This weekend I tried, unsuccessfully, to herd a calf down a muddy hillside to its mother. I was in Turmeque, the hometown of my host-sister, taking advantage of the celebration of mass for her father’s deaths’ anniversary to visit her pueblo and her family. Anyway, after sending a small child to help me with the calf, despairing at the gringo’s lack of ability, Eli’s cousin finally brought the momma cow back up to lead her child away. Thus endeth the calf story.
Turmeque is a tiny village, to my mind sort of a stereotype of what I would imagine a sleepy small town to be: largely catholic, central square, church, weekly market, everyone with their fields, everyone in ponchos and boots, strong sense of family and tradition, beautiful surroundings…Of course there’s also an internet café, a comcel store and the national tejo field. During my time there I mostly hung out with the family, watched cheese and arrepa making, watched the cow be milked and brought the milk home, watched a soccer game, took various walks and went to mass.
This trip made me ponder a good many different things: the fact that I don’t think I will ever be a farmer (a realization which leads me to strongly believe we should be paying farmers well and be eternally grateful for the service they provide) the strange urgency of the desire for fruits and vegetables after eating almost entirely meat, potatoes and rice, the beauty of outdoor kitchens, the fact that more than one person can sleep in a single bed and far more than two can sleep in a queen size bed, and my fondness for small children despite my claims to the contrary being only a few. Perhaps it’s because this last week focused on the church’s role in society, or perhaps it is because I so very often prefer to concentrate on a systemic or large-scale political/economic problem than a communitarian/personal problems, but one aspect of my trip which has most stuck with me is the place of drinking within the community.
On Sunday morning I walked by a small shop at 9:30am and saw men and women who had already started drinking beers. This continued all day. At noon a little girl, between 7-9, came into the family store to buy beers for her parents. Apparently getting drunk is the order of business from Saturday to Sunday just as farming is during the week. I hardly need say that while not all drunks are violent, many are. If you know me, you know that I’m no puritan on the subject of drinking. But when it becomes the central activity of an individual, when that individual does not have piles of excess capital, when that individual is a parent, there’s a problem.
My point here isn’t to point Turmeque out, I saw similar levels of drinking in Ireland, in France, and in the US in various circles. What struck me was how, even in the absence of multinational companies, armed actors, significant socio-economic gaps and the presence of strong family ties, plenty of work to be shared, and a strong church institution, we humans can still find ways of poisoning ourselves, of creating whole cultures that put relationships and resources at risk.
Sometimes I think that if only we could _____(fill in massive social/political/economic policy shift)____, the world’s ills would be fixed. I still think these shifts are important—-Turmeque may not be effected by the ending of fumigation of coca fields but an awful lot of small towns in the south of Colombia would be—but in thinking about the church’s role in society I’m having to recognize that becoming a massive lobby or community organizing group may not be the full answer. This scares me. As I look forward to going to Medellin, where certainly macro-economic/political policies are at play but where issues such as addiction certainly exist as well, I wonder at what the saving message of Jesus has to do with these personal struggles. It has been so long since thinking about Jesus hasn’t meant mostly thinking about the implied systemic cultural/political shifts of following Him. There are so so many ways of using the Good News as a tool for guilt, judgment and black-and-white thinking that it frightens me to think about what freedom through Christ could mean to someone whose daughter has to help them stagger home weekend after weekend, to think about what I would/should say to such a person. It seems infinitely simpler to make a logical petition to the United States to end all bombings, in the name of Christ, than to ask any individual to change a personal habit in that same name.
On the bus back to Bogota my neighbor asked me what I had been doing in Turmeque, where I was from, etc. She concluded I was a missionary (though I tried to say “well, more like a service worker”) and then confided in me that she loved the message of Jesus but couldn’t be baptized because she had lived “badly” in the past. We talked for another few minutes during which time I scrambled to try to express my view that God cares far more about how much we show others love than whether we’ve ever lived with someone out of wedlock without disqualifying myself from the discussion by seeming to not care at all about sexual purity. She ended up saying something like “Yes, God loves the sinner and hates the sin.” Wanting to read my book, listen to my ipod, and stare out the window at the beautiful view, I took the coward’s way out and nodded, but did not attempt to start a discussion on the nature of sin at that moment.
I have gotten too used to living in circles of similarly educated, similarly opinioned individuals; too used to reading the happenings in the news and not those of the personal lives of those around me.
This next week’s topic is political advocacy—a topic I am excited to learn more about and practice, a topic I believe to be of grave importance, especially for church institutions. But I ask for your prayers, wisdom and support in continuing to wrestle with how I can live and show Jesus to the people I will encounter with personal demons and struggles. Pray that I would not hide from these realities, either.
Peace, in all its forms, to you all.