March 24, 2010
"The Resurrection of a Dream": A Q&A with Tamara ParkContinuing our reflections on Lent and our highlighting of the Women of Likewise, today we offer you a glimpse into the doings and thinkings of Tamara Park, author of Sacred Encounters from Rome to Jerusalem. (Have I said recently that this is a wonderful book? It's a really wonderful book.) In North Carolina and Africa, in grief and hope, in fulfilled dreams and unfulfilled longings, she drinks deeply of life and of God's love in the midst of it all.
Strangely Dim: What have you been up to since Sacred Encounters from Rome to Jerusalem came out?
Tamara: Life has taken some significant twists since I wrote Sacred Encounters. Last spring I ended my job as pastor of community at my church, Warehouse 242. I loved my church community but thought it might be time to move to this fabulous little wild-west of a country called Burundi. I hoped to learn from the people there and eventually share their stories with those back in the States.
Well . . . that didn't work out exactly. I ended up getting a job as a TV producer and trekking from Mozambique to Morocco to discover what the West can learn from Africa. Now a coproducer and I are currently putting together the TV series Noble Exchange Africa and preparing for a second season in South America.
While the trip to Africa was my most challenging one I've ever taken, the whole project has been the resurrection of a dream. Since I was a teenager I dreamt of being a foreign correspondent. In my early twenties I felt that dream died. My father told me growing up that God often gives you a dream and lets it die only to resurrect it in a more beautiful form. I feel I'm in the midst of a resurrection.
SD: Could you tell us about a "sacred encounter" you've had in the past year?
Tamara: I met Africans who are literally transforming their communities and countries--from Erik Charas, a social entrepreneur in Mozambique who started a free newspaper that is now being read by his nation's top business leaders and the newly literate; to Jolly Okot, a former child soldier who is now the Uganda Country Director for Invisible Children; to Liberate, the first Twa/Pigmy woman member of Burundi's Parliament, who has twenty kids, including Hutus, Tutsis and Twas, she's adopted. I was so humbled by the opportunity to meet such sturdy and inspiring souls.
I prayed for sacred encounters, and expected incredible interviews. However, what I didn't expect was to make a true friend, an anam cara (soul friend), en route. I met a South African woman named Tracey Webster on my trek. She's a creative genius, an extraordinary leader and a true advocate of the marginalized. While we've had quite varied experiences--her growing up in the throes of apartheid and I in the midst of the U.S. Bible Belt--in many ways our deepest desires and thorniest questions are the same. We are both in our late thirties, single, and long to live passionately and authentically for God and with others. We both can't believe our fortunes to have the opportunities we are getting and yet are curious if we will ever get the husbands and children we thought might come our way. It's been such a gift to happen upon a new friend sharing a similar plot line in this stage of life. A surprising sacred encounter, indeed.
SD: Are there any books or films that have been meaningful or formative for you recently?
Tamara: I name my years, and this is my Year of Story. So I am focusing on God's story, learning from others' stories, along with desiring to better understand story structure.
I'm going through the Mosaic Bible this year and savoring it!
And I can't shake a quote by Robert McKee, screenwriter and author of Story. He said, "Stories are equipment for living." So I've enjoyed reading and watching some soulful stories. Here are a couple I've encountered in the past month or so:
I recently read Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder. This book captures a young Burundian's journey--from surviving war, to being dropped off in NYC with only $200 cash, to studying at Columbia, to investing back in Burundi. I was moved by the young guy's moxie and brilliance, but also by the compassionate people who entwined themselves into his story.
Invictus--I loved how this film showed one of Nelson Mandela's ingenious efforts to build a new country based on reconciliation versus revenge. Mandela said: "Forgiveness liberates the soul. It frees you of fear."
The Blind Side--I found the story line inspiring and the characters engaging. It reminded me of why I desire to write a compelling screenplay one day. I was grateful for how the film left me with a winsome challenge: how can I more intentionally contribute to those in need?
SD: What new facets of God's character have you seen or experienced recently?
Tamara: I'm focusing on hearing God's voice of love . . . and trusting that love. I know, focusing on God's love is nothing novel, but it's curious how often I have to be reminded of it.
SD: Are there any practices, in addition to meditating on the prayer of Sir Francis Drake, that have been stretching or helpful to you this Lent?
Tamara: Yes. While I am still eating stacks of chocolate during Lent, I've given up doubt for the season (there's a back story, of course). I am asking to embrace greater hope and hear God's voice of love.
SD: Is there anything specific you are mourning over or grieving right now?
Tamara: While I guess I tried to be all evolved and strong last year when a romantic relationship ended, I suspect I'm still mourning the loss of that daily connection to another . . . oh--and the sauciness it brought out in me . . . and the permission to care deeply for another . . . and now that I think about it--that momentary opportunity to be in "the couple's club" since most of friends are married or on the brink of it. Just that.
You know, the tricky thing with both grieving and desire is to own up to it but not be consumed by it. Tricky indeed.
SD: What most often reminds you of the hope we have in Christ as you go through your days?
Tamara: I love feeling the sun on my cheeks as I sally around my favorite neighborhood park. And . . . reading Scripture and doing Zumba are definite ways I feel hope and utter aliveness.