Saturday, February 22, 2014

Non-believer or Non-person—or Both?

One is more apt to live into a new way of thinking
than one is to think into a new way of living.

As I drove for five hours back to Tlapa yesterday, I thought of this phrase, and I wondered if, at least in part, this was what led a couple of Canadian friends of mine to come to Mexico for two weeks with members of their local churches.

I had driven into Cuernavaca to visit with Brenda Curtis, who serves with the United Church of Canada in Humboldt, Saskatchewan. She and Jordan Cantwell, who serves with the United Church of Canada in Delisle, Saskatchewan, had organized a group to go to a wonderful center in Cuernavaca called Quest MexicoBrenda and her husband, Clarke, had come to my wedding in Mexico many years ago.
Jordan and Brenda on a beautiful morning at Quest Mexico in Cuernavaca
Quest Mexico is run by one of the best friends I've ever had, Gerardo Debbink. He is from Leduc, Alberta, but has lived in Cuernavaca for more than twenty-five years, and he organizes what we might call “experiential education programs” for groups from the United States and Canada.
Gerardo Debbink—Quest Mexico
 The focus of each program can differ, but I know that Brenda and Jordan hoped that the “lived experience” of actually being and sharing and dialoguing with impoverished people and those in solidarity with these impoverished people, and discovering how they perceive and live their Christian identity and their Christian discipleship, might offer the Canadians new “ways of thinking” that would, in turn, lead to new “ways of living” their own Christian discipleship.

I can’t think of anyone who might help that to happen more than my friend Gerardo—his Quest Mexico programs really are “life-changing.” In a sense, the program is a response to Jesus’ invitation in John 1:39: “Come, and you will see.”
Two Saskatchewan farmers—Stan and Duane—who allowed me to sleep in their room
As Brenda, Jordan, Gerardo, and I talked about Mission Mexico and its work here in the mountains of Guerrero, Brenda and Jordan showed a real interest in the Scripture classes I teach at the diocesan seminary. But it seemed that sometimes the ideas and experiences I shared seemed “different” to them, and I knew that this was due in large part to the “different world”—or, better said, “different worlds”—that exist here and in other places in Latin America.

I will try to describe better in the next two paragraphs what I mean by each statement in the following sentence, but, in a nutshell, here is a thought: In Canada, one of the main concerns of the Church is how to relate to the non-believer; in the mountains of Mexico, one of the main concerns of the Church is how to relate to the non-person. 
Hermelinda and Isauro: "representatives" of the mountains of Mexico
What do I mean by “non-believer”? I don’t mean only the atheist. I refer as well to many Christian people (like myself on too many occasions) who live our lives as if God was not an intimate and essential part of every single experience of every single day. We have been baptized and we call ourselves Christians, but, in actual fact, most days go by without a conscious, constant awareness of God being with us. We forget what St. Paul states in Acts 17:28, that it is “in God that we live and move and have our being.” We are “good people,” but “forgetting God” means that we fail to “encounter God”; in a practical sense, we are almost “non-believers.” The Church has to ask itself what evangelization means in this context.
The future of the mountains
That is not the usual case in the mountains here in Mexico. The people here—mostly indigenous; mostly poor; mostly marginalized—are incredibly aware of God’s presence. Some of the most common expressions heard among people are “God-willing” or “if God allows” or “if God loans me life.” But most of these impoverished people are treated as “non-persons.” They are the most beautiful human beings I know—but that’s not how they are usually treated. In the eyes of too many in the “better-off” society (and maybe sometimes in the Church—and, undoubtedly, sometimes by me), these people are “in-significant.” What might it mean to share with these “non-persons” that God loves them? Or what does it mean to “incarnate” and “inculturize” the gospel in this context? The challenges of evangelization are different from those in “mainstream” Canada.
Looking toward new horizons—hopefully
I recognize that this description doesn't embrace all of the ambiguities and nuances of either situation. I know that there are way too many impoverished people in Canada—too many “non-persons”—and I bet that the numbers are growing, not diminishing. I know that the native cultures are changing here in Mexico, and the number of “non-believers” is growing. I can’t capture the whole reality in less than ten paragraphs. But I do believe that there is a certain “truth” to this way of looking at things.
Life will continue to change in La Montaña
Thanks to Brenda, Jordan, and Gerardo for stimulating these thoughts. I haven’t done justice to the real world that is out there, but just articulating these ideas will help me to “go deeper.” God bless.

PS: I was supposed to meet Bishop Alejo Zavala Castro for lunch today. He is another great friend and undoubtedly the “saintliest” man I know in Mexico—but he has had many health issues in recent years. I just received a phone call that he was hospitalized last night—no lunch today! Please pray for him.
Alejo Zavala Castro, Bishop of Chilpancingo–Chilapa

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