Saturday, November 22, 2014

If you know me well…and many of you do, then you are likely aware that at the top of my bucket list is to ride horse back on a beach like Alex Ramsey does in The Black Stallion  (click on that picture link).  This childhood fantasy could only be followed by riding horse back through sand dunes like Alex Ramsey in The Black Stallion Returns (click on this link too).  Alex and the Black fly through the sand and surf with joy and freedom in such a way every child who loves horses fantasies about being able to ride with such abandon one day J Even while I have grown up this dream has lingered!

I was excited about traveling with my family to Cumbuco because it was widely reported that Cumbuco, Brazil was a great place for kite surfing and horse back riding not only on the beach but also in the sand dunes.  I had hit the jackpot!!!  When we arrived at our Pousada the owner quickly informed me that yes she could arrange for me to ride with someone she knew to take care of his horses unlike some of the other places around the village.  I was thrilled!  The day before I was to go riding I saw some of the “other” horses and they were underfed, overworked and neglected looking for sure.  I was so glad I would be riding with someone who was to have well cared for horses.    But sometimes when things seem to good to be true…they seem that way for a reason.

Immediately upon seeing my horse the next morning I knew this would not be my bucket list fantasy ride.  While fed well my horse too had signs of much over work on her face and hocks.  She was decked out in brightly colored padding and bridle.  It was too much for the heat of the day for her to have to wear.  She also wore a chain link strap across her face, which attached to her girth…keeping her head down.  It had worn a calloused raw spot across her nose.  Her owner rode with a long leather strap.  He proceeded to use this strap on MY house as we rode, once he realized I could ride well.  This strap was used to make my horse gallop as fast as she could across the sandy coast while he laughed with glee.  I immediately made motion to stop my horse and tell him I did not want to run. 

I have longed to gallop fast and free across the beach on horse back, but not if the horse could not be enjoying the lope as well. This nervous animal under me was nowhere near enjoying our jaunt this day.  She was working and working hard.  I know animals in many other countries are not beloved pets as I treat them, but are meant to earn their keep and provide for their families.  I understand this and realize it can be just and fair for all.  But this didn’t feel good for me, even if it was a means of substance for this family. 

I could not enjoy galloping when I knew this horse would be used to gallop in the heat all day long to entertain tourists.  I couldn’t enjoy the ride when I knew this horse was tacked in such a manner as to attract the eye of tourist and to maintain her utmost control despite someone's ability to ride her well.  I couldn’t pretend to be Alex Ramsey winning the race across the sand dunes because I knew my weight bore down on her small frame along with any number of additional riders she would carry that day.

And before you think this experience is just one about horses and that I should join PETA let me say it caused me to think about much more than just the animals I encountered.  I began to think about places where I participate, contribute to, perpetuate or cause the abuse or neglect of other people as well, but just animals.  Where do my desires, my greed, my consumerism, my opinion, my lack of knowledge, my entitlement, my fantasies, my longings, my blindness continue to oppression or with hold good life for fellow humans?

I thought about my experiences last year while exploring Alabama with my ICE group.  I thought about how I was immersed for a day in the life of being a single parent on parole in West End.  I had to use public transportation and also earn $50 to pay my parole officer by a certain time that day.  But when my child ended up in the hospital with a broken arm I had to choose…to be with my child in need or to see my parole officer??? There was no way for me to get to both places on time.  Our systems do penalize and oppress those we deem less than. 

I thought about how in Birmingham we all know over the mountain you can get a great education…and most of those kids are lighter skinned and well-off economically.  In the shadow of the mountain many children struggle with getting the education and support they need and they just happen to largely be darker skinned and have less economic opportunities.  Our systems do penalize and oppress those we deem less than. 

I thought about how UM pastors just received documents that informed us about how UM pastors are to be held accountable in 2015 for showing the servant ministry of Jesus in their work and parishes.   In it we are told “Effective ministry is less about work accomplished and more about the transformation of the community in which Christ has first priority, where courageous love finds expression, where the stewardship of gifts is understood as a grateful response to God’s gracious, creative call.”  And yet the same document takes time to also make clear “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual union shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”
It states we are, “To embody the teachings of Jesus in servant ministry and servant leadership” and “ To build the body of Christ as a caring and giving community, extending the ministry of Christ to the world ” yet at the same time in my view, tries to set limits on what Christ's courageous love looks like, where to extend the ministry of Christ in the world, and what Christ’s servant leadership looks like today.  Yes, to me, our systems do penalize and oppress those we deem less than.

I realize now that apart from me owning my own horse and trailer one day or having a friend who owns horses by the beach, I will not be fulfilling this bucket list fantasy, because it is not possible to fulfill it in such a way that feels life giving for all involved.  I can’t pretend that I feel good about contributing to the workload of an over-worked at times suffering animal. Our world is not yet all it is meant to be.  Sometimes I have eyes to see this and others times I am as blind as a bat.  Sometimes I am willing to consider the loss or struggle in another’s life and other times I am not.  And only occasionally am I willing to acknowledge the sin that comes from my own hand…the sin that I contribute to that causes distress or difficulty of another’s life.   And while these sins may not be intentional or wanted on my behalf…that doesn’t mean they don’t exist or that I am not meant to struggle to live in such a way as to offer more abundant life to all instead of just fulfilling my fantasies and desires.  My prayer is that this experience (this horse metaphor) will not just cause me greater compassion for all of God’s 4 legged creatures who toil in life, but to also help me grow in my love and compassion for all God’s 2 legged (or less) creatures as well.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

So above are some pictures of the less beautiful images I have shot in the Cumbuco and Fortaleza areas, but they do also depict life lived here.  While there is incredible beauty in this country there are also many signs of the struggles and problems within it as well.  Last night as we ate dinner with Steve's friends it was very helpful for me to share what I have been learning in my ICE program about Brazil's poverty, oppression/racism, struggles between religions, etc. Mauricio confirmed and elaborated on much that I had heard. He said yes they the way they were colonized with the incredible use of slavery  is still impacting them in devastating ways today…similar to the United States colonization but to a greater extent.
   Steve has said that being back has been shocking for him as he is realizing that things have not progressed much and at times maybe declined.  Mauricio said that in Brazil Methodist's are considered much more conservative than some of the other denominations…which this seems to have been a shift since the time of Steve's family living here.  It has been said that most churches here are more concerned with "saving souls" than "improving the conditions for the oppressed".  I interpret this to be less concern for the social gospel and more emphasis on the personal gospel.  Mauricio said that yes most churches focus on how in eternity you will find everything is made right for you instead of trying alleviate suffering now.  He also explained that prosperity gospel is being brought to Brazil through some US influence and it is greatly hurting the the true heart of the Gospel here.  He explained how people are being told to give 90% of all they have and that they will get back 4xs what they give. Then he said when this doesn't happen people leave faith all together because they feel the church has hurt them and taken what little they had.  Pretty disappointing to hear this is what is going on, but I assured him that we struggle with similar problems in the US too.

He also confirmed the synchronicity of multiple religions in Brazilians worship.  Much like I was told most are not a fan of this element in the country.  It seems most Brazilian Christians don't appreciate or feel good accepting the Condamble or other religions, they see this as evil or wrong.  Though he did admit that it was true most Africans were not allowed to worship in the churches they helped to construct in the 1500-1800's.  This only added to their need to establish a way to worship, celebrate and have faith on their own.  

Also I have learned that issues of inclusion for LGBTQ persons is also a continuing struggle in Brazil.  Seems each state here has the right to chose about marriage equality as Bahia (where Salvador is located) has approved marriage equality for all persons…while Rio de Janeiro is one who has not yet.  Anglicans and Lutherans seem to be on the far left here pushing for greater equality while others lean more right.

Doesn't seem to matter where you go in our world…as humanity we seem to continually struggle with how to love, care for, deem all people and creation as equally worthy and whole.  I think that is why this quote has stuck with me on this trip…

"History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make anothers pain in the heart out own" Professor Julius Lester

I realize I have been poor in doing this but I desire to be the type of person who no matter the issue or the difference of opinion to try to make another person's pain, ideas, consideration my own…to understand it, to wrestle with it, to consider it, to feel it, to contemplate it so that I can try my best to know where someone is coming from before I respond to them.  I can't say I think this will be easy for me to remember or to do but it is one way I would like to grow  towards loving greater and fuller as invited to by Jesus in the great commandment. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

 Our pousada in Cumbuco.  

 On the beach

Cumbuco is the Kite Surfing capital on the World

Jangada fishing boat are a typical sight

 Our favorite activity so far as a family has definitely been going dune buggy riding…Sawyer was convinced we were calling this "doom" buggy riding :)  

 They took us to a large dune and we have opportunities to ride a waxed board down the dune…it was so much fun!

So far this our family excursion has been very fulfilling.  We have gotten to experience multiple aspects of Brazil.  In Rio we were in lush rain forests and we all loved the solitude of our small community in Vargem Grande.  When we landed in Fortaleza we were prepared for the large amount of traffic…which was crazy!  Fortaleza is a very arid area.  We have been told they have not received large amounts of rain since 2010.  When in rains heavily it will fill the dunes with water but right now after several years without they are dry.  Also it seems that infrastructure is not as proficient in this area.  Trash is everywhere along the roads.  People are highly congested along the roads and motorcycles dart in and out not obeying any traffic laws.  Fortaleza and Cumbuco for me remind me more of what I saw in India when it comes to sanitation, traffic and infrastructure.   The beaches look pristine in our pictures, but trust me they are anything but that.  While the kids we playing we kept having to tell them not to pick up the light bulb, coke bottles, etc. that would wash up beside them.  It is certainly sad to see such a beautiful place littered with trash.  Some folks we have learned blame the population for this…saying they are uneducated and poor and this is why they litter.  Others blame the government saying that the corruption and elitism has led them to not provide adequate sanitation help to lower economic areas.  

Cumbuco is about 40 minutes outside Fortaleza.  It is small and filled with lots of Europeans who come here to kite surf.  The village center is close by our pousada and we can lay out in the hammock at night and hear the music from the local restaurants for hours.  The food and local restaurants have been delightful.  It cracks me up how much Brazilians seem to love their pizza…everywhere I turn there seems to be a pizzeria :)  And they are good too!

The kids have been good to try just about anything we have given them to eat and they like most of the stuff they have tried.  Georgia desperately wants to see a sloth but I am not sure that will happen at this point.

This afternoon we are heading to meet some of Steve's old friends he grew up with, tour a local market that resides where an old prison used to be, try to pay his military fine so he can come back into the country :), and eat at a local churrascaria.  

I'm finding it hard to not count the hours we have left…and I wish we had more time.  This has been great to experience with my family and the kids have been fabulous as they have rolled with the punches and been adventurous with us!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Having lots of fun exploring the rain forest and beach around us…on a plane today to Fortaleza --Steve's home town!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Kids as they saw the road Steve have to drive up to get to our house…it was incredibly muddy, slick and narrow!!  But he did it!
The little bridge he drove over…with the river below it!

Our house!

The vegetation is amazing…orchids growing off tree trunks!

Our spring fed pool -- which is cloudy cause it is raining right now.

The farm house kitchen.

The hammock on the porch which we all fight over :)

The living area.

Bathroom…hope no one is out in the woods!!!

What Steve did after we got here last night.

What Sawyer did after we got here.

 What Georgia did after we got here…she found art supplies!

Our dinner spot at Don Pascual

Don Pascual

The view from dinner!

Its rainy but still we are having a blast!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Salvador and beyond

Well my friends are gone and I on my own until I can head to pick my family up tomorrow from the airport in Rio.  Brazil is beautiful.  It is filled with friendly warm people and lush vegetation. It seems to love equally its fruit and carbs...And caipirinhas!  Its coast is dotted with broken sea glass, mountains and cold waters…and of course speedos and thongs J  It has been a great trip so far.

My ICE group has traveled to both India and Brazil to study issues of poverty, faith and wealth.  India brought me face to face with the direst poverty that showed itself in the form of starvation and lack of sanitation.  It was the ugliest poverty I have seen.  Brazil is different.  The size of their favelas is no less enormous…maybe more so, but starvation is not the face of Brazil's poor (for the most part).  We have heard it over and over and over again…corruption is the face of Brazil's poverty.  African Brazilians are the poorest of the poor here.  Slavery and colonization is the backbone of poverty here.  When slaves were emancipated things got better on paper…but not in reality.  While in slavery a slave had somewhere to live, something to eat, possibility of some health care, some protection, maybe a few had some education.  When freedom came they were immediately released with only the clothes on their back…no land, no protection, no health care, no home, no education, nothing to eat and mostly no one to help them.  There was never a systematic structure in place to give those oppressed a level playing field with the rest of society…they were doomed to remain the forgotten, the down trodden, the oppressed even though they were free.

Today many with African blood in the veins live in the favelas.  The drug lords who rule the favelas and fight for territory from the police feed drug addiction, which is often the sin of the middle class.  Police in many ways operate not as the balm or Savior of the favela, but instead as another drug kingpin…taking profits for themselves and escalating violent escapades.  Politicians literally give “reals” or money to the poor in the favelas to go and vote for them…making promises they never intend to keep.  Secondary education while public and free is poor quality…leaving most middle class and wealthy putting their children in private schools.  Universities also public and free have their own methods for only allowing the elite to enter…high-test scores, grades, etc.  Most children who are poor have to leave school before they finish High School in order to get a job or take care of someone in their family. 

The church is in many ways is still splintered…Catholic against Protestant…both against Candomble.  Candomble is a religion that was derived from Africa and was largely practiced by slaves.  Today it is embedded in the Brazilian culture in many ways…synchronistic in many religious services.  Yet many Protestants and Catholics still push back against the presence of Candomble as evil or sinful.  (These are generalizations and don't represent every one or every group…but this is a thread that seems to run deep in the culture here.)

In Candomble there are loud drums, lots of dancing, singing, clapping – it seems to be a complete release for people to become completely absorbed in something altogether different than their present surroundings…like being overtaken by a trance (or in charismatic circles it would be seen as being “slain in the Spirit”).  Its services go long into the night…and there is no evil spirit in Candomble.  There is only good and blessing.  It is easy to see how it brought meaning particularly to the early slaves.  They practiced it as something they could carry with them from their home country, telling stories of their parent’s God’s and Spirits.  They practiced after their masters slept.  They had few moments alone to themselves where they could celebrate and pray…so it was a time to fully immerse yourself and give way to releasing your fear so that you might celebrate with hope for your future.  Prayer was essential but it was always to the beat of a drum…and as the colonial whites heard the singing, praising, clapping, etc. they thought, “Aren’t our slaves happy!” But of course they were not.

I can’t help but see our own country in many things we have learned particularly when dealing with our own colonization and how that continues to often play into who is poor, imprisoned, undereducated, under represented in today’s society.  It’s a piece of the puzzle we need to be honest about if we really want to see wrongs made right and everyone have an equal opportunity.  But power, wealth and position are very difficult things to give up…and I wonder if any of us really can free ourselves from their clutches.


The Lighthouse in Salvador

 Its a little windy up here :)

Sao Fransisco Church in Pelourinho

The interior of Sao Fransisco Church!!!!

Church of the Black People -- so called because slaves were used to build it beginning in 1704 (like most all other churches in Salvador) but this is the ONLY one where they were allowed to also worship.  Their labor created sanctuaries for others to worship…but only one allowed them entrance.

 Interior of the Church of the Black People

 Its worship is anachronistic in nature…catholic theology mostly and candomble practice and feel of worship style.  Look how PACKED it was for a mass!  Standing room only for a service that was over 1.5 hours.
 The view from my balcony while staying in Salvador!