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When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”

— Jesus (Luke 22: 53)

Hilltop outside the Catholic Church, San Ignacio, BZ

Hilltop outside the Catholic Church, San Ignacio, BZ


You’ve probably heard it said–and I heard it said by cops and prosecutors a lot when I covered police news and criminal courts as a reporter–that “nothing good happens after midnight.”

Indeed, there’s not always a lot of good happening as early as 10 p.m. or so. Those of a certain age will remember when that little public-service message used to broadcast in which the ominous question was asked, “It’s 10 p.m.–do you know where your children are?”

This aired immediately before newscasters gave the 10 o’cock news rundown of the latest murder and mayhem out there in the darkness of the wicked city (which had the effect of making parents with kids not home at that hour feel either guilt or worried sick).

The announcement always brought to my mind what my Holy Ghost-consumed, Pentecostal Aunt Newell used to say: “The later the hour, the greater the Tempter’s power.”

* * * *

When Judas and the goons that he sold out to went to grab Jesus, they naturally went to grab him late at night, under the cover of darkness.

Jesus the fearless truth-teller pointed this out to them as a way of exposing and condemning their cowardice:

    “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!” (Luke 22: 53)

The gospel of John has Jesus touching in several places on the contrast between the power of darkness, which couldn’t overcome the power of light–the power of truth.

    “For all those who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed, and those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (John 3: 20-21).

They swept Jesus away in the darkness of night, but the darkness could not overcome the first light of Easter morning.

Sunrise was the hour–the power of light!

There may be no poverty as bad as the poverty of isolation and loneliness, especially for the poor. Picture: my friend Francisco, who needs your prayers.

There may be no poverty as bad as the poverty of isolation and loneliness, especially for the poor. Pictured: My new friend Francisco, whom I used to breeze by in the manner of the Priest or the Levite who passed by the man whipped down by the side of the road. Francisco is a beggar and invalid who would appreciate your prayers.

Last Sunday after church I was driving home when I saw a homeless invalid, a local beggar that I used to walk or drive past, most of the time, without giving a second look.

I mean, I was acquainted with him and used to give him something to eat or some money in passing, and always tried to be intentional about looking him in the eye and acknowledging his personhood by greeting him as I walked on by.

But he might as well have been invisible to me and the many motorists and pedestrians who were passing by him as he sat in his wheelchair on a corner sidewalk at one of the busiest intersections in town Sunday.

Driving by him this time, I noticed how despondent he looked. I stopped and parked my truck and walked back and introduced myself, which I had done before but a long time ago. I asked him if he was having a hard time and he said yes.

That’s how I’ve come to know the beggar Francisco more up-close and personal, in authentic friendship.

Here’s his story in brief:

Francisco, now age fifty, used to make a good living selling spices at communities and markets all over the far Western Belize area. Then one day four years ago, he stepped off a bus and was promptly knocked off his feet by a reckless man on a big motorcycle. The biker suffered some injuries and recovered in fine fashion while Francisco spent twenty-two weeks suffering from medical complications before surgeons had to amputate his legs.

Francisco lives out of his four-door Toyota sedan, parked under a shed in the parking lot of an auto-parts store.

The ravages of diabetes are beginning, in his own words, to “eat me up.”

“I’m fifty, too young to die,” he nonchalantly told me.

Francisco's "home" since he was knocked down by a motorcyclist four years ago.

Francisco’s “home” since he was knocked down by a motorcyclist four years ago.

A lot of local folks and churches know Francisco and help him out when and if they can, giving him rides or slipping him some money or food. But the biker who torpedoed Francisco’s life has never given him a ride in his car, never offered him money, food or so much as an apology. Adding insult to Francisco’s terrible injuries, the biker owns a thriving, popular bar in town; he’s a long way from beggar status.

This is Belize, a Third World nation where medical care is free but mostly of bad to horrible quality and difficult for most people to access except for services like child vaccinations. There’s a reason that Belize’s Prime Minister went to Los Angeles for back surgery and the First Lady moved to Miami for the cancer treatments that saved her life–a reason why most Belizeans of any means move to, or build or rent second homes in, Guatemala City or Merida, Mexico, near Cancun, if they need something like, say, kidney dialysis. It and so many other treatments are rare and cost-prohibitive for the vast majority of Belizeans.

So Francisco lives in the kind of poverty that causes so much premature death in the world.

Francisco is “too young to die,” but knows he’s probably not long for this world and is preparing to meet his maker in the next, he says.

* * * *

In spite of whatever spotty help and support he gets in his reliance on the kindness of local folks, Francisco spends most of his time in the poverties of utter isolation and loneliness. When I finally snapped and took real notice of his existence Sunday, I observed that he had his head down and his face buried in one hand, with the other hand grasping the bright-red, plastic beggar’s cup that is one of his few possessions. He looked to all the world—-including all the motorists and pedestrians passing by him at that busy intersection as if he were invisible—-as if his loneliness had a stranglehold on him.

Francisco’s story brings to mind the words of the famous Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby,” with its refrain that goes “I look at all the lonely people,” and these words as well:

    “All the lonely people, where do they all come from.”

    “All the lonely people, where do they all belong.”

The answer, of course, is that they belong to us and with us, the people of a Christian tradition in which the first Christians simply wouldn’t have allowed a homeless beggar with no legs to suffer loneliness.

The great Quaker writer Richard Foster has pointed out that during and beyond the Apostolic Age, “there was an exuberant caring and sharing on the part of Christians that was unique in antiquity. Julian the apostate, an enemy of Christianity, admitted that ‘the godless Galileans fed not only their (poor) but ours also.’ Tertullian wrote that the Christians’ deeds of love were so noble that the pagan world confessed in astonishment, ‘See how they love one another.’”

At some point Christians started being more like the Priest and the Levite in the famous parable Jesus told about The Good Samaritan. They passed by, acting as if they didn’t even see the whipped-down victim by the side of the road. In doing so, they miss the opportunity to act in such a way as to fulfill God’s will for mercy, justice and doing unto others.

Francisco has not been beaten and robbed and left for dead on the side of the road, but he and so many others suffering in poverty still get whipped down by the hardest of knocks in life every day, hardly noticed if noticed at all by we Christians who pass by the opportunities to see them, listen to them, know them.

If we don’t pass by, we pass the buck to government or some cash-starved ministry or non-profit agency to take care of them.

And, preferably, we want them taken care of somewhere out of sight, out of mind, so that we don’t have to see them, much less get to know them and care enough about them to care for them.

Belize, my home away from home, has very few social agencies, homeless shelters or outreach centers like soup kitchens for the poor. But back in America, it’s easy enough for us to pass by the homeless beggars—-or pass the buck—-by rationalizing that, well, that homeless or hungry beggar can always go to some kind of social agency. Peter Maurin, the French Christian philosopher who inspired Dorothy Day to found the Catholic Worker movement, addressed this in one of his concise little “Easy Essays” called “Feeding the Poor at a Sacrifice”:

1. In the first centuries
of Christianity
the hungry were fed
at a personal sacrifice,
the naked were clothed
at a personal sacrifice,
the homeless were sheltered
at personal sacrifice.
2. And because the poor
were fed, clothed and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
the pagans used to say
about the Christians
“See how they love each other.”
3. In our own day
the poor are no longer
fed, clothed, sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
but at the expense
of the taxpayers.
4. And because the poor
are no longer
fed, clothed and sheltered
the pagans say about the Christians
“See how they pass the buck.”

We can be the Priest and the Levite and pass by a Francisco, or we can take a bit of time to be Good Samaritans to those who may not be bloodied and beaten up on the outside, but are dying on the inside from the poverty of loneliness and suffering.

We can’t rescue everybody in the world or save everybody in the world, but we can make a little difference that might go a long way in rendering relief to someone like Francisco, who yearns for someone to treat him a human as much as he hungers for his daily bread.

St. Therese of Lesieux once said, “A word or a smile is often enough to put fresh life in a despondent soul.”

Knowing that people are praying for you can inject a little fresh life as well, so I’ll provide Francisco a good, healthy meal sometimes if you’ll provide him with the prayers that he would appreciate from you.

    The story of The Good Samaritan from Luke 10:

    25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.* ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ 28And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

    29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 30Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii,* gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

A new commandment I give unto you,

that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

— John 13: 34

A (white)  Louisville police lieutenant took the hand of a (black) racer and helped her across the finish line of a race in Kentucky. This is evidence that Americans down on Main Street are still pretty good peeps.

A (white) Louisville police lieutenant took the hand of a (black) racer and helped her across the finish line of a race in Kentucky. This is evidence that Americans down on Main Street are still pretty good peeps.

If you emerged recently from the cave you’d been living in for 50 years and tuned in to TV and others sources of news and current events, you’d be so overwhelmed by all the violence and racial tension and ugliness–(and that’s just the behavior in Congress)–that you’d probably beat a hasty back to the security of your cave.

Despite all the noise of the loud clowns in the media and politics, most Americans are out there in their communities living normal lives and, in fact, being quite neighborly.

I submit to you as evidence this story from Louisville, where a kindly cop helped a most determined woman achieve her goal in a race.

At bottom, Americans are still just good people.

Here’s the story from By Kasey Cunningham at WAVE 3 NEWS in Louisville, or you can click here and see the video:

    LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – A powerful photo from the Rodes City Run is making its way around Louisville social networks.

    Asia Ford trained for the race for months. Approaching mile five, she began to have difficulty breathing.

    As she struggled step by step, she felt a hand grab her hand. Lt. Aubrey Gregory of the Louisville Metro Police Department had been looking out for Asia from afar.

    “The EMS guys got out to check on her and she said I’m not stopping, I’m not stopping,” said Lt. Gregory, “so I said I’m not going to let her stop we’re going to do this together. So I got out and I grabbed her hand. I had to meet this inspirational woman.”

    For Asia, quitting was not an option. She has lost 217 pounds in her journey to healthier life, and she hopes to inspire her three children.

    “He was like my angel,” said Ford. “He came at the moment I really needed him.”

    Ford said Lt. Gregory shared stories of his mother and her struggle with diabetes. Step after step, Ford realized Lt. Gregory had kept her mind off the pain – and on the goal. Hand in hand, Asia, Lt. Gregory and Asia’s son Terrance crossed the finish line.

    “Watching her cross the finish line,” said Lt. Gregory, “I felt it all over. it was great moment and I’m glad she let me be a part of it.”

    Asia’s son Terrance calls her a hero.

    “Looking at her and how she used to be, it’s inspirational and makes me push harder to do the things I want to do in life,” said Terrance.

    He also has a new perspective, on the men and women who wear a police uniform.

    “You know with all the stuff that’s going on with police it’s just nice to know there are nice people out there,” he said.

    As for Lt. Gregory, he said moments like the one he shared with Asia and her son are the reason he wears his badge every day. He hopes the photo is a reminder of this reason.

    “I want them to realize that is very reason police are police. Service to others and helping anyway we can.”

    Asia said Lt. Gregory’s helping hand, is what helped her continue the race.

    “I just want to thank you. you are my angel. I could have given up and you didn’t allow it. You are my inspiration,” she said.

    Copyright 2015 WAVE 3 News

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Be still, and know that I am God!

“I am exalted among the nations,

“I am exalted in the earth.”

“The Lord of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

Your wisdom of the day is from Pico Iyer, one of best of the world’s best and most spiritual of travel writers, in his 2014 book The Art of Stillness:

You don't have to sit by the banks of the Mopan River in Belize to practice the art of stillness and get to the peaceful haven that is what Pico Iyer describes as "Nowhere."

You don’t have to sit by the banks of the Mopan River in Belize to practice the art of stillness and get to the peaceful haven that is what Pico Iyer describes as “Nowhere.”

    “Going nowhere, as Leonard Cohen would later emphasize for me, isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.

    “The idea behind Nowhere—choosing to sit still long enough to turn inward—is at heart a simple one. If your car is broken, you don’t try to find ways to repaint its chassis; most of our problems—and therefore our solutions, our peace of mind—lie within. To hurry around trying to find happiness outside ourselves makes about as much sense as the comical figure in the Sufi parable who, having lost a key in his living room, goes out into the street to look for it because there’s more light there. As Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius reminded us more than two millennia ago, it’s not our experiences that form us but the ways in which we respond to them; a hurricane sweeps through town, reducing everything to rubble, and one man sees it as a liberation, a chance to start anew, while another, perhaps even his brother, is traumatized for life. “There is nothing either good or bad,” as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “but thinking makes it so.”

    “So much of our lives takes place in our heads—in memory or imagination, in speculation or interpretation— that sometimes I feel that I can best change my life by changing the way I look at it. As America’s wisest psychologist, William James, reminded us, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” It’s the perspective we choose—not the places we visit—that ultimately tells us where we stand. Every time I take a trip, the experience acquires meaning and grows deeper only after I get back home and, sitting still, begin to convert the sights I’ve seen into lasting insights.

    “This isn’t to suggest that travel is useless; I’ve often known stillness most fruitfully in a sunlit corner of Ethiopia or Havana. It’s just a reminder that it’s not the physical movement that carries us up so much as the spirit we bring to it. Henry David Thoreau, one of the great explorers of his time, reminded himself in his journal, “It matters not where or how far you travel—the farther commonly the worse—but how much alive you are.”

— Adapted here from the online edition of “Tricycle” the great Buddhist magazine.

Read the whole enchilada here.

No conservative on earth should feel comfortable with the way the Ferguson PD has been operating for years, even according to their own documents. . . .

“We can do better than our response to the Ferguson DOJ report. And our country deserves better from us [conservatives].”

— Conservative Leon H. Wolf at the ultra-conservative “Red State” blog

Pictured: the man who led one of the country's most incompetent, brutal and clearly racist police departments in America. Even at writer at the ultra-conservative "Red State" blog has begrudgingly arrived at the conclusion, which could have been discerned the first night that Ferguson P.D. reaction in a military way to what started as clearly peaceful protests in Ferguson.

Pictured: the man who led one of the country’s most incompetent, brutal and clearly racist police departments in America. Even a writer at the ultra-conservative “Red State” blog has begrudgingly arrived at the conclusion that Ferguson P.D is racist and brutal, which could have been discerned the first night that Ferguson P.D. reacted with tanks and war gear to what started as clearly peaceful protests.

Writing at http://www.redstate.com–about as conservative of a blog as you’ll find–Leon H. Wolf has a genuinely fair and balanced take on Attorney General Eric Holder’s DOJ report on Ferguson.

Wolf took the time to actually read the 102-page report by Holder–imagine that, reading something for yourself to draw you own conclusions–and came to conclusions that shocked his conservative sensibilities:

    It’s unfortunate, the way news is consumed and interpreted in the age of twitter. Everyone feels tremendous pressure to form an opinion quickly and state it loudly and with certainty. Once this has been done, people are highly resistant to changing their minds and they become impervious to new evidence, often dismissing out of hand outright facts just because they are reported by a given source (e.g., “the media is untrustworthy” or “you can’t trust the Holder Department of Justice”).

    “Perhaps nowhere has this phenomenon been more obvious (or regrettable) than in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown.

    “Interpreting the news out of Ferguson has become a part of ideological tribalism in which, if you are a conservative you stand for the Ferguson PD and if you are a liberal you stand against them.

    “Thus, liberals have become highly resistant to assimilating information that strongly suggests that “hands up, don’t shoot” never happened.

    “Conservatives, on the other hand, have become highly resistant to assimilating information that strongly suggests that the Ferguson PD – as with many other municipal police departments in the country – truly is out of control, in that it recklessly violates the constitutional rights of the citizens of Ferguson and does so in a manner that has a clearly disproportionate impact on minorities.

After laying out five points that disturbed him about the Holder’s findings in Ferguson, Wolf writes as part of his conclusion:

    “Until we, as a people, are willing to understand and address the problem, it will never get better. Until we are willing to hold our municipal officials accountable for using the police force to suck money out of people’s pockets instead of legitimately protecting the public safety, the problem will get worse. But most importantly, until and unless we are able to emotionally detach ourselves from the horrible Michael Brown situation and see that what has been exposed, even according to the (probably whitewashed) FPD records, is a travesty, there is no hope for improvement.

    “And I categorically reject and condemn the claim that this report or President Obama’s comments upon it led to the shooting of those two officers in Ferguson. Like everyone else, I deplore and condemn these acts of unjust violence. But the fact that they occurred does not mean that the truth behind the report caused them. It is possible to condemn unjust and oppressive policing and also the unprovoked murder of police, and it is indicative of societal sickness caused by excessive partisanship that makes us unable to see that.

    “We can do better than our response to the Ferguson DOJ report. And our country deserves better from us.”

Now, if only the Rev.(?) Al Sharpton would read the report without his blinders on . . .

And if only Obama and-or Hillary had the stomach to denounce and condemn the Rev.(?) Al for all the reckless damage he has done for so long. (Not to mention MSNBC, the liberal propaganda answer to conservative propaganda Fox News. Don’t get me started on hyper-partisan news networks and the damage they do.)

It irks me to no end that Al Sharpton constantly quotes and evokes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was something that Sharpton just isn’t, and that is a justice fighter who fought for justice and fairness with the biblical tenet of reconciliation as the ultimate end to the justice fight.

People will be honoring and reading and listening to the words of the great preacher King Jr.–who knew his Bible and could hold his own with the greatest theologians of his time–long after Sharpton, a man of zero biblical and theological depth, is forgotten.

Ultimate reconciliation is what King, Desmond Tutu and so many other Christian and Jewish justice fighters envisioned.

Al Sharpton fights for justice for minorities and the poor by traveling in limousines and business class.

I don’t think King and Tutu and those of their integrity did it this way.
—–
*And then there was the wrong-headed reaction from Franklin Graham, who hasn’t helped matters and doesn’t seem to understand the theological value of reconciliation himself. He would do well to spend a week on the streets of Ferguson with all the peaceful clergy working for reconciliation there, who slug away for justice and racial equality but don’t get the headlines that Al Sharpton gets.

Read more on that here.


Dakota Wesleyan University senior Brent Matter volunteers for the Weekend Snack Pack Program to provide easy-to-prepare meals to help children who primarily stay home alone on the weekends have something nutritious to eat.

Dakota Wesleyan University senior Brent Matter volunteers for the Weekend Snack Pack Program to provide easy-to-prepare meals to help children who primarily stay home alone on the weekends have something nutritious to eat.

At the United Methodist-related Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota, a state where one of every five children is at risk of going hungry, students and faculty take hunger seriously–both in Mitchell (pop. 14,000) and globally.

PUSH.sign.online

Sophomore Ariana Arampatzis told United Methodist Communications writer Crystal Caviness:

    “Hunger is a really solvable problem with the right connections and resources.”

True that.

But in the big scheme of things, problems like hunger and also homelessness and other social ills require the will of Christians to roll up their sleeves and get down in the trenches with the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the down-and-out.

If only all Christians and churches in America had the will–if only they were willing to make the commitment to solving poverty-related problems in their communities, towns and cities–God knows that those American Christians and churches could move mountains.

Kudos to Dakota Wesleyan University and other schools that obviously have the will and are pushing to find the ways to address hunger.

And by the way–before it was known as Christianity, Christianity was known as “The Way.”

And of course you have heard it said that “where there’s a will there’s a way.”

Click here to see what DWU students and faculty and those other schools are up to.

I humbled my soul with fasting.”

— Psalm 69: 10

Here on the other side of paradise: rampant alcohol abuse leads to rampant domestic and child abuse, abandonment, violence, sexual abuse and despair.

Here on the other side of paradise: rampant alcohol abuse leads to rampant domestic and child abuse, abandonment, violence, sexual abuse, a terribly unreliable labor force, poverty and the despair of poverty.

I post all sorts of things on Facebook without thinking much about what I’m posting, as I did the other night when I posted this:

    “I gave up alcohol for Lent to spend the time I would spend in watering holes reading the Bible or spiritual growth books instead. I just realized how much Bible and spiritual growth reading I’m doing in ice-cream shops and pastry shops and my girth is growing along with my spirituality. Lord in your mercy, help my excesses.”

Since sharing that thought with FB friends I’ve thought more about what I said.

This fleshy girth of mine really is expanding–no joke–as a result of trying to practice spiritual discipline in a nice, new, air-conditioned ice-cream shop, which is a short walk from a cozy little outdoor pastry shop here in San Ignacio.

And so, since I had that “light-bulb moment” about my over-indulgence of sweets–or let’s call it a “God moment” since fasting puts us in closer touch with God–I’ve modified my Lenten fast to include sweets.

The practice of Christian fasting is a serious undertaking.

The whole point of any Christian fasting, during Lent or any other time, is not to give up something for the sake of giving up something to somehow please God. That leads right to the sin of pride. It’s like, “Wow! I went 40 days without any candy, cake or pie! And I lost eight pounds in the process! God is good! God is good!”

No joke: I actually heard the member of a church I was in years ago say that after accomplishing a fast, and never mind that a fast is not supposed to be some kind of successful accomplishment.

The Jews in the Old Testament and Jesus and his followers in the early Christian centuries placed fasting as a serious, spiritual discipline right up there with prayer and worship and other disciplines. Fasting from food or something we enjoy a lot–and I do enjoy my evening drinks swinging in the hammock with sixties rock blasting through my ear buds before dinner–works in such a way as to expose our flaws and excesses.

In my case, it has exposed my chronic cravings for sweets, which makes me wonder, in my bid to grow spiritually in Lent, what that craving for sweets is about. A craving, be it for sweets or anything else, is something that unsettles the soul. This craving for sweets in lieu of alcohol is something I’m exploring in my quiet time with God and the spiritual journal that I’m going to a lot this Lenten season.

Not the highest quality rum made in Belize, but affordable for the poor who abuse it to no end.

Not the highest quality rum made in Belize, but affordable for the poor who abuse it to no end.

My giving up alcohol had already started working on my conscience, which fasting can do, since our conscience is largely God’s way of reminding us that we all were created in the image of God. John Wesley, who fasted every week, saw our being created in God’s image as meaning that we’re created in God’s moral image.

So I’ve been wondering in this fast: how in good moral conscious can I drink almost daily, albeit in light to moderate amounts (most of the time), while seeing the horrendous effects of alcohol abuse here on “the other side of paradise” that is Belize.

Rarely a day goes by that I don’t see some dirty, ragged character literally putting his life and the lives of others in danger as he staggers down a busy street or road, drunk out of his bucket.

If you come to live in Belize, don’t be surprised by the many unconscious bodies you’ll see on the sides of roads or perhaps even outside of the grocery stores, where those large bottles of sweet and cheap Belizean rum fly off the shelves seven days a week–morning, noon and night.

Many has been the time when I’ve come across some lifeless body passed out somewhere and have stopped to check for a pulse. I’ve not come across a dead body yet. But I know a Canadian expat who did find a body, dead from alcohol poisoning, in a park in a village when she went for a morning walk. She was shaken for days.

An American expat who hires the best carpenters in town for her thriving cabinet-making business told me one day that she had to fire her best carpenter because he went on a drinking binge for several days and didn’t show up for work or notify her.

“You just can’t depend on the labor force in this country because of the drinking,” she said.

This enterprising American woman, who has been in Belize for years, has just about had it with Belize’s notoriously undependable labor pool.

“I love Belize but I’m thinking of moving to Panama or Ecuador and starting over,” she told me.

Not long ago I went to the bush home of a very poor family I know, where the mother of many sons and daughters had died. The members of this family are wonderful and good people–when they’re sober, which is most of the time.

But on the day I went to see them after their mother’s death, I found Belizean beer and rum bottles littered around the deceased mother’s property. All four of her sons and two of the daughters were all engaged in drunken quarreling to the point of some pushing and shoving inside and outside the house. Children and grandchildren were all around, some playing, some shivering in fear, some showing nothing but blanks on their faces.

I literally went around the house and property collecting every machete and knife I could find and hid every machete and knife away, fearing somebody would get slashed up or stabbed. You only have to read the Belizean papers or watch Belizean news to know that drunken Belizeans will go for their machetes and knives when drunken push comes to drunken shove.

I patted and hugged the kids and called the police, who never showed up. (This is something they don’t tell you in the “move to Belize” brochures: the police may or may not come to the rescue so don’t count on it, especially to homes where potentially violent family disturbances are routine.)

After an hour or so of waiting for the no-show police, I left, having done what I could, which was console the kids until neighbors I called on came to do it–that and hide the knives and machetes.

Other than that, there was nothing in the world I could say or do there that day that any of the drunken, violently aroused family members would even remember the next day.

* * * *

I don’t think my fasting from alcohol, which I’m not missing in these 40 days of Lent with the Sundays included, will drive me to alcohol abstinence.

Drinking alcohol, like so many pleasures in life, can be a double-edged sword. It can be enjoyable and harmless and, as the doctors now tell us (to our drinking delight), it can be healthy. Christian giants like Martin Luther and C.S. Lewis drank regularly and drank with much gusto, and were able to enjoy it with no ill effects.

But that old “demon rum” and any other alcohol can put lives to waste like nothing else and who hasn’t seen it do just that to friends or family, in Belize, in America and anywhere else.

The drinking Christian might do well to ask himself or herself from time to time, “Is my enjoyment of alcohol in moderation causing someone prone to alcohol abuse to “stumble” (to borrow a word that the Apostle Paul used)? Am I drinking as responsibly as I should, or as responsibly as I like to think I am?”

My fast from alcohol has me thinking about all this, and thinking a bit harder about my own eating and drinking habits, and about how I might respond to the ugly alcohol abuse that I feel helpless to do much about in a country drenched in alcohol.

The makers of Belize’s famously good Belikin Beer currently have a billboard advertising campaign with the tagline, “No working during drinking hours.”

Lord, help my sense of helplessness in this besotted land I’m in.

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