into it.
I arrived to Salamanca Monday morning, and was greeted (eventually) by En Vivo's director, Jesse Bentley. Him and his wife, Sophie, are the parent of three kids aged 3 to 7, and have been laboring here for the past seven years. They seem wonderful thus far, and I'm excited at the prospect of working alongside them during my time here. I also met the fourth member of the current team, a fellow exchange student from Carrolton, GA by the name of Kara. She's green, traveling outside the U.S. for the first time. Trial by fire, I suppose. She seems to have a good heart and to be ready for the semester working out the details of international ministry like myself. The team is set, and we've begun the process of discovering each other's strengths and weaknesses.
Salamanca is absolutely beautiful. I've been blown away at the very limited exposure that I've had. I hope to wake up early in the morning and explore more of what's around me, as well as take pictures of the place I'm staying and the area that will be my domain for the next three months. Stay tuned for more on everything out here as it unfolds. This is going to be a wonderful adventure.

Monday, September 19, 2011

the benefit show that ended all benefit shows.



My heart is overwhelmed. Last night, somewhere around 100 people came out to The Music Room on Edgewood to experience a night of beautiful music by my beautiful friends that I am so blessed to have. The night was a huge success. It was billed as a benefit show, as I'm off to Spain to work with a student ministry in Salamanca here in a week. But, I knew going into it that it's difficult to raise money for work that is more mundane and doesn't come with heart-breaking stories of starvation and disease. The real benefit for me was to bring people together under the banner of art and music; to give my favorite ATLiens a place to join together and listen to wonderful local musicians. The artists were beautiful, they brought their hearts to the stage. There were serene moments, like when Mindy Fletcher silenced the entire room as she belted Alicia Keys' "Falling" in chilling vibrato. It was a beautiful night. I love music, as I've explicitly stated. And creative people are my favorite people in the world. Last night, the world was made a better place because of the sounds that came from that stage. I'm so blessed to have the beautiful friends that are in my life; people who love me and are committed to sharing their art with the world. Josh Fletcher, Mindy Fletcher, Molly Parden, and Danny Brewer; thank you for being wonderful. Keep making that music. Last night was one of the best nights of my life.

I'm currently editing the audio that I recorded. I'll put it up on the internet as soon as its ready.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Transcendence and Sound Manipulation (Why I Love Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors)




Ok. It's about to get real. My apologies to MercyMe and TobyMac
So, Christian Music* sucks. That's a common statement that I've heard a hundred times over. But, let me here expound on it. Here's why Christian Music sucks: there is no need for it. I've stated this before, but the whole model for the Christian music and the idea behind it; to create a Christian-specific genre of music and culture that Christians can identify with and spend money on, is unnecessary. The industry largely exists to mirror "non-Christian" music, and to help come alongside an alternate Christian culture/reality that serves to effectively perpetuate this "Christian bubble" that is supposed to keep us away from the dangers of independent thought and creative lifestyles. Many churches support this sub-culture, and there is a ready and willing industry that is anxious to capitalize on a ripe market of scared and wealthy white kids that are fighting to find something to identify with, or as an escape from the guilt and judgement that they don't know how to reconcile.
And, I get it. It's capitalism. There is a market to capitalize on, so there will always be someone trying to take advantage. And,
the "real" world is scary as hell sometimes. So, of course Christians would welcome a break from the death and sin that the world exists in, in the form of this alternate Christian culture. That's far easier and safer than stepping into the world.

But, here's the problem, as briefly as I am able (click here for a more detailed explanation); 1. we cut off our witness when we build walls around ourselves. 2. the "art" that is created within this Christian culture is largely less creative and beautiful than what the "non-Christian" world creates. The problem there is that we worship a God that is the God of creativity. What does it communicate to an unbelieving world if what His followers creates kind of sucks? The intent is understandable, but the actualization is pretty damaging. Christian culture is a shitty alternative to "non-Christian" culture. Everybody loses.

So, if you are still reading this after that long-winded complaining session (sorry if you are,) then you might have wondered why I've been putting "non-Christian" in quotes. Excellent question. First off, I'm friends with some beautiful people. Artists, musicians, songwriters and poets who are actively engaged in this experiment of life. Some of them love Jesus, a lot. Some of them create beautiful things from the depths of their souls that ring out into a broken and fallen world and shout truth in the face of the lies and death in which we often exist. Last night, I went to a show in beautiful Athens, GA, where everybody dresses the same and every other windshield has a parking ticket on it. The venue was noisy and full of college kids that didn't know what the hell they were doing there. The headliner of this show was one of those beautiful friends of mine named Drew Holcomb and his band, The Neighbors. In the crowd, the throng of female-heavy college kids that had heard of Drew one way or another seemed mostly drawn to the romance story that he and his wife Ellie have and often share during their performances. Drew and his band took the stage and got right to it. It was magical. There are two ways to communicate to people through music. The first is to get everyone to shut up and play softly and sing words that are true and beautiful so that people can hear the words and contemplate and empathize with them. This is hard when the room is full of people that aren't primarily interested in what you're saying (speaking from experience.) The second, and where Drew triumphantly adventured last night, is to make beautiful music, deliver it passionately, shout the words into the spot lights with sweat swirling down your forehead, and give yourself over completely to the swell of humanity inside you that is screaming to feel alive. Music is this beautiful transcendent thing that allows us to connect, at the deepest corners of our beings, to something that is greater than ourselves. And anyone that was in that crowd last night had only to look at the strain in Drew's face, the tears welling in his eyes, the sweat pouring from his forehead, and the passion emanating from his performance and feel that they are; after all the make-up and fashion conformity, the fake ids and the struggle to be heard; human. What is more Christian than that - creating, through passionate delivery and devotion, an environment where people that have no interest in Jesus can feel His hands holding their hearts at the base of their humanity? Gosh, there is nothing more beautiful than that. God smiled when Drew Holcomb throws his fists in the air and shouts, "Some day, boy, you're going to break those chains." I saw Jesus when Ellie's harmony came in, "somewhere out in the streets, there's a melody that speaks a hope for something bigger." He was present, and proclaimed and glorified by everyone of those broken and flailing college kids.
Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors get it. Music is a medium to connect our souls into a wonderful understanding of who we are and what this life is all about. Last night, they tapped into the infinite as we in the crowd swayed back and forth, lumps in our throats and united in our humanity.
That's Christian music. Christian Music is not safe and happy, it's not about how everything is alright and we just need to work to be better at existing inside a system where peace within ourselves comes from praying more and reading the bible and doing more. It's not labeled or under the funding of some Christian industry. Christian Music is artists playing shows in bars and concert halls, singing truth that lost souls desperate for something to connect with can feel and experience. The gospel is proclaimed when we allow our creativity and talent to be unhindered and unrestrained, when we give ourselves to others, whether we are stating the gospel explicitly or not. Because, He is in us, and He will have to come out as long as we're communicating truth. If I could have one wish for my music, it's that anyone who listened to it would feel human. It is as humans that Jesus loves us, fallen and broken and dying. Last night, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors made Jesus make more sense.
So, make your art. Share your art, and chase after something that is bigger than yourself. Thank you, Drew Holcomb, for walking through that and fighting for truth. It is only in Jesus that our wandering can find rest.

---------
*I want to specify that worship music, intended in leading congregations and individuals in explicit worship of their creator is in a different category in my mind. that is much more of a noble and necessary endeavor than the CCM Radio music of which I'm speaking.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Because, Why the Hell Not?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Why I Love Dragon Con


I feel like I talk about this a lot. There's this wonderful island of alternate reality that only happens three days out of the year. It's called Dragon Con, and it's the premier Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention in the Southeast. I know what you're thinking, "Mondo. You're only kind of nerdy when it comes to Science Fiction. Do you really get that excited about a whole convention devoted to it?" And the answer, my dear ambiguous reader, is an enthusiastic "yes." Let me tell you why.
First off, it's an immense production. It lasts all of Labor Day weekend and is spread out among three major hotels in Downtown Atlanta. Attendance is well into the tens-of-thousands, and people come from all over the country to be a part of it. I went with some friends to watch the parade that happens on every Saturday of Labor Day Weekend. All of the fans that get dressed up as their favorite Science Fiction characters walk down a mile-and-a-half stretch of Peachtree St. to the rousing applause of thousands of on-lookers. Here's the thing: many of these people in the parade spend most of their lives being marginalized and mocked by a world that sees the obscurity of their passion weird and offensive. They are nerds in the truest form of the word. And, many don't ascribe to the level of nerd-dom that is considered socially acceptable or even cool in culture's current climate. These people are on the extreme end of the spectrum. This is easy to identify, as many of the themes and costumes overstep the socially-acceptable boundary of being a fan of Star Wars or Ghost Busters or Marvel Comic book characters. We're talking Steampunk, Anime, obscure video game characters, and World of Warcraft. These folks are nerds.
But, it is there that lies the beauty of it all. Here's the deal; at Dragon Con, these people are the heroes. They walk down Peachtree, proud as hell of what they are representing. They get to exist fully within their passion one weekend of the year. There are no nerds, everyone is "cool" and accepted. We get to celebrate beautiful human creativity together, regardless of where we exist on the nerd spectrum. I love it. With heads held high, oppressed and socially marginalized people wander around downtown Atlanta and get to have people ask for pictures and hear some degree of love expressed to them. It's redemption played out. And I think that it's something that Jesus smiles at; his children getting to be heroes, getting to be loved and admired for their passion. I'm pretty convinced that the celebration that Dragon Con is represents what heaven will be like; everyone embracing and celebrating how beautiful God has created us to be. Yes, Jesus loves Dragon Con.
And, yes. People take it too far sometimes. And, yes. The escape from reality can be a dangerous thing if it gets out of hand. But, I think that that is true about everything. People take everything too far: conservative/liberal politics, sports, work, music, relationships. It's the danger of being human. But, for Dragon Con goers to get to exist fully inside of what they're passionate about is the most beautiful thing in the world. Seeing it makes me want to participate, to take my own passion into the celebration and be part of it all. We are all human, and DC is a place to celebrate and pursue the thing inside of us that makes us long to be part of something bigger than ourselves. He has made us this way, to love with all of our hearts. He has made us to walk hand-in-hand with one another, rejoicing in our humanity, in our access to a God that loves us. At Dragon Con, in all of its weird and surreal obscurity, we exist together.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

My Semester Abroad

hello, below is my best explanation of what I'll be working on this semester in Salamanca, Spain.
I have always been adept at learning languages, and was given an opportunity to grow in this ability during my service in the Navy. During this time I was also exposed to the foreign refugee community. Through this interaction, I came to understand how desperately in need many of these people are. Many refugees seeking asylum in the United States are here after having fled dictators, oppression, drought, famine, disease, and many other unimaginable atrocities. Once these people arrive in the United States, they are subject to extreme culture shock; not knowing the language, customs, dress, or proper procedures to find work or be granted citizenship.
My heart broke for these people. Upon moving to Atlanta, I began to volunteer with the International Rescue Committee, an organization that is set up to help refugees integrate into American society. During the school year, I spent four hours a week putting my skills to use, teaching English to the refugee clients that have come into the Atlanta area. The obstacles for these people are great, as are the difficulties that exist in trying to teach them a new language. However, my passion and heart lie in giving these people my time and my care so that they might be able to learn and eventually have full access to the rights and freedoms that all of us enjoy as Americans. I intend to spend my life working toward this goal, hoping to find a career in teaching English to those in refugee status either in the U.S. or abroad.
But, I've been given an opportunity to improve in this craft, as well as to actively share in love of with hurting students. This fall semester, I will be working with an organization in Salamanca, Spain called Globalscope. Globalscope, and their Salamanca chapter, "En Vivo," seeks to reach out to Spanish students at the University of Salamanca, to build relationships and to share in life with them. I have been given an opportunity to work alongside other missionaries there. This semester is a training session of sorts, as I hope to gain valuable experience in serving overseas. I also see it as a chance for gaining experience in outreach ministry abroad. I'm very excited for the chance to share love with those that do not know it.
As a college student, finances pose a challenge to my ability to take advantage of this semester-long opportunity. My goal is to raise all of the $8,500 required to participate by September 25, 2011. Any amount will help, and it would be a great blessing if you would be willing to contribute. Any donation is tax deductible, and receipts are available for any amount given. Checks for tax-deductible donations should be made out to "CMF" (Christian Missionary Fellowship, Globalscope's parent organization.) In the memo line, please write my name and my account number, "95186." If a receipt isn't necessary, checks can be made out to my name. Supporters may also now choose to give on-line, at cmfi.org, you will see a red icon which says “Support An Exchange Student”. Once you click on that icon, you will be directed to the on-line giving page. There you can enter their card information. When it says “Enter missionary or project to be supported”, put my name. CMF will send a receipt for your donation.
Thank you so much for your time and care.

mondo
mahndo@gmail.com
12175 Hibler Dr. Creve Coeur, MO 63141
314-308-5269

En Vivo
Christian Missionary Fellowship

Friday, September 02, 2011

Jay-Z Lets Us In

From "Monster"

'... Everybody wants to know what my Achilles heel is
Love, I don't get enough of it.'

sometimes, in our infinite effort to convince the world that we have everything figured out, our brokenness and longing for something outside of ourselves slips through the cracks of the walls that we construct around ourselves.. Thanks for being real, Jay-Z. I feel that, too.