Saturday, April 22, 2006

Chicha and the Leper Colony

In the Bible we read how Jesus healed the lepers. And they are everywhere in the Good Book. As a kid this was a curiosity to me. Ila Jane, my older sister, explained that leprosy was a skin disorder that left the individual disfigured and that it was contagious. As I read the Bible I feared that Jesus would catch it!

As a teenager the movie Papillon starring Steve McQueen and a buttlerfly chest tattoo came out. He was escaping from a prison island that it was impossible to escape from. He got a boat from some lepers at a nearby colony. The “chief” leper was smoking a cigar and handed it to Steve McQueen as a test. Steve McQueen took a drag off the leper’s cigar and returned it to which the leper said something about the difference between contagious leprosy and non-contagious leprosy. Something my man Steve knew about just looking into his disfigured face.

According to Wikipedia leprosy is known as Hansen’s disease and it can be treated with antibiotics. “Historically, leprosy was greatly feared because it caused visible disfigurement and disability, was incurable, and was commonly believed to be highly contagious.”

When I was in Bolivia in the seventies the country had a “faith based” initiative for the handicapped and otherwise incapacitated. It appeared to me to work like this:

The man with no legs would ride his “scooter board” to the doors of the Catholic Church. There he would sit all day with a hat or a cup and collect whatever pesos people would drop in there.

The treatment of lepers was a bit more sophisticated since they lived in colonies outside of town.

Another custom in Bolivia was to fly a white flag if you had chicha to share. Chicha is a fermented beverage made from a specific kind of yellow maize. It has a pale straw color and a milky appearance with sour aftertaste. According to Wikipedia it contains a slight amount of alcohol, like 1 -3%.

Wikipedia goes on to tell what I heard about “traditional” chicha when I was in Bolivia:

“In some cultures , in lieu of germination of the maize for release of the starches in the maize, the maize is ground, moistened in the chicha maker's mouth and formed into small balls which are then flattened and laid out to dry. The diastase enzyme in the maker's saliva releases the starch in the maize.”

One Saturday our principal, Bill Fennell, loaded us into the VW microbus and took us along the highway to Cochabamba. We went to see some anicient ruins. The ruins appeared to me to be a type of irrigation system. But according to some popular book at the time it was suspected to be a “landing spot for aliens” or something like that. Along the dirt highway there we passed a place Bill, who had come to Bolivia as a member of the Franciscan Order, said was a leper colony.

On our return, the leper colony was flying a white flag, -that would be the “Chicha Flag”. Bill sugested we stop. We did…

We were served a pitcher of “milky” looking stuff. We sat in the shade of of thatched roofed hut and drank our chicha from small glasses. I couldn’t help but think of Jesus and the lepers. But I had the knowledge of Papillon to ease my mind.

The Chicha that the lepers served seemed to be just “milky” not intoxicating like the tall tales of chicha that I heard. Of course about an hour later it hit…and what a new reality!

I am not sure that Wikipedia is correct about the 1-3% alcohol because I sure was speaking in tongues that night! But, one thing I did learn, Jesus and Steve McQueen were pretty well right about that leprosy thing because even today my wife thinks I’m good looking.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Same Bell Tolls...

When I graduated from the University of the Razorbacks in the late seventies I had very realistic job aspirations. I sent letters of inquiry to every small school district in western Montana and southern Idaho that I could find. I also applied at all three American schools in Bolivia where I had done some of my student teaching. I ended up in Santa Cruz, Bolivia where I had many adventures.

South America was an interesting place in the late seventies. I lived in Bolivia for three years and lived through at least six different presidencies or dictatorships more accurately. I also traveled some. I went to Chile and north to Peru. This was a trip with many tales to be told later.

In Peru I stayed in Arequipa. I awoke early in the morning to find the plaza filled with tanks and military. Later, I learned that Arequipa was the birth place of the Shinning Path Guerillas. From there I went to Cuzco and took the train to Machu Pichu.

Recently I discovered a Texas songwriter, Sam Baker, who had also traveled to Cuzco. His trip was later in the 80’s, but he took the same train to Machu Pichu and he also encountered the Shinning Path Guerillas. His experience was not a good one.

The train that Sam Baker was riding was blown up by the Shinning Path Guerillas. He was injured very badly and many people died. He writes about the experience in a song, but I think he writes about God as well.

Sam Baker writes:

"Sitting on the train to Machu Pichu
The passenger car explodes
Not enough time to say good bye
Not enough time to know
What’s gone wrong?"

He goes on to say that “smoke rises through the roof and the dead say fare thee well.”

The heart of the song for me, the part that seems to be about God says:

"No one is just an observer
The same bell tolls for the served and the server
For the strong, the weak
For weary and the brave
Everybody ride come judgment day"

Having ridden trains, buses and trucks across the high plains of South America I can imagine what the people that Sam Baker encountered were like. I am certain that some struck him as kind and worthy and others seemed undeserving. Yet, from his experience he writes that the same bell tolls for all and “everybody rides come judgment day”.

He came closer to death than I have come and his song tells about the experience. I tend to agree with the lyrics of his song and take it to mean that God loves everyone and the same bell will toll for each and everyone.

I do not know if that was what Sam Baker really meant to say, but it is what he said to me. This is the same message that Philip Gulley and James Mulholland seem to have in If Grace is True, Why God Will Save Every Person. It makes sense to me and as my friend, Mahlon, says, ‘How could a parent damn their children to hell?” God loves everyone and everyone will ride on judgment day. It’s a little thing called Grace.


For more about Sam Baker check the link out on the side bar.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Easter Bunny’s a Thief…..

Easter was confusing to me as a kid. I knew too much about biology and not enough about theology.

For me it was all about Easter eggs –hunting and dying. We would dye hard boiled eggs the Saturday before Easter. It was a real family event. We would hide them, find them and crack ‘em on each other’s heads, peel the shells off and eat ‘em. Our family was so notorious for crackin’ those eggs on each other’s heads that Bill Lemon did not suspect a thing.

We boiled all the eggs but one. We dyed them all including the one that was not boiled. I went outside and found Mr. Bill and asked him if I could crack that egg, the one that wasn’t hard boiled, on his head. Unsuspecting he took his huntin’ hat off and CRACK! Yolk was dripping from his head.

But I really could not understand the logic of the pagan tradition. According to Ila Jane, my older sister, the Easter Bunny hid the eggs. With my vast knowledge of biology I knew that rabbits were mammals and therefore gave birth to live young and were good for huntin’.

So where did the Easter Bunny get the eggs? The only way to reconcile this was to conclude that the Bunny stole ‘em.

When I got older we started going to church on days besides Easter Sunday. I learned about the passion of Jesus. I understood that Easter was really about Jesus dying on the cross so I would be forgiven for my sins. I know this now to be blood atonement.

During my college years and sometime after, I was struck by many questions concerning theology. Science took over and I just couldn’t quite accept all of it beyond being tradition.

As I hit the half century mark I have found myself thinking differently about Easter. It seems to me that Jesus was extremely wise about God and saw it all as compassion. He was quite the insurgent talking about the kingdom of God as opposed to the kingdom of Rome. He paid for it. And having been executed, his teachings lived way beyond his time. It is the way that I choose to live, attempting to show compassion for others.